The world is in San Francisco this week for the Global Climate Action Summit. Representatives from nearly every country will be sharing plans to meet or exceed their obligations in support of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Will the U.S. be there? You bet it will. We are still in the Paris Agreement.

Across the country, businesses, investors, states, tribes, higher education, health care and cultural institutions are all stepping up. If the federal government thought it was creating a leadership void in June 2017 when announcing its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, it was wrong. It seriously underestimated its citizens’ commitment to addressing climate change.

On the day of that announcement I created #MuseumsforParis because I knew that zoos, gardens, aquariums, museums and historic sites would keep doing the work that supports the agreement:

  • Cultural institutions’ public programs develop public environmental literacy and awareness that leads to widespread, make-the-difference change.
  • Their research and conservation work saves species from extinction. Their landscapes, buildings and infrastructure are ecosystem resources for their communities.
  • Their records of more sustainable practices are blueprints for change.

Yes, these institutions are still “in” the Paris Agreement.

Other sectors felt as I did. On June 5, 2017, We Are Still In ( introduced itself as a multi-sector coalition supporting the U.S. goals in the Paris Agreement. Now 20-plus partners lead this group, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Ceres, Rocky Mountain Institute, Sierra Club, We Mean Business and World Wildlife Fund. On Earth Day 2018, We Are Still In adopted #MuseumsforParis to seed the cultural institutions sector, and Sustainable Museums joined the partnership. There are now 3,500-plus signatories representing 170 million citizens. We Are Still In has become the largest coalition of subnational actors supporting the Paris Agreement — anywhere.

This is not a political conversation. This is the work of the businesses and investors who see opportunity or risk-avoidance in planning for a changing climate. It’s the health care industry pursuing its commitment to do no harm. It’s higher education training future scientists, engineers, biologists and policymakers to address climate issues. And it’s the cultural institutions like the Nashville Zoo, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Chicago’s Field Museum — all committed to advancing understanding and building thriving communities.

Hawaii’s Interests

The state of Hawaii is part of We Are Still In. So is Honolulu. So are the Bishop Museum and the Manoa Heritage Center. So are Kokua Hawaii Foundation and the University of Hawaii System. The goal of We Are Still In, and of the Global Climate Action Summit, is a just, equitable transition from the common practices in the world today, to a future where climate changes are less dangerous and damaging, and the globe’s citizens are healthier and safer in every way.

Hawaii will benefit from the knowledge developed during summit conversations on the priority topics of healthy energy systems, sustainable communities, land and ocean stewardship, inclusive economic growth, and transformative climate investments. Our island makeup obviously puts us at the forefront of sea level rise issues. Our isolation and exposure to climate-driven storms highlight the future of many coastal communities throughout the nation. What we’re learning in Hawaii will lead responses on the mainland’s coasts, but we have much to learn about climate financing, just transitions that value native rights, protecting the welfare of disadvantaged populations, and creating an equitable transition in green employment.

My role, as the sector lead for cultural institutions of We Are Still In, is to represent the 37 U.S. cultural institution signers, and to show the business people, investors and folks from higher education and health care that these informal learning institutions are their perfect partners:

  1. Cultural institutions are the most trusted sources of information for the public in the U.S.
  2. They reach 850 million visitors a year.
  3. Their researchers and educators are incredible resources for advancing understanding about climate change causes and solutions.
  4. Their historians and cultural practitioners are guides for rediscovering our historic solutions to self-sufficiency.

The Carbon Conundrum

I hear some of you, though. Yes, it sounds pretty hypocritical to fly in carbon-producing airplanes to a climate conference, but this complex problem of responding to climate change isn’t going to get solved if we sit alone in our offices and think. Our climate is a complex system of systems so every attempt to influence it triggers consequences too numerous for one problem-solver. Whether the challenge is financial, biological, social, or physical, the solution requires many different thinkers.

Gatherings like this are forcing events that accelerate work. They drive focus and self-assessment, and they support collaborative problem-solving. They help us push each other to increase our ambition in reversing climate change.

So, to compensate for all that travel, the summit committee is asking all delegates about our travel plans and will calculate the event’s carbon impact. Then it will purchase offsets around the world to reduce carbon in other ways.

What Happens At The Conference

There will be quite a media presence, and the main stage will have bright-light announcements and high-profile speakers such as former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be there, too, but this is a global summit and they’ll be joined by Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the leader of India’s Mahindra Group Anand Mahindra, among many others.

There will also be a few hundred non-celebrities like me, also working hard, attending affiliated events on biodiversity, arts and heritage, agriculture and foodways, water, energy and textiles. They will make plans for the everyday work that goes into supporting these high-level agreements.

We Are All In This

Human future depends upon multiple, sustained, coordinated and adaptive efforts in the face of climate change. Every person must participate in the change.

I’m going to San Francisco and I’ve already bought my carbon offsets.

Author’s note: You can purchase your own carbon credits reliably at

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About the Author

  • Sarah Sutton
    Sarah Sutton’s consultancy, Sustainable Museums, is a carbon-neutral, 100-percent woman-owned business in Waialua. She helps museums, zoos, gardens, aquariums and historic sites everywhere plan strategically to not only reduce their environmental impact but also support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.