Key members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle are finally set to meet Thursday to discuss whether to pull out of the historic Paris climate agreement, the world’s last, best chance to avoid catastrophic global warming, according to reports.
It’s entirely possible this rescheduled meeting is just a stage-managed event — pure theater aimed at giving the president high visibility for “doing the right thing. The meeting was widely hyped as a showdown between warring factions within the inner circle last week, before it was abruptly canceled.
Formally pulling out of Paris wouldn’t gain Trump anything — he can still undermine domestic and global climate action as much as he wants — but it would have three very serious consequences.
First, exiting the agreement would overtly make the United States a rogue nation, a pariah. It’s clear the president has already started the process of gutting the pledge to cut carbon pollution that the United States made before Paris, but taking the step to formally pull out of Paris would be turning our backs on the entire world, which unanimously agreed in the December 2015 accord to work together on this gravest of threats to humanity.
We are the country with the most “soft power,” the ability to influence other countries to get what we want not with military or economic threats but “because other countries — admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness — want to follow it,” as the Harvard professor who introduced the concept put it.
If America quits the international negotiating process that, after a quarter-century, has finally given humanity its last, best hope to avoid catastrophic climate change, we will be a rogue nation, a global pariah like Putin’s Russia. Our soft power, our ability to achieve outcomes we desire in other global negotiations, will collapse.
This would hamstring the Trump administration starting immediately and continuing as long as he is in power.
Second, the Paris agreement is a ridiculously good deal for the United States, and killing it would be unequivocally bad for the country. We’re the richest country, we’ve generated by far the most cumulative amount of carbon pollution since the mid-19th century, and the pledge we made in Paris was just about the weakest we could offer.
At the same time, we are almost certainly the country with the most to lose economically from climate change, since we are the richest country in the world, with the most wealth along our coasts and the biggest agricultural sector vulnerable to extreme weather.
By killing the best chance we have to keep global temperatures below 2°C (3.6°F), the Trump administration would be ensuring a multitude of ever-worsening climate impacts in the coming decades. We’d be doomed to inundation of our major coastal cities from sea level rise and steadily worsening storm surge, as well as devastating Dust-Bowlification of much the country’s interior.
Third, exiting Paris will destroy the Trump brand forever here and around the world. Since the United States under President Obama was a leader in achieving the Paris agreement, if President Trump pulls out and works to kill climate action at home and abroad as he has promised, he will quite naturally be blamed for whatever climate disasters befall the nation and the world in the coming years and decades.
The supposed master of deal-making and branding will achieve permanent brand destruction and historical notoriety of the kind enjoyed by leaders like Neville Chamberlain and Herbert Hoover — all to destroy a global deal that requires minimal effort to fulfill.