Some Hope In The Midst Of Despair Over Tr-mp’s Climate Stupidity And Cynicism

Scientific had an excellent article (“Tr-mp Pulls Out of Paris: How Much Carbon Will His Policies Add to the Air?” that went into some detail, some of it technical, as to what the U.S.’s abdication of its position as the world’s leader in the fight against climate change may mean for the future (all done just so Tr-mp could please the worst of his cult followers). You can read the article for yourself, but essentially what the failure of leadership means in terms of carbon reduction goals is pretty much unknowable right now, mainly because no one knows what other policies—for instance, the possible “rollback of vehicle efficiency standards” and the possible relaxation of “regulations for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry” that is managed by the EPA (which is under the control of a climate change denier)—the Tr-mp administration may pursue in the future.

Tr-mp has already axed Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the centerpiece of which, according to SciAm, was the ambitious Clean Power Plan, which is held up in court (naturally) and which was specifically targeted for elimination in Tr-mp’s budget proposal, but because of the process of formal rulemaking, Tr-mp had to issue an executive order for the EPA to “review” the plan. But, come on, we know where that is going.

The SciAm article ended with words from David Keith, a physics and public policy professor at Harvard, and Noelle Selin, MIT’s associate director of its Technology and Policy Program. Admittedly, they don’t know as much about this subject as Tr-mp does, but here’s the concluding paragraph of the article with their views of what may happen:

Keith and Selin stress that policy reversals by the administration could undermine global goals beyond the U.S.’s own emissions. “Emissions reductions depend on cooperation,” Keith explains. Right now, China and India—two of the top greenhouse gas emitters—appear set to overachieve their Paris goals, according to the new report, largely because they seem likely to decrease their coal use sooner than predicted. But as it becomes clear the U.S. is not pushing for more ambitious climate actions, Selin notes, that may lead to other nations not meeting their targets. “That’s the real impact,” she says.

So, we end up with a fairly depressing picture. We aren’t leading the climate change parade anymore. We have to depend on others to do so.

But I don’t want to leave it there. I want to add something that I found a little more hopeful. It comes from a Twitter thread written by Ben Wikler, affiliated with, a man whom Howard Dean once called “one of the smartest people under 35 in the entire country.” I will put Wikler’s thread in easy-to-read form:

I spent years of my life fighting for a global climate deal. Yesterday was crushing. Here’s why—and how I found perspective this morning.

First, to level-set: here’s how bad it is that Tr-mp is going to rip the United States out of Paris. In 2001, in college, I was lucky to meet John Kenneth Galbraith, who served 4 presidents & shaped 20th century liberalism. He was 93. He said the two existential threats to humanity that kept him awake at night were nuclear war and climate change. Nukes and climate. Tr-mp, of course, spikes up the risks from both. 

The Paris accord wasn’t going to solve climate overnight. But its core contribution was vital: it aligned the world. Yes, Paris targets were voluntary. But by jumping together—making simultaneous promises—the world’s nations made compliance more likely. Pulling out—abdicating leadership—not only hurts us (green jobs, world standing) but gives excuses to those opposing action elsewhere.

All of this while more and more signs (see: the unraveling Arctic) suggest the climate crisis is accelerating faster than predicted. The likely-case climate scenarios are now profoundly disruptive. The worst-case scenarios are nightmarish. Paris is structured so that worsening forecasts and greater willpower translate into more stringent targets… if countries don’t quit. 

Meanwhile, more subtly, every tear in the fragile fabric of the aspirationally-described “international community” raises other risks. When the world’s nations are bound together by mutual commitments that generate mutual benefits—even if those bindings are easily torn—we create safeguards against the relentless centrifugal forces that pull the world apart and can lead to catastrophic wars. That insight was central to the (US-led) creation of the post-WWII order. The UN, the international financial institutions, even the EU. Per : “Democracy, borders that are peaceful rather than armed and bloody—none of these things are natural states of being” (read: ).

Tr-mp’s attack on Paris isn’t strictly about climate change. It’s also a middle finger to the idea of an international order. None of this is to say that the global order is perfect, or even acceptably just. It’s not. The present global system is riddled with gaping injustices & inequity. It’s unsustainable. But many alternatives are far, far worse. Withdrawing from Paris correctly causes every other country to wonder what else about the global system is at risk. The less confidence in a stable global system, the more states look for other ways to defend themselves. Result: nuclear proliferation. And as more countries get nuclear weapons, more countries can fatally misread each other. The risk of nuclear war rises exponentially. 

