Op-Ed: Last gasp – Trump says Paris climate accord ‘killing US economy’

Posted Nov 22, 2020 by Paul Wallis
In a last hurrah, ex-President Trump has accused the Paris climate accord of being designed to kill the American economy. Alternative energy sources employ 800,000 people. The fossil fuel industry has just lost 107,000, the logic is hard to follow.
Damien Careme  centre  at climate change protest in Paris last year. While Grande-Synthe's mayo...
Damien Careme, centre, at climate change protest in Paris last year. While Grande-Synthe's mayor, he petitioned the Council of State over what he called the government's "climate inaction"
The statement came at the end of the G 20 summit, drawing a predictable mix of general fury and a comment from President-elect Joe Biden that the United States would immediately rejoin the Paris climate accord.
Trump’s comment is on-pattern. The withdrawal from the Paris climate accord was extremely controversial at the time, and has become more so since. Whether or not the ailing fossil fuel industry is actually benefiting from the support is highly debatable.
The pandemic hit the oil and gas industry very hard. Those 107,000 jobs are not expected to return. The rise and rise of alternative energy in the United States is another factor. The baffling refusal of the oil industry in particular to adapt to new technologies and other uses for its products is a particularly sore point.
Oil is carbon. Modern carbon technology is far in advance of the glory days of the oil industry. Carbon can be used for anything from high-value modern graphene and other materials to new polymers, and similar advanced materials. The value of those materials far exceeds the value of oil as fuel.
The oil industry just isn't paying attention. Apparently committed to the supply of fuel, all other options are seemingly being overlooked. That's one of the main reasons for the insistence of the oil sector in particular on anti-environmental legislation, anti-pollution control, and other immovable positions.
The other major player in the United States energy sector is the gas industry. Current projections for the gas supply sector indicate anticipated loss of jobs through to 2024.
It's rather hard to tell who’s winning in this remarkably pointless and unproductive debate. Humanity definitely isn't. The Paris climate accord was originally intended to simply create a coordinated response to global warming and pollution. Every other country on Earth, including oil-producing countries and the poorest countries in the world, sign up to the climate accord. It was Trump's idea to leave the accord, drawing much criticism and derision.
Trump's claim that millions of American jobs are at risk is also debatable. One of the reasons for this ambiguity is that the United States and-societal-costs t=_blank]subsidizes the energy sector heavily. A lot of public money, billions of dollars per year, finds its way into the fossil fuel sector, usually at the behest of Washington. In other words, the fossil fuel sector isn't paying for itself, on that very expensive level. (America is not alone in subsidizing fossil fuels. According to the IMF, 6.5% of global GDP was spent on fossil fuel subsidies.)
The subsidies also come with some major offsets. Critics have pointed out that subsidizing the fossil fuel industry comes with high risks and costs, estimated to be $5.3 trillion in 2015.
This sort of money, however, indicates the depth and scale of resistance to any changes to the current fossil fuel regime. Please see the Environmental and Energy Study Institute information to see the full range of issues and "societal costs" involved.
Politics aside – Can fossil fuels survive?
The short answer to this question is and always has been no. Antiquated technologies like internal combustion engines, ridiculously inefficient combustion causing massive pollution, and a range of highly toxic chemicals simply don't add up. Fossil fuels are now powering some of the expensive and chronically inefficient overcommitments of the industrialized world. Huge amounts of capital have been sunk into the auto industry, for example, as the prime example of fossil fuel energy use. The US auto industry meanwhile is ramping up research into alternative energy vehicles as fast as it can.
The reason is simple – cost and severe global competition. Alternative energy vehicles are much cheaper to run, and are now in fact outperforming conventional vehicles. Much the same applies to industries looking for cheaper energy sources. Even China is upgrading its renewable energy sources as quickly as possible. It's Game Over for fossil fuels, regardless.
Those millions of jobs Trump is talking about will simply have to go elsewhere within the next decade. It's not all bad news for power workers, by the way – Power systems are power systems. Carbon is carbon. Both have a role in the future, just not this way. I'm just wondering how many decades it will take these geriatric American oil industry fools to realise that.