Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration one year ago, the bad news hasn’t stopped. His appointees are waging war on healthy air, clean water, a stable climate and our natural treasurers. His administration proposed slashing and defunding environmental programs to protect children and vulnerable communities. Thanks to Trump, the United States is the only country to reject the landmark Paris Agreement, a climate accord even accepted by war-torn Syria.
But there is a silver lining to this “shithole” presidency: Trump popped the bubble of complacency that kept many of us quiet during Barack Obama’s presidency. This past year, San Francisco, the Bay Area and the U.S. witnessed an outpouring of grassroots environmental activism. Yes, the man who called climate change a hoax may inspire more renewable energy and fossil fuel divestment than his Democrat rival, Hillary Clinton.
“Real leadership will have to come from where it always has: the people,” wrote Rev. Richard Cizik of Interfaith Power and Light as he reflected on Trump’s first year.
The San Francisco-based nonprofit, which works to mobilize a religious response to climate change, saw a surge of activism both in California and around the country in 2017. Members testified in support of the state’s reauthorization of cap and trade. Clergy from key states successfully lobbied Congress to keep Obama’s methane standards, a powerful contributor to climate change.
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Locally, the nonprofit worked with the Marin Interfaith Council and graduate students from the Environmental Forum of Marin to get all 11 towns and cities in Marin County, as well as the county itself, to commit to purchasing 100 percent renewable energy. (San Francisco is already working to meet its entire electricity demand with renewable energy.) Helene Marsh, one of the students, told me only four jurisdictions had made the commitment when they started their work in December 2016. But in October, less than a year later, the entire county had voted to break free from fossil fuel-based energy.
“I don’t think we would see the same passion and movement if Hillary Clinton was elected,” Jacqueline Fielder of the San Francisco Defund the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) Coalition told me. “I think liberals put undue confidence in the Democratic Party to push progressive laws, yet it is as deep in the pockets of corporations as the Republican Party.”
In 2017, the SF Defund DAPL Coalition pushed San Francisco closer to becoming the first city in the country to establish a public bank owned by the people instead of shareholders, as well as divesting from fossil fuel corporations.
When the Board of Supervisors first explored the idea of a public bank in 2011, the city attorney determined state law was a legal impediment. But after Trump permitted construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, coalition members successfully urged the board to revisit the idea. They exposed how big banks were using city money to fund the pipeline’s developer, a company that authorized brutal attacks against Native Americans and their allies at Standing Rock.
Now, the board and City Treasurer Jose Cisneros are actively exploring creation of a municipal bank. A bank owned and operated by the City of San Francisco could finance city infrastructure and school construction projects, as well as provide loans to local businesses and residents. This would obviously be a boom to the burgeoning cannabis industry.
But San Francisco can’t let wealthy cannabis growers have more of a say in the bank’s purpose than those most hurt by Trump and Wall Street. Members of the public should join the coalition at the board’s Budget and Finance Committee on Feb. 8 at 10 a.m. to ensure the public bank remains committed to environmental and social justice issues.
Members of SF Defund DAPL Coalition will also join the many activists pushing the San Francisco Employee Retirement System to divest The City’s pension from fossil fuel corporations on Jan. 24. Last week, New York determined its coal and oil investments put retirees’ money at risk and started the divestment process. San Francisco must do the same.
Thank you, Trump, for reminding us that we have the power to protect our planet.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.