Donald Trump may have just handed Democrats a tool they can use to win the midterm congressional elections as well as the next presidential election.
Until now, the Republican Party as a whole has rejected or minimized climate science and opposed any action to address the crisis. Democrats with a few exceptions have been tepid at best in their embrace of the issue. In his full-throated Rose Garden announcement that he is taking the U.S. out of the Paris agreement, the President relied on a jobs-vs.-environment duality that a large majority of Americans in both red and blues states have rejected. He also showed surprising willingness to undermine the interests of the Republican business establishment, as well as his complete lack of interest in science, international opinion, or economic reality. Fortunately, if the Trump administration begins the formal withdrawal process designed by the negotiators in Paris, the actual date for the Trexit would be one day after the next presidential election. Of course, the next president could choose to reverse the action, and we’d be back on the merry-go-round.
The arguments Trump put forth in support of his position are ludicrous to anyone who has followed the Paris Accord. The United States shaped the agreement to suit its own interests, and the rest of the world went along because it wanted an agreement that the second largest polluter on the planet could accept. Not only is the agreement not unfair to the United States, as Trump insisted, it is also completely voluntary. Countries make their own decisions about how and how much they will reduce greenhouse gases. They promised to get together every five years to see how they are doing, and to ratchet up their efforts if necessary. Rich countries agreed to make a substantial but hardly sacrificial donation to help poor countries adapt to the ravages of climate change that are already evident. The majority of action that needs to be taken to bring forward clean technologies is to be financed by the private sector, which stands to make money by selling more products to the developing world.
Given how fragile and unambitious the Paris Accord is, why bother to withdraw? There is nothing to be gained in a renegotiation; the U.S. got everything it could have hoped for in a global deal that could be signed by every nation except Syria (too distracted) and Nicaragua (which rejected it as too weak.) Yet in attacking the agreement in such crude and ignorant terms, playing to those who think new coal mines will open and steel mills will be built if we can just defy those pesky environmental constraints, Trump has managed to further polarize opinion about an issue that was already partisan. Just when a number of Republicans were beginning to look for climate actions they could support as a way to get out from being labeled as know-nothings, Trump has painted himself and anyone who supports him into a corner.
Meanwhile, the governors of California, New York, and Washington state have launched a new alliance to promote the types of policies that will meet the commitments made by the Obama administration and continue efforts underway in these and other states to replace inefficient fossil energy with cleaner fuels and renewables. These states see their future prosperity based on advanced technologies that can be exported around the world, as well as on modernizing their electric and transportation infrastructure. These efforts are well underway and will not be slowed down by Trump’s announcement. In fact, they are likely to be enhanced as cities and states step forward to pick up the mantle of global leadership thrown off by the White House. California Governor Jerry Brown is off to China this week to follow up on agreements made on a trade mission he led a few years ago. While in Beijing, we expect to meet with officials and companies who are looking to this state as a model for cleaning up air pollution while growing the economy.
California will be telling the story of how we added more new jobs than any other state while cutting greenhouse gases. It’s not magic. It’s not even rocket science. It does take setting strong standards and ambitious goals, and a willingness to use public policy and incentives to reach them.