Asked for her reaction, one White House protester slammed the decision as “a threat to human life.”

Article and Photos by Alejandro Alvarez
Video by Ford Fischer

President Donald Trump’s decision to steer the United States out of the Paris climate agreement led to immediate backlash from environmental activists and concerned citizens, with one protester outside the White House describing her response as nothing short of “pure, unbridled rage.”

Barely five months in, failures and scandals have befallen the new president on an almost daily basis. Yet despite notoriety from a thinly-veiled travel ban on Muslim immigration, botched attempts at healthcare reform, and an ongoing scandal over alleged Russian collusion burdening the administration, activists are counting Trump’s looming withdrawal from the Paris climate accord among his most disastrous to date.

“We shouldn’t have to wait until Mar-a-Lago floods before this president understands climate change,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, making a surprise appearance before a crowd of several hundred outside the White House on Thursday evening. “The Earth is round, water is wet, and the American people will not forget what happened on Election Day.”

Signed by all but two countries – Nicaragua and Syria – the Paris Agreement was hailed by environmental activists as an important step in codifying climate change recognition and mitigation into international law. After its conception at the Paris U.N. Climate Change Conference in late 2015, it promised to be one of President Barack Obama’s lasting accomplishments – only to be undone mere months after coming into force by an administration seemingly determined to be as ideologically divergent from its predecessor by any and all means possible.

Thursday’s announcement of intent to withdraw throws the world’s foremost political and economic power into an awkward grouping with Nicaragua and Syria versus the rest of the humanity – though it should be noted that Nicaragua abstained because it perceived the resulting accord as too weak on climate. The withdrawal was a move done in the name of job promotion and growth, Trump declared during his Thursday afternoon press conference – “I was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris” – despite the climate agreement being non-binding and crafted to avoid uneven burden on any one country.

Although news of the impending announcement had been leaked in days prior (and not-so-subtly hinted at by the president on Twitter), the moment of the announcement was met with instant shock and derision from politicians and activists around the world. In Washington, the immediate move from area climate activists was to disrupt Trump’s Rose Garden valedictory to the climate accord by, literally, making noise – with pots, pans, bells, and whistles just outside the White House gates. The same area saw a larger rally in the evening, attended by hundreds despite last-minute organizing by area environmental groups 350 DC and Mom’s Clean Air Force.

Though protesters were unanimous in condemning Trump’s decision, sentiment varied between cautious optimism and outright dread. At best, some perceived, it’s a hiccup in America’s foreign relations. At worst, according to others, it’s a crippling blow to the country’s posture on the world stage, with devastating and possibly life-threatening ramifications the world over stretching for generations.

Theresa, an area resident, had strong sentiments against the order in the later camp. Holding a sign reading I can’t believe I have to march for this, featuring Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard making his internet-famous facepalm gesture, she slammed the Paris pullout as, to put it mildly, “a threat to human life.”

“I find it disgraceful that he would be such a coward, that he would turn his back on an agreement that we made with the rest of the world,” Theresa said. “The idea that this is putting America first is complete bullshit. This is going to hurt our poorest citizens, this is going to put our farmers at risk, our children at risk – nobody can claim to be pro-life and support this policy.”

A major focus of the evening action featured children front-and center, with Moms Clean Air Force – “a community of moms and dads united against air pollution … to protect our children’s health” – one of the groups prominently lined up behind the podium as speakers including Perez and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-M.D., addressed protesters. Elizabeth Brandt, a field consultant for Moms Clean Air Force’s Washington chapter, was present with her two young children. Her daughter sat next to a sign she drew herself: a rainbow over an ocean.

A series of recent surveys concluded that a majority of Americans favor seeing the country remain party to the agreement, with support highest among Democrats (87%) and independents (62%). A Yale survey reported that a majority of Americans polled in all 50 states approved of the climate accord. Numbers like those prompted Brandt to label Trump’s move as “massively undemocratic.”

“I would tell him that he at least needs to be a good parent and grandparent, that he needs to look out for his family, Brandt said. “They are going to suffer as much as anybody else from climate change.”

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Despite the setback, it’s far from the end of the road for many involved in the climate awareness movement, with those present promising, through impassioned speeches and chants, to push onward – both in person through street actions and rallies, and in the polls. “Today will go down as their mugshot in the history books,” one speaker said, referring to advocates of Trump’s climate change policy – or lack thereof. “Shame on them!”

The Trump campaign is advertising a Saturday morning “Pittsburgh not Paris” rally celebrating the decision outside the White House. 350 DC will answer it with a counterprotest. “We won’t stand for his dangerous and shameful decision,” read the event’s Facebook invite, “let’s show up in massive numbers to show the President that the people choose Paris.”