President Trump’s spoken thoughts on climate change layer ignorance over irresponsibility. They humiliate thinking Americans and frustrate our friends. The president’s recent refusal in Europe to commit to sticking with the Paris accord for curbing planet-warming gas emissions is the latest national embarrassment.
Trump did say he’d come up with an answer in a week, and if he has by the time you read this, the decision won’t entirely matter. Even if we stay in, few allies trust Trump, given his penchant for cheating.
But though the presidency is powerful, it’s not all-powerful. There are workarounds, and they’re already in motion. German Chancellor Angela Merkel alluded to the possibilities Sunday, when she called on Europe to basically give up on Trump’s America: “We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.”
Team Trump should drop any fantasy that other nations would bear the burden of addressing the climate change crisis while letting Americans belch greenhouse gases willy-nilly. A former French president has already called for slapping U.S. products with a carbon tax if Trump goes AWOL on the Paris agreement.
The sovereign state of California, however, could have a better deal. California has been establishing its own foreign policy on climate. And why wouldn’t it?
Were California a country, its economy would be sixth-largest in the world. Entrepreneurs in this science and tech powerhouse are already making a ton of money finding ways to reduce emissions. Clean energy now employs more people in California than coal employs in all of America.
It is from this seat of power that Gov. Jerry Brown takes obvious delight in taunting Trump and the climate ignoramuses around him. “Erasing climate change may take place in Donald Trump’s mind,” Brown quipped, “but nowhere else.”
When Trump vowed in March to loosen national emissions standards for cars and trucks, California’s clean air agency immediately vowed to tighten its standards. Twelve other states, including Washington state, have followed California on emissions, resulting in its rules covering over a third of the U.S. market for vehicles.
For historical reasons, California can set its own standards under a federal waiver. Trump could revoke the waiver, as George W. Bush’s administration tried to do in 2007. California would undoubtedly sue.
California is also leading America — and most other “countries” — in establishing advanced cap-and-trade programs to limit carbon emissions. It recently sent a delegation to China to help it do likewise.
California signs climate accords with other countries. There’s the pact with Canada and Mexico, dubbed the NAFTA of climate change. It has linked its cap-and-trade market to one in Quebec. Ontario and Mexico may soon come on board, and other Western states talk of joining.
State lawmakers are now devising a far more sophisticated cap-and-trade program that could become a model to the world. California critics continue to insist that this progressive governance is ruining the state’s economy. That’s funny, considering that California currently has the highest rate of job growth in the country.
Trump world, meanwhile, pumps out one indignity after another. How pathetic was economic adviser Gary Cohn’s dog-ate-his-homework excuse for Trump’s not having decided on the Paris deal? “The president’s only been in office for a certain period of time,” Cohn explained. Like the grown-ups haven’t been agonizing over this for more than two years.
Washington, D.C., is clearly becoming flyover country for governments formulating smart environmental policy. But conscientious Americans need not lose hope over the accumulating signs of national decline. They can continue working with one another and with other governments to forestall environmental catastrophe — or at least they can try.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.