We Will Gain Nothing from This

We open the month of June to Donald Trump in the Rose Garden announcing his decision that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Though it comes as no surprise from a man who believes that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese, it a deeply selfish and unpopular gamble that will hurt everyone and benefit no one. No matter who you are, where you are, and what you believe in, this egregious decision will have very negative impact on you and children. At a time we can’t afford to ignore a global crisis of our own making, Trump has gambled away our futures, our health, our prosperity, and our lives. Furthermore, he has severely damaged America’s image and credibility at home and abroad. Trump’s reckless decision to pull out is a moral outrage and insult to future generations. And it poses a catastrophe for our planet, economy, and reputation around the globe.

Despite what the right-wing skeptics may claim, the threat of global warming is very real, is caused by humans, and poses devastating consequences for the planet and possibly all life on earth as we know it. Although there are some aspects of climate change we don’t understand, 97% of all climate scientists acknowledge its existence and there is overwhelming evidence that carbon emissions are changing the earth’s climate for the worse. Climate change has already unleashed disruption on the world’s ecosystems and human communities. Effects consist of rising sea levels, excessive droughts, desertification, frequent flooding, stronger storms, unpredictable weather, disease outbreaks, famines, ocean acidification, melting ice caps, extreme weather, mass extinction, habitat destruction, and other devastation. For many parts of the world, climate change can result in scarce resources, more widespread poverty, displacement, economic instability, and full out wars. Island nations are in critical danger of being totally underwater. And it will be the world’s poorest who suffer the most. There’s never been a more imminent time to act before it’s too late. Yet, we must acknowledge that the damage is already done in some places of the world. Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord doesn’t excuse our responsibility for the planet. Nor does it relieve us from global warming’s catastrophic consequences. Climate change isn’t a political issue catering to special interests. It’s a moral issue and a matter of life or death.

The Paris Climate Accord is a 31-page nonbinding agreement that was hammered out over weeks of tense negotiations in a December 2015. Its purpose is to create a culture of accountability to get countries take unspecified steps in fighting climate change. The backbone of this agreement is keeping global average temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Beyond 2 degrees, we risk dramatic higher seas, changes in weather patterns, food and water crises, and an overall more hostile world. Though critics argue that the 2-degree mark is arbitrary, or even too low to make a difference, the goal is a starting point that before Paris, the world was on track to wildly miss. To accomplish this, the accord states that countries should strive to reach “peak emissions” as soon as possible. The agreement doesn’t detail exactly how these countries should do so. But it does provide a framework for getting momentum going on greenhouse gas reduction with some oversight and accountability. Another precept is that richer countries would send $100 billion in aid to poorer countries by 2020 with the amount increasing over time. Nevertheless, it’s an agreement with near-universal support from around the world.

Donald Trump’s decision to for US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord spells absolute catastrophe for the planet. He may have claimed that the agreement was unfair to the United States. He may have stated it was to protect America and its citizens. And I’m sure he probably cited such an agreement made us look weak, takes jobs away, and whatever else. However, for the US to leave the Paris Climate Accord carries nothing but disastrous implications for everyone. As the world’s largest economy and second-largest CO2 emitter, US cooperation with Paris is vital to convincing other countries to make a serious effort to meet their targets. The Obama administration understood this for they played a major role in writing the Paris agreement’s original text and shaping it such that its terms were acceptable for American interests. To pull out suggests that the US doesn’t care about climate change anymore or about the potential catastrophic consequences for the planet. Yet, it also sends a broader signal that the US considers its obligations as optional and that US leadership can no longer be trusted to honor agreements on issues of vital concern for other countries. Even when it helps set the terms for the agreement itself. America’s global strategy depends on other countries trusting the US to abide closely enough to its on-paper agreements so it won’t pose a threat to them. And for better or worse, this strategy has been in force since World War II. The US has made major commitments to other countries to agree on a certain set of rules tackling the shared crisis of climate change. But the Trump administration has decided to quit those rules and simply do whatever it wants. What’s to say that the US won’t do the same thing again on something else like abandon a NATO ally or ignore an unfavorable WTO ruling? Not to mention, what if the other countries see that the US isn’t trying? Will they abandon their commitments, too? Because the Paris Accord can’t be effective without US participation.

Trump often describes his foreign policy as “America First” and had warned against “the false song of globalism” in his most comprehensive campaign speech on the matter. Sure the Paris Climate Accord is certainly globalism but climate change is a global crisis of epic proportions. But at the same time, an international commitment to fight climate change is perfectly within US interests. Now Trump is actively hostile to the international political order and every little thing he does to signal lack of interest matters. He has repeatedly questioned NATO and refused to commit defending these allies at the organization’s recent summit. He also declared the WTO as a “disaster” and his advisers prepared a report proposing to simply ignore its unfavorable rulings. By quitting an international agreement on a serious global problem, Trump has further and severely undermined global trust in US leadership and its standing on negotiating a wide range of issues. And it doesn’t help that German Chancellor Angela Merkel specifically cited that her chats with Trump on climate change as a reason that Germany couldn’t rely on the US anymore. Nevertheless, consequences of recklessly disregarding allied opinion and international institutions may not be felt tomorrow. But in the long-term, Trump’s decisions can permanently undermine American power’s core foundations. Eventually, other countries may put less faith in US-led institutions as well as seek structures and alliances that don’t depend on US cooperation. This would by necessity limit US influence over the world’s major powers as professor Paul Musgrave calls it, “hegemonic suicide.” Thus, any further actions Trump does like quitting the Paris agreement, the weaker the US gets in the long run.

