Rethinking Trade, Steel and Climate
President Trump's proposed steel and aluminum tariffs have reopened a confusing debate about trade, made harder to follow by the incoherence of the president's approach. But it's a debate we need to have, and clarify, because along with its incoherence, Trump's proposal correctly challenges the establishment wisdom that the current international trade framework is, broadly, the best the U.S. could hope for.
Begin with the incoherence. Trump is levying these tariffs because he thinks—rightly—China is gaming the trade system and hurting American manufacturing by exporting far more to the world (not only the U.S.) than it buys. But Trump plans to levy the tariffs not only on Chinese steel, but on countries like Canada which are not cheating and which run trade surpluses with the U.S. Steel Workers President Leo Gerard, who understandably favors help for U.S. steel and aluminum, has said he doesn't want Trump to go after Canada and other countries that play by the rules.
And Trump is not planning tariffs on goods manufactured abroad with cut-rate steel or aluminum—from automobiles to construction steel to beverage cans. So prices will go up for U.S. manufacturers who rely heavily on steel and aluminum, but actually go down for their foreign competitors, likely hurting more U.S. manufacturing jobs among steel-using companies than will be created among steel-making ones.
It's a mess. The mess comes partly from Trump's attitude that trade agreements are fundamentally win-lose power struggles. But at its core is the refusal of current agreements like the WTO and NAFTA to take into account the incentives and price signals they send up and down the global supply chain.
Trump is performing a valuable service by raising the issue and forcing the establishment to confront it.
As pro-trade economists like Paul Krugman have pointed out, just as it makes sense to import sugar from warm tropical countries where it grows well, it makes sense to import aluminum, whose main production cost is electricity, from Canada which has abundant hydropower and a small population needing electricity. But it doesn't make sense to encourage countries like China to recklessly mine raw iron ore, aluminum, and coal, using quasi-forced labor, then smelt it in wasteful, inefficient mills, all the while ignoring basic air and water pollution controls, to produce steel or aluminum for export. We then give those seemingly cheap metals unlimited access to the U.S. market, penalizing U.S. companies that have to pay reasonable wages and spend substantial sums cleaning up their pollution. The pollution emitted by these processes doesn't stay in the country where it occurs; the carbon dioxide disrupts the global climate, costing everyone; the forced labor is, in effect, a massive, cruel form of modern slavery.
The current trade system encourages all of this bad behavior—it's nuts. But Trump's proposal won't fix it—instead of importing subsidized steel and aluminum, we'll just import subsidized cars and beer cans.
What's needed is a complete overhaul of the global trading system, so that instead of encouraging a race to the bottom—lower wages, more dangerous working conditions, higher levels of pollution, escalating risks from climate change—trading rules instead encourage countries to use better technology, higher standards, fair sharing of profits with workers, so that trade does, indeed, deliver on its promise to lift all boats.
One important piece of this puzzle is climate. The "carbon loophole" refers to the fact that, so far, efforts by industrial nations to reduce their climate impact have combined two very different strategies. First, countries like Denmark and Germany, now China, and some states in the U.S., have begun replacing dirty fossil technologies with clean, efficient, and renewable sources of energy and transportation. These innovations are what we need much more of to avoid climate disaster.
But in some cases countries simply lowered their apparent rate of greenhouse pollution by taking pollution-intensive parts of their economy, like making steel, and shipping them overseas. So when steel that used to be made in California is now made in China, the greenhouse pollution actually goes up, because Chinese steel mills are less efficient than those in the U.S. (European mills are better yet.) (Not only carbon pollution increases, but also ozone and sulfur that poison our lungs—and those become not only the infamous Beijing deadly air, but actually drift across the Pacific and increase lung disease on the West Coast.) Data suggests that a significant part of Europe's "climate progress" has actually been pollution "exported" through this carbon loophole.
How to fix this? Yale Economist William Nordhaus suggested the creation of a "Climate Club" in which countries committed to reducing greenhouse pollution levied a common tax on the carbon pollution embedded in goods made in their economies like aluminum, steel and cement, whether in raw form or embodied in cars, concrete and beer cans. Trade in carbon-intensive goods among these countries with a common carbon tax would flow as usual. But countries that refused to levy an equivalent carbon tax would see it collected on their goods at the customs dock. If, say, the EU joined a Climate Club of countries which levied a $40/ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions, and Donald Trump's administration refused to join the Club, when American steel beams were shipped to the EU, the Europeans could collect the carbon taxes Trump had refused to levy, eliminating the subsidy and leveling the playing field between American and Polish steel.
Europe has an emission trading system (ETS) which could serve as the model for such a Climate Club, and Europe is a likely leader in proposing such an idea—France has periodically floated the notion! (Europe's current ETS however, allows industries like steel, aluminum and cement free permits to emit carbon emissions, as an alternative to giving foreign competitors an advantage. Europe would have to decide to tax the carbon in all steel, instead of, as at present, eliminating the carbon fee on all steel.)
But it's possible that the desire to retaliate against Trump's crude and heavy-handed trade saber rattling might provoke the Europeans and other countries to take a major step forward towards improving both the global trading system and the effectiveness of the Paris climate agreement. A Climate Club doesn't need universal agreement by hundreds of countries—if Japan, the EU, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Korea were to join, the impact on global trade—and the climate—could be enormous. And anger at Trump might even bring unlikely first-movers like India and Brazil to the table.
