If Trump won’t help stop climate change, we’ll do it without him

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President & Executive Director Philip B. Duffy

There should be nothing shocking in the fact of Trump’s announced intention to end US participation in the Paris climate agreement. It was obvious even before the 2016 election that he would do everything possible to halt or reverse policies that would help us to meet our commitments under that agreement. I was surprised, however, that he is not only rolling back federal policies, but is also trying to force California to do the same for its motor vehicle mileage standards. I guess “states’ rights” don’t apply to environmental policies.

While it would be difficult to make a case that is both persuasive and truthful for withdrawing from Paris, it should also not be surprising that Trump’s speech announcing the planned withdrawal was couched in falsehoods. Among other things, Trump’s speech showed that he either has not bothered to learn even the fundamentals of how the agreement works, or cynically assumed that his audience hasn’t learned them.

Given Trump’s stated policy goals and budget priorities, the added effect of withdrawing from Paris, as far as US greenhouse gas emissions are concerned, appears likely to be minimal. The withdrawal announcement, therefore, seems intended for political rather than substantive effect. While it no doubt resonated with some, US voters as a whole overwhelmingly favor remaining in the Paris Agreement. A Yale University poll taken before the June 1 announcement found five times more voters favoring continued participation than withdrawal.

In fact, the speech may have the opposite of its intended effect, in that it seems to have galvanized renewed pledges of commitment, and some substantive actions, by states, cities, corporations, and individuals. Shortly after Trump’s announcement, the governors of California, Washington, and New York announced the formation of the United States Climate Alliance. At last count a total of 12 states and Puerto Rico had joined the Alliance. This group has pledged to maintain or exceed the standards set by the US commitment to Paris (in the jurisdictions they control), but it remains to be seen how much substantive new action will result. The state of Hawaii, at least, has passed two meaningful new climate policy laws since Trump’s June 1 announcement.

Here in Massachusetts, Trump’s announcement seems to have boosted the prospects of legislation introduced earlier this year by Rep. Dylan Fernandes, whose district includes Falmouth and “the islands.” This bill (HR 3564) would make Massachusetts a participant in the Paris agreement process. To be clear, since Massachusetts already has admirably ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this bill would not mandate any new action (other than reporting our greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations), but it would send the important message that the Trump administration does not speak for all Americans on the issue of climate change.

All in all, I suspect that the US withdrawal from Paris, if it happens at all (the soonest it could would be in November, 2019) will prove to be merely a bump in the road. Meanwhile, we all have important work to do. Last week I signed a contract with the government of El Salvador to help them to measure their forest-based greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re discussing opportunities with national governments in two other tropical countries about reforestation efforts there. We’re undertaking new work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with more we hope in the pipeline. In early July, WHRC will send 13 students, 8 faculty members and mentors, a physician, and a film maker (sounds like the start of a bad joke) to the Yukon Delta to study the effects of recent fire activity there. If Trump isn’t going to help stop climate change, we’ll have to do it without him. With your help, we can.

Thanks as always for your interest and support.