Pres. Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement confirmed what many scientists and advocates for science-based policymaking feared to be true: the Trump administration will not be passive on the issue of climate change. U.S. participation in the agreement was a symbol of our commitment to our allies, to future generations and to our planet. And it was a symbol of our commitment—we, the American people. That is why when the president announced his final decision on the matter, I was not only angry that he chose to listen to the likes of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt and adviser Steve Bannon. I was embarrassed about what this did to America’s standing on the world stage.
Most of all, as a citizen, I wanted to do something about it.
I founded 314 Action, a nonprofit committed to pro-science advocacy and electing more scientists to office, in part to give tools to those who wanted to stand up against attacks on science from elected officials. In the wake of the pullout we are asking people across the country to do what Trump wouldn’t do: uphold the Paris agreement by becoming a citizen signer. Since launching the effort, more than 70,000 people have signed on, committing to fight at the state level and reduce their personal carbon emissions. And in the coming months we will continue organizing our citizen signers to take further action in their communities and at the ballot box.
Pulling out of the Paris agreement is a further abdication of U.S. leadership on the world stage by the Trump administration. On the world stage his decision means a diminished U.S. presence as other countries look elsewhere for leadership on the issue of climate change and clean-energy technology. Leaving the agreement will not prevent other countries from pursuing a low-carbon future, but it is a squandered opportunity to lead on it. And the geopolitical impact of U.S. withdrawal from the agreement could reach far beyond Trump’s term in office. Following the G7 summit, Pruitt’s decision to leave early without signing the G7 statement set the tone for an America that is jarringly distanced from the scientific policies of both its allies and rivals. Reconciling that rift could be a huge diplomatic lift.
What has been missing in many discussions about the pullout is the economic impact and opportunity costs it will have for the American worker. Leaving the agreement handicaps the U.S.’s position as a global leader on clean technology and innovation, instead focusing on short-term gains for the fossil fuel industry. This potentially means fewer investments in what should be an American-led industry and smaller job growth in the green sector. Candidate Trump was touted as the pro-business candidate, but it seems Pres. Trump only focuses on using policy to bolster the businesses that backed him.
Where the president’s leadership on this issue has faltered, local governments have stepped up to the plate, including mayors, members of Congress and governors who have vowed to uphold the Paris accord in their own backyards. These local commitments are a powerful sign—a symbol—that the U.S. truly does stand with science, even if some of our elected officials do not.
Relying on our elected officials to take action, however, is not enough, especially when many leaders in states and local municipalities subscribe to the same denialist, antiscience rhetoric that Pruitt has made the mantra of the White House’s energy and environmental policy. Whereas both he and our president have chosen to turn their backs on the planet, we do not have to do the same.
The president’s decision to leave the Paris agreement is a letdown to the rest of the world and a stain on our country’s diplomatic record that will remain for decades. Just as America’s initial commitment to Paris was a symbol of our country’s willingness to lead and take responsibility for our actions, however, signing on as a citizen is a symbol of our personal social responsibility. Leadership on climate action may not come from Washington, but it can still come from the U.S.