Nixing the Climate Agreement: What President Trump’s Decision Means for the Great Lakes

Posted on June 6, 2017 by


Thursday’s announcement from the White House that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord did not come as a shock to those who kept up with last year’s campaign. In the months leading up the election, candidate Trump made pulling out of the pact—which has been signed by nearly 200 nations—a central campaign promise. He repeatedly claimed  the accord would cost the economy “trillions of dollars” and “millions and millions” of jobs, notably without evidence.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the president said in a speech. But not everyone approved of the contrast. Mayor of Pittsburgh Bill Peduto fired back on Twitter, “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.” Following in this mayor’s footsteps, city and state leaders across the country have publicly pledged to meet or exceed the Paris accord emissions reductions commitments, including some the Great Lakes states’ largest municipalities: Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Milwaukee, and of course Pittsburgh.  

This widespread dissent demonstrates that the citizens of Pittsburgh and other cities in the midwest recognize the role of climate in their everyday lives. A new poll shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the President’s actions. By one interpretation, the move represents a shift in thinking whereby Great Lakes citizens—and Americans more broadly—are making direct connections between the health of our natural environment, the health of our bodies, and the health of our $5.8 trillion economy. Given the Trump administration’s reluctance to even acknowledge the existence of climate change, let alone provide robust federal support for mitigation and adaptation measures, local community efforts are more important than ever.

A Great Lakes Region Without the Paris Agreement

  • Longer growing seasons could be harmful for agricultural yields due to an increase in crop damage from droughts, heat waves, and floods. Crops may require genetic engineering to adapt to a warmer climate.
  • Lake levels could drop 4-5 feet in coming years, with an increased level of oxygen-less “dead zones.” This means less habitat for cold-water fish like brown trout, Atlantic salmon, walleye, and yellow perch–all Great Lakes staples that end up on dinner plates across the world.
  • The Department of Energy reports that 3 million workers are employed by the clean energy industry nationwide, including over 100,000 solar, wind, and hydroelectric jobs in the eight Great Lakes states. The solar industry alone accounts for more jobs than oil, coal, and gas combined.
  • Lack of federal support threatens to cede opportunities for technological innovation and manufacturing expansion, giving a competitive economic edge to China and Europe. That’s why GM, Apple, Ford, Chrysler, Tesla, Disney, General Electric, IBM, Shell, and other innovators have reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement.
  • An increase in the number of days above 95 degrees, which is harmful to public health.
  • Within 30 years, even northernmost Lake Superior may be ice-free in a typical winter.
  • A  conservative estimate by the Bureau of Labor Statistics links 1.5 million jobs in manufacturing, tourism, recreation, shipping, agriculture, and other industries directly to the Great Lakes and the tens of thousands of inland waterways of the region. The jobs depend on clean, accessible, and thriving waters.  
  • The species composition of forests will change. Oak and hickory species will thrive while maple, beech, birch, spruce and fir species will decrease in number. This new composition will ingest less carbon dioxide due to the decrease in evergreens.
  • Great Lakes-dependent natural resources attract more than 9.2 million anglers, 4.6 million hunters and 23.2 million bird watchers each year.
  • Predicted increases in heavy rainfall and flooding will erode sensitive habitats like coastal dunes, and—without improved infrastructure—will lead to higher amounts of polluted runoff entering streams, rivers, and lakes.
  • Increase in the number of toxic algal blooms that lead to closed beaches, dead fish, and contaminated drinking water.


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.