Trump said on Thursday he would withdraw the United States from the landmark 2015 global agreement to fight climate change, a move that fulfilled a major campaign pledge but drew condemnation from U.S. allies and business leaders.
Trump, tapping into the “America First” message he used when he was elected president last year, said the Paris accord would undermine the U.S. economy, cost U.S. jobs, weaken American national sovereignty and put the country at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world.
“We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us any more. And they won’t be,” Trump said.
“The same nations asking us to stay in the agreement are the countries that have collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and in many cases lax contributions to our critical military alliance,” Trump added.
Trump said his administration would begin negotiations either to re-enter the Paris accord or to have a new agreement on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. He complained in particular about China’s terms under the agreement.
With Trump’s action, the United States will walk away from nearly every other nation in the world on one of the pressing global issues of the 21st century. Syria and Nicaragua are the only other non-participants in the accord.
The United States was one of 195 nations that agreed to the accord in Paris in December 2015. Under the pact, which was years in the making, countries both rich and poor committed to reducing emissions of so-called greenhouse gases generated by burning fossils fuels and blamed by scientists for warming the planet.
“We’re getting out,” Trump said at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden under sunny skies on a warm June day.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the Republican president said.
The White House said it would stick to U.N. rules for withdrawing from the pact. Those rules require a nation to wait three years from the date the pact gained legal force, Nov. 4, 2016, before formally seeking to leave. That country must then wait another year.
Republican U.S. congressional leaders backed Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell applauded Trump “for dealing yet another significant blow to the Obama administration’s assault on domestic energy production and jobs.”
We observe the irrationality of the doctrine of global warming, the naive belief that small variations of global temperature we experience have an anthropogenic origin!
Regulations run amok in the climate change agenda. The costs of successfully countering the buildup of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere are huge—far larger than described in the media and by advocates. It requires the rapid, total phase out of fossil fuels (the “leave them in the ground” strategy), raising energy prices, and fundamentally changing production and consumption patterns, which would reduce living standards worldwide. The poor will be disproportionately harmed, both within the United States and everywhere.
The costs of reversing GHG emissions could be 1% of global GDP annually—or about $800 billion each year, which is approximately the size of the economy of Holland. Specific industries will be particularly affected—including manufacturing, energy production, mining, transportation, and some types of agriculture. Generally wealthy elites will not bear many of these costs; they will fall squarely on general middle-class citizens. A candid weighing of (very uncertain) benefits and costs and their distribution among populations for compensation is essential for any effective, durable action to address possible climate change.
Any reduction in global GHG emissions and a decline in the stock of GHG already in the atmosphere requires coordinated and major cutbacks in fossil fuels worldwide. Greenhouse gases circulate the globe, meaning that some countries will receive the benefits of costly mitigation taken on by others. Under these circumstances, the incentives to free ride are irresistible. Internal pressures to free ride will be particularly great in those countries that will incur the greatest mitigation costs, that have the weakest government institutions and limited rule of law, and that are big enough to chart their own course regardless of international shaming—Russia, China, India, Brazil, and even the United States. Successful international mitigation will require more than the small “feel good” adjustments currently portrayed by advocates, agency officials, and politicians. But high costs make durable international cooperation unlikely—at least until benefits are much clearer than they are now. Attention to the size of GHG mitigation costs and the corresponding global free-riding problem directs policy toward more fruitful aims.
The current state of debate about climate change is spitting science in the face and treating science like a piece of rubbish. Carbon dioxide is treated like a toxic gas by proponents of radical policies on climate change. Next it will be oxygen, it will be anything that you want on the chemical table. The Sun is a primary driver of climate change — and has a far greater impact than changes in CO2. Climate science is dangerously corrupted and co-opted by multiple anti-science forces and players.
