Local educators began to react immediately today to the news that President Trump plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris accord, the 2015 global agreement to set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the rise in temperatures around the globe.
Christopher Butenhoff, an assistant professor of physics at Portland State University, said the president's decision may not have much immediate impact — the Paris agreement wasn't a treaty, which would have had the force of law. But it does send a dangerous signal.
"It says we are not going to be a leader when it comes to climate and climate change issues," said Butenhoff, a Portland resident.
The world's developing countries also agreed to pool money to help undeveloped countries reach their goals. For the United States, that meant paying $3 billion into the fund, of which the country already paid $1 billion during the Obama administration. Trump has said he would not continue those payments.
"For the first time, most of the world's countries have agreed to work on this issue," Butenhoff said. "Those countries will go back to the table every year and ratchet down their emission goals. But now, without any pressure from the United States," he said.
Professor Alan Yeakley worked at PSU from 1994 to 2016. The Lake Oswego resident is leaving his position as director of the PSU School of the Environment for a position at the University of Maryland. He, too, said the immediate impact is difficult to predict but sees longterm damage to America's reputation.
"What the president misses is the business side of this," Yeakley said. "There are a lot of jobs in environmental work. That's why so many major corporations want us to stay in (the agreement). The president is missing an opportunity to keep the United States abreast of that trend, in terms of business, as well as protecting the environment," he said.
Whoever leads the movement worldwide — whether that now is China or the European Union — will be able to leverage that leadership into business opportunities throughout the developing world, Yeakley predicted.
"We lose those longtime partnerships. We lose being in the leadership in these other countries," Yeakley said. "He's putting us behind the world. And understand: the rest of of the world is going to do this. With our without us."
Professor Marion Dresner teachers in the Environmental Science and Management department at PSU. "I'm depressed, frightened and mad," she said Thursday afternoon, upon hearing the news from the White House. "Climate change is real. It's happening now."
However, the Newberg resident also noted that the Paris agreement includes a long timetable for official withdrawal. According to the agreement — called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — the president won't be able to withdraw until November 2020. That's right around the time Trump will either start his second term, or begin clearing out for whoever wins the next election.
"That's four years," Dresner said. "Who knows? Congress could change. The voters will have their say (in the next presidential election). Who can say what will happen? But in the meantime, carbon is in our atmosphere, and it is causing problems. Right now. Stopping the pollution truly is the best course of action."
Oregon Public Broadcasting, a news partner of The Times, contributed to this story.