US Policy: Global Climate Crisis Not Our Problem. Really?

AP Photo/Mel Evans

By withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, the US is effectively saying the global climate crisis is not our problem. This is American exceptionalism run amok. The US acts as if it can opt-out of the only planet we have because, well, because we’re special. This is not logical, this is not practical, this is not moral, and this is not possible. This is delusional. This is a crime against humanity. And yet the House Democrats remain obsessed with the low-level intrigues of Ukraine, Trumps, Bidens, and other clowns while turning away from the growing global catastrophe. Yes, there’s some evidence of minor-league failed chicanery on several sides of the Ukraine mashup. But the case is a joke compared to the climate crisis, and our Democratic leadership chooses to focus on the picayune over the universally tragic.

It’s not as though American leadership hasn’t had time to prepare. Forty years has been enough time for most nations to take climate issues seriously and to start responding responsibly. New Zealand has become the first to vote to achieve zero carbon admissions by 2050 (not good enough, but the best there is). Internationally, the response has been uneven and overall inadequate, but only the US is in such deep institutional denial. Only the US is pulling out of the Paris accord, only the US thinks it knows better than every other nation in the world, only the US believes in its own magical exceptionalism. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, making the official US announcement on Twitter on November 4, invoked American exceptionalism in his dishonest assertions:

Today we begin the formal process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. The U.S. is proud of our record as a world leader in reducing all emissions, fostering resilience, growing our economy, and ensuring energy for our citizens. Ours is a realistic and pragmatic model.

At the same time that the US was boasting of its non-existent leadership on climate, the peer-reviewed science magazine BioScience published an article titled “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” that represented the first time scientists have used the word “emergency” in reference to climate change. The paper was signed by 11,258 scientists from 153 countries and began:

Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to “tell it like it is.” On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency. [emphasis added]

Exactly 40 years ago, scientists from 50 nations met at the First World Climate Conference (in Geneva 1979) and agreed that alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act. Since then, similar alarms have been made through the 1992 Rio Summit, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the 2015 Paris Agreement, as well as scores of other global assemblies and scientists’ explicit warnings of insufficient progress (Ripple et al. 2017). Yet greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are still rapidly rising, with increasingly damaging effects on the Earth’s climate. An immense increase of scale in endeavors to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis (IPCC 2018).

At the same time, in another attack on the American environment, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rolling back clean water rules. The EPA was relaxing controls on toxic coal ash pools, which contain mercury, arsenic, and other dangerous chemicals, allowing them to pollute waterways near coal-fired electric plants. According to Democracy Now, Food & Water Watch has vowed to sue the Trump administration over the rollback of the rules, which it says would “lead directly to more water contamination, more birth defects, more childhood cancer and more pain and suffering for American families — all for the sake of a dirty industry’s last grasp at profits.”

According to President Trump, “We ended the war on beautiful clean coal.” There was no “war” and there is no “clean coal.” The real war has been waged by coal, oil, and other energy industries against the American people and the world. Exxon knew what the problem was 40 years ago and lied. Based on corporate behavior, capitalism is both homicidal and, more slowly, suicidal. Political behavior offers little reassurance. This is the second time the US has reneged on a climate treaty supposedly negotiated in good faith. The first time was when President Bush pulled the US out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. In between, establishment Democrats have managed only limp and limited responses to the climate crisis.

No establishment party presidential candidate for 2020 offers adequate leadership on climate, as assessed by Greenpeace in an elaborate, detailed scoring system. Only one candidate was rated A+ and that was Bernie Sanders. Three others were rated A- and they were, in order of score, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Steyer, and Cory Booker. The rest were all rated lower, with Bill Weld and Donald Trump at the bottom, each with an F. The two-party system hasn’t stepped up on climate issues and shows no likelihood of doing so in the near future – unless Democrats somehow nominate a candidate willing to cope with reality. Even then, we face an uphill struggle to save ourselves in opposition to entrenched narrow interests.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. A collection of his essays, EXCEPTIONAL: American Exceptionalism Takes Its Toll (2019) is available from Yorkland Publishing of Toronto or Amazon. This article was first published in Reader Supported News. Read other articles by William.