Sierra Club’s Michael Brune and 350.org’s Thanu Yakupitiyage discuss how states, cities and the private sector are stepping up in response to the President’s regressive environmental policies
Sharmini Peries: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Saturday, June 10th is a national day of action across the United States in support of the Paris Agreement. It’s calling for bold climate action. In the wake of President Trump’s announcement that the US is pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, over 1,400 US cities, states, and businesses have pledged to continue their commitments to the Paris Accord. To discuss the national day of action and beyond, we are joined by two guests today, Thanu Yakupitiyage and Michael Brune. Thanu is a US Communications Manager for 350.org, and Michael Brune is Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Thank you both for joining me today. Michael Brune: Thanks for having us on. Thanu Y.: Thanks for having us. Sharmini Peries: So let’s start with you, Thanu. Tell us about the event on Saturday coming up, the national day of action, and what you are calling for as an organization, 350.org. Thanu Y.: Absolutely. So Saturday is a day of action that we’re calling Act on Climate, and there are over 35 actions happening across the country in close to 10 states, and that number of actions is actually growing as we speak. Saturday marks a little over a week after President Trump announced that he would have the US exit the Paris Climate Agreement, and over the last week we’ve seen dozens of mayors, cities, institutions – I think the count is over 1,200 now – stepping up to say that their cities and states and institutions will still stay in the Paris Climate Agreement and still meet the needs and demands of the Paris Climate Agreement despite the Trump administration’s exit. So this day of action really is to celebrate and capitalize on these commitments from mayors and cities, but also to push for those who haven’t made commitments to do more. 350.org, we see that there needs to be a just transition to clean energy, and we’re calling on these states, mayors, cities, to really amplify their support for the Paris Climate Agreement to [inaudible 00:02:36] the fossil fuel industry and to really meet the needs of our communities. Sharmini Peries: Okay, Thanu. Michael, let me go to you. Give us a sense of what you’re calling for at Sierra Club, and what are the challenges at this time in the area of climate change. Michael Brune: Sure. Well, we’re in alliance with 350 and literally hundreds of organizations, both for the day of action on Saturday, but all of the events that have been taking place over the last several months as we’ve been responding to the President’s assault on the environment, and certainly over the coming months and years. What we see right now is, as the United States is not honoring its commitments, at least from the federal government towards the Paris Accords, this represents a need for all of us to step up as Trump steps back, and to not just say that we’re gonna work together at the city level or the state level or in the private sector to meet the Paris Climate Agreement commitments, but to go much further and to say that we actually recognize that climate change is a very serious moral obligation, but it also prevents a very significant economic opportunity. We have a chance to solve multiple problems with one set of solutions. We can create more jobs. We can improve economic resiliency, as well as cutting air and water and climate pollution, when we do make that just transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy. So that’s what we’re gonna be focusing on, is working together to build a broad alliance in the private and public sector, locally, nationally, and internationally, for real solutions that actually work to solve this problem. Sharmini Peries: Great, Michael. Thanu, let me ask you, when Paris Agreement was signed, many climate organizations of course celebrated that we have something, but many were saying it doesn’t go far enough. It’s not binding. The actions that we have seen taking place over the last few weeks, or last week since President Trump pulled out of the Accord. For example, Hawaii has just signed and passed a new state law on climate change, and Governor [inaudible 00:04:57] has signed to reduce gas emissions. To what extent do you think these measures are important and that it is actually pushing the boundaries of what’s in the Paris Agreement? Thanu Y.: Yeah. You know, certainly the Paris Climate Agreement was not perfect, but it was a road map, and it was a road map that we needed to follow. It was important especially in terms of global leadership for the US to remain in it. Now we’re already seeing other countries – France, China, Canada, and other countries – really step up. I think that it’s really exceptional and great that states like Hawaii are passing these laws, that Governor [Kwamo 00:05:40] is passing executive orders. And I think that our goal as 350 and really in alliance with other organizations, including the Sierra Club, is really to push the states to do more. So we’re not sitting here ecstatically saying, “You know, just do something small.” We really want a just transition to clean energy, and that’s what we’re going to push for, and we will push for these states and institutions to go further and beyond. Sharmini Peries: All right. Michael, California being the sixth-largest economy in the world, Governor Jerry Brown went to China this week to sign a climate change deals, and of course this is a very important measure, given their status in the world economically. Do you think this is the way of the future during the Trump era? Michael Brune: I do. Not necessarily just limited to California, but I think what we’re gonna see is very strong leadership emerging from a lot of what’s called sub-national entities. So this is cities, states, companies in the private sector, universities perhaps. California certainly plays a very powerful role, and has on environmental issues for several decades. It was right after the Paris Climate Agreement was signed that you had the city of San Diego, that is led by a Republican mayor, that made one of the first