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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Now, California takes the climate lead

Golden State is a very inconvenient truth for President Donald Trump and his band of American pre-eminents and climate change skeptics.

The exposed lake bed of the Salton Sea

The exposed lake bed of the Salton Sea evaporating near Niland, Calif. can be seen from the air on May 1, 2015. California officials have proposed spending nearly $400 million over 10 years to slow the shrinkage of the state's largest lake. Credit: AP

President Donald Trump’s remarkable speech about exiting the Paris climate change agreement omitted one remarkable word.


That’s because California is a very inconvenient truth for Trump and his band of American pre-eminents and climate change skeptics.

Trump cast his woefully shortsighted decision as a matter of protecting America’s economy and its workers, which supposedly would be harmed by the Paris pact. Never mind that slews of businesses, including major oil companies, said they’d be better off if the United States stayed in the agreement.

Then there’s California.

With 39 million people, it’s larger than all but 35 countries. Its pollution-control programs — developed under Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and GOP predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger — are the most aggressive in the nation.

And its economy, the sixth-largest in the world, is humming along with real GDP growth — 2.6 percent in 2012, 2.5 percent in 2013, and 3.8 percent in both 2014 and 2015 — that easily eclipses the nation’s, which topped out at 2.4 percent in that span.

It sure doesn’t look like California is being held back by aggressively fighting climate change.

You also didn’t hear Trump talk about the wisdom of investing in renewable energy. Solar jobs grew 17 times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole last year, now up to 260,000 people. Wind employment jumped 28 percent to 102,000.

He did speak of coal mining, which has lost jobs for years and is down to 50,000, and of a new coal mine opening soon. He did not note that coal jobs are declining for economic reasons, like automation and cheaper alternatives like natural gas and renewables, or that the new mine will create all of 70 to 100 full-time jobs.

When Trump says he’ll always put America first, he apparently means slivers of America first. Dying slivers. While ignoring its vibrant and growing slivers, the ones with the greatest capacity to help American workers.

Trump, also remarkably, called himself “someone who cares about the environment.”

That, despite a track record that includes allowing surface mines to once again pollute waterways, moving to roll back limits on power plant greenhouse-gas emissions, reconsidering tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, gutting the federal budget of all sorts of environmental protection funding, appointing as head of the Environmental Protection Agency someone for whom environmental protection is not a priority, and now exiting the Paris pact.

“At what point do they start laughing at us?” Trump asked.

Defining himself as an environmentalist was one such moment.

Just as stupefying was Trump’s claim that the Paris accord, a nonbinding agreement among 195 nations, was a threat to America’s sovereignty. Yet we haven’t heard that sentiment spoken in the same sentence with Russia.

Withdrawal rarely is a path to greatness. It diminishes the one who pulls away. Our land of big dreamers, big thinkers and big doers is now led by small men with limited imaginations and minds that cavalierly dismiss facts.

Trump at least has guaranteed that Paris will be front and center in the 2020 presidential election. He can’t complete a pullout until Nov. 4 of that year, the day after the vote. And the pushback has been widespread and intense.

Jerry Brown has been among those leading the resistance. This week, he’s in China meeting with officials. They’re using California programs as models for an emissions-reducing cap-and-trade system and for rules to boost production of electric vehicles. Brown’s state also is advising scores of Chinese cities on reducing carbon emissions.

Good to see someone leading, however inconvenient it might be.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.


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