5 ways Trump’s Paris Agreement decision will affect you – Mashable

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President Donald Trump has done what most people on the planet had hoped he wouldn’t: decide to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

On Thursday, before a group of cabinet officials, congressional critics of the climate treaty, and fossil fuel proponents gathered in the Rose Garden, Trump said he would pull the U.S. from the landmark climate treaty and negotiate a deal that’s “fair” to the American people. 

His decision will affect individuals throughout the U.S. and abroad, since the U.S. is the second-largest emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, after China. And as the world’s largest economy, the U.S. plays a critical role in driving and inspiring climate action worldwide. 

If America shirks its responsibilities to reduce emissions and adopt clean energy such as solar and wind power as well as battery technologies, other leaders may find it all too easy to throw in the towel, as well. 

In short, Trump’s decision means you’re facing a hotter, less stable future. Here’s how: 

1. Our chance of avoiding dangerous climate change is disappearing. 

By now, the world has burned enough fossil fuels, razed enough forests, and developed enough industrial agriculture that we have virtually zero wiggle room when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. 

Climate scientists say we need to make drastic and painful changes to our energy and food systems in the next few decades to avoid irreversibly tipping the climate into dangerous territory. Global temperatures have by at least 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels, according to the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization. 

Global warming projections under business as usual path compared to Paris Agreement commitments before the U.S. announcement.

Image: Climate interactive

That means we’re more than halfway to the threshold that scientists say we can’t cross if we’re going to avoid catastrophic consequences, including vastly higher sea levels, more severe and frequent storms, raging wildfires, and barren marine ecosystems. 

The Paris Agreement, which went into force in 2016, commits countries to limiting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, when compared to preindustrial levels through 2100.  

With the U.S. exiting Paris in 2020 — and with Trump steadily unraveling the Obama-era policies to curb coal, oil, and gas emissions and develop renewable energy — the odds of dodging the 2-degree tipping point are fading fast, scientists say. Not only will U.S. emissions slow their decline, level off, and possibly then increase; emissions in other nations could soar if other major polluters follow in Trump’s footsteps. 

If that happens, our chances of meeting the Paris agreement’s 2-degree target would drop to about 10 percent, from two-thirds today, two climate modelers — Ben Sanderson, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, and Reto Knutti of ETH Zurich, Switzerland — recently estimated. 

“Delay is the worst enemy for any climate target,” they wrote in a December Nature Climate Change

Getting out of the Paris Agreement does not guarantee a disastrous outcome, though, since a new president in 2020 could simply put the U.S. back into the deal. However, the momentum that is lost before then could have a huge impact on the push toward a cleaner economy, experts say. 

Should the U.S. get back on track in 2020, and all other nations stay the course toward ambitious emissions cuts, then this could turn out to be a “temporary setback,” according to Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of the Center for International Environmental Resource Policy at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.  

However, if Trump serves for two terms, and other nations emulate the U.S., cutting back their goals, the climate outlook looks more grim, she said.  

“There is a risk that this degenerates into a vicious cycle.” 

Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University, said that Trump’s decision and the echoes it will send throughout the business and international communities will put the 2-degree target further out of reach than it already was. 

“I’ve worked on this issue for 35 years and I feel a little sick,” he said. “In one fell swoop he [Trump] took the air out of the balloon.”

2. Specific climate impacts may grow worse because the federal government isn’t cutting emissions or planning for what’s ahead. 

While you won’t be able to blame a specific heat wave on Trump’s decision, any move that forestalls emissions cuts, as the Paris withdrawal does, will serve to worsen climate impacts in the coming decades. This includes changes in the distribution of rainfall, an increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves, more hydrological extremes such as droughts and floods, and greater amounts of sea level rise.  

Ironically, Trump’s decision was made without any scientific input, since he has no science advisor and has not yet staffed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). 

Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate shown with 7 feet of sea level rise.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate shown with 7 feet of sea level rise.

Yet Trump himself stands to lose millions of dollars in property from climate change. His Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, which he has dubbed the “southern White House,” is likely to be underwater due to rising seas by 2100 under conservative sea level rise scenarios, for example.  