Much of the reporting about climate change in the mainstream media is fake news. There are many fads and fashions that have sprung up around climate change. For example, the locavore movement, which stresses eating locally-produced food to save energy, actually increases greenhouse gases, because of the energy efficiencies achieved by larger and more established farms that benefit from economies of scale. Governor Jerry Brown had warned of a drought of immeasurable magnitude — a meaningless phrase, in scientific terms. The movement toward renewable energy sources, he said, was not a sign of progress, but regression toward the lower energy densities of the pre-industrial age. Belief in carbon pollution is like the superstitious beliefs of primitive civilizations, such as a 1933 newspaper article describing a drought in Syria that was blamed by locals on yo-yo toys!
For all the focus on carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas in the climate system is water vapor. And carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, as the term is conventionally used. While it was true that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide had been increasing and had passed 400 parts per million, the dominant effect of water vapor had helped flatten the greenhouse effect, such that the rise of global surface temperatures had slowed significantly.
Some climate scientists manipulated graphs to make climate change seem more severe than it was — for example, by representing temperature anomalies rather than absolute temperatures.
There is, in fact, some surface temperature warming, albeit less severe than conventional data sets showed. But the effect is more likely the result of fluctuations in energy output from the sun, which in turn affects water vapor. The major effect of cutting carbon dioxide emissions to zero would be to kill and hurt poor people and greatly harm animals and the environment.
USA should halt the rush toward international GHG controls; repeal the EPA’s Clean Power Plan; and turn to adaptation strategies. Cutbacks by the United States alone will have no effective impact on the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or on any possible climate change. The GHG stocks are already so large that global warming will occur, no matter what the United States does now. Moreover, despite repeated claims that U.S. leadership is essential, there is no evidence to suggest that others will follow. The incentive to free ride is too great; the current costs of mitigation are too high; and the likelihood of sustained collaboration is too low among the major countries that must join in a collective international effort. U.S. and foreign policy elites, of course, would like America to bear the costs of providing any global benefits that all would receive. Nevertheless, this does not make for sound policy for the country or the world.
Leaders of sovereign states must agree on international GHG regulations and adhere to them for 50 or more years—long after those leaders have left the scene. Advocates of global action see any later defection from international agreements as moral hazard that could be addressed by the delegation of each country’s energy and GHG emission policies to an international body. Because of the ubiquity of energy in modern economies, such delegation effectively transfers national economic policies to a global, unelected bureaucracy. But such rule-by-elites was decisively rejected in recent elections across the world.
Free riding will occur because the benefits and costs of GHG emission controls and the timing of their effects are so uncertain—again despite assurances from advocates to the contrary. Climate change may or may not transpire as advocates warn. Moreover, not every region or country will experience harm. Indeed, assessments from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reveal that some areas—those in higher latitudes—could be made better off, whereas others in lower latitudes could be harmed. Timing is an issue as well. Will climate change move equally swiftly across the planet? Do we have 25, 50 or 100 years before temperatures radically rise? These are critical questions because they determine whether or not the leaders of any country will join in global central planning.
And what about the costs of a forced shift from abundant fossil fuels to unproven solar and wind? As fossil fuels are mandated out of use, they still remain in the ground and are much cheaper, motivating cash-strapped countries and companies to defect from any international agreement. Today, 70% of India’s energy comes from coal, and that figure is 55% or more in China. Despite President Obama and General Secretary Xi Jinping’s highly publicized agreement to reduce country GHG emissions in 2016, China has some 200 gigawatts of coal-fired energy generation under construction, more than the entire Canadian energy sector, and is expanding coal mining. This is not evidence of a rapid, coordinated move away from fossil fuels.
