This article originally appeared on Vox.com, written by David Roberts. To read the full article, click here.
1) No, an agreement cannot be both nonbinding and draconian (Spoiler: Paris is the former)
Early on in the speech, Trump said: “Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”
This made me laugh out loud when I first heard it. I still get a kick out of it.
The Paris climate agreement, as I have explained (see here and here), is voluntary. Participating countries determine their own targets and their own policies. They can, at any time, revise those targets and policies. They can fail to meet the targets, without penalty. When Trump says “nonbinding” … that’s what nonbinding means. There are no legal bonds.
The point of Paris is to use the power of public commitment and accountability. The idea is that, by publicly stating targets and reporting transparently on progress, participants will be driven by pride, peer pressure, and internal politics to meet those targets. But the agreement does not impose any legal penalty on participants that fail to meet their targets. Again: That’s what nonbinding means.
So how, then, if there are no threatened penalties, and the US is free, within the agreement, to implement whatever policies it wants … can the agreement also “impose … draconian financial and economic burdens”?
The answer: It cannot. That sentence makes no f’ing sense, even internally. The chances that the logical dissonance troubled Trump for even a microsecond seems, however, remote.
Trump warned later of “massive future legal liability. Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in.” This is also 100 percent bullshit. It refers to the theory that Paris participants cannot legally reduce their targets, opening the administration to lawsuits if it, say, rolls back the Clean Power Plan.
That theory is hogwash. No one buys it — not the negotiators in the room when the agreement was forged, not NGOs, not participating countries, no one. The only person who seems to be pushing the theory is Trump’s White House lawyer, Don McGahn. And he’s just doing it to manipulate Trump, which seems to have worked pretty well.
2) No, Paris cannot be “renegotiated”
Trump said the US will “begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. If we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”
As mentioned above, each country determines its own contribution. That’s why they’re called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). Each country is free to revise its NDC at any time — no negotiations needed. If Trump wants different terms he just has to say so.
As to renegotiating the entire Paris framework, the result of many years of painstaking work by hundreds of diplomats? No, the other 190 nations involved are not down with that. Tearing up thousands of man hours of work on behalf of an erratic man-child who says, “If we can’t, that’s fine” is, you might say, a bad deal.
3) No, abiding by the agreement will not cost the US a bazillion dollars
“Compliance with the terms of the Paris accord … could cost Americans as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025,” Trump said. “The cost to the economy at this time would be close to $3 trillion in lowered GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income and in many cases, much worse than that.”
To support these ludicrous assertions, Trump cited a study (progress, I suppose!) from National Economic Research Associates. The study was commissioned by the American Council for Capital Formation and the US Chamber of Commerce, two longstanding corporate anti-tax lobbying groups. To help with their lobbying, they needed a study that showed Paris targets would cost a bazillion dollars. So they ordered one from NERA, and NERA, as per its reputation, delivered.
Rachel Becker at the Verge has a great post looking at some of the study’s assumptions. (Washington Post’s FactCheck also has some good stuff on it.) Suffice to say, it’s a model rigged to show high costs. It doesn’t count the value of avoided emissions; tech innovation slows for no apparent reason; businesses do not innovate to avoid costs, they just absorb them. It flies in the face not only of most other models, but of recent experience, in which growth in advanced energy has outpaced even the most optimistic forecasts. The sector is now adding jobs at a faster clip than virtually any other economic sector.
As Yale economist Kenneth Gillingham told Becker, “It’s not something you can cite in a presidential speech with a straight face.” (Gillingham underestimates tribal epistemology.)
The fact is, the low price of natural gas, stagnant power demand, the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy, and the explosive growth in electric vehicles mean that the US is likely to continue reducing emissions no matter what Trump does. If everything goes just right economically, and a president committed to carbon reduction takes power in 2020, there’s even a chance we could still hit the NDC target, in spite of ourselves.
Basically, carbon in the US is being driven down by trends that are bringing economic development, jobs, and lower energy costs in their wake. Trump would have us believe that slightly accelerating those trends would whiplash us around to economic catastrophe. It’s goofy.
4) No, China and India are not getting away with anything
“Further, while the current agreement effectively blocks the development of clean coal in America,” Trump said, “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So we can’t build the plants but they can. According to this agreement, India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it. India can double their coal production. We’re supposed to get rid of ours.”
This is 31 flavors of wrong.
First, side note, it’s not clear that Trump has any clue what “clean coal” means. Insofar as it has any meaning, it means coal plants that capture and bury their carbon emissions. Far from “blocking” the development of clean coal, a commitment to reducing carbon emissions is the only reason to invest in it. Why else would you bury the f’ing carbon?
But then, I think Trump just says “clean coal” when he means “coal” because lolnothingmatters.
Second, China is not “allowed” to do anything. Like all other participants, China offered its own NDC and can revise it at any time. The only one in control of China’s policies is China.
Third, China is still building (advanced, cleaner) coal plants because, unlike the US, it does not have access to cheap, abundant natural gas, which has been the main driver of recent US carbon reductions. Nonetheless, the Chinese central government has canceled hundreds of coal plants recently, the existing coal fleet is running at historically low rates, the government is committed to phasing coal out as fast as possible, and the country currently expects to reach its NDC target early.
Fourth, India (which also won’t be “allowed” to do anything) is, in fact, projected to use more coal, but it is working at breakneck speed to transition. It has pledged to get 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, which will include building out 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2022. India is set to pass Japan this year to become the world’s third largest market for solar (after China and the US).
Fifth and finally, we’re not “supposed to get rid of” our coal plants. Coal plants are closing (and not getting built) because coal is getting its ass kicked on the market.
5) No, other nations are not laughing at us behind our backs — or they weren’t, anyway
“The fact that the Paris deal hamstrings the United States, while empowering some of the world’s top polluting countries, should dispel any doubt as to the real reason why foreign lobbyists wish to keep our magnificent country tied up and bound down by this agreement,” Trump said. “It is to give their country an economic edge over the United States.”
Here we come to the root of the matter: tribalism. The tribalist (or “nationalist” as they are often called) sees all relationships, including relationships among nations, as zero-sum contests. There are only strong and weak, dominator and dominated, winners and losers.
For the millionth time, a voluntary deal cannot hamstring anyone, nor can it empower anyone. But the tribalist brain simply cannot grok an arrangement of mutual long-term benefit. So it must be unsavory “foreign lobbyists” trying to get us “tied up and bound down” so that they can drain our precious bodily fluids.
“At what point does America get demeaned?” he sputtered. “At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”
This is as raw a tribalism gets. Everything is a contest. Foreign agents are infiltrating our pure, strong nation, weakening our resolve from the inside, so that they can violate us. And — worst of all for the tribalist, worst of all for Trump — they are laughing at us. You just know they are, all of them.
We feel ridiculous and weak and the only way to restore our fragile ego is with dominance displays, to show everyone once and for all that we are in charge and the most important.
Read the full article here…
To learn more about the dangers of bullshit, which permeates throughout this speech and in general U.S. politics at the moment, watch my video here.
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