The news this week was all about Paris. Sadly, however, the world’s attention was not focused on the shimmering city of light, (the epithet refers to Paris’ intellectual leadership during the Enlightenment), but on the decidedly unenlightened decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, thus adding a third member (the U.S.) to the esteemed group of two countries that have refused to sign the agreement (Nicaragua and Syria).
Reactions ran the gamut from glowing endorsements to bitter condemnation, with the weight of the responses on the condemnation side of the spectrum. As this article from the Post and Courier reports, there was (predictable) support from South Carolina’s Senator Tim Scott.
Senator Scott stated, without evidence or accuracy, that the accord would make achieving economic growth at home “near impossible.” For a refutation of Senator Scott’s assertion, and of much of President Trump’s commentary on the withdrawal, see this next piece from the Washington Post.
The short story is that the Paris Accord 1) is voluntary and 2) allows countries to set their own emission goals, which 3) can be changed unilaterally, so the notion that participation in the agreement threatens economic growth and development is demonstrably false – nonsensical, in fact.
Middlebury College professor and climate champion, Bill McKibben, writes in the New York Times that the withdrawal is a big deal, not only because of the risk non-participation poses to the planet, but also because it is a repudiation of diplomacy and science (two disciplines we formerly regarded as relatively important to the conduct of world affairs).
From the editorial:
It’s a stupid and reckless decision — our nation’s dumbest act since launching the war in Iraq. But it’s not stupid and reckless in the normal way. Instead, it amounts to a thorough repudiation of two of the civilizing forces on our planet: diplomacy and science. It undercuts our civilization’s chances of surviving global warming, but it also undercuts our civilization itself, since that civilization rests in large measure on those two forces.
David Brooks writes in the Times that Trump’s pulling out of Paris “poisons the world” by adopting “naked selfishness” as America’s motivating principle in the international realm. Brooks notes that great leaders have always called on our higher moral instincts and principles to achieve important things for humanity (and now, for the planet). He observes that humans are selfish, but at the same time, altruistic, cooperative and kind. President Trump, he argues, has adopted what is perhaps an unprecedented view (if we exclude the likes of Pol Pot and Idi Amin) that “selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs.”
Moving down the philosophical ladder a few rungs, Ben Adler writes in the Post and Courier that President Trump’s reversal on Paris is nothing but a political stunt, and one that actually works against the goals the Administration has articulated.
Here is an excerpt from the article.
President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement serves no practical purpose. It has no benefit other than pandering to the conservative movement’s ideological opposition to multilateralism and environmental regulation.
Even Trump’s own stated policy goals would be better served by staying in the agreement.
And speaking of pandering, this next article from the Post and Courier reports that South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster appears to support the withdrawal – for reasons that remain unclear. His explanation… “I’m with Trump. We’ll be fine. We’re getting better and better.” Hmmm… It’s hard to know what to say about that!
This raises a question I’ve touched on in previous emails – What does it mean to be a Republican? Or a conservative? These next two articles are instructive.
The first, from the Washington Post, is an editorial by William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas and William K. Reilly, who served as EPA administrators under Presidents Nixon, Reagan and G. H. W. Bush. The Administrators condemn the Trump Administration’s know-nothing dismissal of science, the drastic cuts to federal funding for scientific research, and the rejection of the international agreement on climate change.
Here is an excerpt from the article:
Today, presented with the undeniable warming of the planet, we are faced with a global environmental threat whose potential harm to people and other living things exceeds any we have seen before. The Paris climate agreement is the international response to that threat…
Yet when confronted with broad-based evidence of planetary warming and the almost daily emerging evidence of the impacts of climate change, Trump’s March “skinny” budget and this week’s final 2018 budget plan say we should look the other way; he has chosen ignorance over knowledge. The need for extensive and accelerated scientific research about the nature of the problem and its possible policy solutions should be beyond question. Not to get more information is inexcusable.
Meanwhile, from the bottom of the country, where the gators bellow and (a few) panthers roam the swamps, this next article condemns the lack of action restoring the Everglades, and it blames the massive destruction of this globally important ecosystem on federal subsidies and the political clout of a few giant sugar companies.
Most people know something about the problems with sugar cane and the Glades, but what struck me as most interesting about this article is that the three sources cited condemning the situation were: The American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. You don’t get any more authoritatively conservative than that! Here is an excerpt from the article:
Americans are aware that the federal sugar program makes their food cost more. But few know this same program is causing environmental wreckage in Florida that their tax dollars will have to pay for.
