Well, this is what happens when we hire an amateur.
Against the advice of his most reasonable advisors, against the knowledge provided by the world’s best scientists, against the requests by a multitude of corporate leaders, against the pleas of almost every government on Earth… Donald Trump officially pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord.
What does that mean? Why is it a problem?
Well, let me start by providing some background information. The Paris Climate Agreement is pact signed by 195 out of 197 possible countries around the world, agreeing to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and attempt to limit the effects of global warming. The idea is to try to halt warming at 2 degrees Celsius over current levels.
The agreement specifically allows each country to set their own standards, their own timelines, and their own methods. It doesn’t set up sanctions or punishments. It’s not legally binding. It is a way for nations to help work together on tackling the very real issue of man-made climate change. It allows each nation to set its own goals, and then encourages them to create new goals as each one is (hopefully) met. It is a collaborative agreement designed to make it as easy as possible for every nation to participate in the mitigation of human-caused global warming. Not only does the agreement NOT cause economic harm to the US (or any other country), but it will likely be an economic benefit to everyone, especially as new technologies develop, and new industries grow and flourish. The only businesses that may suffer are those who refuse to adapt to necessary changes in the way we produce energy and the way we consume resources.
With all that said, US President Donald Trump decided to join just two other countries and step away from the Paris Agreement. 195 of 197 countries originally signed the agreement. The two holdouts were Syria, which is understandably a little busy these days, and Nicaragua, which decided the agreement wasn’t strict enough.
His reasons were covered in a speech delivered on June 1. His primary arguments were that other countries would be held to less-harsh standards than the United States, and that the changes necessary to our infrastructure, energy production, and businesses would hurt the American economy and cause people to lose jobs. You can read multiple fact-checks of his speech here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Suffice to say, almost everything Trump said about the Paris Climate Agreement is wrong. I’ve already explained some of what the agreement actually says and does. However, this bears repeating.
He repeatedly claimed the economy would be damaged by the accords. Other than one partisan study specifically commissioned for his argument, no serious economist believes that pursuing green technologies and reducing fossil fuel consumption will be a drain on jobs or the economy. Even now, in the early stages of the Paris accord, the US has far more jobs in solar power than in coal. Technologies change and markets adapt. If anything, developing new technologies will be a boon the economy. New jobs develop when new infrastructure is created.
Trump also continued his strange fixation/mispronunciation of China, and argued that, “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement.”
Well, no. That’s not how this works. Actually, his entire speech contained statements that seemed to assume the Agreement was legally binding, with penalties for noncompliance.As I previously explained, the reality is that the agreement is completely voluntary. Each nation creates its own rules and its own goals. The nations have all voluntarily agreed to officially start pushing toward their goals in 2020, and as each goal is met, newer, more ambitious goals would be created. But failure to meet said goals is punishment to the warming planet, not to a nation’s budget or trade policies. Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand the basic concept of the treaty. He positions it as a malevolent foreign other usurping American sovereignty. I suppose it makes sense that a global warming denier would see things that way, but it’s just another way he’s wrong.
Speaking of Trump being wrong, China isn’t “allowed” to build more coal plants. China is still heavily reliant on coal, but they have actually pushed hard to scale back coal production, and are working harder than most countries in modernizing their energy production. Every statement Trump made referencing China seemed to treat it as though the Agreement gave it the freedom to ignore the treaty, while punishing American interests. This is a complete lie.
But wait, there’s more!
Trump also claimed, “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that; this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount.”
This is misleading at best. It’s a prime example not of a lie, but of bullshit. It’s a bullshit statement in that it misleads while providing some grains of truth as a cover. There was a report that stated the reductions in projected temperature increases were relatively light. This is true. However, it assumes every country maintains their initial goals for the next 83 years. But that’s not how the treaty works. The idea is that as each nation reaches their first set of goals, they set a new round of goals, designed to continue improvement.
As an aside, even a 0.2 degree reduction would be a major improvement over what might happen if we do literally nothing. Considering the drastic consequences of even small increases in average global temperature, every number improvement is better than nothing.
Maybe my favorite part of the speech was when Trump (rather haltingly) proclaimed, “I was elected to represent the citizens of… Pittsburgh, not Paris. I promised I would exit or renegotiate any deal which fails to serve America’s interests.”
The Mayor of Pittsburgh responded by issuing several statements proclaiming his support for the Paris treaty, and a full 75% of the people of Pittsburgh themselves voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Pittsburgh is far closer to Paris on this issue than they are to Donald Trump. It’s true that Pittsburgh is surrounded by coal country, but it figures that Trump would manage to screw his rhetorical point up while gunning for easy alliteration.
Anthropogenic climate change is real. No matter how many times Donald Trump has denied it, the fact remains that humans are warming the planet. And there is little doubt that the warming we have already caused is creating problems right now for humanity. And further warming will create yet more problems. I wrote about this before. I encourage people to follow this link, and take a look at the evidence for man-made global warming.
Donald Trump thinks it’s a hoax concocted by foreign interests to harm the American economy. Many of his supporters concur. But 98% of climate experts disagree. 98% of the world’s governments disagree. More than a century of intensive research disagrees with Donald Trump.
The world is warming. Humans are the cause. That warming is a bad thing. And we can do something about it.
The Paris Climate Agreement is as moderate a treaty as one can get. It’s certainly imperfect. But it has almost no economic drawbacks, and sooooo many possible benefits. A good businessman would be in favor of it. Most actually are.
Unfortunately, the Electoral College put a lousy businessman in charge of the United States.
Fortunately, this country is full of intelligent and decent people. Many cities and states have proclaimed their support of the agreement, and will work toward meeting the original goals, in spite of the President. Many businesses will as well. Eventually, a new president will most likely re-enter the Agreement. But until then, we as Americans will have to be smarter than the man picked to be our leader, and carry on with sanity and intelligence despite his massive blunder.