Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann
President Trump strolled into a lush and sunny White House Rose Garden on Thursday and rather casually announced the United State’s withdrawal from the Paris accord, a non-binding agreement between almost every nation to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and curb global warming. The U.S. joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries that aren’t part of the pact.
Hardly unexpected, the move is a political play by Trump to appease his base at a time when his administration is a maelstrom of scandal and ineptitude. After all, if the President is worried that the Paris agreement will eliminate American jobs — a false premise that relies on faulty and misconstrued data — he could have adjusted America’s voluntary pledge while remaining part of the accord. But he didn’t.
Instead, it seems political strategist Steve Bannon’s cultish nationalism has drowned out the pleas of sanity coming from just about everyone else, including members of Trump’s cabinet, his daughter Ivanka, Fortune 100 CEOs, foreign leaders and Americans themselves, 70 percent of which favor remaining part of the agreement.
Make no mistake about it: This is a serious geopolitical event. The consequences will be dire and perhaps even disastrous. And if the rest of the world steps up to the challenge, the biggest loser may not even be the environment, but America itself. Trump’s decision has already been received as an abdication of international leadership; a self-centered, short-sighted retreat from unprecedented multilateral progress on tackling climate change.
Also alarming is the President’s lack of business acumen. Trump, who was born into wealth and real estate rather than maneuvering his way to the top with any sort of skill, appears oblivious to the basics of market economics. Archaic forms of energy, like coal, are fading because of competition from more affordable sources. Solar power, for example, is already the cheapest form of energy and will only become cheaper as technology continues to improve.
The other 194 countries that signed the Paris agreement essentially formed a massive market ready to purchase American-made solar and wind technology to meet their pledges and power their growth. Now China — which has committed $360 billion to renewable energy by 2020 — is poised to reap the economic benefits of that surging global market. America, on the other hand, will step aside, choosing instead to pursue the pipe dream of sending coal miners and oil drillers back to work.
The good news is that the response, in the U.S. and abroad, has been steadfast and optimistic. The president can make ignorant, regressive decisions, but he can’t kill hope, so keep your head up and continue fighting the good fight. To help, here are some reasons not to freak about Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement — at least not yet:
- Other countries appear to remain committed, even after Trump’s decision. The grand fear has always been that America’s exit would trigger a chain of events that leads other countries to renege on their Paris commitments. So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case. European leaders have reaffirmed their pledges. India has canceled plans for new coal-fired plants, taking full advantage of the plummeting price of solar. China has strengthened its promises and pledged to work with the EU to move the world toward a low-carbon economy. In abandoning Paris, Trump and America appear to be alone.
- States, cities and companies are stepping up to the plate. Led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a coalition of mayors, governors, university presidents and businesses hopes to carry out America’s pledges, with or without Trump’s support. The group is currently negotiating with the United Nations so that it can make pledges on behalf of the U.S. alongside other nation-states. And in responding to Trump’s decision, the state of New York already announced a $1.5 billion renewable energy project.
- A surging clean energy industry will be hard to slow down. With tax incentives in place for years and set to continue until 2021 and 2019 for solar and wind, respectively, the foundation for a burgeoning clean energy market has already been laid and is unlikely to be reversed. In California, for example, clean energy already employs more than half a million people — almost ten times the number of coal jobs in all of America. If Trump’s aim is to grow fossil fuels at the expense of renewables, he may be too late.
- The Paris agreement may be stronger without Trump’s America. A provocative argument in The Conversation makes the case that with Trump in charge, the Paris accord would be better off without the U.S.’s participation. Because Trump has already eviscerated much of Obama’s environmental legacy, it will be difficult for the U.S. to decrease carbon emissions in line with its targets. From an international perspective, it’s better for Trump to pull out entirely and take his seat at the table with him than remaining in the agreement, but essentially undermining it by refusing to make a serious effort to meet America’s obligations.
- It will take 4 years to officially pull out of the agreement and the next president can reenter the pact. Due to rules within the Paris accord, the earliest the U.S. can pull out of the deal is November 4, 2020 — one day after the next presidential election. After four more years of warming temperatures, climate change and the future of the Paris agreement are likely to be major factors at the polls. And with 70 percent of Americans supporting the agreement, Bannon and Trump may have made a disastrous miscalculation that could cost them a second term. Besides, the next president can always reenter the pact, though time is most certainly of the essence.
- Environmentalists were already fired up. Now they’re beyond pissed. Already stirred to passion by the ecocidal agenda of the Trump administration, environmental activists and organizations — like our experts and partners — are mobilizing and responding swiftly. You can bet the resistance will be fierce. If you’d like to get involved, start by signing the Nature Conservancy’s petition demanding climate action before it’s too late.
Tackling climate change was always a formidable challenge. Now, thanks to Trump, it’s an even bigger one. But pretty much the entire rest of the world not only grasps the reality of the situation but also understands that global warming is an issue that must be addressed immediately.
The nature of humanity is about to be tested. Will Trump abandon Paris by himself and go down in history as the pariah president who put politics above the planet, or will other countries begin walking away one-by-one and join his ranks?
We’re about to find out.