An American Betrayal

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It’s official; the United States of America has ceded its moral leadership on the global stage, and it will take decades (if not longer) to get it back.  By abandoning the Paris Agreement, Donald Trump has betrayed his party (more Republicans favor remaining in the Paris Agreement than those who favor leaving it), his country, his children and grandchildren, and indeed the entire global community.

In doing so, the United States joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries to stand against the other 194 nations of the world by rejecting the Paris Agreement.  Yet, unlike war-torn Syria or tiny Nicaragua, the United States remains the world’s second-largest contributor to global warming.  Only China (with 4x our population) barely exceeds the United States.

The Paris Agreement was drafted largely with the United States in mind, in order to accommodate a “least common denominator” approach to climate action.  That is to say, the rest of the world understood that the U.S. would be the sticking point, but also that an agreement without American participation would be tantamount to climate failure.  Even upon ratification, the agreement was universally understood to be deficient in its ability to adequately keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius—the benchmark many scientists have identified as necessary to avoid catastrophic global warming. Likewise, the U.S. commitment of a 26% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2025 was embarrassingly modest compared to other nations and compared to the scope of our contribution to the problem.

Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement served as monumental achievement and a critical starting point that would allow the world to finally begin to build a unified plan for solving climate change.  More importantly, Paris was the first truly global climate agreement with support from 195 nations, including the U.S., India, China, the EU and every major industrialized nation on earth.

Today, Donald Trump has betrayed humanity, relegating the now former “leading nation of the free world” to a pariah state devoid of integrity, consumed by greed, and obsessed with self-centered aggrandizement.  This is my country, and it pains me to write it, but we are entering a new era—one in which the United States of America no longer has any moral credibility within the global community.

So, what do we do, those of us who call ourselves Americans—indeed who love this country and long for its continued leadership–but who mourn such a betrayal?

First, we must acknowledge our own shortcomings.  I am complicit in this betrayal because my personal carbon footprint still greatly exceeds that which the world can sustain. I am working to change this, and I thank God for his grace (as well as the grace shown by my global brothers and sisters), but it is still my country that has wronged others.

Second, we must let our leaders know that such betrayal is morally wrong, and is inconsistent with both our biblical and our American values.  Write or call your leaders to let them know that Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement is immoral and should not be tolerated.

Third, we must continue to stand for what is right.  There is a quote by the great agrarian philosopher Wendell Berry which has inspired me during the dark times of the past six months.  Berry states; “Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.” Do I have much hope of changing Donald Trump’s mind about the Paris Agreement or climate change?  Not really.  But, like the prophets of old, I will continue to proclaim God’s truth without apology, and I will continue to stand for compassion, righteousness, justice, and integrity in the face of a great moral tragedy.

The world needs us, and we have abandoned them.  But as long as men and women of faith continue to stand for what is right, there is hope for our brothers and sisters suffering from the impacts of foolish decisions.

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