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Editorial: Rejection of Paris accord takes U.S. in the wrong direction

With an ill-considered stroke of the pen, President Trump has turned the country’s back on its own people, its business leaders, its scientists and most of the rest of the world. His rejection of the Paris climate accord also carries the real risk of allowing China to supplant the United States in world leadership.

His decision could defeat the world’s best hope of preventing catastrophic climate change or at least buying time so that coastal areas, including New York City, have an opportunity to adapt.

That’s bad for America and it’s bad for Buffalo, home to what will be the hemisphere’s largest solar panel manufacturing plant. There may be opportunities to mitigate the damage Trump is inviting, but the risks are undeniably higher today than they were on Wednesday.

Few doubt at this point that the climate is warming; the argument is over the causes, and whether the warming can be stemmed. But, in the worst case, what is the downside to better gas mileage, cleaner air and a chance to avoid the calamities that could await? After all, there really is a fast-growing crack in the Antarctic ice shelf. Something really is happening to the planet that deserves the attention of the world, including the United States.

Consider the breadth of American interests that favored remaining in the pact. Start with Trump’s own secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who, as chief executive officer of Exxon, supported the Paris agreement. So does his successor, Darren Woods. So does Elon Musk, whose company owns SolarCity, which will produce solar panels in Buffalo.

So do the leaders of ConocoPhillips and British Petroleum. So do General Electric, Dow Chemical, 3M, Disney, Coca-Cola, JPMorgan Chase and many other influential businesses whose leaders understand that America’s interests lie in an interconnected world in which science is not kicked to the curb as a political inconvenience.

In a Rose Garden speech replete with misstatements, Trump stiff-armed American interests and joined Syria and Nicaragua, the only two countries that didn’t sign the accord – and Nicaragua only because it didn’t go far enough.

The decision also puts the United States at odds with the other 194 nations that signed the agreement, including our closest allies. With that, Trump is tilting those countries away from the United States and eroding our influence in the world. The void is liable to benefit China, which is eager to expand its influence.

Fortunately for Americans, this matter is not solely up to Trump or even Congress. The governors of New York, California and Washington state have formed the U.S. Climate Alliance and announced that their large and influential states will continue to abide by the agreement. Other governors are also expressing interest.

New York and California, alone, comprise nearly 20 percent of the country’s population. This alliance means research and investment in clean energy will continue to exert a useful influence on commerce and the environment.

Voters may also have a chance to weigh in. The process of backing out of the agreement could take as much as four years, making Trump’s decision an issue in the 2020 presidential election, and perhaps a key one.

It’s hard to escape the sense that Trump’s decision was based in some significant part on his thirst to project the image of the “winner” that he promised during last year’s campaign. He has been largely stymied on anything requiring legislation – repealing the Affordable Care Act, enacting tax reform – and even thwarted thus far on his executive effort to ban Muslims from traveling here.

Trump has left the door open a crack, saying he will try to negotiate “a deal that’s fair.” It’s a puzzling comment, since the existing agreement is voluntary and already allows each country to set its own commitments.

Still, Americans, 70 percent of whom supported staying in the agreement, should let the president, governors and their legislative representatives know that they are interested in the condition of the country and the planet they leave to their children and grandchildren.

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