Hard News by Russell Brown


Stupidity and ignorance have been raised to virtues

The most staggering thing about Donald Trump's speech announcing US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is that it demonstrated he has no idea at all what the accord actually is.  When he blathered that after withdrawing “we’ll see if we can try and make a deal that’s fair”, it meant exactly nothing.

Because as David Roberts explained on Vox days before the announcement, signatory countries set their own goals under Paris. And they can change or ignore those goals at no greater cost than periodically having to explain themselves to the rest of the world. To be fair, that's arguably a maximalist take on the flexibility of the accord's ratchet mechanism. This legal analysis on CarbonBrief takes a more nuanced view, but essentially comes to the same conclusion.

Basically, if Trump wants to kill off Obama's clean air inititive – as stupid and self-harming as that would be – he can. So leaving the accord has been almost entirely a matter of ideology – which is, apparently, the way it has played out in the White House, with a group including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (who, let's recall, was CEO of Exxon freakin' Mobil five minutes ago) losing to the Year Zero cult led by Steve Bannon.

Clearly, the fact of US withdrawal is bad, although it's probably worse for the US than it is for the world. But in a way, Trump's feeble account of the decision is worse. He has done the same thing, swinging wildly against phantoms, on the matters of NATO and trade agreements, but this seems on a new level.

Unfortunately, it may be catching. In tomorrow's UK Daily Telegrah, this editorial will appear, arguing preposterously that Britain abandoning the "naive" Paris Agreement would allow it to embrace the "fracking revolution", a "technology cheaper and greener than, say, coal". This is simple bullshit. If Britain wants to argue that embracing fracking was, in the words of the accord, "enhancing its level of ambition” – as dubious a claim as that might be –  it could do so today. The Telegraph's pompous offering that "ideology must not be allowed to drive the energy debate" has precisely fucking nothing to do with Paris.

While on the one hand there is genuinely an economic and industrial wave building behind the production and use of more sustainable energy technologies – not least in the US itself – on another there is a countervailing trend: the emergence of an era in which stupidity and ignorance have been raised to virtues.

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