The vast majority of U.S. voters and policymakers have no clue how cataclysmic it will be for this country when Trump keeps his promise to exit the landmark Paris Climate Agreement. (But then why would they, when much of the media also has no clue about the existential nature of the climate fight after a quarter century of ignoring the warnings of scientists?)
It is not “if” he keeps his promise, it is “when,” since the Trump team is already looking to quit Paris as fast as possible, perhaps within a year, according to “a source on his transition team,” Reuters reported Sunday. Another reason to take Trump seriously: He appointed fellow climate science deniers to top positions in his transition team and administration — while the media normalizes his radical words and deeds.
Since the United States was a leader in making Paris happen, when the country pulls out (and then works to kill climate action at home and abroad), it will suddenly become a global pariah. Think of the sanctions against Putin’s Russia — or, think about a massive, global boycott, like the one against apartheid South Africa, times 10.
Consider how a United States exit will look.
The world will rightly blame the United States for destroying humanity’s last, best hope to avoid catastrophic warming. We will be blamed for the multiple ever-worsening catastrophic climate impacts that befall the planet in the coming years (and decades and beyond). And why not? We’re the richest country and the biggest cumulative carbon polluter, and the pledge we made for Paris was just about the weakest we could offer. And now we aren’t even going to do that.
From the world’s perspective, U.S. voters just elected a man who actively campaigned on a plan to kill the Paris agreement, undo all U.S. climate action, boost coal and fossil fuel use, and zero out funding for all international climate-related aid, domestic climate science, and clean energy R&D. Oh, and he thinks global warming is a hoax, and he has named a well-known climate science denier to run the EPA transition (if not the EPA itself) — and another to be his top White House aide and chief strategist.
It bears repeating that on October 26, Trump promised, “I will also cancel all wasteful climate change spending from Obama-Clinton, including all global warming payments to the United Nations. These steps will save $100 billion over 8 years.”
Not only is Trump appointing hard-core climate science deniers to high level positions, but even everyday Republicans — like Trump’s newly appointed Chief of Staff Reince Priebus — are critical of climate action. Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders have actively lobbied other countries against the Paris climate deal and lobbied states to disregard the EPA’s Clean Power Plan standards for electricity generation.
So there’s every reason to believe Trump will keep his climate campaign promises, making the United States a pariah nation, and potentially triggering carbon taxes and environmental tariffs.
On Sunday, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (2007–2012) said Europe should “adopt a carbon tax at the borders of Europe, a tax of 1 to 3 percent for all products that come from the United States.” The center-right Sarkozy, who is running to get his old job back, explained, “We cannot find ourselves in a situation where our businesses have [environmental] obligations but where we continue to import products from countries that meet none of those obligations.”
If that happened, it’s not too hard to imagine the response of the president-elect — who has already threatened to put tariffs on a great many foreign countries. The United States will lose all of its so-called “soft power” as the world’s “indispensable nation” goes rogue.
That means any effort Trump makes to keep his commitment to be tough on other countries on trade will find zero support around the world. Indeed, a more plausible response would be for the world to treat us like Russia, Iran or apartheid South Africa. That would particularly be the case if, as appears entirely likely, Trump cozies up to Putin and Russia, as he did in the campaign.
Why am I laying out the worst-case scenario? Because right now, this should be considered the business-as-usual scenario — and the overwhelming majority of the so-called intelligentsia (aka the climate ignorati) simply don’t get it.
Take this Saturday article, in which “Politico asked 17 experts to game out a Trump presidency,” specifically, “What’s the worst-case scenario? The best?“
Only two of them mentioned any of the actual impacts from failing to stop catastrophic climate change (though a third did mention the climate in passing).
One of those was 350.0rg founder Bill McKibben, who noted the worst case is that Trump “succeeds in derailing the very fragile global turn towards clean energy just at the moment when it was starting to accelerate — and the result of that is measured in degrees of global temperature and meters of sea level rise stretching out over millennia.”
Apparently, outside of actual climate experts, it is hard to find “experts” who realize the future of humanity is on a knife’s edge. The one exception was economist Daniel Altman, who warns Trump “could easily cause as many deaths and inflict as much hardship [as the Iraq War] … by reversing the world’s progress to combat climate change.”
Historically, the best way to avoid the worst-case scenario is if a great many people actively work to avoid it. If humanity had taken seriously the worst case scenario on climate— which is now coming true — we would have started taking action long enough ago to avert the catastrophe we now face. And if team Clinton had taken seriously the worst case scenario for the election — which also came true — they definitely would have adopted a different strategy, which might have avoided it.
Right now, the worst-case scenario is a two-term Trump presidency where he does exactly what he has said he will. In that scenario, Trump sets us back on a path towards 7°F warming or more — in which case war like those in Iraq and Syria become the norm.
In the worst-case scenario, we become a global pariah, we get the trade war Trump campaigned on, and “We are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight,” as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman explained late on election night.
Let’s all work hard to make sure the worst case doesn’t happen.