So, yes: Tr-mp pulling out of Paris is really, seriously bad. But here’s the thing. This catastrophe didn’t happen yesterday. It happened on November 8, 2016, the day the United States ingested poison. Everything that has happened since Tr-mp’s election, and all that is likely to happen, is the poison working its way through the body. We woke up on November 9 in a different world with a darker future than the world in which we’d lived before. It’s an act of constant will to revise our expectations down without losing hope. To strive for “depressive realism” without depression. 

Consider how George W. Bush’s presidency ended: global economic meltdown, a catastrophic war of choice, Katrina. Now consider that W was obviously far better equipped—morally, temperamentally, intellectually—for the presidency than Tr-mp. You have to *expect* things to deteriorate much worse much faster under Tr-mp than they did under W. Recession, war, disaster. If you hold that dark expectation, & fight like hell to avert damage and win back power, you can be saddened by tragedy—but not shocked. Tr-mp said over and over in 2016 that he’d pull out of Paris. It’s horrible. But it became the likeliest outcome the moment he won. 

If Tr-mp promised something, don’t be shocked when he actually tries to do it. Here are 282 of his promises. Many of his promises were clearly nonsense or beyond his control. But the worst actual things that he can do unilaterally? Expect them. Expecting the worst and fighting for better—hope—is a decision. Optimism of will. A moral posture [read Josh Marshall’s “Observations on the Day After”]. Every ugly promise Tr-mp keeps should merely confirm your expectations. Every one we thwart: a cause for celebration. 

The courts, so far, have stopped the Muslim ban. The , so far, has slowed the assault on health care. Iran deal? Holding. Senseless, brutal deportations are up, but a mass deportation force is not yet rounding up millions. We haven’t started a major new war. Structures resilient so far. Executive branch appears to be obeying court orders. Congress isn’t handing Tr-mp vast new powers. 

Tr-mp’s election was a track-jump. Vast array of terrible outcomes ahead. They’ve just begun. Don’t be shocked as we slam into them. Each tragedy, emergency, or disaster that unfolds under Tr-mp will cause sorrow and pain, but it shouldn’t cause surprise—or despair. If you decided, in the days after Tr-mp was elected, to stay and fight, then no consequences of Tr-mp’s election should deter you. Indeed, the very reason so many millions of us rose up after Tr-mp won was that we could sense that these awful things were coming. 

So as the future you foresaw comes to pass in bits and pieces and jagged shards, don’t give up. Remind yourself that you predicted this. Reset your expectations back down. Grit your teeth. And then go out and raise your voice again. No matter how bad it gets, it could get worse. And it could get better. And you will play a role in determining which comes to pass. Yesterday was awful. No sense in sugarcoating. But don’t succumb to climate fatalism, Tr-mp fatalism—any fatalism. Get back up. Fight. Eyes open. Find perspective. This is the moment we’ve been given. Bad things will happen. Our choices are all we control.

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  1. ansonburlingame

     /  June 3, 2017

    Not all that bad, Duane,

    First the SA article I found interesting. I don’t read many “technical articles” on climate change. However I do believe it is a growing risk and huge challenge for humans and Earth. How long it will take to mitigate such effects and how much mitigation is really needed, I do not know and believe no one can predict as well. Too complex for the human mind so far but we will get there “someday”, maybe, if we don’t blow ourselves up or have no air or sunlight to live! Or, I wonder, might we will all die in a fracking caused earthquake???

    I will point out that one must get a pencil and paper out and “do some math” to really understand the article. It mixes units (gigatonne, million metric tons, etc.). Tinker with such units and one can make graphs skyrocket or plunge to their hearts content. Always read the units on both the vertical and horizonal coordinates on a graph, know what they mean and watch out when such units change from graph to graph. Any High School graduate should know that but only about 25% of them today actually understand it!! As well the article mixes “gases”. It makes a big deal out of carbon dioxide but then shifts to methane, etc. It only reinforces how complex this whole thing becomes and no solutions that are simple and understandable to the “masses”, particularly a now very poorly educated set of same.

    My concern about CC boils down to what should we REALLY do about it and how fast MUST it be done. Obviously stop emmiting “gases” is the solution. Let’s take just one gas, the one produced in cars. Solution? Hydrogen powered cars, ultimately, and electric cars in the short term. OK how do you convince industry to build such cars. Market forces, not government dictate is my recommendation.

    5 years ago I had two gas guzzlers and high auto payments. I traded both in and bought one Prius. My auto payments went down by about $300 per month, monthly gas bills by another $200 a month, taxes cut in half, etc. I did not do it to save the environment; I did it to save my own money. My wife still complains about having only one car but …….!

