With his announcement Thursday that he will pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, our petulant president has put the world on a path — potentially, but increasingly inevitably — to irreversible catastrophe. The decision fulfills Donald J. Trump's misguided campaign promise to withdraw from the pact under which nearly 200 nations (led, at the time, by the U.S.) pledged to try to reduce global warming by curtailing greenhouse gas emissions.
Trump's decision, while expected, is nonetheless stunning in its short-sightedness, its rejection of clear science, and its utter disregard for the nation's long-standing role as a world leader. To their credit, China and the European Union are greeting Trump's announcement with a pledge of their own to continue the fight against climate change, a move that places them in a prime position to reap the economic benefits of the future of renewable energy. And although the accord has no formal enforcement mechanism, the U.S. could find itself facing carbon-related tariffs on exports to the EU and countries that keep their commitments. That's a bad deal for American businesses and their workers.
The fight to counter global warming will be all the more difficult without the U.S., which pumped more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other nation — growing rich in the process — and continues to be the second-highest annual emitter behind China. This page has argued since shortly after Trump emerged as a serious contender for the Republican nomination that he is unfit in demeanor and background to be president, and much to the nation's detriment, he keeps proving us right. In fact, what better proof that Trump is irresponsible and reckless, and that his policies are depressing, demoralizing and scary, than this embrace of foolish isolationism — and this doubling down on an energy source that is in all likelihood going to cause massive disruptions in how humans inhabit the planet. Withdrawing from the Paris accord may be the clearest sign that Trump is not just retreating from decades of American leadership on the global stage, but that he is actually making the United States a force for bad and for wrong in the world.
Trump's rejection of the agreement — over the objections of not just global political leaders and the pope but even of Exxon Mobil, for God's sake — means this country will not just cease to be part of the solution to the problem, but will put itself squarely on the other side, bolstering the credibility of the climate-change deniers, the anti-science hucksters and the irresponsible corporate cynics. It will strike a powerful blow against the common good from the coast of California to the melting permafrost of northern Alaska to the flood-prone lowlands along America's rivers to the hurricane-ravaged communities along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Globally, it could set us on track to what climate scientists agree will be intensified floods, famines and storms, rising seas and mass migrations fueling strife over water scarcity, declining food production and epidemics.
Further, the decision causes enormous injury to this country's reputation and to its role in the world. It's notable that only two nations didn't sign on to the Paris agreement. Nicaragua, to its credit, said no because the agreement is nonbinding, and the goal of capping emissions at 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels is too low. It didn't sign because the deal wasn't good enough, compared with Trump's claim that it's a "bad deal" for the U.S. The other nonsigner is war-ravaged Syria. And now Trump's America.
Getting out of the agreement will take time. The agreement went into effect Nov. 4, 2016, and Trump said he will follow the pact's procedures for dropping out, which include a ban on withdrawal by any nation for the first three years. So Trump can't take the first formal step until November 2019, and can't withdraw the U.S. until a year later — just after he presumably stands for reelection.
That might seem like political breathing room, but Trump also said he would immediately renege on Obama administration pledges to reduce emissions, and would cancel a promised $3-billion contribution to help poor nations develop sustainable, rather than carbon-based, energy sources. And yet, bizarrely, Trump held out the possibility of negotiating a new climate agreement — as if the rest of the world might be waiting, breathlessly, to see what new ideas he could bring to the table.
But Trump has lost his moment. The world already has a global agreement and more reality-based and responsible leaders to show the way. Let's hope it's not too late.