Trump and the Future of the Paris Climate Accord

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Climate scientist Dana Nuccitelli discusses the Trump Administration’s tendency to embrace fake climate news and the administration’s hostility to sound climate change policy

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Story Transcript

D. LASCARIS: This is Dmitri Lascaris for The Real News. Will President Donald Trump withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord as he promised to do during his campaign? This was one of the big questions of the G7 Summit in Italy last Friday and Saturday. Trump, who dismissed human made global warming as a hoax during his election campaign, has threatened to pull the US out of the 2015 climate deal but has yet to officially do so.

Fellow G7 leaders from Germany, Great Britain, Japan, France, Italy, and Canada are said to be trying to convince Trump to stay in the accord with French President-elect Emmanuel Macron telling Trump not to make a rush decision on the agreement at a meeting last Thursday. Meanwhile back at home in the US, fellow right-wing climate deniers are pushing for withdrawal. Senate Majority Leader and climate denialist Mitch McConnell, along with 21 other Republicans, sent a letter last week to Donald Trump trying to persuade him to pull out of the Paris Accord. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats sent their own letter requesting that he stay in. With us to discuss US climate denial at the highest levels of the government and what’s at stake with the Paris Agreement, we are joined by Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist, author of Climatology versus Pseudoscience, and award-winning climate blogger for The Guardian. He’s also published nine peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change. He joins us from Sacramento.

Thank you for joining us, Dana.

DANA NUCCITELLI: Sure, thanks for having me.

D. LASCARIS: I understand several sources are saying that President Trump is, in fact, favoring pulling out of the Paris Accord. What repercussions could this have in your view?

DANA NUCCITELLI: It would mostly be a symbolic act because the pledges that we made in the Paris Agreement to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions are totally voluntary. They’re non-binding so it’s really, mostly just … It sort of gives the international community a signal that the United States isn’t interested in doing anything to address climate change, that we’re not going to follow through with our previous international agreements. So it’s just really a bad sign that we’re going in the wrong direction on climate change.

D. LASCARIS: Now in the letter to President Trump from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the 21 other Republicans they say that they, “applaud President Trump for his executive actions to undo over-reaching environmental regulations from the Obama Administration, specifically the clean power plan regulations.” They argue, “that remaining in the Paris Agreement will be a serious hindrance to removing these burdensome regulations.” Could you talk to us about these so-called burdensome regulations and precisely on whom did they impose burdens?

DANA NUCCITELLI: Well, I mean, the case that they’re trying to make is that environmental groups are trying to keep the United States from unwinding all of our previous climate policies and so we have this … The Obama Administration passed the Clean Power Plan where they’re trying to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The Trump Administration’s been trying to unwind those as best as they can, which is a challenge because there’s a legal requirement under the Clean Air Act that the government has to regulate carbon pollution. So their concern is that in legal cases environmental groups will cite the Paris Agreement as the reason why we should not unwind the Clean Power Plan.

Problem is environmental groups have said that’s not true because, as I mentioned, our pledges are just totally non-binding. They’re totally voluntary and so environmental groups don’t cite them and they’re making their legal case that we should keep the Clean Power Plan in place. So it’s really a strange argument to make because basically the Republicans are saying this is what environmental groups are trying to do and environmental groups are saying we’re not going to do this. It doesn’t make any sense. It seems to be a red herring. They seem to be trying to get President Trump to withdraw from Paris for basically inaccurate reasons. It’s just a really strange situation where there seems to be some kind of underlying motive that they’re not revealing.

D. LASCARIS: You recently wrote an article for The Guardian about Donald Trump’s Deputy National Security Advisor KT McFarland who reportedly gave President Trump a fake 1970s Time magazine cover warning of a coming ice age and the title of your article, I should say, is Trump’s Deputy National Security Advisor Gave Him Fake Climate News. Why is this cover fake news and what does it say about the Trump Administration that the President was fooled by it?

DANA NUCCITELLI: There’s this long-standing myth that in the 1970s climate scientists were predicting global cooling instead of global warming or they were predicting an ice age specifically which there’s really, the nugget of truth behind the myth is that a few scientists did some research and found that if we put a whole bunch of sulfur pollution into the atmosphere, like quadruple the amount of sulfur pollution we’re putting in the atmosphere, that could create enough cooling to eventually trigger an ice age. The problem being that we then passed the Clean Air Act which regulated that sulfur pollution and so human sulfur pollution has actually decreased since then. Basically the scenario that those few climate scientists were looking at, that scenario didn’t happen.

