On Paris and Atlanta

How the Paris agreement protects Georgia

Well, sometimes I hate being right. I knew it was going to happen, and you probably did too. But, I was still upset and angry when the expected announcement came that the US was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. That virtually the whole world thinks as I do, is not really comforting.

The substance of the argument, if one can use this word for such empty rhetoric, is that the Paris Agreement is a bad deal for the US. But, like virtually everything emanating from the White House these days, this is exactly the opposite of the truth. Leaving the Paris Agreement is a bad deal for Georgians, the US, and the planet. I stand with Mayor Reed (and many others) in committing to reduce our environmental burden and reject the self-serving myopia of Senator Perdue.

False claims about Paris

The WH claimed leaving the agreement is necessary because it allow others to do what they want while restricting our choices and placing us in a financial bind. But, the agreement specifies voluntary targets and not particular actions. Moreover, the US contributes roughly 16% to the world’s CO2 load-more than any other single country except China, and nearly double what China produces per individual. As a major player in creating the current situation, don’t we now have a major responsibility to solve it?

The logic employed by the WH logic strikes me as backwards; any agreement that does not include the 2nd largest producer of greenhouse gases gives us an unfair advantage. Further,  roughly 30% of China’s carbon footprint originates from goods going west, which we otherwise would need to produce. Thus,  it is even more difficult to see how the US is being singled out especially when China has committed to reducing its emissions by 65% (despite our false claims to the contrary) and also has pledged 3 billion to aid developing countries.

Another untruth was that the agreement would result only in a minuscule improvement.  The reality is that honoring the Paris Agreement would diminish the expected warming by 0.6-1.5 degrees by 2100. This is significant in light of the 2 degree threshold considered by experts to be roughly where runaway climate change would occur. Beyond this point, positive feedback loops, like methane released from warming Arctic tundra, or decreased reflection of solar energy by smaller polar ice caps, would accelerate climate change even if we succeed in reducing emissions. Delay and renegotiation is a canard based on a false understanding.

Local Impact on agriculture

It’s not clear who the WH is concerned about when stating that the agreement is bad for the US. Certainly not the citizens of Georgia. The local impact of climate change includes huge losses to agricultural production and damaged critical infrastructure.

Georgia temperatures are expected to rise 2.5-3 degrees, which is bad for a state with a 3 billion dollar agriculture industry. For instance,  these increased temperatures will reduce maize and wheat production by roughly 20%. The warmest year on record has already nearly destroyed this year’s peach crop. I love Georgia peaches, and it would be a damn shame if we knew about them only from stories. Paper and wood products accounted for roughly 5 billion dollars in 2005; hurricanes and droughts, both expected to increase under climate change, could severely impact these industries by direct damage and increased costs. Even a mild tornado can cause $300,000 in lost production; Hurricane Katrina spawned at least 6 tornadoes in Georgia alone.

Local impact on infrastructure

As many of us know, Georgia has a beautiful coast line studded with lovely, often pristine and accessible barrier islands like Tybee and Cumberland. Sadly, we can kiss these areas goodbye if we continue along the present course. It’s estimated that Chatham, Liberty and McIntosh counties could lose as much as 30% of their land to rising sea levels by 2100, putting the iconic Tybee light house and much of Savannah at risk. In addition to the historic, cultural and environmental value of this loss, Savannah is home to the fastest growing port in the east. Protecting Savannah, and critical infrastructure including I-95 and I-80 with seawalls and abatements could easily cost 40 billion dollars (over 10% of Georgia’s GDP). So- who exactly is it that we are protecting by failing to take action?

Insurance for the planet

In summary, there is no moral argument for the US to bow out of the Paris agreement. We’re a major cause of the problem and our burden is no greater than faced by other nations. Not participating risks our own environment, culture, health and safety.

There’s not even a practical argument. The economic damage from climate change is potentially catastrophic, as even the simple examples above show.  Yes, we need to protect our jobs and workers, but nearly 5 times as many people work in renewable energy as in the fossil fuel industry. Energy costs are at historic lows, abetted by huge declines in the cost of solar and wind, which are now competitive with fossil fuel costs in many regions. Protecting vulnerable workers by sharing the benefits of more sustainable production is a question of political will, not economics.

We’ve managed to do well with energy conservation even as consumers and industry benefit.  Greenhouse gas emissions are 12% less than they were in 2005. Why abandon now what has been working? Yes, facing the challenges of mitigating climate change will cost something, and many question whether this is necessary when scientists are not 100% certain of the impacts. But doing nothing is patently stupid. We all realize that it often is wise to pay a little, even if it may not be necessary, in order to protect ourselves from catastrophic risk. Think of it as insurance for the planet

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