This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on June 1, 2017 – the day President Trump announced that he planned to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was signed by 195 countries in 2015.
“I don't think his pulling out of the climate agreement will actually make much difference on climate,” says Stanford’s Jim Sweeney right off the bat. “I think it makes much more difference on giving up our leadership in the world.”
Sweeney is confident that US companies will not follow the government’s lead and will continue to pursue innovations in energy efficiency because they are not approaching it as a political issue. “An industry making a decision on its investments in new technologies is not gonna look just four years in advance. They’d look a long ways down the road.”
UC Davis’ Amy Myers found the experience of Trump’s announcement somewhat surreal. “I’ve really kind of felt in my heart that it’s such a stupid thing to do that in the end it wouldn't happen,” she says. Describing herself as an eternal optimist, she also sees the administration position’s as more symbolic than substantive because it is state and local governments that are at the forefront of climate policy in this country.
“Most states in the United States have made their commitments under the clean power plan,” she explains, “and most states are not gonna unwind those policies because they’re driving innovation in the state, they’re attracting corporations that have already made commitments to renewable energy, people are seeing it as future jobs.”
For Gil Duran, who currently serves as an advisor to billionaire climate advocate Tom Steyer, the most striking thing about Trump’s announcement was its disregard not only for the truth about the Paris agreement, but for the opportunity that climate action represents to our economy. “This action only serves a very narrow interest of American society, people in fossil fuel companies,” Duran stresses, “this is against the best interest of the American people.”
Although not supportive of the President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Amy Jaffe does feel that the US could have demanded bigger pledges from countries like India and China. “There was this excitement to have an agreement in accord and people felt the symbolism of it was important,” she says in agreement with the rest of the panel, “but it does leave some questions about how do we push a little bit harder.”
– Devon Stolovitch
Photos by Ed Ritger