Climate change

The politics of climate change

The Republican party’s campaign against nature

October 18th 2017 | Chicago | Xavier Ward

Photograph from NASA

On June 1st, US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. It was not necessarily unexpected given his previous train of Obama-era policy reversals, but nonetheless his decision was met with widespread criticism from politicians, environmentalists, and business leaders around the world. Yet, his own party members have either continued to praise the decision to withdraw or remained silent on the issue.


Climate science

For the political party that has heralded global climate change as a non-issue, natural fluctuation in the climate, or – as the President has said – a “myth” conjured by the Chinese, this response, much like the President’s decision, was unsurprising.

According to Article II, The agreement aimed to keep global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels, decrease greenhouse gas emissions in a way that does not halt food production, and carve a financial pathway consistent with those aims.

Nearly all scientists – at an overwhelming 97% of peer-reviewed studies – agree that global climate change is real. Through recent research, we have been able to tie human activity and industrialisation directly to this unprecedented global rise in temperatures.

Diagram from NASA

Ever since the second industrial revolution, planet Earth has been facing the most dramatic rise in climate change and pollution that human civilisation has ever witnessed.

Now, with the new millennium’s rapidly increasing trends of globalisation and consumerism, the threat of reaching a “tipping point” caused by positive feedback loops in the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) looms dangerously close.

Since its establishment in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has continuously upgraded its synthesis of the scientific community’s opinion, most recently stating that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause” of climate change due to the anthropogenic release of GHGs.

Failing to meet the Paris Agreement’s vision could result in a range of catastrophic consequences, including failing crop yields, melting glaciers, decreased water availability, damaged coral reefs, rapid extinction, and extreme weather events.


Political fuel

So, knowing all this, why were Republican lawmakers under the Trump administration elated at the decision to withdraw from this agreement? What element are we missing from this equation of facts?

Lobbyism is the likely answer. After all, the oil industry’s campaign donations and close relationships with the GOP are no coincidence. They are the manipulators of a deliberate and long-standing strategy to undermine climate science at every opportunity, and the results thus far have been disastrous.

Yet, it was not so long ago that a Republican, not a Democrat, ran a presidential campaign with a pro-environment agenda. As The New York Times reported shortly after the president’s decision to withdraw from the accord, it was Republican Senator John McCain who had run against former President Barack Obama on a climate change platform in 2008.

Photograph from Democracy Now!

McCain touted himself as the man who stood tough on climate change in the face of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. And more recently, he suggested that America should uphold the Paris Agreement, citing the death of the Great Barrier Reef as a symptom of global climate change.

He has since been diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of brain cancer. Unfortunately for the 81-year-old senator and Vietnam War veteran, treatment options are limited. However, he is not alone as a Republican in the fight against climate change.

Other politically vocal Republicans – politicians or otherwise – have also articulated concerns about climate change. In March, 17 Republicans introduced a resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives acknowledging climate change as a real, man-made phenomenon.

“We want the caucus to act as an ideas factory for climate change solutions,” said Carlos Curbelo, Florida Republican Congressman who co-chairs the Climate Solutions Caucus. “We will be modest at first, but I think you’ll see more and more ideas.”


International multilaterialism

Nevertheless, when Trump decided to withdraw, Republicans were largely united in their praise of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement.

When did that become a trend among Republicans? And why must Republican politicians either oppose climate change or remain silent on the issue?

When his decision was made public, Trump cited the “draconian” nature of the agreement, stating that it set in place arbitrary climate goals that hurt U.S. workers and businesses.

Photograph from C-SPAN

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the President said in his speech. He then stated that he would personally call the leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Canada to reassure his commitment to trans-Atlantic relations and tell them that he wished to negotiate a better deal for Americans.

Only minutes later, however, the leaders of France, Italy, and Germany issued a joint statement stating that the climate standards set in place by the Paris Agreement were non-negotiable.

Withdrawal from the agreement marked a victory for former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, who both reportedly urged the president to withdraw behind closed doors.


Coal is doomed

The isolationist and job-centric justification that Trump gave for his decision, all while decrying the empirical findings of climate science, is in-line with much of the other rhetoric witnessed during his campaign and throughout his early days in office.

On the campaign trail, Trump gave an impassioned decree to the people of Pennsylvania that he would bring coal workers back to the mines and steel back to Pittsburgh.

The rough-and-tumble industries that built the area are now struggling, and many of the workers in the formerly lucrative industries spend their days sending out résumés rather than hauling coal or refining steel.

Photograph by Mark Lyons

Still, his lavish campaign promises struck a chord with workers seeking to remedy a dying industry. Just enough to get their votes. It’s no coincidence that Trump won Greene County, Pennsylvania by a whopping 40 points, where John McCain and former President Obama nearly tied in the presidential election.

Coal jobs are projected to their lowest numbers since 1978, and roughly 30,000 jobs have been lost in the past few years. Withdrawing from the Paris accord will not bring jobs back to these industries, and therein lies the issue with his justification for leaving.


Renewable progress

According to a survey from The Solar Foundation, jobs in the solar industry have soared in past decade, showing aggressive job growth since 2010 with around 260,000 Americans employed in that ecosystem.

The only energy industry that still employs more than solar is oil & petroleum, which constitutes 38% of the country’s energy workers.

Trump’s commitment to job growth may seem noble at the surface level, but the reality is that the industry is dying. Human workers are being replaced by machines, old methods are being swept aside by new technology, and mines all across coal country are closing.

Photograph from WindEurope

Despite the apparent facts, Republican lawmakers still praised the President’s decision to leave this historic agreement with 195 countries committed to fighting climate change together.

In the Trump era, U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is the archetype of the Republican establishment. He was a vocal critic of Donald Trump on the campaign trail, and even rescinded an invitation to speak at a major event in his home state of Wisconsin after tapes emerged of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women and entering their changing rooms during a pageant.

However, when Trump actually secured the votes he needed to claim the office of the President, Ryan said that Trump had done a great thing for the Republican establishment by giving them control of all three branches of government.


Time is running out

Since he took office in January, the Republican establishment has grown ever more congruent with Trump’s agenda. Whether it is for fear of voter backlash or out of general unwillingness to break from establishment ideology, the GOP continues to add fuel to the fire of Trump’s rhetoric against climate science.

The result is a nation filled with people who are in denial of the facts: climate change is the greatest existential threat our species has ever faced. Politics can always change, but the environment only has one chance.

Edited by Bartu Kaleagasi and Xavier Ward

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