Yes: Trump’s shortsighted, ill-informed decision is one we’ll all regret
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change even though his own administration was deeply divided on the decision.
Trump had promised during the campaign to “cancel” the agreement, in part because he and the Republican Party so strongly oppose the climate change policies President Barack Obama put in place.
These include new vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and the Clean Power Plan directed at coal-fired power plants.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
Yet the president’s announcement puts the United States at odds with every country in the world but two, Syria and Nicaragua, and the latter’s reasoning for rejecting the agreement was that it wasn’t strong enough.
All other nations recognized the critical importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit the risks posed by climate change.
What does the United States gain from this withdrawal?
Very little. It will take at least three to four years to complete, and the U.S. pledge under the agreement was voluntary anyway. We could have moderated that pledge while remaining a full party to the agreement and retaining a strong voice in its implementation.
Why withdraw from an agreement that imposes no requirements on us and when there is overwhelming scientific consensus on the reality of climate change, strong public preferences to take action and broad support in the business community to do so?
The answer seems to be that President Trump wanted to reassure his loyal base of supporters and keep promises he made to the fossil fuel industry.
Unfortunately, the president did not draw upon the scientific and diplomatic expertise available to him to balance opposition to the Paris accord by Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt and political strategist Stephen Bannon.
Indeed, the president has yet to appoint a White House science adviser and he has announced nominees for only seven of the 46 top science positions in the federal government. High-level positions at the State Department remain similarly unfilled.
Would President Trump have made a different choice had he listened to science and economic advisers or to State Department staff who strongly favored the agreement?
Perhaps not, but a decision of this magnitude should never be made without serious consideration of the information and perspectives that such professionals can offer.
What does the United States lose from its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement?
A great deal. Under Obama, the nation became a global leader on climate change and helped to bring about the nearly unanimous agreement to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, a decision critical to national security, the economy, the environment and public health.
Now that leadership falls to China and the European Union. They will be the ones to benefit from development of new energy sources and the jobs and economic growth that go with them.
The Trump administration also seems determined to sharply reduce federal research on energy technologies as well as on climate change itself, compounding the problem.
The White House and its supporters argue that taking action on climate change will hurt the economy and cost jobs.
They are wrong on both counts. With rapidly falling prices for sustainable energy sources, decarbonization creates jobs and helps the economy, as the business community understands well.
Despite Trump’s decision, a profound change in energy use is under way. Many states, cities and businesses will continue their leadership on energy efficiency, conservation and renewables because it makes economic sense to do so.
In short, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement was not a smart move and ideally it would be reconsidered.
The president’s choice hurts our standing with allies, diminishes our scientific credibility and harms national security, the economy and the environment.
It was a remarkably short-sighted and ill-informed decision by the Trump White House that the nation will come to regret.
Michael Kraft is a professor emeritus of political science and public and environmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. Readers may write him at UWGB, 2420 Nicolet Drive, MAC B310, Green Bay, WI, 54311, or email him at email@example.com.
No: Trump is right to withdraw from international sham
President Donald Trump was right to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, which makes no scientific or moral sense and was extremely unfair to Americans.
Misled by inaccurate, allegedly scientific arguments, a worldwide network of sanctimonious policymakers generated the agreement to solve a problem that does not exist — so-called carbon pollution from burning coal, oil and gas.
Indeed, uncontrolled combustion of fossil fuels can generate real pollutants: fly ash, oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, and heavy metals that can and should be controlled with cost-effective technologies, as has been done in the United States, resulting in one of the cleanest environments in the world.
But carbon dioxide, or CO2 — the main target of the Paris Agreement — is not a pollutant; it’s a benefit to the Earth.
Agriculture, forestry and plants benefit from having much more CO2 in the atmosphere. Since humans and other animals are fed, clothed and sheltered by the products of plants, the entire biosphere will benefit from more CO2, which makes plants grow more efficiently and need less water.
Satellite images already show a significant greening of the Earth from more CO2. Some 15 percent of the impressive increases in crop yields over the past 50 years is due to more CO2.
The very major benefits of more CO2 to agriculture have been largely ignored or downplayed in the economic models used to justify the Paris Agreement.
And the costs of the Paris Agreement will fall most heavily on the poor, who will be compelled to pay much more for so-called sustainable energy, which is highly unreliable. Energy costs in the European Union have doubled since 2005 in the name of CO2 reductions, leaving many unable to heat their homes.
Sincere policymakers and other trusting people, including many scientists, have been hypnotized by lurid predictions of computer models.
In ominous colors, computer screens show a future Earth that is afflicted by droughts, hurricanes and the seven plagues of Egypt. But there has been no change in the incidence of observed droughts, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. This is propaganda, not science.
The climate models that are the basis for the Paris Agreement predicted temperature increases that are three to four times larger than the very modest temperature changes that have been observed over the past few decades.
Much of the temperature increase of the last century appears to be due to natural climate variability.
Warming from additional greenhouse gases will be very moderate, probably about 1 percent from a doubling of atmospheric CO2. Sea levels will continue to rise slowly as they have since the end of the little ice age in the early 1800s. There is no sign of the accelerated rate of rise predicted by alarmists.
The Earth has already experienced much larger CO2 levels than those of today, about 400 CO2 molecules per million air molecules, or 400 ppm.
Over most of the geological history of Earth, CO2 levels were 1000 ppm, 2000 ppm, even more. Life was more abundant than today at these higher CO2 levels, both on land and in the oceans. Coral reefs flourished, sea creatures did not die from ocean acidification and there were no mass extinctions. New species of every sort evolved at impressive rates.
Anguished cries from environmental lobbyists, crony capitalists and some foreign governments about the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement remind me of Aesop’s fable about the silly fox who lost his beautiful bushy tail (reliable, affordable fossil energy) in a trap (unreliable, expensive renewable energy).
To try to cover up his embarrassment, the tailless fox used all sorts of absurd arguments (we have to save the planet) to persuade all the other foxes to cut off their tails. Luckily, at least one fox, the United States, has decided to keep its tail.
William Happer is an emeritus Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University and a former director of energy research of the U.S. Department of Energy. Readers may write him at 258 Jadwin Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J., 08544.