Ethical Choices

The Paris Agreement

I’m staying pretty composed about DT’s decision to remove the US from the Paris Agreement for a couple of reasons, but they aren’t necessarily good. I’m pessimistic for the US, but not yet so for the planet.

I know that this is so, so frustrating for so many Americans. I’m in the sweet spot of an ashamed American and a very optimistic French resident. Macron and Merkel are making it a very exciting time to live and work in Europe with a focus on sustainability and employment.

While I’m not in the prediction business, I can’t but help think forward through the ramifications of the withdrawal for the United States.

 

I want to write a mini-think piece but I’m on a roll with my thesis, so I’m contenting myself to some smaller thoughts.

Obviously, I’m concerned about the planet. The US is the #2 emitter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s a serious problem that the federal government is trying to abdicate responsibility and global cooperation on behalf of the country.

The idea that we have a ‘bad deal’ with the Paris Agreement is ludicrous. The US volunteered to reduce emissions by 26-28% of the 2005 levels by 2025. Comparatively, the EU, India, and China (the other top 3 polluters) had volunteered to reduce their emissions by 40%, 33-35%, and 60-65% (!) by 2030.

There are plenty of platitudes about the American people and how they will come together to fight climate change, and those are probably applicable. What is more clear, however, is the fact that the global markets are shifting toward energy innovation and emissions reductions. It won’t need to come down to whether or not people believe in the research, or whether or not the US wants to preserve jobs in polluting energy industries.

The rest of the planet (including Nicaragua, who wanted a more intense version of the Paris agreement to pass), with the exception of Syria, can compel the US into agreement. From explicit trade agreements, or establishing emission standards on consumer goods before allowing their import, to dominating the energy market and simply (rightly) seducing American businesses with cheaper, cleaner energy.

Am I upset that the US government has given up America’s chance to lead the energy revolution? Distantly.

Am I sure that other countries, other scientists, other innovators, citizens, and business people will step in to fill the void? Absolutely.

I believe that the American people, in their private lives and business practices, will go as far as they can to keep innovating and to keep reducing their emissions. I believe that they will be, in part, successful, but without government coordination the task ahead is enormous.

Plenty of people noted that the official date of withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is the day after the 2020 American election. That’s great, if the current president is not re-elected. By then, however, the damage to America’s leadership position, like much of the damage to the planet, will be most assuredly done. Europe and Asia area already straightening their spines and preparing for a world without ‘America first’ and perhaps that will be what does it for American political institutions. Perhaps the threat to America’s centrality in the global narrative will be enough to shake leaders into courageous action, but perhaps not.

In the end, I doubt it will matter. The other countries of the world no longer see the point of going down with the ship, and their decision to move on will assuredly leave the US behind economically, even if the country does benefit from the measures taken to reduce climate change.

 

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