President Trump has shown a great willingness during his short tenure to reverse himself on things he promised to do when he was Candidate Trump. His health care plan was going to “cover everyone.” He wasn’t going to touch Medicaid, etc.
But, as you have no doubt heard by now, he has decided to keep one of his worst promises, or maybe his worst promise, the promise to pull the United States out of the Paris Accords on climate change.
The accords, signed by nearly 200 countries in 2015, was created to try to save the earth’s climate so future generations can – what can I say? – have a planet on which they can live.
If he follows through on this, the United States will join just two other countries in the world that had declined to sign the agreement – Syria (which maybe has its hand full with the civil war and all) and Nicaragua, which complained that the Paris agreement wasn’t strong enough.
By the way, there seems to be roughly no disagreement over whether Trump has the power to do this under U.S. law. It was not a treaty, ratified by the Senate. It’s a non-binding agreement in which each of signatories committed his or her country to take certain actions – actions chosen by the country itself – to help the world achieve some overall goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of forestalling a potentially cataclysmic decline in the ability of Planet Earth to support life.
In 2012, Trump tweeted that global warming was a hoax, perpetrated by China. He later said that he never said that, but here’s the tweet.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
He doesn’t always tell the truth about these things. On other occasions, he has said that the “Chinese hoax” remark was a joke. Ha ha. If you find this kind of thing amusing, Newsweek has compiled the dizzying back and forth he had with himself about global warming.
On May 26 of last year, Trump pledged in a North Dakota campaign speech that he would “cancel” the Paris Accord, to which the United States was not yet committed (although Pres. Barack Obama was clearly on a path to signing the accord) and which had not yet been signed by enough countries to take effect.
The North Dakota quote was: “We’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement.” If you care about words, as certain occupants of the Oval Office do not, Mr. Trump cannot “cancel the Paris Agreement.” Most of the countries of the world have signed onto the accord and remain committed to fulfilling the obligations they have undertaken. But he can withdraw the United States from it and there is no mechanism for the rest of the world to punish him or us for doing so.
Most of the countries of the world have signed onto the accord and remain committed to fulfilling the obligations they have undertaken. But he can withdraw the United States from it and there is no mechanism for the rest of the world to punish him or us for doing so.
Obama signed the accord on behalf the United States on Sept. 3, 2016. Enough countries signed in the ensuing two months for the agreement take effect on Nov. 4, 2016. Mr. Trump was elected on Nov. 8, 2016. He allowed some suspense to build even until yesterday about whether he would follow through on his pledge to “cancel,” then yesterday he announced that he would.
Trump is doing pretty badly so far at legislating, but, as president, he can cancel U.S. participation. What an Obama signature can get us into, a Trump signature can get us out of. And, theoretically, the next president could get us back in.
In announcing his decision yesterday in the White House Rose Garden (ironically the place Obama announced the agreement calling it “a turning point for our planet”), Trump talked relatively little about global warming and far more about economic issues and efforts by others to steal American jobs. For example, he said:
“China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it. India can double their coal production. We’re supposed to get rid of ours. Even Europe is allowed to continue construction of coal plants.
In short, the agreement doesn’t eliminate coal jobs. It just transfers those jobs out of America and the United States and ships them to foreign countries. This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States.”
Trump argued that Obama had signed what amounts to a raw deal for U.S. workers, a deal that will lead to the elimination of too many jobs in coal mining and related industries, a deal that requires the U.S. to pay a “vast fortune” into a kitty to share the cost of implementation.
The word “deal” appeared in his remarks 13 times. He likes that word. He talked much less about the threat that global warming might pose to life on earth.
As far as the “vast fortune” bit: The Washington Post’s annotated transcript of Trump’s remarks says “this is nowhere near a “vast fortune.” The U.S. gave this climate change bank account $1 billion for the first year. The U.S. is expected to bring in $3.5 trillion in revenue in fiscal 2018. There are one thousand billions in a trillion.
The Paris agreement does indeed try to pressure rich countries to pay more to reduce carbon emissions, and imposes tougher goals on advanced countries to reduce their emissions more quickly. If the purpose of the deal is to make money, it’s a raw deal for America and the other rich countries of the world (but they are all staying in).
If the purpose of the deal is to organize virtually all the world’s nations around a plan to avert a planet-threatening apocalypse, then it might be necessary for the wealthy nations to pay more and do more to replace dirty energy sources with cleaner ones.
In his remarks yesterday, Trump relied heavily on numbers from a particular study, which the Post called “the estimations from an industry analyst that was founded by a conservative economist, and a report that environmentalists say is not neutral.”
Trump held out hope that a way can be found to get the United States back into the program: “We’re getting out,” he said, “but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair.”
To date, Trump has not been able to explain how this negotiation will occur, or even with whom he would negotiate. The way the accord evolved, each nation was given the flexibility to come up with ways of reducing carbon emissions, and set their goals for doing so. There is no enforcement mechanism for countries that fail to meet their goals.
They say that if you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail. If you’re Trump, everything looks like a subject for a tough negotiator. But perhaps, just perhaps, not everything is.
Yesterday, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy said that they were unwilling to negotiate with Trump about this, and Todd Stern, the Special Envoy on Climate Change during the Obama administration, told the British newspaper The Independent that since each nation voluntarily set its own targets for reducing carbon emissions and “The US has the ability to change its own targets.”
In his remarks yesterday, Trump started the negotiations anyway. Trump used China as the case study of a nation that is getting too much benefit, paying too little and being allowed to keep polluting for too long, especially compared to the United States. I can’t check all his assertions, but I’m sure there’s some truth to it. It goes back to what I said above about whether this is an effort to save the earth or to make money.
Writing for the New Yorker, environmental expert Elizabeth Kolbert notes that China is indeed the current biggest emitter of carbon, followed by — guess who — the United States. But, because the United States is many decades, maybe even a century ahead in emitting industrial waste (because we’ve been an industrial powerhouse so much longer), Kolbert wrote that “on an aggregate basis [the U.S.] is responsible for more of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere than any other country. When Barack Obama helped forge the Paris accord, he was trying to make up for decades of American inaction. Trump has now nullified that effort. The just result would be that it is the U.S. economy that ends up suffering.”
After Trump spoke, many of the analysts I heard emphasized that Trump’s approach seems to be a continuation of his campaign or an early start on the next campaign. Trump fairly blatantly spoke about three states that were going to benefit, job-wise, from his new approach – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio – three of the four swing states that won him the presidency. Said Trump:
“It’s time to pursue a new deal that protects the environment, our companies, our citizens, and our country. It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France. It is time to make America great again.”
And, what admirers of the speech thought was the best line:
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
Vice President Mike Pence, who had the honor introducing boss, said:
“Our president is choosing to put American jobs and the American people first.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in a TV interview after Trump’s appearance, reinforced Trump’s argument that this was all about jobs and money and getting even with other world players who were able to pick Obama’s pocket. Said Ross:
“Any time people are taking money out of your pocket, and you make them put it back in, they’re’ not going to like it. And that’s what this is… This was not really about climate. It was about money.”
And Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, addressing Trump: “Your decision today to exit the Paris Accords reflects your unflinching commitment to put America first.”
Lastly, and then I swear I’ll stop, if you need a laugh, The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz translates Trump’s presentation as an attack on the earth, for being a “loser,” and vows to make a deal with a better planet.