South Florida and low-lying island nations will be the first to face existential climate-change disasters, it’s often said. The Lower Columbia River and adjacent coastlines also are at risk in important ways. We already are starting to pay a steep price for mankind’s thoughtless pollution of our planet’s thin film of atmosphere.
Saying he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” President Trump spurned the Paris climate agreement. He hitched his wagon and ours to a nostalgic vision of smokestack America, abandoning not only the nation’s vulnerable coastlines and fisheries, but also a host of U.S. industries tied to clean energy. The new, alternative energy sector is quite alive in Oregon and Washington.
With this decision, it will be the U.S., Syria and Nicaragua on one side, and the world’s 189 other nations on the other. This isn’t putting America first. It’s grouping us with a failed dictatorship and a banana republic. Embarrassing. And Nicaragua doesn’t back the agreement because it views it as too weak. On matters of environmental science, no country is a discreet entity — we all share the atmosphere and its man-made problems.
These problems have a lot to do with our country’s voracious appetite for dirty energy in the past century and a half. We built our industries and consumer economy with carbon-based fossil fuels that it took the planet’s natural processes eons to lock away underground. Although China now surpasses us as a polluter, our own behavior did much to get everyone into this mess. Instead of disadvantaging the U.S. “to the exclusive benefit of other countries” as Trump alleged, the climate accord provides a pathway for us to gradually throttle back greenhouse emissions while giving us moral leverage to insist other nations do the same.
Symbolism counts. We’re the annoying neighbor with a stinky, long-smoldering burn barrel, telling others they should put theirs out before we will. The president last week dangled the possibility he might negotiate a more advantageous climate deal. It took years of tough talking to achieve the Paris accords. It is pure poppycock to suggest that we can somehow bully our way to a new agreement that will achieve meaningful goals at less cost to us.
We can put off paying our share of the bill for climate action, but the planet will keep counting up the interest in the form of carbon dioxide, methane and their byproducts in the atmosphere and oceans. Our neglect of Paris goals could add as much as another 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year into the air.
Fully withdrawing from the Paris agreement will take until the next presidential election, when the American people will have another chance to decide who best to lead us as we navigate the dangers ahead.
In the meantime, Washington and other states in the U.S. Climate Alliance must continue forging a sane path, investing in the lucrative clean-energy industry and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.