Placation Will Cost Us the Planet

U.S. News
By Christine Todd Whitman
June 1, 2017

President Donald Trump’s decision on the Paris agreement risks the health of our citizens and planet.

Once you are elected to any office, you represent all of your constituents – not just those who voted for you. When it comes to taking the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate, it appears that Trump insists on satisfying his narrow base when a majority of the country has shown in polls that it believes that climate change is real, human have an impact, and we should act to address it. He is acting in spite of what he has surely learned as president about the importance of the environment’s impact on human health. Trump’s take on the Paris Climate Agreement fails to represent all U.S. citizens and it neglects our nation’s role in international leadership and cooperation.

A recent MIT study found that air pollution causes 200,000 early U.S. deaths annually. The culprits include industrial smokestacks, vehicle tailpipes, marine and rail operations, as well as commercial and residential heating. If for no other reason than protecting people from dying from dirty air, we ought to care about protecting the environment – and that is the goal of the Paris agreement.

Noncompliance on these issues isolates the United States and tarnishes our reputation as a nation in the eyes of nearly 200 leaders around the world. Further, backing out of the pact puts U.S. companies at a distinct disadvantage. Even if companies individually adhere to the goals set by the Paris agreement, that does not safeguard our nation as a whole from economic fallout; other nations may refuse to do business with American multinationals because America as a whole refuses to meet global standards. Other nations may refuse to do business with American multinationals because America refuses to pledge to meet global standards.

While Trump appears to be ready to roll back environmental regulations, businesses, states and cities are thankfully stepping up to the plate to implement the very regulations the president promises to repeal. Utilities and energy companies are investing in green technology, which benefits both our economy and our environment. If Trump is focused on creating jobs, nuclear energy can be a significant source of jobs in the transition to renewable energy.

There are myriad ways to create jobs in the new energy economy; economic growth and environmental protection can work together, it is not a zero-sum game. Thankfully, regardless of Trump’s view, the private sector recognizes that climate change is a pressing matter with which we must deal.

If other nations follow suit and pull out of the Paris agreement, cutting back on their commitments, we will surely lose the battle against climate change. After all, nature does not care about geopolitical boundaries; the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, directly impacting the native Alaskans who live there.

We also desperately need India and China to commit to the Paris agreement, but what expectation can we have for other nations when the U.S. fails to meet them?

[PHOTOS: The Real Impact of Climate Change]

The consequences of ignoring this issue are irreparable. While we admittedly cannot bring climate change to a grinding halt, we can slow it down so that we can better prepare for it.

One way to be better prepared is to more fully understand the ramifications of climate change; science plays an important role here. However, Trump’s budget proposes huge cuts to science and medical research, creating a vicious cycle in which a lack of information means inaction. Although we may not know everything we need to know, we do know enough to begin taking action. The simple fact that people die from dirty air should propel us to action – it should motivate us to adhere to the Paris agreement.

Trump’s decision to keep his narrow campaign promise will cost us dearly, risking the health of our citizens and the health of our planet.