The world is dealing with and reacting to the announcement this morning that the USA will withdraw from the Paris Environment pact. While there is already plenty of comment floating through social media, I felt moved to express my own views.
As always, it’s best to start with the facts. America can’t actually withdraw until the end of 2020. There is plenty of technical commentary that says that the environment can still be improved even without America’s contribution. And even if America withdraws, at least 3 US States have said they will continue to follow the Paris Accord.
The trouble is, the task ahead of us requires a concerted effort by all. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do what we can today to provide them with a world that they can live in. I grew up in the 1960’s, when all the talk was about Make Love Not War, and about a social revolution that would throw out the old outdated values of the previous generation. 50 years on, those same people are now entering retirement, and a new generation is seeking to change the world. In the context of how we older folk sought to stamp out hunger, stop wars and imagine a new social order, Trump’s actions are a retrograde step. Stopping the Vietnam war was an important issue in its time. Stopping global warming is an exponentially greater task.
There’s a lot of commentary also doing the rounds that this own-goal by Trump is a gift to China’s President Xi. In terms of China’s abysmal record on climate, it’s a pyrrhic victory. China is still burning huge amounts of coal, and will continue to do so for many years to come, even as renewable energy sources grow. China’s economy may be going through some sort of transition, though this is debatable, but secondary industry will remain a vital part of the picture. And decades, even centuries of lack of care for the environment will not be eradicated any time soon. Factories will continue to pump effluent into rivers and bury toxic waste because that’s what they have always done. It will take countless more environmental inspections and punishments before that mentality is eradicated.
In terms of the optics, there is no doubt that America is receding in the rear vision mirror. Goodbye America. Whether the space created by Trump’s retreat is filled by President Xi, Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron or someone else remains to be seen.
For aluminum, Trump’s decision probably means little. Outside China, the industry has stepped up to its responsibilities, acknowledging that CO2 and other pollutants are created with each ton of the light metal produced. We now have the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative, not to mention aggressive PR campaigns by Rusal, Rio and others claiming the high moral ground. Inside China the same cannot be said. China makes 55% of the world’s aluminum, but if one were able to measure these things on some sort of scale, it could be argued that China accepts well below 55% of the responsibility for the environment.
So it does seem that the rest of the world will gradually leave America behind, though this won’t really start to happen for a couple of years. Exactly who steps into the void that Trump has created remains to be seen. China seems keen to do so, but doesn’t have the credentials, though it does have the money to buy the influence.
Acknowledgements to You Tube for the feature image.