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Month: May 2017

Will President Trump Withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord?

The Paris Climate Accord (PCA) is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement. An agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020, the agreement was negotiated by representatives of 195 countries at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Paris and adopted by consensus on December 12, 2015. It was later opened for signature on April 22, 2016 – Earth Day – at a ceremony in New York, with President Barack Obama one of the PCA’s most steadfast supporters.

 

The stated goals of the PCA by the UNFCCC are as follows:

 

  1. Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
  2. Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;
  3. Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”

 

The Paris Agreement emphasizes the principle of “Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capabilities, which is the acknowledgement that different nations have different capacities and duties to climate action. Therefore, larger, more industrialized nations that generate a greater degree of greenhouse gas will have a correspondingly larger duty to curtail their emissions.

 

Initially, the United States steadfastly stuck to their part of the bargain on global climate change. But fast-forward to 2017, and Donald Trump – who previously called climate change a “hoax” created by China – is now President of the United States, and has stated that he will announce this upcoming week whether or not he will adhere to one of his campaign promises to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord. Trump met with world leaders this week at the G7 Summit in Sicily, where many of them attempted to sway the U.S. leader to reconsider his previous stance on the deal signed by his predecessor; leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom and the presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission reaffirmed their commitment to the PCA, while many are anticipating Trump to pull the U.S. out regardless of that fact.

 

In fact, talk is circulating that Trump has told confidants that he will indeed lead his country out of the climate deal; following discussions at the G7 Summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – a major supporter of the PCA – expressed frustration with what many suppose was Trump’s position on climate change, without actually mentioning the U.S. President by name.

 

“The entire discussion about climate was very difficult, if not to say very dissatisfying,” she said. “There are no indications whether the United States will stay in the Paris Agreement or not.”

 

While Republicans are offering suppose for the idea of Trump abandoning the PCA, it would serve the United States best if he were to actually stick with it; and not just for the scientifically proven environmental benefits of saving the planet for future generations. Shockingly enough, numerous big businesses have publically come out in favor of the U.S.’s adherence to the PCA; Microsoft, Apple, Starbucks, Gap, Nike, Google, Adidas and L’Oreal all support continued U.S. involvement. But while many of those companies were already known for their environmentally “green” ideologies, the real surprise is that several major American energy companies have also voiced their support for the PCA, including oil firms such as Chevron and ExxonMobil; one of the reasons is that the agreement favors natural gas – which these companies produce – over coal.

 

However, there is hope that President Trump will actually honor the United States’ place in the Paris Climate Accord; according to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Trump is “wide open” on the issue of whether the U.S. should remain in the PCA.

 

“We’ve obviously got a discussion going on about our policy in this regard,” he said. “I was sitting in on some of the discussions, by the way, where climate change came up, and the president was open. He was curious about why others were in the position they were in – his counterparts in other nations – and I’m quite certain the president is wide open on this issue as he takes in the pros and cons of that accord.”

 

Some detractors of the PCA have cited factors such as impact on jobs in the fossil fuel industry, a lopsided deal that allows other nations to decrease their carbon emissions to a lesser degree than the United States, the overall cost of implementing the changes required, among other factors. While some of the complaints being levied at the PCA are valid – while others are not – simply walking away from a measure that could safeguard the health and well-being of the planet and its billions of inhabitants is not something President Trump should take lightly. Instead, our Commander-in-Chief – who prides himself on the “art of the deal” – should consider engaging in renegotiations to better align elements to the United States’ interests. Therefore, he could adhere to his oft-stated “America First” policy, while also putting the future of the Earth first as well.

Coal Mining And the Environment; Going Backwards Instead of Forwards

Coal mining has been the backbone of many communities in rural America – often shaping the economies of entire town based around it – but has faced hardship in recent decades due to a lessening reliance on the combustible sedimentary rock a and tightening of environmental regulations pertaining to its procurement and disposal of its waste. To date, coal mining has been seen as something of an anachronism; a practice that is falling by the wayside as newer, cleaner, safer, and more efficient energy sources are being cultivated, such as wind, solar, and biofuel.

