The Dallas Examiner
Two months ago, Dallas held what was considered the nation’s largest Earth Day celebration, attracting 100,000 attendees, as stated on the organization’s website. Yet by the start of June, the president of the United States cancelled its participation in the Paris Agreement.
Also known as the Paris Climate Accord, the agreement is a non-binding worldwide consensus created in 2015 whereby 195 United Nations member countries created goals to reduce greenhouse gases to prevent rising global temperatures. Representatives of those countries meet periodically to review progress towards their goals and to share information that may assist other nations that lag in their part of the agreement.
President Trump explained June 1 that he pulled the U.S. from the agreement to keep his promise of protecting American jobs. He also remarked that the nation had done plenty already to reduce its carbon output. Further, Trump allowed that he might renegotiate America’s position with the agreement at a later time. The withdrawal may not take full effect until 2020.
Nicaragua and Syria were the only other U.N. countries not participating in the accord, as listed on the United Nations website. Leaders in the European Union have protested that having the world’s largest economy leave the agreement will undercut the efforts of those poorer nations attempting to do their part within the parameters of the accord. Notably, the nation’s exit from the Paris Agreement occurred not long after Trump castigated NATO countries for not paying their fair share in defense costs.
While there may appear to be great drama upon the global stage, what practical effect could the pullout mean to the state? More specifically, could the withdrawal affect those living in Southern Dallas – a region with many economically depressed areas; large Black and Hispanic populations already dealing with the after-effects of old lead smelters in residential neighborhoods, or high ozone alert days as traffic on South R.L. Thornton Freeway has dramatically increased since it was first built in the 1950s?
These are just some factors that Mayor Mike Rawlings considered in light of the president’s move. On June 2, Rawlings joined 312 mayors nationwide in signing the Mayor’s National Climate Agreement – also known as the Climate Mayors Coalition – designed to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.”
His statement read in part, “On the local level, Dallas is a leader in emissions reduction efforts and we have had significant success in reducing our carbon footprint. Dallas currently uses electricity from 100 percent renewable sources, resulting in a reduction of 4 million tons of carbon emissions per year. Over 60 percent of our municipal fleet of non-emergency vehicles use alternative fuels.”
Rawlings wrote that the efforts made “Dallas a more sustainable and resilient city,” and concluded his statement by penning, “I am asking our staff to continue to develop and maintain programs that improve regional air quality, reduce carbon emissions and otherwise address climate change. This is a common sense approach that is good for our citizens, our businesses and our planet.”
David Griggs, political chairman of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, also supports the U.S. maintaining the accord.
“Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement after we had a lot to do with making sure that it happened is embarrassing,” he expressed. “It shows that we have a lack of leadership at the presidential level to not recognize the importance of our remaining the leader in the world in brining technology and the reduction of carbon emissions.”
Contrasting the stance of Griggs and the mayor, however, is Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian. When approached for a comment on the president’s action, Ramona Nye, spokesperson for the Railroad Commission of Texas, offered a link on the Commission’s website that led to a June 1 statement titled Exiting European Climate Accord Is Good For Texas. In the piece, the commissioner indicated supporting jobs for the area was indeed an important consideration.
“Today, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, clearly demonstrating his commitment to putting America first and prioritizing jobs for middle-class Americans,” Christian wrote.
“According to a report sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, remaining in the Paris Climate Accord would cost the American economy and workers 6.5 million jobs and $3 trillion in economic growth by 2040.” The commissioner further claimed that the economy “would take a massive hit, other nations would continue business as usual.”
Conversely, Griggs claimed that the oil and gas industries already held too much power in the state and pondered the idea that exiting the accord may seem a tacit approval to further the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – the injecting of liquid into the ground to extract gas or raw oil.
“Yes, it certainly does,” the Sierra Club representative said as he pointed out that advocates for ecology didn’t need the president pulling out of the agreement to recognize the influence the fossil fuel industries had in the state.
Over the past few years, the city has seen a steep increase in small earthquakes attributed to fracking. There has also been criticism on the lack of information about the chemical makeup of the liquid ingredients used in the practice.
“It kind of puts the national stamp of approval on the challenges we already face here in Texas as environmental activists and as people who just care about sustainability in general, which is the great majority of the Texas citizens,” Griggs said.
Christian, on the other hand, declared that fracking was better for the environment long-term than other alternatives to harvesting fossil fuel.
“Through advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the free-market is reducing our carbon emissions by flooding the electric market with low-cost natural gas to generate electricity,” he wrote.
“The environmental movement is losing creditability with the working American by prioritizing costly mandates and carbon-taxes over free-markets and innovation. It’s time we put Lubbock, Houston, and McAllen, Texas ahead of Paris, France,” the commissioner continued on what he described as “climate alarmism.”
Although neither the mayor not the railroad commissioner addressed local potential health issues that could be associated with separating from the accord, Griggs affirmed that his organization had always played a role in attempting to improve the quality of life for residents in economically depressed neighborhoods.
“The Sierra Club has been very much involved in promoting the health and safety of residents in low income areas in their fight against industry coming into their neighborhoods, particularly in West Dallas,” he said, where most recently three proposed cement plants were not approved to be built in the neighborhood.
The one thing Griggs and Christian agree on is that technological advancement will be the path to a cleaner environment.
“Human innovation and competitive markets are reducing carbon in the atmosphere, while ensuring energy remains cheap, plentiful, and reliable,” the commissioner offered. “Remaining in the Paris Climate Accord puts all this progress at risk, disproportionately affecting the United States and Texas, depleting our coffers and striking fear in the hearts of the hundreds of thousands of workers and their families in our booming energy sector.”
Griggs held a decidedly different view despite coming to a similar conclusion.
“The hope is – let’s leave it on an optimistic note – we have enough people here, businesses included, who understand the importance of trying to reduce the carbon footprint of their operations and the importance of reducing carbon emissions all together,” he remarked.
“And if enough really smart people put their minds together it really won’t matter what the president says.”