It Isn’t Trump Ruining Our Planet, But Everyone Who Thinks We’ve Done Enough

On June 1st, Donald Trump announced that he was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. The world flooded with headlines like “Trump Sentenced the Planet to Death” or “Earth’s Faith In Danger.” As if the world’s faith had been secure so far in that - before Trump made his announcement - the case of climate change had been taken care of.

The 2015 Paris agreement was signed by 195 countries, pledging themselves to keep global warming below 2°C by reducing levels of gas emission, while developed countries also committed to financially aid poorer partners in preparing for the consequences of climate change and in switching to renewable energy sources.

The agreement is but an insufficient, unaccountable pile of promises.

Many considered the agreement a turning point in climate politics; a global, joint effort to solve this problem! Others were not that enthusiastic. Many rated it as a first step in the right direction, while others, like Columbia University climate scientist James Hansen, called it “worthless words.” Several researchers consider the stated objectives of the agreement to be insufficient either by keeping global warming below 2°C or by defending the poorest people most threatened by the effects of climate change. Additionally, since each country is individually responsible for accomplishing the objectives, there is no mechanism to enforce them. Thus, the agreement is but an insufficient, unaccountable pile of promises.

Therefore, “Trump Brought the Apocalypse” is a false narrative, because the end may as well come with the U.S. remaining part of the agreement, as it is incapable of accomplishing even its own objectives. What has happened, in fact, is that in 2015 we took a tiny step forward, probably insufficient in the long run, and in 2017 we’ve taken an insignificant step backward. The sensational headlines give the impression that we already have a solution and it is the narrow-minded politicians denying climate change that are the sole obstacles, like Trump.

This narrative, of course, suits the power elites throughout the world by allowing them the role of ‘climate champions of humanity’, if only by making empty promises and symbolic gestures in defiance Trump’s decision. Also, it takes the wind out of the sail of critics of the agreement by saying that while it may not be perfect, at least we have done something. Unlike the messenger of the Apocalypse, who is deliberately setting the planet on fire. Thus, power elites gain legitimacy with no cost.

The homeless woman who froze to death: an environmental issue

They need this legitimacy because actually doing something against climate change would threaten the foundations of their power. Political authority everywhere depends on a global economic structure, the functioning and existence of which requires the unobstructed exploitation of natural resources and the adaptation of the natural environment—including the climate—in favor of uncontrolled profit. If holders of political authority intend to secure the economic-political stability of their countries—and prevent sovereign default or famine revolts— they have to serve the interests of the economic elites in control of investments, production and trade. These interests are, however, intertwined with the unlimited utilization of fossil fuels.

The international influence the car and petroleum industries obtained during the 20th century is fit to manipulate world leaders and block the spread of renewable energy resources. But it is also more; according to what several researchers state—from Andreas Malmö in Sweden to Elmar Altvater in Germany—, the whole structure of capitalism would shut down if its dependence on fossil fuels was eliminated and its practice of transposing the burden of environmental waste to the poorest, weakest people—who lack the power to stand up to the system oppressing them—was prohibited.

This system—including the press grieving about the Apocalypse—makes us believe that this is the most we can do and that we should be happy that something is happening, at least. One often hears arguments akin to the logic of “well, the Paris agreement is not perfect, but it’s better than doing nothing,” and “the global processes fueling the climate change cannot be changed this instant, we should be glad that world leaders show willingness to amend the situation – would it be better, if they refused to do so?”

It is difficult to illustrate the notion of boundless cynicism and the inhumaneness imbued in the shrug coming from the power and economic elites of the world who hold all political, economic and military power in their hands. They appear to be saying that they want to change the situation and that they would prefer not to poison the air or destroy natural habitats or even to transpose the burdens of a global cataclysmic event. However, they started this process and unfortunately cannot stop it. But believe them when they say that they share in your concerns!

We cannot even imagine that conscious human efforts could change the economic and power structures that triggered this entire process.

It is as if an unquestionable natural law states that global economic processes must be kept in motion and the engine driving profit cannot be stopped. This is despite the rising number of people who will be left with no water or food because of the coming droughts caused by climate change, or who will lose their homes because of rising sea levels or who will be killed in future wars over gradually decreasing resources. Somehow, while we can manage to realize that human activities are capable of changing the climate of the entire planet, we cannot even imagine that conscious human efforts could change the economic and power structures that triggered this entire process.

No, it is not Donald Trump or other climate change deniers who bring the end about. The apocalypse is brought about by the political and economic elites using climate politics to strengthen their authoritative position and to mute the public; and by the public that expects a resolution from these elites, even though they are the ones who directly profit from the processes causing climate change and who have the money and the resources to survive its most devastating consequences. The public celebrates the halfway solutions and the promises of the elite and believes Trump to be the biggest problem as far as climate change is concerned.

9 reasons why the EU’s bank is no climate leader

The end is brought about by everyone who does not realize that begging will not make the ones in power act. We will not accomplish anything if we yield to the political and economic elites and if we hope that they will respond to those vulnerable to climate change with reason and generosity. No, our only chance to succeed is to obtain power ourselves; through international organizations and pressure we should entrust the vulnerable and ourselves – the people – with the power to enforce our interests against the power elites. The fight against climate change must be understood as a fight for power to the people.


Featured image courtesy of Franz Jachim.


Zsolt Kapelner lives in Budapest and is a regular contributor to Kettös Mérce. He writes on the politics of the Visegrád region (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia). He also teaches philosophy at Budapest’s Eötvös Lórand university.