US Abdicates Global Climate Leadership by Rejecting Paris Agreement

Editorial: On Thursday, 1 June 2017, President Trump announced that the US would reverse course on the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on mitigating climate change that united 195 nations with the goal of reducing global carbon emissions. In doing so, America joins only two other countries — Syria and Nicaragua — in rejecting the terms of the non-binding Paris Accord, which ironically was designed, in part, to placate US demands for flexibility and lack of true accountability.

This unwise and even reckless decision by the Trump administration, while hardly surprisingly from the warped standpoint of domestic politics, doesn’t just ignore ecological reality; it is an ethical failing as well as an economic blunder of epic proportions. The remaining 194 countries will now proceed with their greenhouse gas reduction strategies, per the terms of the Agreement, without the global leadership of the US, the world’s largest polluter historically and currently the second-leading GHG emitter behind China. Environmental ethics dictate that the US has the moral responsibility to do something about the problem it has played (and continues to play) a large role in creating, especially since the Earth’s atmosphere, water, and soil are a global commons.

The decision also undermines the prospects of American innovation and leadership in the growing clean energy economy, as it simultaneously evokes a nostalgia for polluting fossil fuel extraction (the long-declining coal industry) while ignoring the exploding green economy and the potential for the US to claim and profit from leadership in clean energy innovation. Forbes magazine reports that right now, over 373,000 people are employed in the solar industry, compared to 86,000 in coal — and the gulf between these two numbers is likely to grow in coming years due to inexorable market forces that began decades before the Paris Agreement.

In short, the White House and its Congressional supporters are yearning for an economic past that cannot (and should not) be revived, while ignoring the short- and long-term future potential of growing our already accelerating green/clean economy. Why they are doing so is a noxious admixture of climate change denial, extensive and longstanding ties to the fossil fuel industry (read: Scott Pruitt, now head of the EPA), and sheer political spite.

While the June 1 announcement undoubtedly appeals to the President’s core supporters, the majority of Americans — even a slim majority of Republicans — think climate change is a real problem, and that we should remain part of the Paris Agreement. Cities and states have already declared their intentions to continue reducing GHG emissions within and beyond the previously stated US reduction goals; and corporations will continue to acknowledge the reality of climate change and plan for it accordingly, because not to do so will only hurt their bottom line in the long run.

This, in short, is the lesson of sustainability: we cannot simply make ill-informed decisions based on wishful thinking rather than facts, rooted in the present moment, and willfully ignorant of the future. Combating climate change is necessarily a global effort that requires cooperation and collaboration, not a winner-and-loser(s) mentality. The Earth is an ecological commons that all countries share, and thus all nations bear responsibility for its good stewardship.

Our children understand this; just ask them. Why can’t our President?


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