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The Paris Withdrawal in Context

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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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  • Crusty

    Apparently, Erik is headed out of town for the weekend, riding atop his high horse.

    I’m off to go look at myself.

    • DiTurno

      Yeah, I like Erik, but I think this argument is, well, completely specious. For instance:

      “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.”

      There’s a logical gap the size of the Grand Canyon between the first and second sentence. Because “the left” isn’t concerned about the minutiae of foreign policy, it’s not surprising that Trump took an idiotic position on climate change — an issue that “the left” and the entire f’ing world absolutely cares about?

      When you have an axe to grind, I guess everything looks like a whetstone.

      • The left does not care enough about this to know that the Paris agreement was basically a gift to our corporations because it committed them to nothing. We are outraged now–for good reason!–but we should have been outraged earlier too.

        • sibusisodan

          But the mechanisms for influencing US corporations aren’t FP agreements. They are US domestic policy.

          A Paris agreement which committed US corporations to actionable targets would have required Senate ratification.

          Better foreign policy won’t help solve that key problem.

          • EthanS

            This looks exactly like the kind of ‘advocacy without reference to political realities’ that Scott is always railing about when it comes to healthcare.

            There’s no way Obama could have done more in Paris then a voluntary agreement, because nothing was going to go to the Senate. You can get liberals more excited about climate change, and you can get moderates to heap more scorn on climate deniers, but neither of those are going to sway the vote of anybody who is not already voting Democratic.

        • DiTurno

          Erik, that’s a total non-response. It’s also a bogus claim. Of course the targets in the Paris agreement were voluntary: you know as well as I do that the chances of passing a global agreement — or, perhaps more accurately, treaty — with hard and enforceable reductions were precisely zero.

          I’d suggest you remember the first rule of holes.

          • Yes, but the biggest reason that a global agreement with hard and enforceable reductions is hard to pass is the United States, which is precisely the point of the post.

            • DiTurno

              Yes, and that’s because we have an entire political party that rejects climate change. It has nothing to do with “the left.” And that’s why the entire point of this post is flawed.

              Anyway, let’s say progressive Dems had all three branches of government. Do you honestly think the US could have passed a Paris treaty with hard reductions?

              • Depends. How much pressure does Congress feel to pass a meaningful agreement? This is just basic politics at that point.

              • Moreover, don’t your two paragraphs contradict each other? You say that the problem is the Republicans and then you suggest that even if progressives controlled the whole government that they couldn’t pass an agreement with hard reductions.

                • DiTurno

                  You’ve whittled away your argument so fundamentally that it’s virtually invisible.

                  And no, my paragraphs don’t contradict each other. Even if the entire US were behind a climate treaty with hard reductions, there’s no way the rest of the world would go along with it. And you know that.

                  The headline for this post is “The Paris Withdrawal in Context,” but your entire strategy is to take it wildly out of context. The Paris Accord was supported by CEOs, energy companies, Javanka, Rex Tillerson, the rest of the world — and “the left” — but Trump still withdrew, almost certainly through spite and stupidity. This is not a failure of “the left.”

                • You’ve whittled away your argument so fundamentally that it’s virtually invisible

                  I have done no such thing, but whateves

                  The problem is that you don’t understand the post. No one is arguing that Trump pulled out because the left didn’t support it enough. I’m certainly not. My argument is that the agreement was already weak because the left doesn’t fight enough over these issues and that all the anger over Trump’s actions should be channeled into a greater commitment to articulate the details of a climate policy that would be much more effective.

                • DiTurno

                  Yeah, you’re basically taking the bully pulpit theory of the presidency and inverting it so that left wing activists take the place of the president — except this time the left — which is maybe 20% of the US electorate — has the ability to fundamentally transform a global agreement into a rigorous treaty. That’s silly, and I think you know that.

                  As I said, I like your work. I think this piece got away from you.

              • njorl

                “Yes, and that’s because we have an entire political party that rejects climate change.”

                It’s more than that. Any rational emissions control treaty will need to forge a compromise between nations with large past emissions and those who are likely to have large future emissions. Such a treaty will be nearly impossible to sell even to Democratic voters.

