In two of the most famous lines in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Brutus notes the importance of watching the ebb and flow of the tide of history, and acting at the right time:
"There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries."
President Donald J. Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, and the United States will miss the rising tide that will carry almost all other countries of this world towards a more secure and sustainable future. A President who ran on the promise to “Make America great again” left America diminished, isolated in the world, distrusted by our closest friends and allies. The American government ignored the will of most of its own people, stepped off the world stage, and kicked the can of human-caused climate change down the road. Our government ceded moral, ethical, economic, and political leadership to other, more enlightened countries.
It was a sad day if you are a climate scientist, and you’ve spent most of your adult life studying the nature and causes of climate change. The overwhelming scientific evidence of a human-caused global warming signal was ignored. The risks of dangerous human interference in the climate system were ignored. Science and rationality lost; willful ignorance and narrow self-interest won.
It was a sad day if you believe—as I do—that the United States is part of a community of nations, and cannot ignore the global problems threatening all of us. It was a sad day if you believe that it’s unfair to burden future generations with dangerous climate change they did nothing to incur. It was a sad day for Americans who believe—as I do—that U.S. jobs will not be created by turning back the clock and embracing antiquated energy-production sources. We cannot make coal great again; nor can we make the horse and buggy great again.
This day is significant. A century from now, future historians will look at the decision by President Trump. They will study how this decision changed the arc of history, and changed the trajectory of earth’s climate system. They will see who stood for a sustainable climate future, and who stood for short-term profit and political self-interest. The future historians will know how it all turned out—whether things ended poorly for much of humanity, or whether the U.S. “Parexit” decision was a temporary aberration, and quickly led to more enlightened U.S. leadership.
Our President owns casinos, hotels, and golf courses. He does not own our atmosphere and our oceans. Those are part of the global commons. The health of that global commons concerns all of us. With the decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, the President has seriously jeopardized the health of the atmosphere and oceans we share with other citizens of this planet. Tomorrow begins the hard work of ensuring that the United States is not “bound in shallows and in miseries”, rejoins the family of nations, and is lifted on the rising tide of a sustainable energy and climate future.