America’s divorce from the Paris Accord

Thursday afternoon in the Rose Garden, President Trump announced that the United States is exiting the Paris Climate Accord, a multinational pact dedicated to fighting climate change. We are the first nation to withdraw since the alliance of 195 countries was formed in 2015.

Adding to his announcement, he proclaimed, “I was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Although this is true geographically, the city Trump cited is certainly not the Pittsburgh of 2017 — a city that pioneered a rustbelt revolution in robotics, self-driving cars, and green energy practices.

In a tweet later that day, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto reaffirmed the city’s commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, writing, “… I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”

So what does Pittsburgh know that President Trump doesn’t? And how does it affect us next door in the Ohio Valley? It’s simple: America’s divorce from the Paris agreement is a bad, bad move.

Economically, it prioritizes the energy industries of yesterday over those of today and tomorrow. Our valley, with its ample hills, could be a national leader in wind energy, generating thousands of jobs by building and maintaining wind turbines. Instead, Trump has asked us to look backwards, at the very industries that failed us to begin with. Coal is expensive, unpopular, and dangerous for its workers (and can you imagine the insurance costs of a mine?). It’s favorability has fallen not due to excessive and unfair regulations, but because business has moved on to cheaper, safer sources.

In this way, fossil fuels are the energy equivalent of Blockbuster Video whose curtain fell with the advent of video streaming services such as On Demand, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video. Why? Because consumers gravitated toward innovation, opting for entertainment that was easier, faster, and more convenient. Why put up with going to the video store when we can access almost any program directly through or television? Why put up with mining costly, dirty coal when we can get more than enough energy from our natural, renewable resources?

The power corporations know this, and, feeling the earth beginning to slide beneath them, they are aggressively defending their foothold as America’s energy kingpins. They fight with money, pseudo-science, and a false promise that oil and coal can make America great again. But they know that they’re only prolonging the inevitable. The world is moving on, and, in time, we will all catch up.

Even so, our president works to misguide us, retreating from the challenge of climate change as opposed to rising to meet it.

Imagine JFK standing on the Truman Balcony on a warm spring night, looking up at the moon and saying, “Nah, it’s a bad deal, folks. We could get there, but it would cost billions of dollars. And what would we get from it?”

What we got from the Apollo program was, in fact, a boom of technological innovation, a sweeping rapture of American pride, and the confidence that our nation can overcome any obstacle as an indomitable world leader.

But our president isn’t looking up at the cosmos; he’s looking down at the dirt. And what do we get from renewing our allegiance to coal? Black lung and Blockbuster Video (literally and figuratively, respectively).

But our evolution into a country of sustainable energy is far from over. As Peduto wrote in another tweet, “It’s now up to cities to lead.” And they are.

In lieu of presidential leadership, cities and states are now carrying the banner. According to The New York Times, three states, 30 cities, 80 universities, and 100 businesses across the country have already pledged to honor to Paris Climate Accord despite the president’s exit. This devotion to a greener, more prosperous future is uniting cities across the globe — from Paris to Pittsburgh to Youngstown.

As reported by The (Youngstown) Vindicator on Friday, Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally said, “Nothing about the U.S. withdrawal would seem to indicate any form of job creation for the city of Youngstown. The Trump administration has never discussed how the withdrawal would better the lives of Youngstown residents.”

So now, as a community, we take matters into our own hands. Do we look forward to a valley of innovation, business, and success, where we work in the sunlight as opposed to a blackened mine? Or do we look backward to a familiar scene that has come and gone, where the fires of steel, oil, and coal have already burned us?

194 countries are now joined in the Paris Accord, remaining diligent in the fight against man-made climate change. The three countries that stand in defiance of the agreement are Nicaragua, Syria, and The United States. The government of Nicaragua asserts that the agreement doesn’t go far enough, proposing even stricter goals to tackle the climate issue. Syria is in the midst of a bloody civil war. The USA? We have no excuse — just an addiction to oil.

This withdrawal puts America last, not first. Our spot on the global stage is in jeopardy as we are no longer leading by example, but pulling back in fear. Will we allow nations such as China and India to beat us in the race to a renewable future? Is it the American way to slow down, put our heels in the dirt, and back away from a difficult test?

No. We do what we do best: pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, look our enemy in the eye, and say we will not be defeated.

It’s time for the Ohio Valley to take ownership of our future. Demand innovation. Pledge a commitment to better energy, a better economy, and a better environment. Let’s ensure that our children have a better valley than our parents did.

It’s up to us.

(Eric Dietz is a writer and composer-lyricist working in New York. Originally from East Liverpool (ELHS Class 2009, class president), he graduated with university and college honors from Carnegie Mellon University (2013, BFA). His reviews of classical music performances (New York Philharmonic, 2014-16) are published online by Bachtrack, the world’s leading classical music website. His work includes two full-length musical theatre pieces that explore the ways in which people interact with and understand the natural world. He has been employed on the music teams of four Broadway musicals and composed an educational video on climate change for school-age audiences.)