The other climate scientists were looking at what would happen if we kept pumping carbon pollution into the atmosphere. They found obviously that it was going to cause global warming and that’s in fact what we’ve seen is that human carbon pollution has increased and that’s caused global warming. Basically climate scientists were actually correct in their predictions. They were just looking at different poss scenarios and the scenario that happened is the one that led to global warming.

Basically somebody took a Time Magazine cover and they Photoshopped it. The Time Magazine cover was a special edition looking at how we can adapt to global warming or actions we can take in response to global warming and they Photoshopped that cover and made it into a scientists were predicting an ice age cover or how we’re going to react to an ice age. KT McFarland took that fake, Photoshopped cover and put it on President Trump’s desk. He apparently got really incensed about it and was going on about how the media are just totally wrong on climate change and scientists don’t know what they’re talking about or something along those lines.

It’s just really frustrating. This is a myth that we climate-myth debunkers debunked four years ago. We thought it was kind of dead and gone at this point and just somebody puts it in President Trump’s hands and he falls for it. Then the rest of his staff has to scramble to debunk the myth for him. Fortunately, nothing came of it because his staff was able to get to this myth debunking before he went on Twitter or anything like that but it is really frustrating that these myths keep popping up and that the president would fall for it. I’m glad that those of his staff got to it before it did any damage but it doesn’t speak very well to our president that he would fall for this long debunked myth just because somebody put this fake, Photoshopped cover in his hands. Really it says more that his staff is able to put faked, Photoshopped magazine covers into his hands instead of, you know, fact-checking them themselves before they give him the material.

D. LASCARIS: He seems quite willing to embrace anything which fits his narrative of the climate change hoax.

DANA NUCCITELLI: Exactly.

D. LASCARIS: McFarland, to your knowledge, does she have any expertise in climate scientist? What’s her background?

DANA NUCCITELLI: She would go on Fox to talk about national security issues so she really doesn’t know anything about climate change. Clearly she was trying to push a certain climate denial agenda. Perhaps she was trying to convince President Trump to pull out of the Paris Agreement. I’m not really sure but basically she was pushing a certain agenda and used this Photoshopped magazine cover to make her point.

D. LASCARIS: It seems like some within the Trump Administration like Scott Pruitt, currently the head of the EPA, one could characterize them as being a new breed of climate deniers. Let’s take a look at a clip of Pruitt’s commentary during his confirmation hearing in Congress.

Scott Pruitt: Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue and well it should be.

D. LASCARIS: So there are now people within the Trump Administration, people who occupy positions of considerable importance who are acknowledging a link between human activity and global warming, climate change, but who are saying that there’s so much uncertainty surrounding the extent to which human activity is causing climate change that we need to proceed very, very cautiously in terms of dealing with the issue.

Have you noticed a shift in the message coming from the right of the political spectrum from those who were more classical climate denialists in the past and do you think that this shift is gaining any traction with members of the public who, let’s say, are sitting on the fence when it comes to the science of climate change?

DANA NUCCITELLI: I wouldn’t say that. I think more people are starting to come around to realize that humans are causing global warming so I don’t think it’s having much of an impact on the public. I think it’s having more of an impact on the policy debate. I mean, in any case, whether you’re arguing humans aren’t causing global warming or global warming isn’t happening or humans just have a small influence, in any case those arguments are all, the purpose of them is to prevent climate policy from being implemented. Or if you’re saying there’s uncertainty, you know, their argument is there’s too much uncertainty, we need to wait until there is certainty before we act. In each of these cases, they’re just making the arguments they think are most effective in obstructing climate policies.

D. LASCARIS: Well, this has been Dmitri Lascaris talking to climate scientist Dana Nuccitelli about the Trump Administration’s policies toward this the climate crisis. Thank you very much for joining us today, Dana.

DANA NUCCITELLI: Sure, thanks for having me.

D. LASCARIS: And this is Dmitri Lascaris for The Real News.