Student’s Corner

Hey guys! My name is Patricia Van Valkenburgh and I’m Amy Kadrie’s Sustainability Intern this summer. If you want a very general background on who I am and what I do here at the University of Rochester, you can check out my bio here. I’m really excited for the opportunity to write for The Green Dandelion so let’s jump right into it.

The topic I’m about to cover is pretty controversial for my first piece so let me just put a little disclaimer here. Any opinions below are that of my own. These opinions in no way reflect the opinions of the University of Rochester.

Ok now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. We all know Trump right? Great, then I don’t need to tell you how he has famously called climate change a “hoax” (here is the proof). Trump obviously doesn’t believe in climate change. So what? We all have a right to our own opinion right? Who cares? Well I’ll tell you who cares, I do because climate change isn’t just a matter of opinion; it’s a fact. 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real.

You also, hopefully, know that Trump has recently announced that he plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. So what does this even mean? The US cannot withdraw from the Paris Agreement for four years. We need to be in the Paris Agreement for 3 years and then give 1 years notice before withdrawing which means this won’t even happen until 2021 at the end of Trumps term. So we can’t actually withdraw anytime soon. But you know what we can do? We can drag our feet in compliance because the Paris Agreement is nonbinding. The Paris Agreement has nearly universal participation (minus Nicaragua who didn’t think the Paris Agreement did enough and Syria who are currently in a war.) You want to know what our reason for pulling out was? Because Trump thought it was unfair. Let’s break this down shall we?

Trump said that the Paris Agreement was unfair, however, the US is the largest historic contributor of greenhouse gas emissions and currently the greenhouse gas emissions of 1 individual living in America are equivalent to 4 individuals living in China. Additionally, the Paris Agreement is built on Nationally Determined Contributions which means that we choose what our goals are and the idea is to ratchet up goals over time. Yes, Obama pledged to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025 and committed $3 billion in aid for developing countries by 2020 but that is because we’ve contributed so much to climate change. It’s called common but differentiated responsibility and it’s really, really important. The countries that are most affected by climate change are often the ones that have contributed the least to it which means it is the responsibility of the countries who have contributed the most to provide aid to those developing countries that are suffering as well as reduce our emissions so we do not further contribute to the problem.

Trump also argued that this would give China an unfair advantage because they will peak their emissions in 2030. Ok so when we initially hear this it’s like what that is unfair we should have never agreed to this. But it is fair because China is still a developing nation while we are not. China cannot just cap their greenhouse gas emissions now while they’re still developing because they should get the advantages that we had when we were developing. That’s the fair thing to do. And in the meantime China is investing a ton of money in renewable energy. They are treating this as a business plan and will become one of the world leaders in renewable energy. Now instead of jumping on that train and also becoming a world leader in renewables the US will be left behind. Ever heard of a Kodak moment? We’re in one right now. Instead of moving forward to new better technologies Trump plans to keep the US in the past by increasing our use of coal. Coal by the way has been decreasing in use even without renewables because it’s far more expensive than natural gas. Even though I’m not a huge natural gas fan, it does burn a lot cleaner than coal which is another positive. On top of that, Trump has argued that increasing our use in coal will create more jobs but we know that the jobs are in renewables. I’d say that is a bad deal for America.

We obviously can’t be sure of what exactly what the future holds; after all, this isn’t “That’s So Raven.” Other countries and states, however, have already condemned Trump’s actions.  Elon Musk of Tesla has departed the Presidential counsel he previously sat on saying, “Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.” In his speech, Trump said, “It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France. It is time to make America great again.” Mayor of Pittsburgh Bill Peduto responded saying, “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy, and our world.” Additionally, President Emmanuel Macron of France responded saying, “make our planet great again.”

And no, this is not just Trump. Congress has also been fighting the Paris Agreement. The US did the same exact thing with the Kyoto Protocol and where did that get us? It made us look like fools because we’re literally one of the only countries in the world that is not willing to come together, cooperate, and fix this problem. Who says history won’t repeat itself?

So what can you do now? I encourage you to get involved in politics. Educate yourself on what is happening around you so you can make informed decisions. Contact your local representatives and tell them how you feel. Be smart with your purchasing power by supporting companies and organizations that are support environmental efforts. Yes, Trump planning to withdraw from Paris is really awful and yes Congress isn’t making it any easier right now but it is time for us to all come together to make our voices heard. If we come together we can all make a real change.


Written by Patricia Van Valkenburgh, Class of 2019.

Image provided by Gage Skidmore.