Breath of Clarity

Playing Devil’s Advocate for U.S. Withdraw from Paris Accord

Original Post by Will Magnum:

The Primary Problems

The three primary problems are: US refused to comply with Kyoto Protocol while emitting more than 20% of the world’s GHG, developing countries are not willing to sign onto the Kyoto protocol, and ultimately enforcing the Kyoto Protocol (Stiglitz 2011, 5:30).

The Frameworks

The tragedy of the commons – If a common resource such as land, air, and water is without cost, then there is a temptation to take advantage of this (Stiglitz 2011, 7:05). The example Dr. Stiglitz uses is sheep grazing, when more sheep are put into a common grazing field, the sheep then reduce what is available to others while damaging the common resource. This concept is called externality and can be applied to many common resources (Stiglitz 2011, 7:32).

Recommended Solutions

The solutions to the problems he presented which are privatization and regulation. Privatization being the more difficult solution to succeed Dr. Stiglitz relies on regulation (Stiglitz 2011, 9:32). Regulation could create some form of limitation on GHG emission and pollution. (Stiglitz 2011, 9:50). The variety of pollution is vast; however, our largest issue is deforestation. Trees clean our atmosphere and when those trees disappear it cannot hold onto carbon and it leaks into our atmosphere. A solution to this is if a country stops deforestation, they want credit/compensation for those actions. Providing some incentive or benefit to developing countries would create motivation to emit less (Stiglitz 2011, 21:40).

Challenges to the Recommended Solutions

Uncertainty, costs, and the impact on developing countries are three major challenges faced by the above solutions. President George W. Bush claimed there was not enough evidence to support the US GHG emissions (Stiglitz 2011, 10:12). Relying on a cautious approach rather than denying the claims would have been practical, cost efficient, and greatly decreased our environmental impact (Stiglitz 2011, 10:30).

The United States also claimed that it was too costly, however when other countries are reducing their emissions by 50% with the same standard of living (Stiglitz 2011, 11:27). The third challenge is that if developing countries do not participate then it will be meaningless. Developing countries will contribute half or more of the GHG emissions in the next 30-50 years, however they follow larger countries such as the US (Stiglitz 2011, 12:15).

Paris Climate Agreement

The agreement claimed that it would, “avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C” (Paris Agreement 2020). This would globally bind countries to a climate change agreement. The agreement takes into account the countries different needs and timelines. A large aspect of the agreement was on various pollutants that effected the globe more heavily than those of fossil fuels. Deforestation and sustainable initiatives for agriculture were mentioned and emphasized.

In the agreement, developed countries assume a role of financing developing countries. Dr. Stiglitz mentioned that the US was not willing to participate if developing countries did not participate and this solves that challenge completely. The agreement also relies on some sort of benefit to motivate countries to reduce their emissions (Paris Agreement 2020). The major challenge was enforcement like Dr. Stiglitz spoke of the video. How do countries enforce these laws in which they came up with? This question addresses what Dr. Stiglitz spoke of and how enforcing these regulations could be difficult.

“Paris Agreement – Climate Action – European Commission”. 2020. Climate Action – European


Comment by Ed Piersa:

Great post! In reference to your point about developed countries assuming a role of financing developing countries, I do not agree with the United States’ position on this issue. I am a proponent of the “common but differentiated responsibilities” principle. As Nanda and Pring (2013, 42) explain, “[F]irst, because the developed industrialized nations have contributed more to today’s environmental problems; [and] second, because they have vastly more technological and financial resources to contribute to the solution.”

More specifically, “The world’s richest 500 million people are currently responsible for 50 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, while the poorest 3 billion are responsible for just 6 percent… If everyone lived like Americans, the Earth could sustain only 1.4 billion people” (Taylor 2014, 37). Developed countries, particularly the United States, need to address this imbalance. If not, climate change could prove disastrous for both developed and developing countries.

