About Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris climate accord ...
It’s true, as Jonathan Last explains in The Weekly Standard, “people seem to have forgotten that — aside from the foundational question of balancing carbon emissions, conservation, and economic development,” the agreement was totally voluntary and also completely toothless.
“It allowed countries to set their own goals and then ostentatiously provided no consequences for countries which then failed to meet them,” he wrote.
That means countries that meet or exceed their emission reduction goals lose out to those that don’t, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.
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Still, Last argues, exiting the agreement in some ways actually contributes to its legitimacy, when the arrangement (made by the Obama Administration) is not even a legally binding treaty.
Indeed, the agreement was carefully constructed to avoid congressional approval because its architects knew it would never have survived the Senate.
So they devised a plan to “name and shame” countries into cutting emissions through political pressure.
An international agreement without an enforcement mechanism isn’t going to stand the test of time, especially when it’s so easy for a subsequent administration to undo it.
That’s just what happens, says The Federalist’s Mary Katherine Ham, when you build a legacy “with a phone and a pen.”
That said, Trump could have elected to take the agreement to Congress and forced Democratic Senators in Trump-won states to take a difficult vote before the mid-terms.
Instead he chose to satisfy his campaign promise, mollify the most rabid segment of his base, and let’s face it, antagonize his detractors more than a little bit.
Perhaps this is not so perplexing given his actions as president thus far.
What is truly baffling, though, is the reaction to Trump’s decision by some on the political left.
Twitter was overcome with declarations of progressives lamenting how our nation’s exit from the agreement is the nail in the coffin of our planet.
Last called the phenomenon “virtue signaling about virtue signaling,” which seemed like an accurate description of the social media meltdown.
To be fair, Trump also received criticism from many in the business community and his action was even rebuked by former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Here’s the thing, though. Many Americans (especially those active on Twitter) feel they are contributing significantly to the cause of fighting climate change by overreacting on the Internet, buying a hybrid car or supporting unenforceable international accords.
But most are unwilling to make the kind of sacrifices that, if made collectively, would have a more significant impact on pollution reduction.
Megan McArdle made this point in a column some years back, writing how controlling carbon emissions will require significant sacrifice from everyone — and not “I drive a hybrid car and make my own compost” kind of discomfort.
Heating and cooling, for example, are the largest components of residential carbon emissions. Thanks to our affinity for homes with high ceilings and lots of square footage and our intolerance of extreme heat or cold (I’m talking to you, Texans); we don’t seem particularly willing to save the planet if the cost is our own comfort.
We love our meat and fresh veggies but ignore that the agriculture industry makes a very sizable contribution to carbon emissions. It’s doubtful, en masse, we will begin hunting, gathering and planting backyard gardens, eating less varied, lower-quality food, or simply reducing our food consumption.
McArdle points out that lots of energy is spent today on machines (dishwashers, washing machines, dryers — even energy efficient ones) that do the manual labor once performed by women in the home. But who’s willing to turn back on the clock on feminism?
And forget long-distant driving and air travel. If we can’t walk or take public transport, we shouldn’t go.
It’s easy to howl about Paris. It’s much harder to accept the reality that our current standards of living would have to drastically change to make any kind of significant difference in carbon emissions.
The spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak.