Well, there goes the American century. Donald Trump has pulled out of the Paris agreement, where the countries of the world promised to take action on climate change before it’s too late. That’s 195 countries. That represents just about every country on this little blue planet. It includes the big guns – China and India – as well as little tackers like Nauru and Tuvalu. Tuvalu certainly has skin in the game: the waves are already lapping on the doorstep; the government is already making mass evacuation plans for the day it becomes impossible to stay.
Until now, the United States really was a world leader. The combination of industrial and military might, blended with lashings of “soft power” (also known as “Hollywood”) gave it unavoidable influence in all corners of the globe. Now that it has announced unilateral withdrawal from the Paris accord, will the world follow? A few countries might, but it’s more likely that most will stay. On this crucial global point, the US is not showing leadership but petulant withdrawal. It has taken the bat and ball and gone home. But the game will continue. There are other bats and balls.
Eyes now inevitably move to the next behemoth, in terms of population and industrial development if not (yet) in terms of military or soft power: China. There, we find a situation very different to the one that faced the world at the Copenhagen talks in 2009. Back then, China played an obstructive role. But by the time Paris came round at the end of 2015, that country had changed course. It was stepping up to the climate change challenge. Coal production and consumption in China is declining, and renewable energy projects are spreading rapidly.
This is not to say that everything’s fine and dandy. There is genuine fear, even among people who don’t follow politics, about what a Trump administration will do next. The man is unpredictable and destructive. The unravelling of the American century could still have fearsome consequences that will affect us all. And China itself is still wreaking environmental havoc at home and abroad (overfishing springs to mind).
So, what does it all mean for us, a relatively small town in a small (in terms of population) country? Even though these events are far away, we need to appreciate that the world we’ve known since the second world war is coming to an end. In our own small ways, we can step out and try to create a genuinely sustainable world, one that embraces the challenge of climate change.
Tracy Sorensen is the President of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network. Visit www.bccan.org.au.