                We stress the importance of regulating CO2 and the seriousness of climate change, but there really isn’t any reckoning with unavoidable, unpleasant path we have to take. Renewable energy will never come close to ameliorating all of the disparate impact which a good climate treaty will inflict on developed nations. We will have to pay a price for the CO2 we’ve already released, and even Democratic voters won’t want to pay.

                This issue will be a rich source of votes for Republicans, and that cows the left from pursuing intelligent policies. If the left were serious about this, we would be working on methods to get a majority to accept the price we have to pay. Instead, we get overly optimistic hype about how there won’t be any price. We get pollyanna talk about how renewable energy is an “opportunity”. It isn’t. It is a necessary, unpleasant burden.

                • DiTurno

                  I completely disagree, njori. China and India are already exceeding their targets, mostly because renewable energy is so cheap — and getting cheaper. The use of coal throughout the world is plummeting for economic reasons.

                  You’re actually repeating right wing talking points that are objectively untrue.

                • njorl

                  No, you’re just buying the pollyanna hype.

                  Solar is still 2-3 times as expensive as natural gas for generating electricity, and the most optimistic projections I’ve seen have the price dropping by about 25% over the next 10 years and leveling off. At best, we’re going to have to convince voters to pay 50% more for electricity at some point. And while the energy intensity of the US GDP is continuing to shrink, increased energy costs still affect all prices.

                  And that 50% premium is only if we switch to solar through attrition, which won’t come close to even meeting our paltry Paris agreement goals. If we want to meet those, we have to pay the costs of shutting down functioning fossil fuel burning plants before their time.

                  All tolled, assuming a 50% premium for renewable energy, elimination of fossil fuels through attrition, and a reduction of the energy intensity of our GDP to 0.2, we’re looking at the equivalent of a 10% reduction in GDP/capita to reach carbon neutrality. There’s no avoiding it. It has to be done, so we have to figure out a way to convince people to accept it.

                  Wind is cheap, but wind isn’t going to scale cheaply.

                • Brett

                  People have been wrongly predicting solar prices would level off soon for years (the EIA being the guiltiest party). I’ll believe it when I see it.

            • SNF

              Aren’t developing nations a roadblock too? There’s the whole argument about how much they should be allowed to pollute, in order to make up for the historical inequality of western nations using fossil fuels to get rich early.

              American corporations are certainly one roadblock. But I’m skeptical that, even if America was 100% behind aggressive climate action, a strong binding treaty on the rest of the world would be an easy feat.

            • KoNo. The negotiating frame “let’s agree on a global carbon budget and then divvy it up with enforceable controls” was always impossible, even with no USA in the picture. The Zen Paris agreement “Fay ce que voudray” principle was feasible because the transition now costs nothing in cash terms and saves trillions once you throw in health and climate benefits. It’s working just fine, see China and India who are handily beating their soft goals, mass cancellations of coal pkants, and plateauing of global emissions. Trump is just too stupid to learn how it works. He would run screaming from the Abbaye de Thélème.

    • Nepos

      Nah, he’s right, the Paris Agreement is irrelevant–far too little, far too late.

      That’s why I don’t particularly care about Trump’s idiocy in this case, it doesn’t particularly matter (except that it makes the U.S. look stupid, but what else is new?)

      We needed to start taking decisive action on climate change back in the early 2000s. Now, it is basically out of our hands, as global warming enters a vicious feedback cycle. Every day we get more bad news–yesterday word came that the crack in the Larson C Ice Shelf has expanded rapidly, destabilizing the shelf. Larson A and B have already broken off as ice bergs.

      Humanity, I think, will survive the coming crash–we are nothing if not adaptable–but our civilization will not. Agriculture will fail, millions (billions?) of refugees will flee to more habitable land, water will become scarce, and resource conflicts will grow even more violent than they already are. The four horsemen really will sweep the land.

      Forget planning how to stop the apocalypse, its time to start planning for the post-apocalypse.

    • efgoldman

      The liberal gnashing of teeth and rendering of garments….

      “rending”, yes?

