Mayors Across America Are Sending Donald Trump a Powerful Message

December 23rd 2016

Thor Benson

Considering Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax pushed by the Chinese, along with his anti-climate science cabinet choices, many are concerned he may damage global efforts to fight climate change. But a large group of U.S. mayors representing tens of millions of Americans is ready to push ahead on action to address global warming, with or without him.

A few weeks after the election, over 40 U.S. mayors signed on to a letter asking President-elect Trump to join them in their efforts to fight climate change. These mayors done what they can at the local level to tackle the threat of climate change, even coordinating with governments outside the United States.

Since 2014, the Compact of Mayors has been bringing mayors from across the globe together to discuss how to battle climate change, agreeing to meet emissions-reduction targets while driving up investments in renewable energy.

The United Nations estimates that cities accounted for 70 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, so what these cities do is a big deal.

Los Angeles is a major polluter in the United States, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is part of the effort to organize local-level actions to fight climate change. We talked to Mayor Garcetti's chief sustainability officer, Matt Petersen, the first person to ever hold that title in the city.

What is the role of a mayor in fighting climate change?

Cities are where solutions to climate change are put into place and where the rubber meets the road. Here in the United States, Mayor Garcetti and other mayors have come together around a peer-to-peer network of mayors-to-mayors and staff-to-staff called the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, or in the hashtag language #ClimateMayors. The effort is really to get cities to come together to curate the climate action plan to get there or pathway to get there and report on how you're doing on the progress and overall the political will. That's why we did an open letter to Trump that there's 46 mayors signed onto so far, and we get more asking to be signed on every day. 

Will we get anything to change in Washington? We'll see. The [cabinet] appointments so far are troubling... [But] there's nothing stopping mayors from continuing to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to invest in solar, to increase energy efficiency, to get more electric vehicles on the road. [These are actions that] provide clean air benefits, that provide green jobs, that provide economic growth and opportunities for the communities, while reducing risks from poor air quality, the impacts of air quality problems and doing our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the greater good, as well as prepare for the real impacts of climate change, which are many.

How has the drought impacted how the mayor views climate change?

One of the critical priorities for LA is getting more local water supply. We import up to 90 percent of our water, at times, from hundreds of miles away. We need to get more of that water sourced locally. And [one of] the ways we do that is to clean up our largest aquifer for water storage, which is our San Fernando aquifer, which was polluted over decades by the aerospace industry and other industrial activities. Part of it's still used that's not polluted, but we need to clean that up, and then be able to capture storm water... because we need it. Then the same with recycled or advanced treatment water, which when they do advanced treatment, it ends up cleaner than most bottled water. Those are our future sources of water, so we set a goal of 50 percent of all of our water supply would come from local sources by 2035.

los angeles smog

Tell me about the Compact of Mayors.

The compact is fantastic in a global sense. It gets all the mayors in cities that signed onto it from around the world to make specific commitments and show how mayors can be responsible for leading on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing our cities for the realities of climate change. We signed the compact. We also hosted the first U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit, which brought together mayors from across the U.S. and mayors from across China. And so our mayors from the U.S. each made commitments there, as did the Chinese cities, to, in their case, peak their emissions early and some to actually reduce their emissions.

The U.S. cities were all part of this domestic focus of the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. We are the climate mayors, as our call to action. You'd see the same thing with the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. We've got cities from red states and blue states, and some are islands like Austin in a predominantly red state, that see the impacts of climate change and know it's urgent to do our part to reduce emissions and invest in the kinds of policies that deliver multiple benefits to our residents.

What might Trump's administration be able to do that could affect cities in California or elsewhere trying to fight climate change?

We have a Clear Air Act and a Clean Water Act that have allowed us to take actions that go beyond federal standards,... California has long history of leading the nation, and with Gov. [JerryBrown's leadership and Sen. de Leon as president pro tempore of the California state senate, we're confident that California will continue to lead. With Mayor Garcetti as mayor, in the largest city in the largest state in the country, we will continue to lead, and there's going to be little the administration can do to slow us down on our progress to combat climate change and tackle the climate crisis head on.

Given Trump states he wants to rebuild America's infrastructure, we will work to make sure those investments advance cleaner transportation and greener buildings. 

solar panels california

How does Los Angeles impact other cities fighting climate change?

The leadership that we exhibit here has a real impact not just in our communities and for our residents..,. Mayor Garcetti and myself take our leadership as a serious commitment to help lead the region to do more, to help take the leadership mantle nationally with other mayors and globally. We're going to continue to do that and just show that by leading by example we can also not just share good lessons, but we can also steal ideas from each other in the best, most flattering way.

Do you think Trump might embolden mayors who want to battle climate change?

I think his election and his appointments have already emboldened mayors. With Mayor Garcetti and the city council here, and other mayors across the country, there's an appetite to take on the leadership mantle even more. Mayors know the impacts of climate change first hand. It's not an abstract concept. It's real science, it's real impacts upon our residents and it's a real opportunity to invest in the future of green infrastructure, to create jobs of the future today, rather than continue with the dirty jobs of yesterday.  

We're investing in our residents and our most important capital, human capital, which are the people who live in our neighborhoods. We can bring them all the benefits of better air quality, better public health and do our part in solving the global challenge.