Earlier this week President Trump announced that his administration would be withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Accords. Today, in this FBB Debate Special, John and returning contributing writer Roger Durling will square off over the question of whether or not President Trump’s decision is as big of a deal as it’s being made out to be. Neither John nor Roger saw each other’s arguments before they submitted their final drafts to Tom and Winston who edited the article into its current format.
Roger’s Opening Statement : An Ode to a Former Superpower
President Trump did more than withdraw from a treaty on Thursday. He destroyed The United States’ role as the preeminent global leader, sacrificing it on an altar of ignorance, throwing the body into the (quickly rising) tides, as if to appease an encroaching God.
The Paris Agreement was our agreement. Made for us, by us. It ensured that the United States could sign on by using tricky language and obscurities in order to ensure it’s adoption in 2015 with limited Senate input (spoiler: a slim majority of the Senate doesn’t think this is an issue… which is nuts). While some will say this language weakened the treaty, and it certainly did make it harder to enforce, in reality this treaty — like all treaties however strongly written — was only ever going to be enforceable through pressures between nations, international-peer-pressure.
The Paris Agreement was always about more than just climate change, at least for us. For the United States, the Paris Agreement showed that regardless of internal conflict, we could still dictate terms. We could still show strength to the international community on global fights against things besides terrorists. We could look to the future, unafraid and undaunted by the tasks that lay ahead and push through with the rest of the world. No more
President Trump’s actions have shown the world that we, as a nation, are too dumb to see past tomorrow. That we don’t care about the economy, or public health, or anyone besides 50,000 coal workers that seem to be the only constituents President Trump cares about.
John’s Opening Statement: Much Ado About Nothing
This week, President Trump made waves by saying he would pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris Climate Accords. This led to a consternation so fierce from environmentalists (A group of which I count myself a member) that it was palpable. This is understandable. The Paris Climate Accord was the most sweeping international climate agreement since the Kyoto Protocol. With global climate change causing an increasingly complex variety of problems, it is time for the human race to take climate change and global warming seriously. Not tomorrow, but right now.
So again, I say it is understandable that environmentalists are (as everyone should be) concerned about President Trump announcing our nation’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. It was, as I said, the boldest and most sweeping international climate agreement to date. But why was the Paris Climate agreement so sweeping? Why did it contain the boldest climate goals ever set forth by the international community? Simply put: because the agreement had no enforcement mechanisms, which left it fatally flawed.
Even had the United States remained party to the Accords, there would have been no legal obligation for us to meet our climate goals. President Trump is a well known “Climate Denier,” and his policies surely would have prevented us from meeting our Paris Accord goals. Pulling out of the Agreement is purely symbolic, and substantively no different from what results would have been achieved even had the Trump Administration chosen to remain in the Paris Agreement.
Roger: Arby’s, Coal, Clean Energy, and Public Health
The President’s actions are seemingly justified (in his own mind) by a need to make America more competitive, create more jobs, and help America’s manufacturing and coal industries. Far be it from me to try and share facts with the President, but coal mining employs ~50,000 workers. To put that in perspective, Arby’s, everyone’s favorite 18th-largest-fast-food-chain employs ~80,000 workers. It also puts coal behind bowling alleys, florists, and nail salons in terms of total persons employed. Meanwhile, clean energy employs more than 4 million workers, and is adding jobs at an average of 12 times that of the national average. Further, the two largest manufacturers in the United States, Exxon Mobile and General Motors, are both heavily committed to the ideals of the Paris Agreement with Exxon having begged the President to stay in it, and General Motors having pledged to use 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Continuing to push an agenda that benefits these 50,000 jobs, which will eventually disappear whether through adoption of green energy in spite of federal policy, or by running out of economically accessible coal, this President is signing the fates of tens of millions of people in our country’s future who will have asthma, die early from pollution (yes, really die), or live in areas with limited access to clean water. These added health costs hurt public health, and are a contributor to the staggering fact that for the first time in our history as a nation, life expectancy went down between generations.
