The Paris Climate Change Accord is a Flawed Agreement
There are a couple of ways to look at the Paris Climate Accord.
First, it is a mechanism to get the entire world to focus on and take action to lessen the impact of climate change. Alternatively, one might view it as a mechanism for the transfer of wealth and ceding national sovereignty to an extra-governmental international organization.
The former appears to be the view in popular vogue and promoted by the media. Honestly, there is some merit in that view and given the abundance of information supporting that view, I will focus on some concerns.
Before I embark on the critique and am labeled as an extremist “denier,” let me emphatically state that I believe the earth and its climate are changing-it is always doing so. Second, I believe that human activity affects those changes. The real issues facing us are to what degree can we affect that and what is the cost of doing so. I say that with the understanding that everything we do is based on some sort of cost-benefit analysis and intertemporal trade-off (weighing now versus later).
It is impossible to address all of the multifold components of the debate. I will only try to address a few key issues with the full understanding that much more discussion is necessary.
First, does the Accord (unto itself) substantively improve the trajectory of the changes we face and at what cost. Second, does it protect and improve America’s national interests. (We seem to have forgotten this concept somewhere along the way; yet, it is one of the few things our government should actually be doing).
The Accord is a largely voluntary declaration of each nation’s intent to improve the projected “as is” trajectory in global warming. (Again, I will cede to the proposition that the current emissions of greenhouse gasses are a significant cause of this trend.) These are called, “Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC)” and are solely delineated by the individual country. To get the agreement, these stated goals were accepted without much debate.
Some countries, like the United States, expressed quite ambitious goals (cut emissions by 26% of 2005 levels by 2025). Others, like China (the largest polluter next to the US), adopted somewhat less restrictive goals (to peak its pollution by 2030). This would appear to put the US at a competitive economic disadvantage (Honestly, you can produce products cheaper if you avoid environmental issues).
Furthermore, many countries only agreed to “try” to reach their goals if they were paid to do so. For example, Peru agreed to cut projected emissions growth by 30% by 2030, contingent on billions of dollars in funding (this would still result in a 22% real increase in their pollution levels). India, Egypt, Cuba and numerous other countries have similar demands. In effect, “Pay up, or else they will keep polluting.”
In addition, the US had to promise to pay them to do so from American taxpayer dollars. The Obama Administration agreed to pay $3 billion into a fund to compensate other countries (including those with which we have significant trade deficits) to meet rather paltry goals while we spend significant additional resources to meet more stringent goals. One billion of that has already been spent.
I have a difficult time grasping how this promotes America’s interests or enhances our leadership in the world. Imagine what infrastructure improvements could be made domestically for that sum of money.
More insidious, this Accord requires the United States to cede its sovereignty over some components of our energy and economic policy to an international authority. This trend towards “globalization” erodes our ability to act unilaterally in our own self-interest, a condition we ought to find at least somewhat concerning. This situation is exactly what drove Brexit, Britain’s announced exit from the European Union, an effort to return decision-making to domestic institutions and away from the bureaucrats in Brussels.
Some might argue that I am too narrowly focused on the here and now. The Accord is really aimed at the future, protecting later generations from a predicted catastrophe. This is a concern for me as well. I truly want to leave my children (and their children) a world better than the one I inherited. It is why I spent time in the military protecting America’s freedom and served on the Kingsport BMA. I care deeply about our future.
But, who gets to decide the ones we protect? Is a worker in Appalachia today, devastated by the decline in the coal industry, less worthy of consideration than an abstract person of the year 2050? What cost are we willing to incur? What hardships are we willing to endure for these goals?
Do I believe we should do something to protect our environment? Absolutely! But, I want us to put it all honestly on the table.
For example, there is a source of energy available today that would dramatically reduce emissions. Nuclear power. Modern designs and rational locating of plants (not on the coast in a tsunami zone) could radically reduce the risks associated with such a program. If we dropped our antiquated policy banning fuel reprocessing, we could also dramatically reduce the waste associated with the use of reactors. The pledged billions to prop up the flawed Accord could kick-start the plan and likely have a more significant impact on the environment.
Why don’t we do this? Because some people have an ill-informed and irrational view of the atomic energy. It at least ought to be part of the national debate.
Which brings us to a key point. The way the Obama Administration implemented the Accord is quite possibly unconstitutional. One might legitimately argue that some of the provisions impose material binding long-term commitments on the United States and is, therefore, a treaty under the U.S. Constitution. It should be subject to national debate and ratified by the Senate, which is what not. What President Trump did in repudiating the Accord was appropriate.
But what about the environment and the future?
Progress in this country has not stopped. Numerous private businesses have said they will pursue actions regardless. Isn’t this what we want? Get the federal government out of the process. Save tax-payer money. Let the market work (rather than being skewed by subsidies). Let private sector innovation drive progress. Exactly, what is wrong with that scenario?
Finally, it appears the height of hubris for humans to think that we have control over the natural world. The earth cares little about us. Dinosaurs and Neanderthals perished because they did not adapt. The impact of tsunamis in Thailand and Japan and of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans ought to teach us that we cannot stop the forces of nature. Powers well beyond us are at work and we would do well to acknowledge our limitations.
Yet, we should try. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to put to use all the gifts God gave us to lessen human suffering and build a just society. However, we should do so in a manner that uses our resources efficiently and balances the needs of all, not just those who the political elites deem worthy.
This issue ought not die; it must remain in our national dialogue and shape policies in the future.