As far as the Paris Agreement is concerned, it is very disappointing that President Trump decided to withdraw the United States from it in 2017. As the United States is one of the largest greenhouse gas contributors in the world, its participation in this agreement is absolutely necessary.


Nanda, Ved P. and George (Rock) Pring. 2013. International Environmental Law and Policy for the 21st Century, 2nd ed. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Taylor, Robert W. 2014. Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Sustainability, 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Comment by Professor Scott Thomas:

Here is a question for Ed or anyone else:

What was the United States’ rationale (economic and otherwise) for withdrawing from the Paris Accord? Play the Devil’s Advocate and make the case for it.

Comment by Ed Piersa:

Professor Thomas –

The United States’ rationale for withdrawing from the Paris Accord was officially “because of the unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers by U.S. pledges made under the Agreement” (United States Department of State 2019). This is consistent with the Trump administration’s handling of environmental regulations in general.

In essence, the Trump administration’s argument is that the Paris Accord – in addition to other environmental agreements – place an unfair financial burden on the United States. The Trump Administration’s priority has always been the economy – not the environment. President Trump has also been quoted numerous times as not believing in the existence of climate change. He has even referred to climate change as a Chinese hoax on more than one occasion.


United States Department of State. 2019. “On the U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.” Last modified November 4, 2019.

Comment by Rachel Hartley:

Playing devil’s advocate, I’ll refer to an article I read a few months back about why supporters feel Trump was right to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative political organization, identified four reasons (Links to an external site.)they believe the Paris Agreement was a bad deal for the US. The first mentioned was potential widespread job loss in the energy sector. The authors claimed hundreds of thousands of energy sector jobs would be terminated, and about $2.5 trillion would be lost from the national GDP if the US would have stayed on track to abide by the agreements energy regulations (Loris and Tubb 2017). In this section it is also repeatedly stated that even complete global compliance with the Paris Agreement’s provisions would do next to do nothing to prevent further climate change. The authors cite a MIT report (Links to an external site.) from 2015 that indeed concluded that unless much more significant changes are made alongside those the Paris Agreement outlines, the global temperature will still rise far past the 2*C threshold by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that would be necessary to hold in order to prevent the more severe of anticipated impacts of worsening global warming (Dwortzan 2015). The Heritage authors (2017) then expressed discontent that President Obama contributed $1 billion US dollars to the Green Climate Fund without approval from Congress, and that a notable portion of the funds will go to corrupt governments, thereby “wasting” US taxpayer dollars. They round out this point by stating that “free enterprise, the rule of law, and private property” are what’s necessary for developing nations to prosper, but do not elaborate on how, or if, the US should provide support to establishing these principles and structures within nations struggling with corruption (Loris and Tubb 2017). Their third point is that Trump’s decision to withdraw displayed leadership, claiming future international negotiations will likely be helped by the preceding knowledge that the US is capable and comfortable with pushing back against political pressure in favor of behaving in a way it believes will protect its own interests. Finally, Loris and Tubb (2017) say withdrawal from the agreement is a positive move in keeping the US competitive in the energy sector. They believe US energy producers need to focus on innovation and competitiveness in their practices, whether that means using fossil fuels or renewable resources, rather than being forced to put their efforts fully into green/renewable energy technologies and infrastructure.

My views on the claims:

If the US remained signatory to the Paris Agreement and practiced full compliance with the incremental changes outlined by the Obama administration, it is true that many conventional energy sector jobs would be eliminated, along with many of the employing companies themselves in all likelihood. I am not sure if the statistics claimed by the authors are in an accurate range, so would have to see data-based projections. I would like to think that there would be mechanisms for transition implemented to retrain many current energy sector workers in renewable energy technologies and infrastructure, should the US make a commitment to moving primarily toward “green” energy.

