Yesterday, President Trump announced the US was withdrawing from the landmark Paris Agreement, a commitment between 195 countries to tackle climate change. Outrage was swift and uncompromising. The secretary-general for the United Nations called the move "a major disappointment", SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk resigned from his advisory position at the White House in protest, and former Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada tweeted withdrawal marked the moment the "United States... stopped being the leader of the free world".
Screengrab: White House/Youtube
It's nearly impossible to overstate the rambling, lazy cynicism at the core of Trump's speech. With scant moments of applause from people who apparently hate breathable oxygen and a moderate climate, Trump's signature, specious "America first" showmanship combined with shameless climate denial, ludicrous falsehoods about the language of Paris and the American economy, and, most shockingly, a brazen and spiteful attempt to paint all 195 other countries as lazy, loathsome burdens.
We're used to unhinged, extremist faux-nationalism from Trump. But his countless, compounding lies about the economy and the environment reveal Trump's administration as not just ignorant about climate change or even illogical in how to confront it, but radically out of step with the rest of the world and the most of the United States.
Here are a few of the most egregious bits of sophistry you might have heard yesterday.
Did MIT researchers say Paris would only lower global warming by 0.2 degrees?
Trump: Even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated, it would only produce a .2 of one degree, think of that.
Not completely untrue, but the study's authors were quick to say Trump "misunderstood" their research. The purpose of the study, "How much of a difference will the Paris Agreement make?", was to emphasise that the emissions targets in the Paris Agreement weren't strong enough. As lead researcher, Erwan Monier, said in 2016:
The Paris agreement is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is only a step. It puts us on the right path to keep warming under 3 C, but even under the same level of commitment of the Paris agreement after 2030, our study indicates a 95 per cent probability that the world will warm by more than 2 C by 2100.
The US's goal under Paris was to reduce carbon emissions 26 to 28 per cent over 2005 levels by 2025. But, as outlined in Article 14 in the text of the agreement, every five years the US and every other country meet again to impose newer, more aggressive targets. The study's findings were an argument for a more aggressive timetable and more stringent targets. Essentially, scientists said, "We're not going to reach our goal, let's work harder," which Trump then manipulated to mean, "We're not going to reach out goal, let's do nothing."
Trump somehow manages to acknowledge the science of global warming and brush climate change off as meaningless in the same breath.
Will Paris cause millions of job losses in the US?
Trump: Compliance with the terms of the Paris accord, and the owners, could cost Americans as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates. This includes 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs, not what we need.
The first thing to know about the study Trump references is that it "does not take into account potential benefits from avoided emissions. … The model does not take into consideration yet-to-be developed technologies that might influence the long-term cost." The second thing to know is that it was funded in part by the American Council for Capital Formation, an opponent of the Paris Agreement.
Moreover, Trump's characterisation of the Paris Agreement as a job killer ignores the clean energy jobs that are experiencing an unprecedented boom as fewer states rely on coal for electricity. Here's another startling statistic: More Americans work in the wind and solar industries, as technicians, installers and, yes, manufacturers, than as coal miners. The architects of former President Obama's signature climate change policy, the Clean Power Plan, say that working to reduce carbon emissions will help accelerate a boom in jobs in the clean energy field, buoying the economy and keeping the country in line with the global transition away from coal usage.
Unsurprisingly, Trump has previously blasted Clean Power Plan for accelerating the loss of mining jobs, and is already taking steps to unwind it, along with EPA head Scott Pruitt. Janet McCabe, the plan's architect, explained to Gizmodo that a conflux of factors — chiefly, automation and competition from natural gas and renewables — have contributed to the fall of coal and the disappearance of mining jobs more than environmental regulations have. As she told us previously, "How do you tease out the effects of the Clean Power Plan in comparison to how the market is going anyway?"
Today, President Trump is expected to begin the process of dismantling Obama's environmental legacy, including his signature climate action policy, the Clean Power Plan. According to Reuters, Trump will sign an executive order compelling the Environmental Protection Agency to review and rewrite the plan, which calls on states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, with an overall goal of shaving 32 per cent off the power sector's greenhouse gas footprint by 2030. As Trump and EPA head Scott Pruitt see it, regulations like this need to be dismantled to end the EPA's 'job killing war on coal'. Other experts say a roll back of the CPP is in the fossil fuel industry's best interest, but can't revitalise Big Coal.
Do China and India have weaker commitments than the US?
Trump: For example, under the agreement, China will be able to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years, 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. Not us.
Totally false. Pruitt has used this lie multiple times to justify a Paris withdrawal, but so far China is the Paris Agreement's biggest success story. China's goal was to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, but it's been so aggressive in pursuing clean energy sources that its carbon emissions have either flatlined or fell since 2014. If China manages to keep that momentum, it will have already met its initial Paris goal a full decade before the target date. China has set global records for investment in solar panels and wind farms, and has been even more aggressive in downsizing its reliance on steel and coal, cutting 500,000 steel and mining jobs this year. Similarly, India is projecting an incredible 57 per cent reliance on clean energy to power its grid by 2030.
Incredibly, if both China and India, the world's largest and third largest carbon emitters, exceed their goals, we may still see an overall decrease in global greenhouse gas emissions, even as the US fails to act. We can't rely on China and India entirely, however, and with absolutely no help from the US, it will still be extremely difficult to meet the Paris Agreement's overall goal of keeping the global temperature rise below 2C.
Can the Paris agreement be renegotiated?
Trump: I promised I would exit or renegotiate any deal which fails to serve America's interests. Many trade deals will soon be under renegotiation. Very rarely do we have a deal that works for this country, but they will soon be under renegotiation.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron and EU commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, have all said that renegotiating isn't an option. Most of what Trump complained about was already optional. The US isn't required to give any more money to the Green Climate Fund, as he said. (The "vast fortune" which the United States under Obama already pledged to the climate change fund for developing nations, by the way, is $US1 billion ($1.3 billion).) Nor is the US held liable in international courts for failing its goals. It is absolutely still legally allowed to build new coal plants, but 49 out of 50 US states have seen major drops in their reliance on coal. Bizarrely, Trump also said Paris "effectively banned" clean coal research. Nonsense — his FY 2018 budget proposal cuts funding for clean coal by 85 per cent.
What's there to renegotiate? The deal was extremely lenient on the US, despite the fact that America is cumulatively responsible for a third of humanity's carbon emissions — more than any other nation on Earth. The only way to make this deal more US friendly is to scrap it entirely, which is almost certainly what the "great negotiator" and his cabinet intend to do.