Bloom Briefing 24: Climate Action in the Age of Trump; Russian Election Meddling; Islamophobia
Welcome to the 24th edition of The Bloom Briefing: Notes from the Resistance. I’m pleased to announce that this week features a special guest post about the decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement by Kendra Haven, a climate justice activist working at the Wallace Global Fund. The rest of the briefing focuses on a new feature story in the Washington Post about the U.S.’s response to Russian election tampering and a pair of attacks on Muslims, one in Northern Virginia, the other in London.
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Climate Action in the Age of Trump – Kendra Haven
In December 2015, 196 parties met in Paris, France to form the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The Paris accord set a goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.” Countries would devise their own National Action Plans to address global warming, and were encouraged “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.” The deal, which has since been signed by 195 countries, made history as the first comprehensive international climate agreement.
On June 9th 2017, Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris agreement. For those who feared this outcome, the President’s decision followed months of thinly hoping that he might reverse his campaign promise. Much of the country is still reeling, questioning the setback, wondering how best to proceed.
There are three chapters to an honest understanding of climate change, the Paris Agreement, and the way forward from here.
An Existential Threat
The threat of climate change to human life on Earth is nothing short of existential. Trump’s delay on climate progress is not to be underestimated. Esteemed climate scientist James Hansen recently co-authored a report projecting that glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland will melt 10 times faster than previously estimated. The result: rising sea levels of at least 10 feet, in as little as fifty years. Entire coastal communities and island nations could disappear, and one third of the world will face deadly heat waves. Not meeting the 1.5°C goal of Paris will lead to new waves of refugees, unpredictable spread of diseases, and overwhelming shortages of basic resources.
Among the most devastating features of climate change is the way it worsens every existing inequality. The poorest countries suffer the most. While wealthier regions have the research and the resources to adapt their infrastructure appropriately, the most vulnerable regions are the least likely to respond on time to the changing conditions. Surveys on the effects of climate disasters usually find that women of color are the hardest hit, both in the U.S. and abroad.
The stripping of environmental safeguards brings similarly disproportionate harm to America’s poorest communities. Trump and Pruitt’s manic slashes to the EPA include gutting funding for superfund and brown fields cleanup, two programs that limit toxic exposure from chemical waste sites. It perhaps goes without saying that most of these sites surround low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
An Unnecessarily Polarized Issue
The current administration has made environmental protection a waving flag of regulatory overreach, which continues contemporary Republicanism’s departure from its forbearers. In 1970, President Nixon established the EPA. Ronald Reagan ran his campaign on a platform of environmental preservation, noting the “common sense” nature of environmental safeguards and the need to be “effective stewards of our natural resources.” (Admittedly, Reagan’s environmental work took a sharp turn once he entered office.) And of course it was Republican Theodore Roosevelt who signed the Antiquities Act, allowing presidents to designate new lands as national parks.
So how did we get here? It is important to note that early “conservation” efforts by Republicans and Democrats are a far cry from the type of massive reevaluation that an honest read on climate change demands. Setting aside public lands, for example, does not require the same effort as an overhaul of the fossil fuel economy. When conclusive research on global warming took shape in the 1980s— much of it performed by the fossil fuel industry itself— coal, oil, and gas companies began to pour millions of dollars into lobbying and disinformation. Companies like Exxon knew that the foundation for our modern industrial economy was unstable, but the industry could not bear to lose its footing.
The Republican Party, historically pro-business, was an easy target. For a 12-month period starting in 2015, Republican congressional candidates received $37.2 million in campaign contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industry. For Democrats, that number totaled $3.8 million. Today, we laugh at the idea of environmental protection being a cause célèbre of the conservative movement. The environment now suffers at the hands of brutal partisanship, like the child of an ugly divorce.
Economic Changes Boost Clean Energy
Fortunately, the economy is changing, making the clean energy transition easier than ever before. The economics of renewables are changing at a swift pace, unimpeded by politics. Solar power has reached cost parity with oil, gas, and coal. The World Economic Forum has called it a “tipping point.” Now, mitigating climate change is not only the moral course, but the profitable one. As the prices of wind and solar technologies continue to fall, they will increasingly phase out fossil fuels.
In Trump’s announcement on Paris, he falsely lamented, “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build them, but they can, according to the agreement.” The President’s frustration harkens back to Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which he resented for being too lenient on China as a still-developing nation. In early April, Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago. Imagine the awkwardness of that meeting, less than a year after Trump infamously declared climate change to be “a hoax invented by the Chinese.”
In reality, China is on track. The country has surpassed Germany as the world’s greatest producer of solar power technology. Last January, Xi Jinping cancelled a deal to build over 200 new coal plants. Instead, two Chinese companies are investing millions in a solar farm that will transform the wasteland of Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. The symbolism alone of such a deal is striking.
