New York Magazine Highlights How Right-Wing Media Moved The Goalposts On The Paris Climate Change Agreement

New York Magazine Highlights How Right-Wing Media Moved The Goalposts On The Paris Climate Change Agreement

Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait criticized right-wing media outlets for claiming the Paris climate agreement is toothless after previously denying the reality of man-made climate change.

Conservative media personalities criticized the Paris conference leading to a landmark December 12 climate change agreement to limit global emissions. Right-wing media outlets and figures, such as Fox News' Stuart Varney and The Daily Caller, claimed any agreement would have "little... impact" and argued that lowering global temperatures by a "minuscule amount" would cost America "an enormous amount of money." Fox News in particular demonstrated its hypocrisy over the issue by falsely implying that those at the Paris agreement were hypocrites for having a supposed large carbon footprint the Paris summit and dismissing the "hoopla" over the event due to any agreement being non-binding, while at the same time pointing to record level Alaska snowfall to dispute climate change. A Fox host also falsely claimed global temperatures have "stabilized or gone down a little bit," and Fox's Laura Ingraham claimed that the summit is about "bringing America's economy down."

In a December 20 article, Chait pointed out how conservative media were moving the goalposts on the issue, writing they had "shifted their emphasis from denying the science to denying the possibility that policy can change it." Noting that conservative media previously "objected to previous climate deals precisely because their 'mandatory' character presented an unacceptably onerous burden," conservative media were claiming "the absence of that unacceptable feature makes the new agreement worthless." Chait also called out outlets like National Review, Fox News, and The Daily Caller for misrepresenting a MIT climate study to downplay the agreement's impact:

Most conservative energy on climate change over the last quarter-century has gone into questioning the validity of climate science. Conservative intellectuals have invested enough of their reputations into this form of scientific kookery that it cannot be easily abandoned. Instead, as the evidence for anthropogenic global warming grows ever more certain, and the political costs for Republican presidential candidates of openly questioning science rise, conservatives have shifted their emphasis from denying the science to denying the possibility that policy can change it. A National Review editorial last year dismissed the notion of an international agreement to limit climate change as a metaphysical impossibility, on the grounds that reducing coal usage in one place would axiomatically increase it elsewhere. As The Wall Street Journal editorial page asserts, "If climate change really does imperil the Earth, and we doubt it does, nothing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it." Having begun with their conclusion, conservative are now reasoning backward through their premises. 

Accordingly, a new data point has taken hold on the right and quickly blossomed. One study by MIT finds that the Paris agreement would reduce the global temperature increase by a mere 0.2 degrees by 2100. The entire right-wing media has eagerly circulated the finding. "Current analysis by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- not exactly a nest of fossil-fuel conservatism -- suggests that the emissions cuts being agreed to in Paris would reduce that estimated warming by as little as 0.0°C or by as much as 0.2°C," announces a National Review editorial, thrilled to have an empirical basis for the conclusion it previously asserted as an a priori truth. The same study has been recirculated by places like the Daily Caller, Fox News, and elsewhere. Rich Lowry, writing in the New York Post, reports, "The best estimates are that, accepting the premises of the consensus, the deal will reduce warming 0.0 to 0.2 degrees Celsius."

In fact, this study is just one estimate, not estimates plural. There are many other studies, and while Lowry's column does not reveal what process he used to deem the MIT study "the best," we can probably guess that it has something to do with MIT being the one that supports his preferred conclusion. In fact, the MIT study does not produce the conclusion its gloating conservative publicists claim on its behalf.

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So MIT's conclusion of emissions levels over the next 15 years is right in line with other estimates that assume Paris will do a great deal to limit climate change.

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It is also certainly possible that global willpower to reduce emissions will weaken, or collapse entirely. Future events cannot be proven. Only rigid dogma like American conservatism (or, for that matter, Marxism) gives its adherents a mortal certainty about the fate of government policy that a liberal cannot match, and should not want to.

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