Once a great power, failure to keep pace militarily engendered the Ottoman’s decline. The quick transition from wood to coal partly underpinned Western Europe’s great divergence. Dependence on slave labor contributed to technological stagnation and the subsequent decline of the Roman Empire. Civilizations that successfully adapt to changing circumstances prosper, while those who stay stuck in the past decline.
In announcing plans to leave the Paris Accord, Trump has left America worse off — fewer jobs, marginalized during international negotiations, and less safe. As the world moves on, America risks being left behind.
Americans, across the political spectrum, want a clean energy future. A favorable view of clean energy translates to support for the Paris Accord. Over 70 percent of Americans, including almost half of all Trump voters, support the Paris Agreement. Support is broad based, extending to the majority of people in every U.S. state.
Yet, as part of an ideological crusade, in late May a group of over 22 Republican Senators in Congress urged Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Trump has sided with rabid right Republican Senators in D.C. over the American people.
Republican politicians in state legislatures depart dramatically from their colleagues in D.C. Ohio Governor John Kasich released a statement saying Trump has "has passed up an opportunity both to expand U.S. leadership in clean energy technology and to create well-paid American jobs." Other state Republicans recently sent Trump a letter touting "The growth of the renewable energy industry is an American success story."
The arguments from Republicans supporting renewables are hard-headed: economic growth, better health and energy security. People in "red states" benefit from thriving wind (Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas) and solar (North Carolina and Arizona) investments. Combined, solar and wind jobs are growing 12 times as fast as the U.S. economy. While Trump cannot derail the freight train of clean energy change, his plans to leave the Paris Agreement will slow it down.
China is laughing. As renewable energy investors, jobs, and tax revenues depart American shores, they will be met warmly upon arrival in China. In January, the Chinese government’s energy agency announced that it will spend more than $360 billion on renewable energy by 2020.
It’s no wonder major companies — Goldman Sachs, Unilever, Coca Cola, Dow Chemicals, and Exxon — have pleaded with Trump to remain in the Paris Agreement. An open letter from 30 CEOs in The Wall Street Journal, published two weeks ago, read, "we are concerned about keeping the doors open for the global flow of American manufactured goods … we believe there is strong potential for negative trade implications if the United States exits from the Paris Agreement." Such is the discontent, after joining Twitter in 2011, the CEO of Goldman Sachs was even spurred to post his first ever tweet.
Consider the impact of America being ostracized by the international community. Global negotiations are an intricately entwined tapestry. Each agreement rests on a foundation of trust and dependability that has now been undermined by Trump. Beyond trade, how will leaving Paris impact America’s military operations on foreign soil? Against the backdrop of the ongoing threat from terrorism, relationships to foster intelligence sharing have never been more important.
Renewables are also at the heart of America’s pursuit for energy independence. Despite the shale oil and gas boom, the U.S. still imports over 20 percent of its energy. The Michigan Conservative Energy Forum state, "By transitioning to clean, renewable energy produced right here in Michigan, we can reduce our dependence on other nations … The Department of Defense understands this and has made the utilization of renewable energy and energy efficiency one of its strategic top priorities."
The Paris Agreement was far from perfect. Ironically, many believe it didn’t go far enough. Countries set their own goals and the associated targets are not legally binding. Yet it was the first time the world, 195 countries, have come together and agreed to a framework with the potential to meaningfully shift the global economy toward a clean energy future. America joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations who have not signed. A lonely position indeed.
Trump is open to renegotiating a deal saying he wants a deal that is "good," "fair," and "better." It remains unclear what these adjectives mean or what such a deal would look like. Such ego-driven hubris is an insult to the American people.
All is not lost. Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement does not take effect until the day after the 2020 Presidential election. The 2018 midterm and 2020 Presidential elections are a referendum on the future of America’s economy and place in the world. Will America, like the failed Roman Empire, anchor itself in the past? Does putting "America first" demand isolationism? Voters will soon get to decide.
Matt Tyler is an economist who works to improve government effectiveness with a particular focus on social services. Tyler is a former management consultant, where he supported executives in developing and implementing strategy across financial services, telecommunications, manufacturing, postal services, and retail. He worked as an economist for Australia’s foreign service and as a policy adviser to the Federal Australian Labor Party on economic and social policy. He has also worked for Third Sector Capital Partners where he assisted with the construction of two Social Impact Bonds in Salt Lake City. He is currently completing a Master of Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He tweets as @matt_b_tyler. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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