Road to Trump’s Climate Change Hell Paved by Obama and Clinton

Jerri-Lynn here: This Real News Network interview conducted by Paul Jay with Professors Robert Pollin and Gerald Horne reminds us that Trump’s climate change inaction didn’t emerge from a vacuum. As in so many other policy areas, policies pursued by Democrats when in power instead paved the way for the current state of play. So an effective response to the massive challenge posed by climate change is not simply to oppose Trump and his policies– touting one’s role in the “resistance”, as Clinton is doing– or vote him out in 2010 if he indeed chooses to run again. Both Obama and Clinton have recently passed the buck on the urgency of confronting climate change: despite the ostensible Democratic commitment to tepid policy solutions, these leaders have failed on the basic task of educating the public on the urgency of the problem (as survey data discussed during the interview demonstrate).

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

According to the New York Times, there’s a big debate going on within the Trump White House. A debate is on one side, led by Steve Bannon and his allies, pull out of the Paris Climate Accords altogether. And on the other side of this debate is, “Let’s not pull out, but let’s make sure we actually don’t do very much,” In other words, “Can we stay within the Paris Accords?” this side argues, and that includes Secretary of State Tillerson, we are told.

This side says, “Well, we can stay in it, but we actually don’t have to do very much. In fact we can lower our pledge, and we will still be within the legality of the agreement.” Which is all kind of odd anyway, because the agreement’s non-binding. But one side argues, let’s keep the positioning looking not as bad, and the other side says let’s be honest and just get the heck out of it.

All of this should be put into this context, I think. It was only a few months ago, that seven leading climate scientists, including Sir Robert Watson, who’s the former chair of the IPCC said that “even if all the countries that pledged at the Paris Accords, even if they all met their pledges, well, we’re still going to hit the 2-degree threshold. We’re going to pass the 2-degree threshold by 2050.”

Now, if Trump reverses much of the –- I would say –- modest reforms, but there was something under Obama, at least the emissions regulation to cars had seemed meaningful. With all that now being reversed, is that 2050 date still meaningful? In other words, are we really going to cross this very dangerous threshold, perhaps by 2040, 2035?

What does all this mean? Trump climate policy. What does it mean for us –- us as a species? And then also, I’m going to ask in this interview, just why is climate change not at the very top of people’s political agenda?

Now, joining us to talk about all of this, first of all, is Gerald Horne. Gerald joins us from the African American Studies at the University of Houston, where he is the chair. He’s also the author of many books, most recently, “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.”

And Robert Pollin joins us from Amherst. He is the Distinguished Professor of Economics, and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute, known as PERI, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He’s the author of several books, including, “Greening the Global Economy.”

Thank you both for joining us.

ROBERT POLLIN: Thank you very much for having me, Paul.

PAUL JAY: Bob, let’s start with you. You’ve done a lot of work on energy and climate policy. I guess in your wildest imaginations, when we were doing these interviews during the Obama administration, and we were critiquing often, how little had been done –- you know, we just did a little exercise this morning at The Real News.

We went through President Obama’s State of the Union speeches. You can only find about four or five sentences, at best, about climate change in his State of the Unions, in 2011, not a single sentence. It’s not like it was ever the priority of the administration, but who would’ve thought the next administration would be catastrophically worse. What does that all mean for us?

ROBERT POLLIN: It’s disastrous. I don’t think there’s any way around it. If we are going to take the findings of climate science seriously, as you said in your introduction, even the agreements reached in Paris in December 2015 are, you know, wholly inadequate to the task of trying to achieve climate stabilization.

You quoted this work by Watson. Generally speaking, groups like Carbon Tracker, they find that if all the pledges at Paris are met by all the countries, we are still on track to exceeding pre-industrial average temperatures by 2.5 to 2.7 degrees Celsius. So, the climate agreement itself –- not just the United States –- the Paris agreement itself, is a first step, but it is a very meek, modest first step.

Now, on top of that, if we have the leading industrial economy, the United States, saying that our choices are, we’re either going to pull out altogether from the Paris agreement, or not pay any attention to it, and minimize what our pledges are.

