China Will Now Lead the US on Climate Change
March 31, 2017
This week’s executive order signed by President Donald Trump to roll back carbon emission reduction plans means the US will not meet its commitments outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement signed by 195 countries, leaving China, the world’s leading polluter, as the leader in protecting the Earth’s environment.
Trump’s executive order undoes President Obama’s ambitious Clean Power Plan that called for the closing of hundreds of coal-fired power plants, stopping construction of new power plants, and would have replaced
them with renewable wind power and solar farms.
But, this week, flanked by energy company executives and coal miners, Trump lauded the executive order as a job-creating move to unburden energy companies from unnecessary regulations.
As the world’s second largest polluter, the US is also the wealthiest country per capita, with a higher standard of living than China (the largest polluter) and India (the third largest polluter). Our responsibility to lead the world on reducing the undeniably harmful effects of carbon emissions is vital to the protection of the environment, by setting the example for the rest of the world.
During the past 45 years since the passage of the federal Clean Air Act, no one living in Los Angeles can deny that the air has gotten cleaner. Dark, smoggy days in LA are a thing of the past. Even in San Diego, the air has improved significantly through the implementation of vehicle emission standards, the elimination of oil-burning power plants, and the overall improvement in auto gas mileage.
Trump has long called global warming a hoax, and now, his political rhetoric has become national policy.
To deny that carbon emissions are harmful and causing catastrophic impacts on the environment is not political, it’s insane.
The Paris Agreement was a result of nearly nine years of work by United Nations representatives from nearly two hundred countries. Before this historic accord, most environmental agreements only affected the US and other large, developed countries. The 2015 Paris agreement, however, required every one of the signatory countries to reduce their own carbon emissions, creating an equitable contribution from every country based on their respective pollution levels.
The Paris Agreement sought to work toward a global commitment to keep the world’s average temperature from increasing beyond the tipping point that most experts believe will be irreversible, leading to global droughts, floods, riding sea levels, and food shortages around the world.
By walking away from our commitments, the US will shift the burden of protecting the world’s climate to less wealthy nations, those less able to implement meaningful national policies to curb carbon emissions.
In 2009, the US had 1,439 coal powered power plants, generating about 45 percent of the electricity in the country. Since then, through the retirement of older coal power plants and the increase in natural gas, solar, and wind power generation, coal plants now deliver about 33 percent of our power.
The reduction in the use of coal to run power plants has been a combination of clean air regulations and the competitiveness of natural gas as an alternative fuel source. Corporate decisions by energy companies looking to secure long-term operations have also driven development of non-coal powered plants.
Coal power plants exhaust far more dangerous carbon dioxide emissions than comparable natural gas powered plants. For example, in 2006, coal power plants generated 49% of the U.S. electricity, but emitted 83% of CO2 emissions. Natural gas, on the other hand, creates less than half the carbon dioxide emissions than coal power plants, leading many experts to suggest natural gas as the “bridge fuel” to use as countries work toward lower emission clean power source Trump’s executive order only sets into motion a rollback of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, but its implementation could take years, if it even happens at all.
Changes in regulations and lawsuits could cause delays that stall the impact of the order. And companies may not change their future development plans if they believe the changes are short-lived during Trump’s administration, and could snap back in the future under a subsequent president.
For now, we are left with a conflicted national energy policy that seems to trade short-term jobs for long-term environmental impact. Trump’s promise to bring coal jobs back should be an insult to displaced workers in West Virginia and other coal-dependent states.
Coal mining jobs are dangerous and the pay below the median national average. Coal miners earn $13.91 to $29.19 per hour, with a median of $23.04, and the national median hourly rate is $24.57.
We should be investing in job training and education for former coal workers in fields that offer higher wages and long-term job security and growth, instead of buying them off with false hopes of reviving the good old days of coal. They should be offended by the political pandering, not excited about the empty promise of getting their old jobs back.
We should look forward, toward a cleaner, more sustainable future for our planet. If China, India, and even Bangladesh can commit to reducing their carbon emissions, the US should stick to the agreement, too.