Sunday, June 11, 2017

Two quick thoughts on Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Accords

1.     Leaving the agreement was foolish and a worse “deal” for the United States than staying in.

Sometimes symbolic gestures are worthwhile.  The global community is rightfully concerned about climate change, and rightly or wrongly the hold the United States accountable as a chief culprit. Accordingly, even the optics of international cooperation on the issue are a valuable first step, and one which helped the United States’ image much more than the agreement’s wholly optional stipulations would have hurt our economy.  This is why even conservatives like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were advising Trump to stay in the deal.  It would have bought him some good will from the international community and a better willingness to compromise elsewhere. 

For what it’s worth, I personally would have stayed in the deal, and pushed for a revenue neutral carbon tax (as part of a comprehensive tax reform plan that lowered income tax rates and closed deductions to make our tax code simpler and fairer) in order to meet the US’s carbon reductions target.  It’s still not too late to do this.

2. Nevertheless, it will have no measurable impact on the climate and people should stop freaking out over it.

Even if the United States had remained in the deal, and even if all of its signatory nations met their current (voluntary) emissions reduction agreements, the resulting temperature impact 100 years from now was STILL highly uncertain.  The entire deal was primarily a symbolic gesture to begin with.

What’s more, “the United States” never technically agreed to the Paris Accords in the first place.  President Obama said we would in December of 2015, but the agreement was never ratified by the US Senate (as would be required under our constitution to make it legally binding).  This means Obama's "pledge" was never more than empty promises, and Trump sending the wrong message on this is no more consequentially impactful than all the other things he sends the wrong message on every single day.  The next President could just as easily reverse course yet again, and the law still wouldn’t have changed.

Regrettably, the climate was not saved 18 months ago when a single man unilaterally signed a tepid resolution which no American voter, worker nor congressman ever approved.  Fortunately, that also means it isn't doomed just because another man unilaterally unsigned it.  Our brief participation in the Paris Climate Accords was purely ceremonial, and all public fanfare about our exit is straight virtue signaling.  There’s no greater need to catastrophize today than there was a month ago.  Whichever strategy you favor for solving global warming can still be achieved – although, admittedly, the clock is ticking.

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