Don’t Worry About the Paris Climate Agreement

That’s a big thing for anyone to do, considering the U.S. State Department officially announced the U.S.’s attempt to abandon the Paris Agreement on climate. What gives? A lot of this has to do with how the U.S. government actually works.

Something I do tend to see from time to time in foreign reporting and commentary is a little bit of a misconception about this. While people get the technical terms right, they don’t fully translate to other countries. Even more, this is true for many U.S. citizens as well. A lot of mystery surrounds how people in my country govern ourselves, and it can be a scary mystery to unravel on its own. Add climate change into the mix, and things can get really frightening.

The President, Congress, and even the Supreme Court don’t have as much power as people might think.
My country’s power isn’t fully contained in the national government. This is very subtle, and it doesn’t get reported on too often. Many of the ways my national government tries to leverage state and local governments is through money. Practically, this means national people will threaten to withhold money from state people. States and local governments are free to accept this, and some localities even prepare for that eventuality.

A great example of this is how U.S. mayors will work to uphold the Paris Agreement – even without federal support. It’s already going to happen, for a bunch of reasons. Our national government can’t really interfere in the process without sacrificing political capital.

Importantly, these mayors represent the vast bulk of U.S. citizens. Even people who might write Facebook rants about fake climate change aren’t really against these mayors. The Paris Agreement is saving towns money, helping locals run things more efficiently. My national government couldn’t pay some of these cities to start wasting money again. Anyone not represented by these mayors (around 15% of the population) doesn’t affect the carbon footprint enough to fully matter.

This might seem a little weird to people with strong national governments.
In other parts of the world, power is located in one place, usually a parliament of sorts. The analog for that in the U.S. is Congress…and the White House…and some parts of state government. Our closest thing to a Prime Minister isn’t our President – it’s our Speaker of the House. Over the years, the latter office has become more quiet, letting the President and others take the hits for public policy disasters.

But I digress.

In some ways, President Trump is going to highlight where the U.S. President doesn’t have real power. The Paris Agreement is one of those places. He can’t force U.S. citizens to go back on their word, and that’s something important to remember at times like this.

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5 thoughts on “Don’t Worry About the Paris Climate Agreement

  1. I haven’t been concerned so much about the impact of our withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on the environment as I have our country’s standing in the world. President Trump doesn’t seem to either understand or care about soft power. The withdrawal, whether our citizens uphold their word or not, has tarnished our reputation and standing in the world.

    Now, it could be said that President Obama might have handled the agreement a bit differently as well. Perhaps it would have been better to get agreement of cities, states, and individual corporations from our own country prior to agreeing to the pact? Just an observation, not necessarily a complaint.

    Liked by 1 person

    • From my perspective, the environmental impact is the more pressing concern because of how much carbon the world is emitting. Loss of prestige is something else I’ve been thinking about, but it’s plagued me in different ways. One thing I think is that other countries have lost prestige too; they’ve just done it in different ways.

      Whether it’s dictatorships in Russia and North Korea, Brexit, France narrowly missing their own version of Trump, extremism in Europe and even Canada (Canada!) regarding refugees, people in “civilized” countries are coming relatively unglued.

      At any rate, I’m not 100% sure President Obama could have handled the Agreement better. In some ways, him not being too close to it might have helped local governments sell it to their people. If that’s the case, the problem is with our communities.

      Which is another scary thing for me.

      Like

    • Hey Scottie,

      I don’t know what the overall effect will be. If things go as they are, the federal withdrawal from the agreement will mostly be symbolic. Trying to predict anything else is a measure in futility, because it would rely on knowing whatever the federal government is thinking.

      As for worst-case scenarios, those would require specific things to happen ahead of time. For example, if the President wanted to try to interfere with local governments, you’d see an Executive Order get issued. Unless and until that happens, there’s no reason to have to plan for stuff like that.

      Bottom line here is that a lot of local places want to help with climate change, even if they don’t put it in those terms. That’s a really positive message, and it prevails against anything vocal climate deniers might say. They might be loud, but they’re not having their way.

      Liked by 1 person

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