    Want government to do something to motivate more people to do the same thing? Raise the federal tax on gas, rebuild our infrastructure (or pay for Medicare, or …..) and cut auto emissions by ……%, a BIG number, probably. That motivates creation of new technology and yes, in a way it is a carbon tax as well. Oh, I forgot. Raising the gas tax is “unfair to the poor”!!!

    Coal is “bad”, for sure. Industry, responding to long term (not a slam dunk) government and public pressure has responded, thank you CAA and CWA and technologies have resulted. Coal will be history in another 10-20 years. BUT, what to do about coal miners??? More money for sure from “someone” and you of course believe it must be “government”, not individual incentive to be better educated, over time. Fix schools and ultimately you fix coal miner issues, right. When do we start???

    In the 1960s we (humans) had a glimmer of clean, inexpensive and renewable energy, called nuclear power. I still believe that source of power can mitigate CC issues for the next 50 years until solar (satellites collecting and distributing solar energy “forever”, on demand) takes over. I have written over time about how nuclear capital costs can be dramatically reduced and safe operation ensured (but never 100%) as well. And yep, one very small part of government blazed that trail 50 plus years ago and is still going strong in its own little world of navy nuclear power.

    But changing energy production methods and meeting never ending demand for such energy is not cheap, initially. When government gets into the mix to lead such changes the costs skyrocket as well. Government “orders”, tens of thousands are hired (for a while), taxes go up (actually no they dont, just the deficit), we get new $600 toilet seats, and everyone bitches but not one gets fired for failure!!

    Want to know why Trump was elected? Americans HATE being told, directly, what to do and they HATE to be forced to pay higher taxes, even if their grandchildren won’t be able to breath the air!!! And if you think Americans hate being told what to do by their own elected government, well just imagine how they hate being told what to do by the UN, or Europe, etc.

    Want to know why Obama, in spite of his huge mistakes, remained popular? He enunciated the siren song of socialism but never demanded that we the people had to pay for it. Hell’s bells why not just tax the rich more and get all the free stuff as a result, right? Wrong, as all the free stuff will ultimately destroy our liberty and independence, a well know American trait that created the best nation ever created by humans. Can liberty and independence be “saved” from big government today? I hope so, but……..

    One final note on Climate Change and the Paris Accords. It was just a political stunt by Trump, a bad one, to withdraw. It was voluntary and at the same time “the world” was asking America to voluntarily pay for everyone else to do something. Solution, no longer pay anyone but “us” to mitigate CC. THAT is why it would NEVER get through the Senate with a 2/3’s majority and Obama knew it. Well, like most of what Obama tried to do he just “ordered it”. Now we see the results, including the despicable “Donald”. And in 3 1/2 years (or sooner) we will see someone else overturn all of Trump’s orders. When are we to ever get it right, I wonder?



    • Anson,

      The distinction between CO2 and methane (a greenhouse gas that is multiple times more potent, in terms of heat absorption, than carbon dioxide) in the graph was an attempt to show the unknown policy outcomes with the Tr-mp administration. Although methane is a natural and man-produced gas, the most concerning thing is the industrial leaks in the oil and gas industry. It matters how the industry is regulated, therefore. That’s why it is included in the upward trend, assuming Tr-mp cuts the methane standards, in greenhouse gas emissions.

      Now, on to a few of your “solutions.” Here is where your ideology matters, in terms of accomplishing anything meaningful. You immediately recommend against government getting involved in technologies like hydrogen-powered cars. Why? That’s how the alternative energy industry essentially got going to the point it is today. Government helped that industry and it was right to do so. Now market forces are taking over. That’s the kind of partnership that works and that we all should embrace.

      As far as the gas tax, as I have argued in the past, it needs to go up, so long as it is tied to a baseline price of gas and so long as the money goes toward infrastructure improvements. As far as “the poor” being effected, I have other ideas for that, which I won’t go into here.

      Coal miners, like buggy whip makers in the past, have to adapt to new realities. I know that is hard to do. And, again, that’s where your ideology gets in the way. Of course government has a role to play in retraining and reeducating these folks. And their children need to know that there is no future in the coal industry for them. Hillary Clinton, oddly, had specific proposals to help these people. But, then, there was all those stories about emails, which seem utterly ridiculous now, don’t they?

      You are right about Americans and taxes. They want nice roads. They want great schools. They want clean water. They want to know the food they eat is not poisoned. They want fire departments. They want police protection. They want a big-ass military. They want access to first-class healthcare, especially when they are old and sicker. But, goddammit, they don’t to pay for it. In some cases, they don’t know, relatively speaking, how much that stuff costs. In other cases, they want someone else to do all the paying. Democrats, by and large, do a poor job of framing this problem. Republicans, by and large, do a damned good job of demagoguing  it. That’s the problem. 

