Trump’s Paris Blunder and the Death of American Credibility

980xBy now, we all know that yesterday, June 1, 2017, Donald Trump formally announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.  I’m not going to tackle the legitimacy of the so-called “debate” as to climate change – it’s real, climate scientists know it’s real, energy companies know it’s real, and the only “debate” is a bunch of ginned-up junk science generated by oil and coal companies and other stakeholders whose bottom line might be affected if they had to stop belching pollution into our atmosphere at unsustainable and cataclysmic rates.  There’s a “debate” about the reality of global warming the same way the Tobacco Institute created a “debate” about the effects of smoking in the 60s and 70s even though their own internal studies left no doubt about the truth.  It’s a con game, and it’s been played over and over, with tobacco, CFCs and now climate change.

No, I’m here to proclaim loudly and strongly the utter ignorance and stupidity of Trump’s decision, and to declare him, on the basis of this decision alone, fundamentally unfit not only for the presidency, but for any public office.  He has diminished and disgraced this nation in ways which we may truly never recover from, and his decision to withdraw the US from the agreement marked the official withdrawal of American leadership from the world community.

Far from making America great, Trump has made what has been the undisputed world leader into a global pariah, and little more than a kleptocratic banana republic.  It is of no small moment that the only countries which have not signed onto the agreement besides us are Syria and Nicaragua.  Nicaragua held out because the agreement was not aggressive enough;  that leaves us standing alone with Syria, the other country run by a two-bit dictator who does Putin’s bidding and gives no shits about his own people.

Trump framed his decision as getting the US out of a “bad deal”, which would be an “economic disaster” for the country.  In doing so, he relied entirely upon a debunked study which looked at what it would cost if the US kept every self-imposed obligation of its climate plan, and none of the other signatory countries kept any of theirs.  He couched the decision as a “promise kept” to put “America First”, and that he, the master negotiator, would make a better deal than Obama did.

Unsurprisingly to anyone who has watched this White House stumble from one self-inflicted wound to another, that’s unlikely to pan out the way Trump thinks.  Following Trump’s call for renegotiation of the agreement, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy all unanimously rejected Trump’s call to reopen climate talks.  In domestic shows of defiance, 10 states joined the US Climate Alliance, and mayors of 76 cities reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris goals.

Let’s put this simply:  the Paris Agreement was completely voluntary.  Each country sets its own goals, and there is no mechanism to enforce those goals.  The $3 billion in US funds it earmarked to assist developing nations in meeting their goals ($1 billion of which has already been paid, and the remainder of which Republicans have flatly refused to pay) is but a pittance compared to the $17.2 billion in subsidies the federal government delivers to support the production of oil, coal, and gas every year.  

There’s two ways to look at Trump’s decision.  The first is that, like much of what he has been dealing with since taking office, he simply doesn’t understand the agreement, and has exercised an uninformed view because in his perspective, everything is binary and transactional.  There is a winner and loser in every transaction, and for whatever reason, he felt that the accord made America a loser – likely because it moves away from the oil, coal and (to a lesser degree) gas that has been the basis of our old, dirty energy policies, and might cost jobs/profits to those industries.  So he took a drastic measure to prop up those industries, which he has shown a clear preference for in comparison to renewables.

That’s taking the high-minded view.  The more likely scenario is that he withdrew from the agreement because it’s something that Obama did, and he wants to undo everything that Obama accomplished.  Healthcare, the TPP, the Paris Agreement, the Clean Air rule, the Fiduciary rule for financial advisors, Dodd-Frank, you name it.  If it has Obama’s name on it he wants it gone.  That was a decision he made when Obama publicly humiliated him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011.  If you watch that video, you can see the fake smile concealing Trump’s rictus of hate and rage, and some of his closest associates have said that they think that is the very moment he set himself to the task of taking the keys to the White House from Obama’s hands. And when you look at how hard Trump pushed the blatantly racist “birther” fiction, there can be little doubt about how he felt being publicly humiliated by a black President who he felt was inherently “less than” he was himself.

The undeniable fact is that whether Trump made a hugely consequential decision because of his misguided sense of retribution or because he simply wanted to artificially prop up over the short term the dirty energy industries which the rest of the market has been naturally moving away from, the decision was wrong.  It was stupid. And it was cataclysmic.  Not only is there little economic benefit to be had from pulling out of the Paris agreement, but there are huge economic benefits that America will now miss out on, ceding the lion’s share of the benefit to a somewhat reluctant China. There is no industry with greater growth potential than renewable energy.  It outstrips the growth potential of every other industry by orders of magnitude.  And the withdrawal of America, the world’s historically largest emitter of greenhouse gases, means that our chances of avoiding cataclysmic climate disasters have narrowed considerably.  Yet, most importantly, the “greatest nation in the world” has been diminished in the eyes of the entire global community.

Let’s look first at the economics.  Simply stated, pulling out of Paris is the equivalent of shipping both jobs and influence to Beijing.  Unfortunately, the “America First” mantra of the Trump administration is blind to the fundamental need for clean water, air, and land.  There are vast economic opportunities and diplomatic leverage the United States could have seized upon through climate leadership;  those have now been ceded to China.

The benefits of domestic action to advance clean energy has clear and proven economic benefits.  Clean energy helped pave the way for the Obama administration to lower greenhouse gas emissions to 1994 levels, while managing to create 11.3 million jobs with 75 straight months of employment growth.

The Trump administration just doesn’t get it.  Goaded by the Bizzarro World EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Trump insists, against all science and reason, that the EPA  needs to return to its “core mission,” as if carbon pollution doesn’t threaten public health and safety — never mind its impact on clean air and water.  China, on the other hand, has already been making substantial investments in renewable energy and disinvestments in coal-fired power plants. During the next five years, China is expected to remain the largest player in wind-energy growth.  That status is fairly assured now.

Combating environmental health risks is an exercise in addressing the “tragedy of the commons.” Pollution recognizes no borders, and affects all creatures great and small.   Addressing global environmental health risks, like any other global issue, requires multilateral cooperation, which in turn demands a strong global leader.

In the past, the United States has been that leader. No more.  Historically, we have become stronger and more competitive because of our unflinching action to seize the future, not in spite of it.  Taking a completely opposite tack, the Trump administration is hewing to the old special-interest line that the United States must choose economic competitiveness over environmental protection – although all evidence says otherwise.

By ceding leadership, by foregoing growth and opportunity, Trump has given China and the EU new common ground and opportunity to take on the role of global hegemons which was uniquely American until the clearly failed Trump experiment.  We are no longer a credible partner for international cooperation. The emperor who would make America great has shown, conclusively and for posterity, that he had no understanding of what made us great to begin with.

Welcome to the new global pariah.  America, you will be missed.