Friday, June 2, 2017

How Important is the Paris Accord, Anyway?

Barack Obama's mild shift away from coal powered plants and toward higher mileage cars would have satisfied our obligations.
--Bill McKibben

When my first child was born, 35 years ago, I walked out into the light of day, after a marathon of my wife's labor ending in delivery,  and I found myself, inexplicably, worrying about climate change. What sort of planet will my kid grow up in?

It was ridiculous, of course.   But it simply signaled a change in my perspective now that I had a kid. In those days, I worried about paying the bills at the end of the month; my worries were short term. 
But with this new life in my hands, I started thinking 20 years ahead, not that worrying did him or me much good. I couldn't do much to change the despoliation of the planet.
But something had happened to my psyche, walking around the delivery room, holding this kid, who was staring, unblinking into my eyes, like some space alien who had been delivered into my care and he was depending on me to do the right thing.

Trying to read and listen and go on line about the Paris climate accord, I'm left with more questions than answers. It's voluntary. It permits China to continue building coal fired plants and India to burn wood in five hundred million stoves.
The fact is, far as I can tell, China is actually one country which has felt the direct force of their own environmental malfeasance--they wear those face masks in the big cities because the air pollution is something they can see and feel whenever they walk outside. I'd bet the Chinese, even as they build those coal fired plants are motivated to clean up their own backyard.
India is probably more like I was when I had my first kid--feeling too poor to really do anything to save the planet, but still interested.

It seems more like an agreement in principle: We the undersigned agree to worry more about the climate and to try to do stuff to avoid damaging the planet.

But, as far as I can tell, or imagine, having dignitaries sign a paper in Paris means very little.
Correct me if I'm wrong. I'd love to be wrong.
What might change things, I suspect, is if someone can make money doing stuff which benefits the environment, like building solar panels, windmills and electric cars.
The tables and graphs I've seen in the WSJ and on Bloomberg suggest there are far more workers building solar panels in this country than working in coal mines, and far more "clean energy" industries gearing up than coal mines.

So I really don't get all the fuss about Donald Trump grandstanding about how he's pulling the USA out of a "deal" which is "bad for America."  Far as I can tell the deal was irrelevant the day it was signed and still is, but it makes for good theater. "If the liberals want it, I'll show them what a tough guy I am."
But look for the real effects of America not being in the Paris accord and you find only a lot of sputtering about losing our "leadership position" in fighting climate change--as if we actually had one--or phrases about moral leadership, embracing science, not rejecting science.  But will we build any fewer windmills or install fewer solar panels because of Mr. Trump's action?
Not that I can tell.
And if Bill McKibben is correct, the Paris accord was so toothless that had we simply done what we were already planning to do about coal fired power plants and automobile gas mileage, then we'd be in compliance and we still will be after Mr. Trump's speech.
Mr. Trump said he was acting to save the citizens of Pittsburgh and he didn't care if that hurt Parisians.  Fact is, nothing Mr. Trump can do will do either. He's just a puffy pink man who can growl all he wants, but Americans will keep building solar panels and buying more gas efficient cars and trucks.
Well, actually, not so much buying cars which guzzle less. Americans have shifted from low gas consuming cars to big gas consuming trucks and the very people who inveigh against the environment killing Trump drive gas guzzling SUV's.

Seems to me the best response from the liberals would be to shrug and say, "Paris never really meant much, practically speaking. If Trump wants to give people the finger just to look like a bad boy, let him do it. Nobody really wants to eat dinner with him  anyway."

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