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Bill McKibben on U.S. Withdrawal from Paris Accord, California Fires, Climate Refugees & More

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The Trump administration notified the United Nations Monday that it would withdraw the U.S. from the historic Paris climate agreement, starting a year-long process to leave the international pact to fight the climate crisis. The United States -- the world's largest historic greenhouse gas emitter -- will become the only country outside the accord.

Trump's announcement of the withdrawal came on the first day possible under the agreement's rules. From Middlebury, Vermont, we speak with Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org. "The decision of the United States to be the only country on Earth ... unwilling to take part in a global attempt at a solution to the greatest crisis we've ever faced -- there's a lot to be ashamed of in the Trump years and a lot of terrible things that have happened -- it's pretty hard to top that," says McKibben.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations that it will withdraw the U.S. from the historic Paris climate agreement, starting a year-long process to leave the international pact to fight the climate crisis. The U.S., the world's largest historic greenhouse gas emitter, will become the only country outside of the agreement. The 2015 agreement aims to limit global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, a target that would prevent the worst effects of catastrophic climate change. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the news Monday, tweeting, quote, "Today we begin the formal process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. 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."

The announcement comes as the effects of the climate crisis are already being felt around the world, from the wildfires raging in California to extreme drought in parts of Central America to a worsening monsoon season in South Asia. Last week, a new study published in Nature Communications warned that 300 million people are at risk of being displaced due to rising sea levels by 2050. According to the report, global sea levels are expected to rise between two to seven feet, and possibly more, wiping some coastal cities off the map.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. withdrawal from the climate accord was declared on the first day possible under the accord's rules and will take a year to take effect, meaning the process will conclude the day after the 2020 presidential election.

In a piece for The Guardian headlined "A climate denier-in-chief sits in the White House today. But not for long," 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren wrote, quote, "The next president must rejoin the Paris Agreement, but that alone is not enough. Instead, she must show the world that the United States is ready to once again lead on the international stage. The first step is to submit a new US commitment under Paris raising our previous target to achieve rapid emission reductions. ... In November 2020, it won't just be Donald Trump on the ballot but also the chance to renew America's climate leadership for a safer, cleaner, more secure and more prosperous future," she said.

Well, for more, we're joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org. His latest book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? He's joining us from Middlebury, Vermont, where he lives.

Bill, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of the formal pulling out of the U.S. climate agreement, Pompeo and Trump announcing?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, look, this has been coming for a year since Trump announced his initial decision. In some sense, it's no surprise. Mike Pompeo is the congressman who took more money from the Koch brothers than any other member of Congress, which is not an easy sweepstakes to win. I mean, this is, in one sense, what was expected. In another sense, it's deeply historic. When people look back, if they're able to, and write the story of this time, the decision of the United States to be the only country on Earth -- let's be clear -- the only country on Earth unwilling to take part in a global attempt at a solution to the greatest crisis we've ever faced -- there's a lot to be ashamed of in the Trump years and a lot of terrible things that have happened -- it's pretty hard to top that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bill, you've said that the decision to withdraw is the greatest success of the, quote, "denial machine" that the fossil fuel industry launched 30 years ago. Could you elaborate on that?

BILL McKIBBEN: Sure, sure. We now know, from great investigative reporting, that the fossil fuel industry knew everything there was to know about climate change in the 1980s. Exxon was the biggest company on Earth. They had great scientists. Their product was carbon. Of course they were going to study it. And their scientists told them, with uncanny accuracy, what the temperature and the CO2 concentration would be in 2019. Understanding that this was a threat to the world, but also a threat to their business, they took the second more seriously than the first, and began this decade-long process of climate decades-long of climate denial and delay and obfuscation, setting in motion all these kind of fake think tanks and so on and so forth.

That's what came to a head with this withdrawal from Paris. It was the ultimate conclusion of all that work at disinformation. From one point of view, it was extremely successful: The fossil fuel industry had its most profitable years in the last three decades. On the other hand, we're now missing half the sea ice in the summer Arctic. The Great Barrier Reef is half-dead. You know, the oceans are 30% more acidic. California is on fire more weeks than not. We're in deep, deep trouble. And the idea that we're just going to put our hands over our eyes, over our ears or over our mouths at this point is about as depressing as it's possible to get.

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