Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is an Abdication of US Leadership

Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is an Abdication of US Leadership

When Donald Trump took to the rose garden yesterday for his ceremonial announcement, we all knew what was coming. The leaky ship that is the Trump Administration had notified us of his plans to leave the Paris Climate Accord far in advance, and although yesterday solidified the rumors, many still found the decision to be a shock. 

Contrary to recent sentiments from the left, the withdrawal is not a symptom of climate change denial. Although the President himself and major Republicans have remained staunch in their support of the "the science isn't conclusive yet" position, the Paris Climate Accord has won support from nearly every major corporate institution in America right up to Exxon and Conoco, indicating that the last barriers to climate legislation from the corporate world are falling. Whether the Right is now focused on free market solutions to the global climate change crisis, or perhaps only supporting the withdrawal to spite arrogant liberals who posit hyperbolically the agreement as an essential panacea, is up for debate. In terms of foreign policy, however, it doesn't matter. What matters to me is the bigger picture of US leadership on the world stage, and on the heels of a disastrous G7 summit with NATO, President Trump's decision to leave the accord adds a pretty large canary to the pile already building in the coal mine. 

 The President harshly criticized fellow NATO members in his speech at the G7 summit last month

The President harshly criticized fellow NATO members in his speech at the G7 summit last month

When people complain about the US being the world's policeman, and how Monroe doctrine-esque  policies would save us time, money and lives, they signal a willingness to give up a crucial tenant of our power situation. The US can have a seat at the table no matter what the conversation, so if we want to have influence over as much as possible to better serve US interests, being part of the conversation is obviously the first step. And when it comes to climate change the world community desperately needs US co-operation to set attainable goals, meaning that we have an incredibly influential position in any climate change related discussion. So why is President Trump pulling out of the deal? He can complain about the lack of a Senate conformation, or spout poor interpretations of MIT-backed climate science all he wants, but the bottom line is that the agreement contained voluntary goals for sustainability and emissions reductions. It may have been a campaign promise, but the effect of it's execution is that the US is no longer the global leader on climate change. 

Even if one ignores liberal cable news pundits calling Angela Merkel the "leader of the free world," or her campaign comments supposedly signaling a lack of confidence in US leadership, Trump pulling out of the Paris Accord is without debate a clear abdication of US leadership on climate change. Never mind that we are one of three countries who are not a part of the agreement or that Nicaragua is only absent because they believe the agreement is too weak, what maters is that the US is leaving the table of an issue which will dictate a large percentage of global policymaking for decades and centuries to come. Whatever you think about Obama, at least his presidency made clear the need for American leadership in what has been called the issue of our time. Instead of capitalizing on a chance for American leadership, Trump has chosen to regress into campaign rhetoric and foolishly cede a position of power previously uncontested.

Coal miners in West Virginia are not the real winners of the withdrawal, neither are American businesses or anti-regulation conservatives. Although President Trump certainly intended otherwise, he has unwittingly given China the lead on climate change without legitimate reason to reassume it. Over the course of the Obama administration, China evolved on climate change to a surprising degree, and when pro-renewable governing officials were able to push the Paris agreement past the country's powerful fossil fuel interests, is signaled to the World that China was ready to take serious steps to reduce their roll in the global climate crisis. Now two years later, China is now #1 in installed wind and solar capacity, has recently cancelled the construction of over 100 new coal power plants, and has built a solar panel manufacturing system which accounts for more than 2/3 of the world's production. 

 China now produces 2/3 of the World's solar panels

China now produces 2/3 of the World's solar panels

If Donald Trump had been smart about climate change and the archetypal US coal miner he would have been able to address both. Many on the left have suggested that the government should implement job-retraining programs to push development and production of renewable energy resources, a strategy which would undoubtedly create jobs while maintaining employment for the thousands of American workers stuck in dying and dangerous areas of the fuel-extraction industry. Instead, Trump has decided to regress, the trademark of the Bannon-inspired administration policy on global US interests. Putting "America first" really just means we're giving up our seat at the table: it is irresponsible and short sighted. In 50 years Americans will be buying solar panels made in China because we put "America first." Giving up leadership is giving up control, and the control that we used to have over anti-climate change efforts worldwide was far better for US interests than the nonexistent boost to American business we're supposed to have today. 

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