‘Why I believe Trump was right about Paris’
Former deputy director of Greenpeace USA and long-standing environmental activist. He is currently facing felony charges for shutting down a pipeline carrying tar oil sands from Canada to the USA.
To widespread outrage, the White House has announced the USA will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. But the author, a campaigning environmentalist, is delighted.
The value of the Paris Agreement is in its aspirational goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, not in its implementation mechanisms, which are voluntary, insufficient, and impossible to monitor.
But that modest goal will be breached shortly, which makes the agreement a kind of fig leaf, offering political cover to those who would soft-pedal the runaway climate crisis a while longer.
The agreement affords oil, gas and coal companies a globally visible platform through which to peddle influence and appear engaged on climate change while lobbying for business as usual. That won’t save the climate.
It takes false hopes off the table, and opens the way for building an effective climate movement.
Who wanted to keep the USA in the Paris Agreement anyway? People around the world, a majority of Americans, environmentalists and other coastal elites — constituencies for which Trump has shown indifference and/or contempt.
Staying in was also favoured by Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Peabody coal, eBay, HP, General Mills, Kellogg, Tesla and other multinationals the Trump administration would have preferred to keep happy.
The environmental impact, like the political impact, won’t be that great. In fact, since the agreement lacks teeth, breaking it won’t have any effect on the climate in the short term. But in the longer term, the shock and rethinking it will cause in some circles just might precipitate political and cultural changes we need to stave off climate cataclysm.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to justify or abet Trump and his supporters in climate denial, and I’m not thinking climate activists and the Trump administration will end up in some kind of strange-bedfellows embrace.
Personally, I loathe this administration and find the president’s actions mean, maleficent, and mendacious, though it’s nothing personal. On my very best days I can eke out a couple minutes of meta loving-kindness meditation for the president as a person, but it’s a struggle.
I welcome pulling out of the Paris Agreement because it will disrupt our complacency and strengthen the most vigorous avenues of climate action left to us, which are through the courts and direct citizen action.
It lends much more credence to the legal argument that the federal government has utterly failed in its responsibility to consider the long-term impact of carbon emissions.
It advances the arguments of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in their federal lawsuit for the right to a liveable climate.
And it strengthens the case for climate activists attempting to raise the “necessity defence” as a justification for citizen climate action, as I and my fellow “valve turners” are doing as we face criminal charges for shutting off emergency valves on oil sands pipelines.
It’s also true that withdrawal from Paris deprives mainstream environmental organisations and the foundations and funders that guide them of a key deliverable, and that could risk eroding support for them.
Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Many of them have pursued an utterly bankrupt strategy of understating the climate problem, negotiating with the fossil fuel industry, and cherry-picking small victories to showcase organisational accomplishments at the expense of a functional movement strategy.
Pulling out of Paris takes false hopes off the table, and opens the way for building an effective climate movement. So as a committed climate activist who knows we’re running out of time, I say, let’s get on with it.
This article was originally published by The Hill. It has been edited for length.
- Was Trump right to withdraw from the Paris climate accord?
- Design a poster which lists 10 practical steps your community can take to become more environmentally friendly.
- 1.5 degrees Celsius
- The agreement’s central aim is to keep a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.
- Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
- In that case, Judge Ann Aiken of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon wrote, “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society…to hold otherwise would be to say that the Constitution affords no protection against a government’s knowing decision to poison the air its citizens breathe or the water its citizens drink.”
- Valve turners
- Climate activists involved in the #ShutItDown campaign, the group responsible for closing safety valves on five pipelines carrying tar sands crude oil into the United States.