The Most Harmful Act

In the last 131 days, we have watched with growing horror as our president has wreaked the kind of havoc that can only result from a dangerous medley of incompetence and cruelty. He has insulted our allies, embraced despots and strongmen, worked to kick 23 million people off their health insurance, appointed a far-right Supreme Court justice to a stolen seat, assailed the free press, fired the head of the FBI in an attempt to hinder the Russia investigation, and damaged our intelligence-sharing relationships with Israel and the UK. His hateful rhetoric towards minorities and immigrants and the blind eye he turns towards white supremacist supporters has fostered the kind of toxic environment that has led to tragedies in Oregon and Maryland in recent days. He has damaged our standing in the world, perhaps irreparably, and we are all the worse for it.

I recap all of this because I want to make sure there is appropriate weight behind the following statement: Donald Trump pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement is the most harmful thing he has done to date.

To fully understand why that is the case, we have to first discuss the Paris Agreement itself. The 2015 accord within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the world's first comprehensive climate agreement. It aims to hold the global temperature increase below 2°C of pre-industrial levels, requires that signatory nations "peak" their greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, and fosters funding for green energy technology and conservation. It has been broadly accepted across the globe, with 192 states and the European Union signing the agreement and 147 of those ratifying or acceding to it. Of all the UNFCCC countries able to enter into the Paris agreement, only two have not done so: Nicaragua and Syria. As of today, that list now includes the United States.

First and foremost, this is catastrophic for efforts to combat climate change. The US is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, responsible for almost 18% of global output. (Only China is higher with 20%). And now, a country that emits nearly 1/5th of these chemicals will have no role in combating climate change on a global scale.

But this isn't just an issue for tree-hugging lefties (a group in which I'm proud to include myself). By withdrawing from the Paris Accords, Trump is sending a message to the world: for the first time since America became a global superpower in the early 20th century, we don't want to lead the way when it comes to science, energy, and the kind of technological innovation that will be needed to carry humanity forward. We are content to look backwards, clinging desperately to coal and fossil fuels as they are relegated to the waste bin of history.

And don't think other countries haven't noticed. China was making a push for the top spot on the clean energy hierarchy even before Trump pulled the plug on Paris. And last month, French president Emmanuel Macron posted a recruitment video target specifically at American climate scientists, stating that "your president now has decided to jeopardize your budgets, your initiatives," and promising robust funding for our best and brightest if they come to France to continue their work. How long will it be before the "brain drain" begins, when our greatest scientific minds decide to reject the government that has already rejected them?

And yet Donald Trump moves forward. He claims this move will bring jobs to America, and yet in 2016 the solar industry employed more workers than coal, gas, and oil combined. He says the move will protect American interests, when all it will do is give our greatest competitors a major advantage. He insists this is for the good of every American, but his actions today will put generations of our fellow citizens at risk.

Donald Trump has done so much harm in the last few months, but much of it is temporary to an extent. Executive orders can be undone, appointees come and go, and government moves on. But withdrawing from the Paris Agreement will have ramifications for generations. Our children and their children will know that we were on the wrong side of history today, but they will not understand why.

Make no mistake: climate change is the most important issue of this century. And June 1, 2017, will go down in history as the day Donald Trump ceded American leadership on this problem to the rest of the world. It was a decision made out of greed and fear, and it shames every single one of us.