Rethinking a plan to combat global warming

Criticizing how the president does things is in vogue, and it’s not hard to think of cases in which communications could have been handled better. At bottom, however, the substance of his decisions may be more important than the messaging.

Consider the announcement of withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. There had been extensive discussions with interested parties. The pros and cons had been thoughtfully weighed. The decision wasn’t communicated via a “tweet,” but rather announced before a live audience in the Rose Garden. And Trump’s case for withdrawal was made without questioning the motives or belittling the beliefs of political opponents. Transcript,,

Recap: Our country is the world leader in reducing carbon emissions, whereas China, India et al. have shown no signs of planning to rein in their emissions any time soon. The US economy would be penalized under the Paris agreement, but the effect on global temperatures in coming decades would be minor. Accordingly, “this agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States.” If there is interest in negotiating a more balanced arrangement, the administration will gladly join in the effort.

True, the president had dismissed the manmade global warming theory as a Chinese “hoax” on the campaign trail, but he said nothing along these lines in his Rose Garden statement. The Paris agreement was a bad deal for the US, end of story. Frustrated critics have been hectoring members of the administration ever since as to his position on global warming. See, e.g., The head of the EPA was asked 10 times whether Trump believes in climate change, Chris Cillizza,,

In sum, the messaging was well handled in this case, but the opposition has been ferocious anyway – and in our view irrational. The Paris agreement was a bad deal, it should have been classed as a “treaty” and submitted for Senate ratification (which would not have been forthcoming), and those who are demanding that the president’s decision be reversed or ignored have no sound basis for their position.

There’s plenty of drama in this story, which will be related here as a three-act play.

ACT ONE – The Paris agreement was concluded at a convention of some 40,000 people, representing about 200 countries, who met in the French capital from November 30 to December 12, 2015. The official name for this event was the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (COP-21).

Extensive advance work had been done, and representatives of most of the countries arrived at COP-21 with (1) “national commitments” for reducing carbon emissions they were prepared to make, and (2) assurances they were seeking from other parties, e.g., no countries wanted to be played for suckers on the deal and developing countries wanted financial compensation from developed countries for the alternative energy programs, etc. they were being encouraged to undertake.

Given strong support by the Obama administration and reported interest of the Chinese government, it seemed likely that more substantive commitments might be negotiated at COP-21 than had resulted from earlier sessions, e.g., COP-15 in Copenhagen. Two crises and a partridge in a pear tree,

In theory, the goal was an international agreement to combat the threat of manmade global warming (aka climate change).  All that was actually expected, however, was a formula to keep the conversation going. *** Other issues were to air grievances, demand money, and embarrass “rich” developed countries (especially the United States).  For some participants, including leaders from Bolivia, Iran, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, these issues seemed more important than the official objective.

Unless and until someone proved global warming was a real threat and human action could prevent it, we doubted that an international compact to reduce carbon emissions would make sense. Much ado about global warming,

SAFE has taken the position that (1) the manmade global warming theory (MMGWT) confuses correlation (there has been a generally warming trend since the start of the Industrial Revolution) with causation; (2) a forced switch to wind and solar power would be very costly; and (3) the effect of such a switch on global temperatures would be miniscule. We are more than willing, however, to consider contrary evidence and arguments (other than those of the “we’re right and you’re wrong” variety).

Did COP-21 foster thoughtful discussion of the purported global warming threat, e.g., by presenting an analysis of global temperature trends? How boring! The event was effectively a pep rally for government-mandated limits on carbon emissions, based on the following mantra: the science is settled – the debate is over – it is time for action. Some climate skeptics who showed up at COP-21 were asked to leave.

President Obama addressed the convention on the first day, as well as participating in bilateral meetings with the Chinese and Indian heads of state. (China, the US and India are currently the 1st, 2nd and 3rd largest carbon emitters in the world.) Everyone was clear that China, India and other developing countries weren’t about to curb their economic aspirations to fight global warming, so global carbon emissions were certain to continue increasing for years.

After nearly two weeks of negotiations, including several late-night meetings of key players, a final agreement was unveiled in the early morning hours of December 12 for adoption by the conference and subsequent ratification by participating countries. There had been much haggling over the language, e.g., a request by the US delegation to substitute “should” for “shall” in the provision re the commitment of developed countries to reduce their carbon emissions. That change was reportedly intended to obviate the need to seek congressional approval.

The agreement expressed an intention to limit the increase in average global temperatures to 2 degrees centigrade (with a stretch goal of 1.5 degrees) since pre-industrial times. After the 2-degree (or 1.5 degree) cap kicked in, moreover, carbon emissions would be limited to the amount that could be absorbed by the environment. This was said to mean “the world will have to all but stop polluting with greenhouse gases [burning fossil fuels] by 2070 to reach the 2-degree goal, or by 2050 to reach the 1.5-degree goal.”

The foregoing goals were strictly aspirational. Even if every country met its national commitment, the global temperature increase was projected to handily exceed the 2-degree cap, and there wouldn’t be any penalties for countries that fell short.

