Editorial: Leading from the sidelines? Abandoning Paris climate deal a historic mistake

Walking out on the Paris Agreement won’t significantly boost the American economy.
Walking out on the Paris Agreement won’t significantly boost the American economy. AP

President Donald Trump’s decision to end U.S. compliance with the Paris climate change accord is a consequential mistake — a serious miscalculation that will harm our relations with other countries, endanger homes and businesses across the nation and make the world sicker.

More evidence emerges every day that the Earth’s climate is changing: Hotter temperatures are melting the ice at both poles, injecting trillions of gallons of water into the oceans. Coastal areas are already challenged with higher water.

But interior regions won’t be spared. Weather events are becoming more extreme. It rains longer and harder than before. Crops are threatened. Warmer weather may mean more violent crime in urban areas. Dangerous insects are moving north.

There is disagreement over the causes of climate change, but humans are not blameless. Changing human behavior must be a key component in protecting and restoring the Earth.

The Paris pact was not intended to reverse climate change, just to slow it down. It asked nations to commit to voluntary efforts to bend the temperature curve down by reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next several years.

Trump has decided even that modest effort is too much for the United State to endure. Now, the U.S. is abandoning a 195-nation pact and joining the likes of Syria and Nicaragua on the sidelines.

And for what? Walking out on the Paris deal won’t significantly boost the American economy or add jobs. Any money saved by coal companies and electric utilities will likely be swallowed up by increasing costs for newly required dams and levees, for health care and in higher heating and cooling bills.

That’s why dozens of American companies, from Microsoft to ExxonMobil, urged the Trump administration to remain a part of the Paris agreement. They also know America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement will send a clear signal to other countries that they, too, can continue to pour millions of tons of pollutants into the air.

Sadly, two senators from our area — Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas — urged the president to withdraw from the accord. Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas called it a “big government” solution, as if warming oceans should be cooled with an ice cube.

Interestingly, Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said he “would have preferred staying at the table.” Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri supports the agreement, as does Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.

We recognize that fighting climate change will not be free. Electric utilities will need to continue the transition from dirty coal to cleaner natural gas, a conversion that will cost electricity users. Fracking is problematic. Cars and gasoline may be more expensive.

Some jobs will be lost, although not as many as you might think. Federal figures show there were 15 workers in Missouri’s coal industry in 2015 and just seven in Kansas. There are more coal workers in some other states, but many of those lost jobs can be replaced as clean energy continues to expand.

The U.S. cannot wish climate change away or ignore it and hope things get better. The Paris accord was just a small step in an effort to reduce the calamity the grows closer every time the sun rises.

The president has walked away from even that. If his decision remains intact, our children will remember his choice — and suffer the consequences.