Complex problems almost never have simple solutions. There will always be proponents of simple solutions, but they will most often serve a narrow, self-protecting secondary purpose.
The effect on American workers and businesses by the United States’ involvement in the Paris Climate Accord is a complex issue that likewise requires a nuanced and complex plan. To withdraw from the agreement with no effort to engage, modify, or build from past work is simple, self-serving and political.
Was it a perfect deal? Of course not. What accord that 195 countries agree to could be perfect? Even without unanimous agreement over the massive amount of evidence supporting the source and threat of climate change, strategically, this is a bad move.
With this single decision, the US becomes a second line leader in the world in regards to forward, future-looking and collaborative efforts. In a global effort that the rest of world believes is destroying their livelihood and killing their people, the US now follows from the same seat as Nicaragua and Syria.
It is no secret who has emitted the most pollutants into the air over the last 100 years while the rest of the world pays the price. With our simple response to a complex problem we deny our massive role in polluting the oceans and air we all share. The United States is seen as shirking responsibility, not caring about the plight of others, and lacking an understanding of how the world is connected. Looking forward, can we rightfully expect the world to continue to buy American made products? Actions like this will hurt the American workers who are being held up as the cornerstone of this short-term thinking. Our workers deserve 21st century thinking and leadership.
The argument has been made that the United States needs to shift this spending and focus from healthcare and social problems to building a stronger military. No argument we need a strong military. But if that is our country’s sole focus, our global trade and leadership position will inevitably decrease and our economy will suffer long term. A strong military cannot force trade partners to buy our goods. If we are seen as a petulant, irresponsible partner who will not take responsibility for our own problems and how they affect the rest of the world, countries will look to trade elsewhere. We are exhibiting short-term shows of power instead of working on long-term, mutually beneficial strategies.
To imply we cannot have a strong military and economy and a healthy environment underestimates the strength and ingenuity of the American worker. We trade small, short-term gains for huge long-term problems.
As the US takes a back seat to China, they are using the rush to more affordable renewables to redeploy thousands of workers. Yes, they are still burning coal, but they have taken many coal plants off the design table and aim to steadily decrease coal burning electricity facilities. Adding a handful of coal jobs in rural America in the face of the economic realities of natural gas glut and rising renewables is short-term pandering when those workers could be engaged in healthier workplaces that have a clear future for themselves, their families, and the country.
The bolder, worker-focused response is not to withdraw, but lead. To say to the world: we will participate, but we want clearer long-term goals for all nations. We, the greatest nation, will lead on this effort and innovate to strengthen our economy and our economic position in the world.
The federal government must set a direction, facilitate innovation, and then allow business to help build a 21st century economy. The examples of businesses inside the US and around the world that have improved their efficiency and environmental footprint at the same time are multiplying rapidly. We have the tools, the workforce and the assets to do both. This is a complex issue. It needs a bold and complex future building solution.
First published on Forbes.com/JeffTHompsonMd