A Year in Review: 365 Days After President Trump Pulled Out of Paris & Where We Go From Here
One year ago today, when the world was officially informed of President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the U.S. from the landmark Paris Agreement on climate action, I was standing at an overlook off Trail Ridge Road at the top of the Rockies in Rocky Mountain National Park. I was in the Rockies with the National Park Service for the express purpose of better understanding the climate change impacts that our national parks are already experiencing and what the NPS is doing every single day to combat them. Staring down into a picture-perfect valley dotted with elk and bighorn sheep was a surreal backdrop for the delivery of this news.
In the year since, it’s become only more obvious that the President made the wrong decision. Far from a ‘bad deal,’ as the president so simply and inaccurately calls it, the Paris Agreement represents the unprecedented marshalling of global will to tackle a problem global in scope. It is a fair, evenhanded, and ambitious framework to help ensure that the world reduces greenhouse gas emissions in line with what science demands to avoid the worst consequences of a changing climate. And it’s not just me saying this; if the U.S. formally leaves the agreement, we will be the only nation on the planet not to be a party to the accord.
There are, of course, an inspiring number of cities, including Chicago, companies, and individuals who pledged to be ‘still in’ and continue to honor the commitment that the U.S. made back in 2015 to reduce our emissions 26–28% by 2025. In fact, even despite the Trump Administration’s regulatory rollbacks and efforts to preference fossil fuel extractors and developers, the U.S. is on track to meet its Paris Agreement goals. The transition from an energy sector powered by coal and oil to one driven overwhelmingly by natural gas, and to a lesser but growing extent renewables, has cut power sector emissions by 28% compared to 2005 highs and has pushed the total U.S. emissions figure down 13% from 2005 numbers- halfway to the Paris goal with still 7 years left to get there. Even with a growing population and a growing GDP, Americans use about 1% less electricity than we did 10 years ago- and we’re spending less of our paychecks on power than at any point since at least 1960.
It’s encouraging that economic factors and the efforts of state and local leaders have made such a dent in national emissions despite what can most charitably be described as non-action at the federal level. It’s also noteworthy, and perhaps a testament to the extent that we have ceded international leadership under President Trump, that the U.N climate change work has continued despite the lack of an engaged and constructive U.S delegation.
So, there is good news; but there’s bad news too. Just last week, Ellicott City, Maryland — less than an hour drive from my office on Capitol Hill — suffered its second 1000-year flood in the past 21 months. Additionally, more than 245,000 acres of Northern California burned last fall, destroying more than 14,000 homes and businesses, and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria did more than $300 billion in damages during an abnormally energetic hurricane season last year. A new report puts the death toll from Maria at over 4,600 in Puerto Rico alone. According to NOAA, April 2018 was the 400th consecutive month warmer than the 20th century average and 18 of the 19 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.
Our progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is good, but we must remember that the progress we’ve made only means the problem is getting worse more slowly, not that global warming is resolved or improving.
In Congress, I have done what I can to help address GHG emissions and climate impacts, but there’s only so much that can happen when most of my colleagues deny the problem exists or refuse to take any meaningful action to address it. I introduced the Flood Mapping Modernization and Homeowner Empowerment Pilot Program Act with a bipartisan group of members of the House and Senate to help cities and towns across America better prepare for the type of flooding we now expect to see more of, and I’ve pushed for more stringent resilience requirements in the Community Development Block Grant Program to ensure that the structures the government helps pay for are hardened against the natural hazards they’ll face. But when we can’t even say the words ‘climate change’ in a piece of legislation if we want it to pass, we’ll never see the type of transformational change needed to create a low-carbon, climate resilient, growing national economy.
A year after the President caved to malevolent advisors, corporate polluters, and his own ignorance of the issue and decided to withdraw us from the Paris Agreement, we know more than ever that the change we seek is on our shoulders. Americans, as producers, consumers, voters, and contributors to the national dialogue have the true power to make sure climate change stops being overshadowed by the scandal of the day. Climate impacts are a threat to every single American — they can burn, flood, or blow down our homes and they’re already draining our national resources. We can only afford so many $60 billion disaster recovery packages- something I hope my self-described ‘fiscal-hawk’ friends in Congress come to understand. Americans must speak with their dollars and their decisions to make purchases that reward companies for sustainable business practices and show political leaders that they demand substantive policy movement. They must also speak with their votes by electing practical policymakers that will acknowledge and address the environmental threats at hand. The legacy of the Paris Agreement was always supposed to be as a catalyst to action. In the U.S., at least for now, that legacy must take the form of the backlash to our withdrawal. I call on Americans across the country to take the lead and demand that their representatives in government follow suit. Otherwise, we have a big problem that is just going to get bigger.