A worst-case sea level rise scenario published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that a 10 to 12-foot increase in sea level rise by 2100 around the U.S. could submerge more than 12 million Americans and $2 trillion in property, according to an analysis by the research and journalism group Climate Central.  

Even more conservative estimates of sea level rise, which show a 3.6-foot increase in global sea level through 2100, would cause major problems for coastal Florida in particular, where floods are already occurring several days a year due to astronomical high tides. 

A paper published in the journal in March found that if emissions of global warming pollutants peak in the next few years and are then reduced quickly thereafter, then there is a good chance that the melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet would be drastically curtailed. 

However, with the U.S. backing away from making significant cuts under the Paris Climate Agreement, adhering to such an ambitious timetable is looking less realistic. 

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In addition to climate impacts growing worse, the lack of federal government planning for climate change will also make you more vulnerable to weather and climate extremes. 

The Obama administration had established numerous programs to make states, cities and towns more resilient to weather and climate extremes as well as long-term sea level rise, but the fate of these initiatives — many of which occurred within the executive branch — is unclear. 

For example, NOAA prepared a toolkit to provide local officials with guidance on climate change effects in their area, but this may not be updated or could even be taken offline under Trump.

One agency that is already getting out of the climate change business altogether is the Environmental Protection Agency, whose administrator, Scott Pruitt, is a climate denier and an ardent critic of the Paris Agreement who wielded significant influence over the decision. 

3. Trump just trashed America’s reputation.

In defying the global community and instead playing to his base of supporters, Trump changed America’s brand from a pillar of stability within the international community to a backward nation out of step with scientific and policy consensus. 

Many countries, from small island states like the Maldives to Sub-Saharan Africa, see climate change as an existential threat, yet Trump just essentially said he doesn’t care if they cease to exist. In an interview with Fox News on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence made clear that he and the president see climate change as a pet cause of the Left, both in the U.S. and abroad, rather than an issue about which there is a deep, broad consensus scientifically and politically. 

Image: mashable/bob al-greene

Trust in America’s word and leadership is at a new low as a result of this decision. 

“The image that portrays is that we can’t be trusted,” Gallagher said.  

Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University, said after withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 and now Paris, it may be difficult for other nations to trust the Americans again, at least when it comes to the climate talks.  

“How many times can the U.S. do this?” he said. “This is the second time. You can’t flip flop with other countries very often before they stop regarding you as a serious partner.” 

4. The future now depends on you even more.  

Now that Trump is taking the federal government out of the climate change arena, it’s up to citizens to work at the local, state and regional level to pressure other political and business leaders to act on this issue. In many ways, Trump’s decision on Thursday may be seen as a catalyst for the golden age of climate activism.  

People march from the U.S. Capitol to the White House for the People's Climate Movement on April 29, 2017 in Washington, DC.

People march from the U.S. Capitol to the White House for the People’s Climate Movement on April 29, 2017 in Washington, DC.

This was hinted at in statements released from environmental groups on Thursday in response to Trump’s speech. For example, May Boeve, the executive director of 350.org, said that her group will simply bypass Trump and seek to enforce the Paris Agreement anyway. 

“Trump has made his decision and we’re making ours – the rest of the world and the majority of Americans who support the Paris Climate Agreement will stand by it. We won’t be dragged back by a shortsighted and destructive fossil fuel puppet in the White House,” she said. “We will harness public outrage into meaningful on-the-ground action.” 

Activists have played a key role in convincing state and local leaders to act on climate change, with several states and more than 80 mayors joining forces to meet Paris Agreement targets despite the federal government’s abdication of the deal.

5. Interested in working on clean energy? You may want to go to China or Europe.

There is no question that Trump’s decision presents China, Europe and to some extent, India, as well, with a huge opportunity to fill the leadership vacuum in global climate diplomacy as well as renewable energy technologies. 

India already has the largest solar energy market in the world, and China is in the midst of a monumental transformation of its electrical grid to make it cleaner.  

While conventional wisdom holds that China will now be the leader of climate diplomacy, the reality may not be so simple. Gallagher, who helped broker a game-changing climate agreement between the U.S. and China in the runup to the Paris talks, said unilateral leadership would be out of the norm for China.

The European Union is already working with China to send the signal that they will now take up the mantle on this issue, releasing a detailed joint statement on Friday.

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