Today, Donald Trump did something that surprised literally no one at this point: he has committed to pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement by 2020. If you have been living under a rock and are not familiar with the Paris Agreement, it is a unified effort by most of the world to reduce carbon emissions through a number of reasonable and achievable goals. For the record, the U.S. is the single largest producer of carbon pollution ever, cumulatively speaking. This is the equivalent of your crappy neighbour walking over your lawn and dumping out his garbage, then walking away and leaving you to deal with the mess.
“But he’s only doing it because it would hurt American jobs,” you might defend his actions. Or perhaps you fall back on the good ol’ “Climate change is a hoax perpetuated by China to reduce American manufacturing.” Or for any of a million other reasons.
In any case, you’re wrong, for a number of reasons. Let’s start with the most simple:
1. This isn’t Trump’s first attack on the environment.
Back in December of 2016, Trump nominated Scott Pruitt to head the EPA–that is, the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has two jobs to do: to protect human health, and to protect the environment. And yet, Mr. Pruitt is a well-known and -documented climate change denier. He chooses not to believe the science that proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that climate change is real, and is incredibly dangerous. Specifically, Pruitt does not believe that man-made carbon dioxide is contributing the earth’s changing climates. At the time of Pruitt’s nomination, the EPA’s official stance an carbon pollution was that “carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change”, according to their website.
Let that sink in for a moment.
This means that Trump nominated, and Congress then confirmed, a man who was on the record as being in disagreement with what the EPA stood for. As Trump himself is a well-known climate change denier, this is as blatant an attack on the environment as DeVos was an attack on education or Carson was an attack on housing.
2. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement could actually damage American jobs.
Trump has long lambasted the Paris Agreement as being bad for American jobs, due to the additional restrictions that it places on companies–especially those in the manufacturing and automotive worlds. The oft-quoted Heritage Foundation report on the economic impact of the Paris Agreement stated that, by 2040, America would lose around 400,000 jobs due to the new regulations. What is inherently wrong with this report is that it spends absolutely no time whatsoever examining the industries that will grow up in place of those reduced by the Paris Agreement–solar and wind energy, and the study and application of renewable energy.
To date, the study and development of renewable energy, especially along the solar front, is one of the fastest growing industries in America. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement hinders that growth in America–ultimately, pulling out will cost jobs, rather than the other way around. Bear in mind that most of the jobs Trump likes to hold up in defense of his retreat are coal-mining–jobs which are done mostly by machine in this new technological age.
In addition to this, America’s two most powerful global opponents are Russia and China, both of whom have chosen to remain in the Paris Agreement. The U.S. has pulled out alone (more on that in a moment), which strengths Russian and Chinese positions around the world, especially in manufacturing. Once more, Trump has stared out at the world’s leaders and given them the middle finger.
3. America is alone in it’s choice to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
Over the next few weeks, you’ll likely be hearing conservatives throw around Nicaragua and Syria as other member states that are not willing to sign the Agreement in defense of America not signing the agreement. Be sure to fact-check them through the nearest wall. Syria is not signing the Agreement because the country is currently in the middle of a six-year-long civil war; they are in no position to be thinking globally, at the moment. And Nicaragua has chosen not to sign the Agreement because they feel it doesn’t do enough to punish those who don’t follow it. In other words, they feel the Paris Agreement is too softcore, and have vowed to be ninety percent renewable by 2020.
While Trump has always proclaimed “America First”, what is actually happening through his actions is “America Alone”. With the world rapidly shrinking, and everything happening on a global stage–the economy, the environment, even human rights–being alone is not a safe place for us to be. This is doubly true when one considers that Russia and China will be the leaders of this America-free pact.
4. Climate change is real, and it is terrifying.
For the last three years, the year was declared to be “the hottest on record“. It started in 2014, continued in 2015, and was broken once again in 2016. In addition, sixteen out of the seventeen hottest years on record have occurred only since 2000. Time and time and time again, the Antarctic ice shelves have sloughed off into the ocean, reducing the size of the icy continent and raising sea levels around the world.
And as I’ve mentioned, climate change is like something out of a science fiction movie. Here is what we can look forward to if we continue to abuse the environment as we are now doing:
- Severe weather patterns will become more and more prevalent around the globe, leading to more droughts, flooding, tornadoes, and significantly more intense heat waves.
- Oceans will acidify, which will in turn kill off much of the ocean’s life. Sea levels will rise, again leading to flooding and setting the stage for future environmental woes.
- Climate change will disrupt and/or destroy a number of ecological systems. Thousands (if not more) of plant and animal species will go extinct in a relatively short window of time.
Please understand, these are just the short-term ramifications of global climate change. The long-term affects are considering scarier and more difficult to predict.
Why does this matter? What can we do?
To me, it matters for all of the reasons above and more. I grew up in a family that spent a significant amount of time outdoors. While most of my friends when to amusement parks or beaches for their summer vacations, my brothers and I were loaded into the minivan, and we traveled to whatever National Parks were available for camping. We camped regularly with our Scout troops, and through church camp. I even would up working at that same church camp, first as a lifeguard, but eventually as the camp naturalist.
To this day, I enjoy a small amount of gardening, and I love bird watching. Nothing is more freeing to me than waking up in a tent in the woods and stepping out into fresh mountain air.
That is why this matters. If we don’t start to do something now, my children won’t get to experience these moments. Instead, they’ll be stuck inside where air conditioning makes the temperature tolerable and a filtration system removes the myriad toxins from that air. They won’t get to fall in love with the gorges of New York, or the ravines of the Grand Canyon, or the towering giants of the Grand Tetons. They will see only smog, and know only of beaches in myth.
Am I being hyperbolic? Perhaps a little, but that is the future if we continue to do what we are currently doing–nothing. So here’s what you can do to fight climate change.
- Get political. Speak to your state and U.S. representatives. Remember, you elected them, so they work for you. Make your voice heard.
- Get environmental. Learn what best practices you can adopt in your own home. It may seem tacky, but the old adage is a good one to follow: “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” If you can use it for something else, don’t throw it away.
- Get smart. Educate yourself. Learn what is happening in the world around you. Don’t be an ostrich, and even more importantly, call bullshit what it is. If you hear someone say they are a climate change skeptic, don’t be afraid to correct them–they are climate change denier.
- Get out. Our world is changing, so be sure to cherish what we still have. Go listen to the morning birdsong, take a swim in a lake, and plant a tree.