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Thursday
Jun012017

Out of the Paris Accord

To me, this is an impeachable offense. Considering the danger climate change poses to the American people, it is a crime to back out of the most important environmental agreement ever. Climate change is not a debate. The only debate about climate change is in the minds of people who have been paid off by oil companies.

But forget about oil companies. Forget about coal. Remember this: The days of oil’s supremacy are over, and I say this as someone who grew up in the oil patch of South Louisiana. All of Donald Trump's whining and foot stomping about what's fair for the American worker won't make a minute of its slow collapse any different. You can change politics, but you can't change facts.

Solar and wind power are advancing rapidly, and the third world will adopt them rapidly, because third world nations aren’t stupid. They will want technologies that do not cause dependence on oil-producing countries. Technologies that won't ruin their environment and make their droughts longer, and won't pollute their cities with impenetrable smog.

Oil has had its day. The future belongs to other technologies. Don't believe me if you want, but I know where I am putting my retirement money, and it isn't in oil. And coal? Please, don't make me laugh. Coal was cutting edge in the eighteenth century. Tell me about all the eighteenth century technology you used today.

I am driving a 12 year-old car and have no intention of buying a replacement that doesn’t get at least 40 miles per gallon. What I really want is a plug-in hybrid -- no, what I really want is an electric car -- but I am not sure if the ones on the market are right for me. So I will wait until I get the car I want. My car still runs. I have time. And I won't be waiting all that long, either.

This is a metaphor for world society. A good chunk of the world economy is using older fossil fuel technology and is waiting for the moment when it can install cheap renewable energy. The time is close. I saw a news story the other day about roof shingles that have solar cells in them. Another company is developing solid glass hexagonal bricks that can pave roads and generate power at the same time. There are now a few countries in Europe that can fulfill their entire energy needs with windmills alone. And we are just beginning to build out the infrastructure.

More solar panels appear on the roofs of houses every day. Cars are being sold with gas mileage rising into the 30s and forties. Not 5 years ago the Prius was the only car that boasted a 50 plus mpg; now there are at least a dozen. Natural gas, a less polluting fossil fuel, has displaced coal and oil as the main source of indoor heating in this country and is serving as a stopgap that has helped level out emissions temporarily.

No, it won’t be long. We all saw the computer revolution. In 1985 all we had were massive desktop machines that could do little more than word processing and organize your list of CDs. Now we have iPhones that give us directions to the movies and buy us the movie tickets in advance. Computers drive cars now. Is anyone so stupid as to think that this revolution won't sideline fossil fuels?

It would be intelligent for the most technologically advanced society in the world to commit itself to new energy technology. But our leaders are not intelligent. Instead, they seek to damage the long-term competitiveness of our nation.

There is nothing to be gained in backing out of the Paris Accord. Of all countries signing, we have the most companies poised to make money off of this. We have the research facilities, the open land for wind farms and solar farms. We have the knowhow and universities willing and able to commit all resources to clean energy development. We have the world's largest nuclear program. (No, I don't think nuclear energy is out of the question. Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of clean energy. No time: Go look it up.) No other country has so many resources.

The only resource we lack in this new technology race is rare earth metals. Most of these are in China. Which is another reason not to back out of the Paris Accord -- China has signed, and if we pull out, China might retaliate by restricting our access to the rare metals needed for advanced computer and battery technology. That would be an ironic price to pay for being stupid, wouldn't it?

There isn’t a way we win with this. In backing out we commit ourselves to obsolete energy technology. We throw the door open to our competition to take the lead in energy advances that could revolutionize poverty in the third world. We lock our universities out of going all in on new discoveries that everyone in the world will be adopting soon.

And we will be saving the environment. I almost forgot about that one.

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that you believe climate change is a hoax. Even so, consider that every one of the 190-plus nations who signed the Paris Accord feels differently. A smart nation is a nation who understands where everyone else is going with this and decides to get there first.

The city of Lynchburg, Tennessee is home to Jack Daniels Distillery, possibly the world's most famous bourbon manufacturer. It is also a dry county, which means it bans the sale of alcohol. Despite this local opposition to alcohol, Lynchburg has no objection to allowing Jack Daniels to make whiskey and sell it elsewhere. After all, the people of Lynchburg may not like alcohol, but they aren't stupid. They will take the money they make from selling Jack Daniels even if they won't drink it. And they have been cashing the checks for over a century.

You don't have to sell what you like. You sell what makes money. Clean energy is a huge business opportunity, maybe the biggest one in the whole world right now. Most countries in the world have little or no oil, and would love to have energy without creating dependence on countries who have. That's what this is all about. Even if you are one of those who doesn't believe in climate change.

There is a rumor around, hinted at by many people who know him, that our current president was never a birther. That he never at any time believed that Barack Obama was born in Africa. The rumor goes that he only said so because he knew the Republican base would buy what he was selling. If so, this may display an alarming lack of moral principle, but a keen business mind. Here was a man who knew he could profit from selling to others an idea he thought was bunk himself.

In the same way, wouldn’t it be smart for the U.S. to promote or at least encourage thinking that drives every country in the world into buying more of our stuff? How do we lose from this? Only Big Oil loses. And Big Oil will lose anyway, because if it won't help the world develop clean energy sources, someone else will. If Big Oil would take the untold trillions it has made selling oil and use it to develop solar, wind, and battery technology, it could profit, too.

All we are doing by exiting the accord is alienating our friends abroad, and crippling our domestic businesses in their efforts to compete in potentially the most lucrative business venture of all time: cheap energy for everyone.

Oh yes, and saving our planet from environmental devastation. I keep forgetting about the devastation part, but hey, that's the grandkids' problem. We'll be dead by then, right?

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