Energy & Environment

An Rx to reverse US withdrawal from the Paris climate deal


As expected, at the Group of 20 meeting the United States found itself leading a group of one in opposition to the Paris climate agreement. Also as expected, righteous indignation poured forth from environmental groups, Democratic politicians and international leaders.

I agree that our withdrawal from the deal is irrational and not in America’s best interests.

But even more irrational would be a belief that our righteous indignation will change President Trump’s mind. Rather, if we are to restore America’s role in protecting against global planetary changes, we need to limit the damage to four years rather than eight years of Trump leadership. To do so requires addressing the very real concerns of those segments of American society whose votes put Trump in office and to whom he is speaking in his rationale for withdrawal.

{mosads}After an internal White House debate between those for and against withdrawing, President Trump opted to leave for political reasons: Because he thinks it’s the strategy most likely to get him re-elected in 2020. Reading his speech announcing withdrawal from the Paris Agreement makes it clear that Trump is focusing on again galvanizing voters who supported him in 2016


Trump supporters include military personnel and veterans, rural voters, those affected by unfair trade practices including farmers and older white males suffering job loss and conservatives concerned about defending their vision of the U.S. constitution. In each case, supporters of the Paris Agreement generally overlook highly relevant counter-arguments that could be made to these voters, and in some cases unwittingly provide support for Trump’s arguments.

For military voters and veterans, who voted close to 2:1 in his favor, his Paris withdrawal speech includes a comment about NATO countries and their “lax contributions to our critical military alliance,” a point irrelevant to global climate change. We need to ensure that military voters and veterans understand that global climate change increases the likelihood of wars — something already recognized by U.S. military leadership.

Climate change causes serious regional disruptions including inundation of coastal areas, diminished potable water supplies and changes in agricultural productivity. These disruptions, in turn, force populations to migrate, revive old conflicts affecting national boundaries, create competition for the essentials of life — in short, they foster warfare.

Our soldiers know the evils of war. While they valiantly fight to protect values like freedom and democracy, they shouldn’t face combat because America failed to join in the first truly global effort to rein in creation of greenhouse gases. More attention needs to be focused on the role of global climate change as a threat intensifier, even at the cost of paying less attention to such issues as polar bear extinction.

Trump’s statement also strongly links European and other countries’ unfair trade practices to his reason for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. Trump won 60 percent of the vote from rural agricultural areas of the U.S.

These voters are significantly affected by current EU bans on American agricultural products, which include beef, chicken and grains. These EU bans have a scientific basis that is about as strong as the arguments trotted out by the coal industry that global climate change is not caused by humans.

The alleged scientific rationale for these trade bans are not even supported by the EU’s own European Food Safety Authority. Unfortunately, it is apparent to rural voters that many in the environmental movement are fashionable or fanatical foodies who directly or indirectly support these bans and who are condescendingly ignorant of the underlying trade issues.

To appeal to Trump voters in rural agricultural communities we should brag about American farming practices that are often the leaders in sustainability. We should support American farmers by fighting against trade barriers that are little more than greed wrapped in a green flag. We should provide information about the likely negative impacts of climate change on American agricultural productivity.

We also need to point out that President Trump is irrational in claiming that withdrawing from the Paris trade agreement will protect the American worker against harmful trade barriers. An easy prediction is that our competitors will argue that any country not part of the Paris Agreement has an unfair trade advantage in being able to produce goods using cheaper polluting sources, such as coal and on that basis will erect further barriers against U.S. products.

Conservative Republicans, after much trepidation, voted for candidate Trump in far greater numbers than expected. An applause line in Trump’s withdrawal announcement concerned alleged loss of U.S. sovereignty due to the Paris Agreement.

My colleague, Julian Hudak, and I demonstrated that concern about environmentalism destroying U.S. constitutional rights, and particularly property rights, has been increasingly part of the Republican party platform and its rhetoric, although not until recently that of Trump. In contrast, no mention of this issue is found in Democratic party platforms.

Rather than ignoring or belittling these concerns, Democrats should forcefully express that they are not in favor of distorting U.S. constitutional rights, and should clearly identify property right protection as an element of strategies preventing and mitigating the adverse effects of global climate change.

The first step to restoring America’s involvement in the Paris Agreement is to vote Trump out of office. Righteous indignation, however justified, will not help. Those of us who support the Paris Agreement need to respectfully recognize and respond to the concerns of segments of the American public on whose votes Trump is counting.

Dr. Bernard Goldstein is a member of the National Academy of Medicine who was EPA assistant administrator for research and development in the Reagan Administration.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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