Vanity Of Vanities: Trump's Climate Vandalism Puts Self-Interest Over Lives Of Millions

06/04/2017 02:36 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2017

"So we're getting out." And, with those words, Donald Trump turned his back on humanity, and pulled the US out of the Paris climate pact, callously condemning future generations on earth to a life of sweltering purgatory.

Ignoring the pleas of world leaders, titans of industry and even the Pope himself, the president has placed himself at odds with not only the G7, but all 195 nations who backed the deal.

And, despite his determination to put ‘America First’ and ‘Make It Great Again’, Trump has only expressed contempt for the rules-based world order, eroded Washington's standing in the globe, whilst casting the US as a climate pariah.

To to quote former US Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers: “We may have our first post-rational president. And, in the words of John Kerry: “This is one of the most self-destructive moves I have ever seen by any president in my lifetime.”

Make no mistake: this marks the end of the US-led world order.

Alas, the tragedy of the situation can not be overstated. It represents nothing short of complete apathy towards the gravest threat facing man kind.

According to the UN, without concerted global action, world temperatures will race past the 4C mark well before the turn of this century, ushering in earth shattering changes not seen since the last Ice Age. This in turn will trigger a mass extinction event which may make the elimination of the dinosaurs seem like a bedtime story.

The move drew instant fire from one of the key architects behind the deal Barack Obama. Releasing a statement almost simultaneously as Trump released his, the former president said:

“The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack.”

But, vilification was perhaps most fierce amongst America’s closest G7 allies: "I say to everyone who values the future of our planet, for the sake of Mother Nature, let’s continue together on the path to success” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And, playing on the Trump’s mantra to 'Make America Great Again', Emmanuel Macron, the new French leader made calls to: ‘Make Our Planet Great Again.”

The Tycoon Tweeter's announcement came after weeks of intense debate within the White House. Despite pleas from his daughter Ivanka and Secretary of State, Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon urged Trump stand by his pledge to pull out of the pact, and to remain loyal to his base whose support was beginning to wane.

"I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris” he said: “It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before Paris, France.”

And, it was like salve to the wounds of the blue collar Americans who elected him because they were sick of globalisation and all of its perceived ills.

But, as Solomon writes in the Book of Ecclesiastes "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity", it was a craven move which put Trump’s political self-interest ahead of the lives of millions of people.

And, despite his campaign pledge to bring back coal, a lot of those jobs are lost forever owing to automation. Moreover, the dirty fossil fuel will only continue to face stiff competition from America's vast supply of cheap natural gas. Plus, US wind and solar power now employ almost 3 times as many people as the coal sector.

But, the move does enable Trump to deflect some attention away from his growing list of legislative failures and the ever widening Russia scandal which has now engulfed his inner circle, potentially claiming the scalp of his personal adviser and son in law Jared Kushner.

Bizarrely, the property tycoon still managed to sow confusion by claiming that the US will start to renegotiate the Paris accord on more favourable terms: “We will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.

The comment is not only completely farcical, but wholly unrealistic: the world has no appetite to forge a new deal to replace one that was so painstakingly crafted in the first place. The Paris accord is the end product of nearly 20 years of torturous climate talks. In the past, rich and poor nations clashed over who should make the bulk of cuts, but as the science grew more terrifying, nearly 200 nations overcame their differences and struck a deal for the sake of posterity.

A next to impossible achievement in high diplomatic art, the 2015 accord was hailed as a historic victory for mankind.

But, what a difference one US election makes.

After all, if the world's second largest polluter heads towards the exit, then why shoud everyone else stay on board? Plus, there is now the risk that remaining nations will only backslide and water down their commitments.

But, countries across the world do have one weapon at their disposal: they can punish Trump’s climate vandalism with economic sanctions, and carbon border taxes. Members of the Paris accord should make it clear that they will not tolerate free riders, and countries that shirk their climate responsibilities will pay the price, especially the US.

After all, historically it has polluted the atmosphere more than any other nation on earth. And, on a per capita basis, it is still the world's worst offender with the average American releasing twice as many CO2 emissions than someone living in either Europe or Japan.

As climate author Naomi Klein writes: “When you unilaterally decide to burn the world, there should be a price to pay. And that should be true whether you are the United States government, or Exxon Mobil — or some Frankenstein merger of the two.”

Nevertheless, the EU and China have already vowed to fill the void left by the US's withdrawal by forging a new green alliance. By 2020, the two powerhouses hope to raise $100 billion a year to help poorer countries meet their climate commitments.

Some commentators have even suggested that Beijing may take up the mantle of climate champion in the wake of Amerca’s retreat. After all, it was the Chinese president together with Obama who spearheaded the treaty in the first place. Moreover, the country’s coal use has fallen of the third year running, plus it’s installing enough solar panels to cover 3 football pitches every hour.

Although we may live in a world which America in part made, Trump is now “rapidly unmaking it”, and as the FT's Martin Wolf notes: “We cannot ignore that grim reality." In spite of being in power for less than 6 months, “he has revolutionised our ideas of what the US stands for.” And, as long as America continues its retreat into itself, other nations such as China will only fill the void and take over its crown as global leader.

Moreover, by choosing to pull out of the pact, Trump has only made climate change a dynamite issue during the next presidential race. Although he may be hoping that this will play to his advantage, his actions may backfire as a record number of Americans are now concerned about global warming. And, this will only benefit his Democratic rival.

Theoretically, a new president can re-enter the pact under executive agreement, and it will only take 30 days to take effect. That means that the US may only be out of the agreement for a few months. And, whilst it is sad that the climate movement has arrived at this dark juncture, it shall not be derailed by one badly coiffed buffoon whose mark in history will hopefully be short lived.

As Bill McKibben writes in the New York Times: "It our duty to make sure that history will judge Donald Trump’s name with the contempt it deserves. Not just because he didn’t take climate change seriously, but because he didn’t take civilisation seriously.”
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