Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On Climate, Trump is a Mainstream Republican

by Michael Dorf

Leaks from the Trump White House indicate either that President Trump has decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement or that he is nearing but still has not made a final decision. Many informed observers think it doesn't really matter. Even if Trump does not formally withdraw (either from the Paris accord or the entire UN framework), his Coal First environmental policy will ensure that the United States does not meet its targets under the Paris agreement anyway, with some environmentalists arguing that so long as the U.S. is going to miss its targets, the rest of the world is better off with the U.S. out of the agreement, so that our example does not water down the meaning of the commitment for other countries.

Debate over whether the world is better if we stay in or get out and the game-show-style interest that Trump (in typical Trumpian fashion) has generated regarding his BIG DECISION should not obscure two basic facts: (1) The Trump environmental policy is disastrous; and (2) when it comes to the environment and global warming especially, Trump is a mainstream Republican. The first point is obvious. Here I'll mostly elaborate the second one.

The Paris accord was only ever going to make insufficient reductions in carbon emissions to address global warming. If feedback loops like the melting of permafrost (releasing trapped methane) are not already irreversible, it will take additional steps beyond Paris to prevent droughts, famines, and rising sea levels that submerge Mar-a-Lago and much of the rest of coastal civilization. Some of the most effective steps that could be taken--like dramatically scaling back the raising of animals for food and fiber (see, e.g, this and this)--are barely even in the mix of steps that receive public attention.

But to acknowledge that Paris and other measures to address global warming and other looming ecological catastrophes (like ocean acidification, fresh water shortages, etc.) are inadequate is not to say that these measures should be abandoned in favor of environmental laissez-faire. Even if half-measures and quarter-measures only buy a little time, it is better to buy that time than to waste it, as Trump and his enablers intend. If the Earth remains habitable in future decades, Trump will be remembered not only as the egomaniacal clown who tried to destroy American democracy but perhaps chiefly as the shortsighted fool who condemned the planet's inhabitants to living in a hellscape whose ugliness is interrupted only by well-maintained golf courses.

That legacy will not be Trump's alone. Although the last days of Trump's Should-I-Stay-or-Should-I-Go show on Paris have framed the internal debate as between Secretary of State Tillerson and First Daughter Ivanka versus EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Reichsf├╝hrer Bannon, that intra-TrumpWorld saga provides a misleading picture of the state of play among Republicans, seeming to suggest that on climate matters there is a moderate reasonable center (epitomized by Tillerson and Ivanka) battling a hard-right extreme.

The truth is that on the environment, as on other issues, the intra-Republican debate is often less about ends than about means. For example, former Speaker of the House John Boehner was deemed a moderate because, by contrast with the Freedom Caucus, he was unwilling to hold the global economy hostage (via the debt ceiling) in order to achieve counterproductive spending cuts, Obamacare repeal, and regressive tax cuts, but his underlying policy preferences were basically the same.

Notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, that's also largely true with respect to the environment. Sure, it looks like Trump is an extremist, even within the Republican Party. By contrast with Senator John McCain, Trump does not even appear to believe in global warming, much less to want to do anything about it. When he is feeling maverick-y, McCain can be an environmental moderate, as he was during his presidential run in 2008. Moreover, the letter from Senator James "Snowball" Inhofe urging Trump to get out of Paris was signed by only 22 Republican Senators. Thus, one might think that more than half of Republican Senators favor remaining in the Paris accord.

But one would probably be wrong. If more than half of Republican Senators favored the Paris accord, President Obama would have been able to get it through the Senate as a treaty. He did not even try because he knew that it would be DOA in the Senate. Even now, some of the Republican Senators who did not sign the Inhofe letter might actually support leaving Paris but are simply laying low. Or they could have collateral reasons for opposing leaving. Some might take the view that the U.S. shouldn't have entered the accord, but that once it did, it would be too much of a sacrifice of geopolitical influence to get out. Overall, there is no reason to think that the GOP is substantially more favorable to environmental protection than Trump.

Want another indicator of where the mainstream of the Republican Party is on environmental issues? How about the fact that exactly one Republican Senator (Susan Collins of Maine) voted against the confirmation of Scott Pruitt as EPA Director, despite Pruitt's clear record as a mouthpiece for the most shortsighted energy companies.

So, how bad is the prospect of Trump's withdrawal from the Paris accord and, more importantly, his environmental policy overall? They are terribly bad. Bigly bad. Sad bad. So bad that it makes me glad that my house is over 1,300 feet above sea level. But despite the Trumpian adverbs, the anti-environmental policy is not distinctly Trumpian bad.

