Friday, June 02, 2017

Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and Shavuos

Getty images via NYT
Climate change is one of those issues that is surrounded by controversy. While I don’t think anyone of any intelligence doubts that the climate is changing (as is evidenced by melting glaciers at or near the North and South Pole) there is some debate about how much human endeavor has contributed to it. I realize that it’s not politically correct to not automatically blame humanity for this climate change. But I am not entirely convinced that only man is at fault. I believe the larger share of the blame can be placed on natural phenomena.

That said I do believe that mankind has an obligation to do its part to reduce whatever role we have in climate change. The only question is how far we have to go in pursuit of that goal. Do we go all out and eliminate every vestige of activity that might even remotely affect the climate? Even if it means changing the way we live in drastic ways?

There are some environmentalists that actually believe we should. Eco-terrorists have actually committed terror in that goal – believing that we should all return to an age where we lived in primitive conditions that would totally remove any vestige of a carbon footprint. 

Equally ridiculous are those that deny there is any climate change at all – believing that those say there is any change at all are a bunch of communists whose goal is to destroy our way of life.

I am one of those that falls in the middle of all those extremes. (Big surprise!) From a an Orthodox Jewish perspective, saying that mankind may end up the way of the dodo bird if we don’t change our ways and continue along the path of increasing our carbon footprint is to deny God’s hand in all of this. Mankind is not the only participant in its destiny. To lay all the blame on Man denies God’s
hand in all of this.

On the other hand our mandate for Tikun Olam - the building up of the world - requires us to be responsible for making the planet as habitable as possible without hurting our fellow man.

I believe we need to be as prudent as possible about reducing our part in climate change without undue hardships being foisted upon the public. I therefore support things like reducing dependence on fossil fuels and developing renewable-clean energy whenever we can. But I am opposed to placing undue hardships on the public.  And that  includes retaining the use of clean coal in the short term so that people whose livelihoods depend on coal mining can continue to do so until such time they can be trained to do  jobs that do not leave as much of a  carbon footprint.

I mention all of this in light of the President’s opting out of the Paris Agreement. Which was agreed to by every major country with the exception Nicaragua and  Syria. Not exactly countries with which we otherwise aligned with.

The President has been criticized for that by nearly every world leader (including China – the world’s biggest polluter). His  closest advisers and family members, Ivanka and Jared Kushner opposed opting out of it too.  Which begs the question, who exactly was he doing this for?!

I think the answer is obvious. He was doing it for his base… the people that got him elected and who he promised to do this for in the first place. They are no doubt cheering his decision – keeping  his promise to them.

I for one think that a lot of this criticism is overblown. First of all if I understand correctly the agreement only said that each country will voluntarily reduce carbon emissions. Which leaves each country to its own devices.  No country is bound to any particular goal nor are there sanctions for not complying. Furthermore, opting out of this agreement does not mean that individual states, counties, cities, and private enterprise can’t do it on their own. In fact many sitting governors, mayors and business people have already stated that they will live up to the spirit of the Paris agreement on their own.

If that’s the case, why all the fuss about this? I believe a lot of it is political. The fact is that a lot of people simply do not like Trump and just love to pile onto him when he appears to makes a bad decision. The truth is that the optics here are really bad. Trump is being painted as an ignorant fool by nearly everyone. And that by this act he is participating in destroying the planet.

The US image will indeed suffer. His base – that believes he has done something heroic here are being myopic. Even if this withdrawal won’t change a thing about the environment – it hurts our image.

Why did he do it? Trump said that it is that he felt the Paris Agreements unfairly harmed the US economy. But I’m not sure he has advanced that cause. But as I said earlier, he did it to keep a promise made to his base.

I don’t think he should have opted out of it –even if it is only a case of optics. We should not be harming the American brand even though I question how much actual damage is being done. Even though substance if more important than image - image matters. As much as I don’t think much of Europe, I don’t think it is wise to alienate ourselves from them. It is true that they need us a lot more than we need them. But that doesn’t mean we continue to exacerbate tensions between us.  They are after all our trading partners and American businesses that deal with them might suffer because of it.

On a separate but related issue, it was nice to see the Presidents top advisers spending yesterday morning in their Chabad Shul instead of the Rose Garden where their boss (and father/father-in-law) was announcing his withdrawal from the Pairs agreement. It was not because (as was suggested by at least one reporter) they disagreed with his decision. Which they did. It was because yesterday was the 2nd day of Shavuos.