“United States withdrawal [from the Paris accord] could become a specific excuse for countries that were hesitant to join in the first place…. The second thing is withdrawal of our financial support and technical support for other countries, particularly developing countries, for both mitigation and adaptation.”
– John Holdren, May 31, 2017
John Holdren is the proverbial gift-that-keeps-on-giving. He has toned down–but not repudiated–his past of exaggerated alarms. (Remember his worry about one billion climate-related deaths by 2020?)
In the wake of President’s Trump decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Kiley Korth of the Center for American Progress interviewed Obama’s former science advisor. The entire interview is reprinted below in light of the new story line from ThinkProgress that Trump’s decision was really not that important! So Holdren then versus ThinkProgress now.
Trump’s bold, correct decision was a major blow to a global effort that was destined to fail anyway. James Hansen rejected Obama’s signature action before Trump did, stating:
It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: “We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.” It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.
Here is the Korth/Holdren interview.
Q. So we finally have an answer from Trump on the Paris agreement. What are the implications of the U.S. withdrawing?
Holdren: It’s a blow to the prospects for limiting the damage from global climate change and a blow to U.S. leadership on the world stage. The harm from climate change can no longer be avoided; it’s already happening. We’re already experiencing more torrential downpours and associated flooding, more extreme heatwaves, larger annual area burned by wildfires, and increasing damages from sea level rise.
In addition to the direct effects on U.S. emissions and investments in preparedness, resilience, and adaptation, there is the effect on other countries…. United States withdrawal could become a specific excuse for countries that were hesitant to join in the first place, and were persuaded to do so by the unity of the U.S. and China leading the charge, to now withdraw from the agreement. The second thing is withdrawal of our financial support and technical support for other countries, particularly developing countries, for both mitigation and adaptation.
And the last way in which U.S. withdrawal will have major adverse impacts is our standing in the world diplomatically and politically. We’re going to lose tremendous global clout and influence if we prove ourselves to be such an unreliable partner in global agreements — who’s going to take lectures from the United States going forward about what we all need to do together?
Q. Almost everything we’ve learned is from leaks and anonymous sources, but Ivanka Trump reportedly wanted to be sure her dad heard from both sides and was getting the best advice. But there is no reliable scientific expert giving him advice. What do you think about that decision making process?
Holdren: I think it’s a terrible gap that President Trump has not yet appointed an OSTP director [White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which Holdren directed]. In addition, the other major science and technology appointments in the government are mostly vacant: there is no NOAA administrator, there is no NASA administrator, there is no USGS director, there is no director of the office of science in the Department of Energy.
There is no indication anybody is able to whisper in President Trump’s ear about what science is telling us about climate change and what is needed to deal with it, never mind about a host of other issues in which science and technology affect or should affect policy choices — about the economy, biomedicine and public health, space, national and homeland security, and more.
Q. This is a terrible choice to be presented with but what concerns you more, leaving all of these science-related jobs empty or filling them with people who very clearly have no background in science? The one that sticks out the most to me is Sam Clovis, the right wing radio host who’s rumored to be picked for lead scientist at USDA.
Holdren: I actually do think it’s worse to fill those positions with unqualified people. It’s basically a fraud when you do that, and I don’t support fraud in government. If they’re not interested in having science and technology advice, they might as well admit it by leaving those positions vacant.
Holdren: The first thing I would say about that is that the problem in the end is the overall caps on discretionary spending. If Trump adds $54 billion to defense and Congress goes along with that, then there is no alternative under the caps but to reduce spending elsewhere in the discretionary space. And there is no way in that circumstance to avoid cuts to R&D [research and development], because R&D is a substantial part of discretionary spending after you get done with defense. If you don’t lift the caps, there are going to be cuts for sure. For that reason I think it’s probably a mistake for the science and technology community to go after individual cuts… because I don’t think we’re going to win an argument about not increasing defense.
Holdren: Most of them did — they said climate is clearly changing but it’s not clear what the human role is — and that was pretty clearly a coordinated response that they agreed on and had been supplied with. Obviously if you don’t know what the human role is then you take a lot of the steam out of the argument for action, except as sort of an insurance argument. It’s a crock, scientifically. We do know.
Q. And it’s spread beyond the Trump officials — the New York Times hiring Bret Stephens, for instance — this injection of a fake sense of uncertainty into the debate around climate science and what’s causing it and what needs to be done.
Holdren: I thought the Bret Stephens column was terrible. Here’s Stephens, a former hysterical denier, saying, now I’m a reasonable person and the reasonable view is that this is still highly uncertain. What a crock. Stephens is trying to claim the mantle of respectability in part by criticizing Trump, but on climate change… his position is unreasonable and inconsistent with the science.
When I was asked after Paris, oh aren’t you so happy we finally got this agreement? And I said, yes, I am very happy, a lot of us worked really hard for that. But I would’ve been a lot happier if we had done this in 1990, 25 years ago, when we already knew enough to justify everything that has finally been agreed in 2015. We lost that 25 years in part because of the propagation of false doubt.
Holdren: We now know a lot more than we did then about what his policies are going to be, and essentially all of the news is bad. We know about the anti-science, anti-evidence, climate change denying people he’s put in many key positions. We know about his failure to put scientists in many key positions. His executive orders have been terrible in the climate space.
Nonetheless, there is still some basis for optimism. Number one, states and cities are going to continue to lead in the U.S., and a number of major emitting countries around the world are going to continue to lead. And the other thing is there are these two fundamental forces that are driving us toward reducing emissions: one is the growing and increasingly obvious harm from climate change, which increases the incentive to act, and the other is the falling costs of acting — renewables continue to get cheaper, energy efficiency continues to get cheaper. These costs will continue to fall even in the absence of federal policies, because it’s in the interest of the private sector to continue to advance wind and renewables and energy efficiency; they’re making money at it.
I think we’ll continue to make progress on a number of fronts in reducing emissions, but we won’t make as much progress as we need without the federal government contributing.