Maybe Trump doesn’t realise – this changes everything


U.S. President Donald Trump said he represented “the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris” when he announced the US would withdraw from the historic climate agreement signed in the French capital. But some of the citizens disagree. Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, said he was “personally offended” by Trump’s remarks. Peduto said Trump’s speechwriter used Pittsburgh as a stereotype of a “dirty old town that relies on big coal and big steel to survive.” He said Trump’s reference “completely ignores the sacrifices that we made over 30 years … to clean our air and clean our water.”

Condemnation of the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has been swift and broad. Around 1000 mayors, businesses, investors and academics signed a pledge to reduce emissions in support of the Paris Agreement. Their “We Are Still In” statement emphasised the economic benefits of the clean economy, which are projected to generate far more jobs than the polluting fossil-fuelled economy it is replacing.

World leaders have lined up to criticise Trump and reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement. As Greenpeace International said: “Almost 200 countries committed to climate action in Paris and only one has decided to withdraw. This is how far out of step Trump is with the rest of the world.”

New Zealand might have been a country of choice for the visit of Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil and now US Secretary of State. Perhaps he realised that he wouldn’t face a principled and concerned response from Bill English – and get a breather after the barrage of criticism from world leaders.

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Bill might even have shared some solidarity over our failings on climate change – after all, we emit almost as much greenhouse gas pollution as the US per capita, and our emissions have risen by 20% under this government. We might still be in the Paris Agreement but the government hasn’t done anything to reduce emissions.

We’ll probably never find out what happened when they met, but my guess is that it wasn’t climate change that Bill pushed. Instead, I suspect that he made yet another desperate plea for a trade and investment deal – the TPPA or one just like it, despite all the evidence that we stand to lose far more than we gain.

Could there be a silver lining in Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement? Business has said they will now step up since there is no longer any hope that government would show leadership. This was followed by Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, pulling out of Trump’s Economic Advisory Group (what he was doing there anyway?), and full page adverts in major newspapers by 25 large US corporates. But business actions need to be backed by government regulation to create the incentives for responsible practices and to penalise the free riders.

Civil society is also mobilising and activists are mobilising to seize the opportunity. At last there is a deeply offensive target and outrageous behaviour to protest against, instead of the smooth lies and hypocrisy that have been covered over for years by clever PR strategies funded by ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel lobbies.

The silver lining, if there is one, comes from this exposure of political reality. The nest of right wing, fundamentalist, science-denying, fossil-fuelled, Tea Party Republicans have got their way. Trump’s rejection of climate action could ignite a powerful movement in response.

Such a movement is essential to usher in the fundamental changes that are needed. We marched for climate agreements on Copenhagen and Paris with signs that read “change the system, not the climate” but we didn’t get the ambitious and binding targets, the equitable and just transition, or the action to reduce emissions. This week’s rejection by Trump will give ammunition to the legal cases that rest on the government’s failure to act responsibly, protesters and direct citizen action. It could also engage a huge public movement behind an assertion of humanity, sense and respect for our planet.

Yesterday a Greenpeace banner flew from a large cranes over Parliament grounds saying: “Climate Denial, Huuge Mistake! RESIST”. And just afterwards a protest organised by rallied in Parliament grounds in support of the Paris Agreement, bringing NGOs and campaigns together around a common platform, and the Greens confronted the government in Parliament during Question Time.

We need a powerful civil society movement for climate action in New Zealand. It started in the run-up to Paris negotiations in December 2015, when thousands marched. We now need that movement to be re-kindled, to grow, and to join with the movement against the TPPA and the movements for social justice. Naomi Klein was right – climate change changes everything.

Everything includes political change. Deep reductions in New Zealand’s emissions are inconceivable while this government is in power. We need to change the government. It is less than 100 days until the polls open for the election. This is our opportunity to forge a new direction for climate action.


Barry Coates is a Green Party MP. He started campaigning for climate action in 1992.


  1. “But business actions need to be backed by government regulation”

    What is wrong with The Greens encapsulated in a single sentence.

  2. I can’t believe the half baked right wing are still trying to argue the point. Are they really as two dimensional as they appear?
    They’re like an alien species… It’s a bit bizarre, and scary, frankly.
    They were safer simply scavenging money out of societies while blaming the poor they stole from via tax exemptions and cunning legal wrangling’s. Now, in their dire death throws they’re going to burn the planet down out of narcisstic spite.
    They truly are weird bastards.

    • The Paris agreement will have no measureable effect on the climate, according to the US EPA

      Why would you spend billions on a scheme that transfers wealth to India and China, and destroys domestic jobs in the process?

            • Mike in Auckland says:
              “Why would you comment so often on a Blog, where nobody shares your views, I wonder?”
              Very interesting reply.

              Could it be that some are bullied off the pages like you seem to be doing now?
              Or being censored altogether with no explanation? (like myself.)

              “where nobody shares your views,” Is this what you want?
              I find this most revealing and don’t think it’s true.

              What Andy has said is true. Your reply reflects you don’t have an answer.


