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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

There Is Still an Agreement
distributed 6/2/17 - ©2017

On December 13, 2015, shortly after the end of the Paris climate negotiations, I was able to stand up in my home church and say four words: "There is an agreement." The congregation burst into loud and sustained applause.

Today, shortly after President Trump has announced that the United States will stop all participation in the historic Paris Climate Accord, I offer those same four words: There is an agreement.

The Paris agreement is weakened by the withdrawal of the US, but the accord between 194 other countries is in place, and those other nations are standing firmly behind their commitments. The heads of state from France, Germany and Italy declared, "We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies."

News services are reporting that the European Union and China are expected to issue a joint statement today vowing to take a leading role in stemming climate change. "China, in particular, is expected to fill any leadership vacuum created by the U.S. in climate change and trade."

Within the US, states, local governments and businesses are pledging to stick with the trajectory of the Paris agreement, and those are not solitary efforts. The Guardian wrote this morning that the European Union pledged "to bypass Washington to work with US business leaders and state governors to implement the historic accord's commitments."

The formal exit of the US is upsetting, frustrating and tragic -- not to mention stupid -- but it is not a death knell for international cooperation. It is a moment for all of us to strengthen our commitments, and settle down for years of hard work.

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One thing became very clear to me as I watched Mr. Trump speak in the Rose Garden yesterday. Paranoia is not an adequate basis for foreign policy.

And Mr. Trump's most influential advisors are deeply paranoid. (It is important to look at his circle of confidants, and their role in his presidency. Mr. Trump was getting strong pressure to stay in the Paris agreement from a wide range of sources. The decision to withdraw says more about who has the strongest grip to twist the President's arm than it does about Mr. Trump's own beliefs and values.)

The paranoia was explicit in the formal statement -- and it is astounding to me that any world leader would say these things in such a context!

This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement -- they went wild; they were so happy -- for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.

It is a theme that cropped up repeatedly. Those other countries don't really care about the climate. They are only in the agreement "to give their country an economic edge over the United States." He points to the same countries that have "collectively cost America trillions of dollars" through trade practices and weak support for military alliances.

Mr. Trump pledged (four times) to put America first. That is his job as the President. But the paranoid, us-against-everybody-else way that his administration puts the country first is misguided.

As I point out often in these Notes, one of the core eco-justice ethical norms is "solidarity" -- the realization that we're all in this together. As many experts have pointed out, solidarity is a form of enlightened self-interest. Solidarity can be hard-nosed in evaluating whether a decision is fair, and whether it meets our own needs. But in doing so, it acknowledges that our interests are intertwined with the interests of other nations and groups.

Indeed, our self-interest cannot be secure unless others are strengthened. As ABC News described the value of the Green Climate Fund (which the US will no longer support), "by helping countries that are especially vulnerable prepare for the effects of climate change, they could prevent or minimize future refugee crises that could destabilize regions and spill over into the developed world."

The decision to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement is grounded in fear and an astonishingly narrow perspective on self-interest. The decision to withdraw is a rejection of the enlightened values of solidarity. I give thanks to God that other nations and other leaders have a larger and more honest perspective.

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Mr. Trump's statement on the Paris Accord was filled with (to be charitable) misunderstandings, or (more realistically) distortions and mistruths. It is important that those falsehoods be called out and rejected, before they contaminate the global conversation. (Numerous organizations have "fact checked" the statement. It is illuminating to look through the strikingly similar stories from Politifact, factcheck.org, ABC News and NPR.)

To name three of the most troubling:

  1. The dire predictions of economic trauma came from one source, the National Economic Research Associates, which has a strong political agenda. The sources and assumptions in their analysis lead to extreme conclusions. Many other groups have evaluated the costs and benefits of participation in the Paris Agreement, and come to more moderate predictions.

  2. The statement presents the Paris Agreement as controlling what the US can do, and allowing contrasting policies in other nations. China, he said, "will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So we can't build the plants, but they can." That, however, is a total misrepresentation of how the Paris Agreement works. Each country sets a goal for their own carbon reductions, and each country decides how they will meet those goals. There is no authority to tell countries what they can and cannot do. The claim that the agreement leads to a loss of US sovereignty is absolutely wrong.

  3. The statement said that, if all nations complied fully with their commitments, there would be only a "tiny, tiny amount" of temperature reductions. The figure cited was a reduction of two-tenths of one degree Celsius. There are two major problems with how that number was presented. It is widely known that the first round of national commitments is not adequate to meet the climate threat, but it is expected that future commitments will move us closer to the necessary numbers, so looking at current commitments is not an accurate way to look at impacts in 2100. The researcher who wrote the quoted reports says that the administration is citing an outdated version, taken out of context. The actual impact from current commitments is about 1 degree Celsius.

As the global community works to follow the Paris Accord, and to build on it, we must insist that accurate and reliable information is used at all times.

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There is an agreement, still. That agreement will be a powerful force for global healing only if we -- citizens of the world, members of the Earth community -- stand up strongly for it. The withdrawal of the US is a blow that must not be repeated. States and local communities must be held to plans and policies that enhance climate justice.

In light of this week's news, I'll be blunt. It is time for the US people to grow up, and act as a responsible political force. In the days leading up to yesterday's announcement, there was a great flurry of attention paid to a cryptic tweet from the White House. Countless jokes and commentaries, and varieties of new merchandise, fixated on the word "covfefe". At best, this was a terrible waste of time and energy with no positive effect. At worst, the manipulators in the White House managed to use a bumbled late-night tweet to distract activists and the media from the climate decision, Russian investigations, and other important news. (Yes, I can edge toward paranoia, too!) We must not be distracted by such idiocy. We must be strategic and focused in setting our own agenda.

So, I'll close with one suggestion for effective action. States and cities must be leaders if the US is to meet strong climate goals. I urge you to take part in the Sierra Club's "Ready for 100" percent clean energy initiative, which is seeking commitments from US mayors. Connect with this campaign. Write a personal letter to your mayor -- before the meeting of the US Conference of Mayors at the end of this month. This is a well-planned and specific campaign. Get involved, now.

There is an agreement. Thanks be to God for the continuing strength of the global community. I pray that each of us -- acting individually and in coalitions -- will dedicate ourselves to maintaining and strengthening this global commitment.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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