The Choice of a Nation

June 5, 2017

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I’m going to let you in on a secret – today is World Environment Day. Go ahead, look it up if you don’t believe me. The globe over, June 5 is a reminder to take a deep breath, enjoy nature and pledge to protect it.

And yes, I realize the irony in celebrating this given all that’s happened in the last five days.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Late last week, under the leadership of President Trump, the U.S. formally announced intent to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Immediately, the world reacted – perhaps no one more than the Americans. Taking to Twitter and the streets, the U.S. had an unprecedented response to the decision, with reactions as varied and unique as the nation’s citizens. Some cheered, some wept and some marched on with clenched fists.

Am I discouraged? Disheartened? Disengaged? No. I am encouraged.

I’ll be the first to admit, I am a bit more environmentally conscious than the average citizen. I have a degree in environmental studies, have worked for government entities aimed at protecting the planet and have spent much of my career pitching sustainability stories. I also grew up a part of an environmentally responsible generation – one that taught kids how to compost and had climate change printed in textbooks.

But last week’s reactions weren’t one of a single generation, they were one of a nation. Fighting climate change is no longer a mandate, it is a choice – and across the country, American citizens, cities and corporations all gloriously rose to the occasion. How could I not be encouraged?

For example, leading up to the decision some of the country’s largest and most profitable companies joined together to write a letter to President Trump, begging him to not abandon the Paris agreement. In the last month, the letter appeared as full-page ads in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Levi’s and Hewlett Packard are just some of the notable signatories.

Mere hours after the announcement last Thursday, representatives from cities, states and companies joined together to submit a plan to the UN, pledging to meet the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emission targets under the Paris climate accord – some even pledging to exceed the requirements. Who tops the list? The states of California, New York and Washington, to name a few…

The leadership in the fight against climate change is shifting – deviating from federal government to lower levels of government, academia, industry…and, most importantly, the responsibility is moving to individuals.

Is that a lot of responsibility? Sure. But we’re already seeing people rise to the occasion – and this is only the beginning. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that people are hungry for change. For months, we’ve been coming to a tipping point. Well. I think we may have just found it.

This World Environment Day, pledge to protect what’s important to you. Choose to write your senators, congressmen and local representatives. Choose to support your company’s CSR initiatives. Choose to educate yourself and those around you. Whether we were prepared or not – last week presented us all with a choice. Time to choose wisely.

Perhaps new French president Macron did say it best – the time has come, let’s choose to make our planet great again.