Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement Flouts the Climate Risks

by Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director
President Trump’s speech announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement emphasizes his assessment of the domestic economic risks of making commitments to climate action. In doing so the President plainly ignores so many other components of the risk calculus that went into the treaty in the first place.
There are, of course, political risks, such as damaging our nation’s diplomatic prestige and relinquishing the benefits of leadership in global economic, environmental, or security matters. But from a scientific viewpoint, it is particularly troubling that the President’s claims cast aside the extensively studied domestic and global economic, health, and ecological risks of inaction on climate change.
President Trump put it quite bluntly: “We will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”
The science emphatically tells us that it is not fine if we can’t. The American Meteorological Society Statement on Climate Change warns that it is “imperative that society respond to a changing climate.” National policies are not enough — the Statement clearly endorses international action to ensure adaptation to, and mitigation of, the ongoing, predominately human-caused change in climate.
In his speech, the President made a clear promise “… to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth … to have the cleanest air … to have the cleanest water.” AMS members have worked long and hard to enable such conditions both in our country and throughout the world. We are ready to provide the scientific expertise the nation will need to realize these goals. AMS members are equally ready to provide the scientific foundation for this nation to thrive as a leader in renewable energy technology and production, as well as to prepare for, respond to, and recover from nature’s most dangerous storms, floods, droughts, and other hazards.
Environmental aspirations, however, that call on some essential scientific capabilities but ignore others are inevitably misguided. AMS members have been instrumental in producing the sound body of scientific evidence that helps characterize the risks of unchecked climate change. The range of possibilities for future climate—built upon study after study—led the AMS Statement to conclude, “Prudence dictates extreme care in accounting for our relationship with the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life.”
This is the science-based risk calculus upon which our nation’s climate change policy should be based. It is a far more realistic, informative, and actionable perspective than the narrow accounting the President provided in the Rose Garden. It is the science that the President abandoned in his deeply troubling decision.

6 thoughts on “Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement Flouts the Climate Risks”

  1. I like this post a lot. That said, I am concerned that the post does not go far enough. Do we agree that climate change is actually an existential threat? Why not make that point? In my opinion, if we collectively do not solve this problem, Then nothing else matters matters.

  2. Keith, thanks so much for presenting the AMS position eloquently and in a level headed way. I will endeavor to use my (admittedly limited) social media presence to bring attention to the post.
    This is a time of high emotion for many of us as we see the US “leadership” turn its back on all the world’s children, including our own. Even though I had prepared myself for this mis-guided decision, I was still distraught and appalled by the divisive and largely false rhetoric used to defend it.
    Beyond buoying up the Trump base, the decision has little upside for anyone, even the Trump Administration. It diminishes our standing in the world at almost every turn and puts the world on notice that the very highest levels of the US administration are unable to make evidence based decisions that are in the interests of its own citizens, its own economy or the rest of the world. There are always multiple approaches to tackling problems or even to identifying what the issues are – that is what politics is about. But this new world we live in where leadership disavows facts and scientific evidence out of either ignorance or a lack of moral character (I’m not sure which) is frankly terrifying.
    Until this national leadership vacuum corrects itself, it is in my opinion crucial that everyone within the science and engineering community engage with, and inform the public, political leaders and corporate decision makers at all levels – local, regional, national and internationa – to debunk the falsehoods that are now part of mainstream politics in a profession and non-hyperbolic way. This is going to be an uphill task, because the situation is so extreme that everything seems hyperbolic relative to the new anti-science status quo. We all must do our part before irreparable harm is done.
    The atmospheric sciences community is in a particularly important place because our discipline provides the knowledge that is core to both understanding the severity of the climate change crisis and providing key support to the fastest way to mitigate further damage. The only economically and technologically feasible way to mitigate climate change in the short- to medium-term is rapid deployment of renewable energy and a fundamental redesign of how our electric infrastructure works in order to enable that transition to be as smooth and economical as possible.
    There is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that this can be done, and without disrupting our lives, but not by shoehorning renewables into a grid designed for fossil assets. Since the executive branch, and much of the legislative branch has made it clear that it is no longer interested in preventing GHG emission or supporting the transition to a clean energy economy, we must devise a strategy to make sure we are engaging decision makers that understand and care about the existential problem that climate change is, and make sure they can leverage the knowledge and help that our community can bring to bear in the transition. The variability in renewable energy resources is a challenge but it is manageable. However, that manageability requires that those in the electric utility sector are working hand in hand with atmospheric scientists to properly understand the problem space so that innovation leads to a reliable and economic transition not just to 25 or 30% renewable energy, but to 95 to 100% within the coming three decades. Meteorologists are to the new energy economy as geologists are to fossil fuels.
    The good news is that the majority of political and business leaders both at home and abroad not only realize that bold change is needed, many are now understanding that with it comes enormous opportunity, as renewable energy technology advancements are now resulting in grid-parity even without subsidies or pricing in external costs of fossil fuels and this trend will only continue. This more than anything is why yesterday’s announcement is symbolic of America’s (hopefully temporary) fall from grace rather than representing a catastrophic pull back in climate change mitigation.
    But challenges remain and without leadership at the top we will need to learn how to support the majority at local and international levels and make it clear that America can still be a leader even when there is no leadership at the federal level. I am proud to be part of an organization like the AMS that is able to facilitate the conversion of atmospheric knowledge into strategic decision making that helps mitigate climate change. I encourage the Society to prioritize events and actions that strengthen such interactions with industry and policy makers.

  3. Fox News just showed a graphic by the AMS that showed the models overpredicted the amount of warming in this century…supporting the president’s position. I’m trying to find that graphic.

  4. Thank you AMS for speaking up to address the issue. We need to continue sounding the voice of science and reason. If not to convince a misguided government then to assure the majority within us, tconcerned citizens of the US and the rest of the world is still on the right side of the issue.

  5. Hopefully, other readers can help you identify the graphic you’re looking for. Searching through the AMS journal archives, there are numerous papers discussing the predictive quality of climate models, each taking a unique approach to the topic. The Journal of Climate recent published a paper by Lin and Huybers looking at recent surface temperature trends in the models (http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/JCLI-D-16-0123.1); another fairly recent, well-publicized paper looking at a similar question came out in Nature, https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v517/n7536/full/nature14117.html. Many papers go beyond temperatures to look at how well models portray atmospheric blocking, ENSO, and other significant features. A sample of such papers can be found using a title search for, say, CMIP5, at http://journals.ametsoc.org/search/advanced.

  6. I am an AMS member, but I do not support the AMS’s position on climate change nor this written statement attacking President Trump’s decision.

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