Can Trump Destroy the Paris Agreement and Thus the Earth’s Climate System?

I have a Spanish friend who likes to use the expression:  “Is complicate.”  When it comes to the climate crisis, the transition to clean energy, and international politics one can safely say:  “Is complicate.”  I tried to convey a real sense of optimism in my book, A Newer World, and some of the hopeful trends I identified then have proven even more robust than I could have imagined at the time I was researching and writing it.  We are spending a great deal of money, globally, on clean tech, and that’s only going to continue.In the US, the latest figures show that renewables accounted for 19.35% of electrical power generation during the first quarter of 2017, up almost 10% from the first quarter only a year ago.  What’s particularly interesting about this is that the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the US Department of Energy predicted only five years ago that we wouldn’t reach this level of penetration of renewables in the power sector until 2057.  Jobs?  We got ‘em.  Nearly ten million globally.

We have been on a progressively more felicitous path toward a cleaner way of living our lives and that’s all good.  However, as the Trump people seem desperate to prove, a good amount of that economically and environmentally healthier approach to modern life can be substantially monkey-wrenched by the corruption and venality of people with too much political power and not an ounce of integrity, let alone concern for public health or the environment.  An article, for instance, in yesterday’s NY Times looks at how the US Department of Energy is trying to figure the best way to cut wind and solar power development off at the knees.  One member of Congress said:  “It appears to me to be a bottom line that’s written and now looking for a study to substantiate it.”  (Here’s more in-depth analysis from the Sierra Club:  Rick Perry Thinks You’re Stupid.)  Who’s writing this report?  Travis Fisher, formerly an official of the Koch Brothers’ Institute for Energy Research.  They love the idea of the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement.  Natch.

As you know, the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Paris 2½ years ago and achieved a breakthrough consensus.  Now the US is pulling out.  ¾ of the parties have ratified the Paris Agreement, so the US, responsible for 13% of the world’s greenhouse gases, is saying, to put it politely, “So what?” to the rest of the world.

What’s really complicated is that it would probably be better if the US, at this point with these mutants in the saddle in the White House and the agencies, to pull out of the Paris Agreement.  The US will only be a dead weight on the Agreement and the Convention itself for the foreseeable future.  Europe, Japan and China (and India too) can really step up to the plate.  The recent G7 Summit’s final communiqué, in fact, has this remarkable language:

The United States of America is in the process of reviewing its policies on climate change and on the Paris Agreement and thus is not in a position to join the consensus on these topics. Understanding this process, the Heads of State and of Government of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom and the Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission reaffirm their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement….

So, good riddance.  Plus, we’ve got California, the Golden State indeed in many ways, and the world’s sixth largest economy if it were a country, leading the charge on climate and energy in the United States, in spite of the present public policy aberration that is the Trump Administration.  A fine NY Times article from last week, Fighting Trump on Climate, California Becomes a Global Force, highlights many of the developments there.  Of course, California has not honed its world leadership on climate and energy only in the wake of the present moral and political catastrophe we’re experiencing; it’s been at this game for decades.  I like to say that California and Germany are going to save the world.  (I took a group of grad students to Berlin two years ago to see live and in full color and then to talk about some of the stunning highlights of the Energiewende and other clean tech developments there.)

And, then for a cherry on top, American businesses, most of them multinational powerhouses, have increasingly been committing themselves to a big push to renewables and energy efficiency.  Money quote here from one of the managers of this effort at WWF:

In light of the election, the role that U.S. companies, as well as other major energy buyers, including cities, play is even more essential. And because businesses are making renewable energy the new normal, where they go, others will follow. We fully expect to see the growth continue — the momentum is now unstoppable.

So, is complicate.  What I see happening is that the American body politic, weakened by corrupt and immoral politics, strange “news” marketed to the deepest vulnerabilities of too many Americans’ psyches, fueled by a virtually limitless supply of dark money, is fighting the cancer that has invaded.  We are fighting back on many levels and that’s just democracy and the rule of law, not to mention common sense economics, re-asserting themselves.  There is no rationale for the US abandoning the Paris Agreement other than as a sop to the fossil fuel interests – including Russia and Saudi Arabia (hmm) – and red meat for dead enders who haven’t yet figured out that Trump has well snookered them. For an update on the fact that the fingerprints of the Kochs are all over this decision, see Jane Mayer’s post at The New Yorker:  In the Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, The Koch Brothers’ Campaign Becomes Overt.

Thankfully, there is more power from the grown-ups on this around the world than there is from the special interests, ideologues and their dupes.

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