Trump, the ruling class and the Paris Accords

Washington, D.C.

Donald Trump has confirmed his right-wing ideological alliance with the ultra-chauvinist Steve Bannon faction in the White House by announcing that he is going to “pull out” of the Paris Accords on combating climate change. His speech announcing the so-called pullout was also a campaign speech for the 2020 presidential election.

In fact, Trump did not need to pull out of the agreement. The agreement is nonbinding. It has no teeth. It has no mechanism for enforcement. It has no way of checking on compliance. Everything is voluntary. And Trump is taking measures to undermine U.S. compliance, anyway, by attacking the Clean Power Plan, which limits the leasing of federal lands for coal mining and other polluting activities.

To be sure, Trump’s denunciation of the Paris Accords is reactionary. It was a totally political move, calculated to appeal to the most backward, chauvinist elements of his political base and his most right-wing backers in the ruling class.

But Trump and Bannon did not do it alone. The decision was backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, natural gas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, head of the Senate Republicans Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, among others.

Twenty-two Republican senators from oil, gas and coal states signed a letter to Trump urging him to reject the Paris Accords. These 22 senators have received at least $10 million in gas, oil and coal money since 2012. (Guardian, June 1)

Why the ruling class uproar over Trump pullout?

However, there was a general uproar against Trump’s move by large sections of the ruling class. This does not mean that big business CEOs have turned into environmentalists. On the contrary. The Paris Accords would allow the bosses to slow down climate change somewhat, while at the same time preserving, if not enhancing, their profits. No, their deepest concern about the pullout is over the potential loss of energy technology markets.

As Forbes magazine, a mouthpiece of big business, put it: “[T]he point here is that the evolution to a carbon-constrained world is underway and the technologies to facilitate that are now mainstream. China has fully embraced that evolution, vowing to help lead the charge along with the advanced economies of the world.”

Forbes continued, “‘Most of the business community, including international energy companies, urged the administration not to withdraw,’ Ambassador Richard Morningstar said, who is the chair of the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council. ‘By this action we are ceding leadership on climate and new technologies to China and Europe.’” (June 1)

Listen to the point of view of the former deputy director of Greenpeace, Ken Ward, who is going on trial soon on felony charges for shutting down an oil sands pipeline to prevent harm to the climate.

“The value of the Paris agreement is in its aspirational goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, not in its implementation mechanisms, which are voluntary, insufficient, and impossible to monitor. But that modest goal will be breached shortly, which makes the agreement a kind of fig leaf, offering political cover to those who would soft-pedal the runaway climate crisis a while longer.

“The U.N. Conference of the Parties is certainly not the organization to constrain powerful, retrenched fossil fuel interests and other bad climate actors and rogue climate states. The Paris agreement affords oil, gas and coal companies a globally visible platform through which to peddle influence and appear engaged on climate change while lobbying for business as usual. That won’t save the climate.” (The Hill, May 31)

Companies like Exxon, BP and Shell, among others, have protested the pullout by Trump. But these companies have been under attack globally for their devastation of the environment. The accords give them a “fig leaf” while in no way actually constraining them. With no monitoring, no enforcement and no punishment, it is up to the capitalist government in Washington to compel compliance.

Many of the giant companies financed the Paris meeting. If all the commitments made in Paris by all the countries were kept, the climate would still be in grave danger at a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in the atmosphere. The oppressed countries wanted the target for temperature rise to be no more than 1.5 degrees, but they lost out.

This weak agreement leaves the monopolies a free hand to revise, cheat, conceal and go ahead with business as usual.

While Obama was putting some soft pressure on them, Trump has given them a free hand and has assisted by attacking existing regulations.

To be sure, the big imperialists are concerned for the future of their system. They have seen first hand what happened during Hurricane Sandy. Flooding literally shut down Wall Street, as well as knocking out power to all of lower Manhattan in New York. It is costing billions of dollars to repair the subways and tunnels in the city.

Furthermore, the accelerated occurrence of tornadoes, hurricanes, excessive rainfall, floods, droughts, forest fires and other climate disasters that are televised have an impact on local, state and federal government, as well as insurance companies and destroyed businesses. The cost is running way into the tens and even hundreds of billions of dollars.

That is the way Wall Street and big business see it. They could not care less for the broad mass of people who suffer devastating losses, injury and death as a result of climate change. The capitalists are worried about the threat to their financial and physical structure in the future.

