Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the historic Paris agreement on climate change even though his 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.
Yet, the president’s announcement puts the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 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 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 U.S. 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.