As for money, the developed countries (basically Europe and the US) were on the hook for $100 billion per year (starting in 2020) to help developing countries cut carbon emissions without stunting their economic development. Despite language about how China, India, and other major developing countries could contribute to this funding, the agreement didn’t require them to do so. Global warming alarmists go overboard,

In September 2016, the US and China formally approved the Paris agreement. Obama and Chinese president ratify landmark climate change agreement “to save our planet,” John Parkinson,,

After “depositing” their “instruments of acceptance” with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon -- handing over leather folders with signed documents tucked inside -- Xi and Obama committed to working together to combat climate change.

Many other nations followed suit, and the agreement formally became effective in early November. Paris climate change agreement enters into force, Fiona Harvey,,

Only days later, a candidate who had ridiculed the global warming threat on the campaign trail was elected president of the United States.

ACT TWO – In addition to calling the MMGWT a hoax, presidential candidate Trump had blasted “totalitarian tactics” of the Environmental Protection Agency and promised a sharp break with the energy policies of the Obama administration. Donald Trump pledges to rip up Paris climate agreement in energy speech, Benjy Sarlin,, 6/26/16.

He railed against “draconian climate rules” and said he would “cancel” the Paris climate agreement and withdraw any funding for United Nations programs related to global warming. Trump has repeatedly called climate change a “hoax” in the past, bucking the overwhelming international scientific consensus that man-made emissions are spurring a dangerous increase in global temperature.

Conservatives were understandably hopeful that the tidal wave of energy industry regulations would be reversed, notably the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which was a key element of the plan to meet this country’s commitments under the Paris agreement. And if the US pulled out of the agreement, which had been signed by President Obama but never reviewed by Congress, so much the better.

There was infectious enthusiasm at an energy conference in December, which took place a day after the announcement that Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt would be nominated to head the EPA. DC field trip: Returning to rational energy policies,

When Crossroads III was being planned, no one knew who would win the election – the sponsors took a chance by planning for a robust pro-energy message, which might have seemed out of touch if [Hillary] Clinton had won the presidential election. As things worked out, the message was fine. Both speakers and attendees seemed to be in a very positive frame of mind, and there were several comments about having some hope for a change and perceiving opportunities to go on the offense. 

There was no more talk about “ripping up” the Paris agreement, nor did the president move to withdraw from it after his inauguration. Several members of the president’s inner circle reportedly opposed a pullout, and Trump supporters began to grumble that this campaign promise had not been kept. Conservatives pressure Trump to dismiss moderate voices, scrap Paris climate accord, Ben Wolfgang, Washington Times,

Throughout his campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly said he would pull the U.S. out of the agreement if he became president, though he softened that stance almost immediately after he was elected in November. On Tuesday, [Competitive Enterprise Institute] started a petition drive calling on the president to keep his campaign commitment. The group also posted a video featuring Mr. Trump on the campaign trail decrying the accords.

Not only was there disagreement within the administration about the merits of the Paris agreement, but there was also much discussion of the political and legal ramifications of a US withdrawal. For example, why should the president take the heat? Wouldn’t it be smoother to characterize the agreement as a treaty and send it to the Senate for consideration, knowing full well that it wouldn’t be receive the 2/3 vote required for ratification? How Team Trump plans to kill Obama’s Paris climate deal by declaring it a treaty, Stephen Dinan, Washington Times,

Another suggestion was that the US stick with the Paris agreement, but ignore this country’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions to the extent that meeting the commitment would be inconvenient. The agreement didn’t provide penalties for noncompliance, after all, and the US shortfall wouldn’t become evident for some years anyway. Why Trump can and should pull out of Paris climate change agreement, Alden Abbott,,

In the end, neither of these approaches caught on. Sending the Paris agreement to the Senate would have been viewed as buck passing, and leaving the agreement officially in force would have provided a focus for endless controversy (probably including legal challenges) about US noncompliance.

The president was said to be weighing this issue, considering all viewpoints, etc., and meanwhile the time for a decision kept being pushed back. Trump to make decision on Paris climate pact after G7 summit, Thomson Reuters,,

Trump advisers had been scheduled to meet at the White House on Tuesday to try to reach a final decision, but a White House official said the meeting was postponed due to scheduling conflicts. His advisers and cabinet chiefs have been split over whether Trump should keep his campaign promise to pull the United States out of the agreement or remain to try to reshape it, according to senior administration officials and several people briefed on the meeting. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who are senior presidential advisers, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are in favor of remaining, while Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt and senior adviser Steve Bannon have urged Trump to withdraw.

Perhaps the timing was coincidental, but conservatives were now afforded an “extremely important and urgent opportunity” to submit comments on policies of the EPA that might be creating “unnecessary regulatory burdens.” The invitation didn’t mention the Paris agreement, but the EPA’s support for it was well known. Comments could be posted on a website; the submission deadline was May 15 (a Monday).

