How To Get Donald Trump To Honor The Paris Climate Change Agreement

Donald Trump has given mixed signals as to how far he will go to kill efforts to fight climate change. Trump has a well documented history of calling climate change a hoax invented by the Chinese.

 

However, he backtracked on this extreme claim in a November 22 interview with the New York Times

 

Asked by the Op-Ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman about whether he thought human activity was linked to climate change, Mr. Trump said: “I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much.”

But while acknowledging the connection, he said in response to questions about the warming climate that he was thinking about “how much it will cost our companies.”

Mr. Trump’s statements were a turn away from assertions that human-caused climate change was a “hoax,” something that he later claimed never to have said.

 

Whether or not Trump will pull out of the Paris Climate Change agreement that calls for countries to collectively reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is uncertain.  However, there is little reason to be optimistic given the people Trump has chosen to help him run his administration. He chose  Rick "Oops" Perry to run the Department of Energy.  Rick Perry is on record for wanting to eliminate the Energy Department.   He appointed former CEO of ExxonMobile, Rex TIllerson, to head the State Department.  And he appointed Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  Pruitt is more than just a climate change denier.  He has actually sued the EPA to prevent it from implementing regulations to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Those who try to convince Trump to keep our commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement because an overwhelming number of scientists believe human induced climate change poses a dire threat to the world are barking up the wrong tree. Seventeen intelligence agencies state that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC emails, yet Trump refuses to believe them. Trump claimed that he knew more about ISIS than the generals do.  Donald Trump is not easily persuaded by facts and expertise if he wants to believe something that would be called into question by facts and expertise.  It seems like Trump's decision making is guided mainly by two questions: 1) Can it help me politically? 2) Can I make a buck off of it?  Therefore, trying to convince Trump with EVIDENCE of human induced climate change is hopeless.   I suggest we try a different approach.

I propose that we assume in our arguments that human-made climate change is either unlikely or an outright hoax. We need to argue that EVEN IF CLIMATE CHANGE IS UNLIKELY OR A HOAX, it still pays to honor our commitment to the agreement. There are four arguments that support this strategy.

  1. A November 2016 poll by Public Opinion Strategies revealed that fully 75% of Trump voters support taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy in the United States.  Keeping the agreement will make Donald Trump more popular and will win him praise.
  2. Even if human induced climate change is extremely unlikely, it still pays to take out an insurance policy to protect against it. That is what smart business people do--buy insurance to protect against unlikely but potentially catastrophic events. In fact, Donald Trump's company wants to do just that to protect the Trump International Golf course in County Clare, Ireland. Politico reports that a coastal storm eroded up to 8 meters of footage from the golf course days before Trump finalized his purchase. Now Trump International wants to build a sea wall to protect this property from further erosion.  The Irish government rejected Trump's request to build a sea wall, so Trump International filed an environmental impact statement justifying the request. Here is a partial description by Politico of that report:

 

The statement acknowledges one Irish government study that assumes a steady rate of erosion through 2050, but argues that the study fails to account for the effects of climate change: “If the predictions of an increase in sea level rise as a result of global warming prove correct, however, it is likely that there will be a corresponding increase in coastal erosion rates not just in Doughmore Bay but around much of the coastline of Ireland. In our view, it could reasonably be expected that the rate of sea level rise might become twice of that presently occurring. … As a result, we would expect the rate of dune recession to increase.”

The bigger problem, though, according to the impact statement, will be the erosion caused by larger, more frequent storms. “As with other predictions of global warming and its effects, there is no universal consensus regarding changes in these events,” it states. “Our advice is to assume that the recent average rate of dune recession will not alter greatly in the next few decades, perhaps as far into the future as 2050 as assumed in the [government study] but that subsequently an increase in this rate is more likely than not.”

 

If Donald Trump's company has deemed it necessary to take out an insurance policy in the form of a sea wall to protect its golf course from climate change, then surely there it would be wise for our government to invest in clean energy technology as an insurance policy as well.

  1. Donald Trump recognizes the value promoting his brand name. In fact, in 2015 he valued his brand name alone to be worth $3.3 billion.  The U.S. also has a brand name in the international community.  That brand name buys goodwill and cooperation from other nations.  If we, as a nation, act in ways that antagonize other countries and prompt them to question our resolve, then our national brand name will be sullied and other nations are less likely to cooperate with us and do us favors.  Donald Trump is likely to take actions on several fronts that will tarnish our national brand name. Most of the world believes that Israel's settlements in the West Bank are illegal. We are likely to lose international goodwill if we encourage Israel to continue to build in the West Bank and if we move our embassy to Jerusalem as Trump has promised. It is likely that many of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims will become more hostile to the U.S. if we take an overly aggressive stance against Muslims. We will antagonize China if we abandon the One China policy.  Our NATO allies are likely to question our commitment and reliability if we do not help them resist Russian aggression.  If we abandon the Paris Climate Agreement we will be adding one more irritant to a pile of likely irritants. This will make it more difficult for us to secure cooperation from other countries in other arenas.
  2. Even if human induced climate change is a hoax, the fact remains that other countries BELIEVE it is real and must be stopped.  Here is an example where perceptions are just as, if not more important, than reality. Our government may decide not to invest in developing new, more efficient green technologies , but OTHER countries--especially China, will not stop investing in this sector. And by investing in new technologies, other countries--especially China, are positioning themselves to dominate the solar and alternative energy markets.  Prices will come down and the day will come when our coal and gas industries won't be able to compete with less expensive solar energy. It may be 10 years, it may be 20 years, but one day our country will be stuck with abandoned coal mines while China has a lock on the solar industry.  We must constantly ask Donald Trump this question: Do you really want China to eat our lunch in the solar industry when our coal mines are no longer economically competitive?  And that day may not be as far off as we think. The price of solar panels have been dropping rapidly, and solar power is highly competitive economically in an increasing number of countries.  Here are five reports that discuss this point in further detail. 

