June 02, 2017

Why the US Should Have Signed the Paris Climate Accords

After the American Century 

I have been studying the history of energy, especially electricity, for three decades.* In fact, I spent much of this spring studying the history of alternative energies and comparing their adoption to the history of previous energy transitions. I can say with certainty that Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords will look idiotic to future historians, for at least six reasons.

(1) because global warming is very real and getting worse.

(2) because many places that voted for Trump will suffer terrible flooding as the oceans continue to rise, more hurricanes as the oceans continue to warm up and more tornados, caused by the collision of cold continental air masses with much hotter air coming off the Gulf og Mexico.

(3) because solar and wind energy are now cheaper than coal or oil, as established by the marketplace.

(4) because we are in the later stages of an energy transition that is well underway, especially in countries like Portugal and Chile, where fossil fuel lobbies are weaker than in the US,

(5) because due to this decision the centers of alternative energy research and manufacturing will be less American than they might have been, with China, Germany, and other nations taking the lead;

(6) because this decision drives another wedge between the US and its European allies, weakening American leadership and credibility.

It is as if Woodrow Wilson had tried to stop adoption of the automobile in order to save the harness makers, horse breeders, and stables.

Pulling out of the climate accords cannot be done all at once, however, and this issue should be at the center of the elections in 2018 and again in 2020.

Trump is spitting into the wind of change, and the spit is already smeared all over his face.

* My books on energy history include Electrifying America (1990), Consuming Power (1998), When the Lights Went Out (2010), and American Illuminations (2018, forthcoming) - all published by MIT Press.