The framers of this country were pretty smart. Beyond leaving a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence for Nicolas Cage and Justin Bartha to follow centuries later, they also set up a pretty neat system of government. In it, checks and balances from Congress and the court system limit the president’s power. In President Barack Obama’s somewhat extreme case, Congress has extended debate and delayed votes on legislation through the filibuster. This system of checks and balances will all but ensure that President-elect Donald Trump does not get his way with all of his policy demands.
But internationally, the president’s influence is much less constrained. Of course, some things like treaties require legislative approval, but the president retains the ability to lead internationally and influence global policy. Put simply, if the president of the United States wants to talk about something, the world listens. John F. Kennedy’s speech in Berlin, for example, did more to win hearts and minds than any propaganda ever could.
One of Obama’s biggest international goals was a constructive discussion on climate. This represented quite the shift after eight years under a Texan president. At last year’s climate talks in Paris, it seemed like the president’s work had paid dividends. Parties from the developed and developing world committed to holding global temperature changes below two degrees, theoretically limiting the potential damage of climate change. Just as crucially, developed countries moved to increase funding for the support of communities ravaged by climate change.
Trump’s election may bury the Paris Agreement before it even kicks in. To his credit, Trump has mentioned he has an “open mind” regarding environmental reform. But the preponderance of evidence seems to indicate he will at the very least deprioritize it, if not withdraw America from the global climate debate.
In 2012, Trump tweeted that global warming was a Chinese hoax meant to make American manufacturing products uncompetitive (I will personally grant an honorary Ph.D. to the person who can connect the dots for me). Trump also campaigned on disbanding the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result of all this, just after Trump’s election, oil and coal stocks shot upwards while renewable energy stocks tumbled.
Without genuine American resolve, there is just no way any global climate agreement can hold. If the United States does not play by the rules, how can we expect any other country to?
What really moved me to write my second to last column of the term (almost there everyone!) was another tweet, this time from the House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Whoever manages the account tweeted a Breitbart article (right-wing propaganda would be a polite description of Breitbart) denying climate change, the proof being a seasonal fall in global temperatures. For such a scientifically clear and well-articulated theory to be rebutted by our government through the rag that is Breitbart is shocking. The chair of the committee is another Texan, Lamar Smith, who counts the fossil fuel lobby as one of his largest industry donors. Color me surprised.