Nothing so much reminds me of the bickering of a dysfunctional married couple than environmental politics.
He does something wrong. She points it out. He refuses to acknowledge it. Over time the unresolved issue gets brought up more and more with more frustration and energy. He ignores it. Her frustration and focus on it grows until it’s all she ever brings up. She’s angry. She can’t believe how stupid and pigheaded he is. He can’t believe how much of an oversensitive alarmist she’s being. Soon it’s all they ever talk about. He refuses to change, maybe even leans into the behavior because he’s sick of hearing about it. She insists that the marriage has become entirely about the problem. Eventually, they drift apart and stay unhappily together, or they split.
Here’s what we know about the world we live in. There is a greenhouse effect on our planet that makes it possible for us to live on it. If it weren’t here, our temperature swings from day to night and season to season would be too wide a range for vertebrate creatures as we know them to exist. It’s one of about a billion things that either coincidentally or divinely fell into place when our planet formed that enable all of our existences. That greenhouse effect relies on the characteristics of our atmosphere which include its chemical composition of gases and the amount of water vapor in it.
Science irrefutably tells us two things:
First, when you change the composition of an environment by adding carbon, temperature rises and the amount of water vapor increases which causes more temperature increase.
Second, the activities of man produce more carbon now than they ever have.
The above items are not seriously debated anywhere by anyone. When someone does, it’s a good sign that it’s time to leave the discussion because you’re not dealing with a rational agent. What the best version of this debate, if there is a best, is about just how big a deal it is.
Back to our unhappy married couple.
Clearly he spends an amount of money. There’s no debating that. Whether or not it’s too much and how big a deal it is and whether or not he ought to change his ways is the fight. Or maybe this: She focuses on work. There’s no debating that. Whether or not she does it too much and she should change or he should just appreciate the standard of living she provides them is where the screaming and door slamming starts.
You get it.
There’s enough space between the action and the outcome to fit a disagreement in. All you have to do is add the emotions of marriage…or politics.
Two weeks ago when President Trump announced that the United States would be leaving the Paris agreement, we quit on the marriage and walked out. We did it by pulling out of global agreement to reduce our emissions to a set target and contribute $3 billion dollars to a fund aimed at helping developing countries address, mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. The global agreement to reduce admissions contained no enforcement mechanism to ensure countries adhered to their reductions that they themselves were responsible for determining. And the $3 billion America was about to spend is the mathematical equivalent to me buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks once a month for a year.
The list of nations presently not participating in the agreement now includes, Nicaragua, Syria and America.
The inconvenient truth here is that the Paris agreement alone wasn’t going to solve the global environmental crisis that most agree looms somewhere over the horizon. But staying in it was such a low impact on Americans that getting out was nothing more than a clear and intentional shift from the difficult role global leadership and into the one we are getting more and more comfortable with playing: global rich prick.
Speed of the captain, speed of the ship…
Here’s another inconvenient truth. Those who don’t believe climate change is an issue aren’t going to start believing it by being lectured about it. That’s the environmental equivalent to telling someone about to get into a bar fight that they better calm down. You may as well set fire to the place. Your words don’t work.
But there are people who believe this is an issue, but they don’t know how much and how big and need to see a compelling reason to change that is more than describing an apocalypse that no one can imagine or believes we can avoid.
So maybe I can help. That sounds something like this:
The greatest economic opportunity of our time is powering the industrialization of 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians in the next 50 years, even if you believe that won’t have an impact on our planet and our way of life. That economic impact can either be handed over to them because we quit on it. Or we can get there first and sell it to them. And we win our second century in a row.
Making America Great requires making things worth using in this century. Maybe I’m missing something in the strategy. But it sure feels like we’re quitting on it.