Accordingly, unilateral cutbacks in the United States do not make sense. GHG regulations will particularly harm the industrial belt in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa that shifted support to Donald Trump in this past election. Projections are that GHG controls could cumulatively reduce US GDP by $7 trillion by 2029. But these costs surely do not include the losses in welfare to the hundreds of thousands of mineral estate owners who would lose the value of their mineral rights in oil, gas, and coal, not only in Texas and Oklahoma, but also in some of the poorest parts of the country—such as Native American reservations in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Arizona, and New Mexico. The costs also do not include the losses in property values in mineral-producing and refining regions—like West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana—nor the losses for workers who have acquired specialized skills in mining and petroleum refining and distribution. The EPA has estimated that the phase out of coal between 2015 and 2038 could result in the loss of 600,000 jobs. At the same time, advocates argue that the United States should be a major contributor to an international fund of $100 billion annually for distribution to less developed countries for green technologies.
Central to the unilateral actions of the Obama administration is the Clean Power Plan to reduce power plant emissions 32% below the 2005 level by 2030. Under the Plan, the EPA will determine the energy mix in each state, through closing coal-fired generators, initially replacing coal with natural gas, and ultimately adopting wind and solar energy. Twenty-eight states have sued to halt this major extension of Executive Branch authority. Even if implemented with all of the associated costs to the U.S. economy, the plan will accomplish little to lower global GHG discharges and temperature change.
Until more is learned about the costs and benefits of climate change mitigation and the associated problems of global collective action, adaptation strategies make far more sense. Adaptation is essential, given that any warming may occur no matter what we do. The U.S. can invest in ways to make fossil fuels less polluting. Given that they are so ubiquitous, this is a more effective approach than trying to police them out of use. The United States can also invest more in other adaptation strategies, such as new drought-tolerant crops; new production technologies; new groundwater recharge techniques; and new surface water storage. All of this will make the country more resilient. And whatever technologies and products that adaptation produces can be exported, which is yet another benefit to offset the costs.
George Orwell pointed out many years ago that political rhetoric is “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” He further noted that this “is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists.”
There has been perhaps no better modern example of an Orwellian semantic trap than the shift in the climate debate at the political level from global warming to climate change. Scientists distinguish clearly between the two, referring to the former as a long-term trend in global temperatures that can be measured and the latter as more general changes such as precipitation, humidity, and droughts that are difficult to aggregate. This distinction, however, loses its relevance in political debates where semantics trumps science.
Supporting Orwell’s point that semantics does not follow political lines, the shift in rhetoric from warming to change did not result from an environmental conspiracy, as some have alleged, but came from a Republican strategist and pollster, Frank Luntz, who, in a 2002 memo to President Bush, proposed dropping global warming in favor of climate change. Fearing the scientific debate was “closing” against skeptics, Luntz told Bush, “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.” Referring to “global warming” as “climate change was Luntz’s way of having President Bush emphasize the scientific uncertainty in the climate debate. Hence, he created a semantic trap giving “an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Environmental politics is particularly riddled with semantic traps that have taken on an almost non-secular tone. Terms such as the “state of nature” or “balance of nature” suggest that the environment is equivalent to the Garden of Eden if only humans would leave it alone. As far back as 1865, George Perkins Marsh, one of America’s first environmentalists, wrote that “without man, lower animal and spontaneous vegetable life would have been constant in type, distribution, and proportion, and the physical geography of the earth would have remained undisturbed for indefinite periods.”
Science writer Emma Marris titled her book The Rambunctious Garden, explaining that “every ecosystem, from the deepest heart of the largest national park to the weeds growing behind the local big-box store, has been touched by humans. In short, there is not a state of nature or balance of nature.” She, along with other ecologists such as Daniel Botkin, emphasize that nature is “not constant in form, structure or proportion, but changes at every scale of time and space.” By basing environmental policy on the idea that there is a balance of nature, a semantic trap is created as the rhetoric glosses over the reality that nature is always changing as a result of physical conditions in the universe and of human influences.