      I was just talking to one of Joplin’s two street sweepers. He told me the city used to have four of them. He also told me that he and the driver of the other sweeper are completely swamped. Too much city, not enough time or equipment and personnel. Why? Because nobody, especially around here, wants to pay taxes. We have unclean streets (especially where I live) because of that. Look at the recycling fiasco. A cowardly city council made it “voluntary,” rather than forcing citizens to pay $3 or $4 bucks a month to stop filling the earth with plastic and other recyclable waste. Ridiculous.

      Bottom line is this: people need to understand that in order to have nice shit, you have to pay for it. And the government does a lot of nice shit for us. And if we want to do something about climate change (for our kids and beyond), to the extent there is still time to do it, it will cost us something. But good and high-paying jobs would come with doing something about it, a fact that gets lost among your right-wing pals.

      Finally, will we ever get past the partisan division we have seen for so long now? Not in my lifetime.



  2. ansonburlingame

     /  June 9, 2017


    I have yet to read your take on Comey, etc. but will get around to it soon. I respond herein to close out the thread of this and the previous blog, in particular to your last comment above. I believe we CAN get passed this partisan divide, but it will not be easy.

    Believe it or not, my continuing participation in this blog is just such an attempt, a lame attempt it seems most of the time, but still an attempt.

    My biggest challenge to you has always been “pay for it”. Your challenge against me is to convince me of things we must give up in order to pay for other things, starting with defense spending. That too is a what can we give up in order to reduce defense spending type of discussion.

    The ability, willingness, of Americans to pay for things is about $500 Billion per year overstretched, deficit spending and it will go up from time to time as various “emergencies” happen. When you can show me a way for any politician to raise taxes significantly, keep them there AND retain the majority support of American voters, deplorables and others, then we have a basis for compromise. BUT when taxes are raised and then remain stable, no more going back for another round in 5 years. And those stable, baseline taxes MUST produce real results that are obvious benefits for ALL Americans, not the famous slices of same. Interstate highways is a classic example but we have very few of such major efforts pursued over decades and with consistency. Even today we are now overwhelmed with “potholes” because we have failed, miserably to maintain that which we bought years ago!! Typical government, right?

    Reagan grew GDP like a bat out of hell. Clinton balanced the budget. Both were one time blips on an otherwise deplorable scene of economic wherewithal by the federal government over decades. I see no leader in America now capable of doing either one, much less both!!

    I probably won’t say much in response to your Comey observations. I can predict your views and you can predict mine, to a degree. I will state here that no one won yesterday but the whole country continues to lose, a lot, each day as this terrible political drama plays on and on and will not stop until…….. You say, not in your lifetime. I say I will do what I can to make it sooner. In the meantime America continues to decline in all meaningful metrics today and I shutter to consider the future.



    • Anson,

      To finish this off, before I get to your other comment, I want to challenge something you said:

      The ability, willingness, of Americans to pay for things is about $500 Billion per year overstretched, deficit spending and it will go up from time to time as various “emergencies” happen.

      I think you are understating the case here, both in terms of “ability” and in terms of “willingness,” which are two completely different things. The ability for us, as a country, to have nice things and pay our bills responsibly is there. I.e., there is plenty of wealth in this country to do that. That’s not the problem. It is in the willingness. And I don’t just confine that problem to the wealthy class, although their unwillingness is much more significant because the wealthy, through donations to political campaigns, essentially control our politics and thus the way policy is made and executed (targeted voter ID laws are just one example of how public policy is structured to favor the wealthy class). Until someone comes along—someone on my side who has the charisma and smarts to pull it off, or someone on your side with the guts and smarts to pull it off—with the truth that we are relatively undertaxed, in terms of the things we want in order to have a decent, civilized society, and that we need to adjust accordingly. Either we pay up, or we accept as normal a substandard modern society.

      Oh, and as far as the partisan divide and the future, I see it as rather hopeless in the near- to mid-term, even though I appreciate your efforts to keep the conversation going. The problem is, you at least have some space built into your thinking for a compromise position, unlike most of your fellow conservatives these days. Plenty of Democrats in Congress are willing, say, to fix the Affordable Care Act (which has been sabotaged by the GOP via the law’s flaws), but point me to more than a handful of Republicans in Congress who are willing to actually fix the architecture of that law, which would mean working with Democrats, as opposed to ripping it up, as Mitch McConnell likes to say, “root and branch.” This is just one example of why, until a consistent majority of the American people put their electoral foot down (by voting in all federal and state elections for the things they say they want and the means by which those things can be paid for), things will oscillate like they have been and the dysfunction will continue.



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