Today Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This, quite obviously, makes the business of combatting climate change that much harder given that the world’s largest economy is abdicating its responsibilities under the agreement.
Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement likewise damages America’s stature as a world power. One hundred and ninety countries are committed to it, with only Syria and Nicaragua refusing to agree to it before today. Our joining those two countries in turning our backs on Paris is a declaration that America no longer leads and no longer wishes to lead when it comes to combatting the world’s great problems.
All of that said, the business of combatting climate change will not stop. Nearly every other country on the planet is still committed to Paris, and the majority of U.S. based companies who have actual skin in the game of climate change are likewise committed to it. Indeed, in the minutes following Trump’s announcement to withdraw from Paris today, numerous CEOs and entrepreneurs voiced their displeasure with the move and many more will do so in the near future.
They will do this because they know that climate change is the most pressing promise facing civilization today. They also know — as I wrote recently — that advanced energy technologies and industries are key to both our economic and environmental future, and that the advancement of these technologies and the work of these industries will not cease, even if Donald Trump turns his back on them and their importance.
So why has Trump done this? There are several reasons, separate and apart from the typical Republican desire to do the bidding of wealthy donors with interests in the fossil fuel industry.
Trump gained office by appealing to the fears and anxieties of people who have seen the 21st century economy pass them by and who pine for the days when coal mines, factories and refineries employed entire towns. Trump found it easier to make his supporters false promises of their return rather than articulate a vision in which new industries and a new economy may come to benefit them. By turning his back on Paris, he believes he is doing what these voters asked him to do.
Another reason, though, is basic isolationism. Today Trump seemed to criticize the Paris Agreement primarily because it is, quite simply, an international agreement. He talked about “America First” policies and struck many of the same chords that his advisor Steve Bannon and others in the alt-right movement have stuck with respect to the dangers of globalism. They want to build a figurative wall to keep out the international community in much the same way they want to build a real wall to keep out immigrants.
As I noted above, however, international actors and global corporations will nonetheless continue to work to combat climate change and will continue to work to grow the advanced energy sector with or without Trump’s approval. As they do so, they’ll necessarily be engaging with other U.S.-based businesses, state and local governments and U.S. citizens and workers. Anti-globalism may be a potent talking point on the campaign trail, but not even the president of the United States can cut the cross-border bonds which have been formed in our increasingly interconnected world.
Which brings us to this afternoon. A day on which, after Donald Trump’s self-congratulatory words about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, he listened as a military band played celebratory jazz music and Trump basked in the congratulations of his closest advisors, political allies and supporters.
As he enjoyed this day, I wonder if any of his anti-globalist supporters appreciated the irony of his handing multinational corporations and international actors even more power in the shaping of the future of the world than they had before he acted today.