President Trump has finally managed to make good on one of his many campaign promises.
He has pulled out of the Paris agreement.
Muslims are still un-banned, Obamacare un-repealed and Mexicans un-walled.
But Trump can claim real progress in having repudiated the Paris agreement to join with all other Nations (except Syria and Nicaragua), in reducing future CO2 emissions by a self-selected voluntary amount.
While such a withdrawal involves very little change in actions, Trump can point to other steps taken to roll back clean air and water regulations and cut funding for renewable energy research in keeping his larger promise to reduce job-inhibiting regulation and government subsidy of environmental issues.
This one valid success in meeting his manifesto pledges has not been greeted with wide praise. In fact it seems to have increased the expressed commitment of all those within the Paris agreement. With wider signs that the importance of future CO2 emission reduction is gaining support.
Of course it is quite easy to find support for Trump’s abandonment of Paris. Some of it very strong, especially among those that see it as a vindication of their claim that there is no credible science or observation behind the theory that CO2 emissions are or will warm the surface, raise sea levels and acidify the oceans.
But in abdicating from the global collective agreement made in Paris, Trump never framed it as a matter of the science. The closest was a slightly dubious figure for the amount of temperature change abandoning future targets might cause.
The reasons Trump claimed he was pulling out of Paris were all tied to US economics. He empathised , claiming repeatedly that this was an action driven by his care and concern for the economic welfare of the American individual.
In rejecting the global collective he affirmed his clear priority to act in the interests on the US collective. America First.
There are numerous examples of politicians, economists and commentators following this framing and describing it as an economic choice motivated by the terms of the Paris agreement, not a denial of the underlying scientific basis
“Every foreign leader attacking Pres Trump over leaving Paris Accord -further proof the deal was one sided and better for foreigners than US”
Although it is clear from the comments responding to Newt Gingrich tweet that not only is the Paris agreement seen as a zero-sum game, but many believe it is based on a scientifically fraudulent theory.
Trump suggested that he wanted to renegotiate the US terms or enter into a new deal which would be fairer to the US. That would seem to acknowledge the need for some sort of arrangement to limit CO2 emissions, or a deal would be unnecessary. I Have not seen any suggestions of what an improved deal on reducing CO2 emissions would be, how it could be made less onerous on the US.
There is a lot of disappointment, and worse, from those that think that the Paris agreement was an important public acknowledgement by all (but 2, now 3) of the Nations of the world that they share a collective responsibility to control CO2 emissions.
As is being pointed out with increasing frequency, the resiling from Paris will probably have little effect on the pledges of CO2 reductions already made. The Act of withdrawal has prompted various State authorities to claim they can act to offset any central change in policy. Energy consumption is falling from usage efficiency and economic stagnation. Renewable sources are becoming cost-competitive so that new generation is always less polluting that the older coal and oil it replaces. While the de-regulation and de-funding research may have some small influence on the viability of coal and oil consumption, larger economic factors will probably relegate any increase in CO2 emissions compared to an ‘in Paris’ position.
The withdrawal is largely symbolic. It is entirely consistent with the message that Trump has used so successfully to capture the support of a significant faction of the population. This repudiates the global collective systems of trade and regulation that have developed since WW2. Trump repeatedly asserts his sincerity in caring for a much smaller and exclusive collective, the American worker impacted by this transition to a global collective system. It has mattered little if his actions have in reality had any benefit to the target audience. It is the fact they can be framed as showing his care for this smaller collective of the struggling ‘middle class’. Trump can portray himself as the protector of American traditional worker from this new collective system. Which in the myopic and parochial view of the economic dogma they hold is a zero sum game. If foreigners are getting wealthier as a result of trade with the US, (Germany-BMW) then it must be at the expensive of ‘murican jerbz’.
But there is more than just the widespread condemnation, bafflement and ridicule that Trumps’ withdrawal has generated.
There are aspects of the climate issue that are changing more rapidly than had been expected. Some of this is the physical observations. Weather extremes are becoming rather obvious. the largest iceberg humans have ever observed is about to detach from a major Antarctic ice-shelf. The Arctic continues to have less sea ice than ever before observed, this is likely to continue with a new record low at the summer melt minimum.
