Last semester, most of my 7:30 a.m. Senior Economics class would respond to my booming “Good morning!” with a sleepy echo of the greeting. One student (we will call her Jenny) was different. She always belted the words back to me, teeing up her enthusiasm for the rest of the period.
However, not on June 1. Jenny slumped in her chair and barely said a word until the bell. The reason, she told me after class, was that President Trump had just pulled America out of the landmark Paris climate accord. Jenny was suddenly anxious about her career prospects. Next fall she would be studying environmental studies in college, hoping to eventually work at Apple.
It is easy to fret over many things Trump has done in the past six months. Still, I was able to assure Jenny that investments in renewable energy, environmental protection and green building will continue to boom in spite of the president. That is because no matter who occupies the Oval Office, we have a sturdy counterweight: the U.S. Constitution.
I asked Jenny to recall what we learned in American Government the semester before. One of the Constitution’s key principles is federalism. That means power is divided among national, state and local governments, with collaboration from the private sector. At my request, she took out her textbook and read the 10th Amendment aloud: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
The aftermath of the Paris withdrawal showed the amendment in action. California quickly signed an agreement with China to collaborate on reducing emissions. Under our federal system, it was constitutional for the world’s second- and sixth-largest economies to sidestep Trump.
The Constitution, I went on, is also alive in well in Santa Clara, which remains at the forefront of the valley’s green movement. Silicon Valley Power supports the city’s Climate Action Plan in three specific ways:
1) SVP is divesting itself of coal generation, specifically the San Juan Generating Station, by the end of 2017. Santa Clara’s carbon emissions will be cut significantly.
2) The Green Power program, which allows residents to choose solar and wind energy, is strong and growing. Activity is expected to double this year, including new partnerships with California’s Great America, Caltrans, Intel and Abbott Vascular.
3) SVP continues to increase its renewable-power investments on behalf of Santa Clara customers. This includes repowering the Altamont-area wind farm with newer, longer-life turbines, and forging agreements with new utility-scale solar farms.
The private sector is also carrying the green torch. As of June 9, nine governors, 143 mayors, hundreds of universities and more than a thousand businesses have joined We are Still In, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to renewable energy. I also told Jenny about the Apollo Alliance, a Bay Area labor-environmental partnership that is investing billions to create 3.3 million clean-energy jobs over the next decade and increase our gross domestic product by $1.4 trillion. Not to mention Google and Apple, both of which are moving forward to combat climate change.
Teachers love that look in a student’s face that says, “I get it!” Before Jenny headed to her next class, relieved and again optimistic, I left her with a quote from legendary Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: A “state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory, and try novel and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”
My own optimism grows when I imagine Jenny and other students like her as the scientists in that laboratory.
Dominic J. Caserta, a teacher at Santa Clara High school and the City’s Vice-Mayor, is running for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in District 4, which includes Santa Clara. He wrote this column for the Santa Clara Weekly.