The news media’s biggest story this week was President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, and leftists used to occasion to engage in their usual hysterical fulmination. What leftists and the media (but then I repeat myself) left largely unsaid was the fact that the Paris agreement was just symbolic, and would do essentially nothing to curb the long-term growth of atmospheric CO2. As Josh Barro points out:
A lot of people have been noting that President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change will leave the US as one of just three non-participating countries in the world. We are nearly alone on this. Isolated.
But I don’t think this talking point means quite what people think it does.
It was possible to get nearly every country in the world to join the agreement because the agreement does not really do anything. The agreement allows countries to set their own targets for greenhouse gas emissions, and it prescribes no way to enforce those targets.
Since the agreement is fundamentally symbolic — an expression of global intent to combat climate change — Trump’s choice to withdraw is similarly a symbol of his intent for the US to unencumber itself from international commitments.
If lefties were serious and fact-based people, they would be asking themselves why the Paris signatories could do no better than produce a toothless and ineffectual accord. The answer, as Josh Barro correctly notes, is that no treaty with teeth would ever achieve consensus agreement. The developing world in particular is never going to agree to an accord with teeth because it would hamstring their economic growth.
The bulk of this century’s projected increase in atmospheric CO2 is predicted to come from the developing world: China, India, and Africa.
As the above chart shows, emissions from OECD countries are expected to remain relatively flat, while emissions from non-OECD countries are expected to grow significantly, until they eventually far outweigh emissions from the OECD. It follows that the only way to curb global CO2 emissions is to place significant restrictions on the developing populations in China, India, and Africa. Those populations, however, will never agree to restrictions that hamper their ability to achieve the prosperity enjoyed by the developed world.
Economic development requires industrialization. China, India, and Africa are not going to bring prosperity to their people by having them all work as organic farmers and low-emissions software designers. They are going to have to ramp up industrial capacity, and the fact is that you can’t power a steel mill with windmills or solar panels. That’s why China opens a new coal-fired power plant approximately every month.
If leftists took a break from emoting and virtue-signalling, they would have to acknowledge the political reality that China, India, and Africa are never going to agree to substantially restrict their CO2 emissions. The developing world is quite rationally not going to forego the chance to bring their people out of poverty just to satisfy the feel-good nostrums of pampered Western leftists. To believe otherwise is to engage in sheer fantasy.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that alarmists are correct about the warming effect of CO2. Realists have to acknowledge, therefore, that this warming cannot be stopped. The only rational response is to adapt to the change. Instead of lamenting the demise of a merely symbolic international agreement, environmentalists should focus instead on practical adaptations like building dams and researching drought-resistant crops. But that’s not so much fun as excoriating Donald Trump.
Short of some new breakthrough in alternative energy, which does not appear to be on the horizon, climate change is not going to be stopped. If you believe it’s real, then be prepared to get used to it.