Trump pulls U.S. out of Paris accord
Overriding the concerns of U.S. business executives, world leaders, and several senior members of his own administration, President Donald Trump last week announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate agreement. Casting his decision as a “reassertion of America’s sovereignty,” Trump said the 2015 deal to curb carbon emissions would significantly hamper the U.S. economy and cost millions of U.S. jobs. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said in a celebratory speech at the White House. Under the nonbinding agreement, which was signed by every country in the world apart from Syria and Nicaragua, the U.S. pledged to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. Trump, who has in the past claimed global warming is a “hoax,” said countries such as China and India were “laughing at us” because of those terms, and suggested he could negotiate a better deal. “If we can, that’s great,” he said. “If we can’t, that’s fine.”
Trump’s announcement prompted widespread praise from Republican lawmakers, but fierce pushback from the rest of the world. The leaders of France, Germany, and Italy issued a joint statement saying that the agreement could not be renegotiated. Former President Barack Obama, who signed and helped forge the accord, said the Trump administration had chosen to “reject the future.” Thirteen governors, dozens of cities, and hundreds of businesses and universities pledged to continue to work toward meeting the agreement’s targets. A Washington Post–ABC News poll found that 59 percent of Americans opposed Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement, while 28 percent supported it.
What the editorials said
The Paris climate agreement was always a “Potemkin village,” said The Wall Street Journal. In order to get all 195 signatories to agree, each country set its own emissions limit—with “no enforcement mechanisms to prevent cheating.” The agreement’s target is to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, yet research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that even if every pledge is fulfilled “to the letter,” it would reduce warming by only 0.2 degrees; temperatures would still rise by at least 3.1 degrees by 2100. Why should the U.S. subject itself to costly and burdensome emissions regulations for so little gain?
No one thinks the Paris accord is a silver bullet for climate change, said The New York Times. But it puts collective pressure on every country to reduce its carbon footprint and accelerate the much-needed shift to renewable energy. Trump’s withdrawal could prompt other signatories to “rethink their emissions pledges” and “squanders what was left of America’s claim to leadership” on this and other issues. “In huge neon letters,” Trump has sent the world a message: The U.S. doesn’t care how climate change affects you.
It was bizarre for Trump to claim his decision will revive the coalmining industry, said the New York Daily News. The federal government’s own data shows that coal “employs about 50,000 people in the U.S.,” far fewer than solar. The simple truth is that coal is dirty and cannot compete with cleaner, cheap natural gas—and those mining jobs are never coming back. Trump’s promise to “bring back the glory days” of coal is a fantasy.
What the columnists said
The conservatives cheering Trump have no credibility on climate change, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. They long relied on the anomalously hot year of 1998 to claim that global temperatures had plateaued, until three consecutive years of recordbreaking annual temperatures rendered that “misleading talking point outright false.” They then confidently asserted that China and India would never stick to their Paris pledges—and now both countries are already exceeding their “ambitious” targets. Conservatives are backing Trump on this for one reason, said Michael Cohen in The Boston Globe: “He’s sticking it to liberals.” United by resentment over what they perceive to be the condescension of coastal elites, Republicans have made “giving liberals a comeuppance their No. 1 priority.” If it makes liberals angry, they’re for it.
That’s partly true, said David Harsanyi in TheFederalist.com. The sanctimony of liberal celebrities and politicians who “hop on planes every other day” makes ordinary folk roll their eyes. But the deeper reason most Americans aren’t hysterical about climate change is that we lived through “the eco-scaremongering of the ’70s and ’80s,” when liberals told us we were about to run out of food and perish in an environmental disaster. Instead, thanks to technology and innovation, we live in a cleaner world where food is plentiful, poverty has dramatically fallen, and “human existence is improving” in every measurable way.
Both sides of this debate are being dishonest, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. To limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, scientists say, we need to keep “more than 80 percent of existing coal reserves in the ground” and leave untouched more than 50 percent of natural gas reserves. Developing nations aren’t going to forgo fossil fuels unless non-carbon-based alternatives become cheaper than coal and gas. To substantially cut emissions, we need to dramatically speed up the timeline of innovation— and that “will take massive, urgent, strategic, public, and private investment in energy research and development.” Until that happens, the whole world is fighting a lost cause.