From Leader to Pariah — America’s Withdrawal from the Paris Accord

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” — Theodore Roosevelt

The last three months of 2015 were a damn good time in my life. In September, I was fortunate to attend and present at a conference associated with ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals, the ambitious global agenda to end poverty, hunger, and environmental destruction by 2030. Two months later, representatives from 197 countries convened in France and, by consensus, adopted the world’s first comprehensive agreement to limit global carbon emissions. This international treaty is known as the Accord de Paris. Some of my colleagues played an instrumental role in crafting and negotiating the agreement, earning Nobel Prizes and international acclaim for their efforts. Their lifelong fight to ensure a livable planet for future generations had taken a huge step in the right direction. Indeed, celebrating the agreement is one of my fondest memories.

As the world’s second highest polluter, accounting for 18 percent of global carbon emissions annually, the United States is a critical signatory to the agreement. World leaders recognized the possibility that this US administration would back out of the “bad deal” at last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech (the sequel to the Paris conference). Secretary of State John Kerry urged then President Elect Trump to “examine closely what it is that has persuaded the Pope, presidents, and prime ministers all over the world, leaders around the world, to take on the responsibility of responding to this [climate] threat.” The President, however, has decided to go a different direction. In fairness to Trump, how can the combined intellect of thousands of scientists and over 200 world leaders compare with his primary consultant, a “very good brain”? My President’s foresight is surpassed only by his eloquence.

I fear that the Trump administration’s selfish, utterly irresponsible decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord has undone decades of work. I’m filled with dread, worry, anger, and most importantly, a sense of responsibility. I did not vote for Donald Trump — in fact, I am embarrassed every time I picture him in the same office that Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt once occupied. In my opinion, this decision is the latest in an administration that has quickly eroded the core values of my country. However, this is still my government. Donald Trump is still my President (and to my fellow Americans, he is yours as well). I must take responsibility for my government’s behavior, and ask my fellow countrymen and countrywomen to do the same. To combat the egregious actions of a White House that is seemingly filled with buffoons, we as citizens must lead responsibly.

The Power of Protest

What are some things we can do?

Demand action from your elected officials: Remember, elected officials are employed by the American people. They’re paid by us. They work at our behest. We, as citizens, possess great power and ultimately a responsibility to make our voices heard when the government makes dangerous decisions. Join the People’s Climate Movement, members of which marched on Washington, DC with more than 300,000 people in April. Here is a list of organizing groups across America to get involved with. Change will require a sustained effort.

Make conscious business choices: Many major companies have made environmental sustainability a business priority, including IKEA, Panasonic, IBM, Microsoft, and the Amway Corporation. Contact these corporations and let them know that their environmental behavior is a main factor in your decision to buy. In 2016, the electronics industry spent more than $370 million lobbying to Congress. Reinforce eco-friendly behavior with your business, and it will become favorable to more government leaders.

Live an eco-friendly lifestyle: Small changes at the individual level can add up to make a big difference — Something as simple as installing compact fluorescent light-bulbs has been shown to reduce energy use by up to 85%. Other practices, such as re-using a canvas bag instead of multiple paper or plastic bags can significantly reduce waste and save money.

Today, I am disgusted by my President’s actions. He is not exempt from responsibility, but neither am I. To my friends around the world, I apologize on behalf of my country. We will do better — we must do better, for this fight (and it is a fight) is to ensure that our children and grandchildren live in a better world. Isn’t that the quintessential American Dream?


Albert Casella is a 2016–2017 Global Health Corps fellow at the Ministry of Health in Rwanda.

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