Trump’s Paris pullout leaves America’s global leadership in flames
As featured in New York Daily News | June 1, 2017
Today is the day that America’s global leadership ends. Congratulations, Washington, you have become worse than useless. You are now positively dangerous. Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement is leaving the civilized world.
Hyperbole? Not so. Global warming is an existential threat. Every literate person knows it, including the management of ExxonMobil, Chevron and nearly every climate scientist across the land and the world.
So, what is going on? Donald Trump is an obvious starting point. He is an old, sleazy, lazy and ignorant man. He knows nothing about climate science. Perhaps he is also suffering from dementia. That is plausible, but a topic not raised in polite company.
Yet the withdrawal from Paris goes well beyond Trump. If you have any doubt, just take a look at the letter sent to Trump by 22 Republican senators on the eve of Trump’s trip to Europe. These senators, almost all from coal, oil and gas producing states, called on Trump to pull out of Paris. Trump’s move is not the result of an addled mind, or not only that. It reflects U.S. politics.
What kind of politics? Not the view of the American people. It was once a quaint idea that Washington would reflect the needs, interests and even the views of the American people, but we’ve long abandoned that democratic vision for a grimmer alternative. American politics today reflects the views of powerful corporate lobbies, especially the four big ones: Big Oil, Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and the healthcare industry.
Today’s move is the position not of the voters or the citizenry, but of Big Oil (and coal and gas, of course). The opinion surveys are quite clear on this point. An overwhelming majority of Americans would like to stay in the Paris Agreement.
This is not even about the putative jobs that would be “threatened” by a move to low-carbon economy. There are almost no jobs left in coal, perhaps 20,000 coal miners out of an American workforce of 150 million. Mining is automated. Jobs are not the point. A green economy would create more, not fewer jobs. Oil, gas, and coal profits are the point.
This is about billionaires and their narrow financial interests, not about Americans or the world. In fact, it is throwing away the future, and today’s highly vulnerable populations (in drylands, desert regions, coastal regions and other danger zones).
If you want to put a real face on today’s decision, it is not Trump but David Koch, and his brother Charles Koch. The two Koch brothers, who own the highly polluting Koch Industries, allegedly the world’s largest privately owned oil company, have used their mega-wealth to buy up the Republican Party.
The Center for Responsive Politics has shown that Big Oil contributed around $100 million in identifiable campaign funding in the 2016 election cycle, 90% of which went to Republicans. And this is just the traceable funding. Thanks to the god-awful Citizens United decision, much of the Big Oil funding is likely to be secret and untraceable.
I’m writing today from Berlin, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been crystal clear in the past three days that the U.S. is no longer a reliable ally. Try as they might, America’s six counterparts in the G7 (Germany together with Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom) could not bring Trump to climate sense. As is his pathetic wont, Trump responded to Merkel with aggressive tweets.
The implication is indisputable. The U.S. is willfully, aggressively, spitefully, and in my view, tragically, abandoning its global leadership.
The fact is that all 193 member states of the United Nations (the U.S. plus 192) adopted the agreement by consensus in December 2015. With the U.S. walking out, that makes it 192 against 1. America First? More like America Last.
Why did the entire world agree to the Paris Climate Agreement? Because they know that climate change is real, human caused, and extremely dangerous. But then again, they are not funded by the Koch Brothers.
What is likely to come next? There are legal and diplomatic complexities to withdrawing from Paris itself. These are the nitty gritty of America’s mindless behavior, but it will occupy and preoccupy the world’s governments for months to come.
More important is what comes next on three fronts, regarding climate change, the U.S. economy and geopolitics. On climate change, let’s not be distracted. Trump is an ignoramus. And most of the other promoters of leaving Paris, including the senators and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, are living in denial, clouded by their close ties to industry. Not too much more to it than that. The rest of the world will hold fast to its climate change commitments, and perhaps even be strengthened and more unified as the result of Trump’s action today.
On the economy, Trump’s action will have a net negative impact. For every purported job saved, and there will be very few of those, there will be vastly more potential new jobs foregone as the result of policy delay, confusion, and incoherence. Projects like the Keystone Pipeline (to bring Canada’s oil sands to American refineries) are unlikely ever to be built. They are not bankable.
On geopolitics, Trump has willfully and gratuitously handed the high ground, the moral leadership, and the practical political leadership to China. Well done, Donald.