If you are among the great majority of Americans and even larger share of the global population who share a concern about the future in a heating world, President Trump's announcement that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement left you furious or just deeply sad.
But there are two takeaways from the Trump retreat: one that is not nearly as worrisome and better for the mind and heart, but another that is less wholesome. Let's leave the second for the end — an optional read for the strong of heart.
The first is that no one could have seriously expected Trump to embrace climate safety or any other legacy of President Obama and, anyway, sabotaging the climate accord may have little environmental impact. It will take four years for the country to extricate itself from the Paris accord and by then we probably will be back in it.
Meantime, the free market so beloved by Republicans will continue to drive power producers toward cleaner and less expensive ways to both generate and use electricity. And far from eliminating jobs in places like Arkansas, renewable energy and conservation will produce jobs, growth and consumer savings. It is already happening, and to stop it Trump will have to do more than denounce Obama and the 194 other nations of the world that signed the accord. Arkansas's big power producers are investing in solar, wind and gas generation and preparing to retire or retrofit the dirtiest coal-fired units in the country. Most of the states and cities and major industries are ahead of us. Appalachia and the Powder River Basin, the coal regions, will catch up.
Koch Industries, which bankrolled climate-denial propaganda and the defeats in 2012 and 2014 of Republican members of Congress who worried about global warming, will still own the whimpering party and Trump, but to little avail. Other major oil producers supported a global treaty once it was revealed that their own scientists far back in the last century had raised fears that carbon emissions were heating the world.
Since Jan. 20, Trump has been guided by a single impulse, to rebuke the black man whom he insisted for years was a fraudulent citizen and to wipe out his legacy — by taking away health insurance from the 24 million covered by Obamacare, eliminating the taxes on the rich that extended the solvency of Medicare and Medicaid, removing the controls on Wall Street financial houses that drove us into the great recession, reversing EPA rules that protect air and water from industrial poisons, banning people seeking refuge from war and famine on our shores, halting the trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations that ganged up with the U.S. against poor communist China, and, yes, banning Muslims from six Persian Gulf and Red Sea nations from traveling to America.
The travel ban was a specific rebuke of Obama, who had said nice things about Muslims in general, although the ban itself is utterly pointless. It bans travel only from six countries where Trump has no luxury resorts and that have produced no U.S. terrorists — not one. All the 9/11 terrorists were from countries where Trump has resorts and other business interests. The six banned countries have not caused the death or injury of a single person on U.S. soil, while the states of South Carolina and New York, homes of Dylann Roof and Timothy McVeigh, raised right-wing terrorists who killed 177 and injured 685 citizens.
Nothing Trump does seems to have much direct effect beyond the political points for having ceremonially revoked Obama's gains, and the same may be true of revoking the Paris agreement. The immediate fear was that other big polluting nations, chiefly China, India and the European Union, would renege on their obligations if the U.S. were off the hook. But they rather jovially renewed their commitments. China has made such massive strides in solar, wind, nuclear and hydroelectric generation that the antiquated transmission system built for its coal plants can't distribute all the power. It is taking over the global solar-cell market from the United States. Let 'em have all those jobs, Trump says, while we reinvigorate Appalachian coal.
Which brings us to the depressing takeaway from Trump's climate retreat. It is a retreat — real, not just ceremonial — from the United States' position as the leader not only of the free world, but of the planet. The president had already signaled the retreat by surrendering leadership on trade to China, on security to Europe, Russia and China and on human rights to Middle East dictators. An op-ed piece by his two top advisers in Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal explaining the climate retreat spelled out why we are withdrawing as world leader. Hence, the United States will deal with every nation on the planet solely on the basis that Trump ran his businesses — what we can get from you, not what we can do for you or with you.
The United States had a good run, a full century.