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Day to Day Politics: Fact checking The Donald.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

There are many ways that we communicate (perhaps even unintentionally) with others, for example the tone of our voice can give clues to our mood or emotional state, whilst hand signals or gestures can add to a spoken message. In written communication the sender and receiver are more distinct.

But what we speak and how we speak it is important if we are to communicate as a species. Lying or lying by omission only serves to degrade the one doing it. Here is an example.

Former Environment Minister Greg Hunt (and now Josh Frydenberg) regularly made statements like this: “The omission is that without the overly generous concessions demanded by Australia we would not have come within a bulls roar of reaching our target.” This is called lying by omission and is now part of the politicians tools of trade.

”We are one of the few countries in the world to have met and beaten our first round of Kyoto targets and to be on track to meet and beat our second round of Kyoto targets.”

When Donald Trump gave his Paris exit speech he made some rather ambiguous claims. The Washington Post ran them through a fact-checker. Here is the result (you can read the full test here):

Claim 1: For weeks, as the tug-of-war between the pro- and anti-Paris camps in the White House played out, Trump seemed to grope for a way to claim a middle ground on the Paris decision. The bone he chose to throw Paris supporters is the possibility that the United States can somehow ”reenter” the agreement in the future.

In his speech, Trump promised to ”begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or really an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States.”

”We will see if we can make a deal that’s fair,” he continued.” And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”

The problem: From the start, the Paris agreement was designed to have the plasticity Trump seemed to be seeking by talking about some kind of renegotiation. The breakthrough Obama and others made in the lead-up to Paris was allowing nations to choose the amount of greenhouse-gas emissions they were willing to cut.

”Paris already gives countries tremendous flexibility, and no penalties,”said Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental law at Columbia and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “Trump obviously didn’t read the Paris agreement, and his statement was written by people who willfully misrepresented its contents — his staff or their lobbyist friends.”

Unlike its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris accord did not legally bind nations to emissions targets. The only thing keeping a nation in check was pressure from its international peers. Under the agreement, the United States could miss an emissions goal and face no penalty. It could reset that goal, too, with no formal consequence. It’s unclear what other concessions the United States could gain from a renegotiation.

Also, a new Paris deal may not be practical.

Right after Trump announced his decision, three large European nations indicated they have no interest in a do-over. Italy, Germany and France issued a statement barely an hour after Trump’s speech, saying that the Paris accord ”cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” according to Reuters.

Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt — who lobbied heavily for leaving the deal — argued on CNN after the Rose Garden announcement that Paris was a ”failing agreement to begin with.” He added that Trump has repeatedly said he is ”committed to continuing” climate-change discussions, but with “America at the forefront of those discussions.”

Claim 2: While Trump as president has taken a decidedly softer stance toward China than he did while running for office, he used the Paris announcement to take a swing at one of his favorite punching bags to illustrate the raw deal he believes the United States got under the agreement.

“China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants,” Trump proclaimed. “So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement.”

And again, Trump said: “Under the agreement, China will be able to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years, 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. Not us.”

The problem: Not so. Again, the agreement does not bind any nation to any emissions target. What China did choose to do under the agreement is have its carbon emissions ”peak” by 2030 before then declining. The world accepted that longer leash for China and other developing nations to let them use fossil-fuel energy to promote greater economic growth.

But to meet that goal, China cannot ”do whatever they want” until then, as Trump said, at least if China wants to meet that voluntary 2030 target. It needs to begin acting now to control emissions — and in fact, is signaling to the world it is already doing so by announcing in January the cancellation of plans to build more than 100 coal-fired power plants.

The Paris deal ”is more fair to the U.S. than previous agreements because it includes all the major economies of the world, not just the rich countries, so both developed countries and developing countries have skin in the game,” Jody Freeman, a Harvard Law School professor and director of the school’s Environmental Law and Policy Program, said. Trump’s “portrayal is at odds with reality,” she added.

Claim 3: In a baby step for a politician who once dubbed the idea of climate change a hoax, Trump suggested in his speech that human activity can warm the planet — albeit backhandedly, and to make the point that the climate accord is futile. Here’s what Trump tweeted in 2013:

”Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that, this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100,” Trump said during the speech, holding up his hand with thumb and index finger only millimeters apart.

The problem: While it’s true that current commitments are not enough to meet the two-degree goal, Trump’s figures are off. As my Post colleague Chris Mooney writes, reporting on an analysis from an MIT researcher: ”The current country level pledges under the Paris agreement would reduce the planet’s warming by the year 2100 down from 4.2 degrees Celsius (7.6 degrees Fahrenheit) to 3.3 degrees Celsius (5.9 degrees Fahrenheit), or nearly a full degree Celsius.”

