A climate summit that bypasses a do-nothing president

A generation from now, California’s energy may come from wind, sun and other carbon-free sources. San Francisco’s new buildings won’t emit a wisp of exhaust gas even on the chilliest days. Cars, buses and trucks will hit the road without tailpipes. These are the promises of localized responses to climate change.

With the topic stalled at the national level thanks to a fossil fuel-loving president, state and local leaders are churning out answers that don’t need Washington’s blessing. Beginning Wednesday, business and political leaders will showcase their detailed plans at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

The challenging promises and boldface names are badly needed. It’s true enough that solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles are surging in use, but so is global energy use, both in this country and elsewhere. Oil and gas drilling is increasing, the byproduct of a strong economy. Coal, considered the chief culprit in carbon dioxide emissions, is growing in use overseas even as it recedes here.

The three-day conference is a chance to display the options that can replace these conventional energy sources. California has a special story to tell: Its economy is flourishing despite high gas pump prices and energy standards.

On the state level, Gov. Jerry Brown, who is playing host, will be a dominant voice for climate change curbs, with San Francisco Mayor London Breed debuting her own ideas on thriftier energy use, less gas-emitting waste and bond money for green projects. Business leaders and environmental groups will have a voice, too.

The climate gathering can diminish a vexing problem: the inertia and obstruction that typify the White House and Congress. Along with this week’s summit, two others are taking place in Bangkok and New York to drum up support and notice. A United Nations report on the global damage of rising temperatures is due out next month before a reconvened group of nations committed to the Paris agreement. In that pact, the world’s nations pledged to keep future warming below 2 degrees Celsius in order to forestall serious damage. Because President Trump pulled out of the accord, this nation will be sitting on the sidelines.

If this state and region styles itself as progressive, it will need to do more. The costs of converting from familiar fossil fuels to renewables needs practical answers. Business and research support needs to be cultivated. A generally supportive public shouldn’t be saddled with heavy regulations or misfiring technology. Switching to renewable energy will require more innovation to bring down costs.

This week’s summit can provide a glimpse of these problems and their potential answers. Just as important is another message: Down at the local level, this country is bypassing Washington’s inaction with its own determined direction.

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