Yet, quitting the Paris Climate Accord isn’t putting “America First” either. The effects of climate change may be more catastrophic in Third World countries. But the United States has also experienced it firsthand. Today, few years go by when average global temperatures aren’t the highest on record. Coastal areas of the nation have been ravaged by stronger and more devastating hurricanes. In the west, and wildfires in Texas, California, and a few other states have scorched homes to a cinder during the summer. California and the Southwest have also endured droughts which dried up major waterways. Heavy rains can bring upon terrible floods along the Mississippi River during the spring. The Midwest and the Northeast have also experienced serious snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures during the winter thanks to the Polar Vortex. Melting Arctic ice caps and rising temperatures have disrupted Alaskan wildlife and communities. Hawaii is ever more prone to rising sea levels that could put it underwater while Florida can also suffer the same fate. And in the heartland, Americans are especially prone to more destructive tornadoes plowing through their towns. That’s not even counting all the disease outbreaks, wildlife devastation, and the like. Even in the United States, there is overwhelming evidence of climate change at work and its negative impact. There is no wonder that a majority of Americans now believe that climate change is real and that the federal government should regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Major corporations including fossil fuel companies begged Trump to stay in the Paris Climate Accord. Not to mention, there was no majority of Americans who supported pulling out of Paris in any part of the country.

Of course, Trump isn’t alone to blame in quitting the Paris Climate Accord. Though some press coverage portrays his decision driven by either Steve Bannon’s policy agenda or his own idiosyncrasies, it misses the big picture almost entirely. For years, the Republican Party has adopted a rock-solid, widespread consensus opposing any serious action aimed at the United States reducing carbon emissions, which has become the bedrock of belief in the modern GOP. And in practice their influence has indefinitely crippled much effective action on combating the problem. According to a 2016 Pew Research study, only 23% of Republican voters believed that humans were responsible for global warming. Though we can’t know if any other Republican president elected in 2016 would’ve withdrawn from Paris, many institutional actors within the GOP and conservative movement strongly support this move and have urged Trump to make it. These include members of Congress (including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), think tanks, activist groups, media outlets, and conservative donors (including many with fossil fuel wealth). Even leading Republicans who might’ve supported sticking to the deal, would’ve also backed weakening environmental regulations and taken little if any action aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Nonetheless, while talking points differ, today’s GOP simply doesn’t believe climate change is a serious problem. Some may the very idea is a liberal hoax or that humans are causing the planet to warm at all. Some may acknowledge that the science is real, but argue that even if it’s accurate the consequences may not be so bad or that action is simply too costly. But beyond a few notable exceptions, most Republicans agree that addressing climate change shouldn’t be anywhere near the top in their political agenda. And those Republican politicians who conclude that the scientific consensus on climate change is accurate and tries to work with Democrats on the issue gets slammed by passionate and well-organized conservative groups and can face serious pressure from the right. We must acknowledge the reality that one of the US’s 2 major political parties is institutionally committed at nearly every level to the same basic agenda of environmental deregulation and inaction on carbon emissions. Thus, Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris deal isn’t an odd outlier but rests on that anti-environmental foundation. As long as the Republican Party embraces anti-environmental ideas like denying climate change, inaction will only continue.

As our human civilization taxes the planet, we have a shared responsibility to take care of it. This may mean we’ll have to adapt to new technologies to ensure a sustainable future. But if we don’t act now, future generations will live with the consequences. Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement is as unwise as it is immoral as well as sends a cruel signal to the world that America doesn’t care about environmental values. Furthermore, undermines years of research and activism that made it possible. Failure to act will not only prove catastrophic for the environment, but to make us more prone to economic devastation and civil unrest. Ecosystems could be wiped out. New diseases can wreak havoc on communities. Island nations can disappear beneath the sea. Wars can break out between factions. People can be displaced due to famine, drought, or starvation. Severe storms can destroy entire communities and economies overnight. Those who oppose environmental protection often state that it cost jobs, contributes to big government, or undermines economic prosperity. Yet, whether we like it or not, we all depend on the Earth’s resources to survive and thrive. And pulling out of the Paris deal won’t bring any coal or manufacturing jobs back. Nor will it benefit the United States in anyway. Besides, there are more important things in this world than economic gain. Our planet’s health and well-being should be one of them. And as far as we know, Earth is the only planet that can support life to our liking. Not to mention, Corporate America increasingly sees climate change as a serious threat, so why shouldn’t Trump and the Republican Party? Today to deny climate change as the global crisis for our time for whatever reason can only mean further inaction, especially if conservatives remain stuck in their anti-environmental ways. Inaction only exacerbates the problem which will lead to widespread destruction. To deny climate change even if you’re a Republican is utterly inexcusable. Now more than ever we need to stand together and fight against Trump administration’s climate change skepticism and anti-environmental policies. Because combating global warming isn’t a mere political issue embraced by liberals but a moral imperative that future generations depend on. If we want to secure a bright future for our children, then the time to act is now. The United States and the world have absolutely nothing to gain from withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord but everyone in the world has practically everything to lose.


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