Donald Trump would be a harmless anachronism — some cranky old guy who watches Fox News too much, resents smart people and denies climate change — if he were not president. He would be nothing but the clubhouse loudmouth.
But because he's president, Trump has the power to inflict great damage to progressive policies, alienate allies, diminish the country's role as a world leader and make millions of Americans feel ashamed.
So far, mission accomplished.
Pulling the United States out of the Accorde de Paris on climate change might have been Trump's tour de force — an ill-informed, spiteful rejection of science and statesmanship in the face of international agreement that those of us alive today have a special responsibility to future generations.
Trump will turn 71 on June 14. You'd think a guy with five children and eight grandchildren, with a ninth expected in September, would look past petty politics and past the big picture to the biggest picture of all: the future of life on Earth. But taking the grand view on environmental issues, as many moderate Republicans once did, requires thinking and reflection, an embrace of science and the magnanimity to admit that the smart people on the left are right about something. Trump and his crowd seem incapable of that, or fully determined to work against it.
Still, there's a bright side to the decision by the prince of darkness to pull out of the Paris accord. It came in the form of immediate pledges to live up to the agreement despite Trump's decision. The pledges came from political leaders in cities and states that already have made progress on carbon emissions and renewable energy. The pledges came from corporations and academia, too.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan could easily join this movement, because along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay we have what Don Boesch, a leading climate scientist, calls a "precious consensus" to protect the bay and curtail global warming. It's been around for years.
When you review what's been happening on the environmental front in this oddly-shaped Mid-Atlantic state, Trump's destructive powers start to look overstated. He looks more fossil than president.
"The biggest challenge we have with a runaway problem [climate change] is it's hard to turn it around," says Boesch, the longtime president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and a member of the Maryland Climate Change Commission. "There are still forces working against the gains we've made — vehicle emissions, for instance.
"But [greenhouse gas] emissions are still tracking downward, and we have some confidence that [Maryland] will make our 2020 goal of a 25 percent reduction, though we still need to do more to make that happen. And then we have another heavy lift: Another 40 percent reduction by 2030."
The progress so far has been achieved in several different ways:
• Maryland's statutory requirement that 25 percent of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. The previous requirement was for 20 percent by 2022. (Hogan vetoed the increase, saying it would lead to higher costs for consumers. But the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in February to override his decision. Legislative analysts estimated the change could raise residential electricity bills anywhere from 48 cents to $1.45 per month.)
• The state's adoption of the California standards for motor vehicles, setting limits for ozone-depleting emissions that are stricter than those required by the federal government.
• Membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade consortium of Northeastern states that agreed to work toward reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, increase investment in energy efficiency and cut pollution.
And, just a few weeks ago, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved ratepayer subsidies — $1 on monthly residential electricity bills — to support two wind farms off Ocean City. Once completed, they could constitute the largest offshore project of its kind in the nation. Dozens of wind turbines could be in place anywhere from 14 miles to 20 miles off Ocean City by 2020. The wind farms are expected to prevent emissions of hundreds of thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide and create some 5,000 jobs.
And, then there's Hogan. Despite his veto of the renewables bill, the Republican governor can boast support of some important initiatives to combat climate change: the state's accelerated effort to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, additional tax credits for electric vehicles, additional rebates for charging stations and increased state investment in clean energy innovations.
Boesch says all these efforts, plus state support of energy conservation programs, have worked in Maryland's favor. He feels the climate change commission, chaired by Ben Grumbles, the state secretary of the environment, is in good hands, and its work has been supported.
So it's not all grim. With an even greater push on the climate change front, Maryland and other progressive states could render the president of the United States irrelevant.