As the U.S. Drops the Paris Climate Deal, What Awaits the Earth?

Scientific American showcases the differing opinions of experts looking forward.

June 1, 2017 4:12 pm
Khao Samed Nang Chee Viewpoint, Panorama, Thailand. (Getty)
Khao Samed Nang Chee Viewpoint, Panorama, Thailand. (Getty)

A number of scientists are giving a bleak appraisal of the long-term effects on the Earth after President Trump officially pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement.

The accord, which called upon the nations of the world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius was joined by 147 nations in order to prevent global catastrophes including drought, devastating storms, coastal erosion and the decimation of aquatic ecosystems.

Scientific American spoke with a variety of scientific, political, and climate experts. Here’s what some of them had to say about the planet’s future, now that the U.S. has left the Paris climate deal. Here’s the grim prognosis: 

In addition to handicapping efforts to protect future generations from climate change, leaving the Paris Accord makes the United States a “global pariah,” Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

But Princeton University geoscientist Michael Oppenheimer’s warning is more specific and dire: he notes that pulling out of the agreement makes it exceedingly unlikely that the world can avoid two degree warming, and that will have disastrous consequences.

The biggest effect we will likely see is an increase in sea levels. Poorer countries will be hit first, but inevitably, the U.S. and other rich countries will be affected,  Oppenheimer said.

He continued, noting that these aren’t just abstract concepts or numbers. This rise in global temperatures — regardless of how small it may seem to laypeople — will not only lead to accelerated sea level rise, but also warming and drying in regions where agriculture is already marginal, and people are already starving. In short, this will undercut food supply in much of the developing world.

It won’t be limited to impoverished nations, though. “The U.S. will be a poorer and dirtier place, as well as a more isolated one diplomatically,” said David Biello, a science writer and author of The Unnatural World. “The world will be a more polluted place…the climate that much hotter, the weather that much weirder.”

Lynn Scarlett, the Global Managing Director for Public Policy at the Nature Conservancy says that, despite insurmountable damning evidence, there is reason to be hopeful for the planet’s future — shifts away from coal and into natural gas have already begun, because natural gas is “better, cheaper, greener,” and that momentum will continue.

But that being said, Scarlett warns that “does not mean we can be simply comfortable” about dropping from the agreement. It provided a “continual nudge to amp up those ambitions further.”

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