Paris Agreement Withdrawal: Little To Gain, Much To Lose

06/01/2017 04:18 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2017
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images

President Trump announced today that he is pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, painting an almost post-apocalyptic vision of the downfall of the United States if it stays in.

Trump announced his decision in front of a hand-picked audience of White House and Cabinet personnel to be sure that he received at least polite applause, and followed his speech by calling upon the administrator of the EPA – who believes the EPA is an instrument of evil that needs to be reined in – to heap praise upon him.

In other words, he brought not only his own cheering section, but also his own cheerleader.

The Obama administration signed on to the Paris Agreement in 2015, along with pretty much the rest of the entire world. 195 countries signed. The only two countries who refused to join the agreement were Nicaragua and Syria. Nicaragua refused to sign on because it believed the Agreement didn’t go far enough. Syria refused because it is, well, Syria.

The agreement calls upon countries to fashion climate plans with the goal of curtailing greenhouse gas emissions. Each country pledges to take certain steps over a period of time, but the pledges are non-binding and subject to change as national conditions change.

Under the agreement, the United States pledged to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels in the next ten years, by 2025, and to report periodically on its progress toward that goal. It also called upon the United States to contribute $3 billion by 2020 to assist poorer countries to reach their goals. $1 billion of that amount has already been delivered.

By pulling out of the agreement, Trump is saying that the United States refuses not only to commit to making those reductions in emissions, but even to try.

To his credit, I suppose, Trump did not purport to pin his primary objections on scientific claims. Somebody must have convinced him that the science behind global warming is not seriously disputed. Yes, there are a handful of “Republican scientists” who dispute the scientific consensus that the planet is warming and human beings are contributing to it.

But there are outliers and contrarians on virtually every scientific endeavor. Once in a blue moon they are right. But if we paid too much attention to them, we would not have gone to the real moon, or cured diseases, or fed hungry people.

And the people Trump is courting really don’t give a hoot about science anyway. Trump’s political Viagra, as always, is more emotional and elemental.

By relentlessly portraying the United States as a victim, trodden upon by the rest of the world, Trump projects weakness, not strength.

Victimization trumps science every time.

Trump’s rationale for pulling out of the agreement pretty much boils down to the same rationale that seems to drive his entire foreign policy, a sense of persecution. It “disadvantages” and “punishes” the United States. It is “unfair at the highest level to the United States.” Other countries are “taking financial advantage of the United States.”

In other words, the evil geniuses who run the rest of the world have once again outsmarted the poor United States, and tricked it into joining an agreement that will lead to our country’s downfall. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the mindset of persecution that drives Trump in everything he does, but that’s another article.

Other than keeping a campaign promise, pulling out of the agreement doesn’t accomplish much. It is not going to revitalize the coal industry that Trump seems to love so much. Yes, Trump may reverse regulations that burden the coal industry, or refuse to establish new ones. But he could have done that without leaving the Paris Agreement.

Whatever he does isn’t going to change the downward spiral of coal. It has little to do with governmental policies. The march toward renewable sources, and away from coal, is irreversible. Whatever the federal government does or doesn’t do isn’t going to stop states like California from cleaning up their own environments. Natural gas, fracking and nuclear energy will continue to replace coal, for better or worse. Trump can’t change or stop that.

The downside, by contrast, could be enormous. The withdrawal is only the latest nail in the coffin of the moral authority and global leadership of the United States, which seems to be the result of almost everything Trump does on the world scene. Add this to his boorish, embarrassing antics in his NATO visit last week, his picking completely unnecessary fights with key allies like Germany, Canada and Mexico, and his short-term and short-sighted flogging of “America first.”

By relentlessly portraying the United States as a victim, trodden upon by the rest of the world, Trump projects weakness, not strength.

Trump’s lack of self-awareness becomes more breathtaking by the day. He asked today, “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”

News flash: we’re already past the point where the rest of the world started laughing at us.

They started laughing on January 20, 2017.

Philip Rotner is an attorney and an engaged citizen who has spent over 40 years practicing law. His views are his own and do not reflect the views of any organization with which he has been associated. Follow him on Twitter at @PhilipRotner.

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