This hoopla seems like the perfect opportunity for someone like me to chime in: I blog about renewable energy, can hear both sides in a political debate, like the city of Paris, and have spent my adult life working on big policy questions.
Through all of the recent noise, I've pinpointed six important items.
CHAPITRE UN--What Happened
President Trump traveled for a few weeks to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican City, Brussels, and Sicily before returning to the US on May 27. During that time, he met with world leaders and promised a decision on the Paris Agreement--a non-binding agreement signed by the US in April 2016 and the vast majority of nearly 200 countries. On June 1, from the White House Rose Garden, he made this statement:
- ...in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord...but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.
The response, on the other hand, has been somewhat of a circus to follow. And now, everyone's arguing at a deafening pitch.
CHAPITRE DEUX--No Matter What, Cities are a Huge Deal Here
Cities around the globe are the innovators for the environment--new technology is being tested. If you want to talk about addressing climate change, these are the laboratories for new approaches to water way clean ups, slicker city planning, better energy consumption, and effective waste management. Cities house the big populations that put pressure on the environment but they're also the location of the universities, companies, and workers that can help reduce the burden.
Here's one way to think of how important cities are in this debate. As humans, we're concerned about our immediate environment. The future of the global climate is complex with many mechanisms and interrupting factors that make predictions difficult if not impossible. It's hard for many Americans to individually relate to global climate patterns and moreover, think of how we might manage them.
At a city level, however, we feel the impacts and feel more agency. In big cities like LA, we can clearly see how human activity is affecting water quality, air quality, forestation, and even the climate. Asphalt and windows heat up the cities' temperatures. Chicken crap and sewage make many of our streams unswimmable and undrinkable. The exhaust that our cars and trucks and trucks fart out lowers the air quality and gives a lot of city dwellers breathing problems. You'll find more people agreeing on these realities--and doing something about it--than on "global climate change".
Many cities outdate the nations in which they find themselves. Baltimore, my current stomping grounds, was founded in July of 1729. For you history majors out there, you know that's older than our great nation. In fact, our first president wasn't born until three years later, in 1732. Since 1729, Baltimoreons have been working their butts off to maintain an inhabitable environment: shoveling horse deuce from the streets, establishing parks for people to enjoy, replacing gas lamps with electric ones, and sifting trash out of the Inner Harbor. Americans could learn a lot from the 288 years of experience Baltimore has amassed.
From a politician's perspective, debating human effects on the environment are also much easier at the city level. If you're the Democratic mayor of South Bend, IN, using city funds to pay for a industrial site clean up or riverfront revitalization will have an immediate effect. Taxpayers can see their money at work and some might even enjoy it and re-elect you.
A Republican politician at the federal level from Florida or the Mississippi Delta region is similarly concerned about their cities. If water levels are off by even a thin margin, that poses a big problem to their way of life. And they'd sign onto federal legislation guaranteeing protection and funding for water projects in their backyards. However, why on earth would they support legislation that funds projects in South Bend that in no clear way benefits their voters? Present-day environmental legislation ends up being too sweeping or not immediately relevant to many federal legislators and their constituents.
Clearly, environmental politics at the city level are much more practical and relatable than the national or international levels. It's no surprise an agreement like the one in Paris might encounter a hold-up, such as the US pulling out.
CHAPITRE TROIS--This is a Great PR Opportunity for the Business World
Across the US, companies are making their voice heard on the Paris Agreement.
Many Fortune 500 companies are signaling that they do not support President Trump's decision to back out. It's become the popular thing to do--Silicon Valley's biggest companies reacted immediately via press releases and tweets. Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk and Disney's Bob Iger even left Trump's advisory council.
But this should come as no surprise. By supporting Paris, these companies are branding themselves to masses that buy into the futuristic culture of renewable energy, green campuses, and environmentally 'friendly' products. Also remember that many of these companies have offices in Europe and across countries that firmly support the agreement. They're messaging to those bases as well.
Furthermore, take the examples of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and even Amazon's Jeff Bezos. Like Zuckerberg, many Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs are Millennials--they grew up with a strong sense of environmentalism reinforced by school clean up programs, Captain Planet, An Inconvenient Truth, and politicians on TV debating the Kyoto Protocol. Bezos, born in '64 is a Gen Xer and was a young witness the founding of the EPA in 1970, the oil crisis of the mid '70s, and many large water clean ups like Lake Erie and the spontaneously combusting Cuyahoga River. For these guys, the Paris Agreement is right in line with the messaging their generations grew up with.
But this isn't every company profile. Many companies don't have offices in Europe or compete in the progressive Silicon Valley arena or believe that an environmentalist agreement will benefit their bottom line. To them, Trump's backing out represents protecting American jobs and maintaining America's independence from an overly bureaucratic international system. It's not surprising that such an agreement would seem menacing to US extractive, transport, and manufacturing industries. And to those that support the Agreement, these companies are scratching their heads wondering why so many people are opinionated about a document they haven't even read. These are far from radical positions in the American business community. Though Musk and Iger left, there are still 45 remaining C-suite members of Trump's advisory council.
CHAPITRE QUATRE--Future of the Agreement
What happens next with the Paris Agreement? The US hasn't officially exited and even if we do, it won't happen until the next US Presidential Election and the Agreement can be re-drafted. Heck, look at Trump's wording above.
