SAN FRANCISCO — Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Florence and 40 days after Hurricane Harvey, almost everyone who had been affected by storms — big and small — was in town for last week’s opening of the third edition of a two-year global climate change conference.
With the federal government in a partial shutdown, some of the nation’s top climate scientists were in San Francisco this week to show that climate change is already affecting the United States, while deniers like “Fox & Friends” aired conspiracy theories about “the dead” who supposedly arrived by airliner after Hurricane Florence.
Coastal experts, fishermen and environmentalists confronted high-level industry representatives from automakers, mines and utilities. And in what seemed an unusually strong spotlight, each day brought a series of troubling hurricane-related news — water levels at Savannah, a city in Georgia, have risen 3.1 feet since 1960, threatening more than 100 homes.
Congress will continue to debate spending while the world looks to the United States and other nations for leadership. U.S. history is littered with disastrous climate events, and the race to lead the world to more equitable, high-quality energy and a “sustainable world” is now. (Organizers of Climate Week SF made a point of highlighting that global leaders hope the United States leads them.)
There were moments of optimism. On Monday morning, before breaking for lunch, more than half a dozen Chicago chefs, including Cristina de Jesus of Topolobampo, whipped up a Southern-style lunch for activists at the Climate Week. One of the chefs, Ali Carney of Loyal Execution, told The New York Times that, in crafting the menu, he was trying to use every bit of local, seasonal produce and “everything that can be done to create the most positive impact for the planet.”
At the end of the meeting, a young man from the Massachusetts-based climate group 350.org asked participants to name the environmental movement’s current “biggest vulnerability.” His name: climate change.
No consensus was drawn. Some participants pointed to rising seas, others criticized fossil fuel corporations and farmers and some worried about sustainability. Instead, the young man drew from the old “Hillbilly Handfishin’” ad, asking: “Are we going to build it, or are we going to build ourselves?” The packed crowd roared back: “Build!”
As recently as 1997, more than half of all Americans accepted that man-made climate change was real. According to a Gallup poll last year, 39 percent no longer believe in it. Meanwhile, the prices of oil and other fossil fuels have dropped sharply.
Joe Romm, a former staffer for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., wrote in Vox that Trump had used a sense of doubt, like that of cigarette users after smoking was proven to be dangerous, to make “a fairly small-scale, but devastatingly effective political gesture.”
The president has not agreed with the leading voices of climate science, such as James Hansen, who warn of the existential threat posed by climate change. Yet, in a speech on Tuesday, Trump left the door open to some action. “Maybe we can work something out,” he said. “Or maybe it’s just not gonna happen.”
The president and his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, had sought to pare back the agency’s role in enforcing the Clean Air Act, which requires action on climate change. Pruitt has argued that America will have cleaner air with an increase in natural gas production. Yet, last week, he said that Pruitt and other Trump officials were “working closely” with their counterparts at the White House and State Department to “build momentum” on a climate deal.
The Sierra Club has called on Pruitt to step down. Pruitt was head of the Oklahoma Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 when climate activists accused the agency of acting as a front for a large energy company by trying to limit a statewide ban on coal-fired power plants.
Carney was one of two Chicago chefs who recently held a competition with each other to see which could serve the most healthful food on the “Fifth Annual Eat Local Cook-Off” sponsored by Harvard University. At least one star of the school’s dining halls was new, Carney told The Times: He produced a $7 sandwich with more than 5 pounds of greens from people in the community who had over the past year gone to the Whole Foods at Beverly and Western avenues.
Islanders organized protests in the streets of San Francisco this week. Their unhappiness is palpable. “We have amazing places to go, and people willing to do what needs to