      • bondgirl

        Thank you. That made me cringe…

  • Well, it makes it difficult to push back when you get labeled a dirty hippie for doing so. And Obama could throw as good a hippie punch as anyone. He didn’t think too much of Occupy Wall Street folks until things heated up, if I remember correctly.

    • Like a lot of things though, it starts at the bottom. How much do we ask of progressive congressional candidates on foreign policy issues? It’s one thing to yell at the president but that’s not how politics really are changed, as we know.

      • I’d have to dig into this deeper, but my sense is that liberals are quite vocal when it comes to corporate power and our government’s capitulation to it. But we were marginalized even in Obama’s administration. Obama was good on many issues, but he was also somewhat of a corporatist, imho.

        • Yes, sure, but other than opposing the TPP, what policy was articulated by the left to even really pressure Obama on these sorts of issues?

          • I was going to point to the TPP, but also NAFTA and corporate policies of offshoring jobs, and Democratic complicity in that has been a hot topic, as well as corporate tax dodges and whatnot. So I think the resistance is there, but Phil makes some good point below that people tend to be more concerned with domestic issues, even if those issues can be traced to foreign trade pacts.

      • Phil Perspective

        How do you expect any “progressive” foreign policy people to get elected when every Representative/Senator is expected to kneel at the altar of certain groups/people? Because they have more money/power. Just look at the issue of Israel/Palestine and how the party elite are situated versus where the party voters are. Part of the issue is domestic politics though. As long as people are insecure in their jobs and fighting for proper funding for schools it means that party elites can get away with a lot of things re: foreign policy because people are too worried about other things and rightly so.

  • Rob in CT
  • sibusisodan

    I’d actually go back a step: US foreign policy on such issues is largely constrained by domestic politics.

    So that’s where the focus needs to be: curtailing, combating and weakening the domestic political pressure behind large energy footprints and pro-carbon energy.

    Which, of course, is hilariously straight forward.

    But I don’t see how you can get to transformative FP change without it.

    • Murc

      I’d actually go back a step: US foreign policy on such issues is largely constrained by domestic politics.

      I have been flirting recently with the conception that there’s no such thing as foreign policy. All policy is domestic policy for domestic interests or consumption, period.

      • I agree that there aren’t hard boundaries between foreign and domestic policy, but I can’t go this far.

        • Murc

          I don’t think I can either. But its an idea I’ve been turning around in my head and making doe-eyes at rather than rejecting out of hand.

      • sibusisodan

        I think there might be a level of grand strategy in FP which is very indirectly connected to short-term domestic pressures, in that diplomacy often has a longer term national interest in mind which isn’t easily captured by the electoral cycle.

        There’s a half-convincing read of the TPP in this light: it was designed to secure US influence against China. Of course, it failed because it played poorly domestically!

        We also have to think about the third driver of FP: whether the French President gave the US President a nasty handshake or not.

        • Murc

          The TPP is a great example of this. It failed, primarily, because of domestic political concerns; the Republicans did not want anything to do with anything that had Barack Obama’s fingerprints and blessing on it. They didn’t give a shit about how it worked internationally, only domestically.

          • MaxUtility

            Feels to me like it primarily failed because it was viewed largely as a pro-corporate power give away. Even the ‘international balance of influence’ argument seemed to be based on the idea that it would be better if our corporations were in charge rather than the Chinese govt/corporate sphere was in charge. That may be true, but it’s not very compelling.

            • NonyNony

              No. If you think that’s the reason it failed you need to go back and review the dynamics of the last few years of US politics.

              If it was a pro-corporate power giveaway that George W Bush brought to the Congress it would have passed. Because most of the Democrats who would have voted for it under Obama would also have voted for it under W and all of the Republicans would have voted for it.

              Since it was a pro-corporate power giveaway that Obama brought to the Congress it failed.

              That’s the dynamic. it really has nothing to do with organized objections from the left – it has everything to do with the fact that the GOP decided that the way to ‘win’ was to refuse to ‘let’ Obama have any victories at all through Congress.

              • Murc

                I could have written this very comment myself, Nony.

