Guest Commentary

Guest commentary: Trump’s Paris climate decision was the wrong move

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords. AP

On June 1, President Donald Trump declared that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord, an international agreement approved by the world’s nations in 2015. Only two countries did not sign on: Syria, which has been in civil war since 2011, and Nicaragua, which thought the agreement was too weak. Now we can add the United States to this short list of outliers.

In a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University last April, 65 percent of respondents said that the president should not remove specific regulations intended to combat climate change. According to a recent survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication, not only do 86 percent of Democrats want to remain in the accord, but so do 51 percent of Republicans.

The Yale study also found that a majority of Americans in every state say the U.S. should participate in the Paris climate agreement; that by a more than 5 to 1 margin, registered voters say the U.S. should participate in it. And almost half of Trump voters say the U.S. should participate, in fact.

The leaders of important American businesses such as Elon Musk of Tesla, Jeffrey R. Immelt of General Electric and Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs have said the president’s decision would ultimately harm the economy by ceding the jobs of the future in clean energy and technology to overseas competitors.

Since Trump’s announcement, 125 mayors and nine governors across the U.S. have denounced this move and publicly stated that they will remain in the Paris agreement, with some going even further and committing to 100 percent renewable energy. Cabinet heads in Trump’s own administration opposed the withdrawal, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a four-star Marine Corps general.

In fact, Mattis had this to say during his confirmation hearing in February: “Climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”

Mattis went on to state: “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

In his announcement of the withdrawal from the Paris accords, Trump said, “I can put no other consideration before the well-being of American citizens.” How can the well-being of the citizenry be preserved when Trump ignores the words of his own defense secretary, who asserts that climate change poses a danger to our troops by causing instability in the areas of the world where our forces operate?

The truth is that it can’t. Our military leadership is composed of seasoned professionals, not politicians, who know that climate change is not a “hoax.” These leaders understand that climate change constitutes a global threat and that the United States must work with the rest of the world to mitigate the effects of global warming, many of which can be seen now by anyone who cares to look. The other nations of the world are on board. Now the question is, why aren’t we?

As one of our great generals, Dwight Eisenhower, said at his second inaugural: “The economic need of all nations — in mutual dependence — makes isolation an impossibility: not even America’s prosperity could long survive if other nations did not also prosper. No nation can longer be a fortress, lone and strong and safe. And any people, seeking such shelter for themselves, can now build only their own prison.”

That sentiment remains food for thought 60 years later in 2017.

Paul Post is chair of the executive committee of the Kansas Sierra Club.