By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
“We’re getting out!” President Trump declared before the press and a knot of governmental officials who had gathered in the White House Rose Garden on June 1. “In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.”
Trump characterized the Accord as being “less about the climate and more about other countries’ gaining a financial advantage over the United States.”
He continued his xenophobic message: “The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement—they went wild; they were so happy—for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.”
Trump singled out in particular the “Green Climate Fund,” which he said has been siphoning billions of dollars out of the U.S. economy, “a massive re-distribution of United States wealth to other countries.” The fund was intended to help underdeveloped nations move to renewable energy and mitigate the effects of climate change. So far, the fund has raised a total of around $10 billion from wealthier capitalist countries, including $3 billion from the U.S. (about one-hundredth of one percent of the U.S. budget).
According to the precepts of the Paris Accord, it will take more than three years for the U.S. to formally withdraw from it. But Trump indicated in his speech that he believes his announcement can help dampen any legal challenge to the measures that his administration has already put into place that weaken environmental safeguards in order to ramp up oil, coal, and other extractive industries.
And what about the climate? That burning issue was scarcely apparent in Trump’s June 1 speech. Although his address was long, rambling, and repetitive, Trump never found a single moment to utter the words “climate change.”
Frequently in the past, Trump charged that reports of climate change were nothing but a hoax. But now he was silent on the question except to cite statistics about the inability of the Paris Climate Accord to make much of a dent in world temperatures. (Although it is true that the goals set by the Climate Accord are inadequate to stave off an environmental catastrophe, the data that Trump selected for his speech distorted and exaggerated what scientists actually predict.)
Despite the untruths and bombast, Trump’s remarks received whoops and prolonged applause from his supporters in the Rose Garden. The atmosphere of the afternoon event was celebratory, as a military band swung its way through “Summertime” and other jazz tunes. Many on Twitter later compared the scene to the moments after the collision with an iceberg when a band had played on as the Titanic sunk to its doom. Indeed, on the same day as Trump’s address, scientists announced that ocean warming is causing the Larson C ice sheet to break off from Antarctica and to form an iceberg the size of the state of Delaware.
But a good proportion of Trump’s allies felt they had reason to celebrate. It was a victory for the most reactionary wing of the Trump forces—from fascistic advisor Steve Bannon to arch-conservative Vice President Mike Pence—as well as for a section of the capitalist class invested in coal mines and other extractive industries.
In the months leading up to the Rose Garden announcement, a number of coal executives and politicians from coal-producing areas of the country had strongly urged a pull-out from the climate pact. In a May 23 letter to Trump from Attorney General Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia and nine other state attorneys general, Morrisey wrote, “Withdrawing from the Paris agreement is an important and necessary step toward reversing the harmful energy policies and unlawful overreach of the Obama era.”
Now, after four months of hemming and hawing on the issue, their man in the White House had finally decided to fulfill a key promise of the populist America First platform that Trump had promoted during his presidential campaign. And as in his campaign rallies of last year, the president pitched his June 1 speech ostensibly toward a section of the working class, particularly in the decayed industrial areas of the “Rust Belt,” who have been hard hit by unemployment.
Of course, it was all a charade, a cover-up. Neither the coal barons nor Trump himself have any sympathy for the social problems of the working class—and much less for its unemployed members, who will be hard hit by the administration’s budget recommendations to cut nutritional, medical, and housing aid to the poor.
Many critics of Trump also played their role in the cover-up. Thus we heard protestations of Trump’s announcement from a segment of corporate industry, including major polluters like Exxon, which after decades of suppressing information about climate change and delaying action to stop it, now professes to favor a “clean” and “green” economy—based mainly on fracked gas, in which the company is a major investor.
Similarly, much of the U.S. capitalist press—generally tied to the Democratic Party—blasted Trump’s decision as being “shortsighted” in ignoring the dire effects of climate change while isolating the U.S. from sharing in the burgeoning market for renewable energy products. The Washington Post took the occasion, on June 4, to extend the criticisms to Trump’s America First policy as a whole, stating that it “substitutes selfishness for realism. It implies that nations can go it alone.”
In a similar manner, newspapers gleefully reported that the “realistic” pro-Wall Street grouping associated with Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, had counseled President Trump to maintain “a place at the table” in climate negotiations.
