In its latest “Emissions Gap” report, the UN Environment Programme found that 20 countries – including the United States, Japan, and Australia – are failing to meet their reduction pledges. Global emissions of carbon dioxide are rising again. The US, under President Donald Trump, is planning to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, with its emissions projected to increase by 1.8% this year.
This gloomy news is not just Trump’s fault. However, it’s hard to overstate the degree to which the current US President is gleefully upending whatever environmental progress had been made in previous years. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s cartoonishly villainous head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has resigned; but the EPA’s new acting Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is just as much an enemy of environmental regulation, if not as good at grabbing headlines.
Throughout the executive branch of the federal government, climate change mitigation policies are being undone. In overturning Obama’s Clean Power Plan and fuel efficiency regulations, the Trump administration is surpassing even the most optimistic wishes of the auto and (some) fossil fuel companies. Efforts seem driven as much by spite for Trump’s predecessor as by any rational economic or philosophical goal.
Trump’s other main priorities seem to be destroying democratic norms, demonising free press, nurturing alliances with dictators worldwide, instigating trade wars, encouraging corruption, and un-taxing the rich. Furthermore, as the Mueller probe closes in, Trump’s only apparent path to survival is to strengthen his authoritarian rhetoric.
Apparently, none of these efforts have much to do with climate change, but in a way they all do. By fixating the attention of his supporters and enemies on problems he himself has created, Trump distracts our gaze from the one problem that really matters – the fate of our planet and of future generations. Thus, while Trump’s buffoonery seems gauged either to play to his racist base or to troll his leftist critics, his actions have enormous global and historic implications.
The temporary winners include Vladimir Putin, whose fossil-fuelled Russian economy benefits from a relaxed global attitude toward carbon emissions; as well as the frackers in Texas and North Dakota, who know they are sitting on a resource and investment bubble and need to extract their profits as quickly as possible.
And so the world splits into self-described good guys and bad guys, dividing nations, neighbourhoods, and families into pro- and anti-Trumpians. White-hot rhetoric sucks the air from the room at a moment when reasoned discussion and unprecedented global cooperation are needed if we are to stave off planetary collapse.
We seem to be entering an era of consequences in which narcissistic men fight over the crumbs of the industrial age, while aggravating the processes (climate change and resource depletion) that now threaten the survival of humans and so many other species. Trump is a symptom, not the ultimate cause. He is not only an irresistibly entertaining reality TV star, distracting us from the results of a way of life to which the affluent cling while it kills us all. He is also our excuse for collective failure.
Post Carbon Institute, www.postcarbon.org
Unep, The Emissions Gap Report 2017, wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/22070/EGR_2017.pdf