Monday, June 5, 2017

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

President Donald Trump announced his intention to pull America out of the Paris Climate Accord in his Rose Garden speech famously justifying his decision by stating “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” There’s just one problem with this… and it’s not what you think.

The problem is not that 195 nations – all but Syria (which is in the midst of a civil war) and Nicaragua (which argued the agreement did not go far enough) – meaning basically the entire world, is in agreement with the accord Trump is against. The problem is not that climate change does not exist. The problem is not that, as Trump has argued, climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government. All of this is irrelevant because we have now passed the point at which there is anything that can be done to prevent the devastating effects of climate change, which will eventually end all life on this planet. The good news, at least for you and me, is that it will be long after our lifetimes before this happens. It will probably be in several hundred years, so while we will have to suffer short-term effects like hurricanes and floods and earthquakes, life will go on… For a while.

There was a time, a decade or so ago, when we could have reversed the damage and saved the planet. But we didn’t. We denied the problem existed, because we all know that if you ignore a problem it goes away. We debated the issue long after the scientific evidence eliminated any need for debate, because as with any issue that becomes politicized there is always money to be made from both sides of the issue. Frankly, it’s amazing that almost every nation in the world ultimately came to agreement; on a planet where nation has fought nation for time immemorial, and man has fought man since Cain killed Abel, 195 countries got together in one place and reached a consensus. My friends can’t even agree on pizza toppings. But they waited too long. Sorry about that.

Of course, there’s always the possibility there will be a scientific breakthrough; perhaps some new technology yet to be conceived that will allow mankind to save the planet. After all, we still have a few centuries before the end and science has come a long way in the last 200 years. Or maybe you believe in miracles (cue Jefferson Starship music). The bottom line is that the Paris Climate Accord is nothing more than kabuki theater: it will not reverse the inexorable result from climate change.

But it does matter when the nation considered to be the most powerful country on Earth and the leader of the free world for more than the past 70 years shatters the first truly worldwide agreement on anything. Working together in furtherance of common goals that benefit the entire planet is a worthy endeavor that should be encouraged, not discouraged. But that’s still not the problem.

Trump summed up his reason for pulling out of the accord in a simple slogan that his supporters are now using to hold rallies: “Pittsburgh, not Paris”. It sounds good to them; it resonates with Trump’s “America First” philosophy, placing nationalism over globalism, and sliding from patriotism into jingoism. Except there’s one problem: the phrase is meaningless. More than that, it exposes the stupidity and ignorance of anyone who rallies behind the cry “Pittsburgh, not Paris” wearing their “Make America Great Again” caps and their “America First” buttons. You see, the Paris Climate Accord has absolutely nothing to do with Paris. This is not a case of Paris over Pittsburgh, or France over America. This is not about nationalism or patriotism. The only reason the agreement is called the Paris Climate Accord is because that’s where it was signed. The signatories had to meet somewhere: it could have been in Pittsburgh, or Montréal, or Tel Aviv, or Brussels, or Nebraska. It just so happens, they met in Paris, so they called it the Paris Accord.

The agreement does not benefit Paris, or France: it benefits every nation on the planet because it is designed to save the planet. Climate change is not a local issue; it is a global threat. I can imagine the dinosaurs staring at the distant meteors streaming toward them as a Trumpasaurus exhorts them  to ignore the threat because their local grazing pasture will be safe. Dinosaurs were large creatures with tiny brains; humans are supposed to be much more intelligent. If a politician can get millions of Americans to believe the Paris Climate Accord is a “deal” that somehow favors France to America’s detriment simply because it has the word “Paris” in its title, then we have a really big problem. Not the climate change that will end life on the planet centuries from now or the related repercussions we will suffer in the meantime, but rather the mind-numbing, gobsmacking ignorance of the American people right here and now.

In the same speech, President Trump reiterated his nonsensical rationale for abrogating the accord: “It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France. It is time to make America great again.” He also asked, “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?” The answer, for Mr. Trump and those who accept his reason unquestioningly and unthinkingly, is November 8, 2016: the day America elected Donald Trump as its president.

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