Quantcast
Climate

Thank You Trump for Making Climate a Breaking News Story

Donald Trump has done what Al Gore, Jim Hansen, climate scientists, the Sierra Club and the rest of the environmental movement could never do—make climate disruption breaking cable TV news. Trump's histrionic, largely symbolic and recklessly self-destructive decision to abandon the Paris climate agreement means, among other things, that far more Americans know about the Paris climate agreement this morning than 24 hours ago. Never has climate dominated a news cycle as it did Thursday—even when the Paris agreement was signed by all of the world, (Nicaragua and Syria excepted).


Trump did this by providing the climate crisis with what it lacked—a single villain. He has now cast himself, for most of the global community, as a James Bond style villain, a Dr. No or Goldfinger, plotting global destruction for personal power and gain. But he is, in reality, President of the United States—not a character in a movie. And in the real world the response to villainy doesn't come from a heroic special agent but through the collaborative response of a wide array of actors—other countries, U.S. cities, many of America's most powerful states, and hundreds of businesses and civil society organizations.

Trump's decision to abandon Paris has catalyzed, amplified and intensified this response. We actually, ironically, owe him a favor.

Let's begin with the depressing decision, and then look at the hope we can all take from the resistance.

Trump's decision to use the established process to exit Paris, but to remain in the underlying Rio Treaty on climate, means it will take four years for the U.S. to out—and the American people will have a chance to vote for the next President before we leave. So this announcement is largely symbolic. Trump also made clear that he would not honor the commitments President Obama made in his Paris pledge—but he was already busy undoing as many of those as he could. (Fortunately far fewer of these climate solutions than the media has implied are actually things Trump can reverse—we're already half-way to meeting our Paris pledge and Trump can't undo history). And since Paris is a coalition of the willing, not an enforcement based agreement, Trump was always free to walk away from our pledges and knew it.

So as a practical matter, withdrawing from Paris in 4 years will have no impact on U.S. climate emissions between now and 2025. Thursday's announcement doesn't give Trump a single additional tool to roll-back Obama's climate legacy.

So why do it? Why alienate virtually the entire global community, and abandon America's good standing as a diplomatic leader? Why let China and Germany step forward into our shoes? Why stiff more than 1,000 American businesses, including hundreds of the biggest, who begged Trump not to withdraw from Paris, including ExxonMobil and Chevron? Why make his climate denial such an embarrassingly big story?

It's hard to know exactly what motivates President Trump. My guess, though is that he withdrew from Paris precisely because he needed to show his isolationist, America- first followers that he would walk away from a passel of treaties, and that he rejected diplomacy as a tool of global leadership—in a way that would have fewer real world repercussions than keeping his campaign promise to terminate North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump ignored the fact that the Paris accord was, for the U.S., an unbelievably favorable deal, in which everything we agreed to do was something most Americans wanted to do anyway: replace outmoded, expensive and dirty coal power with cheaper, cleaner renewables; stop wasting valuable natural gas by letting it leak or be flared; provide motorists with cars and trucks and waste less fuel and go further on a dollar's worth of gasoline; modernize our building stock to reduce utility bills and increase comfort; and replace climate destructive HFC refrigerants with modern, American developed safe alternatives.

His false and inflammatory remarks about the financial implications of the Paris agreement were clearly aimed at the minority of Americans who believe that global cooperation hurts the U.S., and displayed Trump's usual callousness about what most Americans hear or think about him—in this case, they are reading once again he is just not telling the truth. (For example, U.S. support for the Green Climate Fund under Paris is a tiny fraction of the $100 billion Trump cited. And nothing in the Paris agreement hampers the U.S.'s ability to build any particular energy project it chooses).

But Trump's entire campaign and Presidency have been premised on the notion that the passion of the minority which supports him will enable him to govern, even as the majority rejects his leadership—so this is nothing new.

What is new, however, is the intensity of the response. Many feared—and Steve Bannon hoped—that a U.S. withdrawal would create a domino collapse of global confidence in Paris. Instead it greatly solidified the commitment of Europe, China, Canada and India to filling the gap left by American withdrawal, while isolating and marginalizing the U.S. in other key diplomatic forums. India's Narendra Modi commented, "Paris or no Paris, our commitment to preserving the climate is for the sake of future generations."

