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Top Climate Scientist, Journalist & Activists Blast Trump's Withdrawal from Paris Accord

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We host a roundtable discussion on President Trump’s announcement Thursday that he will withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate accord signed by nearly 200 nations in 2015 and heralded as a rare moment of international collaboration to avert imminent climate disaster. We are joined by Michael Mann, distinguished professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University; Kumi Naidoo, South African activist, former head of Greenpeace, now chairperson of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity; Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want; and Antonia Juhasz, oil and energy journalist, author of several books, including "The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry—and What We Must Do to Stop It."

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AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a roundtable discussion on President Trump’s announcement Thursday he’ll withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate accord signed by nearly 200 nations in 2015 and heralded as a rare moment of international collaboration to avert imminent climate disaster.

From State College, Pennsylvania, we’re joined by Michael Mann, distinguished professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. His latest book he co-authored with political cartoonist Tom Toles is titled The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.

Via Democracy Now! video stream from Johannesburg, South Africa, Kumi Naidoo rejoins us, South African activist, former head of Greenpeace, chairperson of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity.

In London, Asad Rehman is with us, executive director of War on Want. He was formerly the spokesperson for Friends of the Earth International.

And in San Francisco, Antonia Juhasz, oil and energy journalist, author of several books, including The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry—and What We Must Do to Stop It.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s go to the scientist first. Let’s go to Michael Mann and your response to just what happened yesterday in the White House Rose Garden.

MICHAEL MANN: Thanks, Amy. It’s good to be with you.

You know, what can be said that hasn’t already been said? I thought you laid it out very well. The U.S., through the actions of Donald Trump, has now established itself as an international outlaw. We literally are on the sidelines with Syria and Nicaragua as the only—and Nicaragua hasn’t signed onto the Paris accord because they think it doesn’t go far enough—as the only countries now that are not respecting the commitments of the Paris accord.

And the most dangerous aspect of that action is the potential ripple effect. With the second-largest emitter of carbon on the face of the planet, the U.S., withdrawing, the fear, of course, is that this will create a snowball effect, a ripple effect, where other countries, like India, might say, "Well, you know, if the U.S., which has had 200 years of access to free dirty energy, isn’t willing to do their part, then why should we, a country that’s trying to develop its economy, go along with this?" And that’s the real danger, is the message it sends to the rest of the world. Thus far, as you’ve alluded to, there appears to be a solidarity among the remaining nations, among France—we’ve heard from China and India. So that’s a good sign.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you talk about, Professor Michael Mann, the science around this climate accord? Throughout his speech, Trump repeatedly claimed that the accord puts the United States at an economic disadvantage in relation to the rest of the world.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement. They went wild. They were so happy—for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump also repeatedly claimed the Paris climate accord is hurting American workers and costing them jobs.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Paris climate accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Professor Michael Mann, I mean, you’re a distinguished professor of atmospheric science. He didn’t address the science. He talked about the issue of jobs. But I’m wondering if you can talk about both, in particular as he talked about his love for coal miners.

MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, sure. So first on the science, he actually did wade into that territory a bit when he claimed that the Paris accord would only shave a tenth of a degree Celsius of temperature rise off of the trajectory that we’re on. That’s pretty good for Donald Trump. He was only off by a factor of 10, because it will shave at least a degree Celsius. And with proper ratcheting up, it will literally cut the projected warming in half, getting us onto a path where we could see stabilizing the warming below 2 degrees Celsius, what most scientists who study the impacts of climate change will tell you constitutes sort of the level of dangerous interference with the climate.

