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On climate and global leadership, it's America Last until 2020

Posted on 13 November 2017 by dana1981

Five months ago, Trump quickly cemented his legacy as the country’s worst-ever president by inexplicably starting the process to withdraw from the Paris climate accords. With even war-torn Syria now signing the agreement, the leadership of every world country has announced its intent to tackle the existential threat posed by human-caused climate change, except the United States. 

View image on Twitter

While this decision may seem puzzling to the rest of the world, the explanation is simple - a study published two years ago found that the Republican Party is the only major political party in the world that rejects the need to tackle climate change, and we know that voters follow elite cues. In 2016, American voters made the terrible mistake of putting that party in charge of the entire federal government, including electing this man president:

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

Most Americans admit the mistake of 2016

However, a year later, Americans are already recognizing this error. Trump’s approval rating is around 38%, and has not touched 40% in over six months. Meanwhile, congressional Democrats enjoy an 8–10% lead over their Republican opponents. Those polling results translated into a landslide Democratic victory in the 2017 elections last week.

The clearest result came in Virginia’s gubernatorial election, in which Republican candidate Ed Gillespie ran a Trump-like culture war campaign. He also took the standard Trump administration line on climate change, acknowledging only that humans play some undetermined role while supporting America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords and opposing all policies to address the problem.

Gillespie’s campaign was praised by Trump and Steve Bannon, until he lost the race by 9%.

Translating the shift to election wins will be difficult

Last week’s election results showed that Trump has strongly mobilized Democrats to vote, even in off-year elections. In Virginia state House of Delegates elections, Democratic candidates similarly beat their Republican opponents by more than 9% in total votes. However, due to gerrymandering and geographical disadvantages (Democrats tend to cluster in cities), unless recounts change the results of close races, Democrats will only hold 49% of the seats in the Virginia House.

That structural disadvantage holds across the country. Estimates are that Democrats need to beat Republicans by 7–8% in overall congressional votes in order to win a bare majority of the seats. With a current lead of 8–10% in the generic congressional ballot, they have a chance to take the House in 2018, depending on what happens over the next year.

We saw that same structural advantage hand Trump the presidency in 2016. While he lost the popular vote by over 2% (nearly 3 million votes), Trump won the Electoral College, as was the case in 2000 with Bush v. Gore (Gore won the popular vote by a half million votes). America has a bizarrely unbalanced election system in which people who live in sparsely populated areas (predominantly rural Republicans) are disproportionately represented in the government. 

It will take a landslide election for Democrats to overcome that structural disadvantage, but last week’s results demonstrate that Trump and the Republican Party have become so unpopular, it very well might happen in the 2018 and 2020 elections. That would give Democrats the opportunity to undo Republican gerrymandering after the 2020 census. The Supreme Court is also currently considering a critical gerrymandering case.

Regarding the presidency, betting markets currently give Trump approximately a 35–40% chance of winning a second term (which seems overly bullish), and Democrats a 55% chance of retaking the White House in 2020. If that happens, the next president can quickly begin reversing the damage the Trump administration has done to American climate policies and its standing in the world.

America’s divide is on display at COP23

At the UN climate talks in Bonn, the ‘We Are Still In’ coalition of US states, cities, tribes, and businesses has been given a US Climate Action Center. Meanwhile, the US government for the first time doesn’t have a pavilion, and the Trump administration perversely plans to promote fossil fuels and nuclear power in a presentation at the meeting. As Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) noted,

If you show up at a climate conference to talk about coal, you’re likely to be ignored. I think the We Are Still In delegation will get more attention than the executive branch. We’ve gone from the indispensable leader to being the only country not engaged in climate change. Many people in Congress are troubled not only from a climate standpoint but a geopolitical standpoint. China is happy to take that leadership from us.

Indeed, China is stepping into the global leadership role that the United States has shrunk from under Trump’s “America First” platform. Chinese carbon pollution is approaching a peak 15–20 years ahead of schedule, and its leaders relish the opportunity to take America’s place as a global leader.

America Last, for now

Americans embrace the notion that their country is the greatest in the world. But what does it say that the United States is the nation that is responsible for the largest fraction of overall carbon pollution and global warming over the past 200 years, and is the only country in the world that refuses to take steps to address the existential threat we created? That lack of responsibility and willingness to protect the well-being of future generation is not the behavior of a great nation.

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. Trump first!

    Everything Trump does and says is for himself and anyone that funds his campaign. His support for 'clean' coal is basically about propping up American coal businesses and paying back their support during the election campaign.

    It makes no economic or practical sense to prop up coal and ultimately the US will fall behind if it takes Trump seriously on this issue. My understanding is that the US businesses that matter have no interest in coal.

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  2. Too true. Paris agreement had gracefully let us off the hook for our largest responsibility for climate change, while helping us to make the greatest contribution to solving the climate challenge, and garnering  the greatest benefit in transition to modern energy regimes, but the archaic structure of our democracy, in its distortion toward rural interests, crashed our efforts to solve the problems of climate change. Sad.

    But China may be a great leader. Current grotesque expression of democratic error shows how other ways of guiding social interest may be better structures. I love being in China, in many ways it is quite free, and wise. Let's hope they lead the world to solve this, which could be the greatest challenge for civilization as well as for the species. 

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  3. President Trump points out a growing worldwide concern about China trade. China exports goods manufactured by using coal energy, but that is banned in many western countries. This not fair for economy or employment. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology should be implemented worldwide. 

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  4. kulbirdi @ 3

    хорошего дня!

    China has grown on the back of American and European businesses transfering their manufacturing operations to China. I used to work for a successful British business that did most it's software development and and manufacturing in the UK. It was then taken over by a an American business that then closed down manufacturing in the UK and sent it to China. Software development went to India.

    In other words Western companies exported emissions to China.

    In any case anyone in the West can refuse to purchase goods manufactured in China, but they don't. There is no law forcing people to buy anything.

    That is what capitalism tells us, we all have a free will. Or are you suggesting we don't and that markets need to be controlled based on nationalist principles?

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  5. kulbirdi:

    Please list 5 western countries that have bsnned coal use to uspport your wild claim that "using coal energy, but that is banned in many western countries."

    According to this article, 6 countries have stated they intend to ban coal use, but all currently use coal.  The USA under President Trump is currently encouraging greater use of coal.  Why do you require the Chinese to lead the way?

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  6. The hope is that the back lash against Trump and his policies will send America penduluming in the other direction with a vengeance.  It seems already to be happening.  Perhaps if the Dems can be reformed, we could even get Bernie as the next president.

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  7. Donald Trump needs to stop complaining about trade with China. There are two sides to the trade equation. First side is America may have lost some jobs to china, but second side is America gains a vast number of cheap imported consumer products. The benefits of open trade outweigh the costs.

    Where Trump may have some case is problems like dumping, hidden subsidies, etc. But he should keep to specific problems like this.

    Bernie Sanders is a good honest intellectually clever man, but possibly too leftist for delicate American sensibilities. I suggest Democrats find someone bright, middle of road, charismatic, with no skeletons in the closet,  and who stores emails in the right place.

    Obama was on right track with his approach to climate change. Get back to his approach. 

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  8. The following article shows how America has had large net benefits from free trade, but also some of the problems with free trade, so is a balanced article:

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  9. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Singing activists interrupt U.S. coal-focused event at United Nations climate conference by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Nov 13, 2017

    In Bonn, Trump’s Answer to Global Warming? Drill, Baby, Drill! by Elizabeth Kolbert, Daily Comment, The New Yorker, Nov 15, 2017

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