Prior to and in preparation for Trump’s announcement on the Paris Agreement, China also forged a new relationship with the EU, “to accelerate the global transition to clean energy.” According to the EU’s climate commissioner, the two entities are “joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris Agreement.” U.S. withdrawal is morbidly embarrassing, but at the least, it has revitalized climate commitments around the world.
In early June, hundreds of companies joined the “We are Still In” coalition on Paris. Their message directly refutes the idea that climate action hurts business. 292 U.S. cities have also committed to play their role to mitigate climate change, 100 of which have pledged 100% clean energy by 2035. Though the federal government is unwilling to commit to Paris, our cities—like China and the EU—have proven their willingness to chart the path forward.
It’s Still Not Enough
Since 1991, industry representatives have informally participated in all major climate talks as “stakeholders,” allowing them to lobby private interests and influence key decision-makers. In order to offer truly progressive climate treaties, international negotiations must leave industry interests at the door. Leaders from Uganda, Ecuador, and the Philippines, among others, recently offered a new set of rules to curb corporate influence. They equated their plea to the 2003 decision banning cigarette companies from the talks that led to the Global Treaty on Tobacco. The comparison bodes well for climate progress.
Similarly, American politics must function far more independently of fossil fuel influence. A new report shows only 1 in 10 Americans think climate change isn’t happening. We must call our representatives and remind them who they serve.
At first, the non-binding nature of the Paris Agreement seemed lackluster. What if certain countries don’t do enough to help limit warming? Wouldn’t a 1.5 degree limit require universal “all in” commitments around the world? Now, however, it is hard not to be inspired. Trump stepped down, but leaders all over the world are stepping up. We will continue to fight for systemic change—for the next three years, and every day after that.
Obama Administration’s Tepid Response to Russian Election Tampering
On Friday, the Washington Post published an extensive feature story on the Obama Administration’s response to Russia’s involvement in the election. If you read one thing this week, make it this. My two key takeaways are below.
Obama’s response was influenced by his belief that Clinton would win. It’s clear from the article that many officials in the Obama Administration repeatedly opted for softer retaliation measures against Russia’s meddling, including Obama himself. The Administration was worried about retaliatory measures from Russia in advance of the election if they responded too strongly. They worried that Russia might take measures that could fundamentally cripple the American electoral process.
The thinking seems to have been that, assuming Clinton won, she could take whatever measures were necessary without the threat of Russian interference in an imminent election. The article nearly implies that the Administration didn’t evaluate the likelihood of what would happen if Trump were to win the election. The result is that Trump is talking about undoing (like giving Russia back access to two American compounds) much of the minimal retaliatory action that the Obama Administration did take.
This is not a flattering portrayal of the final months of the Obama Administration.
The tepid response was conditioned by Republican partisanship as well. Republicans in the House, Senate, and on state boards of elections either disbelieved the intelligence pointing to a massive Russian operation or insinuated or stated outright that they believed the Obama Administration’s attempts to act on this intelligence were political.
Among the most galling reactions came from the Republican secretary of state for Georgia, who said that, “I think it was a politically calculated move by the previous administration.” He said outright that he doesn’t believe Russia tried to influence the election.
Truthfully, the Republican response from elected officials has been disgraceful. At every turn, they tried to minimize the importance and influence of Russia’s attempts to get Trump elected for the selfish reason that they wanted Trump to be elected as well. Republicans thus opted to accommodate Russian interference in American electoral politics for partisan political gain. This from the party that consistently accused Democrats of being soft on Russia for the better part of the last 100 years.
Islamophobia is Alive and Well
There were two violent crimes against Muslims this week. In Sterling, VA, a Washington, D.C. exurb, a 17-year-old girl was beaten to death with a baseball bat. In Finsbury Park, North London, a man drove a van into a group of Muslim worshippers. Both incidents occurred as worshippers were going to or from Mosques for prayer during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended this weekend.
Notably, the Imam of the mosque in Finsbury Park restrained a group of worshippers who had detained the attacker from harming this evil man. Islam, it should not have to be said, is a religion of peace. Those who commit heinous acts in the name of Islam are no different than those who commit heinous acts against Muslims in the name of Christianity: terrorists perverting an ideology to serve their own vengeful ends.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters are fearful, and fearful with reason. Islamophobia feels to be on the rise, so we must redouble our efforts to safeguard a liberal, pluralist, multicultural society from the scepter of hate that is knocking at the door.
As I mentioned above, if you read one thing this week, it should be this tour de force on the reaction to Russian meddling in the election by Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, and Adam Entous at the Washington Post.
At the New York Times David Leonhardt and Stuart Thompson have chronicled every lie told by Trump during his time in office.
Also at the New York Times, Ibram X. Kendi has written a moving piece on the racial inequality of both policing and the courts in relation to America’s and Americans’ self-conception.
I watched Ava DuVernay’s 13th this week. It’s a powerful argument for the criminal justice system being an outright extension of slavery and Jim Crow. You may think you feel that this is true already, but you will know it to be true after watching. I highly recommend – it’s streaming on Netflix.