Column: McMaster, Trump and saving the planet (and state)

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By Phil Noble

On Saturday morning, June 3, the newspaper landed with its usual thud on my front porch. As I bent over to pick it up, I saw the headline, “McMaster backs Trump’s exit from climate accord.”
Instantly, I remembered the words from a radio interview the day before with English businessman Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines and Records et. al) about President Donald Trump’s action. He said, “When the leaders won’t lead, the people will have to just get on with saving the planet; we have no choice.”
Therein lies the problem and the solution to the most important issue on the planet – the survival of the planet.
First, about the agreement. Wikipedia does a good job of laying out the facts: The Paris Accord is an agreement within the United Nations Convention on Climate Change dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020. The voluntary (repeat voluntary) language of the agreement was negotiated by representatives of 196 countries and adopted in December 2015.
To date, 195 countries have signed the agreement. The two who haven’t are Nicaragua (which thinks the agreement is too weak) and Syria because, well, it is Syria.
Now, with Trump’s decision, Syria has a partner, the United States. (Makes you proud to stand with mass killer Bashar al Assad on this, right?)
And the science. Now there are some who deny that climate change is real. The White House has refused to say if President Trump believes climate change is real. Climate change deniers point to a few scientists and studies that question if climate change is a hoax – excuse me, but no.
The overwhelming evidence from thousands of legitimate climate scientists from all over the world (and not being paid by the Koch brothers) is clear: climate change is real and anyone who denies that it is is simply wrong. And some will continue to be climate change deniers no matter what. There is still a Flat Earth Society.
And public opinion. Setting aside the science, let’s look at the politics of the issue. According to a recent study from Yale University, Americans across the board believe that we should participate in the Paris Agreement. Among all registered voters 69–13 percent agree, among Republicans 51-26 percent agree, and even among Trump voters 47-28 percent agree. And as for South Carolina public opinion, it’s not too far off from the national opinions (Google to find some recent research).
So, what are we to do now?
Let’s continue with Branson’s words – we the people, must just “get on with it.” And that is exactly what is happening across the United States and here in South Carolina.
Here’s how folks on the state and local level are getting on with it.
No state has been more aggressive in its moves toward a clean energy future than California. Since the Trump announcement, it has launched an initiative to essentially ignore Trump’s decision and move ahead with its clean energy initiatives.
California’s Gov. Jerry Brown, along with the governors of New York and Washington state, are coming together with Canada and Mexico to develop common strategies to support the Paris Accord. Several other states have indicated they will sign on and many others will certainly follow.
Additionally, 211 mayors representing 54 million Americans from all across the county have signed on to a commitment to support the provisions of the Paris Accord in their communities. I’m very proud to say that the national effort was led by Columbia’s Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is the co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Thus far, he has been joined in South Carolina by Mayors John Tecklenburg of Charleston and Terence Roberts of Anderson. Other S.C. mayors are sure to join.
All of this is in addition to the 20 states and District of Columbia that have previously adopted their own greenhouse gasses emission targets – some more stringent than are called for in the Paris Accord.
And it’s not just the politicians who are acting, it’s corporate America as well. Two members of Trump’s own economic advisory board, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Bob Iger of Disney have resigned in protest. Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, had never used Twitter before, but addressed the exit from the accord in his first tweet: “Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world.”
Twenty-five companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, bought full-page ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and others in support of the Paris Accord. All told, more than 100 major corporate leaders publicly opposed the Trump decision.
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg even said the he would personally pay the $15 million to the United Nations to support the U.S. share of funds lost due to Trump pulling out of the agreement.
And just to round out the choir, over 80 university presidents across the country signed on their support of the agreement… so much for Trump’s claim of “junk science.”
Though it was not in the United States, my personal favorite was the response from the newly elected 39-year-old President Emmanuel Macron of France. At recent meetings in Europe, he had been treated dismissively by Trump and he ended a recent speech in support of the accord by directly addressing the American people, in English no less. He said we must all work together “to make the planet great again.”
And so, what of us in South Carolina? The good news is that like many other states and cities, we have begun (but only begun) to take concrete action on the state and local level – more on the local than the state level. But a whole, whole lot more needs to be done.
My favorite example is a news story this week about Mayor Tim Grimsley of the tiny Colleton County town of Cottageville (population 740), who has installed sufficient solar panels that the town is set to become the first municipality in the state to switch completely to renewable energy.
Now back to Gov. McMaster. When asked last week about his views on Trump’s actions, he expressed his full support for Trump’s actions, saying, “I’m with Trump. We’ll be fine. We’re getting better and better.”
The great irony of this is that McMaster made these comments as he left a meeting with Charleston area officials on how the region can deal with the coming hurricane season. The data (not alternative facts) shows that climate change is one of the principle reasons that the hurricanes that endanger South Carolina are getting stronger and more frequent.
So, the bottom line on all this is that it’s up to us on the state and local level to go to work to protect the 32,020 square miles of turf that God has given us to call home – South Carolina.
That said, just don’t expect to get any help from Trump or McMaster – but I’ll bet Mayor Grimsley in Cottageville would be happy to talk with you and give you some ideas.
Phil Noble writes a weekly column for the S.C. Press Association. Reach Noble at phil@philnoble.com.