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Trump: A Fool or a Liar on Climate? Take Your Pick.

The president either completely misunderstands the Paris Agreement or has chosen to flagrantly mischaracterize it.

Michael Vadon/Flickr

Of all the mistruths, misapprehensions, and misrepresentations put forth by President Trump as he announced our nation’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement last week, perhaps none is more jaw-dropping than his assertion—stated numerous times and in various ways—that living up to our end of the treaty would somehow harm the United States economy and sacrifice American jobs.

People lie and dissemble for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes out of desperate self-protection. Sometimes for self-enrichment. Sometimes to make one look smarter than one actually is.

None of those rationales, in this instance, seem to apply. The president, plagued by the growing Russia scandal and smarting from his inability to further his legislative agenda, needed to deliver on a campaign promise, no matter how ridiculously ill-considered that promise may have been. And so he reached for his favorite punching bag—America’s environmental policy—and smirkingly abused it once more, this time from the White House Rose Garden, in front of TV cameras.

If we define “the short-term” as half an hour or so, then President Trump’s pathetic spectacle was a short-term victory, in that no one in attendance audibly booed him as he slinked back to the safety of the Oval Office. But fact-checkers soon kicked into gear and solidly refuted the president’s stated reasons for pulling out. Surprise, surprise: Nearly every one of them appears  manifestly falsifiable. And in several instances, the reality of the situation is in fact the exact opposite of what the president says it is.  

TRUMP ASSERTION #1: “The Paris climate accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers—who I love—and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.”

REALITY: Sticking with the Paris climate agreement would help create jobs, boost investment, spur innovation, and stimulate the economy. More than three million Americans work in a renewable energy sector that employs almost ten million people worldwide—up from seven million just four years ago—and that is currently valued at $1.4 trillion a year. In 2015, 68 percent of all new power generation in the United States came from renewables, which have comprised more than half of all new power capacity in this country for nearly a decade. That same year, American investment in renewables approached $44 billion, making our country the second-largest investor in clean energy on the planet. 

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris basically ignores these astounding numbers—and, for all intents and purposes, cedes the dynamic and rapidly expanding clean energy market to other countries (ahem, China). These other nations recognize this once-in-a-century opportunity, and are busy building up the resources and workforces to seize it.

TRUMP ASSERTION #2: I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States—which is what it does—the world’s leader in environmental protection, while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters.”

REALITY: Oh boy. This is one of those statements that almost—almost—makes you pity the president for not being able to depend on his support staff, which any other major world leader would be able to consult with before making such a huge announcement. If Trump had just spent 20 minutes talking to anyone familiar with the mechanics of the Paris Agreement before his Rose Garden appearance, he would have presumably learned why this “deal” isn’t like others that he’s been a party to in the past. As a real-estate tycoon, Donald Trump likely defined the word “deal” as two parties doing whatever they can to get the most out of one another without destroying the relationship altogether. To him, a successful deal is one that allows him to take advantage of someone else: to pay less than he’s expected to, to get more than he’s entitled to, to neutralize a rival.

The Paris Agreement was a very different kind of deal. For one thing, our emissions-reduction commitments were calculated and derived by us, without coercion or pressure from any other signatory or international body. Those commitments were not only voluntary but also flexible enough to withstand modification, if modification was deemed necessary. Other countries approached their own climate commitments in the same way.

The climate agreement isn’t about one guy trying to squeeze the other guy or bleed him dry but rather about a bunch of parties coming together, in a spirit of cooperation and good faith, to generate a positive outcome that benefits all within a framework of shared, realistic effort. Which brings us, alas, to:   

TRUMP ASSERTION #3: The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement— they went wild; they were so happy—for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.”

REALITY: Of all Trump’s despicable untruths, this is the most despicable. There is one reason, and one reason only, why the rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement. The United States is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet and the largest historically. In addition to making its sizeable carbon-reduction commitment in Paris, our country was also instrumental in persuading other nations to make their own. In doing so, the Obama administration was exhibiting its understanding that the agreement couldn’t work unless every nation (or almost every nation) had a stake in its success, and that its stake was proportional to the size of its economy and carbon footprint. And so the United States pushed other countries hard, after pushing itself even harder.

In other words, we were exhibiting leadership. That’s why the other nations applauded so loudly that day, Mr. President: They were witnessing leadership. Perhaps it’s a sound you’ve yet to hear. 


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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