In an inexplicable abdication of any semblance of responsibility or leadership, Donald Trump has announced that he will begin the process to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate treaty, joining Nicaragua and Syria as the only world countries rejecting the agreement. It now seems inevitable that the history books will view Trump as America’s worst-ever president.
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris treaty is a mostly symbolic act. America’s pledges to cut its carbon pollution were non-binding, and his administration’s policies to date had already made it impossible for America to meet its initial Paris climate commitment for 2025. The next American president in 2020 can re-enter the Paris treaty and push for policies to make up some of the ground we lost during Trump’s reign.
However, withdrawing from the Paris treaty is an important symbolic move – a middle finger to the rest of the world, and to future generations. America is by far the largest historical contributor to climate change. Ironically, on the heels of Trump’s claim that most NATO members aren’t paying their fair share to the organization, America has announced that we won’t do our fair share to curb the climate change threats that we are the most responsible for.
The Rotting Republican Party
And the GOP has become the Party of Trump. His decision was reinforced by a letter from 22 Republican senators urging withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty. Those senators have coincidentally received over $10m in donations from the fossil fuel industry over the past five years.
Their reasoning was dubious at best, arguing that environmental attorneys will cite the international agreement in their efforts to prevent the Trump administration from eliminating President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. By law, the US government is required to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act, because it poses a threat to public welfare. The Republican Senators wrote:
Environmentalists will argue that these [Clean Air Act] Section 115 requirements are, in fact, met more easily by the Paris Agreement because it includes enhanced transparency requirements in Article 13, which establishes a process for nations to submit plans to reduce emissions to one another and then to comment on the plans of one another.
As National Resource Defense Council climate and clean air program senior attorney David Doniger explained to me, this argument is nonsense:
They are making things up. EPA did not rely on Paris to justify the Clean Power Plan, and none of the parties defending the Plan has cited Paris as a legal basis. On Clean Air Act Section 115, no one I know has made, or even thought of, this argument.
It’s difficult to discern the Republican Senators’ motivations behind this letter. Even big oil and coal and many of America’s largest companies supported America staying in the Paris agreement. Industries don’t like the uncertainty involved in lurching in and out of international treaties, and experts are concerned about the effect on America’s international influence from tearing up this critically important agreement that we helped broker less than two years ago, that was signed by nearly every world country.
Perhaps the Republican Senators are trying to ride Trump’s nationalist, anti-globalist coattails. Maybe they think that their right-wing base will be excited if they stick it to the rest of the world on Paris. However, majorities of voters in every single county in the US support regulating carbon as a pollutant, and 71% of Americans (including 57% of Republicans) think the US should participate in the Paris agreement.
In short, efforts to pull out of the Paris treaty are woefully misguided, and almost everyone knows it. Everyone except 42% of Senate Republicans including leader Mitch McConnell, James Inhofe, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and of course Trump’s senior advisor Steve Bannon and his EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. Additionally, the Koch brothers and Vladimir Putin are not fans of the treaty. Those two factors may best explain this decision by Trump and the Republican senators.
Good luck kids, you’ll need it
Political calculations aside, pulling America out of the Paris agreement is grossly immoral. Human-caused climate change puts the well-being of our children and grandchildren at risk. That’s especially true for poorer countries that lack the resources to adapt to its impacts, and that contributed the least to the problem. However, the move will also hurt the American economy, as Joseph Robertson wrote on these pages earlier this week:
With China, India, and the EU all moving toward record investments in clean energy and high-efficiency construction, transport and industrial production, withdrawal from the Paris Agreement risks making the US into an economic backwater. Withdrawal would effectively deprive American businesses and communities of the most efficient ways to boost investment, hiring, innovation, and return on investment.
Some Republican leaders are struggling to preserve their party’s credibility and viability. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned against the withdrawal. 20 House Republicans have now joined the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, whose goal is to craft economically beneficial climate policies that both parties can support. And a group of Republican elder statesmen including Secretaries of State and Treasury to Presidents Reagan, George HW Bush, and George W Bush met with the White House seeking support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax plan.
So far, these leaders’ laudable efforts have failed. Trump and the majority of Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to increase American carbon pollution. They want to repeal all of America’s climate policies with no replacement plan. In short, they’re happy to let the world burn, and for our children and grandchildren suffer the consequences.
2020 election will be a climate referendum
This is the rotten state of today’s GOP. They’re happy to sell out the future of humanity for their own short-term political gain. Noam Chomsky was right – the Republican Party may be the most dangerous organization in human history. This move comes at a time when the need to act on global warming has been clear for decades, but the GOP has blocked all American climate policy efforts, and we’re now running out of time to avoid dangerous climate change.
America’s withdrawal from the Paris treaty will take four years, meaning that the 2020 election (and the 2018 midterms) will be a referendum on Trump’s decision today. American voters must send the world a signal in that election. In the meantime, it will be up to the rest of the world – particularly China and the EU – to take up the mantle of leadership on climate change that America has left behind.
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