Dear World: On Climate, Donald Trump Doesn’t Speak for the United States of America

The American people believe in climate change—and are committed to doing something about it.

German chancellor Angela Merkel speaking with U.S. President Trump at the G7 conference in Canada, June 2018

Credit: Jesco Denzel/German Federal Government via Associated Press

Dear G7 (G6?) Leaders:

First, let me just say on behalf of the United States of America: We are so, so sorry.

We all knew that something like this could happen, theoretically. To be honest, we were all so freaked out about the president’s other big meeting this week (the one right after yours) that we sort of thought the G7 summit was the “safe” one that we didn’t need to worry about. After all, in Quebec, he was going to be around our country’s closest, most trusted friends and trading partners. Even if he didn’t see eye-to-eye with all of you on everything, we figured he wouldn’t, y’know, sit there and pout like an obstinate child, or rudely show up late to a session on gender equality and then not even bother to listen, or egregiously insult the leader of the summit’s host country—America’s strongest ally—with some sort of petulant post-summit outburst on Twitter, or anything like that.

At least that’s what we told ourselves. We were wrong.

Now, for the intended purpose of my letter: the global fight against climate change. As you know, our president skipped out of the G7 summit early, just before all of you were going to discuss different ways to finance the various carbon-reduction plans made under the terms of the Paris climate agreement. In your jointly authored communiqué—the one that Trump angrily rejected later—you vigorously reaffirm your respective commitments to “ambitious climate action” and “reducing emissions while stimulating innovation, enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening and financing resilience and reducing vulnerability.” You stipulate the need for an international effort to clean up our shared ocean environments. And you formally dedicate your countries to the essential mission of creating a global carbon-neutral economy before the end of the century, vowing “to promote the fight against climate change through collaborative partnerships and work with all relevant partners.”

Thank you.

Unfortunately, our president couldn’t get behind these goals. In place of his stated support, he had his team interpolate an awkward, semantically tortured paragraph into the communiqué, a moral carve-out making clear his belief that securing “universal access to affordable and reliable energy resources” should be prioritized above climate action. And then, halfway down this paragraph, was what poker players call the “tell”—that little tic that lets you know what the player sitting across the table from you is really thinking. Trump’s tell is the wording indicating that the United States wants to “work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.”

Yes, in a section of your communiqué titled “Working Together on Climate Change, Oceans and Clean Energy,” our country actually went out of its way to give a warm shout-out to fossil fuels—singling them out by name—and furthermore to express its desire to help other countries around the world increase their own fossil fuel consumption. Trust me, we feel your pain.

President Macron: According to lore, your political predecessor, Louis XIV, bequeathed to the world a pithy phrase that perfectly distills the monarchical mindset of ancient regimes: “L’etat, c’est moi.” I am the state.

Given his historical benightedness, President Trump is most likely unfamiliar with that phrase or its provenance. Nevertheless, he understands the sentiment behind it on an intuitive, almost instinctive, level. In his speeches, his actions, and his tweets, he indicates daily that he believes he is the state wholeheartedly.

But along with this apology for our president’s behavior at the G7 summit, we would also like to assure you that President Trump is wrong about this (just as he is wrong about so many other things). President Trump is not the United States of America—especially when it comes to climate and the environment.

The United States of America is, instead, 325 million people, the vast majority of whom share your concerns about a warming climate and your commitment to cleaning up our polluted air and oceans. The USA is states and cities working diligently—and together—to fight climate change and its ravages by reducing carbon emissions, investing in renewable energy, and building climate-resilient communities. It is businesses, NGOs, students, and religious organizations that are coming together to craft a new paradigm to launch us, along with the rest of the world community, into the clean energy future.

But I have a feeling that you already know that. You already know that President Trump, when he’s speaking about fossil fuels or renewable energy or the Paris climate agreement, isn’t speaking for the United States of America. He’s speaking for only a sliver of it: a relatively small population of deniers and dead-enders who have somehow managed to put one of their own in power, albeit temporarily. And while they machinate and manipulate, the rest of America—the hundreds of millions of people that you quite rightfully think of as your good friends and close allies—is making progress toward the goals we share with you and the rest of the world.

The United States hasn’t given up on those goals. Please don’t give up on us.


Embarrassed in America

This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.

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