Does Trump's Paris Decision Make Him the Most Dangerous Man in the World?

June 8, 2017 | 1:30 pm
John H. Steed

In case there was any doubt, President Trump’s June 1 announcement that he would take steps to withdraw the United States from participation in the Paris Accord confirms that our president is the most dangerous man in the world.  It isn’t just the substance of his decision (which will put the US into an exceedingly small club of nations—currently consisting only of Syria and Nicaragua—who have not signed on to the Accord) that is dangerous. It’s his disregard of the established science, his misunderstanding of the Accord’s structure, his misrepresentation of the consequences of both the US’s participation in the Accord and its withdrawal, and his lack of appreciation for the significance of America’s moral authority as the foundation of true greatness, that confirms this ignoble distinction.
Given the Accord’s reliance on voluntary national commitments, any of the President’s domestic policy objectives, however dubious and short sighted, could have been pursued within the Accord’s framework, making his decision to withdraw a gratuitous assault on the global order.
Unlike other possible contenders for the “Most Dangerous Man” title—such as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, or Bashar al Assad—whose motives and methods are as transparent as they are reprehensible, it is extremely difficult to ascertain any rational basis for Mr. Trump’s actions. Without articulating a “reality-based” justification for withdrawing from the Paris Accord, Mr. Trump has ignored the wishes of a large majority of Americans (including “his generals”, the overwhelming majority of respected business leaders and even, reportedly, his own daughter) and risked causing incalculable but predictable harm to the health and safety of millions of Americans as well as the political and economic stability of the world.
Who will benefit from the president’s decision? For starters, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un will benefit from the weakening of the bonds between the U.S. and its historic allies, which (among other things) will make it more difficult to maintain unified sanctions against their violations of international law. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other petroleum-dependent countries, as well as a handful of American investors in coal assets, may enjoy a near-term benefit from the perception that the inevitable transition to a low-carbon global economy will be slower as a result.
China’s president, Xi Jing Ping, has already begun to fill the void in global leadership on the world’s biggest challenge created by Mr. Trump’s abdication of responsibility, and Chinese workers, investors and business leaders may prove to be the biggest beneficiaries of the estimated $1 trillion in new investments in renewable energy infrastructure which is predicted over the next five years as the 194 signatories to the Accord implement their pollution reduction targets.
Even before Mr. Trump’s announcement, China had committed to invest $120 billion/year for the next three years in renewable energy, which it believes will create 13 million new jobs and position China to capitalize on the global scientific and political consensus. Rather than China “stealing American jobs”, President Trump is effectively handing millions of jobs in the fastest-growing sector of the energy economy to China.
Many have noted that Mr. Trump’s budget proposal and initiatives on health care and taxes are designed to benefit America’s wealthiest families at the expense of middle class families, older Americans, low wage workers and communities suffering from the consequences of technological change and globalization, including many Trump voters. Unlike those policies designed to benefit virtually all of America’s most advantaged, withdrawal from the Paris Accord is only likely to benefit a small handful of American investors in coal assets, and given the strong market preference for natural gas and renewable energy alternatives to coal, even these benefits will be short-lived. Contrary to Mr. Trump’s dubious claim that his action will save “millions of US jobs”, the absolute number of coal mining jobs in the US (currently less than 70,000) is unlikely to increase meaningfully as automation in that industry will undoubtedly continue.
Who is likely to be harmed in the short term?  The 2.6 million men and women working in America’s burgeoning clean energy sector, including 1.2 million people in states that voted for Mr. Trump. Solar jobs alone are growing 17 times faster than the overall U.S. economy. To the extent Mr. Trump’s unnecessary and reckless decision impairs growth of the renewable energy sector in the US, the effect will be to hurt, rather than help, the US economy. And of course, any interruption in the momentum to curb global warming will have enormous adverse consequences on global health and stability over the long term.
Hopefully, the strong opposition to the President’s decision by America’s most successful and respected business leaders and informed voices among state and local governments and academia, when combined with the steadfast assurance by leaders of other global powers of their continued commitment to abide by the Paris Accord, will suffice to mitigate the worst consequences of his dangerously ill-considered act.  While it is impossible to quickly repair the damage to the reputation and moral authority of the US inflicted by the President’s decision, the prompt and virtually universal condemnation of his decision represents an encouraging sign that the global “immune system” is awakening to contain the risks posed by the fact that the Most Dangerous Man in the World has three and a half years left in his current term, and it’s impossible to predict what he might do next.

John H. Steed, J.D., retired as Managing Partner with the international law firm, Paul Hastings LLP. He has 31 years of experience in private practice after earning his degree from Harvard Law School in 1977. He has specialized in corporate law, financial services, and real estate transactions with private law firms in Orlando, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, and Tokyo. He continues to investigate opportunities for collaboration between US and Japanese companies in the fields of renewable energy generation and power storage.
The views expressed in Guest Commentary posts are those of the author alone.

About the author

More from Guest Commentary

Guest authors bring their insights to The Equation, providing commentary on a broad range of issues that connect to our work. Views expressed here belong to the authors, not UCS.