Look beyond the United States, and the picture continues to get brighter. Along with the United States, China, India and the EU account for about half of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the rest of these countries do their part, we can make good progress. The rest of the world will follow their lead and adopt their strategies and technologies.
Take the EU, which has always overachieved on its pledges. We can continue to expect it to do so. The great leadership we’re seeing from countries like Germany should give us all hope.
Or look at China and India, which have their own very good reasons to show strong leadership on climate change. While their Paris Agreement pledges were modest, we’re now seeing these countries adopt much more aggressive goals in their five-year plans. The coal-fired power plants that produce global warming pollutants also create sulfur and nitrous oxide pollution that threatens public health. The rising middle class in each country that is forced to wear a face mask whenever outdoors will no longer tolerate these public health threats.
When the United States faced these same public health issues from coal-fired power plants, global warming from CO2 pollution was not on the radar, and wind, solar and energy storage technologies were in their infancy. So, we retrofitted our power plants at great expense with pollution control technologies to scrub out the pollutants that were threatening our health.
China and India are squaring up on these public health problems in a whole new era—one in which CO2 is an equally concerning air pollutant and renewable energy technologies that can protect health and our climate simultaneously are fully cost competitive. They will skip over the scrubber option and go straight to low carbon energy.
It’s highly unlikely that all of these players—our best companies, our most progressive cities and states, the nations of the E.U. that have led on wind and solar technology and governments in the developing world who can protect the health of their people from air pollution while simultaneously protecting the climate—will shrink from the challenge just because the United States has abandoned its role as a leader among nations. But they will often say to all of us who meet them in the public square, and with good reason, “Shame on you.”
The problem isn’t that the world isn’t going to step up to the plate without us. The problem is that they will, and they will leave us behind. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement will make us late to the game. And when we come to our senses and ask to rejoin, we’ll pay a heavy price for our tardiness. We could do our part much more cheaply if we acknowledged the science now and harvested the low hanging fruit. Waiting while other nations leap forward with new energy technologies is a significant threat to our economy.
Global warming caused by carbon dioxide pollution is a very real and very urgent threat. Eventually all nations, even the United States, will need to act to protect our planet. When we are finally forced into a race to catch up, we will pay dearly for the mistake that President Trump has made.