Yeah, the only way to characterize it is catastrophic. Either that –- or climate change is all a bunch of bunk, and we don’t have to pay any attention to it. There really are no alternatives there. Either it’s a disaster, or climate change just happens to be –- climate science just happens to be, completely wrong.

PAUL JAY: Gerald, there was an interview with President Obama last September, where he says the climate change argument is kind of over. Most Americans get that there’s climate change, and global warming. He says the real issue now is how to act.

But surveys actually don’t show that. There’s an important Yale study recently, which says that, while I think it was 72%, 73% of Americans believe global warming is real, 50% of them don’t think it’s caused by human activity. Only one in ten people surveyed knew there was a scientific consensus, that more than 90% of scientists thought climate change is caused by humans, and its implications are catastrophic.

What do you make of this fact that there’s such a level of denial, and climate change is just so low on almost everybody’s political agenda?

GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, those who are paying attention to U.S. politics should not be surprised by the fact, that magical thinking is the dominant characteristic. Particularly when one considers that a billionaire conman was elected, supposedly to protect the interests of a certain sector of the working class.
If you look at other kinds of polling data, you may not be shocked to ascertain that many Republican voters feel that those who are defined as white, actually face more discrimination than black Americans, who were the descendants of enslaved Africans. This should point us to the reality that those who deny climate science are not necessarily in a category where they’re accepting other kinds of realistic predictions and prognostications.

I think that if you look at the history of the United States, what you’ll come to see rather quickly is that, in order for the United States to move away from both slavery, and Jim Crow, it is extraordinary global pressure. Likewise, if the United States is going to adhere to climate science, we may want to take seriously the proposal that has been floating around for some years now, that a tariff be placed on certain U.S. exports, with the funds being poured into a climate fund, that will be devoted to the interests of so-called climate refugees.

That is to say, those who flee from Africa, or Asia, or Latin America, because of the deleterious impact of global warming, or that that fund be devoted to certain kinds of technologies. Which can rescue the planet from the disaster that the Trump coalition is promising for us all.

Admittedly, this is not necessarily a realistic prediction or reform, given the global correlation of forces with Washington keeping its thumb on the scale, but certainly we need to start thinking along those lines, if we are going to rescue humanity.

PAUL JAY: Bob, not only did the media barely cover climate change in 2016, something like 96 minutes of total coverage by the four or five major broadcasters — and that included Fox — but part of the reason corporate media doesn’t cover this, is because the leadership of the Democratic Party has never made it a real campaign issue.

Certainly Hillary Clinton just mentioned it once in a while, during her campaign. She was just interviewed on CNN, just this last weekend, and she named two of the great challenges facing America, and it was robotics and Artificial Intelligence, not climate change. And this is on the same weekend, with two to three hundred thousand people –- and if you take the numbers across the country –- many more –- are out in the streets about climate change.

How do we deal with this issue that, in terms of the mass media, and public consciousness, there just is so little sense of urgency about this?

ROBERT POLLIN: Well, first of all, I want to congratulate The Real News, because unlike the other media outlets that you just mentioned, The Real News did excellent coverage of the climate march last weekend. So, there are certainly outlets that are giving it a lot of attention. There are people that care a lot. That’s what the demonstration shows.

I mean, again, if we want to invoke historical patterns, you know, in the anti-Vietnam War protest era, it took years before there was any serious breakthrough in the mainstream media, in terms of recognition of the protesters, but more significantly of the savagery of the Vietnam War.

Eventually, we did break through. So, I think the only thing that we can keep doing is the kind of thing that you, and The Real News, and other people, progressives, that were out marching and supporting it, and people doing work on the issue, is keep doing what we’re doing, just keep doing it relentlessly.

Always do it better, and make the connection. Which has been one of my main areas of work; make the connection that building a green economy, which can stabilize the climate, is also good for human well being.

It’s good for employment. It does not slow down economic growth. It will open up new areas of job opportunities, for women, minorities, for union organizing. I myself am doing projects right now, commissioned by coalitions of environmental and labour groups, which I think is a new thing, that labour and environmental groups are getting together, and taking this challenge seriously.

So, there are breakthroughs to get to the point at which we force mainstream political parties and figures, to act on it. You know, we have to keep fighting for it.