On the jobs side of things, again, he gets the numbers wrong. First of all, there are only about 70,000 jobs in the U.S. in coal. And energy experts recognize that this is a dying industry. There were nearly a million jobs in renewable energy in the U.S. last year. We are on a trajectory where there is tremendous growth in renewable energy. And, look, the rest of the world recognizes that that is the economic revolution of this century. China, for example, is cleaning our clock when it comes to renewable energy—in fact, producing so much solar energy technology that they’ve literally flooded the entire global economy with cheap solar panels, and they’ve brought down the price of solar technology tremendously. So, you know, the rest of the world recognizes that this is the great growth industry of this century, and the U.S. risks getting left behind if it doesn’t get on board. So, whether we’re talking about the science, whether we’re talking about economic competitiveness, whether we’re talking about jobs, everything that Trump said yesterday was wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Mann, you tweeted, "Evidently, Trump’s real goal is #MECGA"—M-E-C-G-A—"(Making Europe & China Great Again)." I wanted to ask Asad Rehman, who is in London right now, who’s head of War on Want, your reaction and the reaction in Europe right now to Donald Trump’s historic withdrawal of the United States from the Paris accord.

ASAD REHMAN: Thank you, Amy.

Well, first of all, let me just say that there has been a long tradition of U.S. weakening of climate action. If we go back to, of course, the Kyoto agreement, that was very weak—weak pledge from the United States, full of loopholes. And that was to accommodate the United States. And, of course, the Paris Agreement was nonbinding. It was all voluntary. The pledges in it would lead to a warming of at least 3 degrees. It needed to be strengthened. And that was, again, done under President Obama’s watch, but to accommodate the United States. So, I think one of the very powerful lessons of this is that there is a tradition and a long history of American exceptionalism within climate action and that the rest of the world now has to move on faster and more ambitious and leave the United States behind. So the reaction that you’re seeing now, I think, has been very strong and very positive, both from governments, but also from social organizations, civil society, where people are committed and recognizing that the real change will come not necessarily from Donald Trump, but it will come from the grassroots within the United States, because this is bad for the people of the United States.

The temperature increase that we’re seeing of 1-degree warming around the world is leading to killer floods and droughts all over the world. It’s leading to half the summer ice in the Arctic melting. It’s leading to coral being bleached. And, of course, that has huge implications and impacts, and not just on the poorest parts of the world. Now those impacts are being felt all around the world. So this is absolutely that Donald Trump has now made the United States a climate criminal and has put itself outside of multilateralism and global society.

But I think it’s also part of a bigger trend of Donald Trump. I would say that this is a reflection of a real mindset, of a neocolonial white supremacist mindset, because if you take it into context with the Muslim ban, building walls and fences, and then walking away from climate change, where the United States is historically the greatest—responsible for the greatest amount of CO2 in the atmosphere—and, actually, its pledge is so weak, it’s doing less than one-fifth of what it should be doing.

And he was absolutely wrong about the—his comments about climate finance, as well. In fact, the United States is only pledging about $1 billion, which is a drop in the ocean of what the impacts are happening around the world and what is actually needed for poor countries to be able to develop cleanly and be able to tackle poverty, because we have to remember that billions of our citizens, of course, are still without access to energy, are still living in subsistence, still facing multiple poverty. I’m originally from Pakistan, you know, where four out of 10 people face multiple indices of poverty. And just last week, we had temperature levels recorded at 53.5 degrees centigrade. That’s literally at the upper level of what a human being can tolerate in the open. And this is the same country where one flood impacted 30 million people, covered one-fifth of the country and cost the country billions and billions of dollars. So these are very real and live impacts.

And what he’s done is not only turned his back on the international community, he’s basically saying, "Black lives, poor lives don’t matter. They don’t matter in the rest of the world, and also they don’t matter in the United States," because it’s the poorest and most vulnerable people in the United States who face these impacts, as well, whether that’s through air pollution, the extractive industry and, as we’ve seen with Dakota Access pipeline, the impacts on indigenous communities, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the U.S. into the Paris accord under President Obama, Thursday, blasted President Trump for withdrawing from the deal. Speaking to CBS, Kerry noted U.S. commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are voluntary under the Paris accord, and said Trump could have simply scaled back U.S. pledges to cut pollution.

