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Not All Republicans Happy About Withdrawing From Paris Agreement

Courtesy of Woods Hole Research Center
Rev. Mitch Hescox, Gen. John Castellaw, Tim Healy, and former GOP Representative Bob Inglis at a panel discussion on Conservative climate leadership, moderated by Heather Goldstone

Reaction to President Trump’s announcement last week that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement has been widely critical. Perhaps surprisingly, some of the harshest criticism is coming from within President Trump's own party, from an increasingly vocal core of Conservative climate activists.

John Holdren, President Obama’s top science advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for eight years, described the decision as “unfortunate” – an eight or nine on a scale of one to ten, where ten is catastrophic.

“It’s so perverse, not only in its influence on the trajectory of U.S. emissions reductions and therefore the U.S. contribution to a global approach to limiting the damage from climate change,” Holdren explained, “but because of it’s symbolic effect of saying ‘the United States is retreating from science. The United States is retreating from evidence. The United states is retreating from solemn commitments made jointly with 194 other countries to address a global challenge which virtually every government in the world accepts as real and as caused by human activity.’”

Holdren notes that the Republican Party is the only major political party in power in any major country in the world that questions the role of humans in causing the damaging effects of climate change, and the need to reduce emissions. Earlier in May, President Trump heard from twenty two GOP senators who urged him to leave the Paris agreement.

But not all Republicans share that view. There were three Republican Senators who spoke out in favor of the agreement. And Conservative climate activists, like Mitch Hescox of the Evangelical Environmental Network, have strongly criticized Trump administration’s climate policies.

“Evangelicals are largely responsible for President Trump being in office,” Hescox said. “And a very large segment of my community is saying, you know, whether it’s cutting methane regulations, or air quality standards, or even trying to scale down national monuments, these are all things that affect our lives, our quality of life. They are issues that we are deeply concerned about, and I hope he listens to us.”

Obviously, with regard to the Paris Agreement, Trump was listening to Hescox’s three million Evangelical climate activists. And Hescox has some strong words to describe the impact of walking away from the nation’s commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“President Trump is condemning millions of God’s children around the world to terrible lives, as they suffer the impacts of climate change, including many in our own nation who suffer from increased asthma, the spread of vector-borne diseases, and just the costs that are associated with sea-level rise and other things,” Hescox said.

Bob Inglis is a former GOP representative from South Carolina and founder of the group Republic-E-Ns. That group goes by the tagline “Energy Optimists, Climate Realists” and advocates for carbon pricing as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Inglis has nothing good to say about the Trump administration’s climate policies, but he has an upbeat take on the future of Conservative climate leadership.

“It’s a pretty exciting time for us Conservatives who want free enterprise solutions to climate change,” Inglis said. “We think [Trump] really is making himself the face of climate hoaxerism. And that can be very helpful to this effort because, when he leaves, I think he’s going to take climate hoaxerism with him.”

In the meantime, President Trump says that withdrawing from the Paris agreement will be good for the economy. But some representatives of the business community refute that idea. Mindy Lubber is President of CERES, a Boston-based non-profit that works with corporations on sustainability and climate policy.

“It is not a good thing to pull out of this agreement. It is not a good thing to defund every climate change program at the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Department of Energy, or any of the other dozens of government programs,” said Lubber. “This is administration is a setback for taking on one of the most important issues of our lifetime. There’s no question. We are losing some ground because of what they’ve done already in four months. Pulling out of the Paris agreement is one more step in slowing us down.”

But Lubber says there is still momentum in the shift toward a lower carbon economy – momentum that began before the Paris Agreement and will continue without the U.S. in it.

Tim Healy is part of that shift. He runs a Boston-based energy software company – EnerNOC. He is a self-identified Massachusetts Republican who disagrees strongly with the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, but he’s not concerned about his business. He’s convinced the global business community will continue moving toward a cleaner energy system, because it’s what consumers and employees want, and there is money to be made.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think this is going to change the behavior of businesses. It’s not going to change the behavior of Wall Street,” Healy said in reference to withdrawing from the Agreement. “Wall Street knows there is money to be made in a clean energy economy.”

But policy definitely has a role to play, and with the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, that puts climate policy in the hands of states and local governments. Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh is among more than 150 mayors who have pledged to uphold the Paris Agreement. And, while Governor Charlie Baker has not made climate policy a signature issue, he did write to President Trump urging him to stay in the Paris Agreement and he has since joined a multi-state alliance to uphold the goals of the Agreement. 

Massachusetts has been a leader in this area. It is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state carbon cap and trade program that has been in effect since 2009. In addition, state law sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by twenty five percent compared to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and eighty percent by 2050.

Jack Clarke, Mass Audubon's Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, says his group is continuing to push for even more ambitious climate policies at the state level.

“The so-called renewable portfolio standard under state law says at least 1% of all electricity produced in Massachusetts has to come from a green source, like wind or solar,” Clarke said. “We’d like to double that, and that needs to continue to increase until we arrive at a carbon-free economy.”

Massachusetts is 85 percent of the way to it’s 2020 goal. Still, if states are to take up the slack for a federal administration uninterested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that leaves plenty of work to do.

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