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Climate justice

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One of the most humiliating events to befall the United States in recent years has been Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, which placed the United States in a notorious group of only two other countries, Syria and Nicaragua, that have not signed onto the landmark agreement. No doubt, his position to drop from the Paris agreement was rooted in his allegiance to his political constituency – joined by a large group of Americans who take in spurious information peddled by the conservative media and right-wing status quo about climate science. Even with a significant portion of the population supporting the Paris agreement (i.e., 69 percent of the public), 22 Republican Senators did not fear voter outrage and single-mindedly advocated withdrawing from the accord. This is even the case at a time when overwhelming scientific evidence has amassed over many decades showing that climate change and its effects are real, and it is mainly caused by human activity. Indeed, arguing the facts about climate change appears to increase polarization on the subject.

UNFOUNDED CLAIMS

Trump has stated that the Paris Agreement will hurt the U.S. economy’s competitiveness in the long term and reduce our potential to generate new and innovative businesses, but this claim has been contested by industry and corporate leaders. In addition, Trump has accused the accord of being “unfair” because large polluting countries such as India and China are not required to replace their fossil-base and environmentally unfriendly standards until 2030. On the contrary, China and India are doing more than they agreed to in the Paris accord – India plans to have nearly 60 percent of electricity capacity come from non-fossil fuels by 2027 and China has agreed to spend at least $360 billon on renewable energy by 2020.

Worse, Trump’s executive orders on climate change and his appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA have the potential to be more damaging than pulling out of the climate accord. For example, his administration directed the EPA to review former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, rescind the moratorium on coal mining on federal lands and urge federal agencies to “identify all regulations, all rules, all policies that serve as obstacles and impediments to American energy independence.” It also repeals at least six Obama-era executive orders aimed at addressing global warming, including those that instructed the federal government to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

LIMITING DAMAGES

There is some good news: many of Trump’s executive moves will certainly end up in court. In fact, getting rid of the Clean Power Plan of 2014, which put a limit to the amount of carbon dioxide produced by a range of power plants, will be far harder than just signing an executive order. However, other avenues exist for Trump to implement his draconian measures to reduce the use of fossil fuels in the United States. Pruitt has already begun the process of abandoning the Clean Power Plan. As damaging as leaving the Paris accords might be, Pruitt’s EPA is more dangerous.

A surge of support for keeping with the Paris accords has occurred since Trump’s decision, both at the state and local levels across the country, as exemplified by the creation of United States Climate Alliance (USCA). A nonpartisan group of states, this makes up more than a third of the U.S. population with the main goal of upholding the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change. The familiar expression, “think global, act locally” may be the battle cry for advocates of transforming our world to a sustainable, renewable economy for the coming years. At least until 2018.

Stephen Pekar is a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Queens College.