When Trump announced Thursday that he was planning to take the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, almost no one was surprised. Still, there was hope among many that pressure from business – including calls from leaders of more than two dozen corporations including Apple, Google, JP Morgan, GE, and Microsoft – the Pope, and world leaders at the G7 talks would be persuasive.
The consequences of the U.S. leaving the deal are hard to predict at this point. But, suffice to say, the U.S. is the world’s number two emitter of greenhouse gases, produces more fossil fuels than any other country, and its military is the number one consumer of fossil fuels. Without the U.S. in the agreement, it’s hard to see how it can have any meaningful impact on reducing the threat of climate change. This fact has been recognized by world leaders for decades, and for decades each climate change conference was dominated by the U.S. Yet, world leaders are refusing to reopen negotiations, claiming they are fully committed to tackling global warming and that, “nothing can or will stop us.”
A number of states and cities in the U.S. are following suit. California, Washington, and New York, representing over 25% of the GDP and 20% of the population, have declared their intention to uphold the climate agreement, forming the U.S. Climate Alliance to which another 7 states have sign on support. Additionally 105 mayors of cities (12 of the 15 largest cities) have said they support the objectives of the Climate Alliance.
Trump’s speech justifying this move was a return to a full throated economic nationalism, clearly inspired by alt-right reactionary Steve Bannon.
Pulling out of the Paris agreement is supported by some of manufacturing and energy industry capitalists. But even some in those sections of the ruling class which back Trump are dismayed. Their concern is broadly not about the environment per se but more about the diminished “leadership” role for U.S. capitalism on the global stage that this represents. Clearly China’s capitalists and rulers are prepared to step into the breach as divisions between the U.S. and the European Union have become extremely sharp.
The majority of the U.S. ruling class also do not want to let their rivals dominate the growing renewable energy industry. Trump claimed that the Paris Accord would lead to the loss of 6.7 million jobs in the next 20 years. This in no way takes into account the economic catastrophe that will be caused by runaway global warming and is just one of the utterly spurious claims he made.
But the key consideration for Trump is none of the above. His administration is mired in crisis, and he knows he has to shore up his base around the key issue of “bringing jobs back”. In reality isolationism will lead to more job losses. And the claim that his policies will bring back jobs in the coal industry specifically is – as we have explained – a straightforward lie. In our view, a massive state investment in retooling the nation’s infrastructure on the basis of renewable energy is the real way to create millions of jobs with retraining and union jobs for all workers in polluting industries.
What’s to Defend?
Anyone who understands what’s at stake and what’s actually needed to safeguard our future can see that the Paris Climate Agreement is woefully inadequate. As we said at the time:
“The agreement reached recognizes the need to stay below 2 degrees Celsius, with aspiration to keep warming below 1.5 degrees. But, the voluntarily set targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are non-binding and don’t kick in until 2020. If all of the targets are hit – which has never happened before – global temperatures will still rise by 3.5 degrees Celsius, two degrees more than scientists say is safe.”
Nonetheless, for the first time in history, leaders from 200 countries agreed to limit carbon emissions, implement plans to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, and financially assist less developed countries. The recognition that we need to stay below 2 degrees, whether they want to admit it or not, is a recognition that 80% of fossil fuel reserves cannot be extracted and burned.
As inadequate as it is, this verbal commitment would not have happened without the massive pressure from below, from the 400,000 on the streets in NYC in the largest environmental march in U.S. history to the hundreds of thousands that have marched across the world, and the thousands who have engaged in mass civil disobedience. This pressure forced governments to do what they don’t want to do, admit something needs to be done.
Capitalism vs. Our Future
But words are one thing, action is another. Even the voluntary targets agreed to in Paris are unlikely to be be reached. A number of EU countries are on track to miss their targets for renewable energy production. Before Trump even took office, the U.S. was likely to miss its target for 2025. The policies in place clearly don’t go far enough.
Anticipating this, the authors of the Paris Agreement included a five-year check in with countries in the hope that they’ll come back with more ambitious targets. But, that’s incredibly unlikely considering the already dismally low targets are not being met, and the political will necessary to take on big oil and the financiers of fossil fuel projects is lacking.
At this point, we are three years away from the point at which scientists say we must peak in carbon emissions. After 2020 we have to rapidly reduce emissions to even have a chance at keeping temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius. There is no more room left for tinkering around the edges. Any party or politician that claims otherwise is either completely ignorant of the problem or lying.
The capitalist class and their servants in government have had more than 25 years to do something. They wasted those years denying the science, spending billions on campaigns meant to confuse people. And, no wonder, there were billions in profits at stake.
Now, they face not only run-away warming and an increasingly unstable climate system, but also mass movements fighting austerity, inequality, war, and oppression. It is in this moment the environmental movement must clasp hands with the anti-capitalist and socialist movements globally and fight back against the whole damn system.
This points to the need for a new political party that truly represents the needs of working people and the poor and fights a sustainable future. But what is needed right now is to link the anger at Trump’s assault on the environment to the anger at the Republicans’ assault on working people generally, especially with Trumpcare. We need to launch a summer of resistance with mass days of action around the country calling for him and his regime to go.
- Our future over private profits – no to backing out of the Paris Agreement, keep to 1.5 C, step up the targets;
- Massive investment in public transport and renewable energy;
- Bring the big banks, big energy, and big farms into public ownership and democratic control ;
- A “Just Transition” for all workers in polluting industries with guaranteed re-training and new living-wage jobs;
- A democratic socialist plan for the economy based on the interests of the overwhelming majority of people and the environment. For a socialist United States and a socialist world.