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Breaking the Climate Spell

Rupert Darwall, The Weekly Standard

Getting out of the Paris Agreement was just the first step on the road to a realist global energy policy.

Thirteen years ago, a Republican president who had pulled the United States out of an onerous climate treaty faced isolation at the annual gathering of Western leaders. “Tony Blair is contemplating an unprecedented rift with the U.S. over climate change at the G8 summit next week, which will lead to a final communiqué agreed by seven countries with President George Bush left out on a limb,” the Guardian reported of the meeting at Glen­eagles, Scotland. France and Germany preferred an unprecedented split communiqué to a weak one, the article said.

George W. Bush, who had pulled the country out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2003, blinked and agreed to an official document that affirmed global warming was occurring and that “we know enough to act now.” The 2005 G8 put the United States back on the path that ultimately led through the Copenhagen climate summit—when China and India thwarted U.S.-led attempts at a global climate treaty—to the Paris Agreement 11 years later.

There was a very different American president this June at the Charlevoix G7 (as it has been since Russia’s suspension in 2014). Had it not been for the row with Justin Trudeau, when the Canadian prime minister responded to President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs with retaliatory tariffs of his own, the big story would have been the climate split. Where 15 years ago the mere possibility of isolation pushed Bush to compromise, Trump embraced the isolation and inserted an America-only paragraph into the summit communiqué outlining a position fundamentally contradicting the rest of the group’s.

“The United States believes sustainable economic growth and development depends on universal access to affordable and reliable energy resources,” it reads, going on to offer a manifesto for global energy realism. That single paragraph is more definitive than the president’s announcement last August that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris treaty. After all, George W. Bush nixed the Kyoto Protocol that Bill Clinton signed. And Trump, when announcing the Paris withdrawal, left the door open to U.S. participation in a renegotiated climate deal. At Charlevoix, he closed it. Unlike in 2005, it’s very hard now to see any way back.

This is about far more than process. Trump is breaking the spell of inevitability of the transition to renewable energy. The impression of irresistible momentum has been one of the most potent tools in enforcing compliance with the climate catechism. Like socialism, the clean-energy transition will fail because it doesn’t work. But it requires strong leadership to avoid the ruin that will disprove the false promise of cost-free decarbonization. […]

Exiting Paris was the first step. The president has also ended his predecessor’s war on coal. Globally, the administration’s continued advocacy for energy realism can win friends among the world’s poor and make allies of some of the world’s most dynamic economies. The geostrategic potential of American energy is already being felt. American gas is being shipped to Poland and American coal to Ukraine—reducing the region’s dependence on Russian gas. As the president pointed out at the NATO summit in early July, Germany’s pipeline will see it paying “billions of dollars” a year to Russia, although he subsequently undercut the strategic logic of his argument at the disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16. The Trump administration should now formalize its ties with other energy-realistic nations and show the world the benefits of America’s energy exceptionalism—jobs at home, booming exports, and an escape from dismal energy policies predicated on bogus resource shortages. Having broken the spell, America and its friends around the world can reap the benefits.

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