Domestically, Trump has forced a large swathe of American business, which had welcomed the predictability and global consistency of the Paris agreement, into public opposition to his administration, a break companies had been very reluctant to risk. Elon Musk, who had controversially clung to his seat as one of Trump's economic advisors, walked out in protest. Jeff Immelt tweeted, "Industry must now lead and not depend on government." The Governors of California, Washington and New York began assembling a new coalition of states willing to challenge Trump and coordinate their climate leadership, expecting at least 10, and perhaps as many as 25 participants. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was pulling together a broad coalition of cities, states and the private sector to prepare an "American Pledge," a replacement set of strategies to meet America's Paris commitment to a 26 percent emissions cut, using state and local policy tools and corporate commitments, all aggregated and formally reported to the United Nations in place of the federal government reports previously envisaged. American society is replacing the Trump administration in climate diplomacy—something unprecedented but very powerful, and something which begins to marginalize the President in a disruptive and one expects unwelcome way.

This kind of a pathway to climate progress was laid out and anticipated by Mike Bloomberg and myself in our recent book, Climate of Hope. But we never imagined that it would be Donald Trump whose desire to remain center-stage for his base would accelerate and jump-start the process.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Politics
Children fishing in Tamil Nadu, the Indian region where protests took place partly over concerns of a copper smelter's impact on fish. Abhishek.cty / CC BY-SA 4.0

Police Open Fire on Pollution Protesters in India, Killing at Least 9

A protest of a controversial copper smelter in the Tamil Nadu state on the southeastern tip of India took a violent turn Tuesday when police opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least nine, Reuters reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Eagle Creek fire. Curtis Perry / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Teen Ordered to Pay $36.6 Million For Starting Oregon Wildfire

A teenager who admitted to starting the Eagle Creek Canyon wildfire in Oregon that singed approximately 48,000 acres of forest land in September was ordered to pay $36.6 million in restitution.

Hood River County Circuit Judge John A. Olson admitted that the youngster will probably never be able to pay the total amount, but was obligated under state law to issue the full award to the victims of the massive blaze, including residents whose properties burned down and the state and federal departments that fought the fire, The Oregonian reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine / Flickr / CC0 1.0

Shell Shareholders Vote Down Climate Change Proposal But Signal They Still Want Action

A vast majority of Royal Dutch Shell shareholders voted down a proposal calling on the company to set specific targets for lowering its carbon dioxide emissions on Tuesday, putting their faith in the company's internal plans to fight climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
NPCA Online / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Atlantic Coast Pipeline to Sideline 100 Miles of Construction in Virginia and West Virginia

Builders of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline told federal authorities they will delay construction along 21 miles in West Virginia and 79 miles in Virginia until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issues a revised "incidental take statement," which limits the number of threatened or endangered species that might be accidentally killed or harmed during development activities.

Lead developer Dominion Energy filed documents Tuesday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in response to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling last week. The court sided with environmental groups and their lawyers that the FWS' initial review was not clear enough in the case of the $6.5 billion pipeline and vacated one of its key permits.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Solar, coal and natural gas are prominent at the Big Bend Power Station and Manatee Viewing Center parking lot in Apollo Beach, FL. Walter / CC BY 2.0

Premature Births Linked to Living Near Power Plants

Closing coal- and oil-fired power plants may help decrease the incidence of premature births in surrounding areas, according to new research.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Lake Oahe, the source of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's drinking water. DVS / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Stopping a Dakota Access Pipeline Leak in Under 10 Minutes? A Fairy Tale, Say the Standing Rock Sioux

By Susan Cosier

Nine minutes. That's the longest it would take to detect a leak and shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) should the crude oil within begin escaping into the North Dakota prairie or the Missouri River. At least that's what Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the pipeline's owner, says. It's a claim that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe calls completely unrealistic given the company's "inadequate" emergency response plan.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced construction of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline replacement project in Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, Aug. 10, 2016. Marc Chalifoux / Epic Photography for the Government of Alberta, CC BY-ND 2.0

How Enbridge Helped Write Minnesota Pipeline Laws, Aiding Its Line 3 Battle Today

By Logan Carroll

The Minnesota section of Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline accounts for nearly 300 miles of the longest crude oil transport system in the world, and it is failing. The multi-billion-dollar transnational corporation has applied for a permit to replace it. Opposition from tribes in the region and environmental groups is slowing the project, but the process at times appears so tilted in Enbridge's favor that, watching the court battles and utility commission meetings, it almost feels like Enbridge wrote the rules.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Human activity, including domesticating livestock, has had a major impact on earth's biomass. Malcolm Morley~commonswiki

Humans and Big Ag Livestock Now Account for 96 Percent of Mammal Biomass

A first-of-its-kind study published Monday shows that, when it comes to impacting life on Earth, humans are punching well above our weight.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first ever comprehensive census of the distribution of the biomass, or weight of living creatures, across classification type and environment. It found that, while humans account for 0.01 percent of the planet's biomass, our activity has reduced the biomass of wild marine and terrestrial mammals by six times and the biomass of plant matter by half.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!