Thursday, June 1, 2017
The United States walks away from the Paris climate accords
I am old enough to remember cars without seat belts. The restraints did not become mandatory in new cars until 1966, a little late for me — I had already lost my baby teeth against the dashboard of Phil Flannigan's mother's car after she stopped short for a light on Bagley Road in Berea, Ohio.
Even then, wearing seat belts was never mandatory in the good old U.S. of A., so only about 2/3 of Americans do, as compared to 95 percent of Germans.
An estimated 5,000 American lives could be saved if seatbelt rate were at 90 percent but, you know, freedom!
The obvious solution to this destructive negligence was air bags, which do not require drivers to activate them any fashion. But airbags cost money, and automakers fought installing them for decades, only beginning to yield when they realized that a certain sort of driver would pay a premium for safety. Finally, airbags became mandatory in U.S. cars in 1998.
I thought of this midweek, as the Trump administration began signaling that we will indeed join Syria and Nicaragua in rejecting the Paris climate accord, walking away from the collective effort endorsed by 193 other nations
To be honest, if the Republicans merely said the truth: they are in the pockets of big business which, like car makers in the 1970s, find it too expensive to guarantee the safety and comfort of their customers, I could almost respect that. People are greedy and lazy and think short term.
But that requires a level of candor they are incapable of. So they attack the science, ginning up objections, pulling at any lose thread, any cool day, to mock and jeer the hard truth that emissions from fossil fuels are raising the temperature of the planet far faster than even our worst fears of several years ago.
When the shoe finally drops — though some tiny part of me holds out hope that, at that last second, Trump will shrug off rejecting Paris, the way he abandoned his wall, gutting health care, his Muslim ban, and a variety of other missteps, none as significant as this one. Maybe he's had enough flipping off the world for one week. This would come hard on the heels of his trip to Europe, when the president, like a 21st century Innocent Abroad, put a dent in the Atlantic alliance by hectoring our NATO allies for not paying enough, in his estimation, of the cost of defending Europe against his buddy, Vladimir Putin.
Frankly, we can count on the Europeans to realize, along with half of America, that Trump is a kidney stone the nation will eventually expel, after much pain time wasted curled and ineffectual. And it would not be completely irrational to imagine that the U.S. dropping the ball on climate change will encourage other nations to pursue clean technologies with increased zeal, hoping to fill the leadership void we have left.
Airbags save thousands of lives of a year. Though the number of traffic deaths in 2015 — 38,000 — was a significant jolt upward, prompted, it is thought, by people texting while driving, few bothered to point out that it was the same number of deaths as recorded in 1937, when the nation had half the population. The grim math of truth sets in, and then business, which is supposed to be so clever, realizes that it is good economics to do the right thing. Global warming is real as a car wreck. Coal is on the way out. Nations that see this and plan for the future will thrive. And those that don't—the United States, Syria and Nicaragua—will suffer. Although, since we're already suffering, big time, I should say, "We're going to suffer more."