Before the Trump withdrawal there had already been a stockholder revolt at Exxon.
“The resolution requires Exxon to disclose how the international goal to hold global warming below 2C – as agreed in Paris – could dampen future demand for its oil and gas. Thinktank Carbon Tracker estimated in 2015 that Exxon was planning to sink $72 billion over the next decade into developing fuel reserves that would be surplus to the requirements of a 2C world.”
It does not reverse the Exxon position that any and all of the oil and gas it can extract will be a saleable asset. But it does mark an end to Exxon pretending that mitigation of AGW has no relevance or impact on its future business. The ongoing investigation of Exxon has revealed that after its own scientific investigation confirmed the science of AGW in the 1980s it reduced the value of some of its reserves internally, but did not declare that ‘climate discount’ in reports to shareholders.
There are the first signs of a renewables – storage market developing in business and domestic energy use. A business model that puts storage on site and leases that to the customer, instead of selling electricity, is emerging. Power generation businesses are closing coal fired stations despite Trumps’ deregulations, because solar and wind generation with distributed storage to solve the intermittency problem is cheaper and more profitable. There has long been speculation that electric cars could be integrated into this local storage system. forming the basis of a distributed local storage on a smart grid that would further enhance the economic case for renewable energy sources.
While it has not happened yet, the rapid emergence of a viable electric car market presents that possibility, as a small initial system develops the economies favouring that system, and increasingly penalising the old thermal coal or oil fired power generation, it can flip to the new system of grid power provision very rapidly.
Cassandra has written a number of essays on the ‘Seneca cliff’. The way in which rapid change can occur when a new factor enhances its advantages with growth while depressing the established system it is replacing. One example that worries the fossil fuel industry is the rise of the electric powered transport. When electric cars are few and expensive, with little charging infrastructure, or integration into a smart grid, the incentive to convert to electric transport is low. As number increase and infrastructure supporting their use grows the advantages over liquid fossil fuels becomes greater. Not least because as demand for liquid fuels falls it becomes increasingly expensive to provide the petrol stations to support them. Very rapidly the economics strongly inhibit petrol distribution and encourage electrical power management for the growing fleet of more efficient and cheaper personal transport.
And then there is the promise of autonomous vehicles.
All of these climate change issues have gained more attention, perhaps more relevance in the light of Trump’s proclamation.
It could be raised as an objection that this is finding the silver lining in the cloud. Or trying to look on the bright side of Trumps’ withdrawal; to spin a positive from the negative. I am trying to avoid the rather hyperbolic catastrophe framing that some environmental groups have indulged in. The actual change in actions on the ground is likely to be similar with the US out of Paris compared to it staying in.
But I do not think that seeing a multiplication in the counter-arguments to the Trump position is overly rose-tinted. With many major companies prompted to explicitly endorse the importance of a global collective response to climate change, the increasing prominence of observed climate change and the rising economic drivers of rapid change in the energy sector. there is a clear trend in the counter-current to the Trump ‘America First’ narrow appeal to a partisan community. As that position becomes increasingly at odds with observations and real economic developments it becomes more polarised, the ‘middle ground’ shrinks and the sides become the many who support collective action on emissions because of AGW, and those few who reject the observed reality in favour of a conspiracy theory that attributes climate change to an ideological plot to impose a global collective.
A global collective system has already emerged as a result of the logistics of trade. Trump is trying to shut a stable door long after that horse has gone. And been replaced by the internal combustion engine… It is global trade that caused the problem of a massive increase in CO2 emissions as population increased with the majority consuming sufficient energy to maintain a basic standard of life. It will be the same emergent system that develops and imposes as a matter of logistical necessity, the transition to a low carbon energy system.
If we’re lucky!
The title of this post references a particular physical system than can multiply the gradient or difference between two states. The best known example is the loop of Henle in the kidney. A strong chemical/osmotic gradient is established over a short distance by having the medium flow past itself in the loop. The down branch is passively matching the local environment, the up branch is actively altering that local environment. Because of the countercurrent in the loop the difference is multiplied along the length of the loop with the extreme value at the turning point.
Somewhere in all that is a metaphor for the present politics of climate change and global governance with respect to Trump.