Part 1 of this series looked at the theatre of President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement and discussed the growing partisanship of the climate change debate. Readers were cautioned that facts, figures and legal arguments held less import for Trumpeters than they might otherwise hope.
Part 2 focuses on several of the issues most salient to Trump’s announcement and suggests how they might be addressed going forward by clean energy and climate advocates. It begins by pointing to a way around the dilemma of Trumpsters refusing to be swayed by facts.
It would be difficult to get through life without the capacity to consider various options and to decide what to do. The lack of any decision criteria has caused many a donkey caught between two bales of hay to starve to death.
The alternative to weighing facts—at least for a politician—is to weight the importance of an issue to a voter/constituent or to the party’s leadership.
Prioritization is a key alternative decision criteria often employed by elected officials trying to determine whether to support or to oppose a particular initiative. For elected partisan representatives, consideration goes beyond the voters.
As members of an organized and hierarchical party, a balance must be achieved between the demands of party leaders and voters; prioritization works well in both instances.
Take, for example, Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-26th-FL), who was called upon frequently by newscasters in the wake of Trump’s Paris announcement. The Congressman is co-chair of the bi-partisan House Climate Solutions Caucus and on record having opposed any decision to pull the U.S. out of the Accord.
Although Curbelo did not endorse Trump and is considered one of the most bi-partisan members of Congress, he is still a Republican. His committee assignments, endorsements and fundraising greatly depend upon his standing with the Party, while his being in office depends upon the voters.
“Party or voters? The politician’s two bales of hay.”
Curbelo’s support of the Accord is easy to understand. He represents a district that may well be under water in his lifetime. The Congressman is 37 years old.
The 26th District includes all of Monroe County and a portion of south-west Miami-Dade. Rising sea levels are threatening to sink it.
Is there tension between Curbelo and Party leaders over the environment and, in particular, the Accord? I’m sure there is, as the Party supported Trump’s Paris decision, while Curbelo opposed it.
By the same token the Congressman voted with House Republicans to pass H.R. 953 which makes it easier to spray pesticides around navigable waters, as defined by the Clean Water Act (CWA). Chemical pollution of potable water sources is a problem—particularly in rural areas.
Aerial spraying is partially responsible for this contamination. EPA was requiring sprayers to obtain a permit, which for many small farmers can present an onerous and expensive burden. The CWA was specifically targeted for rescission in the national Republican platform adopted at the 2016 convention.
Congressman Curbelo, in his effort to please two masters, i.e. the party and voters, took exception to the Paris pull-out. Any risk of alienating the White House or party leaders in Congress over the Accord seems possible to counter-balance with a yea vote for H.R. 953.
Although facts undoubtedly played a part in Curbelo’s split decision, scientific criterion seemed neither universally nor equally to have been applied by the Congressman. I would venture that short of people falling over as the aerial sprayers flew above, any potential harms of agricultural pesticides were lower on constituent priority lists than the threat of being annexed by the city of Atlantis. This would be especially true as many of Curbelo’s constituents claimed to themselves suffer the burdens of time and expense in the matter of obtaining permits.
For Congressional and White House leaders, Curbelo’s vote in support of H.R. 953 and most other regulatory rollbacks is of a higher relative priority than his outlier stance on Paris. This is particularly true in this case because nothing Curbelo could have done would have jeopardized Trump’s unilateral rescission of the Paris Agreement. Handled properly, opposition to leaving was a political freebie.
Trump doesn’t care about the facts because his supporters don’t care much about the truth of what he’s saying. They are willing to believe the lie, because of their loyalty to the liar and what he represents.
“Donald J. Trump is the meme of their mistrust of the establishment.”
In the Rose Garden, Trump was speaking only to his supporters. Why recount promises he’s already claimed to have kept, e.g. a conservative to fill Scalia’s vacant seat on SCOTUS and describe what a hard-ass he was with deadbeat NATO nations, if speaking to opponents?
The rapid, vehement—often visceral—response of world leaders, industry giants, environmentalists, Democrats, journalists and bloggers is exactly what Trump wanted to ignite. To core supporters the greater the magnitude of the push-back from the established and liberal orders, the more Trump’s victimization claim rings true.
The Paris Accord is as much an analogy for the broader issue of America in the Age of Trump as it is an issue itself. Trump and company are facing the combined concern, if not outright enmity, of a significant portion of the nation and much of the rest of the world. At this stage of Trump’s reign, he can still find sanctuary on what is becoming his perpetual campaign trail.
So far there has been little evidence of Trump’s wanting to govern. His wish is to dominate discussions and notch victories, without bothering to understand the nature of those victories and whether they are consistent with Republican principles—whether moderate, conservative or alt-right.
Passage of a healthcare bill, is passage of a healthcare bill; chalk one up for The Donald. Rolling back an environmental regulation is keeping the promise to reduce regulatory burdens; chalk up another one for DJT. Does it make a difference that the bill or the rule is incrementally harmful to people? Evidently not.
When has Trump ever seemed to care about what his name goes on—just as long as it attaches—for Trump the goal is ubiquity rather than quality of product or service.
Investigations, lagging success in achieving legislative objectives and losses in federal court are taking their toll. His approval rating with his core support has begun to fall. Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight calculated a 5 percent loss between March 6 and April 1, after which the numbers held steady—falling again in the first weeks in May, after Comey’s firing.
