The difference couldn’t be more striking.

In his second inaugural address, former U.S. President Barack Obama said this:

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations … We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.”

Announcing that the United States would back out of the Paris climate accord yesterday, current President Donald Trump said this:

As president, I have one obligation and that obligation is to the American people. The Paris Accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world.”

With those words, the president who vowed to put “America First” has put America last. It seems to be the theme of his administration.

But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise — from Obama’s 2013 inaugural address.

Trump is on his way to making the U.S. presidency irrelevant, but he won’t stop the progress to limit greenhouse gas emissions around the world, or at home. The momentum toward clean energy sources is driven by environmental and economic forces. Industrial entrepreneurs view market domination in clean energy businesses as the next gold rush.

China has moved away from its reliance on coal. India has reduced its carbon footprint by 43 percent by switching to solar power for electrical production, which it has found less expensive than new and existing coal plants.

Multiple states and leading U.S. companies reacted to Trump’s withdrawal with renewed commitments to honor the Paris Agreement. They see climate change as a threat and an economic opportunity.

And yet, the U.S. withdrawal will have political consequences. It gives other nations an excuse to slow down their own commitments and clean energy progress.

But more important than Trump’s grandstanding on the international stage are the backward policies he’s enforcing on the domestic front. He’s systematically rolling back all of Obama’s environmental protections. He taking another run at weakening federal fuel-economy standards and trying to eliminate the federal wind power tax credit, because it endangers the viability of coal and gas power plants.

In April of this year, a monitoring station atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii recorded the highest level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in 3 million to 5 million years. During that prehistoric era, known as the Pliocene Epoch period, global temperatures averaged 5 to 7 degrees higher and sea levels were tens of feet higher.

There’s nothing significant about reaching 410 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, except that it illustrates the accelerating pace at which we are producing harmful emissions. The carbon level is increasing by 2 parts per million per year, about 100 times faster than it grew toward the end of the Ice Age.

At this rate, we will exceed the United Nations’ goal of halting carbon emissions at 450 parts per million, in about 25 years. No one knows for certain what catastrophic effects on the climate will occur beyond that point, nor do we want to find out.

The importance of the new data serves as a grave reminder to elected officials – including our state legislators – that the survival of future generations depends on the actions we take today. We must not hesitate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace fossil fuels with clean energy technology.

It’s plain to everyone, except the most pigheaded climate change deniers, that carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, oil and natural gas are driving the velocity of change.

It’s appalling that controversy still exists over what is now common knowledge within the scientific community. But that’s another reality we must acknowledge and overcome.

The rest of the world is quickly writing off President Trump as an ally and as a world leader. His tiresome and dangerous behaviors have worn thin. They are moving on without America.

Trump, like other short-sighted elected officials, favor job creation regardless of the environmental consequences. But those who cannot see that the new jobs and future economic growth will come from clean energy are doomed

Because it’s not a mutually-exclusive proposition, as Obama said:

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

 

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