The World This Week: Donald Trump Chooses Wexit on Climate Change
Trump pulls out of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord to appease his base, appear strong and exploit Uncle Sam’s abundant energy resources.
This week was a bloody one. A bomb went off in Kabul’s diplomatic area, killing at least 80 people and injuring more than 350. This attack took place in the highly fortified Green Zone. It was the biggest attack since the Taliban was overthrown, demonstrating that no part of Afghanistan is safe anymore. With the government tottering, people erupted in protest. In demonstrations on June 2, five people died when the police fired on the crowd.
The following day, suicide bombers killed at least seven people at the funeral of one of the men who died because of the police firing. This man was the son of a senator, and the who’s who of Kabul turned up at the funeral. One of these bigwigs was Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive of the country, who survived the attack. These three deadly incidents in four days indicate that the situation in Kabul is rather grim these days.
The same cannot be said of London that experienced a terror attack on the same day as Kabul. On June 3, seven people were killed and at least 48 injured in a macabre attack. Three men drove a van into pedestrians on the iconic London Bridge and followed that up by stabbing people in the nearby trendy Borough Market. Witnesses report that they conducted their attack shouting, “This is for Allah.” People enjoying a night out in bars and restaurants on a summer evening found their merriment cruelly cut short.
The police shot dead all three attackers who wore fake bomb belts. The ambulance services reacted with alacrity. Political parties, with the exception of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), suspended their campaign for a day. On the whole, the UK has responded with admirable calm to the third terrorist attack in three months and the second during its election season.
The British may keep calm and carry on, but US President Donald Trump did his bit to roil waters. The former reality-TV star attacked Mayor Sadiq Khan for telling Londoners there was “no reason to be alarmed.” As usual, the Twitter president took Khan’s comments out of context. The mayor was just telling people not to worry about increased police presence on London’s streets.
Trump also used this occasion to call upon US courts to uphold his executive order banning travel from strife-torn Muslim countries. He helpfully pointed out that the US was not having a gun debate only because terrorists used knives and a truck. Khan dismissed Trump’s criticism, saying he had more important things to do than respond to the so-called leader of the free world.
Even Trump had more important things to do. On June 1, he announced with much flair that “the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord” of 2015.
PITTSBURGH, NOT PARIS
The White House website has the full text of Trump’s speech pulling out of the Paris accord. This former real estate baron may not be a classically trained orator, but he is master rhetorician who knows how to appeal to his base. In a meandering speech, Trump made the case that the Paris accord is unfair to the US, its businesses, its workers, its people and its taxpayers.
The president painted a gloom and doom picture for the US if it adhered to the accord. The dire financial and economic burdens for US workers and taxpayers would include lost jobs, lower wages, higher energy costs, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production. Trump claimed that, by 2040, production of paper would decrease by 12%, cement by 23%, natural gas by 31%, iron and steel by 38% and coal by 86%. By 2040, the cost to the US would be $3 trillion in lost GDP, 6.5 million fewer industrial jobs, and households with $7,000 lesser income.
Trump argued that the accord does not put similar restrictions on countries like China and India. The former has the right to increase emissions for 13 years, while the latter would get “billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries.” Trump also argued that the European nations who ask the US to stay on in the accord have “collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and, in many cases, lax contributions to our critical military alliance.”
President Trump brought up the theme of others laughing at the US, a constant refrain from his campaign. He then went on to declare that he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Therefore, Trump aims to develop clean coal in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The US has the most abundant energy reserves on the planet, sufficient to lift millions of its poorest workers out of poverty. In his speech, Trump refused to put US reserves under lock and key, “leaving millions and millions of families trapped in poverty and joblessness.” Instead, he plans to exploit the “phenomenal wealth” of the US, the Paris accord be damned.
Trump also lashed out against “the so-called Green Climate Fund” that “calls for developed countries to send $100 billion to developing countries all on top of America’s existing and massive foreign aid payments.” He bemoaned that the US has already coughed up $1 billion while other developed countries have kept their purse strings tight. He went on to point out that a top official of the United Nations claimed that even this $100 billion was peanuts and would rise to $450 billion per year after 2020. He complained that no one knows where this money will go to.
As per Trump, this financial burden has come at a time when the US is $20 trillion in debt. Millions of Americans are out of work. Cities cannot afford to hire police officers or fix vital infrastructure. The president will invest the billions of dollars in the US instead of sending them to “the very countries that have taken our factories and our jobs away from us.”
Finally, Trump claimed that his “withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of America’s sovereignty.” He cannot countenance the fact that an “international agreement could prevent the United States from conducting its own domestic economic affairs.” In his words, “The Paris accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risks, and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world.”
TRUMP FOLLOWS BUSH, NOT OBAMA
Trump is not the first US president to turn his back on a global treaty pertaining to the environment. George W. Bush torpedoed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Gerhard Schröder, the then-German chancellor, asked the US to accept “its responsibility for the world climate” but to little avail. Today, French President Emmanuel Macron is calling Trump’s decision a “mistake both for the US and for our planet,” but he is likely to have as much effect on Uncle Sam as Schröder once did.
Rupert Darwall argues in The Spectator that it makes sense for Trump to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. The US is now the world’s hydrocarbon superpower. Thanks to fracking, the world’s largest economy is also the world top’s energy producer, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia. Cheap energy gives the US “a colossal competitive advantage in world markets as other nations increasingly burden themselves with high-cost, unreliable wind and solar capacity.”
