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Trump Has Committed a Crime Against Humanity

In this essay, I briefly trace the history of the scientific work that predicts rising temperatures, sea rise, and the effects of greenhouse gases on climate change. I then explain why Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement warrants charging him with committing a crime against humanity.

Keywords: environment; human rights; impeachment; politics; public policy; Trump

Scientists, environmentalists, world leaders, and people, generally, were shocked when on June 1, 2017, Donald J. Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, making the United States the only country in the world that is not party to the international treaty to curb global warming (Lu and Soffen [11]). I contend in this essay that Trump is not only guilty of an impeachable offense, but he has also committed a crime against humanity. Specifically, the likely consequence of the United States abandoning Paris is that the earth will become so hot that it will become uninhabitable (Hawking [ 7]). This is because carbon dioxide is the main cause of warming, and if there are no constraints on how much carbon dioxide the United States spews out into the atmosphere, the planet will become exceedingly hot, spurring unprecedented migration and disease outbreaks, melting the Arctic and the Antarctic, bringing about extinction of many species. Indeed, scientists have been debating when the earth would become uninhabitable if the United States did not rejoin (Wallace‐Wells [20]).

Yes, there was shock and disbelief when Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement. Ban Ki‐Moon, former secretary‐general of the United Nations, was appalled. He told a journalist from the Guardian, "What President Trump has been saying is politically shortsighted and scientifically based on wrong advice; I don't know who advised him" (Milman [13]; Vaughan [19]). Emmanuel Macron, president of France, said in a televised address (both in French and in English) that Trump had "committed an error for the interests of his country, his people and a mistake for the future of our planet" (Savransky [17]). In other words, the consequences of the United States failing to live up to the international treaty will be horrific. After all, the United States already is the world's main source of atmospheric carbon dioxide (which is largely responsible for global warming) and second only to China in greenhouse emissions (which includes notably carbon dioxide and methane) (Wei‐Haas [21]).

In this essay, I briefly trace the history of the scientific work that predicts rising temperatures, sea rise, and the effects of greenhouse gases on climate change and then explain why Trump's actions merit such harsh condemnation that it warrants charging him with committing a crime against humanity. Of course, it is possible that he will be impeached or voted out of office before November 5, 2020, the deadline for the United States to rejoin Paris. If Trump is voted out of office or is impeached before the 2020 deadline, it is very likely that the person who replaces him will rejoin Paris. However, if he is reelected and has not rescinded his earlier order, it is reasonable to consider that he will be charged with committing an international crime. His pro‐coal policies have already led to an increase in the rate at which American industries pump carbon dioxide and other noxious gases into the atmosphere, thereby undermining the objectives of the Paris Agreement and raising the earth's ambient temperature. In a myriad of other ways, the United States has taken action that is at odds with the principles of the Paris Agreement and its practical requirements for nations to cooperate to slow warming (Greshko, Parker, and Howard [ 6]). In other words, given the enormous size of the U.S. economy, Trump's decision has horrific implications for the entire planet and its peoples. How could he leave the agreement? There was not a national outcry. The reason unfortunately is that Americans are less concerned about climate change and global warming than people who live in other countries (Maibach et al. [12]).

I contend that he has set into motion forces that will destroy the planet, by making it uninhabitable. It is appropriate that he be tried by a court for committing a crime against humanity. By suggesting that he be tried for committing this crime, I imply that the United States is a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is not. However, there are courts with universal jurisdiction that try cases consistent with the Rome Statute, and these cases include crime against humanity.[ 1] Before I go into this, I will briefly review the history of scientific engagement with climate change.

How We Got To Where We Are Today

Beginning as early as the late nineteenth century, scientists contended that emissions of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) warm the atmosphere, but they lacked the equipment to precisely test this. Yet over the decades, computer modeling and observational techniques improved, and in 1979, the UN World Meteorological Organization organized the First World Climate Conference, attended by scientists from a wide range of disciplines. It called on the world's governments "to foresee and prevent potential manmade changes in the climate that might be adverse to humanity." It also led to the establishment of the World Climate Programme and to the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.[ 2] Thus, 1979 was an important year for international science and policy related to climate change.