The data showing that global compliance with the Paris Agreement’s provisions would not produce a significant enough reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to adequately slow global warming is concerning. I disagree with the authors on their premise that this means the US, by far one of the greatest contributors to GHG emissions historically and still today, should not sign and ratify the agreement. On the contrary, I believe that fact strengthens the case for US participation, and the MIT report should serve as motivation to implement even more significant measures for reducing our nation’s impact on the global environment.

The claim that Trump’s decision showed leadership seems odd to me. Instead of demonstrating to other governments that the US will not bend to political pressure, I believe the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement colors the current administration as self-centered, aggressive, and petty.

US energy companies can, and will have to, practice innovation and competitiveness by stepping onto the global stage of renewable energy production and sales. A desire to stay competitive is not contradictory to engaging earnestly in the development of renewable technologies and infrastructure.

Loris, Nicholas and Katie Tubb. 2017. “4 Reasons Trump Was Right to Pull Out of the Paris Agreement.” The Heritage Foundation, June 1. Accessed June 20 2020. (Links to an external site.).

Dwortzan, Mark. 2015. “Report: Expected Paris commitments inefficient to stabilize climate by century’s end.” MIT News, October 22. Accessed June 20 2020.

My Comment:


I commend you for truly playing devil’s advocate as it is definitely useful to read articles excluded from our personal news feeds. It is a great propellent to showing how the fiscally conservative prioritization of the economy does not necessarily require environmental deterioration. Below is commentary about the first and last reasons to support U.S. withdraw from the Paris Accord.

1) In the case the United States (U.S.) decided to comply with the Paris Accord and take purposeful action to mitigate climate change, the expressed job loss in the fossil fuel industry would simply be replaced by a surge in energy efficiency positions. According to the U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), energy efficiency employment is defined as “both the production and installation of energy-saving products and the provision of services that reduce end-use energy consumption” (Environmental and Energy Study Institute 2019). The definition shows the technical skills required for jobs in the fossil fuel industry are transferrable to demands from the energy efficiency sector.

In 2018, according to USEER, over 2.3 million people worked in the United States energy efficiency sector which represents a significant increase of over 124,800 energy efficiency jobs since 2016. It is the energy sector with the highest job growth in the country at 5.37 percent (Environmental and Energy Study Institute 2019). The job growth occurred during the Trump administration’s term which is an era that generally did not provide new policy support for environmental progress. Energy efficiency workers are employed in all but seven U.S. counties, as over 300,000 of those people are employed in rural areas (Environmental and Energy Study Institute 2019). As long as the transition to adopting renewable energy is conducted with job acquisition assistance mechanisms in place, many hard-working citizens who support Trump would be left in a new position where they can walk into work everyday knowing they are improving the air they breathe.

Table 1 (Links to an external site.) includes additional categories—energy storage, public transit, smart grids/micro grids, and vehicles— not included in the USEER energy efficiency employment count. Adding them brings the total employment to over 3 million jobs (Environmental and Energy Study Institute 2019). Combined with the 2.3 million people directly employed in energy efficiency as defined by USEER, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that about 4,700,000 people sell energy efficiency products (Environmental and Energy Study Institute 2019).

Table 3 (Links to an external site.) compares domestic energy efficiency employment to nations across the world.


Many of the powerhouses in the auto industry are calling for legislation to readjust the miles per gallon (MPG) standard to a higher number relative to the one outlined in the Trump administration’s Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) vehicles rule. Four automakers — Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW — have already made a deal with California that would preserve emissions standards (Phillips and Mitchell 2020). According to John Bozzella, president of the Appliance for Automotive Innovation, “the auto industry has consistently called for year-over-year increases in fuel efficiency” as a strategy to “support a customer-friendly shift toward these electrified and other highly efficient technologies” (Phillips and Mitchell 2020). Before reading this article, I would have expected the major car companies would support the lowest MPG standard possible. However, it makes sense corporations deeply care about its status relative to foreign companies.

