First, President Trump is wrong on the facts. The Paris Accords did not treat the United States unfairly. Under the agreement, targets for greenhouses gases are voluntary, and every country can change how it will alter its plans for controlling carbon emissions. And, if its articulated goals are not met, there are no penalties for failing to do so. The President has said he will renegotiate the terms. Leading member countries have already said that’s a non-starter.
Trump is on the wrong side of history. But that doesn’t mean we should all break out the gas masks or pile up the sandbags. The problems are real, but the drive to reduce emissions has momentum among corporations, state and local leaders. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and other governors on both sides of the aisle are joining a state climate alliance. Among them, Jerry Brown, Governor of the world’s sixth largest economy – California. As former Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out, 37 percent of states representing 80 percent of the U.S. population have already adopted renewable standards.
Corporate leaders are speaking out, decrying the Trump decision and insisting that we go ahead despite the President’s wrongheadedness. Michael Bloomberg has pledged $15 million of his own money to help the U.N. agency charged with assisting countries make necessary changes. Many assert that, even without Donald Trump, we can meet the U.S. emission reduction goal by 2025. And, if we fall short of our stretch goals, we could have tweaked them without walking away from the Paris Accords.
While Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Thursday that Boston will continue its climate initiatives, on Wednesday he had gotten off on the wrong foot. Regrettably, he had announced he would cancel an international climate conference scheduled for Boston because, as he explained it, he wasn’t getting an cooperation from the White House. Could he tell us, please, where he is getting cooperation from the Trump White House? There is none, and the lesson of this past week is that the cities and states have to exert their own independence. (A new angle on states’ rights?)
If you plan it, they will come. And, with a little effort, projected attendees at that Boston conference would have shown up. In the 1990’s, there were two initiatives, International Boston and The Atlantic Rim Network. The first sought to make Greater Boston more global and less parochial than it had been. The second tried to create a vibrant global network of urban areas sharing ideas and best practices, on such issues as energy, environment, education, trade, tourism, housing and healthcare.
These activities were rooted in the belief that, while nation states would continue to be the major actors in the world, creative leadership in coming decades would be driven by private and public actors in dynamic regions anchored in great cities. The Atlantic Rim Network tagline was: global concerns, local solutions, regional connections. (Full disclosure: both highly successful initiatives were run by my husband, Jim Barron. After 9/11, such international conferences slowed down dramatically, and the grassroots networking was supplanted by the development of the internet and greater ease of information sharing.)
So combating climate change can continue. Cities, states and companies will go forward. Green jobs in renewable energy will continue to expand; most coal jobs will not return due to the availability of cheaper natural gas.
The most devastating impact of Trump’s fulfilling his promise to his core political base is the diminution of United States leadership in the world. His isolationist rhetoric and practices are a gilded invitation to China to fill the void, and, even after Trump, it will be difficult to reclaim our primacy. China has already stepped forward with Germany, Australia and many other nations to reaffirm its commitment to the Paris Accords.
As with health care reform, if there were problems with the Obama administration’s implementation strategy on climate change, Donald Trump could have made tactical adjustments without abandoning fundamental values of saving the planet. He didn’t need to diminish the United States on the world stage and pose a threat to our children and grandchildren.
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