Reflections on the US Exit from the Paris Agreement

I am not a scientist or an expert on international relations.  I have done some research and taken a look at the work of experts in both fields.  On May 31st when it was announced that the world would be pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accords I was shocked and worried.  I spent some time and looked into the effects of this deal and found a handful of interesting insights.  The first is that the methods for removing the United States from the agreement will take a long time.  According to the New York Times and other sources, the timeframe for removing the US from the Paris agreement will take about 4 years and will not occur until after the 2020 election.  This means that all we’ve done is begin a process that won’t show a single dividend until after the next president is elected.

The next big concern is that the United States will fall behind the world and contribute to climate change in a greater way than planned.  This is unlikely to occur because it does not make economic sense.  Business Insider gives a mixed view but agrees with other experts that the current economic situation will not be affected by the United States exiting the Paris agreement.  The US economy has been transitioning to developing, manufacturing, and marketing renewables for years as the prices of fossil fuels have cratered.  There is also the need to create products that can be sold worldwide and that will impose restrictions on manufacturing that will keep many businesses in line with the Paris agreement.

Will the United States exit from the Paris agreement benefit the US economy? Yes, and no.  There is a booming industry that has grown up around providing solutions to global warming problems.  That area of the economy will continue to grow.  There may be a boost to industries that are being heavily regulated but many of those industries are being phased out by changes in demand for products and services.  Solomon Hsiang, of the University of California at Berkeley, stated: “Putting national resources further into coal while China takes the lead in solar is like investing in building a better horse-drawn carriage back when Henry Ford was investing in mass producing cars.”  We may be putting some people back to work but the costs will be greater than the gains.  If you combine the economies of California and Texas, two of the states leading the way in climate change reform, their combined economies would be the 4th largest in the world just behind Japan.  California produced $2.48 trillion GDP and Texas’ $1.63 trillion GDP would provide a nice $4.11 trillion GDP.  These two states are technology hubs and contribute just over 20% of the US GDP.  They are likely to continue developing technology that will be driven by the need to reduce the environmental impact of people.

The environment may be impacted by the choice of the United States to exit the Paris agreement, but not by much.  The counter point is that it does not take much impact to create catastrophic consequences for the environment.  Many states, businesses, people, and institutions will continue to adhere to and surpass the goals of the Paris agreement.  The impact of the United States withdrawing is likely to be detrimental to the environment but not as dramatic as people fear.  The 190 countries remaining in the agreement have pledged to continue improving the world’s conditions even if the US backslides like a country that has suffered a terrible disaster.  There are many possible outcomes for how the world will react to The United States withdrawing from the Paris agreement.  Most seem to the long-term rise in temperature being limited to only a few degrees.  A few degrees are a serious threat to the long-term viability of the planet.  Any reduction in the rising temperature will help the planet and us in return.  There will be a cost for the few degrees of change as the instance of natural disasters, the rising cost of adapting to change, and the growing need to compete with other nations for resources becomes a drain on the US taxpayers and Treasury.

The impact of the United States exiting the Paris agreement will be costly politically.  During the 20th century, the United States became a world leader in politics and economics through global leadership and economic development.  The isolationist choice to leave the Paris agreement will cost the United States in both areas.  China has been courting US allies for decades by showing strong economic growth and by providing international support.  Countries that have been staunch US allies, like Australia and  Germany are finding markets and support from China to be enticing them away from relationships with the United States.  The leaders of many other countries have spoken out against the United States’ exit from the Paris agreement.  This condemnation is one example of many showing the dwindling role that the United States will play internationally over the coming years.  The leadership of the world is up for grabs and it looks like China has been preparing for this eventuality and will seize the title.

The conclusion of all of these factors seems to be that the attitude of isolationism and populism expressed by the President of the United States will have long-term negative consequences for the United States while allowing for the world to shift the leadership role to a country that has been preparing for the 21st century and is ready to lead the world into the future.  The environment will be affected by the choice but the impact may not be as severe as some people predict.  All changes to the environment will have serious and far-reaching implications for people.  Our changing world will be one of the biggest challenges in the next 100 years and beyond.  The United States itself may begin to fraction as business civic leaders make gains that benefit their sectors in spite of the choices of the Federal Government.  This may further erode the average American’s faith in the national government and cause the balance of power to shift to states or private businesses.  In all, this appears to be a historical milestone that will be cited as the beginning of the decline of the United States.