That we live in an age of political hyperbole has been demonstrated too many times so as to be self-evident at this point. And this week is just another case-in-point. Yesterday, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the non-binding, unenforceable (and probably illegal) Paris Climate Agreement. Based upon reactions from many quarters, you’d think he singlehandedly doomed the planet to inevitable hellfire and brimstone by rolling the clock all the way back to where we were in late 2015. It seems we are currently suffering from collective Paris Hysteria, or Paristeria.
Some of these reactions were worthy of bequeathing to posterity to let them know that their parents’ and grandparents’ generation had lost touch with reality in significant part (h/t Bre Payton over at The Federalist for compiling a fun “greatest hits” of reactions).
To billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, Trump had committed a “traitorous act of war against the American people”:
Not to be outdone, author Trita Parsi lamented:
To Vice President turned climate change activist Al Gore, this decision was “reckless and indefensible,” it undermined “America’s standing in the world,” and it threatened “to damage humanity’s ability to solve the climate crisis in time.”
John Kerry was chock full of incredibly myopic hyperbole:
To the Hollywood Reporter (query why the Hollywood Reporter is chiming in on the issue, but I guess all media companies are becoming “full service” these days as politics infects everything), there was something faintly racist about the announcement:
To WaPo writer Erik Wemple, anyone supporting or legitimizing President Trump’s decision is “a planetary threat.”
Of course, HuffPo was a paragon of rationality and restraint:
The New York Daily News concurred:
The kicker is, the reactions of people like Governor Brown are being depicted as “resistance” and “defiance”:
Yet, as anyone familiar with Constitutional Law 101 will recall, the Constitution prescribes that “[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” And, upon my last reading of the Constitution, there is nothing in there granting the federal government plenary power with respect to all things having to do with climate change.
So states, localities, and private entities are reacting to President Trump’s decision. As the New York Times reports,
Representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.
In the same piece, Michael Bloomberg expresses confidence that “cities, states and corporations could achieve, or even surpass, the pledge of the administration of former President Barack Obama to reduce America’s planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions . . . .” The Times notes that these reactions “indicate that leadership in the fight against climate change in the United States had shifted from the federal government to lower levels of government, academia and industry.” Indeed, according to Robert C. Orr, dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris is “accelerating this process that was already underway” to come up with solutions to climate change.
So state and local governments and private companies are reacting to Trump’s withdrawal from Paris by affirming their intention to transition to clean energy to address climate change. And??? This is exactly how this country is supposed to work. As Bloomberg noted in a draft letter to the U.N., “The bulk of the decisions which drive U.S. climate action in the aggregate are made by cities, states, businesses, and civil society.”
As Washington Governor Jay Inslee said Wednesday:
We have a temporary president. We have the ability to move forward every single day. Every state, every city, every county, every business. And if there’s some silver lining to this, it’s a wake-up call we’re the game in town now. It’s us. This is a starting pistol for us in the race.
Colorado Governor Jay Hickenlooper similarly remarked:
I think we’re going to see, mark my words, we’re going to see an evolution to governors playing a stronger role in energy and governors working together at a level we have not seen before. When the federal government abandons its leadership on a specific issue, I think states have an obligation to their citizens to step up.
Even President Obama chimed in, expressing his confidence that
our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.
You’re telling me that, absent a federal one-size-fits-all approach to climate change, states are going to “step up” to figure out solutions more suitable for themselves and their citizens at the state and local level? Well, it seems to me progressive lion Justice Louis Brandeis would likely see this as a feature, rather than a bug, of our constitutional form of government:
It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.
New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 311 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting).
I am not sure how much President Trump believes in or cares about federalism, clean energy, or climate change. So I can’t confirm or deny what Governor Brown asserts, to wit, that “Trump may well create the exact opposite of what he intended.” The result that does seem to be obtaining, however, is great news for federalism, clean energy, and climate change.
Whether Trump stumbled into this success or really has been playing nine-dimensional chess all along, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement will, I suspect, prove to be a boon both to our constitutional system of government and to the clean energy sector. We are witnessing a renewed appreciation and re-invigoration of federalism as some seemingly recall again, after apparently having forgotten, that state governments are a thing, too, and state governments possess the police power by which they can do a whole lot regardless of what the federal government does. And, with respect to clean energy and climate change, change and progress is inevitable regardless of what the federal government does. States, localities, and private entities have been and will continue to innovate in response to emerging clean technology and tailored public policy approaches.
As Todd Myers observes over at the Washington Policy Center,
Unlike political agreements, politicians can’t withdraw from technology. Unlike failed policies, where politicians attempt to hide their failure, individuals learn from failure, changing their decisions so they save money or achieve the personal goals, like reducing carbon emissions. When individuals are given the power to help the environment, they are far more likely to demand real-world results than politicians.
A brief anecdote corroborates this point: I have a relative who is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, a major Donald Trump supporter, and (I suspect) someone who would scoffingly embrace the label “denier.” This relative also has solar panels on the roof of their house, thanks to a combination of state tax incentives and private company deals on installation. My Trump-supporting “denier” relative has thus done far more (in tangible, real-world-impact terms) to reduce his carbon footprint than most climate alarmists who travel the world and emit significant amounts of CO2 in the name of “raising awareness.” And this is so thanks to market forces and federalism in action.
Here’s the deal. Markets work. Federalism works. So let’s cool it with the chicken-little hysteria and Left Behind apocalypticism. Elon Musk was going to save the world anyway. Hell, even President Trump’s advisers have acknowledged that we are on an irreversible course to clean energy. So I’m not too worried about whatever the sitting President’s agenda or policies happen to be. And I am positively enthusiastic that the left seems to be appreciating federalism and separation of powers again, along with the importance of free market solutions, in the age of Trump.