By now, most people understand that “fact-checkers” for organs like the Washington Post are just liberals trying to package their talking points under a byline they hope will bolster their waning credibility. That’s certainly the case with this Washington Post “fact check” (by Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee) of President Trump’s explanation for withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement.
This howler appears in the second paragraph:
Trump also suggested that the United States was treated unfairly under the agreement. But each of the nations signing the agreement agreed to help lower emissions, based on plans they submitted. So the U.S. target was set by the Obama administration.
Q.E.D. But for which side of the debate?
In the online version I’m working from, the “fact-checkers” don’t bother to link to the text of Trump’s speech. Apparently, they would prefer not to be fact-checked.
If one bothers to read the text, one finds that Trump didn’t say the process that produced the agreement — e.g., the way the targets were set — is unfair. He said: “the Paris Accord is very unfair, at the highest level, to the United States.” In other words, the outcome — in particular, the targets — is unfair.
Thus, the fact-checkers have assumed that targets set by Obama are, by definition, fair to the United States. That’s what they used to call “begging the question.”
It would be hard for the “fact-checkers” to go downhill from there, but they make a good run at it. Trump cited a study finding that full implementation and compliance with the agreement would produce only a “tiny, tiny” 0.2 degree reduction in global temperature by 2100. The fact-checkers deny that a 0.2 degree reduction is “tiny, tiny” and say that the author of the study disagrees with Trump’s characterization.
Do we really need fact-checkers to tell us what is, and is not, “tiny, tiny”?
The Post’s “fact-checkers” take a rather different approach when it comes to assessing the magnitude of lost economic growth. Citing a study, Trump said the agreement would cost the economy nearly $3 trillion in lost gross domestic product by 2040. The fact-checkers say “that number must be viewed in context over more than two decades, so ‘$3 trillion’ amounts to a reduction of 6 percent.”
A 6 percent loss of GDP isn’t “tiny, tiny.” It seems significant to me. Others may view things differently, but that’s a matter of opinion, not fact. Trump hasn’t said anything here that constitutes factual error.
Much of the criticism leveled by the Post’s “fact-checkers” is based on the fact that the nations aren’t bound by the key elements of the Paris agreement. Thus, they note that Trump could change Obama’s commitments because it is “technically allowed under the accord.” (Emphasis added).
But in evaluating whether to stay in the deal, Trump has the right to take it seriously. What’s the point of being a party to an agreement that any party can blow off?
The point, from the climate activist perspective, may be to provide a vehicle for challenging decisions like Trump’s rollback of the Clean Power Plan. Trump alluded to this prospect, which has been raised by the White House Counsel, in his speech.
According to the Post’s fact-checkers, State Department lawyers strongly deny that the Paris accords could be used this way. I suspect they are either disingenuous, insufficiently creative, or oblivious. Anyway, Trump is entitled to rely on the view of his White House Counsel.
In the end, I come away from the Post’s “fact-check” believing that, (1) if fully implemented and complied with, the Paris agreement will have only a negligible impact on the earth’s temperature and (2) even if the U.S. remained in the deal, it would not be fully implemented and complied with.
I also coming away believing that, with the possible exception of taking the Paris accord too seriously, Trump’s speech contains no error of fact.