With his rejection of the Paris climate change pact, U.S. President Donald Trump has become not only an American problem. He is a global one. He is our problem.
- Trump says will announce decision on Paris climate pact Thursday
- Trump's climate change denial will hurt the planet but can't end life
The importance of the pact the U.S. president formally rejected on behalf of America on Thursday cannot be overstated. No more scientific doubt remains about the reality of climate change, driven by man. As extreme weather batters the American Midwest and Indian subcontinent, as the Arctic melts and insurers start to shun coastal property, Trump's decision to abandon the global effort to curb the carbon emissions responsible for much of the global warming could yet be called criminal one day. At the least, criminal negligence.
Courts reject arguments that the accused did not know the facts, let alone chose to ignore them. To substitute them with imaginary facts, such as the nonsense that climate change is a Chinese hoax, may arguably be cause for litigation one day. A group of kids is already suing the American government for neglecting their right to a stable climate.
At the top of the world, Trump is in quite lonely denial about climate change, though yet again he's strangely in synch with none other than Russian leader Vladimir Putin. But of the 197 parties to the Paris Agreement convention, according to the UN, 147 have ratified the agreement so far. These are countries led by people who acknowledge climate change and the dangers it poses, which are described in the convention's goal: to stabilize "greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."
Trump's problem may begin with the character of the Paris agreement, which acknowledges that not all nations were created equal. The poor nations demand that the wealthy industrialized countries, which created most of the problem in the first place, do the most to cut emissions at home, including the ones belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Trump may tout an "America First" policy, but the first and foremost polluter has been the wealthiest, the United States, which is accused of responsibility for over a quarter of global emission of carbon dioxide between 1850 and 2011.
American irresponsibility about its role in polluting is nothing new, as described in toxic terms by Rolling Stone Magazine back in 1990. But now that we know the planet can no longer bear human ravaging, the world needs Trump to do a courageous thing.
It would have been courageous in this case for Trump to have reversed his stated policy, as he has before, for instance on pursuing prosecution of his erstwhile rival candidate Hillary Clinton. But any hope that he would announce a brave new drive to save the planet and life as we know it has been dashed. At least for now.
The good news is that if the warming and other ecological trends are driven by things man does, their trajectory can be affected by what man does. At present emission rates, this trajectory will lead to the worst-case scenario currently projected, which includes temperature changes beyond the survivable in the Middle East and North Africa, for example.
The bad news that not even the optimistic of scientists are talking about reversing the trend entirely, just trying to flatten out the temperature curve. And it won't help if the weakest nations in the world cry out in terror at the dangers they face and beg America to look into the mirror and assume the lead, as it assumed the lead in destroying the planet, but its leader won't.
Polls show that a vast majority of Americans "believe" in climate change. But they tend not to realize that it will personally affect them, though it will – from change in their environment to worsening their mood, impoverishing them and leading to chronic insomnia because of the heat, according to a vast study published last week.
The rest of the world, watching Trump in action, can only hope that the mercurial American president will take his courage in his hands, defy the Republican Party establishment that also persists in climate change denial, and change his mind yet again. Or consult his own Twitter feed and figure out how to achieve it:
"Give me clean, beautiful and healthy air – not the same old climate change (global warming) bullshit! I am tired of hearing this nonsense." (January 29, 2014)