Barn’s Burnt Down: After the Paris Accords, Ten Things We Can See Clearly
The morning after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accords, this old climate warrior climbed out of bed feeling better about the chances of the sizzling, souring world than I have for months. Not just feeling better, feeling positively energized. The worst climate policy news had broken, and suddenly the sense of possibility and power was overwhelming.
Why? The 17th century poet Mizuta Masahide has the answer: Barn’s burnt down – now I can see the moon.
Yes, exactly. For years, everything about US climate-change policy has been hidden and confused, just a mush. Oil companies painting themselves green. Deniers pretending they believed that hoax shit. Government agencies doing stuff, but not really, not soon enough. Dark money hiding in every knothole. Environmental organizations dancing around the C-word, leaving activists in inarticulate misery. Politicians lying, “jury’s still out,” and running for the door. Who could push against that murky pall? It was frustrating as hell.
That’s over. That barn of confusion is in ashes, the smoke has cleared in the high wind, and the truth of our situation is gleaming, bright and full on the horizon. Here’s what is clearly revealed.
- The petrochemical industry is in control of federal energy and environmental policy in the United States. According to Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money, billionaire oil guys Charles and David Koch’s dad warned them to act secretly, to stay below the surface, because “it’s the whale that spouts that gets harpooned.” But now it’s impossible to hide the fact that Trump’s decision answered to the industry, even as it directly contravened the view of majorities in every single state, the seven in ten Americans in favor of remaining in the Paris Accords.
- Legislators, who might have stopped them, are bought off in a monstrous corruption scandal rendered legal by the Supreme Court. Over the last three years, according to the Guardian, gas, oil, and coal interests gave $2,465,910 to Ted Cruz, $10,694,284 in toto to the 22 Senators who asked Trump to withdraw from the Accords, and about $90,000,000 in dark money. The level of corruption is staggering enough that we have to prod ourselves to remember that paying piles of cash for votes is called “bribery,” and it’s a betrayal of the public trust. If it weren’t for Citizens United, it would also be a felony.
- In its frenzy for short-term profit, the petrochemical industry will not control itself for the public good, for the sake of the future of life on the planet, not even to avoid inevitable financial ruin not so far down the road. It’s not just that fossil fuel industries run roughshod over Lakota Sioux or families in fracked-up Ohio, they are now revealed in their determination to do anything in order to continue to make money without legal or moral constraint, and damn the consequences – especially if the consequences are born globally by poor people, or babies, or plants and animals, or future generations – the ones who have a hard time complaining.
- There is no longer reason to think that regular democratic processes – townhall meetings, petitions, even elections – will turn the tide. This clears the way for irregular but long-respected democratic processes, including the sort of non-violent demonstrations, civil disobedience, and varieties of ‘creative disruption’ that unsettle the industries’ business-as-usual complacence and increase the costs and uncertainty of operation. The courts are more likely now to go along with activists, letting them plead the ‘necessity defense,’ justifying their otherwise illegal actions on the grounds that they had exhausted the usual legal channels for responding to an emergency.
- In the absence of a meaningful federal government response, major US actors in the struggle against climate change will have to be the long-standing civic and moral institutions – states, cities, businesses, universities and churches. The anti-slavery campaigns, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, so many more, have been led from the conscience of the streets – people walking from a church, holding hands and singing – not from sudden moral awakening in the federal government. Signs are that this now is how it shall be – see, for example, all the entities now vowing to uphold the US commitment to the Paris Accords.
- Now that the US has withdrawn from the Paris Accords, the nations of the world are positioned to claim leadership of global climate policy. They don’t have to weaken global climate agreements to appease oil-soaked US Senators – not anymore. As the redoubtable Angela Merkel said: “Now more than ever we will work for global climate policies that save our planet.” The irony is that for decades, we climate activists wished for a global leader who would mobilize all the nations to take decisive action; we just didn’t imagine it would be a petulant ‘leader’ who would blunder backwards into that role.
- For reasons of justice, the moral responsibility of the US to take meaningful action is clear. We can see plainly that the United States got extraordinarily rich by burning fossil fuels, and in the process made a terrible mess of the whole world, especially nations who had no part, or profit, in creating that horror. To stiff them, to leave them with the bill, which will be paid in the suffering and lives of their children? – that may fly in Trump’s business empire, but not in the moral world.
- For reasons of prudence, the moral obligation to take action is clear. Now that the smoke from this barn-burning has cleared -- revealing that it is greed, not ambiguous scientific evidence, that raises doubts about the effects of climate change -- we can see into the future. “Unless we take immediately action,” wrote 300 scientists led by a team from Stanford, “by the time today’s children are middle-aged, the life-support systems of the planet will be irretrievably damaged.” Allowing this to happen is a betrayal of the innocent children and of this lovely, life-bedazzled world.
- Change is in the wind – climate change, sure, but political change as well. Trump (and his Congressional minions) now own the coming climate catastrophes. Next Super-storm hits the East Coast, next flood wipes out Iowa farmers, next drought closes up California, next Alaskan village washes into the Bering Sea – they will have to explain why they chose to protect the oil industry, rather than the people. It probably won’t work for them to show their cash receipts.
Given this scandal, it’s a disgrace to hold petrochemical investments. Not a university, not a bank, not a retirement fund is going to want to have anything to do with them. It’s dirty money. Filthy.
- There is a new determination that Trump’s spasm of cosmic cruelty will not be allowed to destroy the world. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords brought into stark relief the decision we all must make. Which is more important? Oil-company profits and the continuous flow of huge money into politics? Or the chances of the world’s people for a decent life, one blessed by fresh water and abundant food, homes safe from storms and floods, healthy children, and a reasonable chance that humans can thrive on Earth for a very long time. Donald Trump made his decision. But he did not decide for me. All signs are that he did not decide for the nation. And he surely did not decide for the world.