How I'm Bringing The Fight For Climate Change To Salt Lake City

by Jackie Biskupski

Much has been written about President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. It was an unprecedented move. It will drive clean energy innovation toward other countries. It abdicates American leadership when we need it most.

All of that is true. But while Trump has decided to ignore one of the most pressing issues of our time, millions of us are not. The Climate Mayors is an alliance of 274 mayors (and counting!), representing 58 million Americans who are reaffirming our commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Last week we posted an open letter to President Trump, pledging “to intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy.”

This is a big deal. The world’s population lives in cities and, collectively, we are responsible for upwards of 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2011 report from UN-HABITAT, a United Nations' program on urban living. The decisions city leaders are making right now—how to build infrastructure, design buildings, drive demand for clean vehicles, and buy energy—will lock in emissions reductions for decades to come.

Committing to climate action for the benefit of future generations also makes our cities stronger and more resilient today. Take, for example, your local community garden. It’s not just a place to grow tomatoes with your neighbors. It’s also reducing the carbon footprint of the food you eat, and providing a respite from soaring summertime temperatures.

Likewise, making homes and buildings more energy efficient not only cuts emissions, it puts money back in your pocket.

That’s the thing about climate change. It’s a big scary problem, but it’s one that you, me — all of us — can tackle together, through decisions big and small. President Trump is trying to take that power away from us, but we don’t have to let him.

When I became Mayor, I promised to foster hope, ensure equity, and create opportunity for everyone. Climate change is already affecting our city’s well-being — impacting water supply and quality, threatening our (according to a 2016 report from University of Utah) $1 billion ski industry, hitting our most vulnerable during summertime heat waves, and worsening our existing air quality problems. The only way to fulfill those promises — today and for future Salt Lake City inhabitants — is to act on climate.

Our residents agree. According to the most recent survey from EcoAmerica, 88 percent of Salt Lakers say we have a moral responsibility to create a safe and healthy climate for ourselves and our children. Nearly 75 percent — the same as the national average — want their city to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

The silver lining in the Paris withdrawal is that millions of people and hundreds of communities are stepping up to fill the void.

That’s why my administration and the Salt Lake City Council committed last year to powering our entire community from 100 percent clean electricity by 2032. To go even further, we pledged to reduce our overall community greenhouse gas footprint 80 percent by 2040.

Salt Lake City Mayor's Office

These goals are ambitious, but they’re achievable and we’re already seeing progress. In 2016, our state ranked seventh in the nation for electric vehicle adoption and was second after California for the state with the most installed solar capacity.

Change is happening everywhere.

And no matter what Trump says about China and solar panels, renewable energy is generating jobs 12 times as fast as the rest of the economy.

We’re taking our power back. Paris: We’re still in.

If you aren’t convinced yet, take this: The silver lining in the Paris withdrawal is that millions of people and hundreds of communities are stepping up to fill the void. Citizens are speaking to their elected leaders. They’re rallying for science and for the climate. They’re learning how to grow their own food, pedal their way to work, and live lower carbon lifestyles.

Meanwhile the list of cities setting 100 percent clean energy goals is ever-growing.

This is what gives me hope.

We’re taking our power back. Paris: We’re still in.