By withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, the US is effectively saying the global climate crisis is not our problem. This is American exceptionalism run amok. The US acts as if it can opt-out of the only planet we have because, well, because we’re special. This is not logical, this is not practical, this is not moral, and this is not possible. This is delusional. This is a crime against humanity. And yet the House Democrats remain obsessed with the low-level intrigues of Ukraine, Trumps, Bidens, and other clowns while turning away from the growing global catastrophe. Yes, there’s some evidence of minor-league failed chicanery on several sides of the Ukraine mashup. But the case is a joke compared to the climate crisis, and our Democratic leadership chooses to focus on the picayune over the universally tragic.
It’s not as though American leadership hasn’t had time to prepare. Forty years has been enough time for most nations to take climate issues seriously and to start responding responsibly. New Zealand has become the first to vote to achieve zero carbon admissions by 2050 (not good enough, but the best there is). Internationally, the response has been uneven and overall inadequate, but only the US is in such deep institutional denial. Only the US is pulling out of the Paris accord, only the US thinks it knows better than every other nation in the world, only the US believes in its own magical exceptionalism. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, making the official US announcement on Twitter on November 4, invoked American exceptionalism in his dishonest assertions:
Today we begin the formal process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. The U.S. is proud of our record as a world leader in reducing all emissions, fostering resilience, growing our economy, and ensuring energy for our citizens. Ours is a realistic and pragmatic model.
At the same time that the US was boasting of its non-existent leadership on climate, the peer-reviewed science magazine BioScience published an article titled World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency that represented the first time scientists have used the word “emergency” in reference to climate change. The paper was signed by 11,258 scientists from 153 countries and began:
Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to “tell it like it is.” On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency. [emphasis added]
Exactly 40 years ago, scientists from 50 nations met at the First World Climate Conference (in Geneva 1979) and agreed that alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act. Since then, similar alarms have been made through the 1992 Rio Summit, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the 2015 Paris Agreement, as well as scores of other global assemblies and scientists’ explicit warnings of insufficient progress (Ripple et al. 2017). Yet greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are still rapidly rising, with increasingly damaging effects on the Earth’s climate. An immense increase of scale in endeavors to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis (IPCC 2018).
At the same time, in another attack on the American environment, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rolling back clean water rules. The EPA was relaxing controls on toxic coal ash pools, which contain mercury, arsenic, and other dangerous chemicals, allowing them to pollute waterways near coal-fired electric plants. According to Democracy NOW, Food & Water Watch has vowed to sue the Trump administration over the rollback of the rules, which it says would “lead directly to more water contamination, more birth defects, more childhood cancer and more pain and suffering for American families — all for the sake of a dirty industry’s last grasp at profits.”
According to President Trump, “We ended the war on beautiful clean coal.” There was no “war” and there is no “clean coal.” The real war has been waged by coal, oil, and other energy industries against the American people and the world. Exxon knew what the problem was 40 years ago and lied. Based on corporate behavior, capitalism is both homicidal and, more slowly, suicidal. Political behavior offers little reassurance. This is the second time the US has reneged on a climate treaty supposedly negotiated in good faith. The first time was when President Bush pulled the US out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. In between, establishment Democrats have managed only limp and limited responses to the climate crisis.
No establishment party presidential candidate for 2020 offers adequate leadership on climate, as assessed by Greenpeace in an elaborate, detailed scoring system. Only one candidate was rated A+ and that was Bernie Sanders. Three others were rated A- and they were, in order of score, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Steyer, and Cory Booker. The rest were all rated lower, with Bill Weld and Donald Trump at the bottom, each with an F. The two-party system hasn’t stepped up on climate issues and shows no likelihood of doing so in the near future – unless Democrats somehow nominate a candidate willing to cope with reality. Even then, we face an uphill struggle to save ourselves in opposition to entrenched narrow interests.
Sanders and Warren are the leading Democrats promoting serious structural change for the country. They are both getting substantial, frequently dishonest pushback from the powers of the status quo. Billionaire Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase ($30 million annual compensation) recently took a potshot at Elizabeth Warren. She “vilifies successful people,” Dimon complained falsely, offering no example. Maybe he feels personally hurt and vilified by Warren’s generic call for billionaires to pay a fair share for their country’s general wellbeing. Dimon has been attacking Warren for years, especially for her effort to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to reign in predatory banking. Dimon is a successful banker. Whether he’s a successful person is less clear in the fog of greed and privilege that shrouds his life, unmarked by any significant contribution to the common good. Warren was quick to respond:
It’s really simple: Jamie Dimon and his buddies are successful in part because of the opportunities, workforce, and public services that we all paid for. It’s only fair that he and his billionaire friends chip in to make sure everyone else has a chance to succeed….
The fact that they’ve reacted so strongly – so angrily! – to being asked to chip in more tells you all you need to know. The system is working great for the wealthy and well-connected, and Jamie Dimon doesn’t want that to change. I’m going to fight to make sure it works for everyone.
In addition to leaving the Paris accord, Trump’s policy of global ecocide now includes sending US troops into eastern Syria to secure Syrian oil. How is this not a nexus of impeachable offenses? What right does the US have to seize Syrian oil? What authority has Congress given Trump to use the military to seize Syrian oil that is best left in the ground for the sake of the planet?
Perhaps the first candidate to respond to Trump’s retreat on the climate accord, Elizabeth Warren wrote at length in The Guardian, outlining her plans to respond to the climate crisis.
President Trump surprised no one with his decision to withdraw from the agreement. It is yet another reckless choice in line with his steps to rollback our bedrock environmental laws, which have cleaned up our water and our air for decades. But that doesn’t minimize the gravity of his latest move. Trump is not only ceding American leadership at a critical juncture in the fight against climate change, he’s also giving away American jobs in the clean energy economy of the future – walking away from the greatest economic opportunity of our time.
The conventional wisdom of the day, especially among establishment Democrats and Republicans in general, is that taking measures to address the climate crisis adequately is just too expensive. We can’t afford it, they argue. And, yes, those measures would be expensive, especially when looked at in isolation. But the climate crisis is upon us. All signs are that it is accelerating and that even the chance of mitigation is limited and time is running out. What few seem to understand is that the cost of effectively addressing the climate crisis will be trivial when compared to the cost of NOT addressing the climate crisis.
It’s a long way to the next presidential election, with no assurance that an entrenched establishment will allow us to have a candidate worth voting for.
About author William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.