Why the World Should Impose Sanctions on the US

December 14th, 2019 - by Basav Sen / USA Today

Dear Countries at the Madrid Climate Talks: We’re a Rogue Superpower. Sanction us, Please.

Responsible world governments could publicly shame the US government for its climate policies, with sanctions to follow if we don’t step up our game.

Basav Sen / USA Today

 (December 10,, 2019) — A sinister rogue state poses a clear and present danger to humanity. In fact, an opportunity for the international community to stand up to this scofflaw nation just opened this week.

This rogue state isn’t Iran, Venezuela or any other country the US foreign policy establishment typically demonizes — it’s the United States itself.

The global scientific community is clear that our warming climate, driven primarily by burning fossil fuels, threatens the future of humanity. Yet many of the world’s major economies continue to increase their support for fossil fuel production. Trying to phase out fossil fuels while continuing to extract them is, to put it mildly, ineffective

America Is a Climate Scofflaw

Now, the United Nations Environment Program has joined the chorus of academics in this conclusion, in a joint report with several nongovernmental organizations. The report demonstrates that the plans of many national governments on fossil fuel production are inconsistent with the goal of keeping the global average temperature increase to within 1.5 degrees Celsius, the safe upper limit.

Many governments share the blame for this. China is the world’s largest coal producer, and its planned phase-out of this production after a projected 2020 peak isn’t fast enough. Russia, the world’s second largest natural gas producer, plans to keep growing its output for the foreseeable future. 

But one country stands out as clearly the worst.

The United States is the largest producer of oil and gas and the second largest producer of coal. And it plans to keep growing its oil and gas production, becoming a net exporter of fossil fuels by 2020. The International Energy Agency estimates that America will account for 70% of the increase in global oil production and 75% of the increase in global liquefied natural gas trade over the next five years. 

Think about this. Our country, as a matter of policy, prioritizes enriching its oil and gas industry over preserving the ecosystems upon which billions of people rely for their food, water and homes. This should fit any rational definition of a rogue state.

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Poorer countries are already paying the price for this recklessness. For instance, US per capita emissions are 55 times greater than those of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. Yet it’s Solomon Islanders who are being forced to flee the rising seas and abandon their ancestral ways of life.

It’s tempting to attribute America’s rogue behavior to the Trump administration. After all, President Donald Trump is pulling the United States out of the Paris accord, censoring scientific research on climate change and overturning even the weak steps taken by the prior administration to address US greenhouse gas emissions — alongside, of course, aggressively expanding fossil fuel extraction.

Obama Was Part of the Problem 

However, the roots of our recklessness run deeper. Case in point: President Barack Obama famously pursued an “all of the above” energy policy that expanded US oil and gas production along with renewable energy, even as he publicly postured about the importance of acting on climate change. Under Obama, US oil exports went from 44,000 to 591,000 barrels a day — an increase of more than 1200%. 

Getting rid of Trump alone won’t cure US irresponsibility. But this is far from a dispiriting conclusion. I prefer to think of it as another argument for why we need systemic change, rather than merely changing the face at the top.

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All over the country, movements are underway to build support for this transformation. Yet our social movements could also use help from other countries. For instance, responsible world governments could publicly shame the US government for its climate policies — a symbolic first step that, if necessary, could be followed by more substantive consequences such as sanctions.

What better forum to start publicly naming and shaming the rogue US regime than at the UN climate talks underway in Madrid? It will reflect poorly on self-proclaimed climate leaders worldwide if they allow a climate rogue state like the United States to attend the climate talks like a “normal” country.

Do world governments have the spine to take on a rogue superpower?

Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Follow him on Twitter: @BasavIPS.

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