 

a) Tom Randall writes in Bloomberg Technology

 

A transformation is happening in global energy markets that’s worth noting as 2016 comes to an end: Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity. 

This has happened in isolated projects in the past: an especially competitive auction in the Middle East, for example, resulting in record-cheap solar costs. But now unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects, according to fresh data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  . . .

“Solar investment has gone from nothing—literally nothing—like five years ago to quite a lot,” said Ethan Zindler, head of U.S. policy analysis at BNEF. “A huge part of this story is China, which has been rapidly deploying solar” and helping other countries finance their own projects. . . .

The overall shift to clean energy can be more expensive in wealthier nations, where electricity demand is flat or falling and new solar must compete with existing billion-dollar coal and gas plants. But in countries that are adding new electricity capacity as quickly as possible, “renewable energy will beat any other technology in most of the world without subsidies,” said [Bloomberg New Energy Finance chairman Michael]Liebreich. 

 

b) Michael Coren reports in Quartz

 

Solar and wind is now the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries, the WEF reported in December (pdf). As prices for solar and wind power continue their precipitous fall, two-thirds of all nations will reach the point known as “grid parity” within a few years, even without subsidies. “Renewable energy has reached a tipping point,” Michael Drexler, who leads infrastructure and development investing at the WEF, said in a statement. “It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns.” ...

But global investment in renewable energy still lags far behind levels needed to avoid potentially catastrophic global warming, according to the United Nations. Global renewable investment last year was $286 billion, or 25% of the $1 trillion goal set by nations at the Paris climate change accord. . ..

But prices are eventually expected to win the day. Solar is projected to fall to half the price of electricity from coal or natural gas within a decade or two. That milestone has already been reached in some locales. In August, energy firm Solarpack contracted to sell solar electricity in Chile at just $29.1 per megwatt hour, 58% below prices from a new natural gas plant.

 

c) Though solar power provides less than one percent of the nation's electric power, it is growing rapidly as prices come down. Bobby Magill writes in Climate Central

 

For the first time, more electricity-generating capacity from solar power plants is expected to have been built in the U.S. than from natural gas and wind, U.S. Department of Energy data show. . . . Though the final tally won’t be in until March, enough new solar power plants were expected to be built in 2016 to total 9.5 gigawatts of solar power generating capacity, tripling the new solar capacity built in 2015. That’s enough to light up more than 1.8 million homes. . ..

 

d) Maryam Zaringhallam notes in her guest blog in Scientific American that accepting the reality of climate change is good for business.

 

Last year, Bill Gates announced the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, an international partnership driven by 30 entrepreneurs, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Alibaba chief Jack Ma, committed to investing in an emission-free future. Yesterday, the Coalition announced the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV). The venture fund will invest over $1 billion on the next generation of clean energy innovations that provide the world with “reliable and affordable energy, foods, goods, and services without emitting greenhouse gases.”

Recognizing that innovation takes time—particularly when developing reliable and efficient energy technologies that can successfully compete in a complex marketplace—the BEV has committed to investing over 20 years. BEV backer and natural gas trader John Arnold notes, "If we fund a technology that gets large enough traction to have impact on emissions, financial success will be a byproduct."

In the meantime, the private sector has increased demand for already existing renewable energies. Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Goldman Sachs, and Walmart have pledged to source 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020. . . 

But the private sector can’t do all the heavy lifting when it comes to paving the way to a green future. Government cooperation is essential, especially to fund exploratory research that may or may not result in a marketable end product. As Gates notes in his blog: “Government funding gives scientists the freedom to come up with bold new ideas and try to prove they will work.”

 

e) Juan Cole has written the best column that I have seen on this topic. I HIGHLY recommend reading the whole thing. Cole concludes

 

So if you look out at the big world, where 78% of global GDP is produced, you’d have to be very bullish on solar and very bearish on Trump, Tillerson and his other grimy fossil-fuel fossils. What is tragic is that Americans over time will have fewer jobs, less money, more expensive energy, and more lung disease because of the reckless decision they made in November of this year.

 

It is possible that Donald Trump is so heavily vested in the oil and gas industries that he will not change his mind no matter what arguments we put forth.  But we should make these arguments anyway. There may be climate change deniers in Congress and in state governments who will be persuaded by these arguments even if they are not persuaded by the scientific community.

 

Update: 1/29/17: China has suspended building 85 coal plants and is investing $361 billion in renewable energy by 2020. Undoubtedly part of the reason they are doing this is to combat the air pollution that is choking their cities. But it is hard to see how China can invest this much money into renewable energy sources and not get a technological competitive edge over the U.S. while we are sitting on our hands.

Update 5/28/17: Gary Cohen, director of the White House Economic Counsel, just said that coal doen't make sense anymore.

Update 6/18/17: As you know, we have pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. However, our switch away from coal is inevitable.  Bloomberg New Energy and Finance put out a report that predicts coal has a dim future because it will not be able to compete economically with other energy sources.