When President Trump invoked Pittsburgh in his decision to exit the Paris Climate Agreement last Thursday, he left many Pittsburghers baffled.
“I’m appalled that the President used my city to justify his unacceptable decision,” Mayor Bill Peduto said in a press release the same day Trump made his announcement. “My city, which has finally bounced back from decades of industrial carnage, will do all it can to promote its own environmental standards.”
Peduto fired back at Trump’s decision after the president defended his withdrawal by claiming he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
“As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy and future,” Peduto tweeted.
Peduto followed the tweetstorm by signing an executive order reaffirming the city’s pledge to continue the Paris Agreement’s goals. The order directs all city operations to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity consumption, a citywide Zero Waste Initiative to divert 100 percent of materials from landfills and fifty percent energy consumption reduction. The plan is attempting to achieve these goals by 2023.
City Council member Dan Gilman, who represents a district that includes Oakland, voiced approval and support for Peduto’s response to Trump’s decision.
“The decision by President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement is disastrous and his mention of Pittsburgh to justify his decision is wrong,” Gilman told The Pitt News. “I applaud Mayor Peduto for standing up to President Trump and issuing an executive order to reaffirm Pittsburgh’s commitment to fighting climate change.”
The Trump Administration doubled down on Trump’s reference to Pittsburgh on Thursday night, saying that his decision to leave the Paris Accords was the result of promises made on the campaign trail.
“The people of Pittsburgh, like other hardworking American families across the country, are the people he is fighting for and who know that in this administration America comes first,” a White House spokesperson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Paris Agreement is a pact made up of 196 nations with the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the rise of global temperatures by two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. Former president Barack Obama pledged to reduce emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025.
Trump cited lost jobs, lower wages and an economic disadvantage for the United States as reasons for pulling out of the agreement. In response, Peduto reminded Trump that Pittsburgh overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton, and that the city is committed to following the guidelines of the agreement.
Supporters from both sides of the issue formed demonstrations. One, in Washington D.C. — called the “Pittsburgh, not Paris” rally — was organized by the Republican Committee of Fairfax County, Virginia. Another, held in Downtown Pittsburgh, was called “March for Truth: Pittsburgh says Yes to Paris,” which Peduto attended.
Some local conservatives, including Representative Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., applauded Trump’s decision.
“Ending antigrowth obstacles like the Paris Agreement opens the way to a brighter future, with America in the lead,” Rothfus said in a release last Thursday. “In applauding President Trump’s move today, I stand with Western Pennsylvania manufacturers, boilermakers, power plant workers, railroad workers, truckers and miners in opposition to the Washington and global elites who want to concentrate power in their own hands.”
Lorenzo Riboni, vice president of the Pitt College Republicans, suggested that Peduto’s response to Trump’s withdrawal from the Accords wasn’t representative of residents of the Pittsburgh area at large.
“I don’t understand why [Peduto’s] turning his back on the rest of Western Pennsylvania,” Riboni told The Pitt News. “You have people from coal families very happy to see new coal mines opening up across Pennsylvania.”
But some others didn’t reflect this view of the city’s needs and Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement as strongly.
Gilman suggested that the trajectory of Pittsburgh’s recent history pointed in an opposite direction from the revival of the coal industry that Trump mentioned numerous times on the campaign trail last year and since assuming the Presidency.
“Pittsburgh’s economic and environmental transformation from an industrial city with smoke-filled air to a world leader in green technology, innovation and renewable energy exemplifies the very benefits provided by the Paris Climate Agreement,” he said.
Gilman’s comments underlie a fundamental change in the city’s economic makeup since the departure of much of Pittsburgh’s steel industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
As manufacturing in the region has declined over the past three decades, the size of the health care industry in the city has more than tripled since 1979, according to a 2009 report from the G20 Conference. A 2015 study from the University of Pennsylvania also found that jobs in clean energy industries outnumbered those in coal, gas and oil extraction in the state by almost 20,000.
Both Peduto and Gilman mentioned the University of Pittsburgh, along with other regional higher learning institutions, including Carnegie Mellon University, as instrumental in the city’s environmentally friendly rebirth.
Charles Jones, a senior lecturer in Pitt’s Department of Geology and Environmental Science, applauded Peduto’s executive order hoping it will be a call for cities, companies and individuals to act on climate change.
Jones projects that climate change will eventually have an impact on Pittsburgh’s agriculture and precipitation.
“Pittsburgh would get more precipitation — more would be in the winter and less in the summer, which is growing season,” Jones said. “We don’t have these great aquifers like they do in the West so we wouldn’t be able to grow crops as well. The biggest risk is if the summers get hotter and dryer, it would be harder to grow crops for farmers.”
Climate change could also affect tourism, he added.
“The furries might have to change the time of their convention,” Jones said.