Thrashing Our Environment, the Donald Trump Way

On expected lines, President Donald Trump has done it! In a major speech in Washington on June 1st, Trump told the world that he was pulling out the United States from the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change. In doing so, the US is only the third country in the world after Syria and Nicaragua (the latter actually did not sign saying that the agreement was too weak; and Syria was in the midst of a terrible war) not to be part of this historic deal. Today 194 countries are signatories to this Agreement and 148 of these have ratified it.

Donald Trump
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed on December 12th 2015, as a historic result of COP21, which for the first time after 20 years of UN negotiations, provided the world with a legally binding and universal agreement on climate which intends to keep global warming below 2℃, with leaders committing their country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of change. Significant work is already being done by several countries to address climate change.

Scientists and other experts are convinced that the implementation of this agreement is critical if the planet is to have any chance of tackling the catastrophic climate change, which is having disastrous effects in so many parts of the globe.

The 23rd Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Bonn coming November. The tiny Pacific island nation of Fiji will be presiding over COP23. Fiji has been severely impacted upon because of climate change; so COP23 is bound to demand greater action from all countries in the world.

Trump has consistently pooh-poohed this ‘agreement’ referring to the climate change science as a hoax and he is convinced that its “bad for business”. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement was one of the promises he made during his election campaign. In just about one hundred days in office, Trump has reversed course on nearly two dozen environmental rules, regulations and other Obama-era. Citing federal overreach and burdensome regulations, he has prioritized domestic fossil fuel interests and undone measures aimed at protecting the environment and limiting global warming.

During his White House press conference on June 1st, Trump literally thrashed the Paris Agreement and outlined his reasons for withdrawing from it; his reasons however, were based on very questionable and insufficient data. The main reasons Trump gave are job losses in the US; that there is in fact only a tiny temperature increase; that there will be a negative impact on the US economy; there will be ‘blackouts and brownouts’ (justifying the need and the use of fossil fuels) and the that the US is already paying, “billions and billions and billions of dollars” to keep the Paris Agreement going. And of course that he wants to put “America First” and “make it great again!” These reasons were severely thrashed in editorials and opinion pieces, in mainstream and social media, both in the US and throughout the world and Trump has been criticised for misleading statements, for manipulating facts and even for blatantly lying.
In an unprecedented joint response to Trump’s withdrawal, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy said they regretted the US decision but went on further saying that, “we deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies.” Several other world leaders voiced similar sentiments. Late in May, in their meetings with him, the G7 leaders had urged Tump not to pull US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Pope Francis and US President Donald Trump met for the first time in the Vatican on May 24th 2017, the Pope gave Trump two significant gifts: a copy of his encyclical on the environment ‘Laudato Si’ and a medallion of ‘peace’ (together with his message for the World Day of Peace 2017). In doing so, Pope Francis emphasised the interconnectedness between ‘environment’ and ‘peace’. In a lead article entitled ‘The Pope’s Gifts to Trump Send Some Clear Messages’, the ‘New York Times’ of May 24th opined, ‘Francis left no doubt about his message in the gifts he gave to his guest, notably the essay on the importance of the environment, which stands as a rebuke to the climate change scepticism espoused by Mr. Trump. Francis also presented him with a medallion engraved with the image of an olive tree — “a symbol of peace,” he explained. “We can use peace,” Mr. Trump said. Francis replied, “It is with all hope that you may become an olive tree to make peace.” As he bade the Pope farewell, Mr. Trump told him, “I won’t forget what you said.”’

In June 2015, a few months before the Paris Agreement, Pope Francis gifted the world his manga carta on the environment with his Encyclical ‘Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home’. In the opening statements, he makes his intention clear “to address every person living on this planet”. “This sister (mother earth) now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.  We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” and further, “the earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production” Laudato Si’ is path-breaking, radical in nature; it makes one uncomfortable and touches every single dimension of our human existence.  The Pope invites all to an ecological conversion, to change directions so that we can truly care for our common home; he challenges all “what kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” Apparently Trump has not yet read what Pope Francis has written about the environment.

In his speech yesterday Trump faulted not only China’s role with regard to climate change but also India’s; India he said was taking millions of dollars in aid but its response to the environment is ‘contingent’. It is true that India has been faring very poorly on environmental issues. The ‘Environmental Performance Index’ (EPI) developed by the Yale and Columbia Universities in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in its Report of 2016 ranked India a poor 141 out of 180 countries. This is not surprising. Ever since, it came into power three years ago, the NDA Government under Narendra Modi has demonstrated that the environment can be destroyed at the whims and fancies of the powerful and vested interests.
 Gautam Adani is regarded by many as Modi’s right hand man. When Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Adani built a coal port and power plant in Mundra which resulted in an unimaginable destruction of the environment that had sustained local fishing and farming businesses for generations. So when the Modi government goes all out of the way to support Adani’s venture in the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which poses a huge risk to the reefs already vulnerable eco-system, it comes as no surprise to many. Inspite of protests from celebrities in Australia (including two former cricket captains) Adani seems to be having his way with the Carmichael coalmine in the Queensland State. Fishermen of Gujarat, who have suffered greatly because of the Mundra port, recently sent a powerful message to Australia saying that the Adani project is harming them and killing off sea life.
In a few days from now, on June 5th , the world will once again observe Environment Day on the theme ‘Connecting People to Nature’, imploring us to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and its importance, and to take forward the call to protect the Earth that we share. There will certainly be plenty of hoop-la, cosmetic activities like tree-planting and the ‘politically correct speeches’ given! Everybody knows that these certainly do not scratch the surface of what needs to be done to address the serious environmental issues, which plague us. Too many of the powerful are actually playing games with and like Trump, thrashing our environment. Parrikar the CM of Goa wants to fine anybody using plastics (that’s okay) but he will allow his cronies to continue with their nefarious mining activities. A good percentage of the world are too afraid to take on these ‘thrashers of our environment’. Many are content with playing a goody-goody role: grow trees, have manicured lawns; but do not risk disturbing the ‘status quo’ as ‘Greenpeace’ has done, else like them, you will have to face the consequences!
More than ever today we are called to protect and care for our common home!
* (Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East, on advocacy and   communications. Contact: )     



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