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Trump's dilemma: to please his friends by trashing the Paris climate deal, or not?

By       Message Bill McKibben     Permalink
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From The Guardian

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If the president-elect sabotages last year's agreement, he will own every disaster -- every hurricane a Hurricane Donald, every drought a moment for mockery

Hurricane damage to New Orleans
Hurricane damage to New Orleans
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It seems likely that the Paris climate accords will offer one of the first real tests of just how nuts Donald Trump actually is. For a waiting world it's a public exam, his chance to demonstrate either that he's been blowing smoke or deeply inhaling.

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Think, if you will, of the Paris agreement as a toy painstakingly assembled over 25 years by many of the world's leading lights. It has now been handed, as a gift, to the new child-emperor, and everyone is waiting to see what he'll do.

His buddies -- the far-right, climate-denying, UN-hating renegades who formed his campaign brains trust -- are egging him on to simply break it, to smash it on the floor for a good laugh. In fact, they're doing their best to give him no way out.

"President-elect Trump's oft-repeated promises in the campaign are fairly black-and-white," said Myron Ebell, head of his Environmental Protection Agency transition team, last week. (Ebell believes that the Paris deal is an attempt to "turn the world's economy upside-down and consign poor people to perpetual poverty" -- and that climate science is done by "third-rate, fourth-rate and fifth-rate scientists.")

On the other side are the world's business leaders, 365 of whom just signed a letter asking Trump to keep America engaged in the Paris process to provide "long-term direction." These are not people who have spent their lives in obscure rightwing think tanks. They run stuff -- like DuPont, General Mills, Hewlett-Packard, Hilton, Kellogg, Levi Strauss, Nike and Unilever. And it's hard to run stuff if the rules keep changing.


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There's also a gang of Americans who care what the rest of the world thinks. A group of former military leaders this week sent Trump's transition team a briefing book arguing that climate change presents a "significant and direct risk to US military readiness, operations and strategy." Ben Cardin, a Delaware senator and the top Democrat on the Senate foreign affairs committee, said withdrawing from the Paris deal would damage "our credibility on other issues."

And then there's the rest of the world. Other nations can't be "weak" or "naive", said France's former (and perhaps future) president Nicolas Sarkozy. If Trump pulls the US out of Paris, Sarkozy proposes a carbon tariff on US goods. That won't happen, but diplomats at the current climate talks in Marrakech have made it clear that leadership on the 21st century's most important issue would pass from Washington to Beijing.

So Trump faces a dilemma. Does he please his most extreme friends? If so, he will own every climate disaster in the next four years: every hurricane that smashes into the Gulf of Mexico will be Hurricane Donald, every drought that bakes the heartland will be a moment to mock his foolishness. That's how that works.

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Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books, including The End of Nature and Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. A former staff writer for The New Yorker, he writes regularly for Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, and The (more...)
 

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