UPDATE (6/2/17, 10:13 a.m. ET): As expected, President Trump announced on Thursday that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
Donald Trump gave himself a deadline last Saturday. This was going to be the week, after many delays, when he made a decision on whether or not to keep the United States in the Paris Agreement to mitigate climate change. If Trump decided to leave, he'd effectively destroy the most productive part of President Obama's climate legacy, and reject the Agreement’s aim to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Axios reported Wednesday that our climate change–denying president has already made up his mind to withdraw us from the historic 2015 pact between nearly 200 nations that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Around the same time Wednesday morning, Trump reiterated on Twitter that he will be announcing his decision on the Paris accord "over the next few days."
The Agreement aims to prevent that 2-degree rise in temperature. Whether it can is, admittedly, questionable. But it's our best — and only chance — at the moment. The planet already hit 1 degree above the preindustrial standard in 2015. That doesn't sound like a lot, but going just 1.5 degrees above this standard could cause devastating weather events, flood low-lying land, and particularly endanger coastal cities such as Miami and New Orleans. A 2-degree increase pretty much locks us all into an irreversible cycle of uncontrollable and random weather disasters. World hunger and clean water crises will only get worse.
Withdrawing from the accord would only speed up the disproportionate damage the United States has already done to Earth's climate: This country isn't just one of the most voluminous polluters on Earth — it's also the richest. What’s more, unbound by any commitments to other nations, Trump would send a clear signal to the other worst carbon emitters in the world: full steam ahead, fellas. That's no small feat for a president who profits off the success of those very foreign powers, drawing unconstitutional foreign profits from his hotels every day.
Does Trump's decision matter globally? Undoubtedly. The Paris accord would survive an American departure, but only in a literal sense. Each nation comes up with its own way of adjusting its ability to meet the Agreement’s standards by being able to, at any time, change "its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition." This means that should the U.S. leave, the rest of the countries could continue their participation. But since Americans produce roughly 15 percent of all worldwide carbon emissions, our departure would effectively neuter the Agreement.
Trump's decision to back out of the Agreement would be in line with perhaps the greatest lie he told his voters during the campaign: that he'll revive coal country's deadly and dying trade. Thanks to automation and mountaintop removal, you could take every single coal worker in America to a Dallas Cowboys game and still have thousands of seats left. The coal industry employed only about 76,000 people in 2014, according to the Washington Post. The president's top economic advisor, Gary Cohn, let out some accidental truth last week when he spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One. "Coal doesn't even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock," he said. "Natural gas ... is such a cleaner fuel. ... If you think about how [much] solar and how much wind power we've created in the United States, we can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly."
The oilman Trump put in charge of the State Department, Rex Tillerson, agrees with Cohn on the waning utility of coal. So does ExxonMobil, for goodness' sake. With some notable exceptions, most coal barons want to maintain the Agreement so that they can ensure American fossil fuels will remain in the global energy market. Even half of Trump voters want us to stay in.
In fact, the only people who seem to actually support ditching the Agreement are nincompoops like White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, folks who believe that somehow domestic and foreign policy can and should be divorced from the rest of the world's welfare. This matters because, as is the case with most matters of principle, Trump doesn't have much of an educated or considered opinion on environmental science. He has shown that he tends to sway back and forth on many issues depending upon the last person to whom he spoke, which is probably why the six other G-7 leaders hoped that they could talk him into sticking with the Agreement.
All of those leaders believe in climate change, which is to say they recognize fact. But Trump's G-7 compatriots weren't able to convince him, sadly, so Americans sit in this purgatory. We're stuck with an American head of state who could change his thinking on a planetary emergency, literally, on a whim. Trump started worsening relations with Europe during the trip, and abdicating the giant responsibility that the United States has to reduce carbon emissions would only make things worse.
So why make a decision now? The timing is curious, but Trump's other recent troubles — the looming Russia scandal and predictions of a forthcoming economic slowdown — indicate that the foolish president might double down on his own nonsense just to make a splash. He's a climate change denialist, so he's already proved he'll defend an illogical position just to say he's different or claim that he's right.
But his decision about the Agreement goes deeper than mere partisan pathology: It will show just how reckless he is willing to be. Sure, he could have done this piecemeal, or he could have paid attention to most American voters and just done nothing. But by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement altogether, Trump will have seized perhaps his best opportunity to shape the future of the world in one fell swoop. Plus, he'll be able to help coal barons and oilmen get richer while he's at it. What a legacy!
It's no wonder that younger voters are at the forefront of the climate change fight: Trump taking the U.S. out of the Agreement would be a massive insult to every young person on the planet. Speeding up climate change and possibly shortening the time Earth will be habitable would be the biggest swindle he's ever pulled off. And, more importantly, the attitudes of millennial climate activists and voters reflect those of most of America: Nearly 70 percent of adults surveyed by the Yale Program on Climate Communication earlier this spring say they want carbon emissions capped. (In a separate survey, 71 percent wanted to keep us in the Paris Agreement, by the way.)
You can see why it would be tough for Trump, a consummate grifter with questionable fathering skills, to look like he cares about young people. This isn't limited to his climate denial. Activist Marian Wright Edelman wrote recently that the president's harsh, austere budget cut proposals signify a “ war on children,” specifically hungry ones. His EPA plans to zero out its funding for environmental justice at a time when Flint kids still can't drink their water for fear of lead poisoning. Add to that his war on reproductive rights — signifying that he's cool with forcing young people to have kids they don't want or can't provide for — and it's clear that the president either isn't thinking through the consequences of his actions on generations to come, or he just doesn't give a shit. Now, it appears Trump will do something that could cheat away the futures of every person who has yet to grow old on this planet, and their descendants.
To the extent that Trump seems to care about people, he cares about people who care about Trump. There's no evidence that there is room for Earth in that equation, especially when there is a readily available opportunity to mitigate Obama's impact on it. So, who cares about the young people whose tomorrow could be stolen away for today's profit? After all, your grandchildren won't be able to vote for Trump.