As confused reports came in of a mass shooting at a casino in Manila on Thursday evening, Melania Trump tweeted her condolences to those affected, and although I’m sure that she did so in good conscience, I couldn’t help but feel that she was also trying to distract us from another massacre that was taking place closer to home. In her front garden in fact, at the White House. For it was here that her husband had ascended an altar to sacrifice America to the God Mammon, by pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreement.
“Compliance with the terms of the Paris accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates,” Trump said in the announcement, quoting a report commissioned by the American Council for Capital Formation, which lists Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation among its donors.
“According to the same study, by 2040 compliance with the commitments put into place by the previous administration would cut production for the following sectors: paper—down 12 percent, cement—down 23 percent, iron and steel—down 38 percent, coal—and I happen to love the coal miners!—down 86 percent,” he continued, as his wispy, coconut-fibre hair did its best to conceal the balding pate of his head against the onslaught of a light breeze. Moments later, he was talking about his beloved coal miners again, how the agreement was preventing the development of clean coal, and yet the mines were starting to open again.
He promised a big opening in two weeks, “Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, so many places,” adding that it had been “many, many years” since the last new mine was opened. For which, of course, there is good reason— it’s a dead industry and Trump’s desire to exhume it from its grave is borderline morbid.
Dress up the corpse however you like, but it’s clear for all to see that coal, like a parrot in a Monty Python sketch, is an industry no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. Coal is an ex-industry and for all Trump’s attempts at necromancy it ain’t coming back. By the year 2000, fully 15 years before the introduction of the Clean Power Act, the number of people employed by coal had fallen to 102,000, down from 242,000 in 1980 and 785,000 in 1920. Long before the legislation that Trump holds responsible for killing coal mining was ever dreamt of, the industry was on its way out.
But if the US is to reach his (somewhat ambitious) growth target of 3–4 percent then, according to Trump, every scintilla of combustible fuel will need to be dug out of the earth. But why stop with coal and oil? If we’re going to resurrect moribund sources of energy why not bring back whaling? That would probably create a few thousand jobs. Whale oil can also be used to make soap and margarine. It can power oil lamps and those newfangled automobiles. Do it, Trump. Make America smell like burning whale flesh again!
Now, America announcing itself to be no longer bound by science or any sense of obligation to the rest of the world did not go over well with most people. But it is worth remembering the important distinction made by Justin Trudeau when he referred specifically to the decision by the “United States federal government” to withdraw from the Paris agreement.
We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 1, 2017
What this reminds us is that the Trump administration is in the minority on this issue, and a vanishing one at that. Seventy percent of Americans support the Clean Power Act, 71 percent support remaining in the Paris agreementand 45 percent of people surveyed by Gallup said that they worried “a great deal” about climate change; just last year that number was 37 percent. Governors and mayors across America have declared their continued support for Paris, leaving the White House even more stranded on its own little island of ignorance.
International leaders too are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington’s position by reaffirming their commitments. China, despite Trump’s maddening assertion that it’s doing nothing to limit its emissions, announced earlier this year the cancellation of 103 coal stations that were either planned or under construction and may have already reached peak CO2 emissions—13 years ahead of schedule.
And while it’s true that India, another of Trump’s favourite bugbears, does have some 50 gigawatts of coal capacity under construction, nearly 14 gigawatts of that was cancelled last month thanks to the plummeting price of solar, which is now cheaper than coal in India. If it can overcome the challenges faced by its grid and distribution network in the coming years, it’s quite possible that the current batch of plants under construction may be the last the country ever builds. Finally, according to Climate Action Tracker, “The positive developments in India and China significantly outweigh the potentially negative effects on emissions from the Trump Administration’s proposed rollbacks in the US.” If that’s what China and India “not contributing” to the Paris agreement looks like, then long may they continue not contributing!
If, as looks likely, Trump’s announcement will only motivate others to do more, then perhaps, paradoxically, we should be thanking him for launching this quixotic crusade against progress. Indeed, some long-demoralised scientists are positively cock-a-hoop about how Trump has single-handedly pushed climate change several notches up the agenda.
But apart from these unintended positive consequences, what does the announcement achieve?
Well, he can go back to the rump base of his support in the ever-diminishing coal country and tell them he did everything within his power to save their jobs. But this will come as cold comfort to miners who will continue to see themselves pushed towards extinction despite Trump tilting at windmills on their behalf. And in the end, the abject emptiness of Trump’s promise to bring back obsolescent jobs will hopefully show him up for what he is: a tin-pot president who, like the fossils that produce the fuels he’s so fond of, now belongs in a museum—a curious relic from a bygone era.