Last Thursday was the last straw. The withdrawal of the United States of America from the Paris Agreement finally shattered my illusion that America is a responsible global leader within the twenty-first century.
You probably know it by now: The American reputation as being a good, responsible world leader was shut down last week, from the mouth of a man who ignored 71 percent of his constituents, “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists,” and the wishes and advice from an array of businesses, including Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Procter & Gamble Company, Exxon, and Disney.
With the announcement that America would officially be leaving the Agreement, and therefore no longer needing to do our part “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty,” my belief that America is a responsible global power, the belief that has been instilled in me as an American citizen, was completely diminished.
Our military and reputation will certainly keep us as global powerhouse (apparently stubbornly powered by coal and other fossil fuels) but a responsible one? No. Even if we do become a responsible world leader within this century, Trump has given other countries a running start. As President Obama has said in a statement following Trump’s withdrawal announcement, “The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created.”
Americans, just like everyone else from each nation, are raised to think that their country is the best. America is the leader of the free world, fighters for peace and democracy (erm, right?), and brilliant innovators. We invented LASERs, chemotherapy, the incandescent light bulb, Voyager 1, and the cookie. With all of these accomplishments, it’s easy to believe that we are number one.
Sure, as I got older I realized that other countries were also distinguished, and had their own remarkable feats. In many cases, like in Canada, Norway, France, and the Netherlands (among others), the quality of life is probably better. Iceland, Costa Rica, and Germany have all decided to create progressive and respectful relationships with the natural land.
I’ve known for some time now that America is not the best when it comes to everything, but I certainly still have believed that the US was a responsible global leader, and probably the most powerful one. With a president like Barack Obama, who was intelligent, subtly tough, and created bridges and friendships with other nations, it wasn’t difficult to have faith in the U.S. as a (maybe even one of the best) world leader.
But Trump has — officially at least — taken America off of the platform as a responsible global leader. As a nation, we are no longer part of an international agreement 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.” We are no longer placing importance on creating new technologies that are clean and efficient. We have stepped aside for Germany to lead the world, and for China to carry the torch as an innovator. Even when a new U.S. president is elected, we will be trailing behind these two nations, perhaps more.
But there is hope, and I am still so proud to be an American. Mayors from across the nation, including my hometown, alongside the cities of Chicago, Boston, New York City and Los Angeles, have committed themselves to uphold the Paris Agreement. The states of New York, Washington, and California have agreed to a pact with the intent on “reducing greenhouse gas levels 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels and complying with Obama’s Clean Power Plan.” Michael Bloomberg, Bob Iger, and Elon Musk have all acted against Trump’s decision.
It’s humbling for an American to realize that the U.S., apart from not being “number one,” is federally deciding to ignore science, ignore the future, and to ignore a promising opportunity for growth in technologies. In short, by consciously deciding not to step up to this world crisis — climate change — Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement has disillusioned me from my belief that America is still a responsible global leader.
Staying in the Paris Agreement would have shown to the world that the U.S. is still a good global leader, despite the recent election. But instead, Trump shuttered any dreams that the US (at least for now) is a great world leader. Some of our cities, some of our state’s, many of our businesses, and most of our citizens continue to march forward as responsible and concerned entities. But for now, America the Nation is not. And I’m just going to have to deal with that.