31 July 2017 |Michael Klare | War is Boring/Tom Dispatch
“Who says Pres. Donald Trump doesn’t have a coherent foreign policy? Pundits and critics across the political spectrum have chided him for failing to articulate and implement a clear international agenda.
Look closely at his overseas endeavors, though, and one all-too-consistent pattern emerges — Trump will do whatever it takes to prolong the reign of fossil fuels by sabotaging efforts to curb carbon emissions and promoting the global consumption of U.S. oil, coal and natural gas. Whenever he meets with foreign leaders, it seems, his first impulse is to ply them with American fossil fuels.
His decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which obliged this country to reduce its coal consumption and take other steps to curb its carbon emissions, was widely covered by the American mainstream news media.
On the other hand, the president’s efforts to promote greater fossil fuel consumption abroad — just as significant in terms of potential harm to the planet — have received remarkably little attention.
Bear in mind that while Trump’s drive to sabotage international efforts to curb carbon emissions will undoubtedly slow progress in that area, it will hardly stop it. At the recent G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, 19 of the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris accord and pledged to “mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through, among other [initiatives], increased innovation on sustainable and clean energies.”
This means that whatever Trump does, continuing innovation in the energy field will indeed help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and so slow the advance of climate change.
Unfortunately, Trump’s relentless drive to promote fossil-fuel consumption abroad could ensure that carbon emissions continue to rise anyway, neutralizing whatever progress might be made elsewhere and dooming humanity to a climate-ravaged future.
How the two sides of the ledger — green energy progress versus Trump’s drive to boost carbon exports — will balance out in the years ahead cannot be foreseen. Every boost in carbon emissions, however, pushes us closer to the moment when global temperatures will exceed the two degrees Celsius rise from pre-industrial levels that scientists say is the maximum the planet can absorb without suffering catastrophic consequences.
Those would include rising sea levels that could drown New York, Miami, Shanghai, London and many other coastal cities, as well as a sharp drop in global food production that could devastate entire populations.
Oil tanker. Photo via Wikipedia
Spreading the cult of carbon
Trump’s pursuit of increased global carbon consumption is proving to be a two-front campaign. He’s working in every way imaginable to increase the production of fossil fuels domestically, even as he engages in a diplomatic blitzkreig to open doors to American fossil-fuel exports abroad.
At home, he’s already reversed numerous Barack Obama-era restrictions on fossil fuel extraction, including curbs on mountaintop removal — an environmentally hazardous form of coal mining — and on oil and gas drilling in Arctic waters off Alaska.
He’s also ordered the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt — a notorious enemy of environmental regulations opposed by the energy industry — to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, Pres. Obama’s program to sharply reduce the use of coal in domestic electricity generation.
These and similar initiatives have gotten a fair amount of media attention already, but it’s no less important to focus on another key aspect of Trump’s pro-carbon global initiative which has gone largely unnoticed.
While, under the Paris climate accord, the other industrial powers are still obliged to help developing countries install carbon-free energy technologies, Trump has freed himself to sell American fossil fuels everywhere to his heart’s content.
At that G-20 meeting, for example, he forced his peers to insert a clause in their final communiqué stating, “The United States of America states it will endeavor to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.” The “more cleanly and efficiently” was undoubtedly his modest concession to the other 19 leaders.
To spread the mantra of fossil fuels, Trump has become the nation’s carbon-pusher in chief. He’s already personally engaged in energy diplomacy, while demanding that various cabinet officials make oil, gas and coal exports a priority. On June 29, 2017, for instance, he publicly ordered the Treasury Department to do away with “barriers to the financing of highly efficient overseas coal energy plants.”
In the same speech, he spoke of his desire to supply American coal to Ukraine, currently cut off from Russian natural gas thanks to its ongoing conflict with that country. “Ukraine already tells us they need millions and millions of metric tons [of coal] right now,” Trump said, pointing out that there are many other countries in a similar state, “and we want to sell it to them, and to everyone else all over the globe who needs it.”
“We are a top producer of petroleum and the number-one producer of natural gas,” Trump added. “We have so much more than we ever thought possible, and we’re going to be an exporter … We will export American energy all over the world, all around the globe.”
In his urge to preserve the reign of fossil fuels, Trump has already taken on a unique personal role, meeting with foreign officials and promoting cooperation with key American energy firms. Take the June 26, 2017 White House visit of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. While the media reported on how the two of them took up the subject of future arms sales to India, it made no mention of energy deals.
Michael Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race For What’s Left. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1. This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.
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