By John N Telesford
Recently, President Trump indicated that America will no longer adhere to the pledges of the Paris Climate Change Agreement or the Paris Agreement 2015. As he boldly indicated, he wants to be the president of the people of Pittsburgh, and not the people of Paris. According to Patrick Gallagher, writing in the editorial of Science (Vol. 356: 201, p 1103), the president invoked a nostalgic version of Pittsburgh as “… a rusty urban relic- a manufacturing city of steel that has fallen on hard times, held back by unfair global competition and onerous environmental regulation”. Gallagher suggests that this view of the President of the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world is a “myth”. In my opinion, this mythical stance of the USA’s president, can take this powerful nation backwards, in the current context of induced climate change.
Although there are still mixed reactions and responses to the Paris Agreement, what transpired in France at the end of 2015, inspired world leaders in politics, businesses and non-governmental organizations to work towards mitigating and halting the onward march of man-made climate change. In this regard, the majority of countries developed and made public and are now moving towards implementing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In fact island nations were among the first to submit and make public their very ambitious NDCs. In this regard, the global vibes were high and large nations such as America pledged to contribute the financing to support the gigantic effort required to implement these reduction strategies. But in came Mr. Trump and as a ‘bad trump card’ for the rest of the world players signaled his intention and subsequently removed the USA from the game.
But many within Mr. Trump’s country feel that the intent of the President may actually slow or at worst prevent the economic progress of the USA. In this regard, many businesses, states and cities within the USA were on a track with re-inventing their economies, through innovations and investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. In fact the world has begun a match towards these innovations and fossil fuel based technologies, such as oil and coal were beginning to take a back seat. There is a technology revolution occurring in the world energy market that can transform economies globally, not least the US economy. On the contrary however, Professor Peter de Menocal of Colombia University sums it up thus: “By pulling out of the Paris Agreement we are actually making ourselves poorer, because we are not investing in innovation. This is the single biggest entrepreneurial opportunity that this nation has seen in many generations”.
So for the USA, at least its central administration, to take a round-about turn at this stage, left world-players and USA observers with dropped jaws. This backward thinking of the President of the USA- bringing America back to the relics of soot belching factories and power plants- can hinder the forward march of the private sector towards sustainable energy systems. With this ‘looking back to the future’ approach, Mr. Trump may be placing his country close to the edge of economic decline. Former President Barak Obama highlighted the recent manifestations of economic and environmental gains within the USA (see Obama, 2017): economic growth, with the reduction of carbon greenhouse gas emissions; private sector emissions reductions and market forces changing the power sector. One common driver of this economic growth and with decreased environmental pressures was innovations in the energy sector.
To ‘make America great again’ at least within the energy sector, President Trump has chosen to plunge his policy direction backwards. Writing with some optimism just around Trump’s inauguration, Obama declares: “Of course, one of the great advantages of our system of government is that each president is able to chart his or her policy. And President-elect Donald Trump will have the opportunity to do so”. Indeed now President Trump has pointed the direction he wants to move in- one that is apparently denying the science of climate change and going back to the dark ages of fossil fuels- especially coal.
Please Mr. President, re-think you policy direction or stand the possible consequences of economic regress, coupled with further environmental decline.