                Whether that’s praise or grounds for a duel I leave up to you. :)

                • NonyNony

                  Depends on the day Murc, depends on the day :)

              • MaxUtility

                Well, I haven’t looked carefully at the voting record. But my impression was that it would have probably gone through if not for the election. Once it became an election issue, people had to take more public positions on it. Very few defended it and most candidates (even HRC) came out against it. The public pressure and awareness delayed it sufficiently that it was assumed the next president would be making the decision.

                Whether Clinton would have followed through on rejecting it, I don’t know. But I do think it would have gotten passed if it hadn’t been for public perception that it was “giving away our sovereignty to corporations”, rightly or wrongly.

                That all said, I think you’re right that resistance to it on the right was directly tied to Obama=bad.

      • njorl

        Government power derives from the consent of the governed.
        Foreign policy is what you do to people who have not empowered you with their consent to be governed by you.

        • El Guapo

          So you’re saying that supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony?

    • njorl

      The area around Congo has been more troubled over the last 30 years than the Middle East, but because we don’t rely on Congolese oil, we haven’t been involved in wars there and haven’t been attacked by Congolese terrorists. When gas prices go up,the president’s party loses elections.

      The interstate highway system and the home mortgage deduction have made it so that when there is too much chaos (or too much unity) in the Middle East, we throw out our leaders.

  • citizen

    This is really the same problem as so many others: the sense that we are not going to be able to change the way treaties are written is strong – even when people get out in the street and protest, they get photographed, arrest-recorded, and the treaty seems to come out identically as originally planned.

    Presumably, this is not quite correct. Presumably, pushback gets some useful results and the despair is a mistake. Can we use this thread to give ourselves reasons to not just hope, but to expect that we can earn our way out of the apparent cul de sac, to expect that we can work our way to building paths forward to better foreign policy.

    I never mind hoping and working, but what works? What has worked recently?

    My cartoon outline takeaway on our LGM international supply chain threads about labor justice is that the successes are sporadic and fleeting, lasting for approximately one generation of student protests. Am I reading wrong?

    • No you aren’t reading wrong, but that’s because people stop paying attention to these issues. Without sustained pressure, corporations get to do what they want.

      And to be honest, this constant rechurning of the primary is great for corporations–the left fights amongst itself instead of making demands of them.

  • Matt McIrvin

    This constant insistence on looking at our own faults–and airing those misgivings publicly–is why we lose.

    Including this comment I am writing right now about our fault of looking at our own faults.

    The right only ever blames the other, and they win. Remember Reagan’s 11th Commandment. Let’s blame the other for once.

    • That’s fine as far as it goes–and blaming Trump for this is good politics. On the other hand, it’s not as if the Paris agreement is actually going to do much of anything on this issue we claim to care so much about.

      • Matt McIrvin

        See, the thing is, elsewhere on social media I am seeing people using statements similar to yours in support of Trump pulling out. Just as with health care, because something doesn’t do enough, that becomes a reason to stop doing anything.

        • addicted44

          Nail on the head.

          The Paris agreement didn’t do enough. But you cannot do enough by doing nothing.

          Just the fact that they brought nearly every country in the world to agree on this was a HUGE step. Acknowledging the issue, and acknowledging that developed countries owed developing countries a debt because a lot of their growth was based on polluting the world for current and future generations was a massive step forward. It allowed countries like India and China to start making major steps towards improving their climate change stories, to the point that both countries have announced target far more stringent than the Paris accords requirements, and both are on pace to beat even those stringent requirements.

          Just the fact that almost every country acknowledged that climate change was a problem that we need to solve together lays the groundwork to start solving that problem together.

          That the Paris Accords didn’t achieve everything needed to be done is a feature, because if a few meetings could have solved the problem entirely, it wouldn’t really be a major problem in the first place.

          • sibusisodan

            And I’m reading that China is on course to exceed its first set of (voluntary) goals.

            Which is awesome. And will hopefully cascade onwards.

            This may not be a solvable problem. But our best chance of making it so is via something that looks a lot like Paris.

    • Murc

      The right only ever blames the other, and they win.

      The right only ever blaming the other means they’ve completely lost the ability to govern or even articulate a coherent governing philosophy beyond a pair of upraised middle fingers and a scream.

