If you’re not shaken by Trump’s repudiation of the Paris Climate Agreement yesterday at the White House, you’ve wandered into the wrong Web site.
Those “individual nationally-determined commitments” whose sum is, or was, the Paris agreement may be woefully insufficient to stop climate ruin; yet reaching the agreement was an enormous step forward, marking the time the world began moving in concert, if haltingly, toward capping, reducing and eliminating climate-destroying emissions.
A transcript of Trump’s Rose Garden remarks is here, for anyone who cares to look. Rather than prate on, I’ve chosen to link to the four most penetrating pieces about this calamitous misstep that I’ve seen. Here are brief samples from each:
1. Mike Grunwald, in Politico, Why Trump actually pulled out of Paris
It wasn’t because of the climate, or to help American business. He needed to troll the world — and this was his best shot so far.
Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from this carefully crafted multilateral compromise was a diplomatic and political slap: it was about extending a middle finger to the world, while reminding his base that he shares its resentments of fancy-pants elites and smarty-pants scientists and tree-hugging squishes who look down on real Americans who drill for oil and dig for coal.
The real triumph of Paris wasn’t America’s promises; it was the serious commitments from China, India and other developing nations that had previously insisted on their right to burn unlimited carbon until their economies caught up to the developed world.
2. Paul Krugman, in The New York Times, Trump Gratuitously Rejects the Paris Climate Accord
As Donald Trump does his best to destroy the world’s hopes of reining in climate change, let’s be clear about one thing: This has nothing to do with serving America’s national interest. This isn’t about nationalism; mainly, it’s about sheer spite.
Pay any attention to modern right-wing discourse and you find deep hostility to any notion that some problems require collective action beyond shooting people and blowing things up.
Beyond this, much of today’s right seems driven above all by animus toward liberals rather than specific issues. If liberals are for it, they’re against it. If liberals hate it, it’s good. Add to this the anti-intellectualism of the G.O.P. base, for whom scientific consensus on an issue is a minus, not a plus, with extra bonus points for undermining anything associated with President Barack Obama.
3. 350.org founder Bill McKibben, also in The Times, Trump’s Stupid and Reckless Climate Decision
It’s a stupid and reckless decision — our nation’s dumbest act since launching the war in Iraq. But it’s not stupid and reckless in the normal way. Instead, it amounts to a thorough repudiation of two of the civilizing forces on our planet: diplomacy and science. It undercuts our civilization’s chances of surviving global warming, but it also undercuts our civilization itself, since that civilization rests in large measure on those two forces.
But it’s not just science that [Trump is] blowing up. The Paris accord was a high achievement of the diplomatic art, a process much messier than science, and inevitably involving compromise and unseemly concession. Still, after decades of work, the world’s negotiators managed to bring along virtually every nation: the Saudis and the low-lying Marshall Islanders, the Chinese and the Indians. One hundred and ninety-five nations negotiated the Paris accord, including the United States.
The changes [committed to at Paris], and similar ones agreed to by other nations, would not have ended global warming. They were too small. But the hope of Paris was that the treaty would send such a strong signal to the world’s governments, and its capital markets, that the targets would become a floor and not a ceiling; that shaken into action by the accord, we would start moving much faster toward renewable energy, maybe even fast enough to begin catching up with the physics of global warming. There are signs that this has been happening: The plummeting price of solar energy just this spring persuaded India to forgo a huge planned expansion of coal plants in favor of more solar panel arrays to catch the sun. China is shutting coal mines as fast as it can build wind turbines.
4. David Roberts in Vox, Trump’s Paris climate decision shows the threat rising tribalism poses to the planet
The hallmark of tribalism (a term I prefer to “nationalism,” as it gets at the deeper roots) is that it views the world in zero-sum terms — if one tribe benefits, it is at another tribe’s expense. As has been much remarked (see my post on Trump’s mindset), this describes Trump to a tee. He views all interactions, both personal and international, in terms of dominance and submission.
Tribalism has also entirely subsumed the US conservative movement. The intellectual core has all but rotted; what remains are older, rural and suburban white men and their wives, angry that their tribe is being demoted from its hegemonic position. At a barely beneath-the-surface level, Trumpism is about restoring old hierarchies: the powerful over the powerless, whites over minorities, men over women.
A zero-sum perspective is inherently hostile to collective agreements and treaties. It can only see such agreements as attempts by the weak to bind and restrain the strong (a theme that popped up again and again in Trump’s announcement on Paris). Trump was inclined to see things that way already, no matter what he was told.
That is the backdrop to Trump’s decision. It’s not that Paris particularly constrained him — it didn’t constrain him at all, actually — but the very notion of committing to collective action bothered him (and Steve Bannon). From his perspective, the US has tons of fossil fuels, and that gives the US power. Voluntarily reducing dependence on fossil fuels threatens US dominance.
Trump doesn’t just want that dominance — he wants to signal it, to shove it in other countries’ faces. Staying in the agreement, even if it was substantively meaningless, didn’t send the right signal.
McKibben ended his piece with this:
And so we will resist. As the federal government reneges on its commitments, the rest of us will double down on ours. Already cities and states are committing to 100 percent renewable energy. Atlanta was the latest to take the step. We will make sure that every leader who hesitates and waffles on climate will be seen as another Donald Trump, and we will make sure that history will judge that name with the contempt it deserves. Not just because he didn’t take climate change seriously, but also because he didn’t take civilization seriously.
Maybe it was the McKibben passage I put in bold that led me to call out my own mayor, NYC’s Bill de Blasio, for his transportation hypocrisy, on a radio call-in this morning. (Watch this space next week, for details.) A small step, to be sure, but I intend to take another tomorrow, and the day after, as I know you will as well.