Make no mistake: President Trump’s decision that the US will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is dangerously foolish and incredibly short-sighted. By rejecting both science and the rest of the world, Trump has left America isolated and a laughingstock. Of course, Trump will not live to see the truly bad effects of climate change come to pass, but I (along with most Americans) am scared for the problems that my children and grandchildren will have to face.
I am also appalled by the number of people that still deny climate change and would rather believe that it is a “hoax” or “scam”. I disagree with the Republican Party on most issues, and that is fine. But this is not a matter of opinion or preference. People and organizations may disagree about the best or most efficient policies to enact in response to climate change, but simply denying the issue is not only stupid but utterly reckless. I saw a few conservatives on the Internet in the past few days remark about how the liberals have invented the entire issue to simply push their agenda of regulations and higher taxes. Somehow a global conspiracy of leftist organizations and parties controlling scientists (without any evidence of this leaking) is more likely than the issue being real. Do I really have to explain how asinine this is? At this point, Republicans who are rational and accept science should have stepped up years ago, which leaves me little hope.
Of course, the Paris Agreement was not perfect. Each country set their own goal for reducing emissions, and the entire agreement was legally non-binding: in short, most experts believe it was not tough enough to tackle the problem at hand. But it is certainly worth nothing that the agreement was intended as a first step in the process, and that getting literally almost the entire world to agree on the contents of an agreement is an incredibly difficult task. Anyone calling the agreement a “bad deal” should consider A) whether they think Trump could somehow do better (although that would admit that climate change is an actual problem) and B) that the Obama Administration decided on the target for the US, not any other country, organization, or the “globalists”. The deal was in no way imposed on us and it certainly does not threaten our sovereignty; we voluntarily agreed to it.
That being said, I have truly seen not a single good reason to leave this agreement. I think the best way to illustrate this would be to take Trump’s own words from his Rose Garden speech and refute them one section at a time.
“[The US will withdraw] but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”
Frankly, this is bull. Only Syria (obviously a little tied up at the moment) and Nicaragua (because the deal was not tough enough) did not sign this agreement and most countries have already ratified it. There is no reason to let us renegotiate. Ultimately, Trump simply disagrees with the previous administration about their targets, but since the agreement is non-binding, this withdrawal is really only symbolic. It symbolizes that the US no longer gives a damn about what the rest of the world thinks and would rather abdicate its “leadership” role to be a pariah than let the agreement alone and quietly not really follow the pledge (which, ironically, many countries might do if the Kyoto Protocol serves as an example).
“As President, I can put no other consideration before the well-being of American citizens. The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers -- who I love -- and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.”
Great soundbite. But Trump painting this agreement as a win/lose is very misleading. Climate change threatens all countries, and low-lying countries such as Bangladesh certainly stand a lot more to lose if temperatures rise above the 2-degree Celsius benchmark. It’s true that cutting emissions will not be good for the fossil fuel industry and coal especially. But regardless of regulation, the cheap cost of natural gas and the growth of renewable energy is hurting coal anyway. Even Gary Cohn, top economic adviser to Trump, has said that coal “doesn’t make that much sense anymore”. I understand that coal miners and others will lose jobs and face hardship. But turning back the clock and artificially propping up a shrinking industry makes no sense. Why not expend that energy by actually trying to solve the problem of climate change?
Trump then goes into some extended “scare” statistics about lost jobs and economic damage. Why not give these workers jobs in alternative energy or even helping restore infrastructure? But any ways to create jobs or help these workers are ignored. And ultimately, fossil fuels will eventually be depleted (as basic science will explain that they form much too slowly for us to use them sustainably). We will have to transition to renewable energy eventually anyway: why not make the transition as soon as possible?
“Not only does this deal subject our citizens to harsh economic restrictions, it fails to live up to our environmental ideals. As someone who cares deeply about
the environment, which I do, I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States -- which is what it does -- the world’s leader in environmental protection, while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters.”
