The scientific community agrees: Climate change is real, it is driven by human actions and it is getting worse.
Californians understand this better than most. Having just emerged from a record-breaking drought, likely exacerbated by climate change, we are acutely attuned to the perils of a warming planet.
The Paris Climate Agreement – in which nearly 200 nations have agreed to reduce emissions and fight climate change on a global scale – offered us a basis for hope. The agreement recognized that reversing global warming and climate pollution requires focused efforts that transcend political boundaries. By signing it, the U.S. was finally acknowledging that climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution.
Now, less than a year later, President Trump has withdrawn us from the Paris Agreement.
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While unfortunate, this does not mark the end of America’s true leadership on climate issues, which starts from the ground up with universities, businesses, cities, nonprofits, families and individuals.
Climate change is as much an economic as environmental issue. Today more than 3.3 million Americans are working in the clean-energy economy – more than all the jobs in the fossil fuel industry combined.
Businesses are investing in clean energy because they know that being more energy efficient and cutting carbon pollution is a blueprint for their prosperity and for protecting the planet we’ll be leaving to our children and grandchildren. Half of our largest companies have set major goals to cut climate pollution, which could lead to a reduction equivalent to the elimination of 45 coal-fired power plants every year.
More than 400 cities have pledged to cut carbon pollution and build climate-smart communities, and 60 of them have climate targets that are even stronger than the U.S. target under the Paris Agreement.
More than 600 of our colleges and universities have committed to eliminating their carbon pollution and are preparing students to build the clean economy of the future.
UC Merced has been at the forefront of that effort since its inception in 2005. As the first university to be built in this age of environmental awareness, we can truly say sustainability is infused in our DNA.
That starts with the groundbreaking research being done by our faculty and students. Our campus is the headquarters of both UC Solar and UC Water, two major institutes that leverage the enormous research strength of the University of California system to identify new knowledge and solutions that truly make a global impact.
UC Merced has researchers studying the impacts of climate change on things like soil quality, wildfire risk, ocean acidification and the food industry. We have engineers working to create better solar technology, more precise and efficient irrigation, more accurate measurement of our state’s water resources, and methods to turn biomass into energy.
We are also leading by example when it comes to sustainable construction and operations. UC Merced is the only campus in the nation to have all of its buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, and we are working toward our ambitious Triple Zero pledge to consume zero net energy and produce zero waste and zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
Every researcher, university, business and city that commits to doing its part, and every citizen who commits to making a difference, is leading by example and moving us closer to solving the climate-change puzzle.
The withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, which signals that we are abandoning our governmental commitments to reducing carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, would likely have a significant negative impact on global efforts to confront climate change. But climate change is, and has always been, bigger than one state or even one nation.
Effective climate action will require American innovation and leadership. It will require continued political and personal resolve, investment, scientific research and innovation. But the fight to reverse the damaging effects of climate change is well worth the effort if we succeed in creating the clean energy economy of the 21st century that our children and grandchildren so desperately need and richly deserve.
UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland is one of 21 university chancellors and presidents on the Climate Leadership Steering Committee, part of the Climate Leadership Network organized by the nonprofit Second Nature. She wrote this for McClatchy Newspapers.