Personal Technology Trumps the Paris Climate Accord

Jun 1, 2017

President Trump announced he is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement today. Here are a few thoughts about the decision and what it means.

  • The Paris agreement is more symbolism than solution. Even the supporters of the Paris agreement admit this, with one center-left advocate saying, “The US should stay in the Paris Agreement for political and symbolic reasons. However, it will have little substantive impact on emissions.” Far-left environmental writer David Roberts argued, without irony, “Paris is voluntary. There is no substantive reason to pull out.” If it is voluntary, however, there is no substantive reason to stay in since the targets can be changed voluntarily.
  • Political approaches to environmental issues aren’t durable. According to Gallup, climate change is the most divisive policy in America today. Expecting durable and reliable solutions in such a political environment is irrational. President Obama saw his cap-and-trade proposal killed by Senate Democrats. Governor Inslee’s cap-and-trade system was killed by House Democrats. Roger Pielke’s “Iron Law of Climate Policy,” states, “When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time.” President Trump’s decision is more evidence of that law.
  • Personal technology is better for the environment and can’t be repealed. At the moment President Trump announced the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, my house was using exactly 468 watts and my garage freezer was on. I know this because, even sitting at work, I can check it using my iPhone. I have incentives to use this information to reduce my electrical use, saving money and reducing my carbon emissions. Unlike political agreements, politicians can’t withdraw from technology. Unlike failed policies, where politicians attempt to hide their failure, individuals learn from failure, changing their decisions so they save money or achieve the personal goals, like reducing carbon emissions. When individuals are given the power to help the environment, they are far more likely to demand real-world results than politicians.

The President says he will negotiate a new and better deal on climate policy. This puts the environmental left in the position of either continuing to trust political agreements and casting their lot with President Trump, or recognizing they should look for alternatives to politics to help the environment.

Beyond the particulars of the Paris agreement, the decision demonstrates that a free-market approach, which emphasizes personal incentives and technological progress, is the only reliable and consistent path to being good stewards of the natural resources that are an important part of the American ethic and lifestyle.

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