Politicians around the world have perfected the art of appearing to do something about a problem, when actually doing something about it would harm the financial interests of their industrial sponsors. This was never better illustrated than by the Paris Climate Accord.
If anyone is paying attention to words any more, please note that the thing is called an “accord,” or “agreement,” not a treaty — because treaties are binding, and cannot be violated without consequences. An “accord,” on the other hand, is a statement of a wish, as in “wouldn’t it be nice if we had world peace?” A treaty says, “If you attack my friend I will beat you to a bloody pulp,” whereas an accord says, “I really wish you wouldn’t speak harshly to my friend.”
If anyone is paying attention to science (or simply arithmetic) any more, please note that the primary goal of this accord is to limit global warming caused by industrial pollution to two degrees Celsius. So far, since the Industrial Revolution began we have raised the world’s temperature by almost one degree (.8 degree Celsius), so we’re already halfway there, with the rate of warming steadily increasing. Moreover, the warming effects of greenhouse gases have a 40-year cycle, so whatever we do to reduce them now will not have any effect on temperatures until about 2060. There is no possibility that warming will be limited to two degrees by any actions taken now, if in fact anyone ever does take any significant action.
To master the skill of appearing to do something while not doing anything, one must first become adept at kicking the can down the road. At this, the parent organization of the Paris Accord — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (or UN-FuCC for short) — excels. The Paris Accord was finalized at the group’s 21st annual meeting on the subject, in 2015. And at that the agreement did not call for any actual activity until 2018, after a lengthy survey of the member countries to determine whether they actually meant to join.
And what was that 2018 activity? Shutting down coal fired power plants? Taxing carbon emissions? Imposing trade sanctions on scoffers? Nothing like that. It was called — I am not making this up — a “stocktake” to be initiated with a “facilitative dialog,” during which each member country was to gaze intently at its navel and decide where it was and what it wanted to do. Because any actual attempts to reduce carbon emissions — that might actually begin sometime around 2020, or so — were entirely voluntary.
Various requirements were satisfied by November of 2015, and the United States became a participant in the Paris Accord. Nothing was required of it, and less than nothing was done. The Obama administration took credit for a heartening decline in US carbon emissions — from just under 20 metric tons per person per year in 2009, when he took office, to just over 16 metric tons per person in 2013. But that decrease was largely due to the recession that began in 2009, not to any heroic preventive actions by the government.
So what is it about this anemic and ineffective agreement that drives Trump crazy? Why did he feel compelled to announce this week he is taking us out of the Paris Accord? No one knows. And no one is ever going to find out. Those who insist on trying to divine what beliefs drive him, what agenda directs him, are doomed to failure for the simple reason that he has no beliefs and no agenda. He possesses scraps of information clipped from Fox News, half-remembered snippets of conversations with people who appear to believe in something or other, and vague notions of midnight thoughts he was going to Tweet about but forgot.
When called on to make an announcement, he regurgitates a handful or two of mental flotsam for the talking heads to ponder. At some point, someone must have wedged in a persistent thought fragment — “climate agreement bad” — and that’s it. That’s why the United States is turning its back on the entire rest of the world except for two countries, and is walking away from 22 years of hard work.
The climate agreement wasn’t much, but it was all we had. It was toothless, clawless, not even permitted to bark, but it represented the human world reluctantly and slowly awakening to a mortal and imminent threat. Who knows, maybe it would have started to do serious work tomorrow. Now we’ll never know.
At the end of the movie Casablanca, when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) says to Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), “We’ll always have Paris,” he means they’ll have the memories of a wonderful time to sustain them through the end of the world — aka World War Two. But for us, Paris was not that great, as affairs go. And the aftermath is going to be way, way worse.