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Trade Wars Will Slow Climate Change

President Trump has said that “Trade wars aren’t so bad” and that such a war will be “”easy” for the United States to win. I think he’s right, except in identifying the winner. All humankind will be the winner of worldwide trade wars which slow greenhouse gas emissions and resulting climate changes. History says so.

The United States’s anti-trade Smith-Hawley Act of 1930 started multiplying trade wars which helped cause the Great Depression. The long 1930’s economic collapse slowed world production and trade of goods, and hence diminished production of climate-changing greenhouse gases such as the carbon dioxide generated by burning hydrocarbons. A president’s leverage has increased since then: international trade has expanded since the 1930s, and U.S. imports and exports together equal about 30 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Trump’s recent threats to impose hundreds of billions of dollars of new tariffs immediately generated Chinese threats to impose stiff tariffs on American goods, and the economy-shrinking possibilities expand from there.

This blog has opined many times that “Too many people consuming too much” has caused recent increases in greenhouse gases and in global warming. The 10,000 years since urban civilization began was a period of climate stability until recently, with greenhouse gas carbon dioxide hovering around 280 parts per million of our air. But world CO2 levels have increased to over 400 ppm, more quickly in the last few decades, and we see the beginnings of climate change in rising seas, more heat, and changed rain patterns. It’s too late to stop climate changes that are already in Earth’s pipeline, but we can slow them by reducing economic activities which pull coal, oil and gas from the ground and burn them.

In sum, the history of trade wars suggests that a Trump-initiated trade war could slow the growth of greenhouse gas production, and so do an unintended favor for our children and grandchildren.


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