By Prof. ‘Tola Badejo
On July 21, 2017, I published an article on page 20 of The Nation titled ‘Trump should go back to school’. The focus of the article was how successive Republican Presidents of the United States of America (USA) had jettisoned pro-active and progressive efforts of the global community in reducing the global warming effects of industrial gases.
I traced the history of the Paris Climate Change treaty back to the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio in 1992, the so-called Earth Summit. This was followed up in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan when the Kyoto Protocol was signed.
Unlike the Earth Summit agreements, Kyoto Protocol committed industrialized countries to take the lead in reducing emissions. The initial aim was for industrialized countries to stabilize their emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. The failure of key industrialized countries to move in this direction after the Earth Summit was a principal reason why Kyoto Protocol moved to ensuring binding commitments. Thus, the Kyoto Protocol was an international treaty which strengthened the 1992 Earth Summit agreements and committed participating countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and that human-made carbon dioxide emissions had significantly contributed to it. This Protocol was adopted by 193 countries on December 11, 1997 and entered into force on February 16, 2005. USA signed the Protocol on November 12, 1998 during the Clinton presidency. To become binding in the USA, however, the treaty had to be ratified by the Senate, which had already passed the 1997 non-binding Byrd Hagel Resolution expressing disapproval of any international agreement that did not require developing countries to make emission reductions”. The resolution was unanimously adopted by the 95 members of Senate. As a result, this treaty that the Clinton administration signed was never submitted to the Senate for ratification.
In January 2001, Al Gore, one of the vocal voices on environmental issues lost his bid to succeed Bill Clinton. The Republicans unfortunately won the election and George W. Bush took over. On March 28 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the United States would not implement the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. This announcement put an end to all hope of reviving the Kyoto treaty on global warming, President Bush declared that his administration had “no interest” in its implementation and he withdrew the US signature earlier signed by Vice-President Al Gore on behalf of the Clinton administration. This death warrant to international efforts at reducing global warming represented a blunt rebuff to European hopes of establishing a global programme to slow down the emission of greenhouse gases, amid startling evidences of rapid climate change.
After Kyoto Protocol came the Paris agreement which came into force on November 4, 2016. The Paris agreement is not an amendment of the Kyoto Protocol. It is indeed a new instrument of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that replaced the Kyoto Protocol. This Paris agreement was a response of the international community to the clarion call of the Secretary General of the United Nations, to come to an agreement on halting global warming during the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2014 in New York. The Paris agreement was meant to enforce emission reductions through commitments of countries in realistic nationally determined emission levels. The aim was to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius, as from 2020.
Just before the Paris agreement came into force, President Barak Obama deposited with the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, the respective instruments required to join the Paris Agreement which was described as “the most ambitious climate change agreement in history.”. China also submitted her own on the same day. This was a giant leap towards solving global warming problems because these two countries contribute 40 percent of global emissions. Ban Ki Moon must have opened a bottle of champagne in celebration on that day.
The critics of the Paris Agreement claim among others that the pact would disproportionately burden U.S. families and businesses relative to developing nations just to prevent global temperature rise by less than 0.2 of a degree Celsius. They went further to claim that the Pact would saddle the U.S. economy, job creators and consumers with enormous costs. Specifically, a study by National Economic Research Associates consulting, ridiculously revealed that compliance with the Paris Pact would cost the U.S. economy nearly $3 trillion over the next few decades.
Donald Trump took over the reign of affairs in USA in January 2017. On June 1, 2017 he announced that the United States of America (USA) would be withdrawing from the historic global agreement reached by 195 countries ostensibly to set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting the rise in average global temperatures. This withdrawal by President Trump from the treaty attracted a wide chorus of voices who called him to rescind his decision on the Paris agreement. These include world leaders, hundreds of scientists, CEOs of major energy companies and other big corporations as well as many Trump advisers. Expectedly, Democrats in the U.S. collectively decried the withdrawal as “a low point in modern American leadership,”
President Obama who signed the treaty, decried President Trump’s decision by saying that:”The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that (will) reap the benefits in jobs and industries created.” He added: “I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”
John Kerry, President Obama’s Secretary of State and a key player in crafting the Paris agreement also denounced the U.S. withdrawal as “… a self-destructive step that puts our nation last. This is an unprecedented forfeiture of American leadership which will cost us influence, cost us jobs, and invite other countries to walk away from solving humanity’s most existential crisis, It isolates the United States after we had united the world.”
