Without some putative 'bad hombre' to oppose, this President is lost. If one does not exist, it must be conjured. So it was that phantom demons were invoked to justify pulling the US out of the landmark Paris Accords on climate change.
Le petit orange thereby abdicated US world leadership on The Issue of the 21st century. The decision is as mystifying as it is stupid – it achieves no discernable US benefit, it does real damage here and abroad, and the dark forces it supposedly repels are ephemeral figments of a fevered paranoia.
To define terms, 195 countries (one-hundred ninety-five! – How many can you name?) agreed last year to non-binding, self-generated commitments to reduce their output of carbon pollution (greenhouse gases, notably CO2 and methane) by future target dates. Those rolled-up goals, as met, would reduce global temperature rise modestly, to an estimated 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees F). The ultimate goal is to approach a 2-degrees C increase necessary to forestall catastrophic disruptions to sea level and long-term weather patterns.
In addition, first-world countries agreed to a kind of foreign aid to assist third-world nations ameliorate new emissions associated with their development. The US pledged some $3 billion, and has so far invested a third of that amount. $3B over several years seems like a lot, until you realize that the annual US non-military foreign aid budget is $42B, and that’s a mere 1% of a $4 trillion budget.
Instead of heeding overwhelming scientific consensus, important advisors (including the former CEO of Exxon-Mobil), forward-looking states and localities, and the Global 500 businesses and associated labor unions, the Prez instead focused on job losses related to fossilized industries like coal, and failed to correct that number by the gains in dawning sectors like renewables (fun fact: there are already 10X(!) as many jobs in solar and wind energy as in coal). In effect, he exported global economic and environmental leadership to others like China – together with all the millions of 21st century jobs that will surely follow.
He also found his bogey-hombre, as he spoke of dark forces handicapping the US economy in “foreign capitals and global activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our country’s expense - the same nations that have collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and, in many cases, lax contributions to our critical military alliance.” (here is the Trump speech, annotated for accuracy.)
On self-generated, non-binding commitments? That’s flatulent nonsense - could it be that this was really just a petulant ‘mooning’ of Chancellor Merkel and the rest of NATO and the G7 nations that implored him last week to stay the course? Is he still smarting from Mr. Macron’s youthfully vigorous handshake?
I wish I could dismiss such notions as absurd ... but I can't.
Fortunately, it takes four years to fully disengage from the Paris Accords, so there’ll be an opportunity for a voter-driven course re-correction. And although the Prez will immediately repudiate US actions in the interim and renege on the remaining $2B in aid, estimates are that some 2/3 of the US reduction commitment will happen despite his recalcitrance.
That’s because CA, NY and other states, as well as the many major industries importantly focused on sustainability will fill the void created by the federal abdication. In the same way that our fair little corner sets the de facto national standard on auto emissions because of this market’s sheer size, so too will a budding alliance of non-federal actors call the tune on climate.
So play it, Uncle Sam or not – over-and-over for new-times' sake. Fortunately, we really will always have Paris, or something very like it, despite the incumbent's worst efforts.