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How should environmentalists respond to Trump?

“Caring in silence is not what this moment demands.”

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On Jan. 9, at noon, about 75 climate activists gathered at the Station Square office of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey. They demanded that Toomey oppose nominees of President-elect Donald Trump’s, like climate-change-denying Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, nominated to head the EPA, and ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, the nominee for Secretary of State.

It was freezing out, and Toomey — who himself denies the scientific consensus that climate change is human-caused — wasn’t even there. So why bother?

“Climate change is really the most important thing that we face,” said Dave Blair, a retired tech-ed teacher from Monaca, as two protesters were permitted inside to speak with Toomey staffers. “Long-term, I think this will sneak up and hurt our grandchildren especially. I consider this to be life or death for millions of people in the future.”

The protest, part of a national day of action, was organized by Pittsburgh 350 (the local incarnation of 350.org, an international climate-activism group). But it’s just one way environmentalists are responding to Trump. Here’s what some other local activists are advising:

Face Facts. “We’ve lost a really important election here,” say Larry Schweiger, a veteran environmentalist who heads PennFuture. “It’s gonna be bad.” Trump has vowed to roll back efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions; scrap a global climate agreement; “bring back coal”; boost oil exploration and drilling; and revive projects like the climate-killing Keystone XL pipeline. Congressional Republicans want to sell off public lands. Adam Garber, field director of PennEnvironment, says he’s even heard talk of rewriting bedrock legislation like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

Don’t Give Up. “Caring in silence is not what this moment demands,” says Joylette Portlock, president of climate-change communications nonprofit Communitopia. Don’t let headlines paralyze you. Rather, use them as a motivator, says Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution. And remember, says Garber, most voters didn’t vote to undermine basic environmental protections: “One thing we shouldn’t take away from the election is that people in Pennsylvania don’t care about clean air and clean water.”

Fight the Nominations. Environmental groups from 350 Pittsburgh to the Sierra Club have mobilized around opposing confirmation of the likes of Pruitt, Tillerson, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke (for Secretary of Interior) and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (Energy). With such pro-industry rulemakers, odds of even holding ground on climate and conservation dwindle. “When you have the head of Exxon running your country, you can see where that’s going,” says Schweiger.

Make Calls. Activists agree that direct calls to elected officials are more effective than clicktivism, or even letter-writing. Better still, learn your state and federal reps’ local office hours and pay them a visit. “You can go down and sit and meet with them,” says Garber. “That has real power.”

Think Long-Term. The case for climate action goes back decades. “It’s really been an uphill battle,” says Portlock, recalling the George W. Bush years. “It doesn’t end with one election. … We have to stay on task.”

Think Locally. Many environmental decisions, about everything from developing renewable energy to enforcing pollution laws, are made at the state and local level, where citizens can wield a lot of influence. “If we can’t depend on the federal government to protect public health,” says Filippini, “then we have to look to our state and local officials to step in.”

Keep Informed. Join environmental groups who’ll update you on protests and other actions. Sign up for state legislative alerts at www.legis.state.pa.us.

Build Community. “I think the most important thing people can do at this point is really connect,” says Portlock. “We need to be connecting with each other and making sure it’s clear that a majority of people do accept the science on climate change and do support climate action.” Pittsburgh 350 in particular is building its network to fight during Trump’s first 100 days in office.

As climate activist Blair puts it, “I plan to try to be at every event I can, because maybe it will make some difference.”


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