The Myopia of the Trump Administration

Donald Trump’s administration is incredibly myopic. This is the main takeaway from the president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change agreement.

Let us first make clear that Trump’s announcement today was largely theatrical and will have no real impact on the Paris agreement itself. The reason for this is that the Paris agreement allows participating countries to set voluntary goals. It was already clear that with the vehemently climate change-denying GOP in office, the United States was never going to set reasonable goals- or to work towards implementing them.

Therefore, the president’s argument that withdrawing from the Paris agreement will save a tremendous amount of jobs in the United States is completely bogus. It shows that he is either lying, or does not understand how the Paris deal works. I lean towards the latter line of reasoning, but it leads me to think: we never truly expected Trump to understand the deal, did we?

Instead, the main impact of today’s announcement is largely symbolic. It was Trump attempting to please the base, to play music to the ears of the coal miners that elected him. After all, Trump is currently unable to push through any of his domestic political priorities, whether it be banning Muslims or building a wall. A speech announcing he would scrap US participation in the world’s most important climate change agreement was obviously an easy way to score political points without actually doing much. It also allowed the president to kowtow to his corporate backers in the fossil fuel industry.

This, however, is an incredibly shortsighted vision for the Trump administration and the GOP. In their hurry to win some easy political ‘victories’ and to retain funding from big fossil fuel companies, they have chosen to sacrifice the future of the planet. By refusing to acknowledge the reality of climate change, by denying the work of hundreds of thousands of scientists, by ceasing Barack Obama’s efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the GOP has chosen their own short-term gains over the long-term future of their children.

There aren’t even any guarantees that this short-term decision will work. After all, withdrawing from the Paris agreement simply will not bring back any coal or mining jobs. If the real economic condition of those living in middle America does not improve, then despite the noise that the White House is making, how can there be any guarantee that they will return to vote for the president’s re-election in 2020?

What is much more likely to work, however, is an embrace of the renewable energy industry. Clean energy is becoming cheaper and more widespread; there has never been a better time to consider switching from fossil fuels to alternative sources such as wind or solar power. In fact, California is currently in the middle of debating whether to set 2045 as the target year to have switched completely to using renewable energy. By appropriately funding research in the clean energy and assisting with the industry’s development, the Trump administration would be guaranteed to create new, sustainable jobs for a whole new generation of Americans.

As David Suzuki in The Guardian writes:

There is substantial economic opportunity in renewables. The US solar industry alone creates one in 50 new jobs. Worldwide, nearly 10 million people already work in renewable energy. Global clean technology exports doubled between 2008 and 2015, surpassing $1.15tn per year. Even America’s corporate giants – from Apple and Google to Walmart, and even oil giant Exxon Mobil – support the Paris agreement.

This means that Trump is in fact doing what he claims to detest most: losing jobs to China. China is currently leading the way in switching to renewable energy. As explained by the National Geographic:

“The installation rates are absolutely mind-blowing,” says Lauri Myllyvirta, an energy and air pollution expert at Greenpeace in Beijing. China added 35 gigawatts of new solar generation in 2016 alone. “That’s almost equal to Germany’s total capacity, just in one year,” Myllyvirta says. Every hour, China erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field, according to Greenpeace estimates…

…It’s not just pollution that’s driving the determined focus on renewable power. Leaders have made clear that they view clean energy as a powerful engine for job creation.“It’s about setting up for manufacturing dominance,” Liu says. “China sees green energy as an opportunity where it can become a manufacturing monster the way it has in clothes and toys.

Yes, indeed. Donald Trump, rescuer of jobs, will now abandon hundreds of thousands of possible new jobs in the clean energy industry to China, while most likely failing to save any in the fossil fuel industry. Way to go, Mr. President.

There is also a second symbolic change happening. By abandoning the Paris agreement, Donald Trump is abandoning global leadership to Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping. Germany, France and China- yes, even China!- all recognise the reality of global warming and the importance of combating climate change. In fact, only three countries have chosen not to implement the Paris agreement: the US, Nicaragua and Syria. Syria’s refusal, of course, is understandable: it’s difficult to focus on reducing emissions when the country is still being turned into rubble. Nicaragua, on the other hand, withdrew because they believe the agreement didn’t go far enough.

As such, the United States is now the only climate change-denying country in the world. It is a global climate pariah, the North Korea of global warming.

There are some who joke that with Trump at the helm, the president of the United States can no longer be called the leader of the free world; that title instead now belongs to Angela Merkel. It has to be admitted that with president Xi of China busily defending the merits of globalisation at Davos, and with chancellor Merkel and president Macron continuing to defend the Paris agreement, there is some truth to that statement. No one following politics would have missed how Macron quickly made a not-so-subtly directed statement following Trump’s speech, declaring that the time has come to “make the planet great again”.

I wholly agree, Monsieur le Président. The time has indeed come to make the planet great again. The Trump administration’s myopia has led to them sacrificing the future of the planet and abandoning American leadership in the world just to score a few political points at home. The rest of us must not be distracted. The work to save the Earth is still as urgent as ever, and thankfully, most of the leaders of the world are not quite as nearsighted as Donald Trump.






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