JOHN KERRY: No country is required by this agreement to do anything except what that country decided to do for itself. So Donald Trump is not telling the truth to the American people when he says, "We have this huge burden that’s been imposed on us by other nations." No, we agreed to what we would do. We designed it. It’s voluntary. And the president of the Unites States could have simply changed that without walking away from the whole agreement.

AMY GOODMAN: Asad Rehman, your response?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, he said it himself very, very clearly. They designed a voluntary, weak agreement, that was basically where rich countries could do as little as they wanted. And the United States could have stayed in and then done even less.

I mean, on one level, I think it’s a very—it’s a useful signal from the United States, because now it must spur people at the European Union, who have aided the United States in weakening the agreement in the hope that the U.S. would take part. They must now say, "Absolutely, we have a responsibility. We have to live up to our fair share." So the European Union is also not doing its fair share of what’s needed.

Climate scientists tell us we have about a decade. It’s a decade zero, if we want to keep temperatures below the critical 1.5-degree threshold where impacts will be absolutely devastating for the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the world. And in that, now we have an opportunity. The climate talks take place in Germany this year. There is an opportunity for richer countries to come there and increase their targets. And actually, that would be the best response now to Donald Trump. It would be saying that what we need is a legally binding agreement, an agreement that’s based on the science and not on what rich countries want to do or feel that they’re able to do, because that absolutely is disastrous both for the planet and for its people.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to South Africa right now. Yesterday, Kumi Naidoo, chair of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity, we talked to you about the imminent announcement. We were not sure what was going to happen. But yesterday, just after 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, President Trump did take to the Rose Garden, speaking to his supporters, and announced the U.S. withdrawal from the climate deal. Your response right now, from your position in Johannesburg, South Africa, what this means for the African continent?

KUMI NAIDOO: Well, for people like Asad and myself, who did not think this deal was as ambitious as it needed to be, it’s quite an interesting situation, because yesterday, after I was interviewed by Democracy Now!, some right-wing publication, I think, said all the critics of the Paris Agreement are now saying, "Oh, dear, it’s such a bad thing that Donald Trump has pulled out." I mean, this is cognitive dissonance at its worst, where there’s a denial about the fact that we are very close to the climate cliff. As one newspaper put it, Donald Trump’s message to the world, front page said, world—"Message to the World: Drop Dead." OK? That’s how it’s being reported.

Now, for us in Africa, we’re already seeing very brutal and the first big impacts of climate change. We think that this is not only a betrayal to—for poor people who have hardly contributed any emissions. For them to be facing the first and most brutal price of climate impacts, it’s just unjust. But what I think is clear is that the successful nations, companies, societies of the future are not going to be those that win the arms race, space race or any other race. It’s going to be those that win the green race, the green technology race. And I think that apart from the harm that he’s done globally through this decision, the biggest threats and the biggest damage, he will do to the American people themselves.

And I think that the positive thing about it is that I—you know, just what I’ve heard in the last 12 hours is that it has really energized the climate movement rather than de-energized it. So there are people right now—for example, I’ve been looking—I’m looking at a proposal right now that’s been sent to me from a coalition of activists who are talking about a strategic boycott of the United States, targeting certain products of the United States. It’s something that we’ve never heard talked about very seriously in the past. I think that you are going to see, as we are seeing already, mayors in the United States, progressive governors, progressive businesses and so on saying to Trump, "We’re moving ahead anyway."

