Trump’s heated climate denial spurs action across the planet

This is the weekly roundup of The WorldPost, of which Nathan Gardels is the editor in chief.

Just as “coalitions of the willing” have been mobilized for war, “networks of the willing” are today being mobilized for peaceful ends, first and foremost among them the fight against climate change.

As a key United Nations climate conference prepares to convene in Bonn, Germany next week, it has become clear that U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate accord has spurred non-national entities — cities, states, provinces and businesses — to forge robust alliances to pick up the slack.

In an interview with The WorldPost in June, California Governor Jerry Brown described the dynamic: “As Trump does his climate denial, that paradoxically is a catalytic force that mobilizes those who don’t agree with him and those who see climate change as the threat. … With Trump going AWOL on climate change, the rest of the country and the rest of the world have to react, and the reaction has to be to intensify our efforts to decarbonize our economy.” Brown is spearheading an effort that includes 188 jurisdictions in 39 countries on six continents to meet the Paris climate goals of keeping planetary warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Shortly after that interview, Brown headed to Beijing, where Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a transparent rebuke to the American president, broke protocol by meeting one-on-one with a state governor to discuss common climate action. Brown told me afterward that Xi’s main message was that China “sticks to its pledges for the long term” and can be counted on to follow through.

China is preparing to inaugurate a nationwide program modeled on California’s that caps greenhouse gas emissions and penalizes polluters with stiff fees. Polluters can buy and trade emissions allowances that are costly, thus incentivizing reductions. One of the more promising areas of cooperation would be if California and China merged their cap-and-trade programs into one large market, structurally binding their decarbonization efforts.

Beyond these collaborative efforts, writes Christiana Figueres, “Progress toward decarbonization is being driven by the real economy, which is decisively turning away from fossil fuels.”

Figueres, who shepherded the Paris talks in 2015 to a successful conclusion, cites the plans of major automakers from General Motors to Volkswagen to China’s BYD to shift to electric vehicles, as well as the recent announcements by countries from France to India banning future production of traditional diesel and petrol vehicles. She further notes that, for the first time last year, “the growth of energy generation from renewables was greater than all fossil fuels put together,” while green bond financing has leapt from single digits to more than $90 billion so far in 2017. “With the dramatic advances in the real economy continuing,” she concludes, “my expectation is that … far from falling short in meeting the goals of the Paris accord, [signatories to the agreement] can increase their ambition to act on climate change.”

One of Silicon Valley’s most influential technologists and investors, Bill Joy, surveys the “grand challenge” technological breakthroughs that are the building blocks of a sustainable future. The key innovations, according to Joy, are crystalline polymer batteries that will transform transportation and the electric grid by dramatically enhancing storage capacity and safety; innovative cement that requires far less energy to produce and can ease pressure on forests; and synthetic meat that can have positive impacts on land use and human health.

Jack Miles looks away from technological solutions to find another way to mitigate climate change. He suggests we take a closer look at how we all can reduce our personal carbon footprints, pointing out the obvious that is often overlooked: air travel is tremendously climate-unfriendly. He concludes: “So for the love of the Earth, our common home, our only home, start conducting more remote work meetings and training sessions virtually.”

His advice: “Staying home, in fact, is the essence of making a big difference in a big hurry. That’s because nothing that we do pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than air travel. Cancel a couple long flights, and you can halve your carbon footprint. Schedule a couple, and you can double or triple it.”

Martin Luther’s influence 500 years later

Oct. 31 marked the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther released his famous 95 theses.

Writing from Florence and Copenhagen, Fabrizio Tassinari and Lars Vissing recall the lessons for modern Europe of the “religious encounters and cultural conflicts” when Luther sought autonomy from the centralized dominance of the Holy Roman Empire.

“As Britain prepares to leave the E.U., Greece tries to recover from the euro crisis, Germany from an unprecedented influx of refugees and even as Catalonia tries to secede from Spain,” they write, “the enduring legacy of the Reformation to Europe is that cultural differences ought to be taken seriously and handled with caution.”

For the authors, “Europeans have succeeded whenever they have accepted that deeper cultural factors, whether organized along national or regional lines, are in fact nonnegotiable and that any prospect of cooperation has to accept this reality and indeed work around it. If there is one universal lesson from the Reformation, it is that any such thing as a European ‘identity’ resides in its systematic, relentless attempt at accommodating differences.”

This was produced by The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post.

ADVISORY COUNCIL: Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei Kudrin, Pascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon Musk, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel Roubini, Nicolas Sarkozy, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter Schwartz, Amartya Sen, Jeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry Summers, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Zheng Bijian, Marek Belka, Tony Blair, Jacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar Issing, Mario Monti, Robert Mundell, Peter Sutherland, Guy Verhofstadt, James Cameron