“Young people, remember this day, and make sure you’re registered to vote. It’s your planet and your future.”

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For one brief, glorious moment, the world seemed to agree to curb carbon emissions. image via https://medium.com

Remember back in December of 2015, when the eyes of the world were fixed on Paris? During that historic month, the UN hosted world leaders who haggled, bargained, and were eventually successful at signing the Paris Climate Agreement, which set ambitious global limits for carbon emissions beginning in 2016 and continuing into the foreseeable future. (see the UNFCCC’s e-handbook for details of the agreement here.) For a bright, beautiful moment, world leaders came together in the spirit of hope that by diligently working to reduce carbon emissions, the world and everything (including us) in it might stand a chance of a sustainable future. High fives all around!

Enter the Trump administration. From the beginning of his presidency, Trump made it clear that doing the right thing and saving the planet from climate heating was the antithesis of their leadership model. And so, bit by bit, they demolished laws, rules, policies and federal agencies in their war on sustainability.

Today, November 4, 2019, President Trump’s office issued a statement officially bowing out of the Paris Climate Agreement. According to The New York Times,

The action, which came on the first day possible under the accord’s complex rules on withdrawal, begins a yearlong countdown to the United States exit and a concerted effort to preserve the Paris Agreement, under which nearly 200 nations have pledged to cut greenhouse emissions and to help poor countries cope with the worst effects of an already warming planet. 

Though American participation in the Paris Agreement will ultimately be determined by the outcome of the 2020 election, supporters of the pact say they have to plan for a future without American cooperation. And diplomats fear that Mr. Trump, who has mocked climate science as a hoax, will begin actively working against global efforts to move away from planet-warming fossil fuels, like coal, oil and natural gas.

Keeping up the pressure for the kinds of economic change necessary to stave off the worse effects of planetary warming will be much harder without the world’s superpower.

Negotiators spent the early months of the Trump presidency debating strategies for salvaging American support for the accord. Mr. Trump proved immovable.

While no other nation has followed Mr. Trump’s lead and left the Paris Agreement — indeed, more countries have joined — few are toughening their emissions-reduction targets. Analysts attributed that to the absence of pressure from the United States and they warned that the Trump administration’s antagonism toward climate action could dampen future ambitions.

The letter to the United Nations on Monday would allow Mr. Trump to officially pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement the day after the presidential election. The United States would still be allowed to attend negotiations and weigh in on proceedings but would be downgraded to observer status.

Analysts cautioned that even if the United States elects a Democrat in 2020, re-entry will not necessarily go smoothly. The Paris Agreement is the second global climate change pact that the United States joined under a Democrat and abandoned under a Republican. George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Jonathan Pershing, who served during the Obama administration as the State Department’s special envoy for climate change, said a Democrat rejoining the Paris Agreement would likely be expected to deliver a specific suite of policies showing how the United States intended to move away from fossil fuels. Even then, he said, other countries would be rightly wary that the pendulum of support for climate action could swing back in another election cycle. The United States will have to live with that lingering mistrust, Mr. Pershing said.

“The United States has been written off in many cases as a partner,” he said. “You just can’t count on them.”

Story by Lisa Friedman, who reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman

Once more, comments by readers to this news article ran the gamut from sad and frustrated to reactionary. I share some of their comments with you, Dear Readers, in hopes that you’ll take heart in the fact that many, many millions of people here in the United States and around the world support the Paris Climate Agreement, and are vehemently opposed to the actions coming from the current White House administration. I take comfort in this fact, and am glad that many articulate, intelligent and ecologically aware individuals cared enough to write their opinions to the NYTimes.