We learned of this opportunity on Thursday, May 11, and SAFE member John Greer went to work. In the limited time available, he posted not one but three comments, with supporting documentation, which among other things slammed the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and urged US withdrawal from the Paris agreement. EPA inputs, John Greer,

Recap: The U.S. must exit the historically bad Paris climate agreement - predictions of man-made catastrophic climate change are “largely without basis and highly implausible" - carbon emission cuts by the U.S. could cost nearly $300 billion from 2022 to 2033 and jeopardize access to affordable, reliable electricity for households and businesses – not only would US cuts have a de minimis impact on global temperatures, but they would be more than offset by increases of China et al. – "economic and social development and poverty eradication” are said to be the first and overriding priorities” of the developing countries - the agreement is supported by politicians, bureaucrats, activists, and those with a stake in the $1.5 trillion-per-year climate change and renewable energy businesses.

As of June 9, over 380,000 comments had been received, many probably after the official deadline. We are proud that SAFE did its bit!

The president’s comments about the Paris agreement weren’t well received at the G7 summit (May 26-27), as was duly reflected in the minutes. Trump says he’ll make decision on climate-change agreement next week, David Boyer, Washington Times,

The document said that although the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom and the presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission were reaffirming their commitment to the Paris agreement, the U.S. “is in the process of reviewing its policies on climate change and on the Paris agreement and thus is not in a position to join the consensus on these topics.”

On June 1, after being introduced by the vice president, the president strode to the podium in the Rose Garden and announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris agreement. His statement was followed by some “thank you, Mr. President” remarks from EPA Director Scott Pruitt. Transcript,,

The long-awaited decision had been telegraphed in advance, and critics wouldn’t take long to make their displeasure (and opposition) known.

ACT THREE – Conservatives generally applauded the president’s decision, although some said he should have expressly repudiated the MMGWT. Trump’s small opening shot on global warming, Jonathon Moseley,, 6/4/17.

. . . Republicans desperately avoid the central issue. Man-made global warming is the biggest hoax since P.T. Barnum. Neither Trump nor other Republican officials will confront the fact that it is a scam. By playing the “I don’t know” game, Republicans are encouraging massive lawsuits from other countries[?] that will drain U.S. companies of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Others argued, however, that withdrawal from the Paris agreement would ignore science – threaten future of humanity – forfeit gains from leading the transformation to a “clean energy” economy – make the US a pariah among nations. Once again, it seemed, the president had shown his lack of fitness for the job. More rational policies in our future? Paul Driessen,,

Al Gore paused near one of the private jets he takes to hector lesser mortals to say the action will bring “a global weather apocalypse.” Billionaire Tom Steyer got rich selling coal but called the President’s action “a traitorous act of war.” Actor-activist Mark Ruffalo railed that Trump has “the death of whole nations on his hands.” Michael Moore said the action was “a crime against humanity.” Former President Obama said it threatened “the one planet we’ve got” (to say nothing of what’s left of his executive orders legacy).

It was even suggested that legal remedies were available. Law prof. says Trump’s Paris decision “constitutes an impeachable offense,” Michael Bastasch,,

[Law professor emerita Marjorie Cohn] argues Trump’s Paris decision constituted a “high crime,” which the U.S. constitution lays out as a standard for impeachment. Cohn also says the 22 Republican Senators who signed a letter to Trump urging a Paris withdrawal had “aided and abetted” his “crime against humanity.” *** [Also,] Trump’s Paris agreement withdrawal could be tried before the International Criminal Court for “destruction of the environment.”

But realistically, the primary strategy to delay and obstruct the administration’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement is political resistance. Democrats plot “revolution” to circumvent Trump’s Paris decision, Michael Bastasch,,

•Democratic governors of California, New York, and Washington . . . announced the creation of the United States Climate Alliance. Govs. Jerry Brown, Andrew Cuomo, and Jay Inslee all vowed to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

•New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: “On behalf of the people of New York City, and alongside mayors across the country, I am committing to honor the goals of the Paris Agreement with an Executive Order in the coming days, so our city can remain a home for generations to come.”

Even in Delaware, state leaders were jumping on the fight climate change bandwagon as though this cause took precedence over their more immediate responsibilities. Del. joins alliance to fight climate change, Matthew Albright, News Journal,

“The US should lead in the global fight” [against climate change], according to Delaware Governor John Carney, and “Delaware is proud to join this coalition” [to oppose US withdrawal from the Paris agreement]. *** Carney’s declaration is reportedly in line with the sentiments of the three members of Congress from Delaware, climate scientists, environmentalists, industrial titans including the DuPont Company, and the former president.

SAFE isn’t a diehard supporter of the current president, in fact we have openly questioned some of his ideas, e.g., on
trade policy, and shuddered at some of his tweets. But he offered solid arguments for withdrawing from the Paris agreement, with which many intelligent people happen to agree. You can’t govern by id, Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, 6/8/17.

Paris was nothing but hot air. Withdrawing was a perfectly plausible policy choice (the other being remaining but trying to reduce our carbon dioxide-cutting commitments). The subsequent attacks on Trump were all the more unhinged because the president’s other behavior over the past several weeks provided ample opportunity for shock and dismay.

Moral: Automatic resistance by the current minority party to anything the current majority party wants to do is undermining the viability of our democratic system of government – and it needs to stop.
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