President Trump is reportedly considering pulling out of the Paris Accord - an international agreement by 195 countries to ease up on carbon emissions to combat climate change - and the left is having a meltdown.
I'll get to the actual merits of this in a second, but first it's worth pointing out that Trump's decision is not shocking, nor is it entirely unprecedented, if you take a quick trip back to 2001.
In 1997, the Clinton administration helped broker the Kyoto Protocol, a similar climate deal that required the nations involved to commit to binding CO2 reduction targets. The U.S. actually signed the treaty, though the Senate refused to ratify it, chiefly because big-polluting developing nations like China and India were given a pass.
Nevertheless, it was hailed as a major step towards combating climate change.
When George W. Bush became president in 2001, he shocked the world by announcing that he was unilaterally withdrawing the United States from the Kyoto Protocol (sound familiar?). He received fierce criticism abroad for failure to lead on climate change. Per a New York Times article from June 12, 2001:
Mr. Bush's outright rejection of the treaty two months ago led to an uproar in Europe...Mr. Bush remained firm in rejecting the 1997 Kyoto accord, noting that it set no standards for major emitters of greenhouse gases, like China and India, while creating mandates for the United States that could prove economically crippling.
Bush acknowledged global warming as a problem, but preferred for the free market to fight climate change as opposed to relying on artificial government commitments.
He was a few years ahead of his time, but he wasn't wrong - technological developments in natural gas fracking at the end of the last decade and in this one have, according to one study, reduced carbon emissions in the United States by more than twice as much as what the rest of the world managed to do under the Kyoto Protocol:
David Victor, an energy expert at UC-San Diego, estimates that the shift from coal to natural gas has reduced U.S. emissions by 400 to 500 megatons CO2 per year. To put that number in perspective, it is about twice the total effect of the Kyoto Protocol on carbon emissions in the rest of the world, including the European Union.
The Paris Accord is different than Kyoto, chiefly because it includes developing nations like China and India (though these nations' reduction “targets” are pretty underwhelming if not negligible). It's also non-binding, meaning the commitments are voluntary and unenforceable.
Even under the stringent regulatory regime proposed by the Obama administration, the U.S. was unlikely to meet its commitments anyway. Withdrawing from the treaty really doesn't change much in terms of actual U.S. policy - it's certainly not akin to “murdering the planet.”
But with all that in mind, why does President Trump seem so committed to generating controversy by withdrawing from the Paris Accord in the first place? After all, the agreement doesn't hamstring the United States' or President Trump's agenda in any meaningful policy sense. It's just a non-binding piece of paper. He can choose not to meet the U.S.' commitments, or change them - and if he was forced to stay in the treaty, he almost certainly would.
But, as a pundit for Mother Jones wrote, withdrawing from the Accord is less about policy and more about sending a strong symbolic signal that the Trump administration does not consider climate change and burdensome regulatory actions as high and urgent of a priority as his predecessor did - and that really shouldn't surprise anyone.