Like many Trump-era debates, the President’s actions on Paris are best understood through the lens of what we (following Tyler Cowen) have called “placebo politics”—elevating or reducing the status of this or that group through symbolic actions that won’t have much if any material impact on policy. President Trump’s repudiation of the agreement falls into this category: It delights his nationalistic base and sends his internationalist-minded critics into paroxysms of rage and despair—all without actually doing anything, because the Paris agreement consists simply of voluntary, unenforceable emissions pledges that are already being flouted.All religious movements bewail apostates. And on an operational level, faith in the efficacy of climate agreements, and treaties generally, requires belief in the perfectibility of human nature, and on the self-proclaimed genius of those who negotiate such things. Back to Willick:
The drama of the Paris climate accords, then, amounts to a portrait in miniature of our political moment. A smug establishment indulged in vacuous, photo-op politics that doesn’t get us any closer to solving our major problems but pleases donors and nonprofits and makes the great and good feel even better about themselves. An angry coalition of people who felt that their status was declining reacted against this half-hearted phoniness by indulging in a placebo politics of their own—raising their own status by nihilistically tearing down the other side. Trump’s decision today doesn’t make the U.S. better off, but it probably doesn’t make us much worse off, either.That mostly seems right to me, but I do have one quibble -- are we really talking about nihilism in this context? I don't really know too many nihilists -- do you? And as Mark Steyn has said, when we are talking about climate treaty supporters, we are talking about people who believe, in the main, that we cannot control political borders, but we can control the heavens. Clearly there's faith involved.