Out Of Paris And Into The Frying Pan

For a President whose campaign slogans included, “Drain the Swamp,” today’s announcement on withdrawal from the Paris Agreement looks pretty cynical indeed.

A decision that favors special interest groups over what the public clearly prefers? Sounds pretty swampy to me. Of course, given President Trump’s disdain for President Obama’s accomplishments and his decision to hire Koch-backed fossil fuel lobbyists and oil and gas champions like former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, rejection of the landmark Paris climate policy was almost a given since day one.

But even predetermined actions have consequences, and here are three points on what this decision will mean for American leadership on climate change. First, the good news:

1) Paris Wasn’t Built In A Day

Many of the people cheering on today’s announcement fail to understand the magnitude of the Paris Agreement. It’s not, in fact, some kind of cheap liberal rallying cry. It’s not simply a piece of paper with a bunch of United Nations names on it. The Paris Agreement was actually the result of literal years of tough negotiations, olive branch-extending, and arm-twisting to bring 196 countries to agreement on how to collectively tackle one of the greatest challenges of our time.

As a result, most countries have real incentive to continue to support the Agreement and the work they’ve committed serious resources to over the past 5-10 years. And several of the biggest signatories are already making good on their commitments, taking away a common (and false) critique that China, India and other major polluters aren’t doing their fair part in the fight against climate change.

If nothing else, those of us who do understand the importance of international climate action should recognize and celebrate the enduring nature of the Paris Agreement and the movement it represents.

2) Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc Does Not Apply

By exiting the Agreement, is Trump removing the one driver of climate action around the world? Hardly. If dark humor is your thing, you might enjoy hearing that shortly after news broke about Trump’s announcement to pull out of the Paris Agreement, Darren Woods, the new CEO of ExxonMobil, voiced the company’s support for the Agreement at a shareholder meeting.

What a time to be alive… But here’s a secret: Corporate America and many others are not moving increasingly toward clean energy and sustainability because of the Paris Agreement – they’re going green in spite of it.

This time next week, the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Business Renewables Center (BRC) will be conducting its third Buyers’ Bootcamp to train corporate leaders on the process for procuring large amounts of renewable energy. This will bring BRC’s collective Bootcamp alumni total to over 80 graduates, representing trillions of dollars in market capitalization. Corporate Buyers have directly purchased over 7.5 GW of renewable power in the U.S. alone – and that doesn’t even account for on-site installations. And over and over again, corporate leaders are publicly confirming that sustainability in business is good for the bottom line.

Paris is an important milestone, but it’s hardly the main driver behind action from businesses, states, cities and consumers. Fact is, the climate action train has already left the station and even the Exxons and the Shells of the world are getting on board.

3) But Now, The Bad News

While there are reasons to be excited for the future of climate action worldwide and what the Paris Agreement has already achieved, that optimism does not negate the damage that this decision will cause.

The fact is, with the majority of the public against this decision and global leaders already snubbing Trump’s role on the international stage, the choice to embrace isolationism will likely prove to be a disastrous one for America’s influence around the world.

“…several of the biggest signatories are already making good on their commitments, taking away a common (and false) critique that China, India and other major polluters aren’t doing their fair part in the fight against climate change.”

American leadership around the world can often come at a steep price, but that’s not the case here. The Paris Agreement levelized the playing field in many ways, generating actionable plans for every party to take meaningful action. And as we’ve seen, these plans are already being implemented to great success in China and India and elsewhere. It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that this decision steers the United States away from historical leadership and toward the wrong side of history.

Does the United States plan to withdraw from all climate-related negotiations and discussions worldwide? Won’t our failure to uphold commitments on climate give nations pause when discussing commitments on other issues? Does the Trump Administration think that, by rejecting Paris, the coal industry will come roaring back?

Come on. Give me a break. (In fact, on that last point, global financial titan BlackRock has some news for you…)

So Let’s Call This What It Really Is

The world didn’t end today, and serious people will continue to work hard to reduce carbon emissions in every single nation across the world. But make no mistake: this is another bumbling mistake by the Trump Administration, too eager to score political points with its shrinking base to see the big picture. Unlike misspelled tweets and unfilled assistance secretary positions, however, this misstep has serious consequences.

It was John F. Kennedy who said, “Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.” Many of us understand that nuclear war isn’t the only existential threat anymore, but clearly Trump has failed to grasp the magnitude of his climate denial.

Opinions represented in this piece are the author’s entirely and are not necessarily reflected by any employer or affiliate