The President Remains Determined to Turn Up the Heat (Literally)

When it comes to climate change, as well as several other topics, President Trump has taken a diverse array of stances. Several years before announcing his candidacy, in 2009, the president signed an open letter to former President Barack Obama from several prominent business leaders expressing support for the former president’s attempts to reverse climate change. The later implored the president to take action, declaring that if “we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.” However, just the next year Trump changed his stance adopting an anti-climate change policy and often criticizing those who were working to prove and counteract global warming.


On the campaign trail, the president adopted a turbulent stance on climate change. Trump referred to global warming as a hoax and then just the next day, an urgent problem. Once the president went so far as to claim that climate change was nothing more than a hoax developed by the Chinese but later denied that he had ever said such a thing. When it came to the Paris climate accords the president took a similarly paradoxical stance. The president promised to “cancel” the historic agreement but then later suggested that he was maintaining an “open mind” on the agreement and eager to consider public opinions. The unpredictable statements from President Trump led several to believe that there were chances that the president wouldn’t follow through on the campaign pledge to dismantle the Obama administration’s attempts to reverse climate change.


The president quickly crushed these hopes within days of his inauguration, first with his nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt was a controversial choice because in the past he has publicly espoused that the EPA was an unnecessary hindrance to our national economy. Further, Pruitt has denied believing that human actions have significant effects on climate change, a generally accepted fact in scientific communities.Then, President Trump issued an executive order that removed the former administration’s regulations on greenhouse gases, a move that resulted in tremendous political blowback from congressmen and citizens alike. Further, the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has caused widespread controversy and been halted by the influence of the prior administration, was pushed through by the Trump administration. After that incident, it soon became clear that the new administration would prioritize national economic gains over the concerns of the environment. In fact, just a few months after the president’s inauguration, on Saturday, April 19th, 2017, tens of thousands assembled in Washington DC to participate in the People’s Climate March. According to the event organizers, nearly two hundred thousand people marched to increase attention to the threat of human-driven climate change as well as express dissent against the Trump administration’s environmental policies.


Just this past week, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, joining Syria and Nicaragua, the only sovereign states not to sign the agreement. In doing so, President Trump reasserted his embrace of populist ideals and the campaign promise to always put America first. The Paris climate accords were symbolic of a global step forward to set aside temporary economic benefits to protect the environment. By abandoning the agreement the president reassured his political base that he was a president that would prioritize national benefits over global ones. In a speech delivered in the Rose Garden, President Trump claimed that the landmark agreements were damaging to America corporations and unfairly biased towards developing countries. The president declared that he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” and the remaining in the “draconian” international deal would stand to be detrimental to national interests. The president did raise valid points, particularly when he espoused that the deal held an unfair leniency towards developing countries, where the opportunities for exploitation were the greatest. Regardless of the fallacies of the agreement, it was an important starting point to combating climate change. The message delivered by America’s withdrawal reeks of populism and a disregard for the importance of climate change.

The president’s decision was clearly a victory for the nationalist voices within the Trump administration, such as Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency administration. The pair managed to outweigh the appeals from several others, including Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and even Ivanka Trump, the first daughter. However, the president suggested that though the United States would be beginning talks to withdraw, he would be open to negotiating a better deal. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, issued a statement reassuring world leaders that “America remains committed to the transatlantic alliance and to robust efforts to protect the environment.”


However, global response to the decision makes it seem unlikely that there will be negotiations for a new deal and makes it clear that the international community has clearly been angered by this decision. The leaders of France, Germany, and Italy issued a joint statement describing the Paris climate accord as “irreversible.” President Emmanuel Macron of France issued a rebuke to President Trump pressing the president to join the global initiative to “make our planet great again.”


Even the former President Obama issued a political statement statement expressing his clear discontent at the administration’s actions and belief that “Even in the absence of American leadership; even as this administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.” It does seem that in light of the administration’s actions, local groups have been galvanized to take matters into their own hands.


Several businesses have expressed their disagreement with the president’s assertion that the deal is detrimental to the economy, even suggesting that it can help stabilize the economy for the long run. IBM, one of the supporting corporations, wrote on its website that “IBM. believes that it is easier to lead outcomes by being at the table, as a participant in the agreement, rather than from outside it.” The chairman and chief executive of General Electric, took to Twitter to say he was “disappointed” with the decision. Further, he reaffirmed that “industry must now lead” the climate change efforts “and not depend on government.”


Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor and a major business leader, has been coordinating an effort for representatives of  cities, states and private companies to submit pledges to the United Nations to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, disregarding the President’s decision to withdraw. In an interview, Bloomberg asserted that they were going to “do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed.” Bloomberg claimed that free of administrative hindrances the groups can reach, and perhaps even surpass, former pledges. The currently unnamed group is rapidly growing and as of now involves thirty mayors, three governors, more than eighty university presidents and over a hundred businesses.


It remains for unclear for the time being how this group will operate and how such submissions to the United Nations will be facilitated. Christiana Figueres, a former top United Nations climate official, said that though there was currently no formal mechanism for entities that were not countries to be full parties to the Paris accord, the private submissions could hypothetically be included in reports. Regardless of the specifics, the development of such a parallel pledge it proves that the leadership against human created climate change has witnessed a definite shift due to the Trump administration from the federal government to academia, businesses, and local governments.


In withdrawing from the Paris climate accords the president has expressed a disregard for the detrimental effects of climate change that is likely to cause great damage to the global effort. Though it may bring our country temporary economic profits the long term dangers of dependency on environmentally damaging activity has the capability to permanently cripple our economy. The Paris accord was by no means perfect but it represented a global effort to battle rising temperatures and the departure of the United States, Earth’s second-largest polluter, is likely to be a major blow for our environment and our future.