The Paris Agreement

I tried to read the original text of the Paris Agreement, but holy shit I felt like I was reading in circles. So I hit Wikipedia instead. So let’s break this down and try to understand its many parts, because it really is more than the image memes and whatever slop you’re seeing on Facebook. Strap in though, it’s going to be a long ride. I’ll hide the prologue under a cut, you can skip that if you already understand the agreement and why Trump pulled out (lul) of it. If you just want the TL;DR, skip all the way to the bottom.

Prologue: What is the Paris Agreement?
  1. The agreement builds upon the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted on 5/9/1992 in New York.
  2. The goal is to implement changes that will hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C (35.6F) above pre-industrial levels and push to limit that to increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. This is done through the development and implementation of technologies and methods to lower greenhouse gases, without threatening food production.
  3. Each nation submits a plan on how they will contribute to this effort, however there is no enforcement mechanism or penalty for not meeting target reductions.
  4. NDCs, or “Nationally Determined Contributions” governs each nation’s contribution towards the effort, but is determined by a number of factors, mainly their developmental state, and effects on the nation’s economy and food production. Smaller, less-developed countries would naturally have smaller targets, but benefit from the pool’s contributions, where larger more-developed countries would have double-duty to reduce their emissions to voluntarily-determined target levels, and fund initiatives for smaller countries and impoverished nations to assist them. It is also stated that countries can “pool together” to meet their targets, or larger countries can pool with smaller countries to help meet targets.

The two major issues with the Paris Agreement are:

  1. The target percentage to cut emissions to is not enough, according to many.
  2. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement does not have any kind of enforcement mechanism. Nations are required to report their emissions annually, but no action would be taken if you fail to meet the targets.

Similarly, Trump’s two major concerns, as noted by The Washington Post and New York Times’ analysis of his speech were:

  1. The agreement would significantly hurt the production of coal and other fossil fuel-based energy sources, as well as the production of various industrial metals and related industries.
  2. Trump believes that the The Green Climate Fund, which is the arm mentioned above countries are to assist with funding climate change initiatives, would be unfairly redistributing money from richer nations to poorer nations in that countries like the US would have to contribute more to the pool than smaller nations.

So was this a good move, or will this doom the planet? Well that’s kind of hard to say, really. It depends on the individual person as to whether or not they believe in climate change and greenhouse emissions. Since the Industrial Revolution, the release of greenhouse gases and other contaminants is said to have caused global temperatures to rise, polar ice to melt, and the oceans to rise. Plenty of scientific data is out there that supports this, and to the layman, that is cause for concern. On the opposite side, there are any number of people who deny climate change, or mitigate away many of its concerns with arguments like “There isn’t enough data” or “We’re going into an ice age”. The more moderate of “climate change skeptics”, as they’re called, acknowledge that the climate is changing, but suggest that it is part of a natural cycle, and that our affect on it is minimal. Most skeptics are driven by economic and political angles, especially among conservative parties who do not like regulations on emissions or policy that restricts energy production. This is what is motivating Trump to pulling out of the Paris Agreement, because he sees this as a damper on US energy production. It would be, but it doesn’t have to be.

Now my position on climate change is that I believe it exists, I believe there is sufficient scientific evidence that supports that claim, and that unchecked, we will do irreparable damage to our environment. No atmosphere equals no air which equals no life. Since we are nowhere near being a space-faring civilization, it’s not as if we can’t just get on a ship and set course for the next Earth-like planet and ruin that too. However, unlike many, this isn’t a short-term doomsday clock, and I find it largely pretentious of most people to give a shit about something they know they won’t have to deal with in their lifetime, or probably the next ten lifetimes. The hysteria by some people in news cycles to paint this agreement as the be-all-to-end-all is made moot by the fact that it doesn’t even have an enforcement mechanism, and basically suggests “Hey, do this if you want, I guess, I dunno.” which perfectly encapsulates what the United Nations has become in the last three decades. However, that does not mean we should do nothing, or kick the can down the road for the next ten generations for someone else to fix. Industrialization brought about a rapid rise in our quality of life, and we should not look back at that as a mistake. Rather, we need to continue to spurn innovation on the next generation of energy and goods production, and that is what this agreement would have helped facilitate. The United States had nothing to lose by staying in this agreement.

But let’s put aside the hyperbole and hysteria most of America is known for and look at this fairly, consider these discussion points:

  • On what level should the United States play as a world leader, and with what financial level of support should it give to smaller countries had we stayed in the agreement?
  • Given the rise of natural gas and solar sources of energy, should coal continue to be used?
  • How damaging are climate regulations to the industrial sector in terms of jobs and economic output?
  • If the United States is not going to be part of the agreement, what else can we do to contribute?

On what level should the United States play as a world leader, and with what financial level of support should it give to smaller countries had we stayed in the agreement?
One of Trump’s primary arguments was that the money going into The Green Climate Fund was basically socialism in that it unfairly took more from the richer nations to give to the poorer nations. Given the language of the Paris Agreement, with its affirmations to what amounts to social justice, it’s hard not to view this as just that, socialism. On the other hand, China and the United States are the two largest producers of greenhouse gases. Considering the United States is second on that list, I kind of expect us to chip in a bit more to the pot because it’s largely on us to reduce that to where the rest of the world is. You might say “Why should we pay more? China is bigger than us and produces more than us!” That seems true, but you have to consider both countries population, and percentage of emissions globally. China has 1.3 billion people and generates 22.7% of global emissions. India also has 1.3 billion people and generates 5.7% of global emissions. The United States has 326 million people and generates 15.6% of global emissions. Russia has 143 million people and generates 5.4% of global emissions. You can’t really draw direct comparisons between land mass or population, as China is a large country with the most people and the most emissions, but Russia is larger geographically, but with less people and less emissions. The population difference between the US and China is almost a billion people, yet the emissions difference is 7.1%. The emissions percentages of the fourth through tenth largest populations after the US, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, and Mexico equal 13.3%, just slightly below what the US generates. That means for our 326 million people, we generate 2.3% more emissions than 1.2 billion people in just seven countries. Yet according to the graph the NYT posted, we were going to pledge $3B to that fund, an average of $9.41 per person. Is that considered enough per-person to contribute towards resolving the problem?

Now, you’ll immediately say “Sweden is paying $60 per person. Why aren’t we?” Sweden is a country of 9.9 million people. They’re pledging $581M to the fund. That breaks down to the $60 per person you see. The US pledged $3B to the fund. As mentioned above, we have 326 million people. So that breaks down to about $10 per person. We are the largest contributor to the fund, but because we have a larger population, the per-person contribution is less. Sadly, news media will spin this to suggest we should be contributing more out of obligation for poorer countries. They also neglect to mention that China, Russia, and India, all whom are above 5% in emissions, are absent from that pool. Benefit of the doubt maybe, but chances are, their contribution will probably not be as significant as ours. Even if we halt our contribution now, we’ve already put $1B into the pool. That’s only $0.5B short of Japan’s contribution. We’re still doing pretty good compared to most countries with only a third of what we pledged.

Which puts me in two camps. One is that we are contributing a lot to something that has no mandate or mechanism for these countries to actually hit their targets. Putting $3B out there seems like a feel-good policy, but it’s just $3B more on top of foreign aid we already pump out. Uganda, for example, is mentioned in the NYT graph as being a recipient of aid to help reconstruct wetlands. According to USAID, for FY2016 we disbursed $345M on various projects, mostly related to education and environmental support. The Washington Post published an infograph last year before the election that visualized US foreign aid against Obama’s proposed $4.15T budget, a mere $42.4B most goes to economic aid and development, the rest to security and military. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Nigeria, Ethopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique are identified as the top recipients of aid, while Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Mexico, and Colombia are mentioned as the top recipients of security aid. For 1% of our budget, we’re helping fund half of the developing world and a quarter of the developed world do various things. Which puts me in a second camp of that an additional $3B is not going to really tip the scales of this at all with respect to the overall budget. This is Trump, like the rest of his budget, attempting to find savings by trimming away things he just doesn’t care about. It certainly fits his “America First” policy, but unless he intends to pair back more of the foreign aid budget along with it, it’s a useless gesture made to placate a few dying coal companies and buy Steve Banon another yacht. Or a round of golf at Mar-A-Lago, I guess.

Given the rise of natural gas and solar sources of energy, should coal continue to be used?
Oddly enough, the top search result I got from “coal production versus natural gas” was a Powerpoint presentation by three Texas A&M University students. It’s simple, but it adequately explains how each system works, and shows how current future systems may work to increase energy production. At the end, it does say that they do not have a solid conclusion on which is more effective, but that underground natural gas production would be preferable. The thing is, this has been the case for most of the last two decades, natural gas is continuing to expand and push coal to the bottom of energy production because it is cheaper, and cleaner to produce. Because we have not built a new nuclear station since the 1970s, and most of the currently-operating reactors are being decommissioned soon, meaning natural gas is now the second-most source of energy production in the US in 2016 and ahead of coal by 14% and nuclear by 20%.

However solar is quickly rising as an energy source, doing 39% of all new electricity generation in 2016 alone compared to natural gas. Improvements in the technology as well as incentives for folks to mount roof panels, as well as battery storage, is enabling this to continue to grow, especially in the “sun states” like the US southwest. When you consider regional energy usage, the US northeast tends to favor oil-based furnaces because most homes were built in the early 20th century using older energy production systems. As homes are renovated and systems updated, we’re switching to natural gas, electric, and solar.

Trump placed a big gambit on “coal states” during the election because he believed they served a vital part to US energy production and the loss of those jobs would be paramount to the economy. Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Pennsylvania are along the top producers of coal in the US, producing 639 million short tons of the 897 million total by 25 states. According to a recent NPR article, a coal miner’s average salary is about 80K a year, versus a solar installation expert’s salary of 50-55K a year. The question is posed; Why can’t coal jobs turn into solar jobs? The article suggests one answer is location. The top five producing coal states are in the mountains or areas of the country with the least demand for solar energy. Like the northeast’s legacy oil framework, a lot of these areas are still powered by coal, and require coal miners to continue powering them. It’s easy for people living in the big cities where they don’t know where their power comes from and don’t really care, or people who have solar on their roof and wonder why you don’t too. To dismiss these coal miners and the coal industry because “It’s dirty and fouls our planet” is rather mean considering the fact that at one time, coal powered the country and kept the lights on.

Again, I can be in two camps on this. Coal is a dying, legacy industry. I understand these five states rely heavily on it for their economic growth, but that is all the more reason to look into becoming a state that spearheads the next development. You also have to consider that coal is a dangerous job, where miners risk their lives to mine this resource. All energy production jobs carry risks, but those risks are far less in renewable energy than fossil fuel energy. Trump, like many Republicans, plug their heads and stick their heads in the sand about renewable energy because they are funded by fossil fuel companies with an interest in maintaining power domestically. However on the flip side, we cannot simply abandon coal easily because it does still account for 15% of our energy production in the country. We need to maintain coal as a transition source until we’ve increased our production of renewable energy sources, or increased our usage of natural gas and nuclear to offset coal if it could be eliminated entirely.

But more importantly, we should be very invested in research, development, an implementation of renewable energy sources moving forward. Rather than protecting legacy frameworks and jobs, we should be looking to create new frameworks and jobs in these emerging sectors. Companies and investors go where the money and security are, if you build it, they will come. I could go on about how we should be investing more in nuclear as well, but that would be a topic for another day.

How damaging are climate regulations to the industrial sector in terms of jobs and economic output?
The GOP argument to climate change, and what drives most of their deniers, is regulations and impact on business and industry. I imagine most leftists are rolling their eyes right now, but chances are they are “community organizers” and non-profit leaders who have never had to worry about the impact of government regulations on their business. Regulations are a legitimate concern in business, and environmental regulations can often cripple or kill businesses outright. Now you might say “So what? They were probably polluting the air or water anyway. Screw them!” but that’s easy for you to say if you don’t work in one of these jobs. That’d be like reading about the latest state worker union negotiation and saying “Who needs so many state workers anyway? Screw them!” Fact is, regulations can often hamper a company’s ability to continue operation, or force them to close because the cost to comply with new or increased regulations would not be sustainable. This happens most often with energy production, textiles, automobile, construction, and fishing. A change in vehicle emissions regulation, for example, affects the automobile industry because they will then have to go back to R&D and re-develop their vehicles to meet target emissions. Usually, the loss a company incurs from this can be regained over time as they market newly compliant vehicles towards markets eager to purchase them, but for many smaller companies, they end up going out of business or being purchased by a larger company. The change in emissions compounded with the 2008 recession forced the end of several iconic US companies like Pontiac and Dodge. Fishing industries are always affected by changes to marine regulations in order to preserve marine species and its waters. But generally, the threat of eradicating a fishing area of wildlife would be more detrimental to fishing companies than someone saying “Maybe don’t over-fish there.”

Trump named a number of industries and threw out percentages of how much they’d be out of if this agreement moved forward. A lot of that are based on assumptions which are based on studies which are based on speculations. As someone who routinely shouts FAKE NEWS and demands facts, he curiously lobs out a US Chamber of Commerce study that predictably will be bias towards businesses because it has to be. As I espoused above, many industries will take a hit in the transition towards lowering emissions by 2025 because that means they have to change how they produce. Some companies will fail. Others will come in with new technologies and methods and succeed. That tends to be the core tenant of capitalism and kind of calls into question what Republicans believe when it comes to free market economies. Like the above paragraphs on energy production, the impetus for lowering carbon emissions is an excellent motivator for a “clean energy” company to start up and take advantage of that momentum to become a successful industry. I am not surprised that Trump would stump for legacy industries, as he should, someone should represent their interests. Rather, it is curious that Democrats are not really getting behind new industries seeking to assume their place within the economy. That would better show the American people that the impact of this agreement upon US industry and jobs may have an impact, but has the potential to get better over time. Really, Trump should be embracing new industries and seeking to promote them further if he wants to hit a 3% GDP increase in his term. If he were to achieve that, he’d easily win re-election in 2020 from states who haven’t gone red in decades. I think he is capable of doing that, but he will be hamstrung by both Republicans, who don’t understand anything made after 1960, and Democrats who don’t care unless it’s being taxed at more than 40%.

If the United States is not going to be part of the agreement, what else can we do to contribute?
A few people have suggested that our not being part of the Paris Agreement may not even matter, that individual states, and private industry, will continue reducing emissions and promoting policy to do such. I do not oppose this idea mainly because it promotes something I am finding a renewed interest in after this past election, and that is state sovereignty and federalism. Already, states have announced they are continuing to support the Paris Agreement and banded together to form The United States Climate Alliance, which currently includes California, New York, Washington, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Oregon, and Hawaii. California is the second leading state in emissions at 6.59% of total emissions in the US, behind Texas. Pennsylvania, which is third nationally, is considering joining the alliance, as is Ohio who is fifth nationally. The fact so many states are willing to break away from the federal government more often on major issues in both Obama and Trump’s terms signals a return-to-form for states realizing that they are not always bound by the federal government on all things. This is a good thing. States should be encouraged to go their own way when they believe the federal government is not acting in their best interest. You might say “Well that’s not right, we can’t have states breaking away, that is how the Civil War started!” True, that is how the Civil War started, on slavery, but the way this country was founded and operates relies on state and federal governments to check-and-balance each other.

People falsely assume that their lifestyle in a city like Portland, OR should be the same lifestyle had in a town like Bentleyville, OH. That is the sentiment that powered this previous election, where Trump sought to represent “the deplorables” “the forgotten” or whatever other names were coined for those who live in much of the country whose only method of retaining a voice in presidential elections are The Electoral College. That voice put Trump in the White House because it was tired of fronting a large portion of America’s economy for being called racists, sexists, homophobes, and transphobes by rich upper-middle-class white people in the cities. Those same people are now trying to suggest that these people are also responsible for climate change or that they are climate change deniers, influencing Trump into pulling out of the agreement and killing Obama’s Clean Power Plan. That assertion is dubious, but a fair number of leftists are trying to make this issue very political and suggest that if you so much as question the Paris Agreement or climate change, you are a denier and worthy of scorn. That does not bode well to actually educating people about climate change and the US’ political stance on the issue. As I’ve explained in detail above, there are a lot of factors that go into this overall picture, and plenty of concerns that everyone should have when dealing with such a complex issue as climate change.

Which is why the best way to fight back against this decision is not to continue to pick at Trump or his administration, but to be part of the solution and show people how it will benefit them. The great thing about The USCA is that it lays down the framework for people to join the effort to continuing the goals of The Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement without the need for government. It also means that should the USCA succeed, and succeed without the use of federal assistance, that means states have had the power all along and don’t need “the federal teet” to make ends meet. For the state I live in, Connecticut, who relies so much on federal assistance, it would be nice to see them accomplish things without federal aid and assert financial independence and a properly-balanced budget. But ironically enough, if more states follow suit, this will have accomplished many small-l libertarians’ dream of leaner, limited (federal) government which could be the 4D UNDERWATER BACKGAMMON Trump was playing all along, although I don’t think he actually realizes what he is doing. All of his actions are, in essence, draining the swamp in a slightly different way than we thought it would.

TL;DR: The Paris Agreement was a flawed plan not because climate change is fake, but because it does not enforce itself like the Kyoto Protocol, and does not really do enough to encourage lower emissions levels. Politically, it was a landmine Obama placed for Trump to step on that would either cause him to lose further support from his base, or alienate the country from other world powers on an important issue. That said, Trump should have remained in the agreement, and instead worked on alerting the terms of the deal for the US’ involvement in the agreement, ensuring that coal remains part of the transition process while encouraging renewable energy industries to grow.

Also, with respect to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, you’re fuckin’ hilarious getting up there and giving us the business when you approved the Kinder Morgan project last year, and signaled support for the Keystone XL pipeline as well. You cited jobs and the economy. Funny. So did we with respect to The Paris Agreement. Weird. It’s almost like that matters, occasionally.

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