President Trump is bad news for the fight against climate change. Or is he? Our CEO and co-founder Sue Riddlestone OBE shares why he may end up helping a cause he wanted to hinder.
I’m hopeful that President Trump’s much-anticipated decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Accord on climate change will come to be seen as a turning point.
This ill-considered and deeply divisive action could in fact end up doing as much to protect the planet from climate change as the December 2015 Paris Accord itself.
Why? Well, we need to recognise that Paris was a huge and necessary step forward but it was not enough. Existing national commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions will not save the world from dangerous changes in climate and sea level. There was still too little action, a need to go further and faster.
But now that inaction and apathy have been given a powerful and negative brand – Brand Trump. If he is seen as opposing the struggle against climate change, then very many people in the US and beyond will look to move in the other direction. He may yet prove to be a great unifier, a rallying point for action. But not as he intended.
Let’s just consider the President’s announcement of Paris withdrawal, without going into all the recent history which makes him such a controversial figure. In last week’s speech in the White House Rose Garden, he spoke not one word about the threat posed by climate change to the USA or the world. He said nothing about whether he thought it was a hoax or not.
His speech was all about America First, and how the Paris Accord allowed other nations – chiefly India, China and the Europeans – to get one over the USA. Here was the leader of the world’s wealthiest, most powerful, most industrially advanced nation reverting to the self-pitying and bleak xenophobia of his campaign and inauguration speech.
As he put it: “The fact that the Paris deal hamstrings the United States while empowering some of the world’s top-polluting countries should dispel any doubt as to the real reason why foreign lobbyists wish to keep our magnificent country tied up and bound down by this agreement. It’s to give their country an economic edge over the United States. That’s not going to happen while I’m president.”
This is nonsense. The Paris Accord was agreed by everyone (apart from Syria and Nicaragua) because after very difficult and protracted negotiations it struck a reasonable balance between the climate change interests and responsibilities of the wealthy, middling and poorest nations. (And, incidentally, Nicaragua didn’t sign because it felt the accord did not go far enough).
The USA has led the world in understanding climate change, thanks to brilliant US taxpayer-funded science. Its advanced industries and technology can – and will – do much to reduce emissions and find alternatives to fossil fuels.
President Trump’s speech was an American tragedy, hopefully a minor one. It divided his own administration and was swiftly rejected by many leading American voices – in major corporations, city halls and state governors’ mansions.
Even before the speech, top US companies joined together to take out full page advertisements in leading newspapers calling on the President to stick with the Paris Accord. They include Apple, Google, Facebook, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Microsoft and Morgan Stanley. Even US oil giant Exxon Mobil argued for staying in. After the speech Elon Musk, founder of Space X and Tesla, immediately resigned as a presidential advisor.
So it seems the USA could still continue to be an effective world leader on climate change.
In the meantime, despite making much of being a businessman, by pulling the USA out of Paris Trump’s lack of insight into all the economic opportunities a clean energy future brings is increasingly apparent.
At Bioregional we are undeterred in continuing to champion a better, more sustainable way to live for all, and to press for the rhetoric on cutting emissions to be turned into action. We need to wait a few years for the majority of the USA, including its government, to rejoin the global movement for positive climate action – which it will.
The Paris agreement is too important for even the president of the world’s most powerful nation to overturn. The momentum for creating a brighter, more sustainable future is building, and will soon be unstoppable.
Learn more about One Planet Living, our vision of a world where everyone, everywhere lives healthy, happy lives within the limits of the planet.
Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Bioregional