By pushing us away from the Green Energy Revolution and back into the last throes of a dying industry, President Trump has all but assured that this century which will be dominated by issues of a changing climate, will be dictated by Angela Merkel, Xi Jinping, and their successors. He has given away the mantle of leadership just as President Clinton did with theoretical physics and the Hadron collider, except instead of Nobel Prize’s and abstract theorems, it’s going to be human lives that are affected. Further, as the rest of the world continues to become greener and more sustainable, the US will fall further behind the curve. Our manufactured goods will become less competitive as their footprint becomes larger and larger comparatively, our word will (read: has already) become meaningless, and our historic partners will look elsewhere, as they already are.
The ramifications of this action deal not just in climate policy, but in geopolitics. By allowing China (who set ambitious goals under the accord) to take our place as the leader of the world order, we’re not only dooming our children and grandchildren to a world without clean air, with food scarcity, but also where America’s destiny is less than ever in its own hands.
John: A Meaningless Agreement
The reason that the Paris Agreement has such broad goals is that there is absolutely no way to enforce them. Not only were the parties of the agreement allowed to set their own goals, they did so knowing that there would be no legal enforcement mechanism to hold them to their promises. The Accord was crafted in such a fashion because the United States (the world’s second leading CO2 emitter) would have no chance of ratifying such a treaty. The Paris Agreement was bent into a pretzel shape to accommodate the United States, and as a result it was left full of bold, but half-empty, promises. There was no means in the agreement to force any country to meet any goal by any date. This is the reason that the agreement was so aggressive, but it was just a paper tiger.
It is easy to make a promise that you know no one will hold you to. The only force and effect behind the Paris Agreement is peer pressure.
President Trump withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement changes nothing tangible. Yes, America is sacrificing this little bit of her role as global leader. Yes, we join just two other countries (Syria and Nicaragua) who are not party to the agreement. But we are still a global leader in almost every other way, and very little that is tangible has changed.
The goals of the Paris agreement were voluntary with no force of effect. Do you, the reader, truly believe that the Trump Administration would be putting their all into meeting those goals? Even if the United States had remained party to the agreement, would we have come anywhere close to the Obama Administration goal of a 27% reduction in U.S. carbon emissions? This goal was going to be difficult from the start, and with President Trump clamoring to deregulate industry and revitalize coal, it seems incredibly unlikely. Pulling out of the agreement was purely symbolic, not substantive, which holds a certain irony as the agreement itself was more symbol than substance.
Roger: Thanks, Mike, But it’s Not Enough
In an effort to save America’s credibility, Governors, Mayors, and corporate leaders (some of whom are even Republicans!) lead by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have pledged to uphold the Paris Agreement. This might lead one to think that the official US Government backing out isn’t as colossal a mistake as it is. My regards to Mayor Bloomberg, and given the situation at hand I’m glad he and other leaders throughout the country have stepped up, but to operate under the fallacy that these are equivalent to the United States government acting is absurdist. Seattle, Ann Arbor, and New York can’t honor articles of a NATO treaty, just the same as they can’t honor the Paris Agreement. I’ve written an article for this blog in which I said that it was never going to be the Federal Government alone that solved climate change. That’s true. And the Paris Agreement also recognizes that, which is why it allows for countries to set their own goals based on what they could reasonably expect to corral their people into doing what’s right for the future of the world.
To put it bluntly, states can’t set car-mileage standards (as California is about to find out in the courts), regional bureaucrats can’t decide national power plant standards or energy production goals, companies can’t justify switching to alternative energy when fossil fuels companies are propped up and prices held down by federal subsidies. It’s not about what Washington State is going to do, it’s about what Wyoming is going to do. A house divided cannot stand. The federal government was never going to solve the climate crisis, but federal policies pursuant to the goals in international accords like the Paris Agreement were going to be the tip of the sphere, the cutting edge against the Goliath that is climate change.
