While it makes us nervous that the United States is now “aligned” with Syria and Nicaragua as the only other country that is not a member of the Paris climate accord, the real significance of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nonbinding agreement is that it essentially decouples our country from the world and abdicates American leadership in efforts to develop solutions to our rapidly warming Earth.
Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax,” said the landmark international agreement reached in 2015 “is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.” His argument for taking the world’s largest economy out of the agreement sounded more like campaign bravado than hard, scientific or economic fact.
In the Jewish community, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism was quick to criticize the president, as was the American Jewish World Service, whose CEO Robert Bank said: “The longer the U.S. denies climate change and fails to take responsibility for its outsized contribution to global warming, the greater the risk posed to the entire world, especially the poorest people on Earth.”
Predictably, Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, who helped negotiate the agreement, lashed out. Just as predictably, many Republicans, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, hailed the move as “dealing yet another significant blow to the Obama administration’s assault on domestic energy production and jobs.”
But the reaction of corporate America was not as predictable. For example, Shell Oil rejected the Trump move, and said in a tweet: “Our support for the #ParisAgreement is well known. We will continue to do our part providing more & cleaner energy.” Even if that statement was just for show, it demonstrates how even oil companies need to try to be green if they want to stay on the right side of public opinion. And speaking of oil company influence, the secretary of state and former ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson, was among those reported to be fighting (unsuccessfully) to get the president to remain in the Paris agreement.
But beyond the verbal challenges and critiques of the climate accord move, there have been some quick, significant efforts to mitigate the effects of the president’s policy. For example, former New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg announced that his foundation, “in partnership with others, will make up the approximately $15 million in funding that the U.N.’s Climate Secretariat stands to lose from Washington.” And the states of California, Washington and New York, which together have about 20 percent of the U.S. GDP and produced 11 percent of U.S. emissions in 2014, announced an agreement to meet the climate goals that Trump has now rejected.
We will likely see more reactions in the coming weeks. That won’t be terribly surprising. We are, after all, talking about the survival of planet Earth.