An Empty Chair and a Devil’s Bargain

The foolishness of President Trump’s climate denial is surpassed only by the folly of his schemes to promote fossil fuels.

President Trump’s empty seat is seen during a session focused on climate change at the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, on August 26, 2019.

Credit: Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

The annual Group of 7 summit is a unique forum, a chance for the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States to seek consensus on some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

For decades U.S. leadership has provided the center of gravity for the yearly meetings, which gather heads of state from countries that together account for nearly half the world’s economic activity.

On Monday, though, when the group took up the issues of climate change, biodiversity, and oceans, President Trump couldn’t be bothered to attend. He was the only G7 leader to skip the session.

When asked about the climate crisis at a press conference later, Trump boasted about his efforts to promote the very fossil fuels that are driving us toward climate catastrophe. “The United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet,” Trump said. “I’m not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills—which, frankly, aren’t working too well.”

Actually, U.S. wind power production is up fivefold over just the past decade. Wind turbines provide enough electricity for 26 million homes and support 114,000 American jobs. And the cost of wind power has plunged 70 percent in the past decade, setting the stage for even greater growth.

So much for Trump’s hot air on wind.

More broadly, what Trump laid out Monday is the dirtiest deal yet: selling out our children’s future for short-term polluter profits. His scheme to put fossil fuels ahead of our need to fight climate change would bury our kids beneath a mountain of environmental debt they might never be able to repay.

That’s not leadership. It’s a craven handout to the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our nation’s future.

Trump’s G7 counterparts aren’t on board with his devil’s bargain to mortgage our future for corporate spoils. Like every other national leader on earth—except Trump—they all remain committed to the goals they laid out as part of the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Trump’s failure to act on climate, though, is dragging down the G7 itself.

At last year’s G7 summit in Canada, Trump was the lone holdout refusing to sign a group communique that included a pledge to fight climate change. This year the G7 gave up on seeking a meaningful joint declaration on the issue, despite the rising urgency of concerted action.

That’s a shocking failure—and it’s squarely on Trump.

We just wrapped up, in July, the hottest month since global recordkeeping began in 1880. Recent United Nations reports warn that climate change threatens global food supplies and has helped put roughly one million species in danger of extinction.

In the face of the mounting case for action, the G7 opted to punt, deciding it was a waste of time to try to reason with Trump on climate.

“When it comes to the Paris agreement, we know his position,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters Monday. “It is not the objective of the French presidency to convince him otherwise,” said Macron, host of this year’s three-day G7 summit on the southwest coast of France.

Instead, Macron has focused on seeking progress Trump can’t derail. The French president is leading what he calls the Carbon Neutrality Coalition, a growing list of countries and cities committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. In other words, they are aiming to phase out fossil fuels completely by then, or take steps to offset the carbon pollution any remaining fossil fuels produce.

Not Trump. He bragged Monday about pressing to bring the hazard and harm of oil and gas drilling to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That’s public land President Eisenhower set aside nearly 60 years ago so that future generations might know the natural splendor of America’s Arctic much as the first Americans experienced it. Instead of sacrificing all that for oil and gas profits, we need to protect this irreplaceable habitat and all it supports while we phase out our reliance on the dirty fossil fuels that are driving climate chaos.

“I’m an environmentalist,” Trump asserted at Monday’s press conference. “I think I know more about the environment than most people.”

The true test of any environmentalist, as for any leader, is the kind of world we leave our children. By his own words Monday, Trump failed that test on both counts.

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