Whether President Donald Trump keeps the United States in the Paris climate agreement or not—and with an official announcement expected as early as Thursday—author and climate activist Naomi Klein is among those saying it is time to recognize the world's largest historical producer of greenhouse emissions as a global pariah and argues that hitting the U.S. where it hurts, in the pocketbook, could be the best way to end the nation's destructive foot-dragging.
"If Trump does indeed pull the U.S. out of Paris," wrote Klein in a new op-ed at the New York Daily News, "Americans should prepare themselves for the possibility that other countries will impose trade and economic sanctions on the United States."
"Moral suasion doesn’t work on Trump. Economic pressure just might."
—author Naomi KleinThe idea of imposing state-backed financial penalties or what Klein calls "people's sanctions," the award-winning journalist says both are gaining global popularity not only because of the "existential threat" posed by a rapidly warming planet, but especially because Trump has been so quick to "threaten economic retaliation against anyone who doesn’t follow his America-first dictates." Klein acknowledges that it might be "difficult for any country to accept the idea that it might deserve (or even benefit from) outside economic sanctions," but says there is ample precedent for doing so.
For example, Klein recounts how the U.S., at different points in history, imposed sanctions on countries like South Africa and Iran, and did so "when it felt the moral case was clear and the stakes were high." It has now become impossible, she writes, to argue that "a rogue action like Trump’s, does not far surpass that bar." In a separate piece at The Intercept on Thursday, Klein went further:
A year ago, the suggestion that the U.S. should face tangible punishment for putting the rest of the rest of humanity at risk was laughed off in establishment circles: Surely no one would put their trade relationships in danger for anything so frivolous as a liveable planet. But just this week, Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, declared, “If the U.S. withdrew from the Paris accord, the rest of the world must consider sanctions.”
We’re likely a long way from major U.S. trading partners taking that kind of a step, but governments are not the only ones that can impose economic penalties for lethal and immoral behavior. Movements can do so directly, in the form of boycotts and divestment campaigns targeting governments and corporations, on the South African model. And not just fossil fuel corporations, but Trump’s branded empire as well. Moral suasion doesn’t work on Trump. Economic pressure just might.
It’s time for some people’s sanctions.
And Klein is certainly not alone in her assessment that if Trump does withdraw from the Paris deal, he will forever be seen as the person who dragged progress back at the exact moment when history—and science—was demanding a giant leap forward.
As Common Dreams noted in reporting on Wednesday, the chorus of outrage directed at Trump over a possible withdrawal is practically deafening, with climate campaigners calling it "nothing short of treason" and a "crime against the future of people and the planet."
But Kelle Louaillier, president of Corporate Accountability International, said that while a pullout would have certainly have severe negative implications, the refusal of Trump and his Republican allies to acknowledge the scale of the crisis—and their continued allegiance to the "climate denialism" propagated by the big oil and gas companies—is the real and ultimate source of harm.
"Whether it stays or goes, the Trump administration, led by oil industry executives and fossil fuel apologists," said Louaillier, "will undoubtedly spend the next four years advancing the oily agenda of the fossil fuel industry—all while blocking global progress and trying to starve the U.N. of the resources it needs to operate."
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As global leaders increasingly express dismay at Trump's waffling posture on the Paris deal and urged the U.S. president to remain part of the agreement, a decision to leave will severely damage U.S. credibility, according to the Center of International Environmental Law (CIEL):
Despite his quixotic promises to the contrary, Mr. Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of Paris will not save the coal industry, it will not save fossil fuels, and it will do nothing to create or save jobs. What it will do is slow our response to climate change at a time when we must be moving faster. And it will undermine the United States’ ability to negotiate and implement international agreements in good faith. Unilateral withdrawal by a president fundamentally damages the credibility of the United States as an international actor and its ability to conclude any deal with international partners, including on matters related to the economy and to national security, and signals to the world that no international commitment made by the US has a guaranteed lifespan of more than four years. This is a recipe for global isolation, irrelevance, and chaos.
But regardless of Trump's ultimate decision on Paris, Louaillier said, "governments around the world must see the U.S. for what it is—a puppet of the fossil fuel industry—and resolve to no longer allow its obstructionism."
Though climate campaigners, the scientific community, leaders of allied nations, and even his own daughter Ivanka have tried to persuade President Trump to see the light on climate change, Klein says it is clear to see that "none of it worked."
"Governments around the world must see the U.S. for what it is—a puppet of the fossil fuel industry—and resolve to no longer allow its obstructionism."
—Kelle Louaillier, Corporate Accountability International
And now, she argues, "It is time to communicate with this President in the only language he appears to understand: money."
Giving up, writes Klein, given what the world has already seen and what climate scientists warn is coming, would be a "monstrous" choice.
"The threat is so grave," she writes, "that it is immoral to waste even a moment pondering our chances of success. So long as there is any chance of keeping temperatures below truly catastrophic levels, we have an unbreakable responsibility to do everything in our power to increase those chances."
And CIEL made a similar point.
"Trump may abandon the Paris Agreement, but the people of the world, and a majority of American people and businesses will not," the group said. "Trump may be out. The rest of us are still in. The future demands nothing less."