Well, we certainly aren’t leading in environmental protection now. And Trump goes on to criticize India and China for their own pledges. That’s fine, but he does not have a leg to stand on when he is choosing to abandon his own pledge entirely. Plus, we are the world’s second biggest polluter, and he has, again, just rejected us taking on any “meaningful obligations”. This section is simply hypocritical. Trump can whine about the agreement being “unfair”, but I would rather see realistic pledges (from India, China, etc.) that are followed than empty words that end up not making a difference.
Whether Trump likes it or not, developed countries have contributed the most to climate change by far, and it makes sense for them to take the most serious measures to cut down to compensate. India and China’s economies are still developing and it does not make much sense to hold them to the same standard. Again, the Paris deal is not perfect but it is a good step, and leaving is not only unproductive but damaging to our credibility and relationships with almost every country.
“This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement -- they went wild; they were so happy -- for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.”
Trump goes full-on conspiracy mode. This is crazy talk: enough said. He then says renewables might be fine if the economy continues to grow around 1 percent a year, but 3 or 4 means that we need all the energy we can get. I’ll believe that when I see it.
“The reality is that withdrawing is in America’s economic interest and won’t matter much to the climate.”
Trump essentially complains that the Paris Agreement will not do much to reduce global temperatures. So how is that a good reason to leave and do nothing? If he’s abandoning Obama’s own goals because they aren’t tough enough, then how is doing even less better?
“I will work to ensure that America remains the world’s leader on environmental issues, but under a framework that is fair and where the burdens and responsibilities are equally shared among the many nations all around the world.
No responsible leader can put the workers -- and the people -- of their country at this debilitating and tremendous disadvantage. The fact that the Paris deal hamstrings the United States, while empowering some of the world’s top polluting countries, should dispel any doubt as to the real reason why foreign lobbyists wish to keep our magnificent country tied up and bound down by this agreement: It’s to give their country an economic edge over the United States. That's not going to happen while I’m President. I’m sorry.”
The first sentence here sounds great. But how would Trump enforce an agreement with the entire world to be “fair”? The short answer is that he can’t. International agreements always suffer from the problem of enforcement, and the complexity of a problem like climate change and the sheer number of seats at the table do not help. There are reasons why the Paris Agreement is the way it is, but I doubt Trump of all people took the time to understand them.
A truly responsible leader would not screw future generations to deal with rising sea levels, droughts, possible mass migrations and ensuing instability and conflicts, etc. Trump does not understand that combating climate change ultimately requires sacrifice. There is no way to keep the coal-fired power plants running while helping the environment. And again, we are the second largest producer of carbon dioxide.
Then, Trump spends a lot of time complaining about the Green Climate Fund which sends money to developing countries to help them develop the technology to fight climate change. His numbers are wrong. Obama pledged only $3 billion before 2020 and $1 billion of that has already been paid: not a large amount to complain about. And at risk of repeating myself, this agreement is not legally binding, so the US could refuse to pay any more money and stay in the deal, meaning this is false reasoning.
“There are serious legal and constitutional issues as well. Foreign leaders in Europe, Asia, and across the world should not have more to say with respect to the U.S. economy than our own citizens and their elected representatives. Thus, our withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of America’s sovereignty.”
This section (which goes on) is simply false. The US under Obama determined its own goals under the Paris Agreement: not any foreign leader or body. There are no legal issues and no sovereignty was taken away from us. Some conservatives have complained that the Senate was never allowed to ratify the deal in the first place. But presidents have been framing “executive agreements” that do not need approval for decades and any protests that point to the Constitution have gone unheeded. It became a problem with Republicans when Obama started doing it.
Those are Trump’s essential arguments: the agreement is wrong economically, environmentally, and legally. But his reasoning is either wrong or misleading, not to mention Trump accusing the entire world of setting up the deal just to screw the US economically. Even if his reasoning was right, the non-binding nature of the agreement makes leaving not only superfluous, but dangerous and embarrassing.
Leaving the Paris Agreement is not the end of the world. But it completely shirks climate change and any efforts to combat it while damaging our reputation as a country and our standing in the world. It will be a long time before countries around the world begin to take us seriously again.
Photo Credit US Embassy in Rome