Pentagon and bankers fear climate change

The Climate and Security Advisory Group, a voluntary, nonpartisan group of 43 U.S.-based senior military, national security, homeland security and intelligence experts, including the former commanders of the U.S. Pacific and Central commands, issued a briefing book in 2016.

National Geographic reported last year: “The briefing book argues that climate change presents a significant and direct risk to U.S. military readiness, operations and strategy, and military leaders say it should transcend politics. It goes beyond protecting military bases from sea-level rise, the military advisers say. They urge Trump to order the Pentagon to game out catastrophic climate scenarios, track trends in climate impacts and collaborate with civilian communities. Stresses from climate change can increase the likelihood of international or civil conflict, state failure, mass migration and instability in strategically significant areas around the world, the defense experts argue.” (Nov. 15)

The briefing book leaves out that the Pentagon is one of the world’s biggest polluters.

As an example of the military’s problem, its naval base in Norfolk, Va., has been repeatedly flooded in recent years, interfering with military readiness to deploy the means of aggression. The Pentagon has hundreds of port bases that are threatened with similar obstacles from the rising tide of the oceans. Of course, island and coastal Indigenous civilizations, from Fiji to Bangladesh, face disaster.

Citibank is a global bank with branches in well over a hundred countries and a heavy stake in protecting U.S. and world imperialism. Citibank costed out the consequences of climate change for the world imperialist system in 2015.

“A new report from Citibank found that acting on climate change by investing in low-carbon energy would save the world $1.8 trillion through 2040, as compared to a business-as-usual scenario. In addition, not acting will cost an additional $44 trillion by 2060 from the ‘negative effects’ of climate change.

“The report, titled Energy Darwinism, looked at the predicted cost of energy over the coming decades, the costs of developing low carbon energy sources, and the implications of global energy choices.” (ThinkProgress, Aug. 31, 2015)

China’s environmental challenge to U.S. big business

It is reported that GE and other industrial companies urged Trump to stay in the pact. These companies have already geared up their corporate plans to grab market share of renewables like wind and solar. GE makes wind turbines. Numerous companies make solar panels, instruments and devices for the new technology. They have already invested based upon the Paris Accords. They fear that not being at the table would mean they would lose out to China and Europe as new technologies and new markets expand.

The bosses in the U.S. also have to worry about their cars and other carbon-emitting commodities meeting international standards or being shut out of overseas markets. In other words, the Paris agreement was all about profits and protection for the corporations and the imperialists.

China’s National Energy Administration has laid out a plan to spend more than $360 billion through 2020 on renewable power sources like solar and wind. Thanks in large part to Chinese manufacturing, costs in the wind and solar industries are plummeting, making them increasingly competitive with power generation from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. (Obama put a 76 percent tariff on Chinese solar panels, driving up the costs for U.S. consumers.)

The New York Times wrote on Jan. 5: “Even the headline-grabbing numbers on total investment and job creation may understate what is already happening on the ground in China. Greenpeace estimates that China installed an average of more than one wind turbine every hour of every day in 2015, and covered the equivalent of one soccer field every hour with solar panels.” China has also embarked on a reforestation program that will absorb massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.

So it is easy to see why Jeff Imelt, CEO of GE, and his fellow bosses are angry at Trump for putting them at a disadvantage, not only to China but also Europe, and particularly German imperialism.

Means of pollution are means of production

The workers and the oppressed should take sharp note of the fact that so many ruling figures and institutions have vowed to remain in support of the agreement. New York state, California and Washington are among the 30 states that have a network, United States Climate Alliance. About 180 cities are also forming a similar network. And big corporations are vowing to keep going with the Paris Accords.

What this means for the masses is that the ruling class is defying the White House and promoting it own environmental program, independent of the central capitalist state, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

In other words, Trump has control of the White House and the Republicans have control of the Congress, but the bourgeoisie have control of the means of production. And it is control over the means of production — the power plants, the oil wells, the natural gas, the coal mines, the factories, the means of transportation, etc. — that gives the bosses control over the CO2 emissions, the water supply, the air quality, the chemicals in the earth and so on.

The important point about all this is that if there is ever to be an effective policy to combat climate change — a policy in the interests of all humanity, a policy that does not depend on maintaining the profits of the polluters — then the means of production, the source of the pollution, must be taken out of the hands of the bourgeoisie and put into the hands of the workers and the oppressed. In other words, socialism is the only way out of the oncoming climate disaster.

Goldstein is the author of “Low-Wage Capitalism” and “Capitalism at a Dead End”, available at online booksellers.