Pittsburgh’s Lesson for Trump: ‘Be the Innovation Leader’

Donald Trump declared he was for 'Pittsburgh, not Paris' in rejecting the Paris climate agreement. He doesn't know Pittsburgh today, an editorial in Science says.

Pittsburgh skyline
Pittsburgh has transformed from a "smoky, sooty landscape" on the brink of environmental catastrophe to a leader in health care and technology. Credit: Jiuguang Wang/CC-BY-SA-2.0

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When President Donald Trump told Americans that he represents “the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” as he announced the decision to exit the Paris climate agreement, he was a repeating a “tired trope: that Pittsburgh is a rusty urban relic,” according to an editorial published in Science magazine.

“Such a nostalgic version of Pittsburgh, and of many other communities across the country, is a myth,” wrote Patrick Gallagher, the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, in the editorial published Thursday. The magazine is the peer-reviewed journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Its editorial page is the national voice of mainstream science.

Trump’s use of Pittsburgh in his speech drew immediate criticism, including from the mayor of Pittsburgh himself, who tweeted, “As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”

(He also added via tweet that 80 percent of Pittsburgh voted for Hillary Clinton.)

In the wake of Trump’s announcement and his continuing to move to roll back climate policy, Pittsburgh has joined more than 1,400 cities, states, and businesses in the U.S. that have vowed to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

In his editorial, Gallagher explained that the history of Pittsburgh is tied to the promotion of economic and environmental progress—two narratives he said are intertwined. “Climate change creates economic costs, a simple reality of doing business on a finite planet,” he wrote.

After leading the country in steel production through the early 1940s, Pittsburgh’s “smoky, sooty landscape” was on the brink of environmental catastrophe. But thanks to industry leaders who recognized the business risks associated with the environmental problems, a partnership was formed with local government, resulting in one of the country’s first clean air initiatives.

In the 1980s, as factories shuttered, unable to compete with foreign companies, unemployment peaked at 17 percent, Gallagher wrote. But the city has subsequently rebranded itself, and it is now a leader in healthcare and technology.

“The real story of Pittsburgh, and the real story of the United States, points to an economic approach to the challenge of climate change that is drastically different from that voiced by the president,” he wrote. “It’s a story that says, from a place of hard-earned experience: Be the innovation leader.”

On Wednesday, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Paris Mayor Ann Hidalgo coauthored an op-ed in The New York Times to say that the two cities are “more united than ever.”

“In the absence of executive leadership in the United States, an unprecedented alliance is emerging among cities like ours to push progress forward,” they wrote. Both cities are among the members of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, which represents more than 7,400 cities around the world.

“The only way to do right by Pittsburghers and Parisians is to abide by the principles of the Paris Agreement,” they wrote, “which guarantees the future health and prosperity of both of our cities—and every other city in the world.”