US Climate GameChanger: Donald J Trump turns his back on the world and common sense
Incredulously, Donald Trump announced he would withdraw America from the virtually global Paris Climate Accord. J. BROOKS SPECTOR shakes his head, smacks his forehead and sits in stunned horror.
Here it goes again. The whole damned world has been waiting for the “Celebrity Apprentice” ringmaster to come out on the soundstage to do his smug, snarky dance. And, he eventually did, just a little while before 16:00 in Washington. It was almost as if there should have been a drum roll – vadda voom, vadda voom, vadda VOOM – when Donald Trump announced what was already widely expected:
“The United States now indicates it is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord because it doesn’t save all the coal miners’ jobs, forces innocent companies to dial back their pollution and carbon emissions, and most of all, because it put the needs of the entire planet ahead of America, first.”
Or words to that effect. Actually, there were no vaudeville-style drum rolls, but the Marine Band did play – for some obscure reason – George Gershwin’s Summertime. Was the band leader trying to make a sub rosa comment about rising temperatures and global climate change?
And the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high
Your daddy’s rich
And your mamma’s good lookin’
So hush little baby
Don’t you cry…”
Now, for anyone hoping against hope that the president ultimately would stay the course of the Paris Accord, they were probably praying that someone like Rex Tillerson, formerly CEO of ExxonMobil and now secretary of state, or the first daughter, Ivanka Trump, people who just happened to support the Paris Accord, would have whispered into the Trum’s ear, just before he went out in front of the lights, and said to him, “Remember Caesar, thou art mortal – and, oh, by the way, the planet really needs a break. You can do it, guy.”
Oops. Sorry. Didn’t happen. The temptation to flip a bird to the entire planet was just too tempting for him, and so that was just what he did. Vada VOOM, went the drum and cymbals. Another campaign pledge done and dusted. Just like that Muslim and refugee immigration ban; having China declared a currency manipulator; and moving America’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Okay, not those three, but at least he can point to something or other about that Washington swamp…. But was it draining it or filling it?)
So, in the end, the Trumpster decided that the natural place for America in the international community was to stand with Nicaragua and Syria, in opposition to every other place on the planet. It would be “Pittsburgh, not Paris”, as he said. Take that, Emmanuel Macron, and your nasty handshake! Gotcha!
Every other country on the planet, even North Korea, Cuba, and Iran, seem to have joined up for this one – except Nicaragua and Syria. Nicaragua’s reason at least makes some sort of sense. They are actually so worried about flooding of their coastal lowlands that they wanted a much stronger agreement. Syria, of course, has a slightly different excuse. The al-Assad government is spending most of its mental and governmental energies right now trying to figure out which town to dump nerve gas on, or what part of the nation it still needed to turn into refugees while awaiting the government’s salvation in the form of Russian ground attack fighter jets against anyone willing to put their head above a parapet.
The thing is, Trump was being pressed by many nominally Republican
groups and Republican supporters to stay in the accord, rather than standing outside that particular tent and decanting inwardly; doing what Lyndon Johnson once did, he chastised recalcitrant members of his own party for doing when they had failed to support a particular legislative measure especially close to his heart.
Even a big chunk of ExxonMobil’s stockholders voted to support the accord. As The Washington Post reported on the annual stockholder vote on Wednesday at their meeting in Dallas, Texas:
“The shareholder vote on climate change came on a day when President Trump appeared to be nearing a decision on whether to exit the Paris climate agreement, underlining the deep political and economic divisions over how to deal with the global challenge. Even as the Trump administration’s commitment to the climate accord wavered, the Exxon vote showed that climate concerns were gaining ground in the business world.”
Other major American companies with global reach have also made their views similarly known in advertisements in major newspapers. And there have also been CEO calls to the White House or public statements by their heads, as with Apple’s Tim Cook or Elon Musk, that they too strongly disagree with the threat of such a presidential pronouncement.
Think about that. The millions of owners of the biggest energy company on the planet supported increased efforts to find energy efficiency and the R and D for alternative energy and renewable energy sources. Oh, and that just happens to be the company Trump’s secretary of state used to run, right up until he was plucked out of the relative obscurity of the corporate world to head up American diplomacy.
And as William Galston of the Brookings Institution reported on Wednesday in article on public views about the Paris Accord,
“In a survey of registered voters taken just weeks after the 2016 election, 69% said that the US should participate in the agreement. This figure included 86% of Democrats, 61% of Independents, and 51% of Republicans. By a margin of 40 to 34%, even a plurality of self-described conservative Republicans backed the agreement.”
And in a seeming retort to one of the president’s key arguments against the accord that he had made in his Thursday announcement,
“The administration has argued that the Paris agreement is ‘unfair’ because large polluting countries such as India and China are not required to do anything until 2030. The voters don’t buy this argument. Two-thirds of them – 79% of Democrats, 56% of independents, and 51% of Republicans – say that the US should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.”
But remember, abrogating American participation in the Paris Climate Accord was a lead pipe cinch, dead certain applause line for Donald Trump during his campaign for the presidency. This was especially the case in states straddling the Appalachian Mountains, and thus the nation’s traditional coal country – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee – as well as in some Rocky Mountain and high plains states. The Trumpster had succeeded in winning the presidential vote handily in such states – and coal mining continues to have a sizeable economic presence in such states.