PAUL JAY: Gerald, in that interview with Hillary Clinton, she declared herself part of the, “resistance”:

HILLARY CLINTON: I can’t be anything other than who I am, and I spent decades learning about what it would take to move our country forward — including people who, you know, clearly didn’t vote for me — to try to make sure that we dealt with a lot of these hard issues that are right around the corner, like robotics and Artificial Intelligence, and things that are really going to be upending the economy, for the vast majority of Americans, to say nothing of the rest of the world.

So, you know, I’m now back to being an activist-citizen, and part of the resistance.

PAUL JAY: It seems to me that this struggle on the issue of climate is very linked to the struggle inside the Democratic Party. I mean, clearly, the Republican Party is not going to be the one that’s going to give any leadership in a positive way on climate change.

But the corporate Democrats did very little, and Hillary –- it wasn’t an election issue, even though there was an interesting editorial by the Washington Post very early in the election campaign, that actually predicted that Hillary would make climate change a wedge issue with the Republicans, and the Washington Post predicted it would be a successful tactic. Well, she never did that.

This fight for the planet, for the earth, for the civilization, if you will, it’s very linked to a fight against corporate Democrats, do you think?

GERALD HORNE:Absolutely. And you need look no further than what’s going on right now in the highest councils of the New York Times, the so-called “Paper of Record” of the United States of America. They’ve just hired as a new pundit, Bret Stephens, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, and of course, he is a noted climate science denialist.

His first column just a few days ago, rang every change, with regard to his denialist mantra. That has led to a number of New York Times subscribers basically canceling their subscription. And I think that that’s the kind of citizens’ actions that we need, because the New York Times editorial board has written editorials basically endorsing client science, but they are accepting what they consider to be signals from the market, and hiring a six-figure salary pundit.

I should also say, we should pay attention to what’s going on in California. Sacramento has its own policy with regard to climate science, just like it has its own policy with regard to auto emissions. It’s seeking to reach out to neighboring states, such as Oregon, and the state of Washington, and indeed across the border in British Columbia. And if a number of states can join with California, perhaps we can push back successfully against what’s going on at the White House.

And finally, I’d like to say with regard to U.S. national chauvinism, this idea that the United States has to be number one, people in that particular category, need to realize that China is now outstripping the United States, with regard to 21st century technologies that are adapting to climate science.

The United States will rapidly fall behind, unless it seeks to exceed China, in terms of adapting these new technologies. I think we need to broadcast that particular message, far and wide.

PAUL JAY: Bob, this point about what’s happening at local and state levels, if the federal policy is completely dead in the water, in terms of any real climate change policy, what’s possible at state and municipal levels? It’s really going to have to be big cities, really, that do things, because so many state legislatures are also Republican, except for a few of the big industrial states –- of course, those are rather important ones.

ROBERT POLLIN: Yeah. Well, I think, you know, as Gerald just said, California is, and has been, a leader, and is directly in opposition to what’s going on in Washington. I myself, am working with groups –- maybe I shouldn’t say the states just yet, until the work comes out –- but two other very large states, that I think have a good chance of advancing quite significant climate stabilization programs. Tied to opportunities expanding job opportunities, and incomes, including in lower income communities, those kinds of fights will go on.

Yes, they’re states and municipalities. It’s not the federal government. But it is going to set the terms of debate, as you said, Paul, within the Democratic Party, to the extent these kinds of initiatives are successful, they will set the standard. And, yeah, there will be resistance among corporate Democrats. But then the fight will have to be between the corporate Democrats and the real progressives that understand the magnitude of the threat of climate change.

And that therefore, we cannot just pay lip service to it, at the same time as we continue to allow big corporations to continue to exploit the earth, burn fossil fuels, frack for natural gas, release methane, and all the disastrous things that they’re doing. That just has got to stop.

PAUL JAY: Gerald, just to continue this point of the fight with corporate Democrats, it seems to me part of the issue here is to really be honest about what happened during the Obama years. And while some of the infrastructure spending in the early period that was linked to energy, that was something –- I think it was, like, $80 billion dollars of the infrastructure package, did go to energy, clean and sustainable energy. It helped develop more wind farms –- but then not much after that.

