Withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement is an abominable move that quite simply defies sound judgment and reason. The agreement is a meticulously, well-crafted proposal, unilaterally negotiated by nearly 200 countries around the world in a desperate attempt to halt the escalation of the Earth’s warming. It is inconceivable that misguided partisan politics would result in a decision that has disastrous consequences worldwide.
Nations around the globe, backed by irrefutable scientific evidence, set aside political differences and special interests, and embarked on a moral mission to stave off further erosion of our climate. Plagued by more frequent and perilous storms, droughts, wildfires, damaged ecosystems, famine and rising seas, due to melting glaciers, member nations of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change made history with the signing of a pact on Earth Day, April 22, 2016, in New York City. I was fortunate enough to be selected to witness the much celebrated, historic signing of the agreement. There was such a feeling of unadulterated pride as each nation took the stage, one by one to sign the covenant.
However, 133 days into the Trump administration, there is a sense of dreadful disbelief when he announced the withdrawal of the United States in favor of a deadly, retrogressive ploy to revitalize fossil fuel as a viable energy source. Trump says the agreement is biased and bad for the U.S. economy. Job creation is simply no justification for destroying creation. He completely discounts the fact that Americans and people around the world will always need energy and that safer, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, not only protect our environment but provide for a robust economy. No consideration was given to how the proliferation of solar has significantly grown our economy and reduced carbon dioxide emissions in the process.
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Trump completely ignored scientific evidence by bipartisan scientists, along with satellite and NASA time-lapse photos, which provide visible proof of the Earth’s deterioration from the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Instead, he referenced the paucity of studies that were industry motivated or compensated, manipulated, predated the Paris accord, and/or non-contextualized.
Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, not only poses a detriment to our climate, but presents serious health concerns to anyone living in the vicinity of its production facilities. Unfortunately, all too often, those individuals at the highest and most disproportionate risks of exposure are low-income and/or people of color. This is also the demographics that have the least likely ability to prepare for and overcome climate catastrophes. There was evidently no thought given to the fact that the exorbitant costs of restoration and rebuilding in the aftermath of climate disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy far outweigh any economic gains. You cannot put a dollar figure on the loss of human lives or the irreparable harm to our ecosystem or the preservation of our Earth in general.
The significance of the long-awaited and much-anticipated Conference of Parties 21 accord hammered out in Paris in December of 2015 is that it signaled the world’s readiness to meet its moral obligation to save our planet. Nations around the world are in agreement that aggressive actions must be taken to counter climate change. The agreement is flawed and fell far short of what is needed but was at least a baby step in the right direction. It should be strengthened and made binding, not dismissed by a country that has always been considered a world super power.
Mr. Trump whines about unfairness toward the United States in the agreement. However, how fair is it to the rest of the world that only 10 countries, with the U.S. being No. 2, account for 72 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions? The U.S. and China alone account for almost half. Again, it is the smaller and/or poorer countries that are the least contributors, but have been impacted most by the damage that has already been caused to our atmosphere. It is the world’s poor and communities of color that continue to suffer greater disparities caused by the persistent usage of fossil fuel.
Time is now to act
The Paris Climate Agreement is not to benefit just the people of Paris, but benefits the very people of Pittsburgh who Mr. Trump declares he was elected to represent. It also benefits the people of the Gulf, the people of America, and indeed the people of the world.
It is time out for partisan politics. The election is over and quite frankly, as a nation, we must move on. Concerns that America has become a laughing stock are extraneous because climate change is no laughing matter. Having personally experienced and survived the ravages of Hurricane Katrina and understanding that future storms will be even more intense and recurrent, are motivating factors behind my activism — not politics. The cause is too great and the stakes are too high for the continued bickering. The time has come for us to join together as a nation and world leader for the greatest endeavor of our time — saving the world.
If we refuse to care about each other, if we are content to dispel disadvantaged populations, just remember the offsprings of our offsprings. They are innocent bystanders on an Earth that we have misused and abused. We cannot destroy God’s gift of creation and we simply cannot deny our posterity, their rightful heirship of this Earth. We must act now.
Katherine T. Egland is chairman of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice National NAACP Board of Directors