In any case, most of Trump’s supporters do not believe that the Earth is warming due to human activity. As per a survey by the Pew Research Center last year, only 48% of adult Americans and merely 15% of conservative Republicans believe that human activity is causing global warming. Since the days of Bush, the Republican Party has become hostage to Bible-bashing conservatives with doctrinaire opposition to abortion, stem cell research and even evolution. The US might still be the land of MIT, Stanford, Google and Tesla, but it is also the land of megachurches, televangelists and fundamentalists who murder health professionals providing abortion.
Trump is a reality-TV star with a nose for popularity ratings. During his election campaign, he picked on Mexicans and Muslims. Today, he is painting a picture of the US under siege by conniving Europeans, canny Chinese and insidious Indians. As per Vox, Trump has expressed skepticism about climate change in 115 tweets. Pulling out of the climate change accord is a win-win for Trump because it makes him look strong, wins him support within the Republican Party, and strengthens his hold on the swing states that helped him win the presidency.
As ever, Trump has a point. The US does draw some benefits from pulling out of the Paris accord. This gas-guzzling economy with its sprawling suburbs, endless corn fields and stunning interstate highways has benefited greatly from cheap energy. The US has intervened in the Middle East for decades to ensure that its access to energy was always uninterrupted. Even Russia sells its oil in dollar denominated prices, making the global energy market play per US rules. Even though the Paris accord was vague and ineffective, many in the US do not want any fetters whatsoever on the nation’s actions.
The US has set many rules for the world but is loath to play by the others’ rules. The May 29, 2016, edition of The World This Week chronicled how the Obama Doctrine differed from American foreign policy of the past. The man with a Kenyan father who had lived in Indonesia visited Asia “to heal past wounds, push for trade, deepen security ties, promote American interests and contain China.” The Asia Pivot was part of the plan and so was his attempt to increase the “soft power” of his nation.
Throughout his election campaign, Trump damned Barack Obama as weak. He harked back to a more macho memory of a time when the US constantly won. Trump appealed to the hard power of strong military and a dynamic economy. Trump described diplomacy as a set of deals in a zero-sum game. Even in his speech pulling out of the Paris accord, the president crowed about “nearly $350 billion of military and economic” deals for the US that would generate hundreds of thousands of jobs. In his stance on climate change, Trump is turning out to be Bush on steroids. As a hard-charging real estate man, Trump shortchanged his contractors repeatedly. As Fair Observer contributor Peter Isackson often points out, Trump was singular in his focus to maximize his fame and fortune. Under the 45th president, the sole goal of the US is maximizing wealth and power. Inconvenient treaties and agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord be damned.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
So far, Europe, China and India are holding on to the Paris accord. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Macron in Paris and promised that India will go “above and beyond” the Paris accord. China is sticking to the accord as well. So are 61 mayors in the US along with governors like Jerry Brown of California. Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who is the big boss of Tesla and SpaceX, has quit Trump’s advisory council and is backing Brown.
The Paris accord set a global goal. All countries, save Nicaragua and Syria, committed to keeping the rise of global temperatures “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and aim to curtail them to 1.5. This involved cutting greenhouse emissions and rich countries helping poorer ones switch to renewable energy. Many damned and continue to damn the Paris accord as meaningless. They see it as full of fluff and little substance.
After all, contrary to Trump’s claims, the Paris accord is nonbinding. Countries set their targets for carbon emissions, which John Cassidy of The New Yorker calls “a bit like a potluck dinner.” The accord failed to tackle coal, shied away from a carbon tax and kicked all difficult decisions to after 2020.
With the US leaving the Paris accord, it might go the way of Kyoto. After all, the US contributes 15% of global carbon emissions. If Trump puts his weight behind coal, then US emissions might not drop significantly. Besides, other countries might not feel as impelled to stick to their targets now that Uncle Sam has refused to do so. After all, why should leaders of poor countries not use coal when Trump loves it?
The October 30, 2016, edition of The World This Week analyzed how human action is not only causing climate change, but mass extinction of other species. That analysis was provoked by a report that chronicled a 58% decline in vertebrate population sizes from 1970 to 2012. The fundamental reason for such widespread environmental catastrophe is the global economic system itself. Blind belief in markets and unfettered consumption has caused decimation of forests, pollution of rivers and the meltdown of glaciers.
Many believe the Paris accord to be too little and too late. It does nothing to change an economic system based on profit maximization where the price of goods and services fails to reflect the value of the trees that might have been chopped or rivers that might have been polluted in the process of production. Yet the flawed Paris accord serves a symbolic purpose. The world got together to recognize a global problem that is likely to put the lives of hundreds of millions at risk in the not too distant future. Now, the US has walked out.
In the words of John Buffalo Mailer, a writer and actor, Trump has performed “Wexit,” an exit from the world. God bless the United States of America, assuming of course that god exists.
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London Attacks: Responding Strongly to Terror
The reality behind the cause of terrorism is somewhere in between the failures of integration as a domestic policy level and the consequences of foreign policy in the Middle East.
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India’s Finance Bill 2017 seems to create more problems than it sets out to solve.
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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: The White House