We must do our share for the planet

Donald Trump, while campaigning for president, called climate change a hoax invented by the Chinese. He said he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris accord, in which nations from around the globe committed to reducing emissions that — if you believe the vast majority of scientists — are making our planet warm up and give us more volatile weather.

After Trump was elected president, he appointed an Environmental Protection Agency secretary who saw that agency as an enemy and is now working to dismantle its regulations. Scott Pruitt throws caution — and tons of pollution — to the wind as he tries to make life easier for those who burn coal, as well as other industrial activities that hasten global warming and make air and water toxic.

In Trump’s inauguration speech, he declared, “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.” To be more accurate, he should have said “short-term American profits first.”

Anyway, all this is why it comes as no shock that Trump did withdraw the U.S. from the Paris accord this week. It was more of a surprise that for a period of time, he seemed to be listening with an open mind to foreign heads of state, the pope and his daughter Ivanka, one of his closest advisors, as they urged him to uphold the U.S.’s commitment to reduce polluting emissions by more than a quarter below 2005 levels by 2025.

That brief rise in hope increases our disappointment in the president’s ultimate decision to renege on our nation’s responsibility to do our bit for the planet and its inhabitants, especially those to come.

Trump and his supporters argue that the deal would hamper the U.S. more than some other countries. Well, since the U.S. is the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases — only China emits more — we must carry a substantial share of the load. The U.S. has been a global leader since World War II. Of those to whom much is given, much is expected, and we Americans are blessed with more prosperity and power than most nations.

We were glad to see our North Country congresswoman Elise Stefanik call Trump’s decision “misguided” and “a mistake” that “harms the ongoing effort to fight climate change while also isolating us from our allies.”

We were also encouraged to see so many Americans taking positive actions to improve the environment rather than just complaining about Trump’s move. Billionaire and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, for instance, pledged $15 million to fill a funding gap the federal government would leave in the United Nations agency that upholds the Paris pact.

“Americans will honor and fulfill the Paris agreement by leading from the bottom up — and there isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us,” Bloomberg said.

We’re glad to see our governor, Andrew Cuomo, lead New York to join with California and Washington in starting a coalition of states committed to upholding their part of the Paris pact. Four New England states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont — have since joined.

States can do a great deal to mitigate climate change and pollution, as shown by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative over the last decade-plus. RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nine states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont — require capping and trading CO2 emissions from fossil-fueled power plants 25 megawatts and larger. Independent studies have repeatedly shown that RGGI leads not only to cleaner air and healthier people but also generates economic development.

Mayors of cities nationwide are also vowing to do whatever they can to reduce fossil-fuel emissions. Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau gave this effort a shout-out on Facebook Friday.

We’re curious to see how much the American people, separate from our national government, do to reduce carbon emissions and clean up our planet. It will take sacrifice for the common good, which Trump and many Americans dislike. But polls show most Americans believe climate change is real and affected by humans.

Grassroots efforts may be a lesser substitute for national leadership and necessary regulation, but they will have to do. They’re all we have now, and they may make a real dent in the problem.

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