When ostensibly mainstream Republicans accept or even defend distinctly Trumpian outrages such as the obvious lying, deranged tweeting, and even some of the awful policy (like his travel ban), they are making a deal with the devil: Getting jurists like Neil Gorsuch onto the federal bench, securing regressive tax cuts, and eliminating programs that aid the working poor and the most vulnerable are sufficiently attractive to them that they are willing to accept what would have heretofore been unacceptable. To use a phrase for which Anderson Cooper misguidedly apologized, Republicans will defend Trump even when he takes a dump on the desk, because that is the price of getting what they want.

However, Trump's horrible environmental policy is not just something that Republicans are willing to accept in order to get something else that they really want. To mainstream Republicans, Trump's anti-environmentalism is a reason to support him, not a cost of supporting him. They don't merely tolerate this turd that Trump dumped; they welcome it.


el roam said...

Thanks for that interesting post , what is more interesting ( unfortunately ) is the fact , that some giant corporations , resist that withdrawal from Paris agreement ( and even energy companies so ) . They believe , the issue is too real and critical , as well their global image of course , that might get hurt by it .

Here one may read :


el roam said...

Just clarification : American corporations of course ....


Joe said...

"my house is over 1,300 feet above sea level"

Being marginally above sea level, I'm less blase.

I think it's appropriate for Anderson Cooper, who tries to have a certain class (probably was thinking, "my mom was disappointed in me"), to resist talking about giving dumps on tables. That's a tad crude and works better for someone else.

But, sometimes, being crude is fitting. As to the immediate issue, as noted, Republicans these days aren't willing to do much. This includes not confirming people, which only requires a few dissenters to join Democrats. But, the discussion does show that in practice there are degrees. So, someone like Obama might be able to not have to worry about enough Republicans to go "Jonah Ryan" on him (Veep reference) and totally go crazy. But, has much it matters now is unclear.

Shag from Brookline said...

Is there a conspiracy theory developing that relates to Russia and the fact that much of its finances/wealth are based upon fossil fuels? Might undoing the Paris Agreement benefit Russia and/or Russian oligarchs?

Shag from Brookline said...

Mike's phrase " ... environmental laissez-faire" has been floating in my mind. The Charles River's Magazine Beach in Cambridge, just across the river where I now reside, was a popular public swimming area until the mid-1930s. Going back several decades, steps were taken in an effort to make the Charles River swimmable again but without much success. The problems with the Charles River began with the 17th century newcomers to the Boston area. Other rivers in America have had similar problems. Laissez-faire doesn't work well with the environment or with much else in America. Many of these issues are global as well, and can be resolved only by global action.

I recall my family taking my brother and me to Magazine Beach in the early 1930s when we lived in Somerville, before moving to Boston in 1938 (just in time for the hurricane that year), a more convenient schlep that going to Revere Beach or Nantasket via public transit, a respite from the travails of the Great Depression. Efforts continue to make the Charles swimmable again, but too many communities along its 40+ miles continue drainage into the Charles. The Charles River is still a jewel in the area despite its tarnish. But with Pres. Trump, it seems time to "Cry Me a River."

Steve Davis said...

I'm going to play devil's advocate here (considering who our president is, that may be literal, not figurative). What difference is it going to make, really? What, precisely, will the U.S. government do differently, if it abandons the Paris accords, and what meaningful long-term impact will it have on global warming?

The long-term solution to global warming is technological: we have to develop the means to produce more energy than we do now while dumping far fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

That process already is underway, with no particular concerted environmental "policy" to spur it on. Carbon emissions per GDP and per capita are falling relatively rapidly in this country, and total carbon emissions in the US are at the levels they were at a generation ago, despite the fact that the economy and population are far larger. It's likely this technological process will continue and accelerate, with no more government policy than we have now. That's not techno-utopianism, it's simply a projection of what's been happening for the last 25 years, without the support of a concerted government policy.

So what, really, can the government do to hasten this process? It can subsidize new technology, it can tax polluting activities, or it can ban or restrict polluting activities. That's pretty much it. How confident can we be that doing these things in much more significant ways than we are doing them now will meaningfully ward off the potential harm of global warming?

I would guess, probably not very confident. Unless we dramatically restrict polluting activities, or massively subsidize new technology, the impact on future global warming is likely to be very, very small, and only incrementally alter the ongoing process of technological change.

