Our Opinion: Withdrawal from climate accord puts America last, not first

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Less than a few hours after the current president announced he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and California Governor Jerry Brown announced the formation of United States Climate Alliance.

"The President has already said climate change is a hoax, which is the exact opposite of virtually all scientific and worldwide opinion," said Brown.

"This administration is abdicating its leadership and taking a backseat to other countries in the global fight against climate change," noted Cuomo.

Late on Friday, Governor Phil Scott announced that Vermont will join the Climate Alliance, a coalition of states committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

"Vermont is a leader in environmental policy and natural resource management," said Scott. "The President's decision to withdraw the nation from the agreement only strengthens our commitment and makes the work of states more important. If our national government isn't willing to lead in this area, the states are prepared to step up."

However, over in the Granite State, Governor Chris Sununu, who trained as an environmental engineer, says he hasn't thought much about the decision to withdraw from the climate accord.

"I don't have a real reaction right now to be honest it's nothing I've really thought about," Sununu told NHPR. " It's a federal issue at this point. It's nothing, I'm focused on the 603 and what we do here."

In addition to the states that have signed on to the Climate Alliance, 76 U.S. cities have adopted the Paris Climate Agreement — the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. Those mayors include Miro Weinberger of Burlington.

"We will continue to lead," stated the mayors. "[I]f the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris Agreement, we'll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks."

These governors and mayors understand the President has made a colossal mistake "that will push the U.S. to the sidelines as China and others take the lead on climate policy and renewable energy," wrote David G. Victor for e360 Yale. "He has confused self-interest, which almost every nation puts first, with strategy. Making cost-effective cuts in the emissions that cause climate change is firmly in America's self-interest."

While claiming this is part of his "America First" strategy, noted Victor, the President has actually "undermined the country's credibility as a partner in international cooperation "

As Victor and others have noted, nations such as China are moving full-steam ahead, so to speak, with researching and rolling out renewable and clean energy technology.

"China, if it continues to play its cards well, could become the major source of innovation and good will on climate change," wrote Victor.

Part of the Paris agreement guaranteed to poorer nations an infusion of $100 billion from the wealthier nations, such as the United States. While the U.S. under the previous president only anted up a half-billion dollars, and now none under the current administration, China has taken the lead.

"The U.S. almost always plays a key role in building effective international institutions," noted Victor. "Without America, leadership is diffused and harder to muster."

It also leaves a vacuum, which China is happy to fill. Is this really putting America First? Our coal industry is on its last legs and fossil fuel extraction, while reaping immense wealth for the top 1 percent, has left the rest of the world holding the bag of destruction that is climate change and environmental degradation. The nation has been making great strides in renewable energy and has been taking the lead on new technologies, but this administration's regressive policies on fossil fuels and renewables might set us back years while other countries speed past. Those countries will have a monopoly on the new technologies and that will leave the United States having to buy even more from them, increasing our trade deficit. Hardly seems like an America First policy to us.

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