Samantha Peikes is a rising senior at Smith College in Northampton, MA. She is majoring in Environmental Science and Policy with a concentration in climate change. Her main interest lies in approaching and analyzing climate change as a social justice issue. She has experience informing residents of local pressing environmental issues as a canvasser for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a grassroots non-profit environmental organization based in Hamden, CT. Most recently, she studied abroad with the School for Field Studies in the tropical rainforests of far northeast Queensland, Australia where she conducted questionnaire surveys to understand how Australians across eight different small towns and of differing socio-demographic groups perceive their own risks to climate change. As a fellow for the Put a Price On It campaign, Samantha hopes to not only hone her leadership skills, but she also hopes to become more politically involved in the fight to pass fair climate change legislation.
On July 14th I had the great privilege to attend the Dewey City Beach Council meeting in lower Delaware with both Joan Flaherty and Charlie Garlow of Citizens Climate Lobby. One of the issues discussed at the meeting was the formation of the new United States Climate Alliance in response to Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. As of July 2017, 195 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change members have signed the Paris Climate Agreement, which calls for countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below pre-industrial levels and to hold the increase in the average global temperature well below 2 degrees celsius. Not surprisingly, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement was met with much frustration and controversy. Currently, there are 13 states and 1 territory that have obliged to uphold Paris Climate Agreement responsibilities. However, without the entire country on board, there leaves room for a lack of clarity with what the agreement calls for.
“So what exactly does the Paris Climate Agreement commit us to?” questioned Mayor Dale Cooke after Charlie Garlow had summarized the aim of the doctrine. Charlie replied, “It does not commit us to anything it is just simply a voluntary pledge that states that as a town we will do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and formulate plans to mitigate the impacts of climate change.” Mayor Cooke is not alone in his feelings about the agreement. Dewey Beach may volunteer to meet as many goals of the agreement as it can, which may be all, some, or none. There is the notion that towns like Dewey Beach do not represent the U.S. This leads to the creation of other smaller organizations focused on combatting climate change, who claim to not be a part of the Paris Climate Agreement. Those organizations include the Mayors National Climate Agenda, Bloomberg’s ‘We Are Still In It’, and the Sierra Club’s Mayors for 100% Clean Energy. While it is remarkable that so many different alliances, it does lessen the integrity of the United States Climate Alliance because some towns or cities could be a part of these other organizations, but could not necessarily be on the list for number of towns and cities committed to the United States Climate Alliance.
I decided to do some research on these different alliances to gain a better perspective. The Mayors National Climate Agenda website reads that “1,219 governors, mayors, businesses, investors, colleges, and universities from across the U.S. declared their intent to continue to ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions.” Further down, it reads “we, the undersigned mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors are joining forces for the first time to declare that we will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement. In the U.S., it is local and state governments, along with businesses that are primarily responsible for the dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. Actions by each group will multiply and accelerate in the years ahead, no matter what policies Washington may adopt.”
Examining Bloomberg’s We Are Still In campaign website, I found very similar information about governors, mayors, universities, and businesses banding together to reduce emissions. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg submitted this statement of unity from hundreds of mayors, governors, CEOs, and university presidents pledging to achieve and eventually exceed America’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.
Lastly, the Sierra Club’s Mayors for 100% Clean Energy opens their website by stating, “local leadership on clean energy is more important than ever”. This initiative calls on all mayors regardless of political party, from big cities and small towns to support a vision of 100% clean and renewable energy in their cities, towns, and communities, across the country.
Reading through these websites, I thought, ‘does signing for one agreement, get you on the list for another?’ ‘Where do the list of cities come from’? ‘Is there one list more powerful than another?’ ‘Why can’t all of these organizations band together and take action under the larger Paris Climate Agreement?’ Ultimately, while many find it inspiring to have so many entities willing to find ways of combatting climate change, it actually makes matters worse. It almost seems in a way that tackling climate change has become optional and something that ‘can take time’. The United States Climate Alliance may be optional in theory, but climate change and the future of our world waits for nobody. Mayors, small towns, and businesses should stop contemplating over which alliance to join and should start taking action.
Deciding to take action to combat climate change is a daunting task. There is no rule book or cookie-cutter approach that tells us where to start. Therefore, we must think simply first and start with individual actions by being conscientious of the choices that we make in our day to day lives. We don’t need to use that much water. We don’t need to have our air conditioners blasting throughout the summer months. We don’t need to drive our cars. We don’t need to consistently plug in and plug out electronic devices. We don’t need to throw that away. These actions may start with us the individual, but they can be expanded locally and even globally. Each of these different climate alliances are all small pieces of the larger puzzle; the global picture. Luckily, it is possible to put this puzzle together.