And if we do engage in massive restrictions (the only kind that would have a significant impact on near-term polluting activities), the costs are likely to be high. Those costs are likely to include substantial reductions in GDP, which in turn will mean fewer resources available in the future to fight the effects of climate change. The notion that government activity is going to spur the economy by redirecting resources from currently profitable energy-producing activities into barely feasible "green" activities is wishful thinking, not good science or good economics.

Subsidies may help, but how much, really? Will subsidies dramatically improve the pace of solar or wind technology? Will subsidies really accelerate the development of electric car batteries? Probably somewhat, if the subsidies are really, really huge. But probably not enough to make a significant long-term impact on the effects of global warming. It's possible they could have an impact, but "possible" isn't much to hang your hat on. Plus, if the subsidies really are large enough to have a possible impact, they will be costly, and the question arises how confident can we be that the benefit will outweigh the cost. Probably, not very confident.

The really bad, significant impacts of climate change are not projected to occur, by most projections (I'm basing this on the IPCC reports I've read) until near the end of the century. That's a long way away. It's not a rational trade-off to adopt policies that result in significant cost in near-term GDP for the sake of preventing a harm three generations from now. Even we do assume that the threats of global warming are real, the rational course of action is to pursue policies that spur rapid economic growth, which in turn will both (a) spur technological development, which is the key to dealing with the problem, and (b) ensure that in the future we have the maximum amount of resources to deal with the problems that arise at that time.

Shag from Brookline said...

Is the devil advocating " ... environmental laissez-faire" in the short-term? Experience suggests that "short-term" is a political continuum.

el roam said...

Seteve davis , has a point , serious one . I do agree , as well experts , that Paris agreement , wouldn't change much ( in climate terms) . Yet , the importance , lies also in the sentiment , and global mobility :

In other environmental domains or issues , global cooperation and global mobility , are badly needed , and can produce efficient results :

Even the Chinese , are fighting now , trade in ivory ( yes , the Chinese ) . We need desperately , far greater global mobility and cooperation , to fight :

Illegal trade of all sorts . Epidemics . water shortage . Famines and so forth …. In this regard , The Paris agreement , was huge success . In a very controversial issue , the world has come as one . So , the withdrawal of the No 1 super power , and leader of the free world , may constitute a severe blow , and severe setback , to global mobility .

China ivory trade battle :


Joe said...

It is my understanding that there is a good overlap between good policy generally here and means that address global warming specially. The "only really drastic things will help enough, so what's the point" to me is defeatist.

You need to start somewhere, including not making the situation worse. Also, even small actions are important in that they help when other countries like China look on and are pressured to do things, then pointing to how the U.S. in the past (while their industrial revolution was in its infancy) had less regulation. This is deemed by some as unfair.

I don't know how much, given the problems of Trump Republicans as a whole, abandoning Paris accords will be. But, it is cumulative. It is not like it is likely that though they don't take part there, they will do other things that help the situation. Stepping out from the accords is a step back. This is a major problem from the point of view of good policy on various issues. It is rather depressing.

[The blatant case is the Supreme Court. Looked like, for the first time in forty five years, there would be a moderate left lean - if only 5-4. Now, just retaining the "Kennedy Court" with a new young member looks to be an uphill battle.]

Shag from Brookline said...

There was a recognition in rural America following WW I with "How Ya Gonna Keep Em Down on the Farm" after GIs saw Paris (Paree). Rural propulations decreased. Almost a century after that popular song, along came the Paris Agreement on climate change. Now Pres. Trump wants to deliver on what he perceives as the days when America was great - at polluting. Many of Trump's voter base of the Forgotten reside in rural America. So opting out of the recent Paris Agreement may reverse the impact of the post-WW I movement and increase Trump's voter base for 2020, which would be myopic.

Trump doesn't believe in exercise as beneficial to health, sort of zero sum as a human body only has so much in its batteries that apparently can't be recharged. Perhaps Trump's environmental ideology is that the world will deteriorate in a similar manner, and that this cannot be stopped by humankind.

But too many nations have been involved with the Paris Agreement and more and more people globally are aware of the impacts of climate change. Time marches on and more and more people are concerned with survival, not just for themselves but their children and grandchildren. Leaving the Earth a better place is in our DNA.

Shag from Brookline said...

Off topic: "covfefe" = coverage fee fee. [No, silly, not legal fees.]

Joe said...


Brian Deese‏Verified account @BrianCDeese

Paris entered into force 11/4/16. Earliest Trump can complete exit = 11/4/20 I.E THE DAY AFTER THE '20 ELECTION. Paris will be on the ballot.

[cites section]

Shag from Brookline said...

