Former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson just landed a gig as America’s top diplomat, despite widespread concerns about his ties to Vladimir Putin. With Tillerson at at the State Department and fossil fuel insiders at the Department of Energy and the EPA, Donald Trump is set to dismantle U.S. climate policy piece by piece. His energy agenda is a boon for coal, oil and gas companies.
It’s also a huge giveaway to Russia.
Trump has said he will roll back Obama-era climate regulations, pull out of the Paris Agreement and possibly lift sanctions on Russia — all of which would better serve Russia than the United States.
Russia will weather the climate crisis better than most other countries, including the United States. Rising temperatures will turn frozen tundra into potential farmland and melt Arctic sea ice that hampers offshore drilling. Because Russia’s economy centers on oil and gas extraction, Vladimir Putin has every incentive to thwart international efforts to fight climate change. Trump’s policies will help him do that.
Russia, a frigid petrostate, opposes climate action.
At the Paris climate talks, Putin called climate change “one of the gravest challenges humanity is facing,” but he’s previously said that “an increase of two or three degrees wouldn’t be so bad for a northern country like Russia.” Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky has said Putin believes global warming “is a fraud to restrain the industrial development of several countries including Russia.” Whatever his feelings, the Russian autocrat is not treating the climate crisis with any kind of urgency.
Under the Paris Agreement, Russia pledged to cut pollution by 30 percent below 1990 levels. It was in 1990 that Russian carbon emissions peaked. When the Iron Curtain came down, so did emissions, and they have yet to recover. By using 1990 as a baseline — instead of 2005, like other countries — Russia gave itself room to increase emissions and still fulfill its commitment under the Paris Agreement.
Russia has little interest in slowing global consumption of fossil fuels. Putin believes oil and gas are central to Russia becoming “a great economic power.” Fossil fuels account for a significant share of the country’s GDP and the large majority of its exports.
The United States doesn’t share Russia’s commitment to oil and gas. Fossil fuel production makes up a smaller share of the US GDP and a far smaller share of US exports.
Climate change poses a larger danger to the United States than it does to Russia. Most Americans will see harsher weather as the climate warms. Persistent heat and drought threaten to stunt US agriculture, crippling production of cash crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans.
In some ways, Russia stands to benefit from global warming. Rising temperatures will thaw its frozen reaches, adding millions of acres of potential farmland. By and large, climate change will produce more mild weather in Russia.
Trump’s energy plan is a giveaway to Russia.
Trump aims to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, scrap the Clean Power Plan and relax fuel economy standards — key components of the U.S. plan to curb carbon emissions. These policy shifts would send a signal to the international community that the United States isn’t serious about tackling climate change, inviting other countries to renege on their carbon-cutting commitments as well. By undermining international climate action, Trump would help keep demand for Russian oil and gas aloft.
By appointing Rex Tillerson to be America’s top diplomat, Trump has indicated that fossil fuel production will figure prominently in foreign policy. Tillerson is a longtime friend to Russian fossil fuel producers. As head of Exxon, he made a $500 billion deal with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft to drill for oil in the Arctic — oil made more accessible by that rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice.
After Russia invaded Crimea, the U.S. imposed sanctions that blocked the deal. With Trump in the White House and Tillerson at the State Department, those sanctions could disappear, reviving an agreement that was, as Rachel Maddow explained, “expected to change the historical trajectory of Russia.”
Trump’s proposed policies, though a windfall for Russia, would imperil vulnerable Americans, like those already grappling with drought in California, floods in South Florida, and severe storms along the Gulf Coast. By dismantling Obama-era climate initiatives, Trump would also hamper job growth in the clean-energy sector.
Some Republicans, like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA) — described by Politico as “Putin’s top congressional ally” — see Trump’s friendly stance towards Russia as pragmatic. Others, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), have concerns about Russia, but they are willing to defer to the president on foreign affairs.
Both, in their own way, are enabling policies that give a boost to Russia’s state-run oil and gas production while undermining efforts to protect Americans from climate change — policies that are decidedly better for Russia than they are for the United States.
Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow him at @deaton_jeremy.