What kind of a person likes to dangle the threat of human extinction in front of the people he has sworn to protect? That would be the current President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. This morning multiple news organizations have reported that White House officials say the President is planning on pulling out of the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change, known as COP21. Created in 2015, the agreement has been signed by 195 countries with the exceptions of Nicaragua and Syria. Now, the world’s second largest polluter may be the first to leave.
The prospect of this news is no surprise. Trump campaigned on the promise of “canceling” the “bad deal”, but there was hope that close advisors and European leaders who pleaded with him just last week, could change the President’s mind. One of the most sickening aspects is how Trump continues to tease the world, tweeting this morning, “I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”. So maybe he can still be convinced? Maybe there’s still a chance we’ll be saved? Imagine any other world leader treating the issue of our planet’s livability with the same reckless abandon.
The Paris climate agreement aims to reduce the warming of global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. Climate scientists say that is the bare minimum to avoid catastrophic weather events. The goal is achieved by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and each country has committed to cutting back by different amounts, called “intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs. The United States pledged to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. The European Union committed to a 40% cut by 2030, whereas China, the world’s top polluter, agreed to peak emissions by 2030.
In the grand scheme of things, countries left themselves plenty of time to adapt, but Trump’s camp claims the agreement unfairly hits the US economy. Jamie Henn, co-founder of climate justice organization 350, told the Banter that “Trump is choosing to put the interests of a few fossil fuel billionaires over those of the entire planet. Since Trump is already taking a sledgehammer to all of our environmental laws, this is mostly a symbolic decision, but it sends a terrible message to the rest of the world that the United States doesn't give a damn about the future of the planet. This move undermines our credibility not just on climate change but every other important global issue. It's a shameful day for our country.”
Trump has already been dismantling Obama-era environmental policies, so the writing was on the wall. The US can’t stick to its commitments if the laws that lead to emissions reduction are repealed, like the Clean Power Plan. This isn’t a one-man show, however. Last week 22 Republicans Senators sent a letter to the White House telling the President to ditch the Paris agreement. Climate change denier and head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is also not a fan.
Counter that with a 2016 study that showed 69% of Americans believed we should participate. Hundreds of business leaders, including the current CEO’s of Exxon and Chevron, and former Exxon CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, also back the deal. What gives? One aspect is that fossil fuel companies still have a lot to earn off of natural gas, which was favored by the Obama administration. But overall, businesses see the economic opportunity in progress. Why can't Donald Trump?
The facts are that renewable energy employs nearly 10 million people worldwide, and 777 thousand in the U.S. alone. Compare that to under 80 thousand for coal. Trump is pandering to miners in Appalachia by lying to them about jobs returning to a dying industry, all at the expense of not only those miners, but the rest of the world as well. Unfortunately, this is par for the course. Let’s not forget that the U.S. also signed onto the Kyoto Protocol during the Clinton administration, only to have George W. Bush abandon it. The argument then was the same as it is now, the agreement will hurt the economy.
There seem to be a variety of legal methods for the Trump administration to pull out, including a Senate vote or withdrawing from a UN treaty which provided the structure for negotiating the Paris deal. Any way you look at it, even the waffling is a national disgrace and an abdication of moral responsibility to future generations. The U.S. leaving could also set the stage for the slow unraveling of the deal if other countries choose to follow our example. The position of the U.S. government on the most consequential issue of our time has been disgraceful in the past, and sadly, that may continue to be the case. The anticipation could both literally and figuratively be killing us.