President Trump announced on June 1 that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, the global agreement signed by 195 countries in 2016 to set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limit the increase in global temperatures. During his announcement in the White House Rose Garden, Trump repeated claims made often during the 2016 election campaign that the Paris Agreement hurt the U.S. economy by deliberately putting the country at a competitive disadvantage and thereby contributing to unemployment.
But analysis of these claims by several prominent news organizations found them to be generally false, relying on dubious statistics supplied by corporations and organizations which aggressively opposed the Paris Accord. Many Fortune 500 companies joined environmental groups, clergy and the majority of the world’s leaders in condemning Trump’s decision.
There was widespread criticism of Trump for what was judged by many to be a morally reprehensible decision, but many observers also expressed optimism that the global transition to clean energy will continue with or without the United States government. At least 10 states and dozens of U.S. cities vowed to continue to live up to the commitments made in the Paris Accord despite President Trump’s decision to drop out of the pact. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Karen Orenstein, deputy director of Friends of the Earth, who examines Trump’s false rationale for pulling out of the accord, and the consequences for the global effort to address the growing threat of climate change. [Rush transcript.]
KAREN ORENSTEIN:I watched Donald Trump give the speech. It was surreal. It was like hearing somebody claim that the sky is neon green when you know the sky is blue. He constructed his own reality – and maybe Steven Bannon’s reality – that somehow the Paris Climate Agreement was a conspiracy by the rest of the world to harm the U.S. in terms of jobs, in terms of economics and he also created this scenario where “he’s Number One on tackling the environment. But that’s not what the Paris agreement does. The sole purpose is to hamstring the United States.”
And so, like you have this uncle at the table who claims that the world is flat, and there’s no such thing as gravity, where do you begin to try to counter the misleading statements, the untruths, the lies? The truth is that the Paris Agreement is basically a voluntary agreement among every nation in the world except a few – Syria, they’re not part of it because they’re obviously in civil war, and Nicaragua, because they thought the Paris Agreement was too weak, which I would agree with, it IS is too weak. And now the United States.
It basically is just the first time that you have every nation on earth – now minus three – committing to do something, whatever that country determines is in its best interest towards climate change. There’s no sort of sanctions or compliance regime to make sure that what you say you do is actually going to be done. So the U.S. could have said, “Well, as part of our climate change commitment, we will – this is if Donald Trump would say, we’re going to contribute three red balloons, and that’s our climate change commitment,” and the rest of the world would have to say “Okay” because there’s nothing binding here. And the reason there’s nothing binding is because the whole world watered down their level of ambition in order to cater to the United States because they knew that any sort of binding treaty would never make it through the U.S. Senate. And basically, it was just a why to try to ramp up ambition going forward and to try to have some sort of diplomatic international framework for trying to tackle global climate change. And it was absolutely inadequate, but it was what we had. And we would try to improve on it. And we certainly have lots of criticisms of the climate agreement, but when you have somebody like Trump attacking it and lying about it for all the wrong reasons, it makes you sort of have to defend the minimum you have, which right now is the Paris Climate Agreement.
BETWEEN THE LINES:Karen, I wondered if you’d speak to the possible political consequences here. Is it possible that we might have a movement across the globe that would somehow seek to penalize or sanction the United States and the Trump government for the Paris decision? And I say, that with the hope that any kind of boycott or sanctions against the United States would not affect average folks in this country. But it does send a message. We’ve seen that kind of tactic and strategy used around the world when a country becomes a rogue state, like many believe the United States has become under Trump.
KAREN ORENSTEIN:Friends of the Earth, in our communications about what Trump is doing – we’ve called for governments and people of the world to declare robust economic and political pressure on the United States to compel us to take meaningful climate action. With things like sanctions, I think we have to be careful that we don’t hurt ordinary Americans, frontline communities, so – but I do think there are all sorts of tools in the political and diplomatic tool box, and economic toolbox, that can be used to further isolate the United States because of what we are doing is really going to cause death and destruction for hundreds of thousands – if not many millions of people – including here in the U.S.
And I think these are early days but there are people out in the streets everywhere, and I think people are having the conversations that you just brought up, like “What do we do?” Is this the time to, you know, have sanctions like they did on South Africa, or the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement on Israel, Palestine? Those are all conversations that are starting to happen. I don’t have any of the answers, but I think other countries absolutely have to treat the U.S. as sort of the political pariah that it has become. And there has to be consequences.
For more information, visit Friends of the Earth at foe.org.
- Interview with Karen Orenstein, conducted by Scott Harris, Counterpoint, June 5, 2017 (21:46)
- “Five Things Trump’s Paris Climate Speech Got Wrong in His Attack on Green Climate Fund” Medium, June 1, 2017
- “Trump Announces U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Climate Accord,” NPR, June 1, 2017
- “Fact-Checking President Trump’s Claims on the Paris Climate Change Deal,” Washington Post, June 1, 2017
- “Fact-Checking Donald Trump’s Statement Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement,” Politifact, June 1, 2017
- “Which States Have Joined the Climate Alliance that Commits to Paris Agreement?” CBS, June 5, 2017
- “Over 1,400 U.S. Cities, States and Businesses Vow to Meet Paris Climate Commitments,” Inside Climate News, June 6, 2017
- “Trump Announces U.S. “Withdrawal” from Paris Climate Agreement – Greenpeace Response,” Greenpeace, June 1, 2017
- “Trump Has No Sense of the Backlash That’s Coming,” Grist, June 1, 2017
- “Making Ignorance Great Again,” New York Times, June 5, 2017
- “Trump Gratuitously Rejects the Paris Climate Accord,” New York Times, June 1, 2017
- “Trump Declares All-Out War on Environment With Fossil Fuel-Loving, Climate Change-Denying Cabinet Nominees,” AlterNet, Dec. 19, 2016
- Greenpeace USA at greenpeace.org
- 350.org at 350.org
- Sierra Club at sierraclub.org