Despite impassioned pleas from European leaders, corporate executives, and even the Pope, President Trump is expected to pull out of the groundbreaking Paris climate agreement, according to media reports, a decision that might play to his benighted Breitbart base but will align US environmental policy with pariah nations like Nicaragua and Syria. And although Trump seems to operate in an irony-free zone, it’s also worth noting that reports of his decision leaked out on Wednesday, the same day that ExxonMobil shareholders led a rebellion to force the oil and gas giant to report regularly on climate change.
Those rebellious shareholders are right: Without concerted, unified action, every nation faces devastating threats from global warming, including rising sea levels, superstorms, droughts, and severe food and water shortages. Trump’s America-first isolationism is not only out of step, it’s also a naive and dangerous act of vandalism, intent on strip mining the environmental commons to serve the retrograde interests of smokestack-era industrialists.
It’s not the first time that this administration has chosen isolationism over global leadership. Trump’s recent tour abroad was part of that folly, marred by threats leveled at stalwart NATO allies like Germany. Yet US participation on an international scale was essential to the Paris accord: After the collapse of the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, then-Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated behind the scenes with China and India to help secure a more flexible, workable deal six years later. Trump seems to relish nothing more than taking the torch to Obama-era diplomacy, without regard to consequences. “The success of our foreign policy — in trade, military, any other kind of negotiation — depends on our credibility. I can’t think of anything more destructive to our credibility than this,” R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for George W. Bush, told The New York Times. Environmentalists rightly fear that emerging economies like Indonesia and Malaysia will follow if the US abrogates the agreement.
National muscle-flexing aside, Trump’s fictional promises to Appalachian coal miners that rolling back greenhouse gas standards will restore jobs have long been rendered moot by automation and by the marketplace, which favors plentiful, cheap natural gas unlocked by fracking technology. In Massachusetts, Wednesday marked the last day of operation for Brayton Point Power Station, one of New England’s few remaining coal-fired power plants. There are already nearly 280,000 jobs in the solar industry across the US, former energy secretary Ernest Moniz estimates — dwarfing the coal industry — and more openings likely for skilled workforce development in tech manufacturing for hydro, wind, and clean tech if the US remains committed to reducing greenhouse gases. But those numbers come with a warning. It’s also a potentially robust market that’s ripe for the taking: China has already eclipsed the US in manufacturing solar panels. If the US abandons Paris, the Chinese have said they’ll step in and take the reins of global leadership on combating climate change as well.
Even with a void in national leadership, Massachusetts is well-positioned to pick up the slack with approaches like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative approach that bypassed Washington altogether. And the New England states can work together to revive a dormant regional program to encourage cleaner “low-carbon” fuel standards. But ocean currents travel, and winds don’t stop at borders. The pollution that developing nations might pour into the atmosphere eventually sweeps this way, posing a public health risk for millions.
Congressional Democrats have already decried Trump’s expected decision. This is a point of no return for the Republican Party, which has an opportunity to look beyond partisan politics to the future of the planet and reject Trump’s reactionary foolishness. Pulling out of the Paris accord would be a perfect example of why “America First” today means America last tomorrow.