So, our call from Africa and from the so-called Global South, what people call the developing countries, to the people of the United States right now is that we do not judge you on the basis of what a crazy president has just done. We will judge you by how you respond to President Trump. And we call on the people of the United States today to mobilize the biggest-ever civil disobedience against the president of the United States. We’ve seen some inspiring things already since his election. And I think right now we have to call on the people of the United States to muster the boldest, peaceful, strong civil disobedience to put pressure on him, such that he might have to be humbled to go back and reverse his decision.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Antonia Juhasz into the discussion, oil and energy journalist, speaking to us from California. Der Spiegel had a remarkable cover, the German magazine. It said, "America First! Earth Last!" Antonia, your response to Donald Trump’s announcement?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: I think the announcement shows not the independence that Donald Trump is trying to put forward, but who he is captured by and who’s he—who he is being responsive to. So you’ve got the domestic oil industry and fossil fuel industry. And just to be clear, Donald Trump says he loves coal miners, but coal miners don’t love him. He wasn’t endorsed by the coal workers’ union, United Mine Workers of America. They don’t like him. They’ve never liked him. Donald Trump is standing with coal companies and fossil fuel companies, who have been very successful in making his domestic agenda be one that would not adhere to our climate commitments in any case, limiting regulation, oversight over fossil fuel production and opening up new areas to production, so that we would increase our already high carbon emissions and pollution and health effects, etc.

But also, let’s recall that this is coming quite shortly after Trump’s first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia. As I reported from Paris in Newsweek and as we discussed on the show from Paris, Saudi Arabia has desperately been trying to stop the climate accord process for years, and does not want, for very obvious reasons, the world to declare its lack of an intent to continue to use carbon-based fuels. And Trump came back from Saudi Arabia and announced that the United States would be eliminating its commitments and pulling out of the Paris climate accord.

Another country that would very much like to see the world not make a commitment to move off of oil and fossil fuels is Russia, a country, of course, where there is a great deal of concern about the relationship of Donald Trump to Putin and to Russia.

And Trump can do a great deal of damage even in the four years of the withdrawal period. As you used in your headliner, the Paris climate accord had a lot of weaknesses, but one of its strengths was a global $500 billion commitment to helping those countries that are suffering the worst consequences of climate change right now to help deal with those immediate costs and try and do some adaptation. Now, this wasn’t enough money, but it was still $500 billion. The Obama administration pledged $4 billion; it had only put forward $1 billion. But Trump is essentially saying the United States is not going to fund and help put money forward, which is something that we have, to help address the immediate impacts right now of the climate crisis. In addition—

AMY GOODMAN: In the Green Climate Fund.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: —he’s slashing already in—that’s right. And he’s slashing, in his already proposed budgets, that already came out prior to this announcement, draconian cuts to U.S. payments to address climate change in its various forms through international agencies, including the United Nations.

And nowhere in all of this, by the way, are we seeing, you know, these great rumors that Rex Tillerson is a great defender of Paris, the Paris climate accord. Where is Rex Tillerson when Donald Trump is already proposing in his budget these cuts to our funds to address our commitments to Paris and our commitments to climate? Where is Rex Tillerson when the—when Donald Trump is proposing and enacting harsh cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency in its ability to regulate fossil fuels? The New York Times reported, in this article about how Rex Tillerson is, you know, trying to support the Paris climate accord, that also, of course, the current CEO of ExxonMobil just happens to be sharing the same position. And in a meeting where the current CEO of ExxonMobil apparently conveyed that position privately to Trump—and he has joined others in doing so publicly—it was in a meeting, according to the Times, where they were also discussing new offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico that Exxon wants to pursue. So, you know, there’s a public stance, which could be, you know, "We support Paris and the Paris climate accord," but then there’s the real policy pieces that make it meaningful. And so, the damage that can be done in those four years is vast. And, to me, it shows, you know, as I said, the alliances that Trump has posed.

