Trump’s backward move on climate change disadvantages U.S.

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Trump is closing off his country and making the U.S. a less attractive destination for innovation and investment.


First published on Monday, June 5, 2017 in The Hill Times.


U.S. President Donald Trump just hammered another nail in the American coffin.

In his petulant conversations about pulling out of the global climate change consensus, he is labouring under the misimpression that his withdrawal would influence the agreement.

Instead, he is reinforcing the impression that his leadership is leading the United States down the wrong road.

At a time when other potential global players are emerging to challenge American hegemony, the president seems bound on taking his country backwards.

It all started with his slogan, “Make America great again.”

In reality, old America may have welcomed a certain demographic, but not everyone. Equality for women and minorities, still more myth than reality, is much closer today than it was in the last century.

Income inequality and racial tension prompted the civil rights and women’s liberation movements.

Times were pretty good for white men who headed traditional families with no pesky questions about who ruled the roost.

Ask a gay or transgender person how happy things were in the good old days and their response will be different. Today’s equality, with all the ensuing challenges of integration, is far preferable to going back to the good old days.

And the same is true for climate change.

The world has collectively come to the conclusion that Mother Nature needs help.

From floods to fires, from extreme weather to desertification, the environment around us in changing in a way that needs a global response.

That means changing the way we live, including weaning ourselves off our dependence on non-renewable fuels.

That train has left the station, and while it is possible for the United States to bolt, it will be that country, not the world, that is left behind.

China, battling a pollution problem of epic proportions in its’ own major cities, is tackling national environmental challenges with gusto. It has rolled out a 10-year green plan and is currently in the process of electrifying its complete transportation system.

Its government’s edicts have also spawned a thriving alternative-energy industry, with almost every neighbourhood in the country sporting solar panels on the rooftops of most households.

China is also working actively in countries around the world promoting sustainable infrastructure with its Silk Road investment fund.

Meanwhile, Trump is closing off his country and making the United States a less attractive destination for innovation and investment.

The European Union is embracing green solutions, driven by a combination of necessity and invention. The emergence of the Green Party movement as a force in politics accelerated the European appetite for embracing climate-change solutions.

The new coalition government in British Columbia will also promote the appetite for alternative energy solutions.

And with those solutions come business opportunities.

As Environment Minister Catherine McKenna tweeted last week, “No matter what the U.S. decides today, the world is going to keep marching on. The momentum is irreversible. And we have only one planet.” She went on to tweet that the climate-change movement makes good business sense.

By exiting, Trump may claim that he is working to save jobs in the rust belt and elsewhere. But instead, he is simply setting up an exodus for the jobs of the future.

If China gets it, and America doesn’t, the axis of influence that has been gently shifting for years will be accelerated.

When president Bill Clinton pushed hard for international climate-change progress during his time in government, American influence was a key factor in getting the world on board.

At this point, an American withdrawal will have little influence on the rest of the world. Instead, the decision will be perceived as what it really is: a ham-handed climate denial by a president who daily grows more out of touch with reality.

Given Trump’s close relationship with Russia, he may be able to enlist President Vladimir Putin in his back-to-future vision.

But the rest of the world is already moving. Canada is starting to invest heavily in rapid-transit infrastructure, provinces are committed to real political action to reduce carbon dependence, and the world is rapidly waking up to the real cost of doing nothing.

In the end, the future of areas like the American rust belt depend on attracting innovative companies, including those who are developing sustainable energy alternatives.

There is a huge market opening up for renewable design and the new economy, a market that will not be attracted to a country that refuses to even recognize the problem.

Trump’s decision could hurt America. But the world isn’t listening.


Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.