There are a lot of things that make protecting Earth’s climate really hard. Like the fact that fossil fuels are so deeply embedded in our economy and way of life. Or the fact that all policy makers, in every country and at every level of government, demand more economic growth (even though increasing the size of an economy leads to more energy and materials usage, and hence more carbon emissions). Or the scary prospect of planetary feedbacks that might increase the scale of climate impacts far beyond scientists’ forecasts.
Add to that list one Donald J. Trump, the likely soon-to-be-indicted president of a nation that’s rapidly careening toward the fracturing of its financial system, the collapse of its geopolitical influence, and the evaporation of whatever ethical basis for world leadership it may ever have claimed.
It’s easy to be cynically dismissive of Trump’s just-announced exit from the 2015 Paris climate accord: the agreement wasn’t strong enough to actually achieve its goals, and Trump will likely be booted from office one way or another before the agreement withdrawal can take practical effect. However, the symbolism is damning not just of him but of a huge swath of American political culture. Sad.
The one good thing that might emerge from this dreary development is a reinvigorated effort on the part of other nations—plus U.S. state and local governments—to engage in the necessary and inevitable transition away from fossil fuels. Just as Donald Trump often makes policy decisions simply by noting what Barack Obama did, and then doing the opposite, untold millions worldwide are increasingly adopting a similar attitude toward Trump and his merry band of co-conspirators. If Trump hates climate action so much, there must be something good about it.
The best success stories about climate action never emerged from Washington; they came instead from places like northern California, where citizens are creating their own nonprofit electric utility companies committed to expanding renewable energy; from Amsterdam and Copenhagen, which have spent decades minimizing the role of the automobile; and from countless villages throughout the Global South where cheap solar cells and LEDs are reducing the burning of biomass for light.
Read between the lines. “Make America Great Again” roughly translates to: “Don’t look to Washington for examples, guidance, inspiration, or help—especially now. It’s up to you. Get to work!” Thanks for upping our dedication and zeal, Mr. President.