President Donald Trump’s decision on Thursday to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change—an agreement supported by nearly every other nation in the world—is perhaps the kookiest policy calculation of his young presidency. Here’s why it matters.
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The agreement seeks to save the planet from global warming which the vast majority of scientist overwhelmingly believe is primarily caused by humans and our industrialized development. Left unabated, increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue raising temperatures which melt glaciers and ice caps, subsequently swelling sea levels and resulting in displacing tens of millions of people living on low-lying islands and/or shorelines. But there’s more…droughts will deplete global food supplies and lead to famine, more diseases and elimination of many plant and animal species. Not so Make America (or the world) Greatish.
Given the enormous global consequences of denying and/or delaying addressing this monumental issue is why in 2015, after more than two decades of effort, 197 nations (including the US) singed onto the Paris Agreement, the most comprehensive effort to address climate change ever. Late last year, the Agreement received enough home-nation ratifications from those signatories that it entered into force. Of note is that the US contributes roughly 15 percent to global warming, China being the only nation doing more. The US commitment as part of the Agreement is to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. The overall Agreement goal is to reduce temperatures by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) this century.
If not abated, global warming will also lead to the increased possibility of conflicts impacting our—an other nations’—national security. Increasingly scare water and land resources have been, and will continue to be, a leading cause of conflict in the world. That will be exacerbated by the booming planetary population growth which is projected to increase from 7.5 billion today to 8.5 billion by 2030. The President’s own Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis testified before Congress that he sees global warming as a national security issue.
At the recent Group of Seven (G7) meeting in Italy, the President found himself in the lonely position of being the only leader of a highly developed economy that had not personally committed to the Paris Agreement. Other leaders made their case in can attempt to change Mr. Trump’s position, given he said during the campaign he would pull out and that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Days before, President Trump met with the Pope who also made the case for the Agreement. (The President was even presented with 192 papal pages of reading materials on climate change.)
This pull out position places us in a group of only two of three nations which don’t support the Agreement. Nicaragua doesn’t support it, but only due to the weakness of the Agreement. They wanted it tougher. That leaves the only other nation to not support the Agreement: Syria. Rah rah really? That’s the other nation we want to align with on this critical matter? Its one thing to be isolationist as the President has moved toward, and evidenced through his stern talking to leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) at their recent Brussels meeting, but its quite another to be seen as an international paranoid pariah. That’s now the closed case assessment of many around the world. What a whacky and weird calculation for the President to make.
Interestingly, even some old skool climate change policy opponents, including energy executives, have said the US should stay in the Agreement in order to have a seat and the policy table. For example, the President’s own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, is a supporter of the Agreement. The same goes for several coal company executives who have urged the President not to pull the Paris plug.
In addition to wanting to have a seat at the policy table, many of these energy executives understand that the energizing economics of climate change are already occurring and that to facilitate our prosperity, we should be doubling down on renewable energy technologies and encouraging investment in the future as opposed to pursuing the dirty energy past. Renewable energy and efforts to address global warming are an economic endeavor accepted by, and invested in, not only niche investors but by large institutional investors throughout the US and world.
The fact is that even given clean coal technologies which have made major progress over the last decade, there will never be another new coal-fired plant built in the US. Coal, for all the vast resources that still exist and enormous good it has done for our nation and the world, will never be used like it has been in the past. On the positive flip side, we have plenty of room and opportunities to help fuel-inject our economy through wind, solar and other renewable power sources.
The kookiest of the calculations is that even given all of the other variables—the economics, geopolitics, national security, and oh…saving the world—the President chooses to side with the extreme segment of his voter base that is either ill-informed or decisively dim on this issue. A University of Michigan study revealed that 70 percent of Americans favor staying in the Paris Agreement (over 80 percent support more wind and solar endeavors). A Yale study determined that over 50 percent of Americans are “worried” about climate change. So, the President’s crazy calculation is that somehow the minority who supported him last year should dominate over the definitive facts and circumstance in which we find ourselves today. That’s not only pandering politics, but an extremely poor policy proposition.
The only silver lining (and its hard to see through the horrible haze of global warming and contemporary US politics) is that in order to fully pull out of the Agreement, no nation may do so for three years, and then there is a year before policies should reflect the pull out. That means the US is not permitted under the Agreement to formally and fully pull out, at the earliest, until November of 2020—-just after the next presidential election. There is that.
Former CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton was Chair of the CFTC’s Energy & Environmental Markets Advisory Committee, is a political and policy commentator and author of Ponzimonium: How Scam Artists Are Ripping Off America. He can be reached at email@example.com.