Arthur I. Cyr: Pittsburgh: Paris of the Environment
Was President Donald Trump being subtle? Probably not, but that doesn’t really matter.
In declaring that he was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, not Paris France, he draws attention to the remarkable environmental revolution the old-time American steel town has achieved. Business has been at the forefront of this change, adding at least irony to his statement.
The president announced June 1 that he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, reached in December 2015. This comprehensive accord involves 195 nations and focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
The United States government clearly was demonstrating subtlety in hosting the September 2009 summit of the G20 (Group of 20) nations in Pittsburgh, historic capital of the long-beleaguered U.S. steel industry. The G20 comprises the principal industrial nations in the world.
Pittsburgh was once the nation’s proud premier center of steel manufacturing. The demise of that domestic industry since World War II could have created a major battleground in an intense economic war, but instead local leaders have done a stellar job of adjusting to challenging change. President Barack Obama selected Pittsburgh as summit site because of remarkable success in creating what he termed “a bold example of … a 21st century economy.”
Acceleration of steel decline in the early 1980s greatly boosted efforts to modernize the local economy, but the transition in total has been very long-term. In 1945, Mayor David Lawrence began economic redevelopment to change the structure of the smoggy steel center. The importance of the effort was underscored by a 1948 incident in Donora, 20 miles from Pittsburgh, where severe air pollution led to the deaths of 20 people and hospitalized more than 7,000.
In dramatic contrast, Pittsburgh today has a growing reputation as a center of high-technology research, development and manufacturing, with current emphasis on energy-efficient facilities. This green dimension was a crucial ingredient in persuading President Obama to hold the summit there.
Pittsburgh unemployment during the most recent severe recession and up to today has been relatively low. By contrast, in the early 1980s the city led the nation with unemployment over 17 percent. The Economist Intelligence Unit has described Pittsburgh as the most livable city in the United States.
Early in the 2009 summit week, Bill Gates of Microsoft dedicated a computer science complex at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University, which along with the University of Pittsburgh has served as crucial economic catalyst. Apple, Google, Intel and other computer giants have all built campus research facilities as well. The Disney Corporation also joined this heavy-duty corporate population.
The very seriousness of the global financial crisis at that time has encouraged a more open approach to sharing information by representatives of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization and the nations which comprise them. This also applies to the G20 and other such associations under the general umbrella of the United Nations. Modern presidents and prime ministers have the uniform challenge of maintaining public support, with economic management a central challenge.
In this context, Pittsburgh remains an inspiring as well as appropriate G20 host. The city also provides an instructive example to the nations and leaders working to implement the challenging goals of the Paris accord.
Let’s thank President Trump for calling our attention to this remarkable city, which highlights effective business innovation, facilitated by government and a responsible mature public.
-- Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.