Paris Agreement: Changing what we can

As I’ve aged, I’ve really started to love hiking. There’s something about wandering through nature with a friend, cut off from technology and surrounded by all of Mother Nature’s glory that just centers you.

It seems fitting that a year ago today I was spending a carefree June day hiking to the Kjenndal Glacier in Norway. I can still feel the crisp air that surrounded me as the sun shone in such a way that every drop of water and blade of grass seemed in technicolor.

Kjenndal Glacier in Norway

Words fail to describe the experience of walking through Norway’s National Parks. It feels like you are in a fairytale, so beautiful that you question if what you are seeing is actually real.

Sometimes I think Mother Nature’s most grand power comes from making you feel so small in her magnificent world.

I had to grow older to appreciate this. I had to grow wiser to understand the peace that can be found in unplugging from a fast-moving world. There’s something wonderful about being made to feel so small on this awesome planet.

Peaceful stream in Norway

And I wonder, will the next generation have the opportunity to feel the same?

Child on shore of Fjord in Norway

Will they be able to see this?

Houses near Kjenndal Glacier in Norway

Or this?

View at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia

Or this?

Shells on Sanibel Beach, Florida

The announcement by the Trump administration is indeed a dark day for American leadership, both internationally and domestically. It underscores the “short-term” thinking of this administration and our political climate as well. Leadership means planning for generations who you may never meet. It means building and planning for their well-being and enjoyment. Generations before planned for us. They built schools and city halls and made highway systems and national parks. They built up other nations and established structures like NATO to give us peace and prosperity.

And I wonder today—what are we building for the people we will never meet? What legacy are we leaving behind?

The Paris Agreement provided not only environmental benefits, but also economic benefits for the United States. Before Paris, the climate agreement divided nations simply into requirements for developed nations and non-developed nations. The problem was—countries who rapidly developed were still in the latter category. For instance, China was still considered a developing country and thus could operate under different rules than those required within the United States. That’s not fair to U.S. businesses. But it also was unfair to developing countries who suddenly were thrust into the developed group and had to make changes that might send their people back into poverty.

The Paris climate accords helped even the playing field for American businesses and provided predictability for energy companies. But it also made developing countries start thinking about the environment earlier in the process to mitigate damage they could do while trying to develop. It ensured they were thinking of the small steps they could take along the way so things weren’t so difficult later on.

Each country volunteered what they could contribute and the world would hold them accountable. This was non-binding. No punishments would be given for not meeting your goals… but there is a sort of world “pride” to stick to what you said you would do.

And all of this was led by the United States.

When I was in Brussels at the EU earlier this year, I heard from some who believed the Obama Administration had structured this in such a way that if this initiative was pushed down the road far enough, than the rest of the world could take it over. Cities around the world are already doing their part and committing to doing more. Europe and China are already investing heavily on technology to help alleviate not only environmental concerns—they also see it as a way to have energy security, develop new jobs and gain valuable science. They’ve invested enough already that clean energy is becoming the smarter decision for consumers financially.

Just ask the Coal Museum.

It also isn’t surprising, given the current administration’s denial of science, that France’s president has already started trying to woo American scientists to come overseas. Honestly, if the funding for research is over there, then that is where they are going to go. The U.S. has brain-drained from other countries for decades—now Europe sees its opportunity to recruit concerned scientists.

The glimmer of hope is that the U.S. can’t officially pull out of the Paris Agreement until 2019, and even then it takes a year. So feasibly, a new administration could be elected by then. But in the meantime I worry we will fall behind in developing new technology and being on the cutting edge of solving this crisis.

Still, solving the environmental crisis isn’t just something for our government alone. It is for all of us who care about what we are leaving for the generations behind us. We should seize this as an opportunity for ourselves. We can make small decisions in our daily lives that can compound. On the East Coast, they certainly do more recycling than we do in the Midwest. It’s changed how I live my life now.  I’m in the habit of taking my bags with me and I purchase Bee’s Wrap and reusable sandwich bags to try and cut down on the plastic I am using. I’m walking more and evaluating what other steps I can take to cut down on my own carbon footprint.

I’m far from an environmentalist—I am nowhere near perfect–but I’m working on it. And I feel renewed energy to do so (pun intended.) Perhaps, that’s what we all should concentrate on right now. Perhaps we could commit ourselves to change the things we have the power to change until we have a chance to vote for a change in 2018.

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