And there’s an interesting report we carried, The Guardian newspaper carried, which was that the Import-Export Bank of the United States, if you look at the loans that they’ve been giving, and much of those loans are to fossil fuel companies. And if you look at the carbon emissions, if all the projects that had been funded had come to fruition, and the amount of carbon will be emitted by those businesses, this is under the Obama administration, the Import-Export Bank –- there will be as much carbon emitted by those things, as that were going to be taken away, by the higher efficiency in automobiles, and the closing down or reducing coal emission for energy production. In other words, it would’ve been a wash, Obama’s signature energy project.
So, this… but this debate is getting mooshed, by, like, Hillary becoming part of the resistance, and Obama being considered to having a progressive energy, climate change legacy.

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think what your remarks point to is the need, and necessity, for more citizen action.

That is to say, that on college campuses, as we speak, there is a movement amongst students to force their boards, their board of trustees, for example, to divest their endowments from investments in corporations that are linked to fossil fuels. This is a movement that has the potential to catch fire.

Recall, that in the 1980s, when the United States was in bed with Apartheid South Africa, it was that kind of student activism, that is to say students forcing universities to divest from corporations whose endowments have holdings in corporations that were embedded in Apartheid South Africa, that pushed us towards democratic elections in 1994. That led to the election of Nelson Mandela.

I think that citizen activism should also take the form of going door-to-door, particularly in states like West Virginia. A state that is one of the poorest in the nation, a state that has a significant percentage of coal miners to this very day, but a state that voted in great proportions, and great majorities, for Donald J. Trump. And a state where there is an anti-climate science majority, perhaps –- perhaps unthinking, perhaps ignorant –- but existing nonetheless.

We had something similar in the state of Mississippi in the 1960s, when we had college students going door-to-door, trying to educate black people about their rights. Perhaps we need to adapt that script for 2017, and have people go door-to-door in West Virginia.

Finally, I think that it’s fair to say that there is a large, and thriving public interest litigation sector, in the United States of America. The Environmental Defense Fund, of course, is usually pointed to in that regard. But it seems to me, given the gravity of what we’re facing with regard to global warming, it would not be outlandish to suggest that the American Civil Liberties Union, that the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, that the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, all add to their portfolios litigation concerning climate science.
I think that the creed of lawyers, in those particular firms, can think of hooks and linkages, that can lead them directly into courtrooms to file lawsuits, for example, against the Trump White House, against ExxonMobil, and other bastions of climate denialism.

PAUL JAY: All right, gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.

ROBERT POLLIN: Thanks very much for having me.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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  1. Democrita

    For an example of local govt on this point: My town announced a ‘go solar’ initiative a few years ago. Small local subsidy to join w federal and state incentives. Supposed support for permits etc. Goal of 500 installs.

    We were eager to participate, but two years on, still don’t have permission to proceed. Last summer, the local paper announced the program had ended, and was a smashing success, with … 65 installations.

    Without going into detail on our personal case, I’ll note two things. We found out that by nys law, we can install panels that deliver no more than 110% of prior year’s usage, regardless of rooftop capacity. (Cuomo never fails to protect his industry pals.)

    The single greatest cause of people who initially expressed interest deciding to forego participating was the various inspections, because everyone (65%) has done work — put in dormers or whatever — that they did not report to the town for tax assessment.

    Incidentally, that is not our problem. Those people inquired and backed off. We are legal and forged ahead. We have had various wires upgraded and inspectors check this or that…it’s just frikking endless.

    1. Loblolly

      Solar is awesome. Let’s focus on the crony capitalism that’s stopping people from getting off the grid or preventing innovation. Why do we even need to bring climate change in a a fight about corruption?

      1. different clue

        Because global warming’s sea level rise is a powerful added motivator for millions of coastal people facing low-elevation property loss right real-time now. Including the non-rich people in New York-New Jersey whose meager properties were destroyed in Sandy.

        Because global warming’s permafrost thawdown in the Arctic-subarctic is a powerful added motivator for tens of thousands of Alaska residents and bussinesses right real-time now, as the melting permafrost undermelts and undercuts pipelines, building foundations, roads, etc. which people and municipalities can not afford to lose.

