Caring for Creation NotesGlobal Chorus of Objection to the U.S. Withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord
by Pam McVety
This article originally appeared in the Florida Pelican, the Presbytery of Florida's newsletter.
I knew it was coming, so days before the President withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, I sent our local newspaper an opinion piece about the dangers of his refusal to participate with the rest of the world in addressing climate change. Nevertheless, on June 1, when the President actually announced his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the accord, I was shaken. A devout and quiet Presbyterian friend, Gary Paton was moved to describe this action as “callous and arrogant” and I agree. We are not alone in our reactions. The world is stunned and at last count, 1,200 states, cities, businesses and universities have stepped forward to reassure the world that Americans are serious about cutting carbon emissions.
Virtually all countries on this planet support cutting carbon emissions and are part of the Paris Climate Accord. A majority of Americans and major companies and businesses support it. American “big” businesses that oppose our withdrawal include Apple, General Electric, Google, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Tesla, Morgan Stanley, PepsiCo, Walmart and Walt Disney. Even large oil companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron argue against withdrawal.
Faith groups are also speaking out. Our Church's Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson, issued a statement of disappointment at the President's move, and asked us to continue to work toward an environmentally safe world. The Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America took an even stronger stand, “denouncing” the President’s actions. Major Jewish, Muslim and Hindu organizations condemned the President’s withdrawal, as did several Catholic leaders.
World leaders, governors, mayors and other elected officials are opposed to the withdrawal and say that they will move forward to cut emissions on their own without the President.
The President by taking this action revealed his intent to support the fossil fuel industry and a couple of well known billionaires over the welfare of you and me, his base of supporters, the coal industry, future generations and the more than seven billion people living on the Earth.
His justification focused on the "costs" of the climate accord, claiming that they were unfair to Americans. He was wrong. The accord is not unfair to Americans: we volunteered our own emission targets, as did every other country. His job numbers and cost figures, as well as his interpretation that a 0.2 degree C cut is a “tiny, tiny” amount, have all been refuted and he completely ignored the benefits that come from tackling climate change. He also ignored the heavy costs and irreparable damage to the planet that will be incurred by business as usual. The President is completely out of sync with the global chorus calling for action to cut carbon emissions.
My Presbyterian friend, Gary Payton, attended the 2015 UN Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris as an observer for our denomination. He reported, “Paris shook me out of my comfortable American perspective and introduced me personally to the suffering of sisters and brothers happening today from climate change.” One story he shared was from the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong who described the dire circumstance of his Pacific Island nation, which is being consumed by rising ocean water – the destruction of his culture, the disappearance of homes and communities, and the displacement of the entire population. President Tong described their situation as “a disaster that never goes away.” The expectation is that the island nation will completely disappear in the lifetime of its youngest citizens because of sea level rise from warming waters and melting glaciers.
I am upset with the dangerous recklessness of the President, but optimistic that the world will change for the better without him. The big issue is whether it will change fast enough to avoid the worse effects of climate change. Most of the world and significant parts of our country are moving forward to cut emissions and switch to renewable energy and energy efficiency. These alternative forms of clean energy are here to stay. Their costs are dropping dramatically and they employ more people than fossil fuels in nearly every state. Clean energy jobs outnumber fossil fuel jobs by more than 2.5 to 1 according to the Department of Energy.
It is tragic that the President could have done so much good for so many. He could have helped to create more jobs, protect more Americans from fossil fuel pollution and made our economy more competitive on the world stage by supporting and even accelerating our move to clean energy. Instead, he has slowed down the momentum, created confusion in the business community and thrown more people, businesses and homes in harm’s way. He also has exposed American businesses to a possible trade tariff on our exports.
In spite of the President’s injudicious action, we are in the midst of a dramatic change and much is happening that moves us in the right direction. Some watchers are even optimistic that our nation may meet its Paris Climate Accord reduction target despite the President's withdrawal. I don’t know, but I am resolved to remain optimistic.
What I do know is that not participating in the global effort to cut carbon emissions hurts real people in very serious ways. We need to pray for our President, speak out, demand better and act wisely.