President Donald Trump – the man who wants to make America great again – wants to sit with the likes of Nicaragua and Syria in the dugout while the rest of the world tries to clean up its climate act.
Ironically, America is tucking its feet under even as nearly 196 countries have decided to come together to prevent temperatures from going through the roof – 2C more than pre-industrial era. It does not bother Trump that America is the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China; or that the US is the biggest producer of carbon emissions on a per-person basis; or that the super power has been a super pollutant ever since the Industrial Revolution.
According to Eco Watch, across the US, ‘the top 100 facilities releasing greenhouse gases—almost all of them coal plants—collectively added more than a billion metric tonnes to the atmosphere in 2014. That’s the equivalent of a year’s worth of such emissions from 219 million passenger vehicles—nearly twice as many as the total number registered nationwide.’
Even when the going was good, American presidents would keep an eye on the bottom line. But now they have a bookkeeper called Trump in the White House, who is insisting on meticulously counting each penny that will go into a rabbit hole called climate deal. By insisting that he will renegotiate the ground rules – so that the US alone is not bankrolling the fight against global warming – Trump hopes to knock billions off the $20 trillion in national debt.
The entire rationale being that an average American worries more about the economy collapsing than about sea temperatures rising and coastal India getting flooded! Trump’s primary concern is that under the Paris accord the rich nations will be putting a fortune into the pockets of the Poor under the guise of energy control, and that too without ‘as much as a thank you note’.
Incidentally, India has been singled out by Trump as one of the countries which is making emission curbs contingent on higher foreign aid. “’The agreement is a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries…This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage,” Trump lamented.
He also tried to reason that India and China have worse emission records and the accord was grossly unfair. “Under the Paris accord, China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2021. And we are supposed to get rid of ours!”
Even during his presidential campaign Trump had repeatedly called steps to cut greenhouse emissions bad for business. He had, in fact, dubbed climate change a Chinese hoax to make US manufacturing non-competitive. But Trump deftly omitted to mention that though China has a worse emission record, it also has many times America’s population; and that the US is now a superpower with negligible responsibility.
Surprisingly, many in the US also share the perception that President Barack Obama was indeed funding a chimera: no wonder Trump’s decision was hailed by online cheerleaders as an end of an elitist Ponzi scheme that was part of a larger carbon emission scam!
Trump is not just refusing to pay more, he is also refusing to pollute less: He has thus backtracked on Obama’s commitment to reduce US’ own emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025. So, climate will have to wait until Trump’s tenure ends or he gets re-elected, whichever is the more palatable scenario after five years. If, in the meantime, the Rich, especially the European nations, agree to share the burden of the Poor equitably, well and good! Trump is ready to negotiate, in that case.
This is not just about a demagogue who is sticking to his campaign rhetoric or about Trump trying to bolster his poor domestic ratings. Those who worry about the planet and other such mundane matters need to understand that Trump, like some fellow Americans, is not inclined to look beyond his neatly manicured lawn.
If one were to go by the hullabaloo on internet, one would conclude that to Trump all this talk of global warming is mumbo-jumbo. Because the US President, who from all accounts has never read a book in his life, honestly believes that global warming is cyclical and can’t be regulated; and that the best way to curb emissions is to plant more trees!
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” was Trump’s profound remark as he announced the pull out, oblivious to the fact that the steel hub of Pennsylvania had voted for Hillary Clinton, not him. But this was a statement symptomatic of a man who grew up as a kid in Queens and worked in Brooklyn – that partially explains the outer-borough mindset: “tough, resentful, puffed up and provincial.”
That it may not be a cake walk for Trump in Europe was apparent when German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged “more decisive action than ever” to protect the climate after the US pullout. Europe fears Trump’s next port of call could be NATO – the wartime treaty that the US President is threatening to scrap. In fact, the online joke is that Trump would be billing NATO for 70 years of Communist rule.
China, the world’s greatest polluter, predictably, tried to muddy the waters further and vowed that it will uphold the ‘hard-won’ Paris Accord. So will India; Sushma Swaraj asserted that India is backing the Paris accord not because it is greedy for Dollars or under duress but because it believes in “Indian culture and ethos.” She told a press conference: “We are committed to the environment and this commitment is 5,000 years old.”
But proud assertions apart India does need, in words of Trump, “billions and billions and billions” of dollars from developed nations to fund the transfer of green technology. Most Americans, Democrats at least and a sizeable number of Republicans, don’t buy Trump’s argument. They feel that even if US is not part of any international effort it must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of what other countries do. Interestingly, big business has been largely critical of Trump’s decision – mostly tech companies and retailers – though there are many giant ‘pollutants’ who will be more than happy.
What could possibly make Trump change his mind and renegotiate is the apprehension that if US vacates this space for good, China may step in and assume a leadership role. But there may be still respite for the rest of the world. It will take US another three years to withdraw from the Paris Deal and by the end of the fourth year at least the countdown would have started for the US presidential election.
The author is a former editor of The Free Press Journal.