This Thursday, the White House held a long-anticipated Cabinet meeting that was set to determine the administration’s position on whether or not to stay in the Paris Agreement on climate change. The meeting was purported to be a reality TV showdown between Steve Bannon’s camp of hyper-nationalists, opposed to most forms of international engagement, and a rival team of so-called “globalists” in the administration, who recognize that climate change is a serious threat to our economic prosperity, national security and leadership in the world.
But to focus on the name-calling and sniping in the West Wing’s corridors is to miss the larger point: This issue is not up for debate with the American people. Regardless of whatever drama might have taken place in the White House on Thursday, the vast majority of Americans, as well as many national security experts, business leaders and elected officials from both sides of the aisle are in favor of U.S. leadership in the fight against climate change and want to fulfill our commitments to the Paris Agreement.
What makes the agreement unique? The world’s biggest polluters, including the United States, China and India, adopted the agreement in December 2015 along with nearly 200 other countries. This wide scope is meaningful, because all countries – large and small, developing and developed – agreed to hold each other accountable to relative, appropriate limits on harmful emissions. It is at once an acknowledgment that no one country is immune to climate change, that no country can deal with this challenge alone and that no country should be exempt from doing their part to solve the problem.
The United States led the way toward agreement and helped bring all countries to the table to do their fair share. Now we must stand by our commitment or risk undermining our leadership on the world stage.
There are strategic implications if the United States drops out of the Paris Agreement, lest we fall even further behind the rest of the world in clean energy production than we already are. Coal and oil – the fossil fuels that drive climate change – were indisputably the resources that powered American dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries. But these sources are outdated, and we need to be working on the developing the technology that will allow us to dominate the landscape in the coming decades.
China has already surpassed the United States as the largest global investor in renewable energy, investing more than double what we did in 2015. If the United States steps away from the agreement and a commitment to winning the research and development race, China, India and other countries will lead the way instead. This is a grave mistake – it needs to be U.S. scientists, engineers and factory workers who innovate and export the next great advances in clean energy production and storage.
Living the mission of the Paris Agreement is essential to our national security, too. The military has been fighting climate change and deploying clean energy since the second Bush administration in efforts to mitigate operational risks to our troops and interests around the world. Unlike politicians who can afford to pick and choose which issues are most politically palatable to talk about on the campaign trail, the military has to walk and chew gum at the same time – countering immediate challenges like the Islamic State group and longer-term threats like climate change.
As a “threat multiplier,” climate change makes the work our men and women in uniform do every day increasingly more difficult. More frequent and severe weather events increase demand for humanitarian aid around the world, which in turn tax the military’s resources. Moreover, disasters like droughts and cyclones tend to hit the most fragile parts of the world the hardest – where secondary effects like migration, resource shortages and urbanization in turn inevitably strengthen the hand of the very extremists that we oppose on the battlefield.
Sticking our heads in the sand is easy; working to solve complex global problems, in concert with a diverse community of nations around the world, is hard. Personalities and squabbling of palace intrigue aside, those in the White House who value the opinion of business leaders, national security experts and the American people are on the right track to advise the Trump administration to choose wisely and stay in the Paris Agreement.
That’s why, on April 29, I will stand with that vast majority of Americans in the People’s Climate March from the Capitol to the White House. We will show the Trump administration that this is not an issue up for debate but a crucial moment to honor U.S. global commitments and protect American lives and interests around the world.
Michael Breen is the president and CEO of Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project. Breen is a former U.S. Army captain.
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