In his Paris Agreement withdrawal announcement last week, Donald Trump memorably stated he was elected to represent “Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
The line resonated with Trump supporters and Paris opponents as a nod to the strain of our cultural discourse that highlights a growing rift between a beer-drinking, heartland-dwelling, “nationalist” cohort and a wine-tasting, cosmopolitan, “globalist” elite. The “Pittsburgh” contingent would of course support Trump’s withdrawal from the scheme concocted by “Paris” types like John Kerry.
But perhaps someone on Trump’s team should have done a bit more research before penning the line, because the city of Pittsburgh—to my personal surprise, I’ll concede—voted in favor of Hillary Clinton, and by extension the Paris accord.
The line, which in the moment sounded meaningful, has turned into a minor rhetorical embarrassment creating an opportunity for Paris Agreement supporters to assert that even the people Trump thinks he’s helping with the withdrawal are opposed to it. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, for example, has taken to the pages of national newspapers, co-writing a New York Times op-ed with his Paris counterpart Anne Hidalgo to sing the deal’s praises.
Why “Pittsburgh” Matters
These opportunistic criticisms drop important context.
The reasons behind the “Pittsburgh, not Paris” soundbite are significant. We need to look past the small gaffe and—in keeping with the current internet trope—take the comment seriously, but not literally.
So, why Pittsburgh?
The first obvious element to get out of the way is that “Pittsburgh” was conveniently alliterative and other cities with similar phonetics don’t convey the point (Portland? Too hipster. Punxsutawney? Too cinematic.)
The real reason is that Pittsburgh represents to many Americans the halcyon days of robust, dynamic, domestic industrial prowess. One need look no further than the name of the local NFL team for confirmation: the Steelers. Pittsburgh has long held a place in American industrial lore, featuring such icons as Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Clay Frick.
Americans yearn for the economic freedoms of yesteryear that engendered transformative growth and built the great industrial cities of the northeast and Midwest. That’s what “Pittsburgh” means.
Yes, the city did vote against Trump. Yes, it does have a Democrat in the mayor’s office. And, yes, it is pushing for nonsensical, costly “sustainability” goals. But the surrounding areas, which have a combined population larger than Pittsburgh’s, voted resoundingly in Trump’s favor.
Allegheny County, with Pittsburgh at its center, voted 56.4 percent for Clinton, but the six counties closest to it voted overwhelmingly for Trump. 74.5 percent of Armstrong County voters went for Trump, 58.3 percent in Beaver, 66.7 percent in Butler, 64.4 percent in Fayette, 60.8 in Washington, and 64.1 in Westmoreland. So, while the president does have a smudge of egg on his face for name-dropping the city, commentators claiming the area is a bastion of progressivism are clearly overstating their case.
As the electoral map shows, Pittsburgh is not all that different from the other large metro areas across most of the country. The city proper tends to vote Democratic while the outlying areas are solidly Republican. In a way Pittsburgh not only represents lost industrial luster, but is also a microcosm of the very cultural conflict Trump alluded to by contrasting it with the famously cosmopolitan Paris. For more on this conflict, as it pertains to the Paris Agreement, check out Jeffrey Tucker’s analysis of the amazing arrogance of the deal’s proponents.
But let’s put aside the semantics and cultural-political chatter; the real errors of the Paris proponents are substantive. I conceive of these errors as a cascading, three-step sequence:
Step 1—They elevate nature to a position superseding the well-being of mankind within it;
Step 2—They worship at the altar of government control; and
Step 3—They therefore unflinchingly support an agreement and its concomitant regulations that would achieve almost nothing, even taken on their own terms.
Volumes have been written on each aspect listed above, but I’ll direct interested readers first to IER’s ongoing series regarding the philosophical underpinnings of Paris. In “Deep Ecology vs. Human Progress” (Part I), Robert Bradley explains the nature-as-optimal-and-sacrosanct view:
To members of the Climate Church, the planet “has been delivered in perfect working condition and cannot be exchanged for a new one” (Hawkins, Lovins, Lovins, p. 313). An issue of World Watch magazine, “Playing God with Climate,” scolded man for interfering with Earth.
Bradley then defines deep ecology:
A radical wing of the modern environmental movement rejects an anthropocentric(human-centered) view of the world in favor of a nature-first ecocentric view.
