— Trump’s latest environmental decision lands as usual: amid chaos.
On June 1, Donald Trump gave a speech announcing that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Social media exploded accordingly. Media outlets the world over dug in and whipped out copy. All the proper tribes took up positions and braced for endless debate. America was once again on spin cycle—essentially, business as usual under the current administration.
Truths and untruths notwithstanding, some of the math is worth a look, as was revealed in The New York Times on June 2: “Industrialized countries have voluntarily pledged $10.3 billion since 2013 to help poorer nations reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the effects of climate change. The United States has pledged by far the most—$3 billion. But on a per-capita basis, many other countries have offered more than the United States.”
In fact, the U.S., if it had contributed its full pledge of $3 billion—established under Obama—would have landed at #11 on the list of contributors in regards to per-capita contribution. The Times continued: “ … the total would be a little less than $10 per American. With Mr. Trump stopping payments, the United States will have contributed $1 billion, or just more than $3 per person.”
Ten other countries will go on to pledge more, per person, than the U.S. would have ever pledged had Trump not withdrawn—with Sweden topping the list at nearly $60/person.
Regardless of how it all plays out, some would say that it was playing out well before Trump ever thought about withdrawing from the Paris Accord.
“I tend to be a bit more optimistic on the outcomes,” said Dan Conant, founder of Shepherdstown’s Solar Holler. “Not that the withdraw was good policy, or good for the world, but at least on the clean energy front, the horse is out of the barn.”
As a business owner in the renewables space, Conant looks at the future more in terms of inevitability. “Renewables will be taking over from fossil fuels simply because of market forces. For cars and trucks, electric vehicles are going to take over. I expect that the decision to pull out of Paris will just give those of us who care about fixing climate change even more reason to focus—even more drive.”
Jefferson County resident, and Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, Mary Anne Hitt, saw the Paris pull-out as an ill-advised act of desperation. “I think Trump was delivering on a campaign promise that did not have to go through Congress, where his agenda has stalled,” she noted. “I don’t believe his administration was at all prepared for the scale and intensity of the backlash, both in the U.S. and around the world. It will be one of the biggest dark clouds hanging over his presidency.”
Hitt pointed out that the U.S. now boasts a dubious international distinction. “We are now in the company of the only two countries that didn’t join the Paris Agreement: Syria, because they were in a civil war, and Nicaragua, because they thought the agreement wasn’t strong enough.”
Neal Barkus, a retired attorney, and founder of PanProgressive.com, lives in Shepherdstown. He saw Trump’s decision as a total domestic policy decision. “Remaining with the Accord would have taken some explaining to his base,” he said. “Exiting would be celebrated by his base.”
Barkus is more concerned with what Trump’s decision ultimately represents. “The damage is not so much what will happen immediately with climate change, because moving the climate needle isn’t affected by short-term lurches to the right or left. The real damage is to American leadership in the world. I am concerned about the disdain and denial of our leadership—and a significant segment of our population—in regards to the effects of climate change and its effect on succeeding generations. Many of us will be gone before the water rises into the streets of New York, but other effects of climate change are already being felt, and they will accelerate.”