It also sends a really important and problematic message to the rest of the world, which was brought up at the very beginning. The United States is not going to hold to its commitments—the federal government is not—under Paris. And that sends a message to the rest of the world: You don’t have to put in place policies that shift away from fossil fuels, because there isn’t going to be an international commitment that you do so. And that is a very dangerous message, particularly for countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia, that would really like to make it clear fossil fuels are here to stay, oil is here to stay. That sends a message to the rest of the world: You know, you can continue on this path. Fortunately, of course, as we’ve heard, local communities, activists, governments, many governments, are not going to listen to that message. But the fact that it’s coming from the United States is deeply troubling and is certainly a message that the Trump administration was hoping to convey on behalf of, as I said, the domestic oil industry, domestic fossil fuel industry and his allies and allies he’s hoping to continue to foster, I would argue, most importantly, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia, I want you to stay with us, because after break I want to find out about your latest investigation into TigerSwan, the company that has been surveilling the indigenous movements against the Dakota Access pipeline. News is that oil is now flowing through DAPL, through this pipeline, under the Missouri River. But I wanted to go back to Kumi Naidoo in South Africa to talk about civil disobedience. That is what you’re known for, Kumi, former head of Greenpeace, now chair of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity. What you think people around the world and in the United States—what do you think their responsibility is right now?

KUMI NAIDOO: Well, I think it’s clear that we have put too much of faith in political and business leaders over the last several decades, expecting them, as parents and grandparents who have a vested interest in the future of their children, to do the right thing. The message that we get now out of Washington and President Trump is one where we have to realize that if we, as ordinary citizens, do not stand up and do not take ownership of putting pressure on our political and business leaders in a much more stronger, peaceful and bold way, we are not going to get the results that we need. We are literally, you know, five minutes to midnight. We are seeing the devastation that’s been caused already by existing climate impacts. People seem to have short memories. I would have thought President Trump, being a resident of New York, would have had some sense, even being in his Trump Tower, of the devastation that Hurricane Sandy caused, which was intensified, which the climate scientists told us, by the level of Arctic sea ice during the summer months when it happened.

So, where we are is we have to recognize—and we, as activists and in the climate movement, have to take a very hard look at ourselves. As Albert Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting to get different results. We now have to say, "Well, what can we do differently? What can we do that makes it irresistible for corrupt, self-serving, captured-by-vested-interests leaders? How long do we tolerate their misbehavior?" So, I think right now, already over the last couple of years we’ve seen an intensification of civil disobedience around climate activism. I would like to say to every parent, every grandparent, if you care about your children, you should be now becoming a climate activist. You should be considering civil disobedience, because that’s the kind of pressure that we need right now to align the science—what the science is saying we need to do, what Mother Nature is saying we need to do, through extreme weather events and so on—and what actions we take.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Michael Mann, what are climate scientists doing? What is your community around the world? It seems that this announcement has brought out climate change deniers that weren’t even being turned to before, people who weren’t willing to say this. They’re now coming out talking about the questionable science on television, and the networks are filled with those voices, as well.

MICHAEL MANN: No, that’s right. Sort of the culture that Donald Trump has created here, where the leader of our country, the president of the United States, has adopted as his official position that climate change is either a hoax created by the Chinese or at least something that we don’t need to worry about, when the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientists, which includes the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and every scientific society in the U.S. that has weighed in on the matter, is that climate change is real, it’s human-caused, it’s already wreaking havoc in the form of unprecedented heat and droughts and flooding events and superstorms, record-strength hurricanes. It’s already wreaking havoc.

And if we don’t act now to reduce our emissions dramatically over the next 10 years, we will go right past that 1.5-degree Celsius mark that was mentioned earlier. We’ll sail past that, across the 2-degree Celsius mark, which is, again, where we have reason to think we will see the worst and potentially irreversible changes in climate. So we don’t have time to act. We don’t have time, if we are going to avert a crisis. We need to bring emissions back down now. By withdrawing from Paris, Trump risks, again, disrupting this process that has been put in place, the Paris treaty, that will get us on the right path. But if we don’t bring down our emissions now, we’re not going to be able to stabilize below dangerous levels of warming.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Michael Mann, distinguished professor and director of Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, I want to thank you for being with us. Asad Rehman, in England, executive director of War on Want. Kumi Naidoo, thanks for joining us from Johannesburg, chair of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity. And Antonia Juhasz, please stay with us, because we want to find out your latest exposé on what has been happening in North Dakota around the Dakota Access pipeline. Stay with us.

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