There’s a big international climate conference going on right now in Germany. So of course the U.S. showed up to talk about the benefits of fossil fuels. And of course it was an unmitigated disaster.
The 90-minute panel hosted by U.S. representatives was meant to highlight the benefits of fossil fuels and nuclear energy in combating climate change. Instead, protestors shut down the discussion for 10 minutes and we finally got an answer to one of the most infamous Trump tweets. Oh, and we also learned the fossil fuel industry doesn’t need regulations because millennials like “cool, green” companies apparently.
A quick recap of how we ended up here: in June, the Trump administration announced its intent to pull out of the Paris Agreement, the global climate pact negotiated under Obama, under very dumb and false pretenses. International negotiators are meeting this week in Bonn, Germany, to figure out the next steps to make that agreement a success.
The U.S. isn’t leaving the agreement until 2020, which means it still has a seat at the table of international climate talks. It decided to use that seat to hold one event and one event only: A panel promoting fossil fuels and nuclear energy featuring representatives from the U.S. energy trade group, Peabody coal, and the nuclear industry.
Missing were voices from, oh, you know, civil society, the renewables industry, and others advocating for a low-carbon future and addressing the grave injustices of climate change.
While these more rational contingents didn’t have a presence on the U.S. stage, they sure as hell made their voices heard. Governors Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Kate Brown (D-OR) showed up at the event to hold an impromptu press conference burning the Trump administration for rejecting climate science and being an international pariah.
Inslee and Brown’s states are part of We Are Still In—a group of states, cities, tribes, businesses, and other groups committed to meeting the U.S. Paris Agreement pledge. The group has also been hosting a climate action pavilion after the federal government decided not to, which has given voice to a diverse array of people concerned about climate change, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to indigenous youth.
A number of those groups showed up outside the U.S. fossil fuel promotion event. As the administration-sanctioned panel took the stage, protestors outside the event could be clearly heard chanting on the live stream.
But it turns out they made up most of the audience inside, too. Once Barry Worthington, the head of fossil fuel trade group the U.S. Energy Association, started his presentation, he was quickly interrupted by a large group of mostly young protestors singing a modified version of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” shaming the fossil fuel industry and the Trump administration.
After spending 10 minutes singing, the protestors walked out of the event leaving dozens of empty chairs in the room in what is perhaps the perfect metaphor for U.S. global leadership in 2017.
After their exodus to join the protestors outside, Worthington continued with his talk, which included the absolutely dumbest possible argument I have ever heard for deregulating the fossil fuel industry. Here it is: young employees “want to work for a company that’s green, clean and cool.”
So essentially fossil fuel companies don’t need things like pesky government oversight or international climate agreements. Instead, they just need to be shamed by young employees who like to work at “green” companies. Yes, green fossil fuel companies. So definitely add the industry’s carbon emissions to the list of things millennials are going to kill according to a man who has run a fossil fuel industry trade group since 1988.
But the most surreal moment of the whole spectacle came at the end during the Q&A. A Chinese reporter brought up Donald Trump’s infamous tweet about global warming being a Chinese hoax. You know, this one:
She said she wanted an apology, but instead we finally got an explanation courtesy of George David Banks, a special assistant to President Trump for international energy and environment. And reader, it did not disappoint.
So the tweet. People forget the rest of it, right? When the president says hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, it was to undermine U.S. competitiveness or manufacturing, right? Again, I focus people on that point because that’s the president’s real point in that message. he made that some time ago, but I think still, if you were to look at what previous administration’s climate pledge was, that would’ve meant damaging U.S. competitiveness and manufacturing. And the president has a responsibility to protect jobs and industry and U.S. nationals interests across the country, including the Rust Belt and all the dying communities across the country.
In essence, Banks is saying the real purpose of the tweet was to draw attention to the plight of the Rust Belt and U.S. manufacturing. In the reality-based world the rest of us live in, the tweet stands as a baseless conspiracy theory that makes no goddamn sense.
Nobody has forgotten the second part of the tweet as Banks says. It is in fact precisely why the tweet is is completely insane. Nobody in their right mind would implicate thousands of scientists worldwide in a plot to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. And yet here we are, with Trump leading the goddamn free world and promoting fossil fuels to fight climate change.
What a total shit show.