As the American Geophysical Union (AGU) noted a few days ago, “The withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord – a political decision by the Trump administration – does not change the science of how our planet works.”
We often speak of “rogue nations” in relation to nuclear proliferation and the danger that nuclear war poses for life on Earth. We now have the world’s second largest polluter going “climate rogue” with a promise to bring back their coal industry, pump more oil, and frack more natural gas. At a time when forward thinking nations are putting their best minds to work on research and development into cleaner alternatives, President Trump did the exact opposite.
It’s not like we didn’t have ample time to prepare. In June 1988 in the City of Toronto, The Conference on the Changing Atmosphere issued the following consensus conclusion: “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.”
By a strange twist of fate, 1988 was also the year that Oprah Winfrey teased a response out of Donald Trump that he was thinking of a run for the Presidency in 2016. Polly Toynbee, writing for The Guardian in 1988 also got this quote from The Donald: “If I want to be President, then I’ll be President.” Be careful for what you wish.
Now we are in a situation where this President has left the consensus of the global commons and joined Syria and Nicaragua in the last days of the fossil fuel economy. True, Syria and Nicaragua had never signed on to the Paris Climate Accord, which makes the U.S.A. withdrawal all the more shameful. The short-range thinking of the far-right Republican base who cheer at Trump’s rallies may be pleased, but the remaining 194 countries are more than a little miffed.
This Trump withdrawal is significant to the rest of the world for three reasons. First, it clarifies the role of far-right conservative corporations and their “think-tanks” to influence politics and education. Secondly, it pushes China to the top of the world stage for environmental leadership and innovative economic growth in the field of alternative energy technologies. And lastly, it undermines the value of science-based policies to make even a token attempt to deal with accelerating climate change.
While many pundits say that it was the influence of advisor Steve Bannon that pushed Trump to make his exit from the Paris Accord, it was really the years of lobbying by the Competitive Enterprises Institute (CEI) that turned the tide. The CEI had been influencing “charter” religious-right American schools for decades with their false science curriculum. The most infamous of these was the pseudo-science text “Facts Not Fear: a parent’s guide to teaching children about the environment.”
This text was published in the U.S.A. by the “Alabama Family Alliance” through funding by the CEI. It was authored by Michael Sanera of the Claremont Institute (a conservative “education” cult devoted to “Recovering the American Idea.”) and Jane Shaw, an economist then with the Political Economy Research Centre (now the Property and Environment Research Centre – PERC – a republican free market economic advisory group).
Along with Channel One propaganda being broadcast on large flat screens every hour, children in American private “charter” religious schools were given “Facts Not Fear” as a science text. CEI tried to do this in Canada via our own infamous right-wing Fraser Institute. Cleverly adapted for Canadian readers by “science” writers Liv Fredricksen and Laura Jones, they attempted to distribute this text free of charge to all Canadian middle schools. The Canadian educational system, province by province, flatly rejected the offer and the experiment failed.
However, in the U.S.A. the experiment succeeded in feeding the young minds of what would become Trump’s “base”. Adults and corporations were lobbied by CEI’s Ronald Bailey via publications like “Eco-Scam” and “Global Warming and Other Myths.” The reins of the lobbying were passed on by Bailey to Myron Ebell, who stood proudly by Trump’s side as he announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.
The second impact is the immediate leap by China into the leadership void created by the U.S. The economics of rising health care costs from decades of burning soft, high sulphur coal are driving innovation in high tech renewable and clean energy research and development. Investing in Virginia coal mines is NOT on their economic growth agenda. Similarly, ten states led by California, and a growing number of major American cities have unified to honour the original American commitment to the goals of the Paris Accord. With the federal administration currently stuck with its head in a fossil fuel tarpit, intelligent forward planning states and cities had no choice but to go it alone. Sort of an Environmental Civil War.
Lastly, Trump’s withdrawal from the international climate agreement signals the loss of a United States global leadership role. As the second largest polluter in the world, any attempt to reduce emissions would be a sign of hope for the world, that there was a consensus to try to ease and mitigate the effects of accelerating climate change. The loss of participation by most of the American States will make this more difficult. While Syria and Nicaragua’s lack of participation has little impact, the loss of the U.S.A. is morally significant.
Keep in mind, that the Paris Climate Accord was a small step for Earth’s living creatures. The acceleration of climate change that began in the late 1700’s has already gone into overshoot. Now add methane, being emitted in increasing quantities from the Arctic’s thawing permafrost. Methane is a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Science refers to this phenomenon as a positive feedback loop. In this case, the atmospheric system becomes even more unstable.
Stupidity does not change the science of how the planet works. As Crosby, Stills and Nash reminded us back in the sixties, “Teach your children well.”
It’s time to stop being polite to stupid people.
Skid Crease is an accredited member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, an author, and a lifelong educator currently living in Caledon, Ontario.