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Donald Trump and the Paris climate agreement

President Donald Trump on Tuesday is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly. Climate change is expected to be high on the agenda at this year’s gathering. As the world leaders meet, another major storm—Hurricane Maria—is gaining strength in the Caribbean and following a similar path as Hurricane Irma. The current forecast shows Maria could hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm as early as Wednesday. The U.S. Virgin Islands, which were devastated by Irma, also appear to be in line to be hit by Maria. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that the Trump administration is considering staying in the Paris climate agreement, just months after the president vowed to pull out of it. The White House denied the report. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday signaled Trump may stay in the Paris accord, but National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster gave a different message on Fox News Sunday. We speak with best-selling author Naomi Klein, a senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her most recent book, "No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need," has been longlisted for a National Book Award.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump is in New York today attending the United Nations General Assembly for the first time. On Tuesday, he’ll address the gathering of world leaders. Climate change is expected to be high on the agenda at this year’s U.N. General Assembly. As the world leaders meet, another major storm, Hurricane Maria, is gaining strength in the Caribbean and following a similar path as Hurricane Irma. Hurricane warnings have already been issued for Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Saint Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. The current forecast shows Maria could hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm as early as Wednesday. The U.S. Virgin Islands, devastated by Irma, also appear to be in line to be hit by Maria.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that the Trump administration is considering staying in the Paris climate agreement, just months after the president vowed to pull out of it. But the White House has denied the report. On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled Trump may [stay in] the Paris accord, but National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster gave a different message on Fox News Sunday.

H.R. McMASTER: That’s a false report. The president decided to pull out of the Paris accord because it was a bad deal for the American people and because it—it was—it was a bad deal for the environment. It gave the worst polluters the ability to continue polluting and emitting carbon, and without significantly reducing those levels. The president is committed to the cleanest water on Earth, the cleanest air on Earth, to an energy policy that reduces carbon emissions, but then also provides clean fossil fuels to generate growth in this country and globally. And these priorities, he felt, we could not pursue effectively within this flawed agreement.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster. But again, this is Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, speaking on Face the Nation with John Dickerson.

SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON: So I think the plan is for Director Cohn to consider other ways in which we can work with partners in the Paris climate accord. We want to be productive. We want to be helpful. The U.S. has—actually has a tremendous track record on reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions.

JOHN DICKERSON: So there’s a chance that if things get worked out, both on the voluntary side from the U.S., the voluntary restrictions for the U.S., that it could change, but then also, with China, there’s a chance the U.S. could stay in the accord, is that right?

SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON: I think under the right conditions, the president said he’s open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged with others on what we all agree is still a challenging issue.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, former head of ExxonMobil.

Well, to talk more about President Trump, climate change, the U.N. General Assembly and so much more, we’re joined for the hour by Naomi Klein, best-selling author, journalist, senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her most recent book is titled No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. She has just become a finalist for the National Book Award. She’s also author of the book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Naomi’s latest piece for The Intercept is headlined "Irma Won’t 'Wake Up' Climate Change-Denying Republicans. Their Whole Ideology is on the Line."

Naomi, welcome back to Democracy Now!

NAOMI KLEIN: Thanks, Amy. It’s great to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s just start with those two clips. You have the national security adviser, General McMaster, saying fake news, wrong reports, we’re not pulling—we are continuing to pull out of the climate accord. And then you have Rex Tillerson, former head of ExxonMobil, saying, no, you know, we’re considering going back in.

NAOMI KLEIN: I wouldn’t assume that this is just incompetence and chaos. It could be. I mean, it often is. But, you know, there has always been this debate, sort of summed up by this phrase in a different context, but related to why many polluters in the United States decided to be part of negotiating climate legislation, what would have been climate legislation under Obama, which is "You’re either at the table or you’re on the menu," which is something I quoted in This Changes Everything, i.e. be at the table so that you can water it down. Right? And I think it is worth remembering that when Trump made that address in the Rose Garden, when he announced that he was pulling out of the Paris Agreement, he actually didn’t say it was because climate change is a hoax. He said it was because he was going to negotiate a better deal, Amy, like a better deal for the United States. So I think that what Tillerson is actually signaling is—

AMY GOODMAN: Although he had called it a Chinese hoax.

NAOMI KLEIN: Of course he had, yeah, but he didn’t say that when he pulled out. He said he was going to negotiate a better deal. And I think we should be very afraid of what Trump considers a better deal. We should be very afraid of what Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, considers a better deal.

