German Chancellor Angela Merkel must feel as if she's Sisyphus, forever doomed to roll an immense boulder up a hill. She is being punished not because she is a deceitful braggart, as Sisyphus was, but because boulders are in plentiful supply in Europe and no one else seems readily available to do the pushing.
With Brexit inevitable, Euroskepticism and populism on the rise in France, Italy and parts of Eastern Europe, she is taking the lead role in keeping the fragile European Union and the euro zone intact. She is the EU's point woman in dealing with the aggressive alpha males on the EU's eastern flank, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And now, she has to deal with another alpha male with obstructive tendencies, Donald Trump, whom she met on Friday in Washington.
Her mission will add more bulk to her boulder. She has to save transatlantic trade and another international deal that is even more important for the long-term welfare of the planet: the Paris climate-change agreement. While the former effort garners most of the publicity, it is the latter that probably will be Ms. Merkel's tougher sell, all the more so since Mr. Trump once denounced global warming as a "hoax" concocted by China.
Mr. Trump is to environment spending as Ms. Merkel is to defence spending; neither much likes it.
By all evidence, the U.S. President is on a mission to destroy his predecessor's green legacy. Myron Ebell, the head of Mr. Trump's transition team at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said in January the White House will "definitely" pull out of the Paris climate-change deal, which was signed in late 2015 and ratified by most countries last year.
Also in Mr. Trump's crosshairs is the Clean Power Plan, whose goal is to reduce carbon emissions from electricity-generating plants by a third, all the better to keep the United States' fleet of lung-choking, planet-warming coal burners alive. For good measure, Mr. Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate-change skeptic, to head the EPA and announced this week he wants to cut the EPA's funding by 31 per cent, equivalent to $2.7-billion (U.S.) a year. Budgets for clean air and clean water are to be sacrificed so the Pentagon can buy more weapons.
Were the United States, the world's second-biggest polluter and carbon emitter, to pull out of the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan, the Paris Agreement would probably die. China and the EU, which are both making great strides in clean-energy development, want the United States to stay put.
Ms. Merkel is a master of gentle persuasion. How might the world's most powerful woman convince the world's most powerful man that sticking with the Paris Agreement is a good idea? The formula is fairly simple: Equate carbon reduction with job creation, technology development and energy security, as China does.
For China, cleaning up the city air so you don't choke to death is not the only goal of the country's clean-energy agenda. China imports a lot of its coal and almost all of its oil, making it vulnerable to supply disruptions and volatile prices. Energy security rises as it produces more domestic clean energy from solar, wind and hydro sources.
Clean-energy investment also creates jobs. A decade ago, China leaped into the solar-panel market. By 2011, its production of solar panels had reached 50 per cent of global output. Today, the figure is even higher. Ditto wind turbines. By 2015, five of the top 10 turbine makers were Chinese, as was the top name – Goldwind. The traditional wind-turbine powerhouses, Denmark's Vestas and General Electric of the United States, are sliding in the rankings.
Besides job creation, the pleasant side of the clean-energy drive is the slow but sure decarbonization of the energy market. John Mathews, professor of management at Australia's Macquarie University, says the proportion of electricity generated by thermal sources – fossil fuels – keeps declining in China and fell to 73 per cent in 2015. The rest was generated from non-polluting sources, mostly solar, wind and hydro power.
Several European countries – among them Germany, Italy, France and Portugal – have also made huge progress in clean energy. In Germany, about one-third of electricity consumption comes from clean-energy generation. Like China, it sees clean-energy technology as a job-creation strategy.
It has been in the United States, too, although Mr. Trump seems more interested in preserving the few remaining jobs in the dying U.S. coal industry, which enthusiastically endorsed his candidacy. A recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund said employment in the U.S. renewable-energy sector had reached 760,000, for a compound annual growth rate of almost 6 per cent since 2012. Over the same period, jobs in the fossil-fuel industry fell at an 4.25-per-cent annual rate.
Ms. Merkel need not lecture Mr. Trump about anthropogenic climate change. He wouldn't listen anyway. She could mention that clean energy is a great way to create jobs and industrial clout in new technologies. That would certainly appeal to his "America first" mantra.