      The left willing to engage in self-reflection with an eye towards generating better outcomes and policies is not a weakness. It is a strength. If we ever descend into “Leftism cannot fail, it can only be failed… or betrayed” that would be a bad thing, not a good one.

      • Domino

        I mean… wouldn’t the Republic collapse if the Dems mirrored the Republicans when it came to party philosophy? If Dems just based their policies on the opposite of Republicans and never thought our ideology can have problems, wouldn’t that lead to the end of a functioning government?

        • Murc

          … yes?

          I mean, it seems like we’re in agreement.

          • Brett

            Eventually someone would get stuck with the bag. “False belief bumping up hard against solid reality, usually on a battlefield” and such.

            Or we go the Roman route, end up empowering authoritarian individuals and oligarchs as part of a greater trend of political violence, disintegrating political norms, and elite competition, and find ourselves living in a dictatorship down the line.

    • MaxUtility

      In a small tactical sense, I get what you’re saying. But show me a case where suppressing the more radical policy support in service of consensus, led to us winning, led to us pushing the more radical policy.

      We get the politicians and policies that we ask for. If we suppress the radical to keep the squishy centrists happy, we keep getting squishy centrist policy.

  • Hondo

    I think this makes a valid point. My personal reading, other than newspapers, has always been a bit light when it comes to international issues and history, sticking mostly to US history. Guilty as charged.
    But, we should pay more attention to this, and for one, will endeavor to make more of my usually ill informed and silly comments to Erik’s international trade posts.
    I recently bought a subscription to Foreign Affairs and have actually been reading it. Still feeling my way through it and have no opinion of the CFR yet.
    They did have one bullshit Trump-supporting essay in the current issue and that was disappointing.

  • Murc

    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.

    you’re an interventionist, Erik. You argue for intervention all the time.

    Unless I don’t understand what the term means. I take it to mean “policy that intervenes with another countries policies, for good or for ill.” Do I have an incorrect conception of the word?

    Speaking for myself… I kind of understand where people come from on this. When the Republicans run foreign policy, it’s a nightmare. When the Democrats run foreign policy it is less of a nightmare with a few bright spots but they seem unable to actually do anything to meaningfully alter things in substantive ways because the areas of foreign policy we have the biggest problems with are areas that have enormously strong domestic support and lobbies that constrain even presidents, who typically hold the whip hand in so-called foreign affairs.

    It makes sense to me that people would get frustrated and radicalized by this.

    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.

    Well… this is a problem?

    I mean, you’re framing it as a problem. But… you make non-controversial posts that are structurally complete and that people don’t feel they can meaningfully add to. That’s good, right? It means that there’s broad consensus, at least among this commentariat.

    The posts on this site that get the most traffic are ones that are either controversial, in the sense that people disagree with either the thesis or the particulars strongly enough to say something about it, or the ones that people feel are incomplete or lacking in some way and they wish to add to it. Your international trade posts are neither, just like Farley’s military hardware blogging.

    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

    This seems somewhat unfair. The left is in no position to make policy of any sort right now. It IS in a position to try and regain that power. People only have so much mental energy and can only be knowledgeable about so many things; it is hard to blame them for concentrating on ones with immediate salience.

    • Everyone is an interventionist in the end. In this context, I meant the term to mean someone like Hillary Clinton, i.e., how it is popularly used. But yes, you are right.

      The posts on this site that get the most traffic are ones that are either controversial, in the sense that people disagree with either the thesis or the particulars strongly enough to say something about it, or the ones that people feel are incomplete or lacking in some way and they wish to add to it. Your international trade posts are neither, just like Farley’s military hardware blogging.

      Yes, this is precisely the point. No one has anything to add because they don’t actually think about these issues.

      This seems somewhat unfair. The left is in no position to make policy of any sort right now. It IS in a position to try and regain that power.

      It was for 8 years and it did not do much of anything about it.

      • MaxUtility

        I think the Obama doctrine of “don’t do stupid stuff” is a perfect illustration of this. There is/was pretty widespread consensus that dangerous and pointless foreign military interventions were a bad idea. So the left’s position becomes something like “let’s just never intervene”. When we get pushed into intervening by either a real desire to help or domestic/international pressure we fall back to the same set of policy choices (decide who is the “bad guy” and bomb them.)