And then there's Congress. Although they may give their opinions on the Agreement, it is not a treaty. As such, it does not require Senate ratification--it isn't in their jurisdiction. But if you are interestedin seeing what Congress is getting done, check out the hearings and legislation coming from the committees on Senate Environment and Public Works, House Natural Resources, or House Science, Space, and Technology. To those C-SPAN loyalists, I salute you.
In the interim, important global companies and governments (city, state, and national) will keep innovating and raising their environmental standards. Without a doubt, countries will reach an agreement on managing their environmental impacts. However, once we've achieved that, the next world-ending hot-button issue will rear its ugly head and humans will do their fire drill.
Which brings me to my favorite observation...
CHAPITRE CINQ--Future of the Climate Change Debate in America
We will continue to argue on everything from the most trivial to most consequential policies. And every time, it manages to feel like the end of the world. Fortunately, I don't see the world ending any time soon so let's exhale and consider the following.
In America, no side wants to concede on the climate change debate. It would be a political defeat. We're gonna be arguing about "Is climate change real?" long after the cows come home. The phrasing and goals of this debate need to change or else we're going to continue to gridlock.
Here's an analogy. Let's say you're managing an employee and didn't properly onboard him. He had great potential so you gave him the tall order of "fixing the company". Every time he wanted guidance and specifics, you kept it vague and overwhelming. So, he's become somewhat of a turd in your back pocket. Now, he aggressively hits on all of his female colleagues, doesn't finish his work on time, and has threatened to burn the office to the ground. He's become a polarizing figure in the workplace. Either way, he's a menace to the future of the company. This employee's name is "Harold ClimateChangeDebate". It's time to get rid of Harold and hire someone new.
So you've decided to hire "Sabrina LetsJustGetShitDone". During her onboarding process, you're specific with Ms. LetsGetShitDone about what needs to be done. You tell her you're not looking to fix the whole company, instead, you want to use her skills to make targeted changes here and there. When you present her to her colleagues, they find her a lot more approachable.
Sabrina lives up to her family name and is able to achieve targeted goals. In the end, these goals add up to an overhaul of the company and everyone lives happily ever after with pay raises and a better work space.
That's my analogy. If it wasn't clear enough, I guess what I'm trying to say is that we should spend less energy debating climate change and more energy getting shit done. I don't care what you call it. In fact, instead of climate change we should either adopt another name (like the "Viable Human Habitat" debate or "The Earth Enhancement" debate) or debate individual components separately (transport, industry, agriculture, oceans, rivers, forests, etc.).
The problem is, I know it's fun for news agencies to go around surveying people about their stance on climate change. I also know it's fun to judge people instantly if they say they're either for or against something. Sure makes my life easier. But perhaps we could retire such bad habits from this debate and transplant them onto something new that we also like to argue about, like dogs vs. cats or powerboats vs. sailboats. What a wonderful world this would be if we could get FOX and CNN to dedicate their unending news cycles to interviewing incoherent pet or boat owners and extrapolating on how those divisions are leading to America's demise.
CHAPITRE SIX--Future of Humanity
The Paris Agreement is a consequential agreement and has the power to positively change our lives and planet. But even if we became perfect environmentalists tomorrow, humanity would see changes in weather patterns and climate. It's going to happen and you can quote me on that. It will affect things like our air, water, crops, and general livability of our cities. Because Earth is a dynamic environment, we have to find solutions to address these issues. Again, it's often easier to do that on the local level.
With regard to Earth's climate, we must understand that there is a narrow niche that we can live in (not 150F or -50F, not hurricane force winds and limited fresh water). So let's pray that Earth doesn't change too drastically. If it does, we've got a few options. Here are some of the cooler ones I could think of:
- Move populations somewhere inhabitable like geodesic biospheres or other planets once we've worked out the kinks of bending the fabric of space time. Or perhaps, that might just mean moving billions of people to Canada;
- Embrace climate-altering geo-engineering like the people at Intellectual Ventures. We have the power to stop hurricanes on the Gulf of Mexico by changing water temperatures with buoys or cool Earth's temperatures by mirroring the suns rays. Obviously, these come with enormous consequences and might be best accomplished by a rogue group but they appeal to our epic side;
- And alter human genetics to make us more resilient to harsh climates. Even if we don't do well with extreme change, other species on Earth do. Perhaps we can mimic some of them and develop super humans--half rat genetics, half cockroach, and all ugly.
In conclusion, the Paris Climate Agreement has shown me that we're at the teenage stage in our relationship with Mother Earth. We've grown up fast--in the last couple hundred of years, we've built populations, skyscrapers, and weapons bigger and better than ever before. With this growth, we've also become extremely volatile and hormonal. If we don't pay some respect, she's still our mother and can smack us down with harsher living situations.
But we're reaching the stage of young adulthood. As a species, we're learning through our powers of observation that we can't just run around yelling and punching things. We need to present a better face if we want to keep our job at the restaurant. We're also more coordinated than our lanky, teenage self. All the different parts--from Asia to the Americas--are in better and more constant communication.
The noise following Paris actually gives me hope that we'll be smarter, more humble, and less at odds with Mother Earth.