There's already been much wailing and lamentation over President Trump's intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer went so far as to call it a "traitorous act of war," presumably because it hits him in his tender parts — which is to say, his wallet.
But despite such apocalyptic bloviating from Steyer and other Democrats, true environmental activists can rest assured that American withdrawal from the Paris agreement will do little to change global emissions. As one environmental activist and former NASA scientist said, it is "just worthless words. There is no action, just promises… It's a fraud really, a fake."
Without a mechanism to enforce promises, parties to the Paris agreement aren't going to make the sacrifices to meet their lofty, ersatz, goals. If you need proof, just look at how many of our NATO allies meet their defense-spending promises — just 4 out of 27.
In short, the Paris agreement is a big flashy set of empty promises.
All treaties relinquish some measure of policy control to foreign leaders and bureaucrats. That is something that should be done only with great circumspection and to an extent strictly limited to the efficacy and desirability of the underlying treaty. It should certainly not be done in exchange for the right to join in the chorus of internationalist pieties and to participate in the pretense of doing something either principled or brave.
To be sure, the Paris agreement could not have forced action, because it did not go through the proper processes to obtain legal legitimacy. But, as Marlo Lewis, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, wrote in a February 2016 essay, it "creates the legal framework for a permanent global coalition of nearly 200 foreign governments, legions of U.N. bureaucrats, and scores of green pressure groups, all primed to point fingers and cry ‘you promised, you promised,' if future U.S. leaders attempt to repeal the [Clean Power Plan] or any other federal climate regulations."
In coming days, big businesses, even oil majors such as Exxon Mobil, will probably make the case that staying inside the Paris agreement is good for the economy. They will have two big reasons for doing so, both of which can be discounted. First, mega-businesses have a taste for regulations that they are big enough to swallow but choke smaller competitors. Second, it helps distance them from Trump and avoid stirring up environmental campaigns.
The Earth's climate is changing, as it always has. And part of the reason it is changing is due to human activity. But those two facts are excuses neither for alarmism and reflexive, but ineffective action, nor for sacrificing sovereignty to give politicians a short-term buzz of fake virtue and green guerrillas another weapon with which to ambush democratic policymaking.