        It shows a deep and widespread lack of thought about what we can and should be doing with our vast economic and military power. So we end up with panicked, last minute response to crisis that don’t work out well.

      • addicted44

        It was for 8 years and it did not do much of anything about it.

        This is just so wrong at so many levels it’s hard to know where to start.

        1) The Paris accords bringing together nearly every country was a huge achievement, even if it didn’t require a lot by itself and is non-binding.
        2) The government support given to clean energy industries have been a critical reason why the grid contains as much clean energy as the most optimistic projections 10 years ago thought we would get in the 2020s
        3) There were huge rallies with millions of people participating.
        4) There were grassroot organizations like 350.org that were created that are working towards climate change resolution
        5) Companies and investment funds are making their climate impact an integral part of their investment decisions and many have agreed to divestments, though we can go a lot better.

        There was a lot done, and there is a lot to be done. But the idea that nothing has happened is ludicrous. This isn’t the labor movement we are talking about.

        • Hey, all credit to 350 to push for what we got in Paris. But McKibben himself will tell you that Paris was a drop in the bucket of what is needed.

          • MaxUtility

            I am helpfully being assured (by the media and political class, Dem & Rep) that ISIS is the greatest threat to our country and way of life. Makes sense given that they are the #1 cause of death in this country.

            I understand the collective action difficulties involved here. But it would be helpful if anyone anywhere was actually sounding the alarm about this stuff beyond a few relatively powerless.

          • Thom

            True. But he also says this in today’s failing New York Times:

            “Those changes, and similar ones agreed to by other nations, would not have ended global warming. They were too small. But the hope of Paris was that the treaty would send such a strong signal to the world’s governments, and its capital markets, that the targets would become a floor and not a ceiling; that shaken into action by the accord, we would start moving much faster toward renewable energy, maybe even fast enough to begin catching up with the physics of global warming.

          • Lost Left Coaster

            This is what Bill McKibben had to say about it yesterday in his New York Times op-ed:

            The Paris accord was a high achievement of the diplomatic art, a process much messier than science, and inevitably involving compromise and unseemly concession. Still, after decades of work, the world’s negotiators managed to bring along virtually every nation: the Saudis and the low-lying Marshall Islanders, the Chinese and the Indians. One hundred and ninety-five nations negotiated the Paris accord, including the United States.

            The dysfunctional American political process had already warped the process, of course. The reason Paris is a series of voluntary agreements and not a real treaty is because the world had long since understood that no binding document would ever get two-thirds of the vote in our oil-soaked Senate. And that’s despite the fact that the agreement asks very little of us: President Barack Obama’s mild shift away from coal-fired power and toward higher-mileage cars would have satisfied our obligations.

            Those changes, and similar ones agreed to by other nations, would not have ended global warming. They were too small. But the hope of Paris was that the treaty would send such a strong signal to the world’s governments, and its capital markets, that the targets would become a floor and not a ceiling; that shaken into action by the accord, we would start moving much faster toward renewable energy, maybe even fast enough to begin catching up with the physics of global warming. There are signs that this has been happening: The plummeting price of solar energy just this spring persuaded India to forgo a huge planned expansion of coal plants in favor of more solar panel arrays to catch the sun. China is shutting coal mines as fast as it can build wind turbines.

            So yes, certainly he emphasizes that it does not go far enough. But he is by no means as dismissive of the agreement as you are.

            https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/opinion/trump-paris-climate-accord.html?_r=0

            • First, this is McKibben’s public face. As the nation’s leading environmentalist, he has to spin it positively. Second, I don’t think I am more dismissive of it than McKibben. It was a positive step. That it wasn’t more positive is because of the U.S. to begin with.

              • Thom

                I think you are right that (a) we need to be more engaged on this and similar issues; and (b) the Paris Agreement was only a small step. But someone’s “public face” is all we have to go on. And small steps are worth taking, especially when the alternative is stepping backward.

              • addicted44

                I agree that it would have been more positive if it wasn’t for the US. But once again, this has little to do with Obama, or the left. The reason it wasn’t more positive was entirely because of the right.

