Saturday, January 30, 2021

TribLive Editorial: It Isn’t Pittsburgh vs. Paris On Environmental Policy

This editorial first appeared in the on January 24, 2021--

Pittsburgh is not the opposite of Paris.

Since Donald Trump announced a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017 with the statement “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the two cities have become a kind of political shorthand for the balance between the economy and the environment.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, brought the trope back to life last week when President Biden made rejoining the agreement one of his first actions after his inauguration.

“Who do you stand with? Paris or Pittsburgh?” he tweeted, touching off response from Mayor Bill Peduto and others including Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

It isn’t fair to either city.

For one thing, Paris is only where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was held. It has no more claim to environmentalism because of the accord than it does to democracy for being the place where the treaty that ended the American Revolution was negotiated.

But for another, Pittsburgh is a model of reinvention of economy in the face of environmental change. You can see the sky in the city now because of generations of work to turn around the impact on the land and air and water.

It’s a ridiculous matchup for many reasons, not the least of which is that when it is boiled down, people aren’t talking about Pittsburgh. They aren’t talking about a city where health care and cutting-edge technology are the big dogs today. 

They aren’t talking about a city at all. They are talking about the region.

And that still isn’t right.

Southwestern Pennsylvania isn’t a place that dismisses the environment. It’s a corner of the world that is surrounded by nature on all sides, with trees and parks and so much water. 

Today, there are mussels in the Kiski River again after decades of effort to bring life back after it was decimated by pollution.

It is also more than Pittsburgh. It is hundreds of municipalities that have complicated relationships with industry and the environment around them. 

They crave the jobs, including those born from the oil and gas drilling in the Marcellus shale, but they also live in the places where those businesses affect the world.

It is too simplistic to say residents of these areas don’t care about either the water they drink or the air they breathe.

It is dismissive to suggest they only care about their jobs, because who doesn’t care about having the jobs that feed their families and energize their communities?

Southwestern Pennsylvania is defined by its industries, but it also is one of the birthplaces of environmentalism. 

To call “Pittsburgh” the antithesis of that ethic is the polar opposite of the truth.

[Posted: January 30, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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