Progress is still possible on climate change — even with Trump in the White House

Our view: President Trump’s ill-considered opposition to the Paris accord can be overcome — as latest efforts at the state and global level now demonstrate

This week, global climate change talks opened in Bonn, Germany, the first such major United Nations-sponsored gathering since President Donald Trump announced in June that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. The meeting follows reports that 2017 is set to become the hottest year on record even when this year’s El Nino is factored out of the equation. The news probably does not come as too big a surprise, as last year was the previous all-time leader for average global temperatures.

Given that the federal government’s own scientists recognize that man-made climate change is the dominant cause of warming temperatures since at least the mid-1900s — a point reinforced in the most recent federal climate assessment (the nation’s fourth) released last week — it would be tempting for any rational American to be wholly discouraged by the current state of affairs. Even as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reaches record levels — last May’s reading of 410 parts per million representing an all-time record for humanity’s time on the planet — the Trump administration carries on blithely ignoring science, striking mentions of global warming from government websites, encouraging greater production and consumption of carbon-generating fossil fuels despite the obvious warning signs around us: sea level rise, flooding, the loss of Arctic sea ice and coral reefs, and the intensification of extreme weather from droughts and wildfires to hurricanes and heat waves.

Yet for all that tendentious idiocy and hubris emitted from the White House and Trump underlings, climate negotiators in Germany may yet stay the course, not just sticking with the Paris framework but perhaps finding opportunities to reinforce and strengthen their resolve. That’s because the real and meaningful debate isn’t about whether climate change exists but how best to reduce greenhouse gas production. Other nations recognize that clean energy represents an economic opportunity, not a burden. Among wealthy nations (the U.S. included), greenhouse gas emissions are already on the decline, so the more pressing question is how best to help the developing world where countries lack the resources to invest in billions of dollars in wind, solar and other clean energy infrastructure needed to make the transition.

President Trump’s antipathy toward climate science may help him with core supporters, particularly in coal-producing states, but it isn’t a viewpoint broadly shared by all Americans. More than 60 percent in the U.S. believes climate change is a problem the government needs to address, according to a recent University of Chicago poll. Even many Republicans are on board. The same poll found that among GOP voters who believe in climate science, seven out of 10 believe government should take action. Perhaps that’s why the recent U.S. climate assessment can plainly state that it is “extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence” without an attempt by the White House to intervene and halt the report’s release. Even among deniers, there isn’t much confidence in their point of view, only in the political benefits of denial under the Trump version of hyper-nationalism.

Even so, the U.S. majority point of view will be well represented in Bonn. Governors, mayors and business leaders are attending under the “We Are Still In” mantle to spread the word that average Americans are still on board with the Paris accord. Technically, the process President Trump began to withdraw U.S. from the Paris agreement won’t be completed until after the 2020 election. That gives the next administration an opportunity to put the U.S. back on a sane policy track and not remain isolated as representatives of Syria, the only other nation in the world that had similarly outright rejected the Paris framework, announced Tuesday that their country will sign on.

If Mr. Trump will not lead the country in a rational direction, it’s simply up to all Americans to take the initiative and support policies such as Maryland’s recent choice to accept stricter air standards under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. As one of nine Northeast states willing to tighten the cap on carbon emissions by 30 percent between 2020 and 2030, Maryland will continue to auction greenhouse gas emission allowances and use the revenue to invest more in conservation, efficiency and renewable energy — a win-win for all involved. On carbon, the president’s authority is not absolute. The perils of climate change are too obvious and too great for one man, even one holding the most powerful post in the world, to stop progress in its tracks.

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