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Top Three Silliest Reactions to Trump’s Climate Executive Order

#3 Silliest Reaction: Red Scare!

According to Nathan Richardson at Resources for the Future, the big problem with Trump’s Executive Order is what it signals to the world. He writes:

Moreover, symbols matter. Whether or not the United States formally withdraws from the Paris Agreement, President Trump has today signaled that he does not intend to fulfill US commitments under it. If global efforts on climate do not collapse, it will be because other nations—most likely China—have taken leadership. The effects of such a shift will not be limited to the annual UN climate meetings. On any issue where international cooperation is needed, from trade to arms control, Chinese soft power and credibility will increase, and the United States will be marginalized and viewed as untrustworthy. Discarding American values and weakening American influence in this way comes even if today’s actions have little effect on the climate. …

America has a short list of truly shameful “days,”—among them the Dred Scott decision, the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment, and Abu Ghraib—most of them symbolic of a larger national moral failure. I hope I am wrong, but I fear that today will join that list.

Richardson’s thesis subsequently was endorsed by Vox explainers and a New York Times reporter.

While I disagree with Richardson on most policy issues, I normally find his reasoning sound. However, in this instance, I’m appalled that he compares Trump’s climate EO with “Dred Scott, Trail of Tears, Japanese Internment, and Abu Ghraib.”

For starters, I question what is the causal mechanism behind this supposed shift in soft power away from the U.S. and toward China? As a matter of climate diplomacy, China has agreed to limit its greenhouse gases more than a decade hence. That is, the Middle Kingdom has yet to actually sacrifice a whit of economic development in the name of fighting climate change. Instead, Chinese climate policy is based on promises. Substantively speaking, there is no difference between Trump keeping his Paris agreement pledges, despite having no plausible mechanism to do so, and China agreeing that its greenhouse gas emissions will peak in 2030. I don’t see how China and the U.S.’s identical positions on the same issue could somehow engender a threat to American prestige on the order of the Abu Ghraib et al. In this context, “alarmism” is a fair criticism of Richardson’s opinion.

Furthermore, Richardson’s argument is old and recycled. A decade ago, people were arguing that George W. Bush’s decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol was indicative of how “soft power” was shifting from the U.S. to the European Union. The only difference between then and now is that China has replaced the EU as the putative beneficiary of our soft power abdication. I can imagine two reasons why this switch-out occurred.

First, the EU hasn’t followed through with all its grand promises to slash emissions, so it no longer makes for a model of soft power.

Second, progressives have taken to fear mongering over China in order to advance their preferred policies. This dynamic is evident in the silly argument that the U.S. must subsidize green energy in order to ensure China doesn’t gain global green energy supremacy. Whatever the reasons behind Richardson’s line of reasoning, he is as unfounded now as were soft-power enthusiasts in the wake of George W. Bush’s decision to get out of the Kyoto Protocol.

#2 Silliest Reaction: James Delingpole Calls for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to Resign

At the outset, I note that I’m a fan of James Delingpole’s writing. I also note that I, like Delingpole, am a climate change skeptic. However, I think he is way off base in calling for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to resign for the supposed sin of negotiating a reopening of the endangerment finding out of the order. Of course, I’m biased, as I happen to agree with the EPA administrator, for the following reasons:

  • A big lesson from last week’s Obamacare repeal debacle is that losses hurt. In the current statutory and regulatory context—given the precautionary nature of a Clean Air Act endangerment finding and the fact that a number of states believe strongly enough about climate change to have implemented mitigation policies—I cannot imagine a court siding with the Trump administration were it to try to reverse the endangerment finding. Such a loss in court would embarrass the EPA, energize green special interests (and their funding machines), and create jurisprudence that further entrenches climate policy into the Clean Air Act.
  • In the unlikely event that overturning the endangerment finding survives judicial review, doing so increases the chances of a successful state climate tort, which is the worst of all worlds.
  • In the unlikely event it survives judicial review, a repeal of the endangerment finding would have zero lasting effect, as a subsequent administration could reinstitute the finding on day one.
  • In the likely event it doesn’t survive judicial review, the agency will have wasted tremendous resources that could have been allocated more efficiently.

It’s all pain, no gain, in my humble opinion. Administrator Pruitt reportedly agrees. To be sure, I take a backseat to no one when it comes to skepticism on climate change, but the better way to overturn the endangerment finding is to go to Congress, which is the only instrument of government positioned to provide effective relief from the ills wrought by the endangerment finding.

#1 Silliest Reaction: NRDC Says Climate EO Is Undemocratic

In reaction to the Executive Order, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s David Doniger told Bloomberg:

He’s trying to undo more than a decade of progress in fighting climate change and protecting public health. But nobody voted to abandon America’s leadership in climate action and the clean-energy revolution. This radical retreat will meet a great wall of opposition.

In a word, Doniger’s comments are hilarious. As I’ve repeatedly noted, President Obama studiously avoided speaking about climate change when he was trying to get reelected in 2012. During the second presidential debate, Obama actually tried to outflank Romney’s right on energy. It was only when Obama gained reelection, and thus no longer faced electoral accountability, that he pivoted to climate change as a “legacy” matter.

By contrast, Trump called climate change a “hoax.” On the campaign trail, he promised to repeal Obama’s climate policies and said that his administration would renegotiate or withdraw from the Paris climate treaty.

In light of these inconvenient truths, Doniger gets it backwards. It is closer to the truth to say that “nobody voted” for “climate action and the clean-energy revolution,” because Obama refused to acknowledge these issues during his reelection campaign. In fact, it is closer to the truth to say that Americans voted against “climate action and the clean-energy revolution” by electing a president who thinks climate change is a hoax and denigrated Obama’s climate policies on the campaign trail.