I’m in Hungary, tired and jetlagged, and pissed off as hell about President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. I’m about to give a talk to a group of young Hungarians at a “future trends” conference. These are conferences about the future and what is happening in the culture. I get invited to these conferences because, as No Impact Man, I am an anthropological curiosity – the guy who lived with no environmental impact for a year. And I guess, because of that, people think I am an arbiter of future trends of the environmental kind.
I have a talk prepared. I’ve sent in the PowerPoint presentation. As I type, it’s been about 90 minutes since the New York Times posted about the president’s decision on the Paris climate accord. Signed by nearly every country in the world, it’s the result of nearly 20 years of diplomacy. Metaphorically speaking, Trump is in a position to be the world’s firefighter; but instead of fighting the fire, he has decided to pour gas on it.
When I climb up on stage, what can I say the “future trend” is when it comes to environment?
Part of me wants to walk on and rant about Trump for 20 minutes. I feel sad. I feel angry. I feel deeply frustrated that we all don’t just walk out of our jobs until our governments do the right thing. After all, the fossil fuel economy can’t work if we don’t. Part of me wants to say to the audience who I guess might be largely passive people: “I hope you’re happy because now we are truly screwed.”
I say part of me wants to say that. Want to know why it’s only part of me? Because actually, I still don’t believe we are. Screwed.
I still don’t believe we are screwed. Not quite yet.
Just yesterday, the California Senate passed legislation that will have the state receive 100 percent of its energy from renewables like solar and wind by 2045. Last month, the Atlanta City Council unanimously voted to commit to a 100 percent renewable energy goal, becoming the 27th U.S. city to do so. On June 1, the same day Trump announced the Paris accord withdrawal, the last coal-powered station in all of New England, which happened to be near my hometown in Massachusetts, closed down for good.
In other words, at least in my hopes, by the time Trump revives coal production, there could be no one willing to burn it. If, that is, you and I do the work. Because now that Trump has abdicated his responsibility, we now have a lot more. Trump was never the last bastion between us and complete climate disaster. We are.
There are so many ways we can slow and stop the burning of fossil fuels in the United States. If Atlanta can commit to 100 percent renewables, so can all our cities and states. But to get our cities and states and businesses to make those commitments, we have to force them. We each need to spend hours working with our climate and social justice organizations to figure out how to force our cities and state politicians to represent the people who voted for them instead of the corporations who fund them.
On top of that, even while our energy production is dirty, we can also emit fewer greenhouse gasses by learning to live less energy-intensive lifestyles. We are going to have to tolerate less air conditioning in summer and less heat in winter. We are going to have to wear more sweaters, drive less, eat less meat. But the great news about these measures is that we can succeed in them straight away.
Of course, we have to start getting involved in organizing for the mid-term federal elections.
Meanwhile, it’s been about two hours since I heard the news of Trump’s decision. It is about half an hour since I sat at this keyboard to write this column. Having written what I have – that we are not yet screwed if we choose not to be – I know what I will say at that future trends conference tomorrow. I know what I will say about the future trend of our environment and its ability to support our species.
I will say, regardless of Trump, the trend with regards to the environment still depends on one thing. Us. Let’s get back to work.
Colin Beavan wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Colin helps people and organizations to live and operate in ways that have a meaningful impact on the world. His most recent book is “How To Be Alive,” and he blogs at ColinBeavan.com. Besides YES! Magazine, his articles have appeared in Esquire, Atlantic, and the New York Times. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.