The sugar program, known to its many critics as the “sugar racket,” is a tangle of price supports, which increase the cost of sugar in the U.S., and tariffs and quotas on imported sugar, which keeps cheaper sugar from reaching our market.
“There’s probably no better example in U.S. history of a case of both legal plunder and crony capitalism that has been tolerated for so many years, and that has picked more money from the pockets of Americans,” than the sugar program, says American Enterprise Institute economist Mark J. Perry, who has shown that “American consumers and domestic sugar-using industries have been forced to pay twice the world price of sugar for many generations.”
Talk about a win-win-win opportunity – eliminate subsidies, reduce sugar prices to the consumer and restore the environment! So, what has our Republican Administration said about breathing life back into Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ magnificent “River of Grass?” Not a word. Which makes one ponder the prospect that there really isn’t much “conservative” about what’s going on in Washington these days.
But… Here’s the good news! The New York Times reports that a growing handful of cities, states, universities and businesses are committing to meeting (and probably exceeding) the Paris emission reduction goals, in spite of (and, probably, because of) the U.S. pulling out.
Here is an excerpt:
Representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.
The unnamed group — which, so far, includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses — is negotiating with the United Nations to have its submission accepted alongside contributions to the Paris climate deal by other nations.
“We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed,” Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who is coordinating the effort, said in an interview.
This next article, from the Washington Post, (by way of the Standard-Examiner), continues the coverage, revealing that the U.S. Congress of Mayors has formally denounced the withdrawal and adopted a pledge to meet the accord emission reduction benchmarks. From the article:
“We see the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord as an abdication of American leadership and America’s mayors will certainly fill that void,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said in a statement. “We will symbolically sign on and take actions necessary so that America meets its obligations under the Paris Accord, despite actions of this Administration.”
And it ain’t just Phoenix and New York! This next article, from the Post and Courier, reports that Cottageville, S.C. wants to be the first town to run entirely on renewable (in this case, solar) energy. And it’s not just talk. They are getting close!
The Post and Courier exhorts other towns and cities to follow Cottageville’s example.
Spiraling down to the basic elements (of soil, and plants, and food), South Carolina ETV star (and a childhood friend) Amanda McNulty is interviewed in this article from the Post and Courier. The host of “Making it Grow” explains how she got into the horticultural arena and then into television. And GrowFood Carolina gets a wonderful shout-out from Amanda:
Fortunately, groups like the Coastal Conservation League and the various land trust organizations are trying to find ways that allow people to financially be able to keep property in agricultural uses, be it farming or forestry, and stop the mass conversion of acreage to developments.
The shift to locally grown food is one component, by the way, of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
And on the transportation front, former Conservation League staffer Katie Zimmerman, who now heads Charleston Moves, urges local elected officials to step up the pace of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure construction. Says Katie:
Now is the time for leadership—for elected officials, businesses, and constituents to work together and actually get some bike lanes striped, some signalization in place, some sidewalks constructed.
Finally, Quintin Washington interviewed me on Friday on the perennial subject of I-526. We also discussed the proposed new transit center in North Charleston and the transportation challenges the Charleston metro region faces – functionally and politically – in the coming years. It’s long, and a bit rambling on my part, but Quintin, as always, gets to the heart of the matter.
From Paris and New York to Cottageville, from GrowFood to bike lanes, what does this all add up to? I’m going to make what may seem a naively optimistic observation. I think President Trump has started a revolution – and very much for the good. He has been unambiguous, forthright and consistent in his disdain of the principles that, for more than 200 years, America has struggled to maintain as the bedrock of nationhood – reason and logic, objectivity, compassion and generosity. Instead, he has pursued an agenda of “naked selfishness,” of vindictive and petty egotism, and of arrogant, erratic and uninformed self-indulgence. In that respect, President Trump personifies the human attributes and attitudes that our social and political structures were designed to suppress.
So doing, President Trump has stimulated a national debate about what a modern society should aspire to and how it should behave toward its citizens and its neighbors. He has incited an examination of the risks that have always lurked beneath (and, sometimes, at) the surface of our generally harmonious democracy. The result has been the emergence, in a large part of the population, of a collective sense of indignation, but more importantly, of a stronger appreciation of responsibility, by cities and towns, states, neighborhoods and individuals and, I think, of a renewed commitment to the ideals that, at our best, have shaped this country.
That could not have come at a more important time in history. Thank you, President Trump.
Have a wonderful week, and keep the faith!