 

However, many of the towns that have embraced the coal trade as the defining characteristic of their lives have been refusing to change or evolve; clinging to the hope that, one day, their wares will once again reach the same level of desirability they once had, coal miners continue to toil away amid diminishing profits in a field that is already essentially obsolete. The world is moving on, but instead of joining it, many coal miners are hoping for a reversal of progress.

 

A light at the end of the tunnel came for many coal mining communities when Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States; a large part of Trump’s campaign centered on disenfranchised working-class Americans who, one way or another, felt passed by or abandoned by their leaders. With the promise of loosening regulations relating to coal mining, such as those governing the disposal of waste materials, many miners flocked to the voting booths come election day to support the man they envisioned as the one who would save jobs that most others saw as outdated and promoting pollution and environmental injury. And, to date, Trump has proven to be true to his word, signing several Executive Orders that have reversed or lessened Obama-era regulations that were seen as tough on the coal industry.

 

But, despite being an inefficient, antiquated, and – quite frankly – dirty power source, what is it about coal that makes it so bad for the planet? The American Lung Association has been highly critical of coal as an energy source, citing its negative effects on both the environment and human health in their 2011 publication entitled Toxic Air: the Case for Cleaning up Coal-Fired Power Plants:

 

“Coal-fired power plants produce electricity for the nation’s power grid, but they also produce more hazardous air emissions than any other industrial pollution sources,” they said. “The quantity is staggering. Over 386,000 tons of 84 separate hazardous air pollutants spew from over 400 plants in 46 states. Their emissions threaten the health of people who live near these plants, as well as those who live hundreds of miles away. Despite the concentration of these plants largely in the Midwest and Southeast, their toxic emissions threaten the air in communities nationwide.”

 

But it’s not just the waste and pollution that’s generated by coal while it’s burning that has environmentalists concerns; what’s left over afterwards has them worried as well. Around ten percent of coal is ash, and according to not-for-profit organization Physicians for Social Responsibility, coal ash is hazardous and toxic to human beings and other living things.

 

“Coal ash – the waste material left after coal is burned – contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and over a dozen other heavy metals, many of them toxic.  And disposal of the growing mounds of coal ash is creating grave risks to human health,” they said. “Toxic constituents of coal ash are blowing, spilling and leaching (dissolving and percolating) from storage units into air, land and human drinking water, posing an acute risk of cancer and neurological effects as well as many other negative health impacts:  heart damage, lung disease, kidney disease, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal illness, birth defects, and impaired bone growth in children. This ash, which is generated at coal-fired power plants across the country, is the second-largest industrial waste stream in the country.”

 

Of course, with all of the proven negative health effects coal brings to the table, who do you thinks suffers the most? Yes, the very same people who rely on the sedimentary rock for their very livelihoods. Coal miners have reported damage to their lungs, heart, and nervous system, as well as asthma, strokes, reduced intelligence, artery blockages, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, mercury poisoning, arterial occlusion, and lung cancer.

 

And, in addition to the human toll, coal mining and coal fueling of power stations and industrial processes can cause major environmental damage, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

 

“Coal plants are the nation’s top source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the primary cause of global warming. In 2011, utility coal plants in the United States emitted a total of 1.7 billion tons of CO2.  A typical coal plant generates 3.5 million tons of CO2 per year,” they said. “Burning coal is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution. Some emissions can be significantly reduced with readily available pollution controls, but most U.S. coal plants have not installed these technologies.”

 

For years, name green and environmental blogs, such as Yellow Pages Goes Green, have advocated clean, renewable energy sources and research into new and developing technologies that would hope to lessen – and eventually eliminate – the world’s reliance on costly and dangerous fossil fuels. It’s time to forge a brave path to the future and leave behind the relics of the past; coal and other carbons are evocative of that past era, whereas solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal are the pathway forward to a clean, efficient, and green planet for generations to come.

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