Week 19: The United States Is Now One of Just Three Nations to Neg the Paris Climate Accord

(The other two are Nicaragua and Syria.)

June 02, 2017

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.

Shawn Thew/EPA/Newscom

A Laughingstock

President Trump announced on Thursday that the United States would begin the process to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement. In making his case in the White House Rose Garden, Trump relied on a slew of false data to make climate change mitigation seem more expensive than it actually is. He claimed, for example, that fulfilling our Paris commitment would cost $3 trillion and 6.5 million U.S. jobs. Those numbers come from a study sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that assumes the United States approaches carbon reduction in the most expensive way possible. It also fails to consider the economic benefits and job creation that would accompany the clean energy revolution—benefits that could surpass $19 trillion. (The Chamber of Commerce has been the driving force behind the bogus Trumpian claim that climate change is an international plot against American business.)

Ask yourself this: If the Paris Agreement is so bad for American business, why do more than 1,000 U.S. businesses publicly support it? Major employers like Walmart, tech giants like Apple, and financial leaders like Berkshire Hathaway are all strong in their support of the Paris deal.

But the most telling portion of Trump’s speech was his apparent concern that other countries were “laughing at us”—a phrase that Trump used twice—because we signed the climate accord. Trump’s skin is notoriously thin—six years ago, Jon Stewart nailed him as a guy who “can’t let anything go.” But childish, retaliatory tweets and behavior are one thing; withdrawing history’s largest carbon polluter from the Paris climate agreement is something different. It’s deeply troubling to think that, while climate change advocates were giving Trump facts and data, the “out” camp may have won by convincing the president that foreigners were laughing at his expense.

The Energy Formerly Known as “Clean”

Stephanie Cabrera/Offset

Someone over at the U.S. Department of Energy just discovered the “find and replace” button. The DOE has dropped the word clean from the phrase “clean energy” all over its technology-related web pages. The “Clean Energy Investment Center,” for example, has become the “Energy Investment Center.” The department’s commitment to “investable clean energy opportunities” is now merely a promise to facilitate investment in “energy opportunities.” And the agency isn’t just moving away from “clean” energy—it’s also abandoning “new” energy. The promising “multi-trillion-dollar global new energy market” is now simply the “multi-trillion-dollar global energy market.”

The DOE says the decision “was made entirely by the career staff within that office”—a statement that itself is probably one or two “find and replace” changes away from being true.

Denying by Land, Denying by Sea

The Trump climate change denial machine went amphibious this week. According to Isabella Lövin, cochair of the upcoming United Nations Ocean Conference (June 5–9) and deputy prime minister of Sweden, the United States is resisting any attempt to identify climate change as a threat to the health of the world’s oceans.

A coral reef in the Indonesian Sea, destroyed by ocean acidification


“I think I can safely say that the United States has not been very keen on strong language on climate change,” Lövin told Reuters. (Given the Swedish penchant for understatement, this could mean the Trump administration threatened to drop a thermonuclear warhead in the Gulf of Bothnia if anyone mentions carbon pollution.)

Holding a conference on ocean health without mentioning climate change would be like giving a speech to NATO without mentioning the collective defense pact. Oh, wait…

Climate change and carbon pollution threaten our oceans in myriad ways. The warming waters will push some marine species out of their traditional habitats while eliminating habitats for others. Infectious disease will proliferate. Acidification of ocean waters destroys coral reefs and prevents many other creatures from forming their shells. Intensification of storms over land increases runoff of nutrients, which will expand ocean dead zones. Alteration of currents will fundamentally change the flow of nutrients and the relationships among marine ecosystems.

I could go on, but I won’t. And if I were at the U.N. Ocean Conference, the Trump administration probably wouldn’t let me.

“Leaving climate change out of a document in the context of oceans is like cutting off the right arm of the Pacific island countries,” says Marlene Moses, the representative of Nauru, an island nation currently being swallowed up by the sea. This is perhaps the most vivid description yet of how other countries are experiencing the Trump era.


In late April, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals paused the litigation over the Clean Power Plan for 60 days because the Trump administration needed time to consider its position. As a condition of the stay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was ordered to update the court on its progress after 30 days. The EPA filed its status report this week, and I can only imagine the judges’ reactions.

The EPA’s “update” says virtually nothing. Here’s a snippet: “EPA continues to review the Rule . . . and may be prepared to begin the interagency review process of a resulting proposed regulatory action in the near future [emphasis added].” In other words, they’ve made no progress and are unwilling to commit to anything.

While disappointing, it’s all part of the administration’s strategy to stall clean energy regulations into oblivion. If Trump’s EPA can convince a court to sit on the Clean Power Plan litigation indefinitely, it can essentially kill the rule without subjecting its climate change denial to judicial review.

He Trolls Because He Loves

Donald Trump has been pretty tough on our European allies. He failed to endorse the common defense pact at a NATO conference, and he’s trying to undermine the landmark Paris climate change agreement over the objections of virtually every country in Europe. He appears to have targeted Germany for special abuse, sending Energy Secretary Rick Perry to condemn the country’s progress in cutting its carbon pollution and reportedly telling Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Union, that Germany is “bad, very bad.”

Why does Trump treat our European friends this way? Perhaps because he feels so close to them.

The shove seen around the world: Trump pushed aside Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic at NATO headquarters.

Etienne Laurent/EPA/Newscom

“The good thing about strong alliances like the one we have with Germany is that you can have frank discussions,” Trump spokesman Michael Short told Politico. Or, as the website’s Nahal Toosi put it, “Trump picks on you because he likes you.”

For just a moment, let’s indulge the Trump administration in its ludicrous suggestion that diplomacy is comparable to relationships between regular people. Even by that standard, Trump would be the world’s worst friend. He trashes his friends behind their backs. He insults them to his 31.2 million followers on Twitter. He shoves them out of his way and attempts to manhandle them with his gorilla-esque handshake ritual. This isn’t a “frank discussion.” It’s getting bullied by a boor. 

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.

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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