When President Donald Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate change accord, the decision horrified many observers, both within the US and beyond. John Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor of Colorado, was among them. “Abandoning this climate deal is like ripping off your parachute when you should be pulling the ripcord,” Hickenlooper declared, using the pithy turn of phrase for which he is renowned.
Fast forward a month, and Trump shows little desire to reverse his decision on Paris. Meanwhile, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, continues to wage war on climate change scientists, roll back regulations and make efforts to defang federal environment bodies.
But away from the headlines, something striking is happening to America’s climate change “parachute”. The shock of the president’s announcement is spurring a wave of energy and organisation among environmentalists — in much the same way that his comments on women have rekindled a new debate about feminism. What is particularly interesting about this counter-reaction is that it is being driven by cities and municipalities instead of federal groups; so much so that the next couple of years could deliver a fascinating lesson on what government means in America, one that may be far more cheering in tone than anything emanating from Washington.
“This is going to be a time when a whole new set of ideas comes up for how states can work together and municipalities can work together,” Hickenlooper recently observed during a visit to the Aspen Ideas Festival. “States are laboratories for democracy — and they are also laboratories for a secure and clean energy. In the next month we will come up with all kinds of ideas and ways of doing things.”
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