Trump disregards political, business, scientific and religious leaders by pulling the U. S. our of Paris climate agreement.
Decades from now — if sea levels continue rising, polar ice caps keep melting and weather patterns grow ever more extreme — people might well look back at the spring of 2017 as a key turning point in the failed effort to stave off catastrophic, human-induced climate change.
President Trump’s decision Thursday to withdraw the United States, the world’s second largest emitter of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, from the Paris climate agreement deals a body blow to one of the best hopes for slowing a ruinous rise in global temperatures.
By breaking ranks with nearly 200 nations, the United States joins only Syria (which is riven by civil war) and Nicaragua (which thinks the Paris agreement isn’t ambitious enough) as the odd countries out. The Trump administration’s action abdicates America’s moral leadership and makes it easier for other nations to renege on their own pledges to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.
In making his reckless decision, Trump defied the advice of the world’s leading climate scientists. Of Pope Francis and other religious leaders. Of the leaders of the seven wealthiest democracies. Of major corporations, including Chevron, Google, Facebook and Apple. Of members of his own inner circle, including son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka. Of his own secretary of State, a former ExxonMobil CEO.
And Trump ignored the wishes of most Americans, seven out of 10 of whom favor the Paris agreement.
But the president — prodded by chief strategist Steve Bannon, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt and coal-state Republicans in Congress — thinks he knows better. At Thursday’s Rose Garden announcement, Trump argued that the 2015 agreement “handicaps the United States economy, ” even though there is no binding deal, only voluntary pledges by each nation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
He expressed concern about job-killing restrictions. Yet the Paris agreement restricts nothing. Instead, it relies on peer pressure and transparency to limit global warming to a more tolerable level. Trump could have revised President Obama’s pledges without ending U. S. participation.
Trump made a nod toward renegotiating the Paris agreement, or crafting an entirely new pact that would be “fair” to the United States. But it’s hard to imagine the other nations rushing back to the bargaining table after Trump blew up an agreement that grew out of decades of arduous climate talks.
How much damage Trump leaves behind by his decision remains unclear. Market forces have already helped the U. S. bend the curve of greenhouse emissions by driving a transition from coal to cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas and promoting renewable wind and solar.
Initial goals under the Paris agreement are modest. The heavy lifting comes within 10 to 15 years as the agreement urges governments to increase emission reduction targets to meet the goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Even a degree or two increase worldwide can dramatically effect weather, sea levels and crop production.
Trump’s abandonment of the Paris agreement, along with his other plans to roll back President Obama’s vehicle efficiency standards and dismantle his Clean Power Plan to cut power plant emissions, will most likely make it impossible for the U. S. to reach even half the 26% reduction from 2005 levels that Obama promised America would reach by 2025.
Other governments, notably in the European Union and China, vow to forge ahead developing the clean-energy technologies that will be the drivers of economic growth in the 21st century. But the margin for tilting the planet away from catastrophic climate change in the future is slim at best, and no matter the slack picked up by other nations in the absence of U. S. leadership, it might not be enough.
The 45th president dreams of a legacy where America is great again. There was no greatness in the decision he rendered Thursday, just the heightened prospect of a climate-stricken globe left behind for future generations.
USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.
To read more editorials, go to the Opinion front page or sign up for the daily Opinion email newsletter. To respond to this editorial, submit a comment to email@example.com .