Why Trump’s Faux Withdrawal and Reality TV Announcement May Backfire

Opponents are Galvanized

President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement may have dramatic consequences for his administration – but not in the way he might imagine. His announcement is toothless. The U.S can’t withdraw from the Paris Agreement until the next Presidential election (assuming he makes it to the end). Yet his faux withdrawal has generated widespread international contempt, and may generate far more domestic political opposition than any support it gins up among his base.
After all the reality show hoopla accompanying the announcement, nothing has actually changed. Trump’s speech was just an empty political gesture and yet the world hung on his every word. We are still a party to the Paris Agreement. We will be a party for the rest of Trump’s first term (assuming he makes it to the end). The Agreement prevents parties from withdrawing for three years after it takes effect and then another year after a party announces it is withdrawing. That means that until the next presidential election, we are obligated 1) to work to cut our emissions by 26- 28 percent by 2025; 2) to make financial contributions to developing countries most affected by climate change; and 3) to provide regular accounting of our greenhouse gas emissions by source.
Trump has made abundantly clear – long before his grand announcement – that he will not honor these obligations, especially the first two. He has repudiated virtually every element of the “nationally determined contribution” submitted by the Obama Administration, including the Clean Power Plan, stringent automobile standards and limitations on methane emissions. He has produced a budget that provides no money for developing countries affected by climate change despite the Obama Administration’s commitment of $3 billion ($1 billion of which we already paid). He has gone even further, zeroing out the U.S. contribution to the fund that pays for the international climate negotiations. And, of course, he has proposed slashing budgets for climate staff across every department in the federal government, including the State Department, and eliminating virtually all research and development funds for clean energy.
We knew all of this before his announcement that the U.S. would withdraw. And since he cannot exercise the right to withdraw for several years, we are in exactly the same position today than we were yesterday.
Indeed, Trump has left advocates for robust climate policy in the strongest possible circumstances given his opposition. We remain in the Paris Agreement and yet the popular view is that we will withdraw. The international community, and many domestic voters, are enraged. Trump’s need to turn his announcement into a circus has focused the world on just how draconian and senseless Trump’s position is on climate change, especially given the voluntary nature of the U.S.’s commitment. The Paris Agreement provides no meaningful mechanism to punish countries that fail to live up to their obligations and commitments. The only real recourse is political. Trump may have managed to galvanize opposition far more ferocious than had he announced that he would keep the U.S. in the Agreement.

, , ,

Reader Comments

14 Replies to “Why Trump’s Faux Withdrawal and Reality TV Announcement May Backfire”

  1. It seems to me that the only domestic voters who are enraged by Trump’s irresponsible (yet entirely predictable) actions will be those who would never vote for him in any case. I would love to believe he is alienating his base but I doubt this is true.

    1. He isn’t alienating his base. But his base is not nearly as large as the numbers that voted for him in November. His approval rating has sunk dramatically. While the electoral college makes it crucial where those voters live, the election was determined by a few tens of thousands of votes, and was affected by low turnout, voter suppression, the specific dynamics of the candidates, and a sense by some that radical “change” in Washington was necessary with limited awareness of the downsides. The dynamics will be different in 2020, and in 2018. And a majority of people in every state believes climate action is important. So I’m optimistic.

  2. Yeah I don’t think this will convince the base. But he’s not the only politician to focus on. It may get state and local leaders doing even more and make centrists even more uncomfortable with him than they already are. And it may spur other countries to up their commitments under Paris, ironically.

  3. Any politician who promotes climate mitigation has the burden of explaining how they would pay for it and how this would benefit ordinary citizens in the near term. That’s a big burden and certainly not a winning issue in 2018.

    California is already backing away from single-payer healthcare because the state cannot pay for it. How could California pay for mitigating climate? especially when there are no tangible benefits. It can’t even pay for high-speed rail or tents for the homeless.

    Old climate aficionados are confused and discombobulated. The climate movement is broke and will probably be forgotten by this time next week. Time to move on.

  4. Thank you Ann, Sean, Dan and LP for trying to find solutions to the runaway global warming our political and intellectual leaders can’t seem to stop.

    Unfortunately, instead of solving the problem too many of our leaders keep pointing fingers and casting blame at “Them”.

    This includes that fact that our own Powers That Be continue to cover up the fact that UC sold Us out long ago to the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower gravely warned us about in his 1961 Farewell Address.

    The greatest generation truly is the greatest, they sacrificed everything while creating the greatest legacy of opportunities that the human race has ever achieved, yet we just kept blundering into more wars such as Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and worldwide violence without end.

    It is as if the UC Ivory Tower culture think they are omnipotent and can do no wrong even though the consequences of our self-indentured servitude to the military-industrial complex included monumental cultural failures like failing to create fusion energy generators that Edward Teller told us were possible by the end of the 20th century, our imperious marginalization of Linus Pauling for daring to champion Peace even though he created one of the greatest scientific discoveries in history – molecular biology that UC has also made many, many millions from, to failing to heed the warnings in our own CALIFORNIA alumni magazine 2006 ‘Global Warning’ special issue with the sense of urgency they required.

    So Trump’s hideously destructive proclamation this week is the latest, and most destructive consequence to date of our arrogance, greed and the most destructive acts of human stupidity in history.