The list of semantic traps in environmental debates is long. “Endangered species” are not just those on the verge of extinction, but include small populations in specific geographic locations, such as wolves in Isle Royale or in Yellowstone National Park. By that definition, many species in Central Park are extinct—though, of course, they’re not extinct from the planet. In the same way, “biodiversity” has become a trump card in policy debates used to justify resource management policies on the grounds that the goal is to optimize or maximize the diversity of species. The notion of biodiversity is so nebulous, however, that biologist R. A. Lautenschlager, in the prestigious journal Wildlife Society Bulletin, said the term “is so all-inclusive that it has become meaningless.”
“Sustainability” is another word that dominates environmental discussions. In this context, the word emanates from biological stock-flow models from which it is possible to define a sustained yield given parameters for reproduction and harvest rates. Hence, there can be a sustained yield of lumber or fish, even a maximum sustained yield.
Taking sustainable out of the biological stock-flow context, however, leaves the term with little meaning. Consider the meaning of sustainable agricultural or sustainable levels of carbon in the atmosphere. How much agricultural production can be sustained varies with the amount of land, labor, capital, fertilizer, and pesticides devoted to it. Regarding carbon, there may be a tradeoff between carbon levels and global temperatures, but there is no way to say what the optimal tradeoff is or to specify a sustainable level of carbon in the atmosphere. In an effort to add credibility to their actions, environmental groups, government agencies, and even corporations label everything from coffee cups to their buildings as “sustainable.” For this reason the Centre for Policy Studies’ 2009 guide to political and corporate newspeak called the term “a vacuous buzzword thrown as an algae-covered bone to the green lobby to drape an aura of public good around economic change. Hence the need to disguise and drape the new as old, to present risk as certainty, experiment as surety, and an unknowable future as ‘sustainable’.”
Semantic traps are not at all limited to environmental issues. As Orwell suggested, they are typical in political rhetoric where many of our habitually used terms have assumed different meanings. A classic case of this, according to Joseph A. Schumpeter, was the hijacking of the term liberal. In Latin, liberal meant “being free,” and following the Enlightenment, it was expanded to imply individual freedom and responsibility, free markets, and a rule of law supporting private property. Especially in the United States, however, it has metamorphosed into meaning almost the opposite, meaning something closer to socialism with an ever-growing, invasive central government. Today, being liberal means being “progressive,” suggesting that favoring individual liberty is regressive.
Countless other words have also been subjected to a blatant change of meaning. The market economy is increasingly portrayed as not much more than a failing system of crony capitalism where the one percent dominates the rest. Another is the transformation of the word “social” into a phrase that simply means good or bears some sort of anti-capitalistic sentiments, as in “social justice.”
In The Fatal Conceit, Friedrich A. von Hayek gave some other examples. He explained how we came to substitute society for government to make collective action seem softer and less self-interested. He lists over 100 terms before which we put the ambiguous word “social,” ranging from social accounting to social property to social waste, thereby transforming them into “weasel” phrases.
In the context of allegations of police brutality, urban crowds call for justice after juries find policemen charged with murder not guilty. Justice for the crowds means an end result of guilty, thus creating a semantic trap that circumvents justice as a process based on the rule of law rather than an end result.
One might infer from this litany of semantic traps that the best way to combat or avoid them is to use better semantics. Indeed, that is what Luntz suggested to President Bush, but in truth he was creating a semantic trap because measuring climate change is very difficult. The way to avoid semantic traps is to use words that have precise meanings that can be tested against data. Scientists might debate the best way to measure global temperature, but once the measurement technique is specified, we can gather data to say whether the globe is warming.
The point is that semantic traps subvert the rational discourse necessary to guide the ways in which people interact in a civil society. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, justice is “the system of laws in the country that judges and punishes people,” not a specific verdict that conforms to the wisdom of the crowd. Following the dictionary definition of justice leads to fairness as defined by equal treatment under the law. Thinking of justice as an end result, rather than as a process, is a corruption of language, and that corruption obscures the way in which we think about justice.
George Orwell put it succinctly in 1984 when he wrote, “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Semantic traps embody such corruption.