• Ideas
  • climate

Bailing On the Paris Climate Deal Would Be a Huge Security Risk

4 minute read

U.S. Representative Grijalva (D-AZ) is a ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee. Shank is an adjunct assistant professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs.

The Trump Administration is poised to isolate itself from reality once again — this time by potentially withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement. One-hundred-and-ninety-five countries thought it prudent to protect their populations from the consequences of climate change. President Trump — unlike any other head of state — seems willing to put Americans in harm’s way.

The security implications of backing out would be dire. The problem only worsens if you broaden your definition of security threat to include those releasing dangerous chemicals into the world. Every year, according to the International Energy Agency, 6.5 million people around the world die from fossil-fueled air pollution. That grim tally includes hundreds of thousands of Americans. This means more people are dying from fossil fuels than any other enemy out there. It’s easy to imagine the White House would lead the international community into immediate action against any terrorist group — or any other sort of adversary — that did what fossil fuels do to the American people.

From that perspective alone, President Trump should support the Paris agreement. But the enemies in this security situation — fossil fuels — are often owned and operated by those connected to the Trump Administration. While even former Exxon CEO and serving Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has encouraged the President to stay in the Paris agreement, Trump’s close contacts in the fossil-fuel industry nonetheless pose a formidable obstacle to the Paris process. Oil-producing Continental Resources’ head and former Trump campaign adviser Harold Hamm has called on the President to cancel the Paris treaty — as has coal giant Murray Energy’s chief executive Bob Murray, who stood beside the President while he signed an executive order seeking to dismantle the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Two of Trump’s energy advisors on his transition team, Michael McKenna and Thomas Pyle, have respectively served as lobbyists for Southern Company and Koch Industries, two companies that have opposed or obstructed the international climate consensus. The list goes on — and reaches all the way to Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, a longtime ally of the oil and gas industries.

America adapts all the time to face security challenges. The President should be dedicated to protecting the lives of citizens by supporting renewable energy.

The U.S. Defense Department has supported this strategy. In 2014, it produced a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap. In it, the report’s authors wrote that climate change is a “threat multiplier because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today — from infectious disease to terrorism.” The Pentagon has sided with the good guys in this fight — as some of the nation’s biggest purchasers of renewable energy — because they increase our security.

The Paris climate agreement attempts to address climate-security threats before they spiral out of control, to mitigate a clear and present danger to our planet. For those reasons — without even touching the devastating economic and diplomatic consequences that come from ignoring international consensus here, or the well over 20 million refugees migrating from countries devastated by climate change, such as Syria, Somalia and Yemen — it would be national security negligence for the White House to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

What should be on the forefront of the President’s agenda are the meaningful actions we can take to mitigate the impacts and prevent the loss of life. The Trump Administration should commit itself to determining how the U.S. should lead those efforts. Anything less means that Trump is putting Americans in peril.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.