I think what Tillerson is doing is signaling to other world leaders, "If you make enough concessions, then we might come back." So the real danger of what they’re doing right now is that it signals to a Macron, a Trudeau, some of these figures, you know, even Theresa May, some of these figures who sort of position themselves as brokers between the Trump administration and the rest of the world community, people who have Trump’s ear or who can make him a better guy, that they might be able to bring the U.S. back in. And as you know, Amy, when the Paris Agreement was negotiated, there was outcry because it is insufficiently strong, because it allows countries to just walk away without real ramifications. It is not legally binding. You know, it doesn’t even mention the fossil fuel industry in the entire agreement. So, it could be even worse. It could be even weaker. And we may end up with a situation, worst-case scenario, where Europe or other players succeed in watering down the Paris Agreement in order to get the U.S. back, and actually fail at that, but, from the interests of the oil industry, it’s a great scenario, because it means that this agreement, which is—has been signed by the vast—by almost every country on Earth, becomes weaker than it is right now. I would argue that Rex Tillerson isn’t just interested in what the U.S. does about climate change. It’s interested in what the whole world does. When I say "it," I mean Exxon, sorry. I confuse Rex Tillerson and Exxon sometimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to June, when President Trump announced he’s withdrawing the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate accord, signed by nearly 200 nations in 2015.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund, which is costing the United States a vast fortune.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Trump announcing pulling out of the climate accord. And before we go to break, since this will be a subject, unless President Trump succeeds in just changing the subject by perhaps tweeting out another GIF of him physically assaulting Hillary Clinton, you know, this made-up GIF of an anti-Semitic—


AMY GOODMAN: —tweeter and transphobic tweeter, and then that diverts all the discussion. If the issue on climate change does continue this week, explain what that accord is, for people really to understand.

NAOMI KLEIN: So, it is the best that the global community has been able to come up with so far, you know, better than anything we’ve had so far, but really not good enough. And Trump, in that clip, talked about the nationally determined targets. What the Paris Agreement is, is the world community coming together, setting a goal of keeping temperatures below what was determined to be really catastrophic climate change, so they set this target of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius above what it was before humans started burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale. There was a huge fight about that 2-degree target, because we’ve already warmed the planet by 1 degree Celsius, and we are already seeing such catastrophic effects. And so, there was a push to make it more ambitious, to make it 1.5. So, the agreement has some complicated language, making best efforts to meet 1.5, but definitely keeping it below 2 degrees Celsius. The problem with the agreement is that it’s made up of these nationally determined plans. So every country was able to bring their best efforts to the table, right? And so, the centerpiece of the U.S.'s efforts was Obama's Clean Power Plan. And every country brought its own best efforts. If you added up all of the best efforts, it didn’t lead to that target of 1.5 to 2 degrees. It led to a pathway to twice that level of warming. So, basically, what the world community—world leaders said was "We know what we have to do, and we’re willing to do roughly half that." And even that is not binding, because it’s set within its own countries.

This is what’s important for people to understand. This is largely a sideshow when he comes to the United States, because Trump has already announced that he is scrapping the centerpiece of the U.S.'s commitment under the Paris Agreement, which is Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would accelerate the wind-down of coal in this country. Scott Pruitt is already busily dismantling that. So, if the U.S. has already decided it’s not going to live up to what—the centerpiece of its responsibility under the Paris Agreement, whether it’s in or it’s out is largely semantics. So that’s why it really matters whether the rest of the world follows the U.S. down this pathway of reduced ambition, as opposed increased ambition.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, Bonn, this year’s U.N. climate summit, can be particularly important, especially going to the issue you were talking about, that the U.S., now pulling out, will say, "Well, maybe, we’ll see, if you somehow weaken it further," though everyone has signed on.

NAOMI KLEIN: Right, whereas I think what the appropriate response to this renegade behavior from the Trump administration, this incredibly reckless behavior, is for the rest of the world to increase its ambitions, to make up for what the U.S. is doing, and also for subnational governments in the United States—the states, the cities—to increase their ambition. And that’s what we saw in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s announcement, right? I mean, that—you know, I think we’ve talked about this before, Amy, but that—you know, that line when Trump said he was elected by the people of Pittsburgh, not the people of Paris, and then the mayor of Pittsburgh steps forward and says, "Well, actually, Pittsburgh voted for Hillary," and then he pledged to get Pittsburgh to 100 percent renewable energy, I think, by 2030. Now, that is the kind of ambition that we need to see in the United States at the subnational level, as well as outside the United States from countries that are led by people who are positioning themselves as climate leaders, like Canada, like France. And so, you know, it’s really the opposite of this "Well, how can we help you, Mr. Trump? You know, how can we weaken this agreement further, weaken our own ambitions further, so that you’ll feel comfortable at this table?"—which will be completely ineffective. And there’s really a choice there. We have to be clear about that.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re saying there’s not such a contradiction that it’s H.R. McMaster, the general, saying, "No, we’re not going to be rejoining," and it’s—


AMY GOODMAN: —Rex Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, who’s saying, "No, we will," because he wants to change these.

NAOMI KLEIN: He’s dangling the possibility. He’s dangling the possibility, so that leaders like Macron and Trudeau, who want to imagine that they have the power to bring Trump back, will weaken the agreement further, which will be to the benefit of the oil industry. And I would argue that Rex Tillerson, as a man who worked at Exxon for 41 years, has their interests at heart.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, author of the book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, also This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. We’ll be back with her in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: "Love is Our Cross to Bear" by John Gorka. Congratulations to our former Democracy Now! producer Amy Littlefield and Daniel Patterson, who danced to the song at their wedding on Saturday.

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