Young people, remember this day, and make sure you’re registered to vote.  It’s your planet and your future.
11 Replies 782 Recommend

Preening and posturing, the president is taking obvious and obscene delight in unfastening yet another achievement that his predecessor labored to bring into being. President Obama, more responsible and mature than his successor—by any generous measure— enlisted the world’s leading (and following) nations to take heed of the damage to our planet caused by human behavior.
Realizing that our only home is not without a “sell by“ date, its permanence far from guaranteed, the 44th American president, demonstrating genuine international leadership, persuaded the leaders of the world to pool their resources so that generations yet unborn might find a breathable environment with potable water without which life is impossible.
In irresponsible answer, Donald Trump, stomping and screaming, throwing things as well as a tantrum, now takes a chain saw to the figurative (and, perhaps, literal) tree of life. Maybe what the rich really want is to wake up from their dreams and experience an earth that’s inhabited only by themselves. Think they’ll want fossil fuels, then? Believe in a super-heated planet? Or will it all be “Obama’s fault?”
8 Replies 478 Recommend

Anyone who has small children or grandchildren ought to be frightened and furious. Murder is to a parking violation as what he is doing to the environment is to his actions in Ukraine. What he did there is worthy of impeachment, as are a number of his other actions, but his disinformation campaign on the climate crisis and promotion of fossil fuels are of another order entirely. They are the highest of crimes.
6 Replies 416 Recommend

This decision is immoral, unwise, and unnecessarily destructive of our country’s reputation, alliances, and leadership. History will harshly judge Trump, Pence, and Pompeo.
Many millions more people will likely die as this planet’s atmosphere and oceans rapidly warm as a result of our GHG emissions than would have if this country had kept its Paris commitment. The severity and speed of the mass extinction now underway will be increased as a result of this decision. The cultural and economic devastation that will follow as cities are submerged, famine spreads, tropical disease invades new landmasses and regions, and drought becomes commonplace in many areas of the planet could have and would have been lessened with an enduring American commitment to the Paris compact.
The day will come when the names of Donald Trump, Michael Pence, and Michael Pompeo will be remembered only in infamy and disgust.
25 Replies 700 Recommend

When the catastrophic history of the Trump maladministration comes to be written, this decision, withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accord and failing to lead on the most pressing issue of our time, may well prove the most damaging act by Trump. Like so much of what Trump does, it is borne of ignorance and arrogance.
He is an unmitigated disgrace.
15 Replies 643 Recommend

Just to read those words, that leaders of other nations feel they just can’t count on the United States anymore, it breaks my heart. I don’t know what Trump thinks “making America great” means, but this isn’t it. The people of the world are already suffering the effects of climate change, as are the American people. I fear it will not matter what history says of the Trump presidency. Our world, our lives, will be devastated in ways no one can imagine. Selfishness, greed rule. The lives of real people do not.
5 Replies  437 Recommend

I am without words. I want to be angry right now, but I’m just sad. For everyone that’s still supportive of Trump and of this policy move in particular, I want you to cement this day in your head. The thought has to stay in your mind through the next 30 years, so when we have to start doing the actual work of moving the populations of entire cities that sit at or near sea level…you’ll remember what side of history you stood on. Those of us young enough to live through the consequences of this action certainly won’t forget. Shame or an apology at that point is going to be pretty meaningless.
4 Replies  426 Recommend

 

Hurricanes, Typhoons and the Future

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Image source: https://blogs.nasa.gov/hurricanes/tag/tropical-cyclone-6/

As you are aware, September is hurricane season in the northern hemisphere. If you are a weatherphile, you’ve probably been following Hurricane Florence this past week as it wound its way west from the middle of the Atlantic towards the Carolinas, making landfall on Friday. Yes, it was extreme, with storm surges, uprooting trees and flash flooding, and about twelve unfortunate people who lost their lives in the storm. Amazingly, the Outer Banks islands of North Carolina were mostly spared, and the groups of wild horses who live on them (yes, there are still wild horses on the East Coast, incredibly), survived the storm and are doing fine, according to Facebook reports. This is good news, since all the major American news outlets reported for days on the possibly catastrophic damage that Florence could bring. It might have been much worse, so let’s count our blessings, right?

