Blocked by Trump, Climate Change Activists Focus on Cities and States

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For eight years, climate change activists lobbied President Obama to address global warming with everything from stronger regulations on greenhouse gases to rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline. The efforts often — if not always — succeeded.

But under the Trump Administration, they have all but given up on changing the president’s mind. Instead, they’re refocusing their efforts on cities and states, hoping to make global warming a local issue.

“Our goal has been to shift the zeitgeist on climate,” says Thanu Yakupitiyage, an activist at the climate group “The way we have to frame climate is really personal. In order to talk about climate you have to talk about it with other issues.”

To do that, activists have brought together a diverse array of groups. Unions like the SEIU and civil rights groups like the NAACP have joined activist groups like and the Sierra Club for this year’s climate march. Each group brings a different lens to climate change to help people across the country understand the effects of global warming on them.

The mobilization will feature most prominently a large-scale rally in San Francisco timed ahead of California Gov. Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit in September. The summit, which is planned for September 12, is expected to draw high-profile public figures from across the globe. This year’s iteration of the march in San Fransisco, called Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice, will take place on September 8 and planners say they expect tens of thousands of participants.

Planners say San Fransisco is the centerpiece, but not the only focal point. The national mobilization will also include satellite events across the country that focus on the local effects of warming — everything from the threat to property to water pollution — rather than global temperatures or end-of-century changes. Likewise, organizers hope to provide avenues to influence local policymaking at a time when work on climate change has slowed or stopped at the federal level.

The approach will vary from place to place, planners say. In Miami, the effort focuses on resiliency following extreme weather events like the hurricanes that have wrecked havoc on the state in recent years and could worsen in severity as a result of climate change. In Michigan, where Flint was plagued by lead tainted water organizers have honed in on clean air and clean water. “This isn’t cookie cutter,” says Jon Barton, deputy director of SEIU.

Collaboration between different activist groups is nothing new, but the focus on local issues marks a significant change from past rallies which tended to take a more national or even global outlook. Last year’s People’s Climate March highlighted the Trump Administration’s reversal of climate change policies enacted during the Obama presidency. The first People’s Climate March, hosted in 2014, was meant to build momentum for a United Nations meeting on climate change.

But political and policy dynamics across the globe have changed largely in response to Trump’s election in 2016. Since then, the focus of climate change efforts broadly has moved from national governments to cities, states and other local governments. Governors, mayors and other local officials have committed to addressing climate change and a slew of coalitions have popped up for like-minded communities.

Now, activists are following suit to push for more aggressive action. “The model is rooting climate change in the local issues and engaging people where they live,” says Paul Getsos, an organizer with People’s Climate March. “With a Trump Administration and a Republican Congress, the opportunities to make change are rooted locally.”

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