And even while Trump was still in the Rose Garden trying to explain his decision, former President Obama issued a warning that the U.S. would risk missing out on the economic benefits of adhering to the Accord. He said, “The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack.”
It should be obvious, however, that Obama and the Democrats, who expanded fossil-fuel production in the United States to an unprecedented extreme, are hardly ones to lecture on the benefits of renewable energy.
Attorney and environmentalist Carol Dansereau, in a recent article in CounterPunch, points out: “Obama and his Party have not been climate heroes. They’ve been climate destroyers.
“Throughout his two terms in office, Obama avidly served the fossil fuel industry. He opened up vast new offshore areas for drilling, even in the wake of the BP nightmare. He delivered giant leases to coal corporations. Obama’s fracking rules were designed to reduce pollution at fracking sites ‘without slowing natural gas production.’ And as fracking proliferated in the U.S., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vigorously promoted it in other countries. Tens of thousands of miles of pipelines were constructed in the U.S. with Obama’s enthusiastic blessing….
“As a result of all this, vast quantities of greenhouse gases were pumped into the atmosphere under Obama’s Democratic administration, bringing us closer to environmental catastrophe.”
Other political leaders of the capitalist world, whose countries compete in trade and investments with the U.S., also expressed their displeasure with Trump’s pull-out. Of course, Trump made it easy for the European leaders to mock him, with his disingenuous protests that the United States—the wealthiest and most domineering country in the world—has been victimized by less powerful economic competitors. With little doubt, the major capitalist powers will try to take advantage of the fissure with the Trump administration over the climate issue in order to put forward their own economic interests more assertively.
If any of the pro-capitalist critics of Trump’s pull-out had really cared about the climate, they would have made sure that the Paris Accord had some teeth in it. They would have insisted on massive and concerted measures that allowed each country, rich and poor, to attain 100 percent renewable energy within little more than a decade. And steps to achieve a reduction of world temperatures would be mandatory, not voluntary.
The recommendations contained in the Paris Accord—while arguably better than nothing at all—will not stop the world from heading toward climate catastrophe. In fact, the treaty serves as a convenient cushion for world leaders and the capitalist economies that they serve. It is a means for them to pretend that business as usual, with non-binding promises and sluggish “market mechanisms,” can somehow avoid the worst effects of climate change—or at least push them off into the far future.
This attitude is rife in U.S. ruling circles and in the media. It is seen not only among Wall Street conservatives but even in the proposals of the most liberal section of the Democratic Party.
Thus, a supposedly “progressive” bill in the U.S. Senate sponsored by Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Corey Booker would delay the attainment of 100 percent renewable energy to the year 2050—when it would be too late. Moreover, the proposed law specifies waiting four years until the miniscule first steps toward that goal would be mandated.
The liberal Senators’ “100 by ’50” Act would allocate merely $150 billion per year, less than one percent of the GDP, as the maximum to be spent in attaining their goals—nowhere near enough for the monumental task that the country faces. It is unfortunate that leading environmental leaders, like Bill McKibben, have decided to stand behind this weak Senate bill.
To be sure, Trump’s withdrawal from the climate pact, and the other anti-environmental measures taken by his administration, are crippling blows. But what are the alternatives? The world cannot afford the consequences of the ineffectual nibbling at the problem of climate change by allegedly “concerned” political leaders.
The U.S. certainly can move toward the “front of the pack” (in Obama’s misplaced words). It needs to do so by launching a massive emergency project to put the country immediately on the road to achieving 100 percent renewable energy. The means are potentially at hand, but it will take utilizing the entire budget and resources now wasted on the military and on perks for billionaire investors. The project also will require a massive reorganization of production and of society itself. Legions of workers must be retrained and given employment and a clear voice in repairing the earth from the ravages of capitalism and in rebuilding society in a fully equitable, democratic, and sustainable manner.
Many in the environmental movement are coming to understand that the present world rulers, the corporate titans and their political representatives, who consistently put the striving for capitalist profits above human needs, are incapable of carrying out such essential measures.
The working-class worldwide, which suffers the worst effects of climate change, must look to taking the reins of power into its own hands, and to supplanting the capitalist system with a system that can fulfill the needs of human society. That system will be a socialist one.