As the American election stumbled toward the finish line, NBC informed its audience, or at least told them, “U.S. vote to shape how world warms as climate pact exit looms”. Oh really? It’s that simple? Apparently so. “Because the world is so close to feared climate tipping points, climate scientists said the U.S. pullout from the 2015 Paris agreement will have noticeable effects.” As we’ve asked before about this sort of rhetoric, how many tipping points can there be before something tips over? But also, how much difference will Paris make? If you ask the alarmists, it’s all or nothing, now or never, heaven or hell. But curiously, if you ask the alarmists, it’s none at all.
We could also note that whether Joseph Biden or Donald Trump has won the election by the time you read this, assuming we know, does not have nearly as large an impact as people suppose on whether the United States will actually meet its Paris targets. It’s unclear what legislation will get passed, something the White House does not control even if the president’s party controls both Houses of Congress. Nor is it clear that any legislation that is passed will achieve what it seeks to achieve; many nations have promised to meet their Paris targets, many laws have been passed, yet virtually nobody is even close.
These things all matter, because the job of the media is to inform their audience, and to blur over all these complexities is therefore a disservice to that audience and, indeed, to democracy. Informed public debate cannot happen if people are given wrong information or none at all.
Instead, after blatting on about “carbon pollution” NBC observes that “Former Vice President Joe Biden has pledged to put the country immediately back in the Paris agreement, which doesn’t require congressional approval.” Which is true. But being in or out of a treaty is nothing without legislation bringing its provisions into effect, which one hopes the NBC writer knew but which they did not mention.
Instead, the story went all “experts say” on us: “Experts say three months — from November to the January inauguration — with the U.S. out of the climate pact will not change the world, but four years will.” Oh really? Four years of the United States being party to a treaty whose provisions it is not enforcing will “change the world”? As we noted in our videos on the Paris Accord, what the computer models say is that if every nation meets its Paris targets for the next 80 years, it will change global temperature in 2100 by about one tenth of a degree. So how does four years of American lip service affect temperature? Not by one ten-thousandth of a degree. Hardly “how world warms”.
At one point in the NBC story it says “Eleven years ago, the world was on pace to add about another 5 degrees (2.8 degrees Celsius) of warming. But with emission cut pledges from Paris and afterward, the world is facing only about another 2.2 degrees (1.2 degrees Celsius) of warming if countries do what they promise, said Wageningen University’s [Niklas] Hohne.” But where he gets that from, the idea that we’ve already cut warming by more than half in a few years or are about to, is anybody’s guess. Except ours, because we know it’s not what the models say.
Pushing aside such considerations, the story steams ahead with theory that the world is basically following America’s lead, saying “If America pulls back from Paris and stronger carbon cutting efforts, some nations are less likely to cut back too, so the withdrawal’s impact will be magnified, said scientists and climate negotiators.” And while we hate to barge in with some rude facts, isn’t it the case that the U.S. has been in the Paris Accord since it was accorded in 2015 because Barack Obama, who famously in 2008 pledged to halt the rising tide, signed it? And how much impact has it had on other governments’ actual behaviour? Or their rhetoric? The latter was overwhelmingly pro-meaningful emissions cuts, the former overwhelmingly against them, before the accord was signed and while U.S. was a party to it, so what difference would it make if the U.S. left?
Well apparently it would send us over a bunch of these famous tipping points. “’Losing most of the world’s coral reefs is something that would be hard to avoid if the U.S. remains out of the Paris process,’ said climate scientist Zeke Hausfather of the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California.” If true, which we doubt, then it will be equally hard to avoid if the U.S. remains in the Paris Accord, because Paris makes no difference. He adds: “At the margins, we would see a world of more extreme heat waves.” At the margins? The margins of what? And suppose the U.S. remains out of Paris but everyone else stays in? Or if the U.S. stays in Paris and even meets its targets but China just keeps on blasting out GHGs? Do the corals get a reprieve?
The story immediately continued “If the U.S. remains out of the climate pact, today’s children are ‘going to see big changes that you and I don’t see for ice, coral and weather disasters,’ said Stanford University’s Rob Jackson.” Once again, no distinction is drawn between being in the treaty and meeting its commitments, nor is any consideration given to what anyone else does. It really just feels like Orange Man Bad again.
Especially given this quotation: “’If Biden wins, the whole world is going to start reorienting toward stepping up its action,’ said climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the University of Michigan’s environment program.” Right. China is just waiting to decide whether to burn up the planet based on what Joe says. That’s your tipping point?