President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord embarrasses us all, partly because it makes no sense politically, but also because it reveals Trump to be shockingly out of touch with the direction of the country he supposedly leads. In the end, his failure to support his own nation’s movement toward clean energy and environmental responsibility will matter mainly as another proof justifying those who view him as a laughingstock. Far from halting the nation’s progress toward reducing carbon emissions, Trump’s decision will likely accelerate it.
Over the past few decades, green capitalism—that triumvirate of forces combining consumer demand, emergent technology, and corporate leadership—has gradually matured and gone mainstream. Regardless of government action, green capitalism will soon be a determining force in the US economy. It will transform Americans’ sensibilities and requirements as surely and completely as the Industrial and Digital Revolutions have. Among the parties vainly urging the president to hew to the Paris accord were many large corporations who recognize that accommodating green values makes good business sense. President Trump’s harebrained decision to cling to the past instead makes him look benighted and irrelevant.
The silver lining is the galvanizing effect his retrograde action will have. In the US, major technological revolutions (with the exception of space aeronautics) typically begin in the private sector, generating new synergies between innovators and consumers. American government is often many paces behind, facilitating and regulating change only after new technologies and ways of doing have taken hold. Some sources of greenhouse-gas emissions in the US will decline only if subject to tougher state or federal regulation; others are highly responsive to consumer choice. Ultimately, the Trump administration’s intention to sit out the fight for clean energy opens up a field where many more forward-looking actors will contend to prevail. The work of easing the nation’s transition to a green future will fall to other and wiser American leaders.
Image: Wladyslaw T. Benda, “The Earth With the Milky Way and Moon” (1918),
from this source.