Trump’s Exit from the Paris Agreement Gives Me Hope for Coral Reefs

Sea turtle swimming over bleached coral at Heron Island
Sea turtle swimming over bleached coral at Heron Island

Yesterday, President Trump announced his decision to formally withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change. As someone dedicated to saving coral reefs, this decision is heartbreaking news. But the national and global reaction gives me a new sense of optimism.

Sure, some interests are cheering Trump’s decision. However, a broad swath of domestic and international leaders from business, government, science, economics and even the military are decrying the exit as a short-sighted and misguided effort to put U.S. interests over those of the rest of the world. I couldn’t agree more.

The U.S. is arguably the most important country in the world when it comes to addressing climate change because we are both the world’s largest economy and the greatest historical contributor to greenhouse gasses. So, one might expect that a U.S. withdrawal would trigger the first domino to fall in a global chain reaction that effectively scuttles the Paris Agreement. So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Indeed, rather than following suit with a similar exit, many of the other members of the Paris Agreement, as well as states and cities within the U.S., are reaffirming their commitments and taking up the mantle of leadership that is being shed by the U.S. federal government.

I work on coral reefs, which are already giving the world an early glimpse of the severe consequences climate change can have on our planet. Hundreds of millions of people rely on coral reefs for their wellbeing. An enormous variety of wildlife depends on coral reefs as well – from clownfish to sea turtles to dolphins. But coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate, and one of the biggest causes is rapidly rising ocean temperatures driven by climate change. Fortunately, it’s not too late to save coral reefs if we stabilize our climate, as a group of leading scientists pointed out just this week.

The global act of solidarity in solving climate change that is being expressed today, despite the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, is a reason for hope. As Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope recently pointed out, the combined actions of nations, regional governments, businesses and individuals can add up to solutions for climate change that are not a drain on the economy, but rather an opportunity for a better future. And if the rest of the world holds strong, I’m confident that either Donald Trump or a future U.S. president will eventually return to a global leadership role that benefits not only this country but also the future of nature and humanity.

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