Such clubs for trade would not solve the full array of problems with the WTO and NAFTA. What is needed is a more comprehensive definition of disallowed subsidies, a recognition that manufacturing processes and labor standards have global, not just local, impacts, and probably mechanisms to discourage countries from accruing unwarranted and persistent trade surpluses with the rest of the world. But in the specific context of tariffs on steel and aluminum, a Climate Club might constitute a major breakthrough, and a better alternative to a trade war.
Thank You Trump for Making Climate a Breaking News Story https://t.co/6XC9en7tr3 @ukycc @CANEurope— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1496575810.0
By Bill McKibben
To understand the planetary importance of this autumn's presidential election, check the calendar. Voting ends on November 3—and by a fluke of timing, on the morning of November 4 the United States is scheduled to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
President Trump announced that we would abrogate our Paris commitments during a Rose Garden speech in 2017. But under the terms of the accords, it takes three years to formalize the withdrawal. So on Election Day it won't be just Americans watching: The people of the world will see whether the country that has poured more carbon into the atmosphere than any other over the course of history will become the only country that refuses to cooperate in the one international effort to do something about the climate crisis.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Oliver Milman
The climate crisis is set to be a significant factor in a U.S. presidential election for the first time, with new polling showing a clear majority of American voters want decisive action to deal with the threats posed by global heating.
Do you support or oppose each of the following policies as part of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzODcyMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjg4MzY4OX0.B-bt9mltOhK0MHFbzK8G3_8sBkDAeUsAWm-AhNZYoxQ/img.png?width=980" id="acd43" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8724178274b9f96e27055f74a1bafe20" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
America's largest national forest, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, will be opened up to logging and road construction after the Trump administration finalizes its plans to open up the forest on Friday, according to The New York Times.
Aerial view of the Tongass National Forest. Alan Wu / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
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By Ruby Russell and Ajit Niranjan
Hamstrung by coronavirus lockdowns, frustrated school strikers have spent months staging digital protests against world leaders failing to act urgently on climate change.
Pandemic Stalls Protests<p>Last November, the head of the UN Environment Program was among the public and scientific figures to warn that 2020 offered a last chance to cut emissions. Then, few could have suspected this deadline would coincide with an unprecedented public health emergency.</p><p>The pandemic has <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/tough-times-ahead-for-climate-protesters-during-corona-pandemic/a-52978469" target="_blank">dealt climate activism a blow</a>. Niedeggen says that as a movement demanding that the world act on scientific advice, the school strikers took lockdown restrictions extremely seriously, halted public protests immediately and took their activism online.</p><p>On April 24, Fridays for Future organized a "digital strike," with Niedeggen hosting a that racked up close to a quarter of a million views. "We were not physically standing together, but we were all fighting together," she says.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-strikers-get-inventive-during-the-covid-19-crisis-fridays-for-future/a-53229262" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Activists also gathered thousands of placards</a> from across Germany to lay out in front of the German Bundestag around the central slogan: "Fight every crisis."</p>
Opportunity for a New Normal<p>Last September's Global Climate Strike drew young and old protestors around the world, with organizers estimating a global turnout of 7.6 million, including an estimated 270,000 people in Berlin. Activists have adjusted this year's event to account for social distancing and different levels of coronavirus restrictions in cities taking part.</p><p>They say COVID-19 also presents opportunities.</p><p>"The pandemic shows that we can change our normal daily life, and we are very able to adjust to a situation of crisis," she says. The key question is how economies get back on their feet: "We have the possibility to build a new normal, to build a renewable world order, and an environmentally just, climate-just normal for everybody."</p><p>In July, Jeng was among 20 female Fridays for Future activists from the Global South to sign an open letter to G20 finance ministers warning that their decisions in "exclusive backrooms" over stimulus packages and corporate bailouts would "lock in development pathways for decades."</p><p>"The system is not broken, it was built to be unjust. We don't need recovery, we need a reboot," the letter reads, stressing that "black people, indigenous peoples and people of color," have been disproportionately hit by the economic, climate and coronavirus crises. </p>
Policy 'Not Quite There Yet'<p>Figures on stimulus spending do not suggest their words had much impact. The ministers were criticized for failing to relieve the debt of poorer countries, and according to <a href="https://www.energypolicytracker.org/region/g20/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Policy Tracker</a>, G20 countries by August had pledged $169 billion (142 billion euros) to fossil fuels since the beginning of the pandemic.</p><p>Katrin Uba, associate professor of political science at Uppsala University in Sweden, is researching Fridays for Future. She says that despite the movement raising awareness and gaining access to policymakers, real policy change "is not there yet."</p><p>Still, she stresses that social movements go through waves of mobilization as public attention on their core issues ebbs and flows. And perhaps one of Fridays for Future's biggest achievements is birthing a politically active generation that will keep the fight up long after corona becomes a memory. </p><p>"We know clearly from our research that many of the people who came to the streets hadn't done any protesting before in their lives," she told DW. "And we also know that if you do one protest, you are likely to do more."</p>
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This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25</strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."<br><br>It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube at 2 p.m. EDT Friday in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.<br></p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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