How the U.S. leaving the Paris climate agreement could impact the great outdoors

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced he was pulling America out of the 2016 Paris climate agreement that aimed to set tougher standards on all countries for combating carbon emissions, which are the leading cause of climate change. The U.S. was one of 195 nations who agreed to be part of the non-binding pact.

Now, the U.S. joins Nicaragua and Syria as the only nations to not be a part of the deal.

As The New York Times explains of the details of the Paris climate accord:

“Under the Paris agreement, every country submitted an individual plan to tackle its greenhouse gas emissions and then agreed to meet regularly to review their progress and prod one another to ratchet up their efforts as the years went by.

“The Paris deal was intended to be non-binding, so that countries could tailor their climate plans to their domestic situations and alter them as circumstances changed. There are no penalties for falling short of declared targets. The hope was that, through peer pressure and diplomacy, these policies would be strengthened over time.”

So how will this impact the great outdoors and our ability to recreate within them? We had three experts at three different environmental groups give us a rundown of how our continued output of carbon emissions could change the way we enjoy the outdoors.

Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, Surfrider Foundation Coastal Preservation Manager

“The ocean is absorbing all of the heat and carbon dioxide that’s going into the atmosphere. And it’s acidifying before our eyes. Obviously there’s the problem of sea level rise. The more emissions that continue, the more we’re going to be seeing sea level rise come to fruition.

“Scientists give the low-end estimate of 6 feet by 2100, some more extreme conditions could be 12 feet by 2100. That essentially is going to swallow our coastlines. Most surf spots will be impacted by this, especially those that rely heavily on tides. If we have really high sea levels, those waves just won’t have the same space to break they normally would. And the higher the sea level the more inland the wave would break.

“Future sea level rise will take place incrementally and it will be harder to see. But what’s happening with the bleaching of reefs is absolutely astounding. 2016 was the worst year for the Great Barrier Reef, and although it’s not in America, it is the canary in the coal mine for us.

“More carbon in the atmosphere will continue to increase ocean temperatures and that is what kills and bleaches reefs. More carbon also causes the pH of the oceans to change. This makes it hard for coral to form calcium carbonate, which is the building blocks of reefs. If it’s too acidic, they can’t really form the backbone they normally would be able to.”

Alli Harvey, Sierra Club Arctic Campaign Representative

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“It’s so crazy, it’s over 70 degrees here right now in Alaska. I work on Arctic issues, and while it can seem far removed, it’s very representative to many people of some of our most iconic and inspiring outdoor landscapes.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a place that few people will ever visit but many avid outdoors people aspire to visit because of the incredible wildlife, opportunities for solitude and the unmatched wilderness experience. There are pockets of that in the lower 48, but there’s nothing that vast and that untouched.

“What we’re seeing with this Paris agreement withdraw is part of a bigger sweep of attacks on America’s public lands, and a place like the Arctic is one very important symbol of that.

“If we don’t have these important landscapes protected and we’re gutting our climate agreements and everything that safeguards our environment, then what is left of these places to recreate in?

“People need a faith in preserving our natural world and having that sense of what is mysterious and wild and beyond us as humans, we have to preserve to continue to benefit from it and offer it to future generations.”

Lindsay Bourgoine, Protect Our Winters Manager of Advocacy and Campaigns

“We’re very concerned in what it means for domestic policies that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. By not taking the agreement seriously, we’re saying we’re not going to make these commitments. In President Trump’s speech, he talked about how he did not want to limit energy production in the U.S. It makes sense that he would open more coal plants, which increases our carbon emissions.

“In terms of our winters, that’s going to accelerate the timeline of when they will go away. What we look at is snow pack and how is snow cover looking overall. We also talk about elevation. And then the length of season, with shorter and shorter winters and that overall trend for the last 100 years, which we strongly attribute to climate change.

“We’re going to see snow lines keep receding and shorter seasons. We feel that pulling out of the agreement will accelerate us on the timeline to the end of snow. It’s also about how this winter is a sign and symptom of climate change -- having one season with high snowfall doesn’t mean that winter is ok again.”

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