Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Ken Ward: In Praise of Trump Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Pact

To the dismay of our allies, the White House announced the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. But as a patriot and climate activist, I’m not dismayed. I actually want to pull out.

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 U.N. Conference of the Parties is certainly not the organization to constrain powerful, retrenched fossil fuel interests and other bad climate actors and rogue climate states. The Paris 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.

At what point do we give up wishful, incremental thinking — that reason will prevail, the free market will adjust, the president’s daughter and son-in-law will dissuade him from the worst climaticide, the Democratic Party will do something, or prior policies which tinker on the margins like the Clean Power Plan won’t be totally obliterated?

I’d argue we’ve reached that point. If Trump withdraws from the Paris Agreement, at least we will have clarity instead of false hope.

Who wanted to keep the U.S. 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 favored 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. But let’s face it, they won’t be all that mad the U.S. is pulling out, and the political impact won’t be all that great.

Neither will the environmental impact. 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.

Pulling out of Paris will also give the president a political boost. It gives Breitbart and Fox something to crow about and The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN something that’s not Russia-gate to fret over.

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 the 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 Our Children’s Trust 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 livable climate. And it strengthens the case for climate activists attempting to raise the “necessity defense” 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 organizations 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 organizational 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 committed climate activist who knows we’re running out of time, I say, let’s get on with it.

From The Hill

Ken Ward is a former deputy director of Greenpeace going on trial next week on felony charges for shutting down an oil sands pipeline to prevent harm to the climate. 


The Eiffel Tower

4 comments on “Ken Ward: In Praise of Trump Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Pact

  1. daniel r. cobb
    June 5, 2017

    The global climate crisis threatens humanity, not to mention millions of other species of life on our little blue planet. There is no back-up planet. In spite of the romantic nonsense coming from some, Mars is not habitable and never will be on a large scale (primarily because it has very little atmosphere and no oxygen). Earth is all we’ve got. The climate crisis is now. The evidence is pervasive, in spite of the absurd proclamations from Republican politicians who have no more training and knowledge on this subject than monkeys. We are stealing this habitable, paradise planet from our children. The Paris accord is a very anemic start, but it’s a start. It’s focal point, a place where nations at least sit down and acknowledge we have a serious problem. And the first step to recovery is admitting we have a problem. We are addicted to carbon and we must plan our own intervention and recovery plan, or the brutal fact is that Earth over the next 50, 75, 100 years will become increasingly less hospitable. The predictions made by climate scientists 20 years ago are unfolding before our eyes today. Earth’s population depends on resources that exist today, but if we lose 20, 30, 40% of the world’s cropland, global foot shortages will become severe. This is only ONE of the consequences of global warming. Google this topic, the science is undeniable. The crisis is now. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/02/arable-land-soil-food-security-shortage

    Liked by 1 person

  2. marymtf
    June 4, 2017

    it’s not climate denial, but refusing to suspend disbelief. Refusing to believe that developing countries should be exempt – its surely all in or all out. do you drive a car? Do you plane travel? Do you worry about what overpopulation is doing to drain us of our natural resources? Do you turn off your lights on Earth Hour, then turn them back on the rest of the year? you and your like minded colleagues need to declare yourselves. I doubt that you will; I doubt that you will even allow this comment.


  3. Luz Vega-Hidalgo
    June 4, 2017

    What Ken Ward is saying makes sense, America’s political and economic elites have a terrible problem with hypocrisy, both on the left and on the right. Because of our exorbitant wealth which is mostly stuck at the top in the hands of the few rich, when ever some of these filthy rich folks decide to do something which strongly impacts the quality of life in our society, these Titans have to constantly explain their actions using the very moral and humanitarian terms of our 18 century Declaration of Independence and our U.S Constitution political/philosophical ideals; its the explanation most Americans understand, and which pacifies the American multitudes.

    So that the tradition has been that both our representatives in congress and our leaders in our economic sector have to put on a pretense of having a virtuous, moral character, and that their business plans show a great interest in developing our basic democratic ideals; even though many of these past explanations have finally proven to be bull crap in practice. What comes up is that in the history of many corporate humanitarian actions ( beyond climate change ) they have done the minimal required; they have only done enough to maintain a front that they are on course with America’s basic political philosophy, and convince their customers/citizens, not to listen to the bad rumors because they actually do have the well being of the American people in their hearts. However at this point in our history, we’ve learned to know better. The history is that the labeled humanitarian actions of our corporations and their close friends and lovers in congress, have mostly been destructive of our social conditions and our democratic political ideals and goals. Instead the opposite has become the truth; that their greed threatens to corrupt what we have left of our democracy, and that they appear to be the main culprits in what has been corrupted. So considering their colossal-filthy rich wealth they have amassed, and the power which automatically is a result of that, they could do better, and even the best at doing the right thing and still have left over for living their filthy rich private decadent lives.

    But there is a pattern of behavior which is a warning; that judging from the past behavior of our powerful economic and political elites in our Western democracies, the Paris Agreement can be astutely turned into another front in the hands of some of these powerful politicians who owe so much to the very rich gangsters of the world’s richest one percent.., if not monitored it could serve as a means for countries to take more economic power for themselves in the name of climate change ” It’s very easy for them to conclude, given their corrupt history, that they just do the minimal again, and keep the bulk of the dirty greedy stuff, a big secret.” It’s what Trump suggested; but in his case, it takes one to know one.

    However no one should walk away from the Paris Agreement. After all we got the Big Actors in the World Stage to finally sit down in The Round Table and admit we have a problem. Instead a movement of the people in all countries should stress it’s utmost necessity but also unmask it’s insufficient actions. The curtain must be drawn as was done by Dorothy’s little dog Toto in the Wizards of Oz. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZR64EF3OpA

    It’s time for the people, while they are citizens who vote, and people who are the customers who buy, to put pressure on this Round table, while the Titans agree to be at the round table; then we’ll call their bluff when they deceitfully move in the wrong direction. We should realistically keep in mind that there is that possibility that given their past behavior they can turn the whole deal into a competition which wants to usurp the most political and economic power from these agreements, not so much for climate change, but to gain political and economic power. Thieves and their lackeys, will be thieves and lackeys if not closely monitored… Trump said it as if it were one mob boss, assessing the others; and there is some truth to Trumps reading of character; can you trust greedy thieves and liars… Trumps suggestion reminds me of a Spanish saying which says, ” The thief judges according to his own condition”, ” el pillo jusga de acuerdo a su condicion”.

    Lets all remain vigilant. The actions of the political and economic Titans on Climate change is most important, because it is mostly their actions that have caused Climate Change; and besides, they are not going away soon enough.

    The power and pressure of the world’s people’s movements for climate change, and local actions in America and throughout the world on climate change both by the people and by the people’s governors, majors, and other government authorities is most important at this time.

    ” Eternal Vigilance is the price of Liberty.”

    ~ attributed as the words of Thomas Jefferson, but historians are not sure. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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