The Second World Climate Conference was held in 1990, which led to the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which aims to curb emissions and established the Global Climate Observing System, a global observing system for climate phenomena. In 1995, international climate meetings began to be held as meetings of the governing body of an international convention, which includes all parties to the convention, namely as a Conference of Parties (COP). After that, COP meetings were held regularly, providing opportunities for world scientists to share findings about climate predictions, food production, public health, desertification, and many, many other aspects of warming. At COP‐16, the parties agreed to issue this statement: "Climate change represents a potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires to be urgently addressed by all Parties."[ 3]

It was at COP‐21 that the global treaty on the reduction of warming was forged. The conference was held in Paris from November 30 to December 12, 2015. Appropriately called the Paris Agreement, it actually is a treaty that all countries signed. The United States signed, and then Trump withdrew. The general objective is to abolish the use of all fossil fuels by 2030. Two things about the agreement are especially important. First, industrialized countries are obligated to assist less‐industrialized ones to acquire renewable energy, and second, although both 2°C and 1.5°C targets are mentioned in the Paris Agreement, the current goal is 1.5°C.

It should be stressed that both mobilization and cooperation have accelerated as knowledge about warming has deepened and has been broadly shared around the world (Jorgenson et al. [ 9]). Between 2007 and 2015, global reliance on renewables just about doubled, and the total costs of renewable energy—wind and solar—became less than the cost of fossil fuels. The projections—if nothing is done to curb warming—are exceedingly discouraging. To give a few examples: parts of the world, especially in and around the Persian Gulf, will be uninhabitable by 2050; Boston may experience up to six foot sea rise by 2100; the Greenland ice sheet is melting at its fastest rate in at least 400 years, and were it to melt completely, the ocean would rise about 20 feet.

In sum, the empirical evidence for planetary warming is clear and decisive. It is getting hotter everywhere; because of the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the seas are rising, causing some small island states to disappear completely; some parts of the planet are so hot they are virtually uninhabitable; many species of insects and some species of mammals cannot survive. Perhaps the most frightening warning comes from a draft (October 2018) United Nations report, which will be officially released next year. The draft says renewable energy, such as wind, solar, and hydropower, would have to surge by 60% from 2020 levels by 2050 to stay below 1.5°C. It says governments may have to find ways to extract vast amounts of carbon from the air—for instance, by planting vast forests. It notes that because the U.S. president pulled out of the Paris Agreement and because the United States promotes fossil fuels, other countries would have to make up for the United States. Before its release to the media, more than 25,000 scientists have had the opportunity to comment on the draft.[ 4]

Americans are less concerned about climate change than others are. For example, in a recent Pew Research survey, most Americans said they believed in climate change, but only 28% said it was top priority (Pew Research Center [15]). This is extremely low compared with people in other countries. For example, 95% of Latin Americans and more than 85% of Europeans are very concerned, giving climate warming a top priority (Pew Research Center [16]).

An Impeachable Offense?

Legal scholars contend that Trump could conceivably be impeached for, say, conspiracy with Russia, undermining the press, or violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution (Feldman [ 5]; Sunstein [18]). The Constitution permits Congress to remove presidents before their term is up if enough lawmakers vote to say that they have committed "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," or, in general, a serious abuse of power.

Only three presidents have been subjected to impeachment proceedings. Two presidents were impeached but acquitted by the Senate and stayed in office: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 and 1999. A third, Richard M. Nixon in 1974, resigned to avoid being impeached. The context, of course, for all three was the United States and the U.S. Constitution. In contrast, Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement will affect the entire planet and possibly harm all living creatures on earth (Borenstein [ 1]; Nuccitelli [14]). Clearly, national laws are not sufficient and it will be necessary to draw on international law.

There is both a body of law—the Rome Statute—and a world court that considers cases—the ICC. The body of law and court are comprehensive, representing the world's peoples and defending universal principles. The overreaching goal of the ICC is to investigate the justification for any accusation and, when warranted, to try individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community—namely, genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crime of aggression. The United States does not belong to the ICC. Yet the ICC is not the only court with universal jurisdiction. Several countries—Germany, France, Spain, and Switzerland—have such courts (Center for Constitutional Rights [ 3]), which carry out criminal justice proceedings dealing with the same crimes that the ICC does and coordinating their work with the ICC and the United Nations Security Council. In fact, in 2012, a Malaysian court with universal jurisdiction found George W. Bush guilty of war crimes for aggression and torture in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he risks arrest if he travels outside of the United States. Let us assume that Trump will be tried just as Bush was tried—by a court with universal jurisdiction.

Yet unlike the case against Bush for which the objective was to punish Bush for committing horrific crimes against people, the objective for the case against Trump is to save the planet, specifically by punishing Trump for putting the United States on a path that would destroy the earth and extinguish all life.

DMU Timestamp: November 27, 2019 01:26

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