submitted by SOAN Prof Chandra Russo
For those concerned with climate change, environmental sustainability, and the needs of the most vulnerable communities, the new administration has offered little in the way of hope. The New York Times classifies the new President’s views on these matters to be “combative, conflicting and confusing.” Trump has promised an “open mind” on climate change yet has proffered statements and actions that suggest he is firmly in league with other climate change deniers. For instance, Trump has promised to get rid of the Clean Power Plan and pull us out of the Paris Agreement. (Without the former, the US cannot meet the Paris Agreement’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.) Scott Pruitt, newly appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus when he argued that we reopen debate as to whether climate change is anthropogenic (caused by humans). Mustafa Ali, longtime head of the EPA program on environmental justice (protecting the most vulnerable from harmful environmental ills), just resigned in response to Pruitt and Trump’s budget cuts and stated priorities. The national horizon for environmental justice indeed looks grim.
Yet the national horizon is not the only one upon which environmental activists, scholars and policy makers have been seeking change for the past several decades. In fact, even before these newest, draconian and ill-conceived federal maneuvers on climate change, a stalemate on real substantive policy change was a feature of politics in the US. In a new chapter on environmental justice, “The pitfalls and promises of climate action plans: transformative adaptation as resilience strategy in US cities,” authors Chandra Russo, in SOAN, and Andy Pattison, in Colgate’s Environmental Studies Program, argue that we should have a distinct interest in city level policy. In the absence of leadership from the United States federal government, cities and states have long been the foremost means for addressing climate change. Some of the most cutting edge ideas and actions being taken by US cities are still in their relative infancy. For this reason, Russo and Pattison argue that there is great potential for such strategies to incorporate social equity objectives in consequential ways, especially if grassroots efforts are present and vocal. This chapter is not about putting on rose colored (sun)glasses, as Russo and Pattison point out real shortcomings and challenges that these cities, and others wishing to follow suit, are going to have to address. The piece does, however, point to some exciting developments and indicates that local and state politics are important for transformative change even in times of massive national setbacks.