Gordon Campbell on the US bailing out on climate change

It’s pretty easy to denounce the moral vacuity of President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris agreement on climate change. As the New York Times reported this morning, the US may have only 4% of the world’s population; but its historical burnings of coal, oil and natural gas have created almost a third of the excess carbon dioxide that’s now over-heating the planet.

In essence, Trump is walking the US away from taking its share of responsibility for a global problem the US has done so much to create. Trump is also renegging on paying the remaining two thirds of the $3 billion fund set up by the Obama administration, a fund that would have helped poorer countries make the necessary transition to cleaner forms of energy. Finally, Trump is also cutting the research budgets of scientists working on solutions to climate change.

Naturally, Trump has framed his decision as a patriotic duty. Yet the withdrawal will do next to nothing to restore American jobs and communities. As Barack Obama has already pointed out, clean energy and climate change prevention actually offer many of the most promising, best paid jobs in the modern economy. (Those old jobs in Appalachia and the Rust Belt are not coming back.) Far from strangling the US economy – as the lobbyists in the old fossil fuel industries have been telling the White House – the Paris agreement opened the door to economic opportunities. As the NYT put it:

If it turns out that those goods can really be provided with clean energy, that may be the economic opportunity of the 21st century — and increasingly, countries like China and India seem to see things that way. Recent analyses by Climate Action Tracker, an alliance of European think tanks, suggest that both countries are on track to beat the targets they set in the Paris agreement, even as the United States backs away.

Supposedly, the EU, India and China – and the rest of the world – will continue to honour the commitments they made in Paris. In the medium term however, the exit of the US however, will erode the extent and pace of those commitments, especially if and when non-compliance gives the US an export advantage. At the same time, poorer countries will still come under pressure to hitch their development to clean forms of energy without now having the means promised by the US in Paris, to enable them to do so. On the upside, parts of the US – such as California – will continue to pursue sane and responsible climate change policies, regardless of the signals coming from Washington.

While Trump is an easy target, New Zealand can hardly afford to feel complacent, or morally superior. In last week’s Budget, only a paltry amount – $4 million over four years, which I mis-reported last week as $6 million – was set aside for climate change work, in order to help this country to meet its (extremely modest) Paris emissions reductions targets by 2030. Greens co-leader James Shaw has called out the government for its skewed priorities:

Shaw also slammed the Budget’s climate change allocation.

“There is a paltry $4 million increase in funding to stop climate change, while there is also a $300 million increase in subsidies for polluters.”

Earlier this week, business commentator Rod Oram criticised the Budget’s failure to add anything meaningful about the emissions being generated by transport – which, as he says, are currently rising at a rate of 3.6% annually. The lack of any concerted plan by government to address that source of emissions has been striking, given the global progress that’s being made on electric and driverless cars, for instance. Also, Oram added, there was ‘no impetus’ given in the Budget to re-forestation. Meanwhile, agriculture largely remains insulated from pressure to change its ways, and the recovery in dairy prices is likely to foster another spiral in farm-based emissions. Ultimately, New Zealand has no reason at all to feel morally superior to Trump – not on climate change, anyway.

Footnote One: Just in case Trump is making us feel all starry eyed about the Paris agreement, lets keep in mind what a token exercise it was in the first place. That point has been made afresh in a series of tweets today by Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute, who was also domestic policy director for Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012. As Cass says, Paris was basically a collation and stapling exercise whereby nations put up voluntary targets, and then agreed to recognize and respect each other’s bout of tokenism. Which makes it rather easy to get an “agreement”.

Footnote Two: As Matt Yglesias and others have noted, one of the really scary things in Trump’s rambling statement today was this line: “Our tax bill is moving along in Congress and I believe its doing very well”. Except… there isn’t a an administration tax bill in either the House of Representatives or in the Senate, and the White House hasn’t even released a tax plan detailed enough for anyone to be able to assess its likely economic or fiscal impact.

Lets leave aside for a moment the little matter that Trump’s draft Budget also contains what many analysts believe to be a $2 trillion accounting error – in which the rosy estimates of how tax cuts will trigger economic growth have been counted twice… Does Trump really believe he has issued a tax bill and that its proceeding just fine? Because that level of distance from reality would be disturbing.

Footnote Three: What a political gift Trump is to Emmanuel Macron and to Angela Merkel, both of whom are making vast domestic capital out of their opposition to Trump.

Back To The Future

During the Cultural Revolution, Albania used to say proudly that it and China, were 701 million strong – with Albania itself providing the one million. Something similar to the Albanian small man syndrome has been evident in the congratulations being showered on Trade Minister Todd McClay for keeping the TPP trade deal on its feet. Somehow, an idea birthed in Canberra and given meaning by Japan has been hailed – in the NBR at least – as a triumph of Kiwi diplomacy.

As mentioned here before, other countries are keeping a ‘TPP minus the US’ deal alive strictly for their own regional diplomatic ends vis a vis China, and in order to better position themselves to peel off later and pursue FTAs with the US – at which point the TPP will be jettisoned. Or shrunk. Much as the ‘TPP minus’ cargo cult may envisage the US returning to the TPP one day in the future, bearing gifts – the Trump White House is simply and finally, not interested. And even if it was, the current deal wouldn’t pass Congress, or pass muster with a Republican Party already facing enough problems with Trump’s Budget, his tax intentions, and the Obamacare replacement.

Amusingly, the TPP may shrink back to what it was before the US ever got involved. For low cost production hubs like Vietnam and Malaysia – that both made painful concessions in order to get into US markets – it makes no sense at all to proceed with the current deal, now that they won’t get the payoffs promised. (Far better for Vietnam in particular to pursue an FTA with the US.) A few days ago, at an academic seminar in KPMG’s Hong Kong office, trade analyst Stephen Olsen canvassed the problems facing the TPP minus one deal, and cited other possible scenarios:

Rising from the ashes could be the “TPP 5”, the idea that the deal proceeds among the five nations the most enthusiastic about moving forward – Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Brunei. These countries would hope to bring the other countries in to the agreement at some point.

Which is not so very different from where the TPP began its sorry life – as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP or P4) signed by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore way back in 2005. In the deal’s current form though, it’s hard to imagine that Japan would still open its agricultural markets for the meagre returns that a ‘TPP 5’ might deliver. So… let’s just hold off from awarding any prizes in diplomacy to Todd McClay, for the time being.

Other Beefs

Yesterday I referred to the hostilities between Remy Ma vs Nicki Minaj but without noting the near-decade long extent of that feud. To that end, here’s a useful timeline of how things got to this point.

Leaving all that aside… IMO one of the most under-rated voices in hip hop over the past decade has been Ishmael Butler, the creative force behind the free jazz/hip hop mashup known as Shabazz Palaces. Here’s “Swerve” from the breakthrough album in 2011, with its slippery vision of the future:

….Aqua-walking, languid-talking, just stepped in the cleanest
Upper levels, precious metals drip your neck and fingers
Fifty zillion pops shirts, wave this and leaners
The hard sounding peoples, ain’t nothing can’t get between us
Dances received from the splash signals so to swim in
Magical places we get and with the shiny women
Win our idle pink girl, our bodies by wraith division
The moonlight and donnin’ cloud glistenin’ glazed, that we giftin
Every sound, we trying to mash and attention
We bung the latest feelings, they just re-rap through the givens
Them are talk first, we observe and listen

and here’s last week’s new Shabazz Palaces single “Since C.A.Y.A” which name-checks the Central Area Youth Association community centre in Seattle that served as an artistic oasis for Butler, while he was growing up. “Lost in these streets is now lost in the beat”… for sure. Nice contributions from Thundercat, too.