The move to officially withdraw from the Paris climate accord by the Trump administration is a betrayal of everything Republicans say they stand for: the lives of the unborn, American leadership, national security, and a thriving economy.
To be sure, on the immediate, practical level, Monday’s announcement was merely a formality. Trump and his fossil-fuel-funded administration stopped complying with the Paris accord in 2017. This just makes it official.
But the long-term impacts of the decision, should Trump be re-elected a year from now, are at once profound and ironic.
Profound because, of course, 97 percent of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused global warming is happening, with inevitable, catastrophic results that we are already seeing today: extreme weather events; changes in weather patterns that cause droughts, wars, and refugee crises; and mass extinctions.
As Greta Thunberg recently pointed out, the Paris accord will not stop these events from unfolding, but it would make them less severe – if the world’s largest economies all participate.
But ironic because, if you take Republicans at their word, climate change threatens all that they say they hold dear.
First, Republicans say they care about children, families, and the unborn.
The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause an additional 5 million deaths from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. That’s 250,000 deaths a year.
No wonder climate denial is the official ideology of today’s Republican party. There’s no way one could face the truth and still claim to be “pro-life.”
Second, Republicans say they care about American leadership.
But that leadership is gone. Only in the doublespeak world of the Trump regime does anyone look to the United States for leadership in this area (or most others) anymore. At the recent UN Climate Summit, I watched as business leaders, government officials, and grassroots activists discussed a wide range of climate actions.
Donald Trump stayed for ten minutes, then walked out to participate in a forum on a nonexistent problem: the supposed discrimination against Christians in Western democracies. (Of course, Christians are being discriminated against in many places around the world, but Trump and Pence are more worried about saying "Merry Christmas" than they are about stopping actual violence.)
Others are filling the vacuum. Just as Russia swooped in to fill the gap left by the American withdrawal in Syria, so Europe, Latin America, and even China are filling the Trump-shaped void in climate policy.
Third and relatedly, Republicans care about economic growth–but missing out on one of the most significant markets for innovative technology will cost America untold billions of dollars over the coming decades.
Contrary to the Ayn-Randist stupidity that’s infected American conservatism, clear government standards and public-private partnerships help businesses innovate. The more time you spend in climate policy circles, the more you hear the same refrain from business leaders: Set the standards, and we’ll innovate to meet them. Work with us. Put us all on a level playing field, and let us compete. Chaos helps no one.
That may not be what anti-business Democratic Socialists believe about how corporations can work for the public good, but that’s the irony–promoting green technology and carbon-reducing innovation are part of old fashioned Republican fiscal conservatism. Whatever happened to that?
Finally, Republicans say they care about security and stability in the world.
But probably the greatest national security risk the world faces in the 21st century is mass migration, as hundreds of millions of people—most of them poor—flee coastal areas and newly desertified regions, choking cities and straining food supplies. Imagine the Syrian refugee crisis, magnified by a hundredfold, and the rise in ethno-nationalism, strife, and border violence that would pose.
(Incidentally, the Syrian conflict was itself a result of climate change: the drought from 2007-2010 led to food shortages, riots, overcrowding, instability, and civil unrest that in turn led to government crackdowns that in turn led to the uprising against it.)
That terrifying reality may be good for “America First” isolationism, but not for anything that resembles classical Republican priorities of national security and world order.
So, as Trump might ask, what the hell is going on?
In a sense, this week’s climate news is just the latest example of Republican cowardice and chaos in the face of Donald Trump. As my colleague Matt Lewis has wearily described, Republicans have been forced to gaslight themselves on so many issues lately–Ukraine, Russia, the Kurds, impeachment proceedings, the character of General James Mattis, free trade, the national debt–that the lies about climate change and the clear and present danger that climate change in fact poses barely register at all.
Yes, some Republican leaders are bought and sold by the fossil fuel industry. But many more are simply unwilling to stand up to Trump. It’s us-or-them, our side or theirs.
There used to be a lively debate on the Republican side of the aisle about the extent of climate change, the best policies to fight it (naturally, conservatives favored market mechanisms rather than command-and-control regulations), and the weighing of environmental protection and economic growth.
After all, over 70 percent of American voters say they support serious action on climate change. While Democratic presidential candidates fall over themselves to craft the most expensive, least popular, and least realistic climate plans possible, Republicans could be offering a market-based vision for meaningful action.
But instead they’re hiding themselves in denial, falling in lockstep behind their dear leader as chaos reigns, ignorance rules, and the earth slowly warms itself to death.