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Trump retreats from leadership role on climate change

As he threatened, president starts a U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement.

President Donald Trump has made good on his earlier threat, giving the formal, one-year notification that sets in motion U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement.

That makes the United States the only country in the world to reject a global consensus on how to deal with the climate crisis that is jeopardizing this planet. Think that’s too strong? It’s not.

On its climate change page, NASA offers ample evidence that global temperatures are rising, oceans are warming, ice sheets are shrinking, glaciers are retreating and that extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common and more severe. Carbon emissions absorbed by the oceans that cover 71% of the planet are becoming more acidic, with disastrous implications for sea life.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that “the scientific evidence for warming of the climate is unequivocal.” Scientists put the probability that it is being caused by human activity at greater than 95%. Earlier this week, 11,000 scientists representing 153 countries issued a report warning that the world “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to peddle the false notion that the Paris agreement somehow imposes intolerable burdens on the richest, largest economy in the world — one which has been the chief beneficiary of the practices that led us to this pass. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in announcing the notification, seemed to tout the U.S. approach, saying it “incorporates the reality of the global energy mix and uses all energy sources and technologies cleanly and efficiently, including fossil fuels, nuclear energy and renewable energy.”

Unfortunately, that isn’t true. The truth is that the Trump administration has repeatedly moved to weaken environmental laws at every turn. It weakened enforcement of the Clean Air Act, weakened tailpipe emission standards and delayed indefinitely a previously planned ban on trichloroethylene, a carcinogen that can contaminate drinking water.

Overall, the administration has completed or has in progress 85 regulatory rollbacks on air pollution and emissions, 18 on drilling, seven on water pollution and more. It has repeatedly sought deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, particularly in renewable-energy research. At a recent G-7 climate summit, Trump dismissed renewable energy and promoted fossil fuels, including drilling in the environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

This abdication of leadership on the world stage is humiliating. It robs this country of the chance to set the agenda on an issue of the gravest importance.

“There was a time when the rest of the world would have looked to us to provide the direction and leadership on a global issue like this,” U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., told an editorial writer. “We should be leading the way on this. Instead, we’re retreating and, worse, have policies that are taking us backward.” The Paris accord “is not the be-all, end-all,” he said, “but it is a path that everyone else has agreed on. If we bow out, we are leaving the future for other countries to decide.”

Trump continues to believe that the U.S. can put its own interests above all else. But climate change, in the words of Todd Stern, chief U.S. negotiator of the agreement in 2015, “is an equal-opportunity destroyer.”

No matter how much Trump believes otherwise, this country cannot pull itself into a protective shell. Neither our money nor military might will spare us from the ravages of a changing climate. California knows it. Florida knows it. Minnesota farmers looking at another season of heavy, weather-related losses can see it.

The National Wildlife Federation has documented how hunters are being affected by climate change’s impact on wildlife populations and habitats. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is gathering testimonials from across the state attesting to the changes.

If Trump thinks the Paris plan is bad, he can fight to change it. If he really wants to be a leader, he is free to dazzle the rest of the world with his own plan to combat climate change. But he can no longer ignore the truth.