The United States is Ignoring a Moral Obligation Every Other Country Has Adhered To.
The United States has a proud history of leading, setting positive examples for the world to follow. From the Marshall Plan to reconstruct tattered nations following World War 2, to landing the first person on the moon, to winning nearly three times more Nobel Prize medals than any other country, America has moved the planet in a positive direction. And yet, great nations sometimes stumble. This week, however, many feel we fell flat on our face. Out of the nearly 200 countries that exist on the planet, the United States became the only one to reject the Paris Climate Change Accords; on the list of nations working to minimize global warming, we stand behind China, behind Russia, behind Europe, behind North Korea, Chad, Cuba, Venezuela, behind every tiny island nation in the Pacific, behind everyone. When the Accords were put in place in 2015, it was the United States and China – the two largest greenhouse gas emitters – that took leadership roles in designing and signing the agreements. Every other nation followed our lead, except for Nicaragua and Syria; Nicaragua because it said the Accords were not strong enough, and Syria because it was in the midst of a civil war. In the last month, however, Nicaragua has rethought its position and decided to join. This past week, Syria, too, changed its position, announcing its intention to be the last nation on the planet to sign the Accords.
Let us not forget, although we currently are the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases per year behind China, historically the United States is by far the largest overall polluter. With just 4 percent of the planet’s population, the Environmental Protection Agency has reported that the United States has emitted almost one-third of the total greenhouse pollution into the atmosphere. Setting aside whether the United States has a moral obligation to clean up after itself, by withdrawing us from the Accords President Trump is missing the bigger picture: we are about to lose out on the economic opportunity of not just a generation, but perhaps of all time.
While different sources calculate the numbers differently, however, done, they are staggering. The highly respected International Energy Agency (IEA), calculates that nations of the world stand to economically benefit from the renewable energy transition at up to $10 trillion per year by 2050. The IEA further projects a net gain of six million new jobs, notwithstanding losses in outdated energy sectors.
The renewable energy transition is coming with or without the United States serving in a leading role. China has canceled plans to construct over 100 coal-fired plants, switching instead to solar manufacturing, determined to lead world markets in producing and selling renewable energy to other nations. Solar panels are showing up on mud huts in rural villages in India that otherwise lack a consistent source of power. Even Saudia Arabia is designing massive solar facilities to protect its economy as the world begins to shed reliance on fossil fuels. In the United States, jobs in coal are rapidly disappearing as mechanization proves far more efficient than humans welding pickaxes and shovels, and as the cost of other forms of energy renders this polluting energy source less competitive.
President Trump manifestly does not have a grasp of where the world is heading, or how to get us there ahead of the curve. His promise to bring back coal jobs is akin to trying to return us to 1950 automobiles with big fins. He is significantly retarding our national interest as his energy plans seem limited to figuring out what President Obama did and tearing that down, offering no ingenuity of his own. Increasingly, Americans are recognizing that we are not in capable hands.
(Craig Benedict, a retired federal prosecutor, wrote this article.)