                What Obama achieved in the Paris agreement is pretty much at the extreme end of what American politics allows for (the reason is that the next step, i.e. making it binding, was too much of a valley for US politics to cross). What we are seeing with the withdrawal is the other extreme of the US political system which doesn’t even believe Climate change is a problem and/or it needs to be fixed.

                I don’t think Paris was an indictment of Obama on environmental issues at all (unless we are going back to the original sin of “Why did Obama waste his political capital on Healthcare instead of X” for X = Climate Change). I think it’s an indictment of where the US as a whole stands on climate change. That being said, I think the left is indeed doing all the things that you often do recommend they do in other areas from the ground up to shift the US political situation on Climate Change. And it’s having an effect. It’s uneven progress, and may be too slow to actually stave off the worst effects, but that’s not because of a lack of effort or strategy.

              • Hondo

                Bill McKibben “The End of Nature”. One of the most depressing books I ever read.

      • Murc

        No one has anything to add because they don’t actually think about these issues.

        Or because they’ve thought enough about them to know that they mostly agree with you and support your position?

        I mean… I don’t think about land use policy much. Land use is super important! Stuff like watershed management literally determines who lives and who dies! But while I think about it enough to have broad consensus with the people for who it is a real passion and agree with them that land-use should be focused on sustainability and on people rather corporations, and I’ve made the effort to, say, read Cadillac Desert, it isn’t one of my real passions.

        And I’m not sure that’s wrong? There are tons and tons and tons of things that are of national and global importance and matters of life and death for millions. I don’t know that I could stand to be actively knowledgeable, passionate, and engaged about all of them.

        It was for 8 years and it did not do much of anything about it.

        It really wasn’t. Barack Obama is not and was not a man of the left. He was, in fact, willing to blow political capital to fight the left rather than the right on many issues, and this was one of them.

        This of course is a case we need to fight harder for candidates who are people of the left on this issue. And we should! But there are real hurdles to this above and beyond “people just don’t care.” If you’re waiting for people to prioritize foreign policy concerns over more immediate domestic concerns, I can only say that from my perspective it takes something like an immense military crisis or debacle to make that happen.

        • Aaron Morrow

          He was, in fact, willing to blow political capital to fight the left rather than the right on many issues, and this was one of them.

          I agree with the rest of your argument, but I’ll continue to suspect that Obama would have supported “legal requirements for countries to cut emissions at specific levels” if he didn’t have a Republican Senate unwilling to ratify such a treaty: http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2015/12/the-climate-agreement

          That’s just my speculation, though.

        • Actually, this is part of the problem. While I’m happy to have people agree with me, were this a debate on health care or housing policy, there would be all sorts of positions taken, even if most people here have more or less the same policy goal. People would debate different angles and try to figure out which would be more effective. That’s a useful debate. That does not happen on posts concerning something like trade policy or climate policy. And it needs to happen. That’s a sign of a left that is engaged on the issue. Agreement is not.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        All due respect, I don’t think that numbers of comments mean much of anything. Look at the posts that get the most comments — most of those are just when 1) everyone’s getting together to bash someone they hate, especially a leftish commentator somewhere on the Internets, or 2) one or two people stirs up a lot of shit in the threads. In neither case does that have much to do with how the broader left sees the issue under discussion.

        I’m not sure if you’re asserting that the left as a whole has ignored climate change. But I do not think that is the case. There can always be more action, but there was a lot of action in the streets about climate change during Obama’s presidency. Remember the Keystone Pipeline?

    • Slothrop2

      “I will point to the consistently low levels of comments on my posts on international trade as an example.”

      Sheesh, touchy touchy. I read the posts but don’t have much to say because, well, I don’t have anything to say.

      • NonyNony

        I read the posts but don’t have much to say because, well, I don’t have anything to say.

        That’s kind of his point. We’re a group that seems to have contradictory opinions on everything and yet when it comes to international trade people don’t engage with his posts at all.

        Even the ones where he’s obviously and intentionally trying to bait us into responding (kind of like this one). He can do it quite well with domestic matters, but when it comes to trade he’s a lot less successful.

