A man with no plan: Paris, the story of hubris

Last week, we heard some breaking news on the environmental policy ground. On June 1st, President Trump announced he would withdraw from the Climate Change Paris Agreement but he also said he is willing to negotiate re-entering the agreement under new terms that are better for American businesses. Interestingly enough, American business were the first to advise him against such move, as they were actually looking at Paris as a way for economic growth.

Right now, Trump’s move to walk away from this historic agreement does not mean a lot in practical terms. But it will have important symbolic consequences for domestic policy and foreign affairs. For us, NC students, it means we better start supporting private businesses and companies that are leading the fight against global warming, and we better get on knowing our local politicians because the feds won’t be behind us in this issue. Curiously, it also means we can start strategizing about our vote for the 2020 election.

Trump said he was getting out of Paris because it was disadvantageous to the US economy. But, right after the President’s decision, Elon Musk and Disney CEO, Robert Iger, quit Trump’s business advisory council precisely for making a move that would hurt American businesses. Other corporate giants started using social media to openly criticize the President. Moreover, 70% of the American public actually likes the Paris agreement. Why is there such a disconnect?

To be clear, the Paris agreement is a voluntary agreement, where every country in the world–except for war-torn Syria and Nicaragua, a country that actually refused to sign the agreement because it considered it too soft– are going to work together to share technology, financing and deployment of climate solutions to unlock the largest wealth-creation opportunities in the planet. Unlike the 2009 framework established by the UN in Copenhagen, there are no penalties to the Paris agreement. Furthermore, countries set their own goals and pollution targets. Thus, it seems as if Trump just got out of a deal that would make it easier for American companies, the world leaders in innovation, to sell their goods and services to other companies all over the world.

Trump’s move is a sign that he did not understand what Paris was all about. Sure, he kept his word to supporters by saying good-bye to anything related to environmental regulations. He even, made an attempt to define himself a great negotiator who can strike an even better deal than Paris. Yet, he couldn’t have been serious about his decision if he had known the flexible framework that Paris had set, the enormous benefits that were being laid out for American tech companies, the detrimental and immediate consequences for the state of diplomatic relations, the implications for domestic politics in the coming 2020 election, and finally, he wouldn’t have decided to suddenly pull out of Paris if he had known that, well, the Agreement’s rules said he actually couldn’t (!).

In fact, the rules of the deal say that nobody can withdraw from the agreement until three years after it had been signed, which was last November. Furthermore, the process will take an additional year. This means that the US is not out of Paris, that Paris is not dead, and that Paris will likely become a campaign issue for the 2020 election. So, if you are planning to cast your future vote for the environment, stay tuned on what candidates have to say about Paris.

The consequences from Trump’s decision are still unclear. Luckily for the entire world and the generations to come, many countries have expressed their desire to continue their commitment to the voluntary restrictions outlined in the agreement. However, participation by the US,–the second largest polluter in the world, the largest polluter in per capita terms, the world’s largest economy, and largest exporter of technology– is key to sustain the momentum of this global deal on the environment.

For us, students, voters, future taxpayers, future engineers, scientists, businessmen and decision-makers, there is a lot to learn from this circus. We are here to become leaders and move the world forward. It just became ever more obvious that we must be prepared to face political obstacles in the future. It is not just engineering challenges. What Paris means for us is that we can’t count on the Feds to take one for the environment. We are going to have to stay engaged in the local political debate, and stay informed about what private industry is doing independently from the government.

Climate change is real, and in NC we are not new to the impacts of environmental stress. Trump getting out of Paris is a reminder that we must stay awake and alert, not just to the more frequent and more intense climatic events, but also to the similarly more erratic political moves. We must be more than skeptical. We must get ready because whether in Paris, in Washington D.C., or in Raleigh, someone is pushing an agenda in our name, the name of our planet, and the name of all generations to come.

Something for us to do is support advocacy groups that help disseminate important information and open channels for otherwise non-existent political dialogues. Another thing is to start learning about how policy is done here in North Carolina. (In NC, the House has a standing committee on the environment, and the Senate has a standing committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources. Also, the NC Department of environment and Natural resources is the state’s chief environmental policy and natural resources agency.)

To see why this is important consider the following. Here in NC, they are considering a bill that would freeze progress towards renewable energy (HB 745), and one of the people who will have a vote on this bill is state legislator Larry Pittman, who said global warming happens because of the Sun. (Apparently, his words were “Our climate runs on a cycle. It goes up and it goes down and the Lord designed that way. And the main thing that causes global warming is the Earth’s relationship to a big ball of gas that’s burning out there that we call Sun. And it is the height of hubris for human beings to think that we can have any effect on that.”) Larry Pittman is the man also said Lincoln was comparable to Hitler earlier this spring.

Do we want chauvinist, anti-science, creationists, climate change deniers to make our environmental policy? Not me. One more thing to do: start thinking about your next vote, whether for 2020 presidential elections, the 2018 Statewide elections, or the 2017 municipal elections.

REFERENCES:

Here is a link to a list of environmental advocacy organizations in North Carolina: http://www.eco-usa.net/orgs/nc.shtml.

Here is a link to start your search on Agricultural/Environmental/Natural resources policy in NC: https://ballotpedia.org/Agriculture/Environment/Natural_Resources_Committee,_North_Carolina_State_Senate.

You can first find out who is your representative here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ or http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/page/14375698/.

And here is a link to the elections calendar: https://www.ncsbe.gov/Election-Information/2017-Election-Information.

Finally, this is a good place to start learning about NC legislation: http://www.ncleg.net/

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