While the U.S. has recently been ahead of the international pack in designing energy efficient vehicles, there needs to be motivation to continue the research contributing to it. Therefore, weaker standards results in the U.S. having a competitive disadvantage. If foreign companies stay determined to mitigating the impact of global climate change, cars sold domestically may no longer meet the standards of other nations. Already, American-produced cars are falling behind in the world market, with the percentage of American vehicles in the global marketing dropping from 70% in the 1960s, to an anticipated 15% by 2025 (Public Policy Initiative 2018). At the end of the day, the U.S. is going to be abiding to the emission standards of other nations because of international competition within specific industries. It is a phenomenal opportunity for competition to display environmental economics.


Environmental and Energy Study Institute. 2019. “Fact Sheet- Jobs in Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency, and Resilience (2019)”.

Phillips, Anna and Russ Mitchell. 2020. “Trump Weakens Fuel Economy Standards, Rolling Back Key U.S. Effort Against Climate Change” Los Angeles Times. Accessed May 18 2020.

Public Policy Initiative. 2018. “The Implications of Changing Fuel Efficiency Standards” Wharton University of Pennsylvania. Accessed May 18 2020.

My Additional Comment:

Professor Thomas,

Learning about specific forces driving the decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord informs environmental economics research. Accurately understanding the decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord entails focusing on the ideas at stake instead of any specific person.

President Trump is simply the face of the administration with a team of advisors. The roster he selected is based upon the collection of powerhouses who have been running his financial playbook since before being the president. For example, Trump is closely associated with petrochemical mogul Koch Industries on a personal level. Over the course of Trump’s 2016 campaign, the candidate denied climate change and vowed to withdraw from the Paris Accord. The strategy solidified support from a certain citizen demographic within the Republican Party who is misinformed about the feasibility of environmental progress being socially efficient. Further, President Trump’s rhetoric reveals he leveraged political party polarization within the United States to gain a following. Crucially, it clarified his commitment to corporations who need legislation control to dominate the field. After the inauguration, he softened his position regarding the Paris Accord as he was “looking at it very closely” with “an open mind” toward climate change (Milman, 2016). However, there is a specifically strong influential force at play.

The senate reminded Trump of his obligation to campaign donors from the fossil fuel industry. In 2017, there were letters from 22 republican senators to the President urging him to leave the agreement. The same 22 senatorial campaigns used over $10 million from oil, gas, and coal companies since 2012 (McCarthy and Gambino 2017). In the past three election cycles, over $90 million in untraceable money has been devoted to Republican candidates from oil, gas and coal interests (Center for Responsive Politics 2020). Every election, the public witnesses candidates having no other option than to pull out due to lack of campaign funds. However, in the case of the Trump administration and a collection of its senators, withdrawing from the Paris Accord is a result of candidates doing whatever it takes to win. Consequentially, they firmly act on the same principles in effort to support America’s victory over the rest of the world. (That being said, in the face of environmental globalization described by Dr. Stiglitz, depletion of the world’s natural resources results in the entire human race’s loss of life).

The fossil fuel industry currently has massive influence over the government’s decision-making. Other members of Trump’s inner circle, including his own daughter, “were reported to favor staying in” and energy secretary Rick Perry “favored renegotiation” (McCarthy and Gambino 2017). So, President Trump definitely reconsidered. Despite having other people, who he may respect, recommend him to briefly hesitate, President Trump listened to the influencers who seriously incentivized the decision. The cause of environmental deterioration is not only a result of general capitalism, rather it occurs in any system if the incentive structure is not well designed.


Center for Responsive Politics. 2020. “Oil & Gas: Long-Term Contribution Trends”.

McCarthy, Tom and Lauren Gambino. 2017. “The Republicans who urged Trump to pull out of Paris deal are big oil darlings”. The Guardian.

Milman, Oliver. 2016. “Paris climate deal: Trump says he now has an ‘open mind’ about the accord”. The Guardian.