  • SatanicPanic

    FWIW I agree this is something I should be giving more thought to, but in my defense I don’t comment on international trade posts because I mostly agree. It’s not like I’d want to take the side of corporations engaged in bad practices.

    • MaxUtility

      FWIW I find that Loomis’ posts on this stuff are the ones that have the most impact on my views, often in reverse proportion to how much I want to say in comments. It’s hard to comment about subjects when my first thought is ‘wow, I’ve never really thought deeply about this and I didn’t realize the degree to which I had just absorbed our broad cultural consensus that we shouldn’t worry about this stuff since it’s all conveniently out of sight.”

      (Had a similar experience reading a lot of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing.)

      • addicted44

        I agree with this. I often find Loomis’s posts with the least comments the most insightful and helpful. And those, amongst possibly all the writers on this blog, are the ones that have led me to change my views more than any other.

        I find them hard to comment on because I don’t get all righteous in agreement or disagreement after reading those, since they make me more thoughtful.

  • Aaron Morrow

    The whole framework is voluntary.

    Like Obama’s Clean Power Plan, where member states had to commit to plans but there was no enforcement mechanism to actually meet those goals.

    It’s great that states are pledging to do it themselves.

    It’s great that liberal Democratic voters in Democratic leading states are pushing Democratic politicians to lead on these issues.

    • Marriage is another purely voluntary arrangement. It doesn’t always work, but often does.

  • Steve LaBonne

    Well, we’re about to have a real-world test of what I take to be Erik’s thesis, that it’s primarily the US that has held back the forging of international agreements on climate with more substance and teeth than Paris. Will the rest of the developed world now get on with doing that? I think signs point to no. Global capitalism is, after all, global.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    I agree that the Paris Agreement is weak, and was substantially weakened just by the need to get the USA to join it. As such, between that and the fact that Bush sabotaged international climate change efforts for years, definitely makes the whole idea of US “climate leadership” a joke. Obama was middling on this issue, some good, some bad, at least responsive to public pressure but certainly not the climate leader we needed for those eight years. Even so, he had a series of concrete accomplishments on climate and environment that we should not ignore.

    However, I fail to see how all of this is “the left’s” fault. I mean, we always need more bodies in the streets for climate change issues, but how, exactly, did LGM commenters fail to overcome Big Oil’s hegemony in the Senate?

    • bender

      “the fact that Bush sabotaged international climate change efforts for years, definitely makes the whole idea of US “climate leadership” a joke.”

      Bill Clinton had two full terms in office during an economic boom and never bothered to have an energy policy, let alone a climate policy.

  • SNF

    I think this is an issue with the American electorate generally, instead of liberals in particular.

    I mean, it’s not like conservative voters really have developed foreign policy views (other than “kick the shit out of the bad guys!”). The American public only votes on foreign policy when there’s a massive crisis relating to it.

  • wengler

    What a crock of shit. The problem is commentators that consider a non-interventionist foreign policy to not be a foreign policy. I have a feeling this post could’ve been written by any DC thinktank dolt that fantasizes about bombs dropping on Tehran.

  • Proto-Morlock

    It’s also possible that a great many who might otherwise comment aren’t feeling confident about their foreign policy opinions, other than a generic commitment to human rights. It’s not as if American media cover foreign policy at a level deeper than “Whoopie! We bombed country X!” for the most part.

    If you’re not a hobbyist or professional with skin in the non-U.S. game, there really isn’t a steady feed of reliable English-language daily foreign news. [Let me recommend “The American Interest”, “Project Syndicate”, and “The Global Intelligence” as periodicals for those who are foreign policy hobbyists.]

  • Brett

    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.

    By and large, we agree with you on the substantial matters. What are we going to argue about?

    I mean, if you want, I could argue that all of these attempts to try and bend other countries’ labor and environmental policies from afar are probably not going to work, and even when they do they won’t persist (especially when there are so many ways to build a loophole in the supply chain, and plenty of countries that simply don’t care about ethical sourcing). A regulatory regime has to have a strong basis of support in domestic politics in a country and be driven as such.

    But I don’t think I really believe that, or at least it’s more nuanced than that.

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