In contrast to shallow ecology, concerned with pollution and resource depletion in the developed world, deep ecology defends “the equal right” of lower animals and plants “to live and blossom.” Deep ecology rejects what it sees as a master-slave relationship between human and nonhuman life (Næss, in List, p. 19.).
Deep ecology stresses the interrelatedness of all life systems on Earth, demoting human-centeredness. Man must respect nature as an end in itself, not treat it as a tool of man. The human ego and concern for family and other loved ones must be joined by a similar emotional attachment to animals, trees, plants, and the rest of the ecosphere.
To hurt the planet, then, is the same as inflicting bodily harm on oneself. “In the broadest sense,” state Bill Devall and George Sessions (p. ix), “we need to accept the invitation to the dance—the dance of unity of humans, plants, animals, the Earth.” To get to this point, we need to “trick ourselves into reenchantment” (p. 10) with nature.
Now on to the second point—the worship of government control. When faced with climate data they interpret as problematic (and again any human influence is in their view problematic), climate alarmists reflexively respond by calling the federal government and international bodies into action. In their worldview, good is achieved through wielding government power. And since they view temperature rise as necessarily bad, the solution is to turn to state coercion.
What’s interesting is that the passionate response in opposition to Trump’s Paris withdrawal has undermined the argument for remaining a party. The cities, states, businesses, and university that are vowing to “stay in” the Paris Agreement are actually proving the point of Paris opponents: we don’t need the federal government embarking on quixotic missions like slowing global temperature rise.
If all of these institutions are committing to legal or behavioral changes, why is the Paris Agreement so darn important? The private sector and the levels of government closer to the people are more than capable of taking action.
But don’t misinterpret this position as positing that climate regulations are appropriate as long as they’re local. They’re still harmful. It’s just that I’d much rather have economy-strangling regulations confined to smaller geographic and demographic areas. Climate-motivated regulations are a mistake no matter where they happen, but at least in this way we minimize the damage and leave open the possibility of individuals and businesses escaping detrimental regulatory regimes for other municipalities or states (voting with your feet, as they say).
Unlike governmental economic controls, private sector environmental initiatives can be a valuable element of a free society, enabling people to express what’s important to them through the use of their dollars. And while some initiatives are misguided and misleading, like Google’s quest for “100 percent renewable” power, seeing the private sector act on what it thinks is worthwhile is far better than seeing the government exert control.
But the climate alarmists consider government force their birthright, and they demand American “leadership” on this issue.
That brings us to the third step—blind support for any action.
Even if we judge global warming an unambiguous negative, the Paris Agreement does virtually nothing to stop it. The proponents of the agreement demand action and they seem to assume that any action is worth the cost. But as the American Enterprise Institute’s Benjamin Zycher explained in late May, this deal would result in enormous costs and an almost negligible benefit:
If we apply the EPA climate model under a set of assumptions that strongly exaggerate the effectiveness of international emissions reductions, the Paris emissions cuts, if achieved by 2030 and maintained fully on an international basis through 2100, would reduce temperatures by that year by 0.17 of a degree.
The US contribution to that dubious achievement—the Obama climate action plan—would be 0.015 of a degree. Add another 0.01 of a degree if you believe that the Obama pseudo-agreement with China is meaningful. (It is not.)
This effort to reduce GHG emissions would impose costs of at least 1 percent of global GDP, or roughly $600 billion to $750 billion or more per year, inflicted disproportionately upon the world’s poor. Would those arguing that the US should preserve the Paris status quo please explain how it can be justified simply as a straightforward exercise in benefit-cost analysis?
Given the meager temperature-rise attenuation that the Paris Agreement would achieve, support for the deal is unjustifiable regardless of one’s assessment of the climate models.
In fact, some of the most ardent environmental activists do not support the deal. James Hansen, a climate hysteria pioneer, told The Guardian in 2015, as the deal was being closed, that it was:
(A) fraud really, a fake…. It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.
Even granting the climate movement’s premises, this deal fails to deliver.
Donald Trump opened himself up to mockery with his “Pittsburgh, not Paris” remark, but the Paris Agreement’s supporters have very little to offer beyond the level of “gotcha” jabs.
What’s more, critiques of Trump’s gaffe miss the deeper meaning of “Pittsburgh” in American cultural-political life. And by dismissing the comment as a Trumpian blunder the critics further drive the wedge between the “Pittsburgh” and “Paris” camps.