Friday, June 2, 2017

Symbolic Politics with the Paris Accords

Forgive me for not seeming very upset that the US has pulled out of the Paris climate accord, but then I never took it seriously. It was a voluntary agreement with no teeth, doubly so in the US where Obama never even submitted it to the Senate for a ratification vote. (It would have gotten hammered.) It was simply a symbol of a worldwide elite consensus that human-caused climate change is a real danger.

So it was perfectly predictable that Donald Trump, a master of symbolism, would reject the treaty, metaphorically aligning himself with coal miners, oil drillers, factory workers, and guys who drive big trucks. If there is a consensus among the Davos set, the UN bureaucracy and the European Union Council, of course Trump wants to spit on it.

The difference to the climate future of the earth will be minimal, and so will the effect on the US economy and US "leadership."

Trump's fans will cheer him for it and his enemies will condemn him for it.

While I'm on that subject, yesterday I happened to see a two-week-old news story on job growth in April, which the headline called "STELLAR." The first two comments were, "Thank you President Trump" and "Thank you Obama for leaving." But the preliminary estimate for job growth in April was 211,000,  a little above the average for the past two years of Obama's term but far below his best months. And, just now the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised that number down to 174,000, just below the recent average, and the preliminary May number is a mediocre 138,000. The lesson is 1) that the president's impact on the economy is small, and 2) many Americans will insist that it is huge. They will also believe that things are better when their guy is in the White House and worse when the president is from the other party, regardless of whether the president has even had time to take any actions of economic significance.

Trump's followers will credit him for any piece of economic good news and insist that it is better than Obama ever did even if that isn't so. Trump's opponents will blame him for any piece of bad news and say things were never that bad under Obama, even if that isn't so.

To get back to climate, you can expect that Trump's fans will attribute any good economic news over the next few years to his actions, including his rejection of the Paris treaty. Trump's enemies will attribute any bad economic news to the same causes, along with any bad environmental news.

Meanwhile the things that will actually determine the planet's climate future will continue to be the progress of solar cell and battery technology, fracking, offshore wind power, and a commitment by hundreds of millions of people around the world to reduce their carbon footprints.

Not that politics doesn't matter; governments can do a lot. But with a Republican Congress, there isn't much that Hillary or Bernie could have done to help, and even when he had a Democratic Congress Obama didn't manage to do very much. The biggest political issue right now is the rules governing how private solar panels will connect to the power grid, which is being fought out entirely at the state level.

Forget Trump. Forget Paris. Focus on putting in place technology that works.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

I think the factor you're missing is the direct opposition of certain parties to allowing people to put these critical technologies into place.

Hilary or Bernie with a Republican congress might not have been able to do much to improve the rate of adoption for new energy systems, but they certainly wouldn't have taken steps to actively hamper that process. Not so under Number 45.

A Democrat might not have been able to introduce new measures to promote solar growth, but they at least could have maintained existing incentives and subsidies, which 45 is almost certainly going to take steps to reduce or eliminate entirely.

Likewise, it also runs the other way. A fully Republican controlled government has nothing stopping it from giving tax breaks and other benefits to coal and other obsolete business interests, whereas a Democrat president would have been able to place powerful checks on any such attempts.

Number 45 is going to do everything in his power to sabotage the gains that have already been made, to deprive us of forward momentum, and to in fact introduce backward momentum by giving special preference to his luddite supporters. That extra negative momentum will have to be overcome at some point, and the more of it there is by the end of this presidency, the harder reversing the trend again will be.

Hence why anyone else would have been preferable. Running in place is always more productive than moving backwards.