The Minister for Environment in Canada, Catherine McKenna, added her voice by saying: “Canada is deeply disappointed at the U.S. position. The Paris agreement is a good deal for Canada, and it’s a good deal for the world. No one country can stop action on climate change.” Canada is a northern neigbhour of the US where all greenhouse gas emissions from the US result in acid rain due to wind and other meteorological conditions. The same situation exists in Europe where greenhouse gas emissions from Western Europe are blown by wind into the Scandinavian countries where they drop as acid rain.
What these two examples imply is that pollution has no geographical boundaries. This is a basic fact in basic ecology which President Trump either does not know or pretends not to know. Unfortunately, those supporting the tearing of the Paris agreement are more than those who do not support it in the present Republican ruling class in the USA. President George W. Bush tore the Kyoto Protocol apart in 2001. President Trump tore the Paris agreement apart in 2017. This reveals one naked fact. The world cannot trust the Republicans with leadership in global environmental issues.
As an ecologist, I know that none of the critiques of Paris agreement are based on sound ecological reasoning. Ecology is different from economics. In Ecology, the science of this fragile domain that we live in, reasoning based on economic gains does not take precedence over reasoning based on the cost of natural resources. In Economics, it is the other way round.
To my mind, one basic difference between Republicans and Democrats in US politics is their opposing views on the protection of the global environment and sustainable development concepts. This is the reason why each time the Republicans won the Presidential election in the USA, my body chemistry went into recession for months. Somebody should tell these conservative USA politicians that Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases don’t respect artificial geographical boundaries. Somebody should tell them that we should bequeath to our children and great grandchildren what our forefathers handed down to us in respect of natural resources and all the environmental parameters. My fear is that they will not listen. Anything short of enrolling them in a school where they will undergo a short course in Ecology will not work. This is the reason why I advocated in 2017 that Donald Trump in particular, with his super-imposing stature and extremely self-opinionating nature, should please go back to school during his first vacation, to study the basic principles of ecology. It is doubtful if my article ever got to his desk. How can? An article from a Professor from a ‘shit-hole’ country? Trump would rather read an article from a white transparent wall maintenance engineer (window cleaner) in USA who didn’t have the advantage of College education.
Now that Donald Trump is on his way out of the White House, it is too late to advise him to go back to school. I am confident that with the Democrats in power, and politicians like President-elect Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Hilary Clinton, John Kerry and many others who are yet to be in public glare, still alive, USA will soon join the global train of heavily industrialized countries on steps to take to stem the tide of climate change and its attendant destructive consequences.
It is very glaring that the degree of compliance with treaties seeking the reduction of the effects of global warming is dependent on the ruling political party in the USA. This partisan divide began in the late 1990s and has increased over time. In 1997, nearly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans said that the effects of global warming had already begun. Ten years later, 76% of Democrats said the effects had already begun, while only 42% of Republicans agreed.
Reports in the last two decades have revealed that the percentage of adults in the USA who believed that dealing with climate change should be a top priority for the President and Congress were consistently higher among the Democrats than the Republicans. In 2008, only 15% of adult Republicans were concerned about Climate Change. This percentage rose to 21 in 2018 whereas 47% among the Democrats in 2008 rose to 67% in 2018. It is therefore not surprising that the top citizens of USA whose contribution through books, reports and activities have been in support of reduction in greenhouse gas emissions are Democrats.
A special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 revealed that reducing carbon emissions radically and absorbing the carbon that is already in the atmosphere will be necessary to avert catastrophic climate change. This Panel therefore recommended a scenario of maximum temperature increase of 1.5oC which will not be without negative effects but whose effects will be tolerable. The report stated categorically that no climate policies (business as usual scenario) will be greatly disastrous for the planet as global temperatures may rise up to 5.4oC. This is what the Republicans are leading the world to.
I have deliberately decided not to over-celebrate the octopus-headed negative side of Donald Trump in this write-up. Many writers have called him names such as, white supremacist, racist. sexist, sexual predator, pathologically chronic lair, prime actor in a tragic movie, demonic, fake news peddler, harbinger of unfounded conspiracy theories, chronic carrier of verbal diarrhea, devil incarnate paying lip service to Christianity, grabber, crook, conman, racketeer, etc. He has been described as impolite, uncouth, foul-mouthed, blasphemous, profane, irreverent, undisciplined and indecorous; just to mention a few of his character traits. His regime has been described as “a toxic political interlude” as well as “a grim era of demonization in America” by Joe Biden in his speech on November 08 after winning the state of Pennsylvania. On the same day, Thomas Frank, a Guardian US columnist who is also the author of “A Brief History of Anti-Populism in America”, also described Trump’s leadership as “the crassest, vainest, stupidest, most dysfunctional leadership the USA has ever suffered.”
