Sustainability in the Trump Era

 by Andrea Wittchen, President, LVSN

More than 100 days into the Trump administration, those of us in the sustainability world can be forgiven if we feel more than just a tremor of trepidation. In the words of Sam Cooke, “a change is gonna come.” With a Chief Executive who claims climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese and a climate-denier at the head of the EPA, we are all headed into uncharted waters. I’ve been thinking about all this ever since November 8 and I’d like to share my perspective on the future with you.

Take a deep breath. As President Obama has said, the ship of state is an ocean liner, not a speedboat. It cannot change direction at the drop of a hat. While those in power may want to alter course, it will take time and considerable energy and political capital to do so. Sustainability in all its forms – economy, ecology and equity – has been chugging along for at least two decades now. Enormous momentum has built up behind hundreds of sustainable initiatives that, in most cases, cannot be stopped by executive edict. Add to that the number of citizens working to keep that momentum moving, and changing course becomes a daunting challenge.

Market forces are formidable. Many of the stated targets of change – the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement, to name two – are not just a function of the American Federal government. The Clean Power Plan is shared by the states, 27 of which had already met their goals or begun work on their plans by the Fall of 2016. These plans are usually created with the input and cooperation of the utility companies they will most impact. Utility companies have built long-range plans around the objectives of moving to cleaner, renewable energy resources. They are unlikely to suddenly revise those plans on the whims of climate deniers. For one thing, their shareholders would send them packing.

The Paris Agreement counts 194 countries as signatories and carries the support of hundreds of global corporations, individual U.S. states and individual cities around the world. While this administration may attempt to pull the U.S. out of the treaty – a process that takes between three and four years – the rest of those signatories and supporters are not going to go away. In fact, they’ll pull further ahead of the U.S. economy as they make their countries and their companies more resilient to the climate changes to come. Far more market levers drive the Paris Agreement than just the top level of the American Federal government. That complexity of support will keep the work moving forward.

States are the laboratories of democracy. When the Federal government refuses to lead or leads in the wrong direction, individual states and groups of states often step in to fill the void. This has been very evident in the sustainability arena and California leads the way with Governor Jerry Brown throwing down the gauntlet to Washington. Groups such as the Consortium for Renewable Energy in the West, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Western Climate Initiative, North America 2050, and the Transportation and Climate Initiative represent massive commitments by states to multi-state cooperation in support of climate change mitigation. The recent report of the California Independent System Operator found that a multi-state regional electricity market could allow California to meet its goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030 and save consumers more than $1.5 billion. These things are not going away because a climate denier sits in the White House.

What can you do? Take heart and keep moving forward. If you, your family, your company or organization is already on the road to a sustainable future, keep going. If you were considering heading in that direction, take the plunge. Just because people deny facts doesn’t make them go away. The challenges and risks that we face from an unsustainable world grow daily. Understanding those risks and taking the appropriate steps to mitigate them is simply making good decisions. Government may be lost in the weeds, but we don’t have to follow it there. You don’t need government money to make sustainable decisions. Most sustainable choices pay back their investment in multiples over a reasonable time horizon.

Find others and work with them. If you’d like to be more active, consider contacting your legislative representatives at the Federal, state or local level and let them know you support politicians who support good sustainability policy. Join together with others to find ways to amplify your voice. We have added a new section to the LVSN website entitled “Take Action.” Here you’ll find updates on pending legislation at the local, state and federal level that affects sustainability issues. There’s also a link to finding your appropriate representative and resources on how best to create change like the Indivisible guidebook and links to other groups.

Don’t believe everything you hear. There’s a lot of noise out there about “alternative facts”. Alternative facts are lies with a prettier name. Don’t take everything you hear at face value. If it doesn’t make sense, check out reliable resources to learn what is true and what’s not. We’ll be adding a list of resources that we know present actual, correct facts on a variety of issues. Use them and let us know if you know of others.

Use the LV Sustainability Network as a primary resource. The goal of the LVSN is to make it easier for Lehigh Valley residents who support sustainability to find each other, join together and collaborate on making our part of the world more sustainable. Come back often to find out what’s going on. Share your events and projects with us so they can be broadcast to a wider audience. Let us know where other like-minded people can take action to create a sustainable future. Post your volunteer opportunities so others can join you. Make this your starting point to stay up to date on all things sustainable.

And in the words of Albert Einstein: Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.