    And to make it even worse, we continue to refuse to unite to save the human race. Instead we make it worse by refusing to overcome the failure mode of believing it is beneath our dignity to end inequalities, including reaching out to the working class that elected Trump.

    One fact of life we had better act upon with the greatest sense of urgency today is that time has indeed run out because of increasing environmental disasters, we can’t even wait for 2018 elections to get our act together, by conquering our never-ending social failures and mental limitations before global warming eliminates too many opportunities for producing an acceptable quality of life for future generations.

    1. Sir John Maddox, late Editor of Nature, wrote “What Remains to Be Discovered” in 1998 with a most important concluding chapter on “Avoidance of Calamity” which emphasized “— small armies of scientists will be required to remove persisting uncertainties and to devise effective strategies for the avoidance of calamity” that we still fail implement at our increasingly out of control peril and climate change disasters now that we have rocketed past 410 ppm atmospheric CO2.

      Are there any solution to the warnings in the 2006 “Global Warning” special issue of CALIFORNIA alumni magazine cover story “Can we adapt in time?”

      1. Thanks for all your thoughts, Anthony. The scientists and policymakers and legal experts are all working on it. The big challenge is lack of political will- in part caused by massive disinformation campaigns by some corporations and many politicians. And now our federal government is run by people who don’t believe in science- or who cynically foster others’ ignorance. I wish I knew how to change the political climate, which is necessary to slow the change of the actual climate. I’m optimistic, as Ann is, that the extreme actions and rhetoric of this administration will backfire. Beyond that, I don’t know.

        1. Thanks for the feedback Sean, God help future generations.

          Hopefully you, Ann and your academic colleagues around the world can find ways to overcome the political and power of money failures that exist around the world.

          Sometimes I think the male amygdala is our greatest threat, and female empathy can save us if we will enable them to make the right things happen (although far too many women voting for Trump kind of shot that down), not very scientific I know but I’ve spent many years getting to this impossible dream conclusion.

          Too bad we can’t find a way to create an International Manhattan Project to Save The Human Race. Maybe you folks can start by dedicating one entire campus to that goal.

          1. “…..Contrary to the non-stop fright-peddling by the politicians and the hysterical media reports, global surface temperatures had remained flat for the past two decades. The modest, gradual rise in temperatures over much of the past century, insisted the more sensible climate scientists, was likely nothing more than natural, cyclical climate variation, and certainly nothing to panic about. However, even many of the most ardent global warming alarmists had been forced to admit that global temperatures, in defiance of alarmist predictions, had failed to rise since 1998….”


  5. 31,487 U.S. Scientists Reject Global Warming Hoax:

    “….A growing list of 31,487 U.S. scientists (and counting) has signed a petition strongly rejecting as unproven the hypothesis of man-made global warming or climate change. These signers include four NASA astronauts, at least two Nobel Prize winning physicists, 9,029 Ph.D.s and some of the nation’s top climatologists. Only U.S. scientists are included in this particular petition. Only relevant scientific fields are included…..”


    1. The physics are very simple and clear. Any engineer who has had a basic heat transfer course can do the calculation that shows that some sort of warming is inevitable as triatomic (and beyond – methane, etc.) molecules are added to the atmosphere.

      On what basis do you say that the fundamental physics is wrong?

      Do you reject the Stefan-Boltzmann law, or the absorption spectra of triatomic vs. diatomic gases? That is all you need to derive global warming.

      The physics based universe doesn’t care about anyone’s opinion. If you step off a cliff you will fall whether or not you look down (Wiley Coyote is a cartoon, not reality) or whether or not you “believe” in gravity.

      Unless you come up with some physics based argument to the contrary everything you post is sound and fury signifying nothing.

      1. Dear CD,
        We all know that the climate changes, we don’t deny it. However, we righteously deny lame gimmicks to “mitigate” climate change which have no effect on climate and have proven to be absolutely worthless.

        Climate mitigation is an enormous societal and political fraud, and this is why President Trump cancelled the Clean Power Plan and withdrew from the Paris Agreement. Thank you President Trump for making America a safer place to live. Now it is time to get over it and move on.

        May God Bless America.

    2. That looks impressive – but it’s not. The “relevant scientific fields” include everyone who received a Bachelor’s of Science or Engineering in any field at all, or an MD or DVM degree. And based on the last detailed study (from 2009, just after the petition was first circulated), there were over 19 million people in the US meeting these qualifications. Based on those numbers, if the number of petition signers were to multiply by 6, 1% of the people who meet the qualifications would have signed the petition – and 99% still would have not.

  6. Yesterday it was announced that Neil deGrasse Tyson became the first American to win the Stephen Hawking Medal. The scientific community, and the human race desperately need a spokesperson to explain global warming to the world so we can overcome “fake news” produced by politicians controlled by the power of money. Former Discover Editor in Chief Corey S. Powell made a strong recommendation for a scientific spokesperson in the “What Are You Optimistic About?” issue of John Brockman’s 2007 Annual EDGE Question, and we are way overdue in implementing this recommendation.

Comments are closed.

About Ann

Ann Carlson is currently on leave from UCLA School of Law. She is the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and was the founding Faculty Director of the Emmett I…

READ more

About Ann

Ann Carlson is currently on leave from UCLA School of Law. She is the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and was the founding Faculty Director of the Emmett I…

READ more