- The Trump administration officially announced it is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The removal will fully take effect on Nov. 4, 2020.
- President Donald Trump has long said he would pull the U.S. out of the deal, which he argued hurts the country’s competitiveness.
- Critics have argued that the move will hurt the overall effectiveness of the deal because other countries will see the U.S., formerly a global climate leader, backing out of its commitments.
Trump Administration Announces Official Withdrawal
The Trump administration announced Monday that it has officially started the process of fully withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change.
The international accord, first announced in 2015, was eventually signed by 195 countries that pledged to mitigate climate change and cut their greenhouse gas emissions, among other things.
The U.S. signed on in 2016 under the Obama administration. It was also considered a key leader in crafting the agreement and getting others to sign on. But President Donald Trump has long been critical of the Paris Agreement, arguing that it hurts U.S. competitiveness and the economy.
In June 2017, Trump officially announced that he was going to take the U.S. out of the agreement. However, the U.S. did not immediately leave the accord following that announcement.
That was because all signatories had agreed to rules set by the UN that said no country could leave for three years after signing. If a signatory country did decide to leave the agreement, they would then be subject to a one-year waiting period before the withdrawal took effect.
The Paris Agreement officially went into force on Nov. 4, 2016, and so on November 4, 2019— exactly three years to the day after the agreement was finalized— the Trump administration began to formally pull the U.S. out of the deal.
The move was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Twitter.
“Today we begin the formal process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement,” Pompeo wrote. “The U.S. is proud of our record as a world leader in reducing all emissions, fostering resilience, growing our economy, and ensuring energy for our citizens. Ours is a realistic and pragmatic model.”
Now the U.S. has one year before it is fully out of the climate agreement, which somewhat coincidentally puts the day that the U.S. would entirely be withdrawn from the agreement one day after the 2020 election.
Most of the Democratic presidential candidates have said if elected they would reenter the deal, but even if Trump were to lose to the election, he would still not leave office until January 2021.
Unless Trump has a sudden change of heart, it seems like the U.S. is set to leave the Paris Agreement on climate change, making it the first and only country to do so.
With the U.S. officially taking the leap to leave the Paris Agreement, many are wondering what this means moving forward for both the accord and the climate crisis as a whole.
General Impact on Climate Change
The most top-level implication of the U.S. withdrawing from the agreement is the potential impact on climate change and global climate change policies.
One of the main overarching goals of the Paris agreement was to keep global warming “well below” a rise of two degrees Celsius, with the general aim of not letting it go above 1.5 degrees Celsius if possible.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) backed by an overwhelming scientific consensus has said that in order to reach that ambitious goal, we as a global community need to slash carbon emissions in half by 2030, and net-zero in 2050.
If we fail to do so, scientists and experts have warned that we could face irreversible impacts of climate change. So when signing the Paris Agreement, each country set its own goals to reduce emissions.
Many wealthier and more developed countries, which at the time included the U.S., also agreed to help poorer and developing countries cope with the effects of climate change.
Critics of Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement have said that this is a massive step backward in the fight against climate change, especially because the U.S. is the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world after China.
Effectiveness of Deal Without U.S.
Which brings us to the second implication: the impact of the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on the effectiveness of the deal itself.
As noted before, the U.S. led by the Obama administration was central in crafting this deal in the first place. Now, the other signatory countries have to make the agreement work without the U.S.
Specifically, that means other major polluters like China and India have to step up and fill the vacuum left by the U.S. In 2017, the U.S., China, and India accounted for almost 50% of total global emissions.
As the number one polluter, China has made big promises to cut their emissions, but they have done little to deliver on those promises.
India, which has many of the most polluted cities in the world, is currently dealing with a massive, growing pollution crisis, which indicates it also has a long way to go.
However, the biggest difference between the U.S. and the other two nations is that under UN rules, China and India are still considered developing countries, and thus are not obligated to curb emissions.
In fact, under the Paris Agreement, China actually said it would peak emissions in 2030, while the U.S. had said it would cut them drastically.
But as many have pointed out, both India and China still agreed to cut emissions as part of the deal largely because of the actions the U.S. was taking and the commitments it had made.