The drop in his core support poses the greatest political threat to Trump’s presidency going forward. In response to weakening numbers, Trump is considering a strategic retreat by once again surrounding himself with aggressive staff, surrogates and legal advisors, e.g. Lewandowski, Bannon and Clovis. For this reason, the issues I’ve chosen to address in Parts 2 and 3 are less about the numbers behind Trump’s claims and focus on the simple veracity of the statements that appeared in his written statement.
…the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States…
This must rank as one of the most mythical of Trump’s claims. Meant to assuage accusations the President is indifferent to both the environment and the U.S.’s place in the global community. European leaders, along with those of many other nations were swift to disabuse Trump and others of the notion:
In a [rapid] rebuke of Trump’s decision, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy said the accord reached in 2015 after years of fraught negotiations was a “vital instrument for our planet” and they “firmly believe” it cannot be renegotiated, as the U.S. is now demanding.
The President’s renegotiation claim has been repeated often in the public statements of EPA Administrator Pruitt and others in the administration.
Trump’s statement is clearly an effort to shift attention from what he has done to blame others for their refusal to take him up on his offer, placing the onus of future negotiations on nations remaining committed to the Accord. This is a typical Donald ploy. It’s his version of asking someone when they plan to stop beating their partner.
Trump indicated his birther claims could easily be dismissed simply by Obama producing a birth certificate The Donald would be willing to accept as proof of citizenship. Even had President Obama wished to play the game, Trump would never have conceded that such a document existed. His history of blame-shifting is a long one.
The reality is it took decades to get to the Paris Accord. The thought that Trump or anyone else can prevail upon 194 other nations now to renegotiate an agreement putting America first—quickly or otherwise—is simply absurd in the extreme.
If the magnitude of the promised emission reductions were the problem, there was nothing to prevent Trump from modifying Obama’s promised reductions. The targets are entirely voluntary.
Secretary of State Kerry’s response, on NBC’s Meet the Press, suggested that Trump’s renegotiating the Agreement was not very likely: “That’s like O.J. Simpson saying he’s going to go out and find the real killer. Everybody knows he isn’t going to do that because he doesn’t believe in it, because if he did believe in it, you wouldn’t pull out of Paris.”
Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce [a] two-tenths of one degree [reduction in warming]
This statement—numerically—has some truth to it. The Accord requires signatories to establish carbon reduction targets known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
Adding up the INDCs of the 144 nations on file today, the total would not represent a pathway to limiting warming to the agreed to 2 degrees Celsius. Trump quoted an MIT study in support of the claim. The study on which this assertion was based was carried out by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014 and published in 2015.
The study’s authors, as well as others, have attempted to qualify what the actual conclusion of the study was and to suggest there are other reputable estimates showing a greater slowing in temperatures.
This an example of being careful about engaging in debates about numbers—as they can be manipulated and the conclusions based on them deceiving.
The proffered contribution level was never expected to be a fixed number—either tons or percentage rates. The reduction targets are established by the countries themselves—not imposed upon them—and are to be reviewed every five years, when presumably greater reductions going forward would be offered.
The Accord is not strident enough to guarantee slowing the rate of warming to either the targeted 2 degrees Celsius agreed to nor the 1.5 degrees more likely required. The importance of the Accord is in its having most nations of the world on the same page, as regards the fact of global warming and the willingness to combat it.
To denigrate the Accord at this stage, for its not meeting an end of century goal, is to dismiss the importance of global action. Most importantly it is to deny the value of incremental change.
Should no action be taken to develop a cure for a type of cancer because the cure being researched doesn’t apply to all cancers? Finding solutions are rarely all or nothing propositions.
Incremental improvements are not to be underestimated. Consider the saying it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. How important is the weight of the last straw in this phrase to preserving the camel?
Damned important, I would say. But for the last one-quarter ounce weight of that straw, you and your camel would have been on your way. Now you’re selling camel burgers along the side of the road.
What if the tipping point between the warming that can be accommodate by Earth could have been avoided by having saved the two-tenths of a degree that The Donald pooh-pooed in the Rose Garden?
Does two-tenths of one degree make a difference? I don’t know—actually I don’t know if anyone else does—with any sureness. Until more is known about global warming, its causes and impacts, commonsense says to err on the side of caution. The risk of being cavalier is simply too great to dismiss the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change.
Let me conclude this 2nd part of the Paris Yearning series with a quote from Senator McCain (R-AZ):
Maybe I could put it to you this way…Suppose we are wrong, those of us that believe that the large body of scientific evidence indicates that climate change is taking place, suppose that we adopt green technologies and we are wrong. Well, all we’ve done is given our kids a cleaner planet with less greenhouse gas emissions.
But suppose we are right. Suppose we are right and that there is serious damage being done or can be done to our planet by so called ‘greenhouse gases’ then I think and do nothing. Then I think obviously we would not be proud of what we’re handing on to future generations of Americans.
Look for Part 3 of the Paris Yearning series, when I will continue highlighting and responding to statements made by the President and members of his administration, e.g. Scott Pruitt, on why he thinks the world was laughing at our nation for having joined 194 nations and Nicaragua in their efforts to combat global warming.
This article was originally published by CivilNotion.com and was republished with permission.