Coal – and the carbon it releases when burned – is a key part of the Paris Climate Accord. And the scientific and climatological issue that is core to the accord is that the continuing release of carbon into the atmosphere is now generally conceded to be a significant contributor towards global warming. And global warming, of course, is particularly bad news for all those polar bears – and us.
Watch: March of Idiocy – Donald Trump announces Paris Accord pullout, at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 01 June 2017.
But despite the presidential promise to save the coal industry, coal has actually been a declining industry for over a generation already, as the nation has shifted sharply towards natural gas and away from coal – and even, to a much lesser degree, to solar and other renewable technologies. There is no real way to make coal a clean fuel, a clean product to mine, or a clean product in the lives and physical health of the miners who must dig it up.
The odd thing is that because coal mining is a declining industry, solar energy technology already is responsible for more American jobs than coal is now. In this sense, the Trump administration has elected to try to conserve (or expand) a declining, sunset industrial sector, rather than supporting, nurturing and encouraging new sunrise technologies and industries. And keep in mind, too, that China, now the world’s largest carbon emitter, has become the global leader in solar energy technologies.
With regard to all this, Time magazine noted on Thursday,
“Addressing climate change presents an enormous economic opportunity as countries change the way they power their economies with global investment in clean energy totalling nearly $300-billion in 2016. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement means the US will lose out on the opportunity to help build the green economy of the future – and benefit from the jobs and economic growth that come along with that.”
And the accord, itself, is voluntary, as each nation pledges to carry out its accords, rather than as part of a probably impossible to enforce global set of mandatory laws, standards and behaviours. Meanwhile, the Trump administration, with the appointment of a vociferous climate change denialist, Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is trying to sort out which environmental decisions and regulations made by the previous administration it can most easily rescind or roll back in order to lessen the impact of pollution controls on industry – and then move forward in that retrograde motion on such regulations just as soon as their legs can carry them.
In the political realm, this decision has been one more part of the Trump administration’s pullback from the world, to look inward as an embodiment of a shambolic shibboleth of “America first”. After coming into office in January, Trump quickly walked away from the TransPacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade liberalisation treaty that had taken years to negotiate. Just to make it clear he was an equal opportunity dog in the manger, he also repeatedly dissed America’s long-time Nato allies (most recently at the Brussels summit), repeatedly railing at the failure of the other nations to pay for more the common defence as a way of being free riders on America’s tired shoulders. And he then spent time at the G7 summit in Sicily insisting so strongly he could not agree with the other leaders on climate issues that the concluding communiqué had to have a special American section that was in stark disagreement with the views of the other six nations.
The end result of all this presidential snarling has been a response from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Europe will have to consider how it must go it alone into the future without a guarantee that America had their back any more. In effect, Donald Trump has turned back the clock on more than 70 years of global engagement in structuring the global economy, building its political architecture, and crafting its international networks. The sum total of this volte-face has been to concede global leadership – of all places – to China on globalisation, on free trade, and on the reining in of climate change.
As Time concluded, the net effect will be that,
“Trump’s move to leave the Paris Agreement is perhaps the biggest snub he could deliver to America’s European allies short of leaving Nato. World leaders, particularly those in Europe, have warned Trump with increasing urgency as his presidency unfolded that withdrawing from the deal would be a mistake. And at the same time they have offered him the diplomatic leeway to weaken the US commitment of fighting climate change. Still, Trump declined to sign on to a joint statement endorsing the deal following the G-7 summit last week and in the days that followed many leaders distanced themselves from Trump and their country’s historic ties to the U.S.
“Looking ahead, lack of agreement on climate change more broadly will complicate relations with other nations. The US will act as the lone dissenter in meetings with allies whenever climate change is mentioned…. In relations with countries like China, where relations have been tense, climate change has acted as an area of common ground that has allowed the US to strengthen ties even as other issues stressed the relationship….”
With an insouciant smile, Trump announced that the US would leave the accord because of the cost that he estimated to be some $3-trillion and that it was one that uniquely punished the US and rewarded all those other crafty, sneaky places that outflanked the US diplomatically. In Trump’s remarks, leaving the Paris Accord was all about balancing the books of an encroaching theft of American sovereignty, and of the nation’s jobs and wealth, while other nations laugh at us for America’s credulousness. Really, he talked just like that. (And, if Peter Sellers had been in the Rose Garden, we probably would have heard about those precious bodily fluids too.)
Trump did dangle a microscopic carrot, however. He mentioned that if the fates so decreed it, he would be happy to start an entirely new round of global negotiations on climate change to achieve something that would be so much better than the Paris Accord. Bigly, even yugely. The real question, going forward, is just how likely something like that is that going to be with all those other nations around the globe – before the polar bears have to swim for their very lives and as beachfront property in the Appalachian Mountains starts coming onto the market? DM
Photo: US President Donald J. Trump speaks during a Rose Garden event where he announced that the US is withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 01 June 2017. EPA/Molly Riley