He was the head of the U.S. embassy in Beijing, overseeing hundreds of employees in charge of everything from approving visa requests to supporting ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and China following the Paris climate agreement.
The agreement was a feat of international diplomacy. Countries around the world committed to report how much greenhouse pollution they’re emitting and how they’ll reduce it over time. It took decades to negotiate. Years and years of international meetings and summits, scientific reports, and for Rank, a lifelong diplomat, it was deeply inspiring.
“The issue that really unifies the world - you know 198 countries agree on - is the threat of climate change. There’s nothing out there that unites the world like the need to take on climate,” he told me when I interviewed him for our very first episode of terrestrial season 2.
Terrestrial is KUOW’s podcast on the environment. Each episode explores the choices we make in a world we have changed. You can hear all our episodes and subscribe here, or join our Facebook group and talk this stuff out with your fellow listeners.
Rank was in the foreign service for 27 years, stationed all over the world – from the tiny island nation of Mauritius to Afghanistan to 6 postings in China. But that career came to an end, suddenly, this past June.
Rank heard the news that President Trump was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement from an online news site – not from the White House directly. He knew President Trump had promised to scrap the deal while on the campaign trail but he couldn’t believe that he would actually follow through on that promise.
“You know, it really hit me wow we are we are honestly you know doing this,” Rank remembers.
“What I said was, ‘I’m not going to have any role in the implementation of this decision and I’m not going to ask people who work for me to do something that I wouldn’t do. So I’m not quitting. But I’m not going to be part of this decision because it is wrong.’”
Soon after that, Rank found himself out of a job and on a plane home to the U.S.
What changed for Rank? Why would someone who never thought of himself as a “climate guy” or even an environmentalist choose to take this stand, and sacrifice his career in the process?
To find out, subscribe to the terrestrial podcast and listen to the full episode.