  3. “New Zealand might have been a country of choice for the visit of Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil and now US Secretary of State”

    It was just a 3 hour stop over for his main visit, Australia. In the grand scheme of things, other than the 5 eyes accord, N.Z. means nothing to America. And under Trump how long will the 5 eyes last?

    But at least Gerry got to feel important.

  4. Great NZ citizen effort to let Tillerson know our mood. The motorcade drove through a sea of hands flipping the bird! More than a correspondent on board for the NYTimes had ever seen in an American Secy of State parade anywhere.

  5. To be honest, Donald Trump will simply give a middle finger back to NZ Inc., he does not care a bit about this country, despite of what is Foreign Secretary and other underlings may say.

    Tillerson and others, as questionable their characters and backgrounds may be, they are now considered the “moderate” forces around Trump, that is how bad things are.

    Trump will continue tweeting at night and in early mornings, like a bull in a china shop. He does not seem to care too much, but for his own interests and agendas.

    He threw out the US’ participation in the Paris Agreement, simply to please his voters, nothing else. He is a climate change doubter, but even if someone would show him beyond any doubt that we face the greatest crisis mankind has ever faced, he will still not listen, if it means it will damage his reputation among his supporters.

    The man is as great a threat to the world as ISIS may be to some, he is a man who goes about like a gun slinging cowboy in the old ‘Wild West’, he signed agreements with the Saudis and Gulf State leaders, that will give them billions worth of modern arms.

    He made comments to the Saudis and others, saying they should not worry, and deal with their challengers and threats as they see fit.

    Thus he has emboldened them to single out one government in the Gulf, that admittedly had some responsibility in supporting certain armed groups that others call terrorists, but it also supports Al Jazeera, that provides another view on what goes in the Mid East, which the Saudis and a few other regimes hate, as it challenges their absolutist powers.

    So they are now dealing with little Qatar, to silence and isolate it, and with that one major international media outlet, that offers some a voice, who would hardly ever get a voice elsewhere.

    Bizarre claims are made about Qatar supporting Iran, at the same time it is said to support Hamas, and some other Sunni armed groups, even ‘ISIS’, which is bizarre.

    How can you have one regime support Iran and it’s most ruthless enemy in the region?

    This is politics that Trump allows, power play he condones, that he may discretely have suggested to be done, given his recent tweets.

    Re the environment, prepare for a destabilised global system, where it will be harder to get such agreements as the Paris one, as dissenters may feel emboldened by Trump’s actions.

    Also, Paris is the minimum common agreement, where states can set their own goals, and even change them, vows to reduce emissions will not be met by most anyway. New Zealand is not going to make it, not even so much praised Germany, as recent reports suggest, the world is so hooked on fossil fuels, it is not funny, and the alternatives will cost, and in democratic states most will not voter for higher costs, same as Aucklanders will not support additional levies for car driving, as sad as that is.

    New Zealand is also a hypocritical government and society as a whole, as most manufacturing that used to pollute has shifted to other regions in the world, like China, where pollution is rife. So we can go around making nice gestures and talk about our clean and green future, while we use technology and products made elsewhere, that were produced by polluting the environment, and even by using fossil fuels, pumped into the air.

    The same hypocrisy continues with us paying other states to plant forests, so we can continue driving cars and polluting at a rate nearly as high as the US per capita.

    It is time NZers wake up and get honest and real committed about reducing emissions and many other bad results of our wasteful lifestyle.

      • He is a commercial mercenary, he did and does things for money and profit, his career background shows it, hence he blends in well with the similar minded man sitting in the White House now. The bull in the chinashop has his like minded “minder”, making sure he does not burn down the shop while he goes about doing damage.

      • That speaks volumes about your own (lack of) moral compass, Andy. Tillersn’s is a one perpercenter, one of the ones trump was supposed to get rid of when he drained his mythical swamp.

  6. Gave the US embassy cameras the middle finger in the undisclosed country I live in as I passed their embassy on my motorbike as the motorcade travelled through Wellington.

    Go Kiwis!

  7. Sadly, we are still on track for multi-metre sea level rise and a largely (or completely) uninhabitable planet for humans by around the middle of this century.

    Even as the Great Barrier Reef dies (gets killed by anthropogenic emissions), even as Climate Chaos increases, even as the ice at both ends of the planet melts at unprecedented rates, the maniacs in government all over the world (and the maniacs that constitute so-called opposition parties) promote greater use of fossil fuels to ‘stimulate economic growth’.

    The gulf between reality and what our so-called leaders say continues to grow by the day.

  8. While our now more corporate and business friendly Greens communicate to us in a new style, perhaps they should have a bit of a rethink about what companies they praise:

    From the L.A. Times article:
    “On Wednesday, a union-connected group released government safety records obtained by a Tesla employee. The records show a rate of safety incidents reported at the company’s Fremont, Calif., auto plant significantly higher than the auto industry average — as much as 31% higher in 2015.

    Indeed, Tesla’s incident rate that year topped some industries commonly associated with risky work, such as sawmills and slaughterhouses.”

    Let us remember the success stories about Apple, and how their manufacturer Fox Conn in China treated their workers:

    Is that the price for the new success stories we get sold?

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