President Donald Trump confirmed his status as climate denier in chief today, guaranteeing his place in history as an enemy of both science and humanity. Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Accord on climate change will not stop the rest of the world from continuing to advance toward a clean-energy future. Solar, wind, batteries, and other technologies are growing tremendously fast, rewarding investors and employing far more people than the heat-trapping fuels of the past. Three million Americans now work in the clean-energy sector, more than are employed in the oil, gas, and coal industries combined. California Governor Jerry Brown, who heads the world’s sixth-largest economy and a hot spot of green-energy innovation, insisted that Trump’s efforts are doomed to failure. “The momentum is all the other way,” Brown said, “and I think Trump, paradoxically, is giving climate denial such a bad name that he’s actually building the very [climate action] movement that he is [purporting] to undermine.”
But no one should pretend that it does not matter when the world’s biggest economy rejects an agreement that put unprecedented international support behind ambitious climate action. By removing rules and regulations that require polluters in the United States to change their ways, Trump’s repudiation of the Paris Accord will slow progress at the very time when humanity’s survival requires faster action than ever.
“Crimes against humanity” is a phrase to use with caution, but it fits Trump’s repudiation of the Paris Accord and indeed his entire climate policy. Timothy Wirth, who as the under secretary of state in the Bill Clinton administration negotiated the Kyoto Protocol that sought to limit global warming, has said that those who deny the well-established science of climate change “ought to be tried for crimes against humanity.” Wirth told The Nation after Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord that he stood by his remark, adding that the president’s action was “a stunning moral abdication of responsibility to future generations.” To refuse to act against global warming is to condemn thousands of people to death and suffering today and millions more tomorrow. This is murder, even if Trump’s willful ignorance of climate science prevents him from seeing it. History will not be so blind.
Of course, the Paris Accord is far from perfect: Its emissions reductions are voluntary and do not go far enough, at least not yet. Nevertheless, the accord commits the world’s governments to leave behind oil, gas, and coal by mid-century—a historic shift. It commits them to limit global temperature rise to the 2 degrees Celsius that scientists say is the maximum compatible with civilization as we know it, and to aim for the 1.5 Celsius limit that poor and island nations rightfully regard as essential to their survival. Thus the accord provides citizens, activists, and the rest of civil society worldwide with a strong mandate they can use to hold governments and corporations to account.
Thanks largely to such pressure from civil society, reinforced by the growing recognition of global elites that the climate crisis is indeed dire, the Paris Accord has already accelerated real climate progress. Some of the greatest change is underway in China, which is rapidly shutting down coal plants and mines and adding solar and wind plants, notwithstanding Trump’s shameless lies at the White House about China’s supposedly doing nothing. Meanwhile, the leaders of China and the European Union announced that they remain committed to the Paris Accord and plan to intensify cooperation on clean energy, a huge and growing global market that US businesses will now find harder to navigate. So much for America First.