On climate, pay no attention to man behind lectern, businesses say

From the Editorial Board

President Donald Trump shakes hands with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt after speaking about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt after speaking about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. AP

As is customary with all things Trump, the president’s decision a week ago to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement is a tale of two narratives.

If you believe Republicans, the climate pact exit was a smart move. The non-binding contract was lopsided and shackled our country to standards most of the other 194 countries weren’t required to follow.

If you believe Democrats, this turnabout will eventually cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and accelerate global warming while auguring the end of countless species, including the one known as human.

Hours afterward, Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden and tried to tamp down the-sky-is-falling rhetoric. He promised America would not only have clean air, but “the cleanest,” and vowed to remain the global leader on environmental issues.

But his proposed budget tells a different story. The Environmental Protection Agency would be reduced 31 percent, the largest cut at any Cabinet-level agency, and would scrap programs including funding for Puget Sound restoration.

For those in the South Sound who enjoy fishing and clamming, our suggestion is to do it now while safety measures are in place. The EPA has about 520 staff in its Northwest region. If Trump’s budget gets approved, the EPA would be reduced to 1984 levels, riding Marty McFly’s DeLorean back to a time when the U.S. economy was half what it is today.

These are some reasons why Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is joining New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Jerry Brown in forming the United States Climate Alliance. Puget Sound companies, including heavy hitters Amazon and Microsoft, are also taking strong positions against environmental backsliding under Trump.

They’ve signed an open letter to the international community and parties to the Paris agreement. The “We Are Still In” letter was signed by 1,200 business and university leaders, mayors and governors, including Inslee, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce.

Often, when we see private money playing a role in national or international policy, it raises red flags of influence peddling. But not here, not now.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, the second-richest person in the world, whose net worth of $85 billion surpasses those of small countries, hopes to see the president’s decision neutralized. Amazon spokeswoman Melanie Janin said in an email, “We believe that robust clean energy and climate policies can support American competitiveness, innovation and job growth.”

Microsoft President Brad Smith unsuccessfully spent weeks trying to lobby the White House to stay in the agreement. He tweeted, “We live on a small planet and every nation needs to work with others to protect it.”

Microsoft officials said they will continue to save energy at server farms and remain committed to finding clean energy sources by the end of the year.

There may be a silver lining to this doomsday cloud if it further motivates the private sector to reduce harmful carbon emissions and fund research and innovation. Businesses are going to help fend off global warming just by doing what businesses do best: looking out for themselves and their shareholders.

That was the beauty of this agreement -- every party benefited. Governments forged alliances, businesses improved international trade and opened markets for clean technologies, and citizens could envision a livable planet.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has now committed to paying the U.S. contribution to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. And why not? The “We are Still In” crowd contributes $6.2 trillion toward the U.S. economy. These cats aren’t broke.

It’s quite a judo flip when private companies volunteer to replace government environmental initiatives. No matter that the motives aren’t purely altruistic, the final result may allow us all to breathe a little easier.