TL;DR: Pulling out of the Paris Accord was a mistake, but if we want to make progress on this issue we need to understand the people who support withdrawal, not belittle them. I’m proud of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton for reemphasizing Phoenix’s commitment to the principles of the Accord. If I were Governor, I would issue a similar decree at the state level.
The long version: Consider this, regardless of whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, liberal or conservative; have you read any original documents about the Paris Accord? Those documents might include:
My guess is most of us probably hadn’t. I hadn’t until today. But we all had opinions. How did we form those opinions? We formed them by listening to political leaders and media we trust. In that regard, people of all political walks of life are similar. Our individual political views are based largely on trust, not data and personal analysis.
What is the narrative that Trump, other politicians and PACs like him, and the media that support them are telling people?
- Other nations aren’t making as big a commitment as the United States.
- Other nations that do sign the accord may not honor it and will keep polluting, giving them a competitive advantage.
- Implementing the accord is keeping our blue-collar workers from getting good jobs.
- Implementing the accord makes us dependent on foreign energy.
- Implementing the accord may reduce the profitability of research in clean technology, because the accord asks us to share green technology with other countries.
Now I’m going to say something that may surprise you: all of these things are basically true!
As the 2nd biggest polluter and consumer of energy (China is first in both regards), the United States was asked to step up and lead the way. We made bigger promises than any other nation, including China.
It is certainly possible that other nations will not honor their commitment.
Fracking, oil exploration, and coal are all sources of high paying jobs in the short term. If we don’t do those things, then the people who made their livings that way will suffer in the short term if we don’t have a safety net and transition programs for them. And right now, we don’t.
Because we aren’t conserving substantially more energy, choosing to limit production at home means that we have to bring it in from the outside.
And yes, if we share our green tech with other nations at generous prices, there will be less financial incentive to perform that kind of R&D.
However, despite all these things, WE SHOULD FOLLOW THE PARIS ACCORD ANYWAY.
The wisdom of the Paris Accord is not rooted in short term economic advantage. It is not rooted in making today’s tycoons even wealthier. It is rooted in making sure that our kids, grandkids, and the generations that follow inherit a safe, beautiful world.
Most parent would be willing to make almost any sacrifice for their kids. So why is there any opposition to this initiative? 2 reasons: scarcity and lies.
Think about it like this: I’m against stealing, but if I was a rural farmer in the dustbowl of the 1930s and I was walking my starving family to the nearest city with nothing but the clothes on our back in hopes of finding employment, and there was a cattle ranch on the side of the road, I might stop and steal a cow to butcher to keep my family alive.
Blue collar workers in the energy and transportation find themselves in a similarly unsavory dilemma. It’s fine to talk about climate responsibility, but if they can’t feed their families, provide for their healthcare, etc., then the danger of their grandkids living in a world that is 3 degrees hotter takes a back seat.
Unfortunately, the fact that these good people find themselves with their back against the wall is a politically created situation. There is enough money to take care of these folks in the short term and get them into other productive lines of work. But the government has been unwilling to act to fund that transition. In fact, they pursue many policies that make the situation even worse. The energy lobby wants to keep blue-collar workers bound to dirty energy, because when they mine, drill, and frack it makes energy special interests richer. And because the special interests are willing to share their crumbs, it makes the workers more inclined to vote with their employers politically, even if it’s not in their long-term best interest.
But those who are willing to destroy the environment of our children for personal gain aren’t satisfied simply using the artificial economic situation they’ve created to move their agenda forward. In order to avoid public outrage, they are also waging a campaign of misinformation and outright lies. They get people with fancy titles to question valid data, distract people with meaningless data, and make convincing but illogical arguments to create doubts about climate change.
So if I’m dependent on dirty energy for my living today, then I have compelling sources that let me straight up deny the consequences of my profession. And even if I’m one of the few who see it for what it really is, the economic incentive for me to keep going might be too strong.
How do we overcome this?!
The most powerful thing we can do is create policies that show a clear path for dirty energy workers to switch industries without completely sacrificing their families’ well-being. However, to bring about those policies, we likely need cooperation from some of these people. And that means we have to help them change their minds and see the scientific reality.
Do you think these good people will have any interest in seeing what we see if we are constantly calling them idiotic, mouth breathing, orange loving, misled troglodytes? I don’t think so.
We need to befriend this community. We need to bring them into our homes, and let them drink our wine and beer, and eat our Totino’s Pizza Rolls. We need to show them that we care BEFORE we show them that they’re wrong. We need to engage them in political conversation without name calling. It’s a lot harder than self-righteously writing people off as idiots, but we can do it, and we can win elections if we do.
One other note about how this impacts us in AZ:
I’m proud of Greg Stanton and other mayors who have stepped up nationally in support of the Accord. I think it would be a powerful statement if we would step up as a state, not just individual cities, and if elected I would push for that support.
Doug Ducey has made no official statement regarding withdrawing from the Paris Accord. Based on his historical positions, I have to imagine he supports the move. It is unfortunate that our own Governor is one of the people who is part of the cycle of misinformation and creating artificial scarcity, but we can overcome it. I have faith!
Like what you see? Please: