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The Paris Withdrawal in Context


The liberal gnashing of teeth and rendering of garments over yesterday’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement is certainly justified. We are an international embarrassment as a nation. We should be ashamed of our president and of ourselves.

However, let’s not pretend that the U.S. is ever a leader on issues of climate change or on any international agreement promoting larger justice-related issues. Given that the left has largely ceded foreign policy to interventionists and neoliberals and rarely thinks of these issues in any way except for broad “DON’T INTERVENE” rhetoric, it’s hardly surprising. See one “Sanders, Bernard” for an example of this, but really almost anyone on the left is basically guilty of this. We, and by “we” I am thinking of the left writ large and including left-liberals such as the commenters on this blog, simply don’t take these issues very seriously. I will point to the consistently low levels of comments on my posts on international trade as an example. People don’t much comment, not because they don’t agree, but because they don’t really have that much to say about it. And that’s pretty much standard among liberals and the left. We don’t think very hard about these issues.

Because of this, there is very little pushback against our pro-corporate foreign policy. The Paris agreement was already structured to protect our corporations. Most of our treaties are. Certainly Republicans do this, but so do Democrats. On any international agreement, the United States is the single biggest problem in making it strong and implementing meaningful safeguards. Moreover, let’s not forget Obama’s wretched decision to reclassify Malaysia’s human trafficking record just after mass graves of slaves were found in order to include it in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Those slaves were producing goods that entered into U.S. supply chains. That is abominable.

Because of the need to protect American corporations, the actual commitments in the Paris agreement were very small with basically nonexistent enforcement. The whole framework is voluntary. Nations can make pledge whatever reductions they want and the U.S. commitment on that was already very small. No meaningful money was committed to force rich nations to help poorer nations build a green infrastructure. The reality is that Paris is not going to do much to fight climate change. It’s a good thing and maybe it is a start (although Kyoto was the real start and, well, we see how far we’ve gone since then). It’s great that states are pledging to do it themselves. But then they can do that because there really aren’t meaningful commitments in the thing.

So yes, pulling out of the Paris deal is terrible and embarrassing. But so is the rest of U.S. policy when it comes to these sorts of the treaties. And until we start paying as much attention to the details of foreign policy and articulating exactly what we want a left foreign policy to look like as it deals with the real world as we do to relitigating the 2016 Democratic primary for the 208th time, we cede the field to very weak agreements like this that protect our corporations over the world’s people and climate and don’t really do very much to fight climate change. Be embarrassed. But look at yourself as part of the reason for that.

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