The U.S. Embarrasses Itself At The International Climate Summit

U.S. Embarrasses Itself At The International Climate Summit

U.S. Embarrasses Itself At The International Climate Summit
Chris Conway / Getty

We may be unsure about many things in these uncertain times, but one thing we can always count on is President Trump’s ability to double down on anti-science rhetoric in ways that give the rest of the world ample reason to point fingers and double over laughing at us.

The International Climate Summit in Katowice, Poland, in its second and final week, is a huge annual event set up for the purpose of promoting international cooperation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly all 193 countries in attendance showed up with the intent to discuss methods to mitigate human influence on climate change.

Except, of course, for this one blathering fool from the White House who somehow managed to grow big enough cojones to mount the podium—at an International Climate Summit—and speak about the importance and viability of coal as a primary energy resource. Yes, this actually happened.

“We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability,” said Wells Griffith, the Department of Energy’s leader for international energy issues. He added, “The United States is now the number one combined oil and gas producer in the world… All energy sources are important, and they will be used unapologetically.”

Unapologetically?

It was a surprise to absolutely no one when most of the people in the audience literally burst out laughing at Griffith. Many stood to shout their protests, chanting, “Keep it in the ground!”

I mean, obviously? Who shows up at a climate summit to promote coal? Most people are aware that coal, on a unit-per-unit basis, contributes more to greenhouse gases than any other electricity source. Reducing our dependence on it is a top priority among scientists aiming to stop global warming. Mr. Griffith, Mr. Trump, do you guys even go here? Ugh. We are so embarrassed.

Not that this stunt is even remotely surprising. President Trump obviously doesn’t understand climate change, or even science in general. He famously tweeted that climate change is a hoax promulgated by the Chinese because… I don’t know his reasoning. He never specified why he thought a country would contrive a massive hoax involving prominent scientists from all over the world who have absolutely nothing to gain by presenting mountains of evidence that humans are destroying the planet. But yeah. He did that. Though he has since backpedaled, Trump’s most recent claim is that climate change will “change back.”

Sigh.

It is widely agreed upon among scientists that human activity influences climate change, and that the time to do something about it is now. A report issued by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) urged nations to take measures to reduce emissions so as not to push temps higher than 1.5-degree C increase beyond pre-industrial levels. The U.S., along with Russia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, were the only countries who refused to sign off on that report.

The report warns that if we don’t take drastic action now, the world can expect serious changes to weather, sea levels, agriculture, and natural ecosystems. Scientists disagree as to whether the necessary changes are even possible within the constraints of math and physics, but most agree we have extremely limited time to act before our planet reaches a point of no return.

But the Trump administration insists on keeping the topic of climate change way down on its list of priorities. While other countries send high-ranking political officials to the Climate Summit, the U.S. sent only lower-ranking officials like Griffith and several more who ranked even below him. For perspective, at the 2015 conference, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama himself represented the U.S.

To be fair, despite the awkward moment provoked by Griffith’s absurd speech, the U.S. isn’t entirely hopeless. Other U.S. representatives are working behind the scenes with delegations from other countries on ways to reduce fossil fuel dependency and carbon dioxide emissions.

The problem, though, is that the incoherent blather from our president and coal-cheerleader stunts like the one Wells Griffith pulled impede these efforts by undermining the U.S.’s credibility with the rest of the world.