The announcement by President Trump on his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement is a disturbing decision from an administration increasingly known for disturbing decisions. The potential issues of this action as they relate to the climate have already been discussed ad nauseam in the media, but the potentially greater threat — the harm to America’s standing in the world and the correlated effect on our country’s long-term economic and strategic strength — has largely been under-discussed. Intentionally or not, the decision by the president to withdraw from the Paris Accord makes both diplomacy and war-making significantly more difficult, because the withdrawal can only serve as a sign to the world of Trump’s intent to begin a long-term withdrawal from the world stage, thus harming our ability to defend American strategic and economic interests in the future.
In addition to this, the most prominent reason Trump has given for withdrawing from the accord was the potential damage to the American economy. While it would go too far to suggest that the agreement would have zero negative economic effects, it must be noted that America’s prestige as an active world power has allowed it to use its diplomatic and military muscle to its advantage, giving the United States an historically unprecedented web of economic ties that has made our large economic power, including the several million jobs already held by American workers.
Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, however much the president wants it to, will not revive American economic strength. If anything, withdrawal would have the exact opposite effect, leading to a shift in trade away from the United States, causing significantly larger (and lengthier) harm to the economy than anything the Paris Accord could cause, while simultaneously eroding America’s standing among our allies, allowing our foes to act with fewer restraints to everyone’s detriment.
On the whole, the president’s decision to withdraw from the accord, while cited as necessary on economic grounds, serves the opposite purpose. As Scottish philosopher Adam Smith noted, defense “is of much more importance than opulence,” not because the economy should be ignored but because the long-term strength of a country is what allows an economy to thrive, even if this requires a temporary (though manageable) dip that leads to a long-term gain. The United States has much to gain, economically and diplomatically, in remaining under the Paris framework, so long as any potential economic negatives can be dealt with (which our economy is more than strong enough to handle and even thrive). Remaining ensures we can maintain our status in the world, which in turn allows our economy to grow and diversify. Leaving, while potentially seeming to be the economically sensible decision at face value for Trump, merely helps to ensure that the president’s slogan of “America First” will be translated as “America Increasingly Alone.”
–—Matthew Wallack, UI student