Remedies for Abdication of Duties?

Figure 1Trends in global urbanization

I am starting to write this blog on Tuesday, June 6th. I am doing this a bit earlier than usual in preparation for a trip that I will be taking in July to Australia and a few countries in Southeast Asia.

June 6th is the anniversary of D-Day. On this date in 1944 160,000 American, British, and Canadian troops landed on the shores of Normandy, France. That event ultimately resulted in the defeat of Nazi Germany and in the process saved my life, what remains of my family, and in a broader sense, saved us all.

The start of America’s direct involvement in World War II can be traced to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The US declared war on Japan the following day and on December 10th Germany and Italy declared war on the US. The United States found itself fighting on both fronts. This is history. I wonder now what would have happened if – after the Pearl Harbor attack – FDR had decided not to respond, declaring that our involvement in the war would cost too many American jobs. Both chambers of Congress at that time were controlled by Democrats, so it is unlikely that they would have impeached FDR and declared war on their own. The more likely scenario to that hypothetical event is that the post-war world would have been dominated by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. My family and I would obviously not be around to write about the consequences.

The main role of any government is to protect its citizens. We understand this concept well. I think that if Canada or Mexico were to invade the US or North Korea were to drop one of its nuclear war heads on American property, even the Trump administration would have to respond.

And yet, what the Trump administration did on Thursday, June 1st was an abdication of the federal government’s primary duty: it declared that the US will formally withdraw from the global effort to respond to the danger that climate change poses to the safety of all of humanity. Given the structure of Congress now, it is most probable that it will not take action to challenge this decision. The judiciary branch is still independent but it is vulnerable to continuous changes by the two other branches of government and can do little to change this outcome.

Climate change is a global threat but it is up to sovereign countries to make individual decisions that affect the whole. The federal government of the richest big country in the world (in terms of GDP/capita of countries with more than 50 million citizens) – which is also historically the largest contributor of greenhouse gases emission/capita – is taking itself out of the mitigation efforts. This deliberately puts us all in great danger – not from war but from the drastic changes in physical environment triggered by human activities. Our federal government is not protecting us; it is abandoning its responsibilities.

What can we do?

Revolution? Military coup? Historically, these methods have not worked very well here – this is not our way. Shifting the responsibilities from top-down mandates to bottom-up trial and error efforts appears to be a more successful approach.

I was made aware of one specific such attempt of a major bottom-up resistance, via Reuter’s on Monday, June 5th. Given that I didn’t find much follow-up to this announcement, I will quote the article in full:

Bloomberg delivers U.S. pledge to continue Paris climate goals to U.N

By Valerie Volcovici | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg submitted a statement to the United Nations on Monday that over 1,000 U.S. governors, mayors, businesses, universities and others will continue to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement abandoned by President Donald Trump last week.

Bloomberg, who is the U.N. Secretary-General’s special envoy for Cities and Climate Change, submitted the “We Are Still In” declaration to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa.

He also launched a process to work with local governments and non-state entities to formally quantify the combined – and overlapping – emissions reduction pledges, which will be known as “America’s Pledge,” and submit the report to the United Nations.

“Today, on behalf of an unprecedented collection of U.S. cities, states, businesses and other organizations, I am communicating to the United Nations and the global community that American society remains committed to achieving the emission reductions we pledged to make in Paris in 2015,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

Signatories to the new initiative include 13 Democratic and Republican governors, 19 state attorneys general, over 200 mayors, and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and small businesses.

Trump on Thursday pulled the United States from the landmark 2015 agreement designed to fight climate change, fulfilling a major campaign pledge despite entreaties from U.S. allies and corporate leaders.

Although the formal process to withdraw from the Paris agreement takes four years, Trump said the United States will not honor the pledge the Obama administration submitted, known as the nationally determined contribution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025.

To fill the void, “America’s Pledge” will be submitted to the UNFCCC as a “Societal NDC.”

“The UNFCCC welcomes the determination and commitment from such a wealth and array of cities, states, businesses and other groups in the United States to fast forward climate action and emissions reductions in support of the Paris Climate Change Agreement,” said Espinosa.

The coalition will align a number of different efforts to show U.S. support for the Paris agreement, including a commitment of over 260 corporations including Kellogg , Pepsi Co. and Walmart to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the latest science.

Thirteen governors have also pledged to continue to honor the Paris pledges.

“It will be up to the American people to step forward-and in Virginia we are doing just that,” said Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

The process is already underway. Jerry Brown, the governor of California, recently made a fruitful visit to Beijing to make the case that individual states can now represent the US’s efforts to fight and adapt to climate change; he made similarly successful overtures in Germany to do the same. In fact, Canada has just decided that its own coordination of climate change mitigation and adaptation with the US will be directly with cities and states and not via the federal government.

The auto industry is also experiencing bottom-up activity:

The auto industry can’t count on a rollback of environmental standards by U.S. President Donald Trump to escape increasing worldwide pressure to make vehicles cleaner.

Rather than national and international bodies, the big push for change is coming from urban centers like Paris, Seoul and Mexico City, and U.S. states such as California, where leaders are reacting to the health hazards caused by deteriorating air quality.

“The air in London is lethal and I will not stand by and do nothing,” Mayor Sadiq Khan said in April as he announced plans to set up an ultra-low emissions zone around the city center.

Automakers can’t afford to ignore these initiatives, especially as a growing slice of the world’s population crowds into urban areas. The push by cities gained momentum in the wake of Volkswagen AG’s emissions-cheating scandal, which highlighted the smog-causing nitrogen oxides emitted by diesel vehicles. Madrid, Athens, Paris and Mexico City have all said they will ban these vehicles from their roads by 2025.

“Electric cars are the main driver of our technology effort because we are seeing many cities, urban cities, which are going to be zero-emissions and because the most affordable, known, popular technology is going to be electric,” Carlos Ghosn, chief executive officer of French carmaker Renault SA and chairman of Japan’s Nissan Motor Co., said in an interview.

In the U.S., 30 cities including New York and Chicago asked automakers for the cost and feasibility of providing 114,000 electric vehicles, including police cruisers, street sweepers and trash haulers, to improve air quality and show demand for low-emission vehicles.

The opening figure at the top of the blog describes present and near future rates of global urbanization. Cities all around the world are growing:

Global population in urban areas is expanding quickly…

Every year, 65 million people are added to the world’s urban population, equivalent to adding seven cities the size of Chicago or five the size of London annually.

At some point the courts will have to intervene.

California and New York are low carbon states. However, each country’s carbon emissions are a component of global carbon emissions. The Paris Agreement is a global covenant that amounts to more than individual countries’ future commitment to lowered carbon emissions. Until the US withdrawal, the agreement was signed by nearly every country – big and small, rich and poor, democratic or totalitarian. The only exceptions were Syria and Nicaragua. Now we are adding the US to the list.

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About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.

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