When an elected political leader get into office, the media wait to see if he fulfils any of his campaign promises, and will often needle him or her about an apparent slowness to do so. With President Trump it is rather the office. He said that if elected he would withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change, and he has now done so. Instead of saying,’Well, he’s done what he said he would do’, there seems to be a chorus of incomprehension. ‘But surely you only said those things to get elected’ seems to be one theme. ‘How dare he!’ seems to be another. Some of the reactions are so way out that they are nutty. Here is Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist in the US, in a tweet: If Trump pulls the US out of the #ParisAgreement he will be committing a traitorous act of war against the American people. What on earth does he mean?
Anthony Watts has a fine collection of these viscerally angry comments on WUWT. I don’t find them funny, or the whole thing funny. They give me the shivers. In this essay I’ll concentrate on just two elements of the issue. The first is what Trump actually said (his explanation), and the indication that there are two Trumps, the madman we read about in the media, and the one who is actually in office, making decisions that are in accord with what he said in the campaign before his election (yes, I know that Hillary Clinton won a per cent or more in votes, but they weren’t in the right places for her to be elected).
You can read the full text of what the President said here. It’s not a bad speech, and quite accessible. In it he says that he is prepared to go into negotiations for a new agreement, without saying what he would need in it.. He sets out the number of jobs that might be lost if the Agreement were implemented (I won’t go into that, because it’s all conjecture: he will choose his figures and others will produce their own). The core of his argument, at least as I see it, is twofold: first, that China is allowed to do whatever it likes in terms of greenhouse gas emissions for the next thirteen years, while the USA would be committed to lower its own. That is plainly unfair, since it would mean both great industrial expansion for China, and a large increase in GGE for the world, and continue the export of American manufacturing to Asia. Second: what difference would the Paris Agreement make to lowering ‘global temperature’ anyway? A tiny amount. Let him state it in his own words.
Even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree – think of that; this much – Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount. In fact, 14 days of carbon emissions from China alone would wipe out the gains from America – and this is an incredible statistic – would totally wipe out the gains from America’s expected reductions in the year 2030.
On both those points I think he is right. I’ve have given up any attempt to imagine why those most vociferous in wanting ‘action on climate change’ are not campaigning outside the Chinese Embassy demanding that the Chinese follow the approved Green line. Setting aside whether or not Australia is a carbon sink in net terms, it makes no sense for Australia to do anything at all while China can do what it likes. Our contribution to global warming is minuscule compared to that of China.
On the second point, four years ago I did my own homework on the effect on global temperature of cutting industrial activity, so I could have told President Trump all that myself. And again, none of the climateers wants to get into a talk about the relationship, though MAGICC, the little algorithmic tool that NASA invented for just such a purpose, is available to everybody. If stopping coal and gasoline use isn’t going to lower temperatures and keep us away from the dreaded 2 degree C increase (the real danger now is apparently an increase of 1.5 degrees C), then why on earth are we doing it? It drives up energy costs and makes everybody’s cost of living greater than it would be otherwise. Yes, you could talk about peak oil, or morbidity among people who live around coal mines. But the day of peak oil keeps coming (it was first forecast for 1957, if memory serves), and making coal-fired electricity safer (it is still much the cheapest and far and away the most reliable, even given the subsidies that solar and wind get) is a job we can undertake further ourselves.
I think that those who want to excoriate President Trump for what he has done here need to concentrate on those two points, for they are the nub of his argument. If you think he’s wrong about them, fine. Set out your own argument and show why it is better. I would not expect Prime Minister Turnbull to follow his example, and apart from the rising cost of energy here, already referred to, what Australia says and does about climate change is simply irrelevant in the wider world.
Since his Inauguration it is plain that President Trump has a mighty battle on his hands. It is with the mass media. They did not approve of him before he was elected, and they seem to hate him since. Of course, he has made things difficult for himself by pointing out what he sees as the errors in the media’s treatment of him, and he refused to attend the Press Corps dinner, which was a real slap in the face. I have some sympathy for him, because the American mass media were pretty well uniformly on Hillary Clinton’s side during the campaign.
But a consequence of this rift, or abyss, is that what we read and see of him in Australia is incredibly one-sided. Nearly all our news comes to us via the American media, Reuters and AP. Worse, we don’t even realise that it is one-sided. The consequence is that many of my friends and acquaintances feel that the Donald Trump they see in five-second grabs on TV is the Real Trump, where I would call it the Alternative one. I should say at once that I don’t know where I would find evidence of the Real Trump in the Australian media. But you can poke around in the Internet to find bits and pieces that aren’t shown through the mass media lens, such as his attendance at the G7 meeting, where he did not agree that climate change was a burning issue.
Sooner or later he is going to have to make peace with the media, and that will be difficult. For the moment, his action is being criticised, but what we hear is how nobody likes it, not why his argument is faulty.
There is always a funny side. People are now blaming Trump’s action fore the bad weather they are having or, in the case of some Australian skiers, cheering him for the early arrival of the snow season. Cartoonist Josh, whose work has been here before, offers his take on it.
About media bias: Here’s a German example from election night, one of these great ooops! front pages: