The climate agreement “would have wrecked our economy. I couldn’t in good faith have signed,” said the president.
Was that Donald Trump in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, withdrawing from the Paris climate accord? Nope, it was George W. Bush, explaining his refusal in 2001 to sign on to the Kyoto climate agreement.
As Trump and Republicans look to dodge addressing climate change itself, they’re turning to a blast-from-the-past tactic: If you can’t win on the science, turn to economics.
“I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States,” Trump said at his Marine Band-accompanied withdrawal event on Thursday, in an echo of Bush’s words. Trump cited, “the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country,” by way of explanation for his decision on the Paris agreement.
In Congress, other Republican leaders, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, for example, have taken a similar tone on climate change. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, “President Trump has reiterated his commitment to protecting middle class families across the country and workers throughout coal country from higher energy prices and potential job loss,” in a Thursday statement on the withdrawal.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, about half of the Republican contenders took a similar tack, replacing the “I’m not a scientist” talking point that failed the laugh test. Instead they cited jobs to explain reluctance to tackle global warming — rather than belief the science was a hoax.
Climate scientists have seen this show before.
“Basically we see it a lot places where climate skeptics acknowledge you can’t be taken seriously by denying the science,” climate communications expert Bob Ward of the London School of Economics and Political Science told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t really see it as an advance in the argument, more as a way to keep it going.”
Bush in 2001 cited, “a negative economic impact, with layoffs of workers and price increases for consumers,” to explain walking away from a worldwide climate agreement. Trump claimed the Paris accord would have meant “2.7 million lost jobs by 2025,” in his speech.
In reality, “dropping out of Paris will have no meaningful employment impacts,” Harvard climate economist Robert Stavins told BuzzFeed News. Trump has already begun undoing domestic Obama administration Clean Power Plan rules to limit coal-fired power plants responsible for lots of greenhouse gas emissions, after all.
Bush’s economic claims sparked a series of dueling economic reviews a decade ago, kicked off by the 2006 Stern Review, which essentially found that it actually was 20 times more costly for the global economy to let greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, rather than cutting them.
Economists such as Richard Tol of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam said that was “alarmist” and exaggerated worst-case scenarios for the costs of global warming. Others such as William Nordhaus of Yale suggested it set too high a financial value on averting future calamity.
However, Nobel Prize winner Kenneth Arrow, who developed many of the ideas now used to justify setting a price on carbon emissions as a way to limit them, said that despite the criticism, the “the fundamental conclusion of Stern is justified.”
Not much of this debate made any difference in the political world. A try by the Obama Administration for a 2008 Copenhagen climate deal similar to Kyoto went nowhere as the world faced a global recession.
“In fairness to Bush, when he turned down [the] Kyoto [agreement], there were no votes for it in the US Senate, there were no Democratic votes for it,” retired US Navy Admiral David Titley, a climate scientist, told BuzzFeed News.
Ironically, the Paris accord was crafted explicitly to overcome the objections that doomed the Kyoto agreement in the US Senate, by making its emissions cuts promises voluntary and including transparent pledges from China and India.
It’s “quite strange” for Trump to withdraw from the Paris Accord because it doesn’t cut emissions enough for its costs, a complaint the president made on Thursday, former chief White House climate scientist Mike MacCracken, now at the Climate Institute in Washington DC, told BuzzFeed News. Bigger cuts would be more like the the Kyoto agreement that Bush avoided.
“With voluntary commitments, countries have been willing to set aspirational objectives that are much more aggressive, although it has turned out that they are still not aggressive enough to really sufficiently limit global warming.”