When President Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change on Thursday, many environmental, industry, and policy experts reacted not with dejected fear but with optimism that bordered on defiance.
The overwhelming conclusion seemed to be that Trump’s decision placating his political base was a dangerous diplomatic move but wouldn’t be the end of the world.
American cities, states, companies, and citizens could still independently decide to make changes in line with the agreement.
Peter deMenocal, a climate scientist at Columbia University, said he was “devastated” but not pessimistic.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot on this,” deMenocal said. “We’re basically passing the baton to every other country to innovate and lead. This is the biggest entrepreneurial opportunity of many generations. This is the next Industrial Revolution. We could be witnessing, I won’t say the end of American innovation, but certainly a loss of it.”
DeMenocal said he was worried the US withdrawal could lead other countries to exit as well, a fear many other experts expressed. But Elliot Diringer, the executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a nonpartisan climate-focused think tank, said he was confident most would remain committed to climate action.
What has a higher likelihood of fracturing, Diringer said, are US diplomatic relations, with other countries possibly viewing the US as having “turned its back on the international community.” But that’s where industry can step up, he said.
“On the one hand, I don’t want to minimize the impact of US withdrawal it’s a big deal,” Diringer told Business Insider. “At the same time, there’s a risk of overstating it as well because of all the momentum, which is reflected in the fact that you have so many CEOs signing full-page ads and calling into the White House.”
Today, the world gets only about 11% of its energy from renewables and companies see that as a huge untapped market.
“Big business, big finance gets it,” deMenocal said. “I’d be much more pessimistic if we still had to fight that fight, and we don’t they got it a long time ago. I think the fact that the current administration does or doesn’t get it, obviously it’s bad, but it’s not the most relevant fact.”
Dozens of CEOs spoke out against Trump leaving the Paris Agreement before and after he announced his decision Thursday. Many expressed a commitment to leading the way on climate action now that the federal government was avoiding doing so.
Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, tweeted for the first time following Trump’s announcement. “Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the US’s leadership position in the world,” he wrote.
With more than 60 US mayors and a dozen governors supporting the Paris Agreement, many cities and states are threatening to maintain the US’s commitment to the accord even as Trump is pulling the nation out of it.
“This is an insane move by this president the world depends on a sustainable future,” Gov. Jerry Brown of California said after Trump’s press conference announcing the decision. “It’s tragic, but out of that tragedy I believe the rest of the world will mobilize, will galvanize our efforts.”
The US has reduced its emissions over the past few years while increasing its gross domestic product, as clean energy sources like wind and solar power have plummeted in price. For the first time in 2015, global investments in renewables surpassed those in carbon-emitting fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal.
“The United States is already on a trajectory for meeting our Paris target, with rapid growth in natural gas and renewable power generation as well as energy efficiency leading the way,” former Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz wrote in an op-ed article in The Boston Globe after Trump’s announcement.
“The principal solution to climate-change challenges lies with a transformation to an all-of-the-above low-carbon energy future,” Moniz said. “There is no going back.”
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