When all these descriptions of Donald Trump are superimposed on his lack of understanding of the basic tenets of ecology, what we have is a head of government who is easily predictable on issues that require deep thinking in the right direction. Any head of government of a heavily industrialized nation who does not know that clean energy can produce more wealth in the long run than the current fossil fuel driven industries cannot be a good world leader. A head of government who ignores the naked fact that fossil fuels will get depleted one day; that solar and wind energy will drive the machinery of the next century; that electric cars are safer for the environment in automobile industries; that diesel is carcinogenic; that during the so called ‘Little Ice Age’, there was an increase in temperature and precipitation variability across many parts of the globe; cannot be a good 21st Century world leader. Failure in the ability to manage the environment judiciously and sustainably will eventually lead to failure in ability to manage the economy well. A government that cannot manage the economy well cannot pull the citizens of the country out of poverty and by implication cannot eliminate hunger. Knowing the nitty gritty of the scientific facts on global environmental pollution is the least that any head of government should know so as to be able to join other heads of governments in taking positive proactive actions towards the achievement of a clean and safe global environment.
I feel highly concerned about the 70 million voters who voted for Trump because they see nothing wrong in him as a world leader. Each of these votes to me looks like another knee of Derek Chauvin on the neck of George Floyd and an endorsement of the deaths of numerous Americans who died in the hands of white racists. A minority of these 70 million voters who migrated from ‘shit-hole’ countries to the USA must have agreed with Trump that the countries of their birth are indeed ‘shit-hole’. Many of them must also have agreed with visa restrictions so that their brothers and sisters would not have the opportunity to compete with them in whatever they are doing, ranging from window cleaning, through successful entrepreneurship to highly skilled work in academic, financial and other organized institutions. They must have jettisoned the widely held African notion of the inevitability of a slave claiming ownership of his owner’s properties after a protracted period of slavery. I call them 21st Century slaves who will remain slaves in perpetuity unless they change their mindset.
On the other hand, I congratulate their brothers and sisters who braced up and freed themselves from the shackles of white supremacists by supporting the Democrats through their votes. These progressively minded people of colour, in conjunction with the white majority, who have consciously grown beyond the parochialism of supremacy, ensured victory for the Democrats. They voted for Biden, not only because he has spent many more years in politics than he can ever spend again on earth, not only because his running mate is a woman of colour, but because Trump, as President of USA is a misfit. I salute them all.
Virtually all countries in the world habour politicians who do not see anything wrong with the conservative capitalist republican concept of the western world. The American concept of democracy is hinged on a system of political duopoly, which has stabilized their polity over the years. There are just two major parties, one leans a little bit to the left and the other a little bit to the right. This was adopted by IBB’s regime in the early 90s when he created the NRC and SDP for Nigerian politicians. Throughout the entire world, wherever the Republicans get to power, they exhibit anti-environment tendencies This time around; USA has a President who dragged republicanism too far to the right of their ideological spectrum.
The current seemingly controversial situation on the outcome of this 2020 election notwithstanding, I am convinced that the Democrats will be back in the White House on January 20, 2021. This victory has given me a feeling of being catapulted from hell into the juiciest part of heaven. I am consoled that the imminent change of baton in the White House has vindicated me before my students whom I have consistently told that the opponents of climatic change treaties would soon expire in the USA. In all honesty, I am at present ruminating over the next question I will set for my postgraduate students in Environmental Science and Technology course. Something like this: In the United States of America, politicians on the left are more environmentally friendly than politicians on the right. Discuss.
I commiserate with the Democrats for inheriting a badly managed pandemic from an incompetent and unserious regime. Joe Biden has hit the ground running by launching four “administration priorities” on his website for the incoming Presidency. These are: Covid-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change. All but one of these priorities requires long term planning. The one that needs immediate attention is COVID-19 which unfortunately will have to wait until January 20 next year before implementation. Lucian Truscott, an American journalist, novelist and screenwriter, predicted on November 07 that 300,000 Americans will be dead from COVID by the time Trump leaves office. Some of these lives could have been saved if Joe Biden’s appointment were to take immediate effect.
The Democrats had 65.8 million votes in 2016. This is almost 9 million votes less than their votes this year. Trump had nearly 7 million votes more than his votes in 2016. If these figures at my disposal are correct, it means many more people came out to vote Trump out of power by voting Biden in. Trump lost this election, not because Biden was considered a superstar that could rebuild the image of the USA, but because Trump was considered by majority of Americans unfit as President. According to Lucian Truscott, this 2020 election is a referendum on Donald Trump. This should serve as a lesson for current and future leaders in every country in the world who, like Donald Trump, lack the knowledge of Ecology.
The author is of the Department of Zoology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.