Democracy Alliance President
Just as the first hundred days of the Trump Administration began with the massive resistance of the Women’s March, they will end tomorrow with marches all across the country to stand up to his assaults on the fragile progress the country has made on combating the existential threat of climate change.
With so many outrages to fight on so many fronts since Trump took office, the threats on climate have rarely been front and center until now, but they are dire, and the damage that Trump can do more enduring, and even irreversible, than in virtually any other area the President can affect.
Scott Pruitt, who used his perch as Oklahoma Attorney General to fight the Environmental Protection Agency at every turn, is now running it, and has wasted no time rolling back key Obama Administration executive orders and regulations and putting his former campaign contributors in the fossil fuel industry back in the driver’s seat. One Trump Executive Order begins the process of rolling back the Obama Clean Power Plan, ends the moratorium on coal leasing and restrictions on methane emissions. The EPA and Department of Transportation are also gearing up to relax limitations on tailpipe emissions.
“The United States is on the precipice of… squandering its hard-won role as a world leader to address the grave danger to life on earth. [But] there are hopeful signs that activism on climate change is building on the traditional strengths of the environmental movement in federal policy and litigation by stepping up work in the states.”
What remains of the EPA’s will to uphold its Congressional mandate to protect the environment and public health is sorely constrained by the Trump budget, which sharply cuts back on the agency’s enforcement staff and programs across the government focused on climate science. The United States is on the precipice of pulling out of the historic Paris climate accords, and squandering its hard-won role as a world leader to address the grave danger to life on earth.
It’s especially troubling that Trump has put U.S. policy on climate into reverse, because public support for action on climate is at an all-time high. What’s encouraging about Saturday’s actions, lifting climate up as a key priority for the burgeoning resistance, is that too often we’ve lacked the ability to translate rock-solid science and intensifying public opinion into political action that can push back on the powerful corporate forces behind climate denial. Now, as in so many other areas, opposition to Trump is a powerful engine for changing the equation.
What do the elements of resistance on climate look like? There are hopeful signs that activism on climate change is building on the traditional strengths of the environmental movement in federal policy and litigation by stepping up work in the states – particularly those like California and New York where state leaders are both standing up to the Trump agenda and taking steps to drive growth in renewable energy and implement comprehensive climate solutions. Community-based groups and broad-based coalitions are developing new sources of power for the climate movement centering on communities of color, advancing equity, and connecting climate and energy policies to people’s everyday lives and concerns. But the Right is at an all-time high of power in thirty other states where it controls the governor’s office and the legislature, and in these states vulnerable communities are being preyed upon by Koch-funded campaigns targeting economic fears and touting anti-clean energy policies.
Donors and others who care about these assaults on climate progress need to be doubling down on three connected strategies as we move into the Trump Administration’s second hundred days.
First, support campaigns that build a strong, diverse, broad base for action on climate that connects and addresses economic anxieties and is grounded in local organizing and knowledge. In Virginia, the DA’s Climate Fund works to build political power in under-resourced areas like African-American communities on the front lines of climate change in Hampton Roads and poor rural towns in traditionally coal producing regions in the western half of the state. As the state heads to the polls this November to elect its next governor, renewable energy jobs and the impacts of coal ash on public health are proving to be motivating issues for voters. Broadening the base beyond affluent white suburbs is important not just on election night, but for meaningful climate action afterward.
Second, support collaborations across social movements, since no movement has the power needed to win on its own, especially right now. The People’s Climate Movement, for example, is a collaboration of over 50 organizations that includes the labor unions, community-based groups, and environmental activists who organized this weekend’s marches. Their platform to combat climate change includes protecting workers, supporting a $15 minimum wage, and the right to organize, understanding that the emerging green economy must also be a high-road economy for workers. More locally, DA Climate Fund grantee New Virginia Majority recently launched a new campaign targeting coal ash pollution in Lambert’s Point, Virginia, a community in the Hampton Roads area. For too long, Black communities like Lambert’s Point have borne the brunt of our dirty fossil fuel economy without the resources to fight back and fight for a cleaner and greener future.
Finally, support civic engagement to channel the growing outrage from the Trump Administration’s attacks on our environment and climate progress into political power. There is a huge amount of work on year-round, integrated voter engagement plans, voter education and base-building that foundations and other c(3) donors can do. Building the power of the climate movement also requires supporting organizations that have not traditionally been considered “environmental” groups but are rooted in diverse communities, especially at the state and local levels. We must also support the development of new leaders and help get them elected. Several progressive groups are tapping into anti-Trump energy by banding together to train climate champions to run for office, including one partnership between EMILY’s List and environmental groups to train pro-choice, pro-environment women. GiveGreen and GiveGreen in the States – a collaboration between the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, NextGen Climate, NRDC Action Fund PAC – are easy and powerful platforms to directly support candidates that need to be even more widely shared and utilized.
Coalescing the energy and opposition to Trump on climate change into a political force is the critical to building the stronger climate movement we have been working for, and most importantly, it’s the only force powerful enough to defeat the corporate interests behind Trump who are slamming the gas pedal in reverse on climate change.