With the U.S. no longer in the agreement, some have argued that China and India will now be even less likely to reduce their emissions.
Here’s the thing with the Paris Agreement: none of the commitments countries make are binding.
In this way, the accord is a double-edged sword. It is beneficial because it got countries that would otherwise not agree to be held to legally-binding commitments to sign on, but it also means none of the countries are held to their commitments.
So if a big power-player and climate change leader like the U.S. reneges on its commitments, it could signal to other countries that they can do the same.
Another major effect of the U.S. pulling out of the deal is the economic impact.
In addition to the scientific warnings about rising sea levels, extreme weather, and the disastrous effects climate change will have on agriculture and wildlife, many have also said that withdrawing from the agreement is a bad economic decision.
This is largely because the Trump administration has not wanted to invest in clean energy and renewable technologies that are becoming a huge market.
As Andrew Steer, the president of the World Resources Institute, said in a statement, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement “fails people in the United States, who will lose out on clean energy jobs, as other nations grab the competitive and technological advantages that the low-carbon future offers.”
However, long before Monday’s announcement, Trump and his administration have acted like the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a foregone conclusion.
The administration has pushed ahead with plans and actions that entirely go against the country’s pledge under the agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly a quarter of 2005 levels by 2025.
Among other things, the Trump administration has continually rolled back Obama-era environmental rules that attempted to reduce carbon emissions, such as regulations on coal-fired power plants and other regulations aimed at increasing fuel efficiency standards.
Already, this has made an impact on the U.S.’s carbon output.
In 2018, U.S. carbon emissions increased significantly. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler specifically said that the rise was caused by “an uptick in manufacturing and industrial output.”
Trump for his part has made it abundantly clear that he views increasing fossil fuel and coal production as a more important priority than addressing climate change, even if those plans go against the findings of the administration’s own scientists.
Trump’s argument here is that fossil fuel and coal production are better for the U.S. economy, and that is more important than addressing the impending climate crisis.
“I feel that the United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet. I’ve made that wealth come alive,” the president said speaking in France this summer. “I’m not going to lose that wealth — I’m not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills.”
But many economists and other experts have said that putting resources toward the clean and renewable energy sector would actually be a huge investment in the future of the economy.
As David Roberts of Vox explains: “Many climate policies pay off in the near term in jobs, economic growth, or reductions in local air and water pollutants, even putting aside their climate-specific benefits. In short, many carbon-reducing policies are things it makes sense for countries to do anyway, for reasons beyond saving the world from climate change.”
Counter-Efforts in the U.S.
Even if the U.S. federal government fully withdraws from the deal, there are still efforts to keep the goals the U.S. originally committed to in the Paris Agreement intact.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, over 400 city leaders have joined the Climate Mayors association while 17 states and territories have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance— both of which are organizations that have promised to continue working towards the U.S.’s climate pledge under the Paris Agreement.
Additionally, 2,200 businesses and investors, 350 universities, 200 faith groups, and many more local and tribal governments have also signed onto the “We’re Still In” declaration, which also supports the goals of the accord.
According to the Times, all combined, these groups “account for nearly 60% of the U.S. economy, half the country’s population, and 37% of its greenhouse gas emissions.”
Others have also noted that there is significant public support to address climate change.
According to a poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation in September, two-thirds of Americans say Trump is not doing enough to deal with climate change
The poll also found that about eight in 10 Americans “say that human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Forbes) (Mother Jones)
Fire Officials Warn of Viral TikTok “Outlet Challenge”
- Massachusetts firefighters are warning of an electrical “outlet challenge” seen on Tiktok that can cause fires or electrocution.
- The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet and trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny.
- In two local schools, teens started a fire or torched outlets and are now facing charges of arson, attempted arson, and malicious damage to property.
“Outlet Challenge” Warning
Massachusetts fire officials are warning of a dangerous electrical “outlet challenge” spreading across TikTok after at least three reported incidents raised concerns.
The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet, then trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny.
