Why a ‘Trump-II’ Kills the Paris Accord for Good (It’s Gonna be Great!)

A right-wing prescription for climate change is more capitalism

Image courtesy of design•in—sync

The first-order agenda of a Trump 2nd term — a consistent right-wing vision of ridding the world of all technocratic control — will finalize the legal removal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, in 2021. Among the many acts of violence Trump and his brand of paleoconservatism has unleashed, this one is likely to be overlooked. As is consistent with climate change initiatives.

And there won’t be any forthcoming “gold-plated” Trump alternatives, either. Like the ones he’s always promising — after the commercial break — that signals to the world the U.S. is still in on negotiating global agreements on climate change that includes every nation on earth.

In one fell swoop, he will erase the enormous diplomatic capital expended in its negotiations[1]. Make no mistake, this is the only truly global agreement we have that deals in the labyrinthine problem of global, aggregate emissions.

And given media complacency to climate issues coverage — “out there somewhere” climate change is neither consummating nor titillating — the media will act as the conspiring schill in the crowd for reality TV’s ultimate snake oil salesman.

It’s gonna be great! *break for commercial*

Riding high, in a COVID-injured economy, and amidst the political illegibility of the climate crisis, Trump will situate himself as the ‘repairer-in-charge’. A Trump-II will embolden his neoliberal and simplifying ethos that would efface the collective obligations and interdependencies inherent in global emissions reductions.

And “protecting” the U.S. economy will be its auspicious rationale that whitewashes a geopolitically dark scenario, where even a 2° C temperature increase represents the displacement, out of their climate niche, of around a billion people worldwide.

All forfeited in a sensible, and likely brief, public statement.

His fossil fuel “buds” locked and loaded in the chamber, with Trump as their manservant, will blithely blow it all up. He will have weaponized public dissonance towards climate change risks, with the media greasing the wheels (yes, this is a pun) for the perfect crime.

Climate Change is a Market Failure

Trump politics is an ideological brand of neoliberalism that also has a common-sense foothold in contemporary American politics. Wendy Brown, author of Undoing the Demos, calls neoliberalism a tendency to see free markets as omniscient and infallible, where the state logically would never intervene.

This means immediate emissions reductions, for instance the public interest stuff that isn’t currently profitable and fast enough for the market to provide what people need, are left for markets to sort out.

Fossil-fuel-powered economies are left planning for immediate needs, while benefitting from their carbon-emitting actions, which produce emissions that cause harm shared by everyone. All of this ensures that economies will be left largely unchaperoned to continue with this plunder.

This big mess “is what it is” as the neoliberal libretto. It’s anarcho-capitalism, kids. It’s six months of condemnable U.S. infection rates in a global pandemic and still no universal mask mandate. It’s what Brown calls the economics of “no planning,” where “some will triumph and some will die.”

The Paris Agreement is All We Have

You can’t indiscriminately reduce emissions and have a good chance at addressing climate change. There has to be emission reduction in total, according to the article Why achieving the Paris Agreement requires reduced overall consumption and production. This means low-income countries, as well as the highly consuming lifestyles of the affluent classes that largely depend on them for cheap production, will need to be included, and monitored in the scheme.

And because it symbolizes a global agreement it happens to be, according to scholars, our only chance at holding the increase of global average temperatures to well below 2° C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° C above those levels[2].

But the Paris Agreement is only a “treaty soft law” as opposed to the precision of “hard law” or a legally binding treaty that would ensure changes in economic behavior[3].

However, as I have already stated about market failures above, the Paris Agreement as it was conceived shouldn’t be a surprise. It was framed according to the article Soft law in the Paris Climate Agreement: Strength or weakness(?), to ensure broad participation and not stringency and compliance, as an overarching goal.

Considered its strength and the essential element; the formation of a global consensus is the only real instrument we have to deal with aggregate emissions[4] and thus, limiting global average temperatures.

When the kids in the sandbox with the shovels and the pails up and leave, playing sandbox with hands and feet most definitely is not the same thing.

Free Market Fundamentalism Isn’t a Plan.

What I’d like to say here is that beyond Trumpian anti-science populism, a business-centric anti-global politic also makes necessary but burdensome global treaties such as the Paris Agreement, much easier to trash. It is according to Ray Kiely, a “right-wing form of authoritarianism.” One that always seeks easy and fast solutions to complex problems[5].

With the solutions being — you guessed it — more free markets.

And let’s be clear, the Paris Agreement is a prime target for Trump anti-global, anti-expert, free market dogma. As it contains the potential for a global mechanism requiring developed countries like the United States, to submit biennial reports subject to a technical expert review[6].

When Trump-II announces the final pull-out, it will be neoliberal authoritarianism in plain sight. But it won’t seem like it. Problems with immense, up-front political-economic complexity, that demand cooperation from all players if it is to succeed (and not rugged individualism), will all be snowed under by the logic of U.S. self-interest. It just won’t be a plan.

[1] Lawrence & Wong (2017)

[2] Lawrence & Wong (2017)

[3] Lawrence & Wong (2017)

[4] Lawrence & Wong (2017)

[5] Lawrence & Wong (2017)

[6] Lawrence & Wong (2017)

Founder of the non-profit, Think Beyond the Pump. The group promotes a climate/public health warning label on all points of fossil purchase.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store