Now before I begin, please don’t think that I am saying that there is nothing wrong with pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. This is an abdication of our responsibilities, and it sends a message to the rest of the globe that America does not honor its word. This will surely make the fight against climate change more difficult, and we should all be ashamed that our political culture has come to this.
However, this is not the disaster that many hysterics are portraying this to be. Here’s an example of the standard reaction to Trump’s decision.
This is insane. If you think today is the day that we ended our global leadership, you have not been paying attention to American politics lately. Isolationism has infected a majority of the Republican Party and a large segment of the left as well. In 2006, 59% of Americans said that the United States should not take the lead in solving international conflicts in general. Today's announcement that we are pulling out of the Paris agreement is simply a reflection of where much of 21st century America stands.
Secondly, this is a non-binding agreement. Had the United States not pulled out, there was nothing forcing Donald Trump to implement what we had agreed to. Dramatic images like this do not communicate the message their creators think they do.
North Korea signed on to this. That is not an indication of the consensus behind the agreement, but a reflection of its toothlessness. Pretty much every developing country signed on, but if they actually implemented every portion of it, they would cease to develop. The unanimity of the signatories is proof of the lack of downside to rejecting this agreement. Signing on and doing nothing carries no enforceable penalty, so it is functionally no different than not signing the agreement. Donald Trump made this one of his campaign promises, so his abandonment is a political move to shore up his base, and our hysterical overreaction only reinforces its effectiveness.
Thirdly, just because the federal government pulled out of the agreement does not mean that the United States is abandoning it.
And here is the mayor of Boston.
And New York City.
A number of mayors and governors have already come out and said they will continue to abide by the standards set in this agreement, and it serves as a reminder of our federalist society. The hysteria around Trump’s actions gets to a deeper problem on the left: the idea that the federal government, and especially the executive branch, is the be-all-end-all for all policy. This is the same attitude that has resulted in astronomically low turnout in elections that have resulted in near unanimous Republican rule across our state legislatures and governorships.
The American system is set up so that no one branch can run roughshod all over the others, and that power dramatically extends to the states. There is still plenty of hope that the United States will abide by the Paris Climate Agreement, and obsessing over what Donald Trump will and won’t do is counterproductive to the cause. Not only do we waste valuable time that we should devote to saving a rapidly melting planet, but we also play into the stereotype that all leftists are reactionary noobs. This is mostly a symbolic retreat from a symbolic agreement, and we should treat it as such. The policies embedded in the symbolism are what matter, and those can still be enacted independently of an unenforceable international agreement.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.