Massachusetts Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey issued a letter to all of the state’s fire chiefs on Monday warning of the viral social media challenge that has lead to copycat behavior. In the memo, Ostroskey said that his office had already received reports of two instances where teens tried to recreate the stunt.
“The result is sparks, electrical system damage, and in some cases fire,” Ostroskey wrote.
He advised fire officials to reach out to local news outlets, school officials, and parent organizations to make them aware of this trend, writing, “Alert them to this challenge, advise them to, not only look for signs of fire play like scorched outlets, but to have conversations about fire and electrical safety with tweens and teenagers.”
Charges Against Teens Involved
One of the incidents Ostroskey cited resulted in damage to an outlet inside a home. The other sparked a fire inside Westford Academy. The spark at Westford Academy created smoke that set off the school’s fire alarm, local authorities reported.
The student responsible for that incident is now facing charges, including arson and malicious damage to property, Westford Police Captain Victor Neal told CNN.
Meanwhile, NBC Boston reported that two students at Plymouth North High School were caught attempting the challenge twice in a matter of minutes inside a classroom on Tuesday.
Firefighters found two scorched outlets and a phone charger with a penny fused to the prongs, according to Plymouth Fire Chief Edward Bradley. There were no injuries, but the school’s superintendent Gary Maestas said the students involved could face serious consequences.
“We are working with the Plymouth Police and Fire Departments to fully understand the scope of this issue and pursue charges to the fullest extent of the law,” Maestas wrote in a statement.
Plymouth police said the two 15-year-old male students face charges of attempted arson and malicious damage to property under $1,200.
Dangers of the Stunt
“I don’t think students comprehend the reality that they can be electrocuted and killed, or start a fire,” said Chief Bradley.
Aside from starting fires or facing potential electrocution, Bradley said the challenge could also cause damage to electrical wiring behind walls, which could allow fires to burn within the walls undetected and endanger everyone in the building.
“Social media elevates it,” Bradley added. “They see it online, they see someone do it, they start laughing, they run away and no one gets hurt and they assume the same will happen when they do it, so they think it’s funny to do it in a classroom.”
“Parents need to talk to their children and tell them if you see this stuff, don’t try to imitate it.”
Virginia Senate Votes in Favor of ‘Red Flag’ Gun Bill
- Virginia’s Senate passed a “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to temporarily take firearms away from an individual who is deemed a threat to themselves or others.
- The vote was close and fully along party lines, with 21 Democrats voting in favor and 19 Republicans voting against it.
- Democrats believe the law will prevent gun violence in the state, but Republicans see it as a threat to the Second Amendment.
- The vote happened just a few days after a large, and mainly peaceful, pro-gun rally was held in Virginia’s capital, Richmond.
- The bill still has to go to the state’s House of Delegates, which has a slight Democratic majority.
Red Flag Law Passes Senate
Virginia’s State Senate narrowly passed a bill Wednesday allowing law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from someone deemed a threat, commonly referred to as a ‘red flag’ law.
The tight vote was strictly along party lines, with all 21 Democrats in the Senate voting yes, and 19 Republicans voting no. The bill, SB 240 specifically states that a law-enforcement officer or attorney can apply for an emergency substantial risk order. This order would “prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm.”
If that order is issued, a judge or magistrate can issue a search warrant allowing for firearms to be temporarily removed from that person. Democrats in Virginia have long been fighting for gun-control measures to be passed. They stand behind SB 240 because they believe it will lead to fewer mass shootings and other forms of gun violence in general.
State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) tweeted that she believes this bill will prevent crime.
Sen. George Barker (D-39) first introduced the bill. According to the Washington Post, he said it moved the state in “a positive direction” and the law could “protect lives and reduce violence in Virginia.”
State Democrats are not alone in supporting this measure. Nationally, red flag laws generally have a lot of support from the public. According to an August 2019 study from APM Research Lab, Americans are generally in favor of these kinds of legislation.
The study found that 77% support family initiated orders and 70% support police initiated orders. Even when it comes to political parties, both a majority of Republicans and Democrats support it. Gun owners also support it, though by a lesser margin, with 67% of the demographic supporting family initiated orders and 60% supporting police initiated ones.