I understand the Paris Agreement was not presented to the Senate for approval. What if Trump sent it to the Senate with an expectation that the Senate would reject it. Might that failure to approve override the Paris Agreement entirely?

In the tradition of Brexit, might Trump's action be dubbed "uSexit"?

pvineman1 said...

Trump's turd is totally explainable if you understand that Trump is (and has always been) only interested in one thing: Himself.

Trump knows that he must satisfy his base (of probably 30 or so million) if he is to survive. These deplorables are the only thing protecting him from the mainstream GOP who, if the truth be told, despise him and would much prefer to have Pence as president.

But as long as these GOPers know that Trump has the strong support of tens of millions of voters (who make up a significant portion of voters in their congressional districts) they will not abandon Trump or say anything in public that undermines his presidency. Their only goal is to get re-elected. And if they believe that the 30 million Trump deplorables agree with what Trump does or says they will keep their mouths shut.

So, today was all about Trump protecting himself by placating the 30 million deplorables who have never, ever, believed in climate change or global warming and who would no doubt destroy the planet if it meant some more money in their pocket by digging more coal or not being tied up by environmental laws and regulations.

For his political survival, Trump needs these morons to believe that he is in their corner and has their back. In reality, Trump doesn't give a damn about them. But he must continue to convince (a/k/a con) them into believing that he does. His political survival depends on it.

Our only hope: Mueller. If his report implicates Trump and closely ties him to Russia's attempt to undermine democracy, I believe the vast majority of the GOPers (who are presently to scared to speak out against Trump) will be happy to throw him overboard and put Pence in the Oval Office.

Joe said...

"Pence in the Oval Office"

Who has been deeply complicit in the procedures including [e.g., either looking the other way or being negligent] regarding the National Security Advisor's connections with Russia. But, there are levels of bad, true.

Shag from Brookline said...

By opting out of the Paris Agreement, Pres. Trump seems to be a global free-rider, perhaps assuming that the other nations by sticking with Paris will benefit the America First libertarianism of Trump (aka selfishness). Of course this is stupid. The Fourth Estate is reacting strongly to this stupidity.

Trump's timing coincided with many late night comedians on vacation. But Samantha, Jimmy and Trevor have been on duty, as well as the Trump clone on Comedy Central.

It should be emphasized that Trump had no presser following his Rose Garden rejection of Paris.

Shag from Brookline said...

Query: Might principles of federalism override Pres. Trump's rejection of Paris? I was impressed by the reaction of the mayor of Pittsburgh who slammed Trump for invoke his city in the Paris rejection. Back in the mid-1960s, I accompanied a client who had a medical device start-up in the Boston area on a business trip to Pittsburgh (with the client flying his plane*). That was the first and only time I had been to Pittsburgh, which I thought of as a steel town. But Pittsburgh was changing back then, rebuilding based upon changes that had been taking place post WW II. Downtown Pittsburgh was very attractive with its new buildings, taking advantage of three rivers; and it was bustling. Much nicer than Boston at the time.

*This was my first trip on a private plane. I told the client that I would bill him for "fright pay."

Joe said...

John Oliver is back on Sunday. Should have enough to fill the news segment.

Shag from Brookline said...

Eric Posner has just put up an interesting post on his Blog on Trump'a pulling out of the Paris Agreement, pointing to the fact that Paris does not require the US (or any of the nations that joined Paris) to do anything as Paris is voluntary. This brought to mind in Seinfeld the efforts of Jerry and George Costanza to create a TV show. In their pitching of their idea for the TV show, network executives asked them what is the show about. George jumped in with "It's a TV show about nothing." The episodes that followed played up this theme with lots of humor. Paris is an Agreement that doesn't require the participating nations to actually do anything, i.e., a subscribing nation can do nothing if it so chooses. Pres. Trump emulates George Costanza on the Paris Agreement, but without the humor. Maybe Comedy Central should call me.

pvineman1 said...


But Trump's announcing his intention to pull out is about "something" -- his survival by playing to his base and, thereby, keeping GOPers who would, if the truth be told, like to get him out of the White House.

Max Boot makes the same point (with much more depth) in his LA Times Op-Ed today:

Shag from Brookline said...

But that "something" is the equivalent of doing nothing under the Paris Agreement which continues in effect with other nations that had signed on, who don't have to do anything other than voluntarily. Will Trump doing nothing provide benefits to Trump's voting base of the Forgotten, who may - or may not - know nothing when they see it.? Of course, doing nothing just might create health issues that would impact the Forgotten if Obamacare is repealed and replaced with Trumpcare.