Withdrawal from Climate Accords Threatens Environment

Kevin Vang casting for trout on Montana’s Madison River; threatened by global warming.

 

It’s equivalent to a burning of books; blowing out the candles, a repudiation of shared wisdom.

Those are just a couple reactions I’ve run across, referring to Donald Trump’s announcement that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Others have suggested it was equivalent to stealing from our grandchildren.

A majority of the American public disagrees with the president’s decision to back away from the international agreement. A Washington Post-ABC News poll indicates that 59 percent of the American public is opposed to Trump’s move, though the poll also indicates that a majority of Republicans support the president.

President Obama said, optimistically, last September when the United States joined the Paris accords, “Someday we may see this as the moment when we decided to save our planet,” adding, “History will judge today’s effort as pivotal.”

Trump’s decision on the Paris accords is regarded by many as the United States abandoning its role as a global leader in the fight against climate change. In this action, we join two other countries that did not join the accords, Syria and Nicaragua. Note: Nicaragua didn’t join because the Paris deal didn’t go far enough to combat global warning.

Perhaps we could complain that the Paris accords were not terribly ambitious with a goal of holding climate warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Countries would set their own targets for doing their part towards the global efforts. The United States’ goal was to cut greenhouse gasses to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels.

I was in my car listening to National Public Radio’s coverage of Trump’s announcement. In the analysis, NPR replayed a clip from Trump’s remarks in which he said maybe we’d re-join the agreements if he could get a better deal. The NPR commentator pointed out, “The measures are voluntary and can be withdrawn. I don’t think he can get a better deal than that.”

Former Secretary of State John Kerry commented that Trump’s promise to negotiate a better deal was like O.J. Simpson pledging to find out who murdered his wife.

In the aftermath of the announcement, the press tried to get White House spokespersons to say whether or not the president accepts that we do have a warming climate. They were unsuccessful, though U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley made an announcement, “President Trump believes the climate is changing, and pollutants are part of that equation,” though most observers figured she was speaking more for herself than the president.

So, why should we care whether our country is participating in the Paris accords?

Certainly, there are some costs involved in moving towards an economy less dependent on resources that produce greenhouse gases, and there is no question that it’s going to use energy more expensive than burning coal. But, let’s not forget that in the last few years the decline in coal is because natural gas has been eating coal’s lunch, so to speak.

But, to say that ignoring climate change will save money is to ignore other costs, such as the need to build new highways along our ocean coasts, and huge investments to save coastal cities from rising seas.

Okay, here in high elevation western Montana, we may not have to worry about rising sea levels. There are advantages to living in a mile-high area.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about climate change. In a warming climate there are winners and losers. Trout will be losers. Moose and elk will be losers, while white-tailed deer and wild turkeys will be winners.

Ranchers, hunters, and anglers will be losers, as a warming climate dries up our already limited water resources. We may still have cold, snowy winters, but as is already the case, spring snowmelt and runoff begins earlier than historic averages. Low streamflows and late summer fishing closures are almost an annual event.

It will take four years to complete our withdrawal from the Paris accords. The 2020 elections will be the people’s opportunity to repudiate Trump’s impulsive decision.

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