There was a time in the 1970s and '80s when smog filled the Los Angeles Basin and trash floated with the fish in Santa Monica Bay. Environmental reforms urged by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and nonprofits such as Heal the Bay made a real difference and are core reasons why Angelenos can see downtown on a clear day and paddle into the surf without getting covered in debris. “Anyone would agree air is much cleaner now than it was back then,” AQMD spokesman Patrick Chandler says.
Indeed, few American cities have had as much to gain from environmental reform as L.A. So it's no surprise that the United States' withdrawal from the nearly universally accepted Paris climate accord has critics in Los Angeles bemoaning the Trump era as a time of sheer idiocracy. The 2015 accord had 196 nations agreeing to limit fossil fuel emissions and trying to limit the historic rise in global temperatures. On Thursday, Trump said the deal hamstrung U.S. business interests, including the coal industry.
“Pulling out of the Paris climate agreement will put our country behind the rest of the world in the clean energy economy,” House Democratic Caucus vice chair Linda Sánchez of Southeast L.A. County said in a statement. “Clinging to the fossil fuel energy of the last century is not going to help the United States create more 21st-century jobs. Putting America behind the rest of the world is not winning.”
Leaders in the Golden State responded immediately by saying, essentially, that we will abide by the accord anyway. Gov. Jerry Brown announced that California will join the states of New York and Washington in forming the United States Climate Alliance. The idea is to “convene U.S. states committed to upholding the Paris climate agreement and taking aggressive action on climate change,” according to Brown's office.
“California will continue to lead the way on protecting our planet,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “We will fight the Trump administration tooth and nail anytime it tries to roll back our progress. The stakes are simply far too high.”
On Thursday, the L.A. City Council heard a motion by Westside Councilmember Mike Bonin that urges Los Angeles to “adopt the stipulations of the Paris climate agreement, even if the [Trump] administration abandons the accord,” according to his office. Bonin's spokesman says the motion will head to the council's Energy and Environment Committee by the end of the month.
“L.A. will not be dissuaded or distracted from our responsibility to reduce our climate pollution,” Bonin said in a statement. L.A. will show the world “we can thrive as a city by investing in sustainability,” he said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city has created more than 21,000 green jobs since he took office in 2013. Investment in clean technology in L.A. has amounted to $120 million, he said. “With the president pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, L.A. will lead by committing to the goals of the accord — and will work closely with cities across America and the world to do the same,” Garcetti said in a statement.
“L.A. might have a disproportionate stake in climate change,” says Matthew Kahn, a USC professor of economics, spatial sciences and environmental studies. “Jim Morrison of The Doors wouldn't recognize L.A. today because the sky is no longer orange.”
It's not clear if state and local leaders will make a difference in our environment or if their reactions to Trump are simply symbolic. Shon Hiatt, an assistant professor of management and organization at the USC Marshall School of Business, says Trump's withdrawal from the accord will have no impact yet, because tenets of the agreement had yet to be implemented. “I don't think the withdrawal affects L.A.,” he says.
But if state and local leaders take a different road and adhere to the Paris agreement, there will be clear winners and losers in California. “The winners would be renewable energy and solar installation as energy prices increase and people opt for solar,” Hiatt says. “Oil and gas industries would be losers. And California has a lot of oil and gas.”