American cities, states and citizens rally against climate cowardice

June 2, 2017, 4:02 p.m.
One World Trade Center, illuminated green
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In the photo above, a subtle green light illuminates the spire of New York City's One World Trade Center. The message, however, is less subtle: New York — along with a fast-growing coalition of U.S. cities, states, businesses and citizens — rejects climate cowardice.

The reason for this demonstration was President Trump's widely criticized decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, a landmark international climate change accord reached in December 2015. In response to Trump's retreat, cities around the world showed their solidarity by bathing monuments, skyscrapers and other buildings in green light.

This was a symbolic gesture, with no real bearing on the decision itself. But it was also foreshadowing, especially for major American cities like Boston, Washington and New York — Trump's own hometown. These fleeting green lights hint at the coming backlash to Trump's deceptively explained move, as a grassroots movement emerges to do what Trump won't: Maintain U.S. strength and influence by helping lead the global resistance to human-induced climate change.

buildings illuminated in green light as a climate protest

buildings illuminated in green light as a climate protest

Even before the decision was announced, an array of mayors, governors, CEOs and others were pledging their support for the Paris Agreement — and their intent to honor the country's commitments to it, regardless of what Trump says. And once Trump had finally said it, this defiant sentiment spread like the wildfires his decision could exacerbate.

Hours after Trump announced his retreat from the non-binding accord, three of the country's most populated states had already announced the formation of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of states committed to upholding the Paris Agreement and reining in the carbon dioxide emissions behind climate change. The alliance's three founding members are California, New York and Washington, which alone account for 20 percent of the U.S. population and nearly 25 percent of the U.S. GDP.

Soon after, the governors of seven additional states — Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia — had pledged their support for the alliance, too. And as the Washington Post reports, at least 30 states and scores of businesses have announced plans to forge ahead with their climate-change policies, making a clean break from Trump.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, unveiled a plan to invest $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects, the single largest procurement of renewable energy by a state in U.S. history. It's projected to create 40,000 jobs in the state by 2020.

"New York State is committed to meeting the standards set forth in the Paris Accord regardless of Washington's irresponsible actions," Cuomo said in a statement. "We will not ignore the science and reality of climate change, which is why I am also signing an Executive Order confirming New York's leadership role in protecting our citizens, our environment and our planet."

"California will resist this misguided and insane course of action," Gov. Jerry Brown added in a statement.

Many big U.S. cities are also joining this wave, as dozens of mayors — including those of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle — say they "will adopt, honor and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement." And Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, whose city was bizarrely mentioned in Trump's speech Thursday, responded by announcing support for a plan to power Pittsburgh entirely with renewable energy by 2035.

Pittsburgh downtown Pittsburgh, pictured here on June 2, is one of many U.S. cities that has pledged to uphold the Paris Agreement in the wake of President Trump's retreat. (Photo: Eric Baradat/Getty Images)

The U.S. business community is rejecting Trump's decision, too, as many of the country's most powerful corporations and CEOs are keenly aware climate change is real — and that it poses a real threat to their economic interests. From tech titans like Apple, Facebook and Google to chemical companies like DuPont, food companies like General Mills and oil companies like ExxonMobil, a huge swath of corporate America now finds itself ignored by a president who campaigned as a supposedly shrewd businessman.

Tesla chief Elon Musk and Disney chief Robert Iger both quit Trump's advisory council in protest of the withdrawal, while Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted that it's "a setback for the environment and for the U.S.'s leadership position in the world."

But businesses aren't giving up, as 25 major corporations explained in a recent full-page ad about their support for the Paris Agreement. "As businesses concerned with the well-being of our customers, our investors, our communities and our suppliers, we are strengthening our climate resilience," the ad said, "and we are investing in innovative technologies that can help achieve a clean energy transition." But for this to really succeed, they added, "governments must lead as well."

And, most importantly, the rebuke of Trump's decision is also a grassroots phenomenon. About 70 percent of U.S. voters want the U.S. to stay in the Paris Agreement, including a majority of voters in every single state. Trump decided to cut and run anyway, but as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tweeted Friday, that doesn't mean anyone else has to follow him.

"Washington can't stop our climate progress," he said. "Americans will fulfill the #ParisAgreement by leading from the bottom up."