Southern Asia, on the other hand, has been hit hard by Typhoon Mangkhut this weekend. Here’s a link to a YouTube video with incredible raw footage of what’s been happening there (you might want to ignore the dramatic music, though).  https://youtu.be/rTQjpnUxp_I

According to the BBC news, (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-45543664) dozens of people in the Philippines have died as a result of the typhoon. In Hong Kong, the effects of the storm, flooding and storm surge damaged buildings and stopped normal movement in the city. Right now, the typhoon is moving across southern China, through the Guizhou, Chongquing and Yunnan provinces. Over 2.5 million people have been evacuated from Guangdong and Hainan Island this weekend. The news report stated that over 200 people were injured in Hong Kong, with wind speeds reaching over 110 mph, and storm surges as high as 12 feet (3.5 meters).  Damage to high rise apartments included smashed glass windows, scaffolding crashing to the ground, metal plates careening through the sky, while on the ground cars and pedestrians were inundated by the flood waters. Many thousands were stranded as hundreds of flights were cancelled, roadways closed, and train service stopped. For the moment, the area has come to a standstill.

We can look at weather events such as these from various angles. One of the most obvious is that of scale. During the past decade, the frequency and magnitude of hurricanes and typhoons have scaled up. This type of upscaling of extreme weather has been predicted by meteorologists using cutting edge technology for the past several years. The science is solid: global warming is behind the increase of events, and their ever-increasing strength. Questions remain: how does the global community cope with nearly continuous extreme weather events, and what are we doing to mitigate their effects, and slow down the trajectory of tragedy in the decades ahead?

The Paris Climate Agreement was signed by world leaders almost three years ago. Since then, under the Trump administration, the United States reneged on their responsibility to keep their emissions under the 1.5 degree (Celsius) warming ceiling, and pulled out of the global agreement. However, state and city government leaders, along with the business community, made it clear immediately following the announcement from the White House, that they were fully still in the Paris agreement regardless of what the federal administration decided. Since that time, a coalition of mayors, governors, CEOs and community leaders from around the world have been working on innovating ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming.

This past week in San Francisco, hundreds of those leaders gathered for the Global Action Climate Summit, hosted by California Governor Jerry Brown and a large team of dedicated people. Thousands of people from across the globe attended the event, which was live-streamed for two days via YouTube and Facebook. Here are some links to find out about some of the outcomes of this extraordinary and important event.

https://www.globalclimateactionsummit.org/step-up/

https://www.globalclimateactionsummit.org/

In a high-level talanoa (dialogue) held at the start of the summit, the following statements were made by world leaders on climate change action:

Paris was a great moment of bold and focused leadership; an example of what is possible when leaders are committed to stepping up ambition. But now, to move the vision of the Paris Agreement forward, to turn its words into action, and to deliver results on the ground, the world now needs a new kind of leadership.

We are already seeing this leadership emerging. Those who think globally and for the long term. Those who are convinced and concerned about climate change. Those who put the interests of society in front of their own. Those who are courageous, determined, committed and perseverant. And, above all, those who realize that they need to work together in pursuit of a common goal.

But the fact remains, no single leader will be able to take on this challenge by themselves. To reach a net-zero emissions society, we must move beyond a single company, a single sector or city, or a single country. Leaders from across the world must, within their constituencies and jurisdictions, listen to what science is saying, and translate a global vision into local action. They must make bold decisions, provide the necessary resources and motivate and mobilize the people they can influence to follow-through and deliver.  (https://www.globalclimateactionsummit.org/outcome-of-high-level-talanoa/)

The biggest call to action coming out of the summit was for 100% clean energy by all countries of the world, as soon as possible. This call is being emphasized and encouraged by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres. The year 2020 came up over and over as a benchmark year: many believe that our world will reach an irreconcilable point with the effects of global warming, if we don’t make some major changes to our energy usage during the next two years. In other words, the time for real, on-the-ground action for clean energy is NOW.

Looking at the footage of Typhoon Mangkhut, (as well as extreme weather events happening every day across the globe) it is unimaginable that anyone living on Earth at this moment would not agree that humanity needs to step up and change the ways we are living. Fossil fuel use is simply killing life on Earth, it cannot be stated in any plainer terms. Positive change is on the horizon, and clever people all around the world are working tirelessly towards a clean energy future, not a moment too soon.