By Fr. Bud Grant
The next president of the United States has said that he would “cancel” President Obama’s executive order ratifying the Paris Accord to address climate change. He has three options for achieving this. First, he could begin the formal process of withdrawing. This is a four-year process (deliberately slow to discourage just this sort of decision, one might imagine). Secondly, he could engage with the international community to re-draft the proposal to his liking (it took 20 years to achieve this iteration). Third — and some theorize this to be his probable choice — he could just ignore it. Though it has the force of international law, there really isn’t much that could be done if he simply refused to meet the agreed upon targets. Of course, he also says that he will go further — cutting the Clean Water Act, returning to coal, etc. Our disengagement would not only reduce the savings, it would increase the costs in higher temperatures. Ironically, the cost of climate change is borne heaviest by those countries that contribute least to it. Such a choice would not have great risks for the U.S. specifically … at least in the short term.
If the U.S. were to withdraw (or not comply), it is not clear how the international community would respond. It could trigger a complete unraveling of the accord as others follow the U.S. lead. This seems unlikely since it was achieved by consensus and virtually no other global leader doubts the science behind the agreement. Given that we are the largest per-capita polluter, of course, going on without the U.S. would impact the efficacy of the work of the other nations. Early signals from Morocco (where the signatories of the Paris Accord met on the very day of the U.S. presidential election) are that the accord will hold. Global cooperation sans the U.S.A. appears to be the likely choice. Of course, we would be something of a pariah.…
Most Americans accept the reality of climate change. This is true of most Democrats, most Republicans, most Catholics, almost everyone except self-described evangelicals — and even their position has moved since the pope’s visit to the U.S. in 2015. Even those who avoid the politicized phrase “climate change” are consciously making prudent choices to adapt to already changing climate conditions. Here, I am thinking of most every farmer and a really interesting group I met recently that manages the Mississippi River for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Call it whatever we want, climate change is here and we have to adjust. Most businesses know this and, Paris Accord or not, I suspect that they will continue to adapt the mitigation practices called for. This is because many have already committed financial resources to it and it is just expedient to keep at it. It is also good for business to be seen as “green.” Further, multinational corporations will have to abide by the rules everywhere but here. Oh, and it is just possible that they believe it is the right thing to do.
The president-elect has another option. He could change his mind. Is it too much to suggest that, once he is briefed more thoroughly on the issue, once his staff and fellow Republican leaders urge him to change, once he hears from Americans that responding to climate change is a good thing, he will embrace his role as the leader of the world’s greatest nation — and its greatest polluter? Every newly elected official needs our prayers and our support. It is a very Catholic thing to exercise those twin efforts through loving rebuke and patient coaxing. It is particularly Catholic since this issue has become a core issue for Pope Francis as indeed it was for popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II before him. We have a new president. Along with other issues we hope to have him to address, we should add this most central pro-life issue … saving the planet for future generations. Mr. President, please change on climate.
(Father Bud Grant is a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)