Further, it’s unfair, and legally gray, to place the financial burden in the fight against climate change on any of the above listed non-national groups. Michael Bloomberg said he’d contribute the $15 million that the US was expected to pay into the Green Energy Fund. At premise this sounds great, as though the limousine liberal class can do what they want, without federal involvement. Yay! Free Markets! What those rosy reports fail to mention is that the $15 million was a part of $100 million pledged by the Obama administration, and an even more paltry part of the $100 billion (yes, with a b) a year that industrialized nations promised to eventually contribute year after year to the fund, which builds green energy projects and resiliency building projects in the developing world. These projects make these countries more stable, wealthier, and more valuable allies on every front for the United States and the rest of our industrialized counterparts. Mayor Bloomberg is generous for his contribution, but he doesn’t need allies in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South/Central America — the United States does. He doesn’t represent our nation, Donald Trump and his actions do.
John: Too Little, Too Late
The Paris Agreement is far from perfect. Its largest flaw is that there is no enforcement mechanism, which I have already discussed in detail. But there are other problems. The next biggest of them is that agreement does not go nearly far enough. One of the primary stated goals of the Paris Climate Agreement is to limit global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages. However, even if EVERY country in the accords met their pledges, goals which are wildly unrealistic, the 2 degree goal would STILL not be met. Further, even if the national goals were realistic (they aren’t) and the 2 degree goal was achievable (it isn’t), it still would not be enough. As my counterpart in this debate has previously noted, hundreds of small islands and hundreds of thousands of people are at severe risk for the effects of climate change. For those nations, 2 degrees of global warming would be a complete and total disaster. This lead a coalition of of island nations to create a movement aptly, if depressingly, named “1.5 to stay alive,” with Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum saying “We cannot be expected to sign off on a small island death warrant here in Paris.” For these island nations, any increase in global temperatures above 1.5 degrees will quite simply wipe them off the face of the map. And yet, 2 degrees was agreed upon by the body at large. The Paris Agreement simply does not go far enough, yet it is heralded posthumously as the salvation of humanity, which is patently false.
Roger: Closing Statement
Donald Trump promised to be a “Jobs President” and the Paris agreement was one of the best ways for him to maintain that promise. He promised to strengthen our standing around the world, and the Paris Agreement was one of the best ways to do that. He promised to be a President for all Americans, the Paris Agreement was the best way to be that, and the President for all future Americans. States, companies, and persons can pick up some of the slack, but the failure of leadership at every conceivable level on this issue will relegate America to a second class power in the future. As the world looks towards tomorrow, we’ve thrown lye in our own eyes.
The only silver lining in this, if there is any, is that it’s a years long process to withdraw from the treaty, and before it becomes official, we’ll be having another Presidential election. Let’s hope whoever comes next can fulfill the promises of a man who can’t get his head out of a spray tan bottle.
John: Closing Statement
I consider myself a committed environmentalist, and I ardently hope that the nations of the world will unite to craft a meaningful and binding international accord to halt and reverse climate change. But the Paris Agreement is not that accord. Its has no means with which to ensure compliance from the parties. Its goals are simultaneously unrealistically ambitious and far too little to make an impact. President Trump and his administration were under no obligation to obey the guidelines set out in the Paris Agreement due to the lack of enforcement mechanism. That Administration’s ideology, campaign promises, and actions all have shown that they would likely not have taken the necessary actions to meet the U.S. goal, even if they had remained in the agreement. President Trump’s declaration of withdrawal is pure political maneuvering that does not change reality one iota. To waste precious time and breath condemning him only puts more greenhouse gas into the air. The Paris Agreement was tragically flawed from its very inception, and any hope of the U.S. even attempting to meet its Paris Agreement goals died on the evening of November 8th, 2016. We knew what we were getting with President Trump. We knew we were getting a president who is, by all considerations, anti-environmentalist and anti-globalism. There was no way the United States would have met our 2020 or 2025 Paris Agreement goals under his leadership. Pulling out of the agreement is purely semantic. Let’s not act surprised. We made our bed, and now we have to lay in it.
We are interested in hearing your take on John and Roger’s arguments as well as your opinion on President Trump’s decision. You can post a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook Page. You can also read Roger’s previous Climate Policy articles here.