  2. financial matters

    This could be a good role for Ivanka.

    “”Ivanka Trump has been tapped by her father, President Donald Trump, to review the United States’ commitment to the Paris Climate Change agreement, signed by former President Barack Obama as an executive agreement in 2015 without congressional approval, the Associated Press is reporting.””


    financial matters
    December 28, 2016 at 7:58 am
    Great article, we really are in quite a swamp of fake news.

    It’s even worse than I was thinking. With the election of Trump which helped put the brakes on the Syrian disaster we are seeing just how bad that fake news was in that area and how our government was supporting horrible things.

    The Clinton Foundation with CIA backing is a powerful force, partly why I think they felt pretty invincible. I think Trump with his cadre of powerful friends will be able to take this on. I supported Sanders but now actually don’t think he had the power to confront what we have become.

    It’s early yet and Trump may yet see the benefits of fiscal deficits to create good jobs but right now the downside seems to be that he is full on neoliberal. Wanting to cut regulation, cut social safety nets and increase privatizaion of assets that should be in public hands.

    I like that he is going to see Russia as a useful partner rather than a bogey man and hope he works similarly with China. I also hope he pays attention to Ivanka on climate change.

    I think we needed this collision with the status quo and hope we can ease out of neoliberal mode. In the meantime I think it’s useful to build a powerful progressive message. The people I see as a foundation for this are Tulsi Gabbard, bilbo and Mary Mellor (Debt or Democracy: Public Money for Sustainability and Social Justice.). I think the last 2 are 2 of our best thinkers on economics and the first for politics. Thought this was a simple but pertinent tweet

    Tulsi Gabbard ‏@TulsiGabbard 12h12 hours ago
    We must end the counterproductive regime change war in Syria, rein in corruption on Wall Street & protect our environment.

  3. Carolinian

    This is quite silly stuff. The notion that Global Warming is somehow comparable to apartheid or that the problem can be particularized to the United States and solved through political protest or boycotts and tariffs makes no sense. It’s the typical liberal notion that if only people think the right thoughts then difficult and perhaps intractable social problems will be solved. As Jeffrey St. Clair has pointed out, the reality is that if something was going to be done about AGW it should have been done decades ago and this is going to happen even if the world were to repeal the industrial revolution and revert to pre-capitalist societies. Those who treat this as a moral problem seem to themselves lack the courage to denounce the very basis of our economies–consumption and capitalism–and plead for band-aids. Is it any wonder the politicians–Dem and Repub–fail to do so as well?

    1. Anon

      My “take” was that the apartheid comment was related to current Americans misunderstanding of US history. If a country can’t recognize the “facts” of its past, how is it going to recognize the threat of climate change.

      As for moving folks away from a carbon intensive economy, the existential mortgage payment confounds peptic attempts to find a sustainable future.

      1. Carolinian

        Here’s guessing that many of the “deniers” are skeptical not so much of the science as the proposed solutions like a carbon tax. Whereas some of the enlightened are hucksters for things like nuclear power. There was a time back in the late 60s when a some people seemed to turn away from the orgy of consumption that is the American economy but it didn’t last long because the whole structure of our society is opposed to the idea of using fewer resources unless there is a dollar to be made. Saying it is about ordinary people’s ignorance of science is missing the point. This problem is much bigger than some social protest movement can address.

        IMO of course…..

        1. different clue

          If you are correct, then you should prepare to try surviving in a Wilder Weather World. If you can prove your fitness to survive by surviving, you can impress your fellow surviving fit-to-survive survivors with your survival and you can give them advice on what is to be done going forward from that time.

  4. Steve

    My father was a very gifted physicist and some of his patents make our current technologies possible. He got a dollar a piece for them since as a research engineer/scientist that is the way it worked. In the early eighties I was talking to him about why we don’t have more solar or seem to be working on it. I asked shouldn’t we be working on individual power generation for every home instead of these massive single source generators? His response was yeas we should but that will never happen. He said at the time that the ability of the government to turn off electricity, water, gas, etc with the flip of a switch is a power to control people that our government will never give up.

    1. perpetualWAR

      That’s what I thought. It’s a way to stop the people from revolution. Just shut off the electricity/water.