Still, Virginia’s Senate Republicans were strongly opposed to the measure. They believed it was a heavy infringement on peoples’ right to bear arms.
“Each legislator that votes in favor of this bill in my opinion is a traitor to Virginia, a traitor to the Second Amendment and a traitor to our constitutional freedoms,” said Republican Sen. Amanda Chase (D-11).
The NRA called SB 240 an “unnecessary attack on Second Amendment rights.”
Pro-Gun Rally and What Happens Next
SB 240 is one of many gun control laws Virginia is working on passing. This Senate vote came just a few days after a major pro-gun rights rally happened in Richmond, Virginia’s capital city.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of Monday’s event, and guns were not allowed at the rally, largely over fears that there could be a repeat of what happened in Charlottesville in 2017.
According to reports, about 22,000 people attended the rally, which remained largely peaceful. No violence was reported, though some extremist groups were present.
At the rally, several of the gun-rights activists spoke out against the gun control legislation floating through Virginia. One clip from the rally, shared by BuzzFeed News reporter Andrew Kimmel went viral. In it, Richard Vaughan, Sheriff of Grayson County in Virginia, said he and his county would not enforce enacted gun control legislation.
This is Sheriff Richard Vaughan of Grayson County, VA. “If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced. They are unconstitutional.” This is not true, according to the Exec. Dir. of the VA Assoc. of Chiefs of Police… #Richmond2ARally pic.twitter.com/mjpQupE6of— Andrew Kimmel (@andrewkimmel) January 20, 2020
“If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced,” he said. “They are unconstitutional. We support and uphold the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Virginia. And that’s what we’ll do.”
SB 240 is not set in stone yet, though. The bill still has to go to Virginia’s House of Delegates, which has a Democratic majority but only by a slim margin.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (WRIC ABC 8)
Michelle Carter, Who Encouraged Her Boyfriend’s Suicide, Released From Prison Early
- Michelle Carter was released early from prison for good behavior after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
- Carter was charged in 2017 after encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself through text messages and phone calls as he contemplated suicide.
- Her release comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to overturn her conviction.
Who is Michelle Carter?
Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman who encouraged her boyfriend’s suicide when she was 17-year-old, was released from prison Thursday, months ahead of schedule.
The now 23-year-old was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 after making a series of texts and calls to 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, convincing him to carry out plans to take his own life. Roy died by suicide in 2014 when he poised himself with carbon monoxide inside of his pickup truck.
According to investigators, Carter suggested multiple ways for Roy to end his life and at one point even pushed him to return to his car when he was having second thoughts.
Carter was released from the women’s center at the Bristol County House of Corrections after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence. She had previously been denied parole in September but according to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, she has now earned enough credit for good behavior and attending jail programs to qualify for an early exit.
“Ms. Carter has been a model inmate in Bristol County,” a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “She has attended programs, had a job inside the jail, has been polite to our staff and volunteers, has gotten along with other inmates, and we’ve had no discipline issues with her whatsoever.”
Carter’s released comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to vacate her conviction.
During her 2017 sentencing, the judge ruled that her “virtual presence” made her responsible for Roy’s death. Her legal team fought against the verdict, but Carter ultimately began serving her prison sentence last February after Massachusetts’ highest court refused to overturn her conviction.
Carter’s lawyers then filed a petition to the Supreme Court last July, arguing that it was against her First Amendment rights to free speech to convict her “based on words alone.” Her lawyers also questioned whether the conviction was constitutional in regard to the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to see Carter’s case left her conviction intact and while she has now completed her time behind bars, Carter still has five years of probation to serve.
In response to the news of her release, Roy’s family said, “news of the Supreme Court denying to hear her case far out shadowed the news of her early release. Her time in jail, no matter how long or short, will not change the outcome of a guilty verdict which is thankfully being upheld.”
“July 12, 2014, our lives were forever changed, and the world lost a beautiful soul. Michelle Carter is the reason for that,” the statement continued. “She was the only person who could have saved him. She didn’t, in fact she was on the line with him as he was dying, moaning in pain, gasping for last breaths. Who could do that?”
“She did, and we’ll never really know why.”