Claim 4: Trump also singled out for criticism a United Nations initiative that actually predates the Paris deal called the Green Climate Fund. It’s a pool of money that finances climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in poor nations, but Trump is concerned that U.S. contributions are hurting the United States.

”Beyond the severe energy restrictions inflicted by the Paris accord,” Trump said, “it includes yet another scheme to redistribute wealth out of the United States through the so-called Green Climate Fund — nice name — which calls for developed countries to send $100 billion to developing countries all on top of America’s existing and massive foreign aid payments.”

And that money the United States pays is ”raided out of America’s budget for the war against terrorism,” he said. ”That’s where they came.”

The problem: There are a few, according to the nonprofit Friends of the Earth.

The Green Climate Fund contains $10.3 billion not $100 billion. And the U.S. share comes from the Treasury, not any pool or money set aside for anti-terrorism purposes.

“I’d never heard anything like this before,” Karen Orenstein, deputy director of economic policy at Friends of the Earth, said of the terrorism claim. “It’s totally ridiculous.”

Claim 5: During his Rose Garden speech, Trump attempted to rev his coal-country base by saying: ”I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

The problem: This line is confusing. It was delegates of the nearly 200 nations of the world, not the approximately 2 million people of Paris, who negotiated the climate accord. Paris was simply the city that hosted the talks after which, in the long tradition of diplomatic nomenclature, the agreement was named. Nonetheless, the line is likely to resonate with Trump voters who feel they have been left out of the economic recovery and who do not relate to international diplomats who they don’t believe are working in their best interest.

And The Post’s Philip Bump reminds readers what Pittsburgh used to look like: ”Once upon a time, the city of Pittsburgh was a robustly blue-collar anchor to the American steel industry. Once upon a time, the air was thick with smog and soot from industry lining the city’s rivers. Once upon a time, decades ago, the collapse of the steel industry and American manufacturing put the city itself at risk.”

And in conclusion …

”There are many ways that we communicate (perhaps even unintentionally) with others, for example the tone of our voice can give clues to our mood or emotional state, whilst hand signals or gestures can add to a spoken message. In written communication the sender and receiver are more distinct.

But what we say and how we say it is important if we are to communicate as a species. Lying or lying by omission only serves to degrade the one doing it.”

My thought for the Day

Question everything. What you see, what you feel, what you hear, what you read and what you are told until you understand the truth of it. Thoughtlessness is the residue of things not understood and can never be a substitute for fact.”

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6 comments

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  1. freefall852

    The sad truth about the Paris Accord or any other international agreement on doing something about a runaway climate problem, is that there really is no intention of starting a plan that will diminish the production base of their economies and create unemployment. These “Protocols” or “Accords” or whatever are just a stalling agenda to let the countries SAY they are doing something to their domestic political consumers, while continuing flat-out doing very little until such time as we (humanity) reaches that prime condition requiring action..ie: disaster…and then we will probably collectively implement that other prime consideration of capitalism..; the “just in time principle” of sticky-tape and bent-wire policy…after all, these things that collapse, not unlike the sudden birth of a child, usually happen on a weekend..and we here in Oz ALL know what happens on the weekend…….FOOTY!

  2. Johno

    Thankfully I live in the minority sector of ‘footy is boring’. If climate disaster strikes on the weekend I will probably be boat building.
    Every day is disaster if you belong to the wildlife community…..
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-05/ghost-fishing-nets-killing-marine-animals/8591020
    or
    http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/animals/new-threat-to-the-reef-revealed-as-potent-human-medications-and-pesticides-are-found-in-sea-turtles/news-story/17b25515ce907a992527d1f752

  3. helvityni

    CLAIM FIVE During his Rose Garden speech, Trump attempted to rev his coal-country base by saying: ”I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

    Whatever Trump is promising to the remaining Pittsburghians (?), it’s NOT rose gardens….

  4. darrel nay

    Conservatism is the new counterculture!

  5. freefall852

    ” Conservatism is the new counterculture!”…yeah..you could be right there, das’no…sort of like those “specials” you see on the counter at the local deli’….”two for the price of one”..except with conservatism, it’s : “two for a cut of the percentage”.

  6. Kronomex

    If our reality was The Donald’s reality (à la the Matrix, hereby renamed Trumpoverse) then it would collapse into utter chaos within days if not hours.

    John, I thought for a moment I was reading a transcript of the latest episode of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. What made your article different is that you were more polite.

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