With Paris Climate Deal, Obama Again Imagines He’ll Save the World

Is the Paris global warming agreement a treaty or executive action?

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama applaud as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers a speech during a joint ratification of the Paris climate change agreement at the West Lake State Guest House in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.

By William M Briggs Published on September 5, 2016

On his inauguration — perhaps apotheosis is a better word — President Obama said that the world would forever remember that “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Seven years later, adjusting or forgetting his earlier prophecy, Mr Obama declared in Beijing that his signing of the Paris Agreement on global warming would be known throughout history as “the moment we finally decided to save our planet.”

Either way, if he is right then President Obama will have done what no man has ever done before; he will stop the earth’s climate from changing. How mighty a feat would this be?

Joshua prayed that the sun would stand still. Something very like that will and must occur to stop the climate from changing, because it is the sun’s variability, and the ever-shifting of earth’s position in relation to the sun, which cause the vast bulk of changes in the atmosphere. Though mankind surely influences the climate, just as every species from aardvarks to zebra mussels also influence the climate, our contributions pale next to the powers of the sun.

Can the President’s Agreement command the sun?

Epictetus said, “Crows pick out the eyes of the dead, when the dead have no longer need of them; but flatterers mar the soul of the living, and her eyes they blind.” No man has been as saturated in flattery as President Obama, so it is easy to understand how the poor man could be fail to see to his limitations.

An Agreement or a Treaty?

His blindness might also explain why Mr. Obama declared that he had the power to “ratify” the Agreement as if the Agreement was a legally binding treaty.

Now the President has the power to make treaties, but they only become valid “provided two-thirds of the Senators” concur, or so says the once-important Constitution (we are not forgetting the beatings it has been given by such personages as Anthony Kennedy). Without this concurrence, which no one thinks will be forthcoming, no treaty can become legally binding. This was very fate of the similar Kyoto Protocol on global warming  engineered by the Clinton Administration, which also knew it could not convince its Senate to concur. Incidentally, none of its prophecies of doom came to pass.

Yet since Obama must be the savior of the world and “combat” a changing climate, he would bypass the Senate and call the Paris treaty an “Executive Agreement” instead. The President has the power to make Executive Agreements — as long as these do not legally bind the country.

There is no reason to rehash the faulty science behind global warming upon which the Paris Agreement relies. Nor need we dwell on what the legal document would compel the United States to do, mainly because the interpretation of much of the Agreement is open and fluid. Instead we wonder what the Senate will do.

It could insist that the Agreement is a treaty because it legally requires the United States to act in a certain way, and thus pronounce it null. But this would require going on record, which is not likely because many who oppose Mr. Obama are afraid of being labeled “anti-science,” and nobody wants the fight in an election year. Besides, about half the Senate supports Mr Obama’s action.

What will probably happen is that the Senate will allow Mr. Obama’s definition. It has already been noted, for instance, the Agreement uses the word “should” instead of “shall” in delineating its many requirements. Lawyers wrote the Agreement, not scientists, and its “hidden code” is for lawyers to wrangle over.

Because the Senate is controlled (weakly) by those who oppose Mr. Obama, they might think they will be able to stem the reach of the Agreement, for instance by denying its programs money. But Mr. Obama will probably marry the Agreement to the EPA and other agencies under his control, agencies which the Senate are reluctant to touch. The president won’t get everything he wants this way, but he’ll get something.

The end-around sought by the president could backfire, though. If, as he insists, the Agreement contains only suggestions, and is not a treaty, then in five short months under a President Trump, assuming such a thing happens and given Mr. Trump’s statements about global warming, the entire thing will be forgotten. The only way Mr. Obama can influence the climate then is by holding his breath, thus stopping his carbon-dioxide-laden exhalation from polluting the atmosphere.

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