    2. accord

      It’s because its far more cost-effective and reliable to produce electricity at centralized locations.

      The typical modern household that tries to go off-grid with unreliable energy like solar and wind will likely be dead within a few months.

  5. Susan the other

    Coordinating with unions is an interesting ploy. James Hansen himself advocated this going back a few years, and maybe still does. It is as if there is far more effort put into maintaining a political system of parties and power than maintaining the environment and climate. But catch-22 is that manufacturing is crashing. We’re going to need unions for the unemployed and for those unions to be attached to corporations there will have to be some kind of unemployment income paid by corporations to keep a political base. I wonder if that’s the plan. It sounds like stg. the democrats would do.

  6. a different chris

    As usual we can’t get people to vote for us so we will take it to the courts. Sigh.

  7. christine

    If no one will talk about population control they may as well stop talking. This is the Sixth Great Extinction. It is caused by overpopulation and overconsumption. It’s not politically possible, apparently, to discuss population control. China did the right thing with one child then gave up. Japan, which practiced infanticide in the post modern past, is going a different route, but there are far too few places with dropping birth rates. There is no other solution. We are blathering on about technology and solar and not that 40+ % of the wildlife on the planet is already gone from toxification (solar panel manufacture is certainly toxic and water abusive) and destruction of habitat. We will go too. Unfortunately it seems we will not go (barring unforeseen disasters) before we kill and poison everything else. Yet…no one will even discuss this. Denial of ecocide is a far greater issue than climate change denial.

  8. Michael

    I have finally found a great presentation and discussion of the pros and cons of the several types of geo-engineering to mitigate climate change. One point the presenter makes is that due to the loss of albedo from the loss of Arctic ice geo-engineering is the only hope of staying under 2 degrees Celsius or even 4 degrees Celsius and even then the result is not assured and precipitation consequences for the tropics are not desirable.

    Their comment that is relevant to the above video in that the Paris Agreement surreptitiously assumes geo-engineering, because without it the goals are not attainable.

    It’s quite an interesting presentation and discussion made by the pros.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      I did post a link to this event in today’s Links– and noted there that this speech nauseated me as well.

  9. ewmayer

    “GERALD HORNE: …I think that citizen activism should also take the form of going door-to-door, particularly in states like West Virginia. A state that is one of the poorest in the nation, a state that has a significant percentage of coal miners to this very day, but a state that voted in great proportions, and great majorities, for Donald J. Trump. And a state where there is an anti-climate science majority, perhaps –- perhaps unthinking, perhaps ignorant –- but existing nonetheless.”

    Go door-to-door amongst the WVa Deplorables and tell them what, precisely? Professor Horne does not say. Maybe a Hillaryesque neolib “Coal is dead – y’all better get with the program and retrain as Google data center floor moppers or Amazon warehouse picker-slaves, or we’ll double the cost of your opioids?” incentive, something like that? Or simply go door-to-door and scream at them, “human-caused global warming is real, you unwashed rabble!” Somehow I’m not seeing the parallels to 60s voting-rights-awareness campaigns Professor Horne is trying to draw.

  10. Loblolly

    You are presenting a discussion about global warming between an economist and a black history studies professor. Is this satire?

    Personally I no longer care about climate change. It’s a giant money grab and a distraction from the economy and wealth transfer. It’s welded as a cudgel to enforce austerity and justify exporting jobs and pollution elsewhere.

    Secondly, there is the enormous sleeper issue of widespread academic research fraud particularly where money and reputation are at stake. I’m not buying it that climate research is untouched by that, especially when there is so much money available for those that support the cause. Enough to pay economists and historians to chew the fat about it.

    It’s the economy, change vs. more of the same and don’t forget about health care. For those that don’t remember, that’s James Caraville’s campaign that he used to get Bill Clinton elected. It’s also the same campaign that Donald Trump used to defeat Hillary Clinton.

    Climate change is not chicken in my pot. Climate Concern is a middle class affectation and I’m not middle class enough to buy in.

    1. different clue

      To paraphrase Leon Trotsky . . . You may not be interested in global warming, but global warming is very interested in you.

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