commitments to move the entire city to 100% clean energy, which will be happening over the next couple decades. That has been followed by, now, 30 cities have made the same commitment to 100% clean energy, some of them cities in very conservative parts of the country like Georgetown, Texas. Just a couple days ago, we had the city of Santa Barbara become the 30th city to make that commitment. What’s also happening in California, and this quite important, is that the state legislature is now considering legislation that would move the entire state of California, which as you mentioned is the sixth-largest economy in the world, to move our entire state to 100% clean energy. The bill that’s being considered has passed the state Senate, and it will be considered over the next couple months in the state Assembly as well. What we’re seeing, basically, and this isn’t all in response to the current President, but we’re seeing a lot of political leaders and corporate leaders say that we have to fight climate change. We’ve gotta take it really seriously. We also have to grow the clean energy economy in ways that work for low-income Americans and work for all Americans and people around world. So I think we’re gonna see a lot more innovation. We’re gonna see a lot more ambitious actions being taken. And what that will result in is a huge and growing gap between what the President is trying to do on climate change and what almost the entire world is doing in defiance of what the President is talking about. Sharmini Peries: All right. Thanu, this 12 states that have formed the Climate Alliance along with Puerto Rico, this means quite a pact. Combined, I think it represents the largest economy in the world. Plus 200 cities have also committed to the Paris Accord. These are the times we are going to be living in during the Trump era. Do you see, more and more, such coalitions happening, not only in the United States but across the world, in terms of momentum to deal with climate change? Thanu Y.: I certainly hope so. I think that we’re seeing emerging economies step up, including island nations. COP 23 is actually being hosted by Fiji, and you can really see the Pacific Island nations really stepping up. Because it is, they are at the front lines of the climate crisis. They are going to be some of the first countries impacted by rising sea levels, and so I certainly think you’re gonna see huge alliances in terms of the Pacific Islands and other islands, who are really calling for the rest of the world to step up. I think the one thing I would say is that the Trump administration likes to think it’s on another planet, but we actually do share the same planet, and so that’s why it’s extremely important that in the United States, all of these states and cities are coming together in alliance. Already you’re seeing countries like France and China say that they will work with the states instead of the Trump administration to further climate action, and this is the bold progress we need because time is running out. Climate change isn’t something that’s going to happen in the near future. It’s happening now, and you can see this everywhere from the US South, which has experienced extreme flooding, billions of dollars of damage, to even places like Sri Lanka, where half a million people were displaced just last week. So we really need to be working together. Not only do the states need to be in alliance, but they need to be working with the rest of the world. Sharmini Peries: Right. Michael, let me give you the last word. This past week, we’ve seen a number of corporations coming out contesting President Trump’s decision to pull out, including Exxon and some of the bigger corporations, that normally we see as those who contributed to the conditions we are faced in terms of the environment now. They’re the ones now criticizing President Trump for pulling out of it. What vested interest do they have in endorsing the Paris Climate Agreement? And you earlier in the interview said that this is an opportunity for them. But given that there’s a lot of skepticism about some of these corporations participating in the process, do you think that’s a fair criticism? And again, is this the way forward, that we must work with corporations in order to resolve this problem? Michael Brune: Well, look, I guess what I would say, just to take a quick step back, is that what I think was significant about the Paris Climate Agreement was that you had just about every country making a commitment to take action on climate change. Many of those commitments were insufficient. They were significant, but insufficient. It’s true that many of the commitments are, at least from a global perspective, are non-binding, even though domestically they may be binding. But what it showed is that around the world, the global community agrees that this is a serious problem that has to be addressed. So that concept, that we all need to do more, that we need to lean into this transition to clean energy, is now, I believe that we’ve reached the turning point. The fact that you saw so many companies, individuals, university presidents, mayors, prime ministers, governors, etc. responding to Donald Trump with a strong call for action shows that we have hit a turning point, and that we really do believe we should take this problem, take it seriously, show some urgency and ambition. I don’t think that Exxon will be leading the charge in terms of actually helping to solve the problem, at least not given its current leadership. I do think that companies like Exxon are much more a parr of the problem than a part of the solution. But the fact that we have companies like Exxon who are saying the Paris Agreement was something that should be honored shows that there is an opening to continue to work with companies like Exxon and many others to figure out, how do we make this transition? How do we make the transition work for communities, work for workers, and be one that solves the threat to our planet at the same time? Sharmini Peries: All right, Michael, Thanu, I thank you both for joining us, and all the best on Saturday with the days of action. Thank you. Michael Brune: Thanks so much. Sharmini Peries: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.