Craven, cynical and corrupt: an alliteration that sums up President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris accord on climate change.
He rebuffed the entreaties of everyone from Elon Musk to the Pope. He ignored scientific evidence that already shows catastrophic beach erosion, cracking Arctic ice and flooding cities. Instead, he cast in with his climate change-denying EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the barons of the world’s dirtiest industries, coal and fossil fuels.
It was a craven act because the United States over time is the biggest contributor to the carbon dioxide that is poisoning the atmosphere and sizzling the planet. Given our culpability in creating an urgent world-wide environmental crisis, it was a moral duty to keep our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. To walk away is supremely selfish.
“In cumulative terms, we certainly own this problem more than anybody else does,” David G Victor, a longtime scholar of climate politics at the University of California, San Diego, told The New York Times. “Many argue that this obligates the United States to take ambitious action to slow global warming. “
While moral arguments don’t seem to matter to this president, geopolitical gamesmanship does. President Trump’s decision was self-defeating for the country and him. For someone so hell bent on being the big man on the world stage that he pushed the Prime Minister of Montenegro out of the way so that he could be front and center in a photo, his decision radically shrinks American influence.
He has handed a unique leadership role in curbing climate change to China, assuming it will remain in the accord. Already, the Chinese leadership is licking its lips over President Trump’s nationalist retreat from anything perceived as globalism, particularly his bungled messaging on Nato at last week’s G-7 meeting in Brussels. He left Angela Merkel fuming that Europe could no longer count on America to defend its interests. Look eastward, the Chinese say, beckoning Europe to look to its support, deals and friendship.
The splintering of the post-World War II alliance, which ushered in an age of liberal democracy in the West, would be a tragedy beyond imagining. But Thursday’s announcement abandoning the Paris accord is a dangerous step in that direction because it fuels the perception that no one can really depend on the US to keep its word.
Already there was deep annoyance with the United States when, after spending years negotiating a climate agreement with the Clinton administration, rich and poor counties were confronted by another turncoat president, George W Bush, who backed out of it.
Now, less than a decade later, it is Donald Trump doing the about-face on the long fought climate agreement struck with Barack Obama. Why would other countries ever again trust the United States to stick to an agreement on global warming or waste time negotiating one with the US again? President Trump’s pledge that the US will stick to the letter of the accord’s withdrawal process, which would take more than four years might also be forgotten.
Justifying his reactionary positions on global warming with the myth of job creation is beyond cynical. In his remarks, Mr Trump listed sectors of the United States economy that would suffer lost revenues and jobs if the country remained part of the accord. But the only evidence he used is a study that has been roundly disputed by credible environmental experts.
The dubious study claims the agreement would cost 2.7m jobs by 2025. The reality is quite the opposite, as former President Obama noted in his biting remarks about his successor’s decision. “The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created,” he said in a statement.
It is cynical and cruel to raise the hopes of out of work coal miners, claiming that by abandoning the accord he will bring back their jobs. Almost everyone else, besides the conservative coal barons who support him and were feted in the white House, and a few misguided politicians in the coal counties of Virginia, Tennessee and West Virginia know those jobs are gone for good.
Long ago, lopping off mountaintops and strip mining, requiring machines instead of humans, erased good mining jobs. This was long before the Paris negotiators sat down for their first meeting in 2015.
On Thursday, the Koch Brothers and their allies in big oil must have been turning cartwheels of glee over their rigs. Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the influential libertarian brothers Charles G and David H Koch, was one of the leaders of a coalition that urged exiting from the treaty. The groups also included ones bankrolled by the Mercer family, patrons of Steven Bannon, the White House aide who held the president’s hands to the fire to keep his base-pleasing promise to trash the Paris accord.
While the Kochs were initially cool to Trump as a candidate, his decision on the Paris accord will surely help cement their support and financial largess for years to come and in 2020, if Donald Trump survives and seeks re-election. This is precisely the kind of corrupt pay to play politics that Trump pledged to end by draining the swamp.
He will need the support. The political blowback is already huge. Former Vice President Al Gore, who was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for efforts to educate about global warming, called Trump’s decision “a reckless and indefensible action”. Former Secretary of State John Kerry called the move an “abdication” of leadership and “self destructive” Mr Gore is touring the country in advance of the premiere of his new documentary on global warming, an update on his blockbuster, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Already, with his self-defeating immigration policies, President Trump has turned a cold heart to much poorer nations. His decision to abandon the climate agreement that virtually every other country on earth approved, is even colder. One of the central tenets of the accord was that richer countries and the biggest polluters, the United States and China, would help to fund the efforts to curb global warming by much smaller and poorer nations.
President Trump often invokes his young son, Barron, in his speeches. His terrible decision leaves his son’s generation facing scorching environmental problems. Or the father, this will indeed be an inconvenient truth.