President Donald Trump officially announced that the US will exit the Paris Agreement yesterday. Depending on your news sources, this is either a historic and catastrophic decision or it is a minor non-event that liberals are complaining about. Let’s figure out if climate change is worth tackling and whether or not it can be beneficial to do so.
President Trump formally announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement yesterday. The Paris Agreement, signed by 195 nations, is a framework for curbing carbon emissions in order to combat climate change. The Agreement was signed in December 2015.
In recent days, there were reports of intense debate within the White House over whether to stay or leave. Those in favor of staying included Secretary of State and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn and Ivanka Trump. Those in favor of leaving included Steve Bannon and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. Outside the White House, the debate was indisputably more lop-sided. Those in favor of staying included: the international community, the science community, hundreds of businesses, members of Trump’s business council such as Elon Musk and Bob Iger, Republicans like Mitt Romney and Jon Kasich, and virtually all Democrats. Those in favor of leaving included: 22 Republican Senators and a much smaller portion of business executives with ties to the coal community.
Trump described the agreement as a bad deal, citing that it would hurt job creation in the U.S. He said he was open to working out a better deal.
The international community was largely shocked by the decision. European leaders immediately issued a response that the deal was non-negotiable. The international and domestic fallout is still developing as of this morning.
Based on where you look, this was either a cataclysmic event that will severely damage the United State’s ability to lead in any world issue and threaten civilization as climate change occurs or it barely registers as headline news.
To illustrate how polarizing this is, let’s compare the New York Times front page with Fox News.
The New York Times
The NY Times articles include:
Trump Pulls U.S. Out of Climate Accord, Saying It Threatens U.S. Economy – Straight reportage
Making His Case, Trump Cited Dubious Data – Fact checking Trump’s statement and rationale
Handing Chinese a Gift: The Chance for Global Leadership – Analysis on political implications
U.S. Is Out – Except These Cities, States and Companies – Reportage on domestic response to withdrawal
Looking to 2018 (and Beyond), Trump Bets on His Base – Political analysis of impact on 2018 elections
Our Disgraceful Exit – Op-Ed from the Editorial Board on Trump’s withdrawal
Trump’s Stupid and Reckless Climate Decision – Op-Ed from environmentalist Bill McKibben
Trump Poisons the World – Op-Ed from conservative David Brooks
Trump Gratuitously Rejects the Paris Accord – Op-Ed from liberal Paul Krugman
And the video coverage right in the center.
The NY Times has reportage, some early analysis, and a slate of Op-Eds devoted to this singular event. None of these articles suggest that Trump maybe has a point in leaving. None suggest that pulling out is anything less than disastrous for the U.S. Even more damning, the fact-checking article undercuts every facet of Trump’s rationale. There is no way a NY Times reader (or viewer of TV news that provides commentary and analysis based on NY Times stories) going to come away thinking this action is beneficial to the country.
Fox News articles include:
Why the Press Hate Trump’s Climate Deal Exit – Op-Ed by Fox analyst Howard Kurtz
Fox Biz Opinion: Paris Climate Deal Was Another Bad Move By Obama – Blog post on response from T Boone Pickens
Video: Pence: Paris Deal Put ‘Burden’ On Economy – 17 minute Pence interview with Fox & Friends
Hannity: Pence Praises Decision to Withdraw from Paris Accord – Blog post with quotes from Pence interview
World Reaction to U.S. Pullout – Reportage on international responses to withdrawal
Todd Starnes: Hollywood Suffers Melt Down Over Paris Climate Accord – Op-Ed by Fox host Todd Starnes
And a video on the sidebar with a former coal miner who confronted Hillary Clinton
The first thing to notice is that Fox news devoted one sub-panel to the event. The withdrawal is not even headline news to Fox consumers. Second, within that sub-panel, there is only one article with reportage which contains the world reaction (Disclaimer: nobody is praising Trump). There is an interview with Vice President Pence where he makes the case that the Paris Agreement was bad for the U.S (Disclaimer again: the NY Times fact checking article applies to this interview as well). Then there are blog posts and op-eds that comment on the reaction of others to the withdrawal. This is very different from analysis of the implications of withdrawal.
Media bias exists simply in what we choose to talk about. The NY Times made the withdrawal a major event and examined the fallout from every negative angle. Fox News made this a minor event and a largely partisan one at that. This suggests there is no significant fallout. Notice how the op-eds focus on the “media” reacting and “Hollywood” reacting. Even the Fox Business blog post headline is misleading as the blog post contains quotes from the current Exxon CEO who wanted to remain in the Paris deal. One would conclude that this is a partisan issue – taken up by liberals in the media and in Hollywood.
One could say that there are plenty of substantial remarks from conservatives on this issue. That is true. Instead of examining Fox News, we could examine the National Review. But The Decoder focuses on the sources where most people get their news. Thus, we are not covering the National Review’s response to Paris any more than we would cover The New Yorker’s response to Russia developments.
On Wednesday, the White House leaked that Trump was planning to leave the Paris Agreement. We covered the reality of climate change and asked who benefitted from leaving. Two days later, that question has gained some clarity as more and more people speak out. Now that the decision is formalized, let’s take a different perspective.
1.) Who is harmed soonest by this decision? Some environmentalists would say everybody. Let’s be more specific and figure out who will face the impacts soonest. It will likely be people who are in coastal areas who face the greatest threat of sea level rise and increased storm severity. It will also likely be on populations least able to adapt: largely poor communities. Under the Paris Agreement, the US had committed $3 billion in aid to poorer nations. There is a difference between an islander with no education and no financial means, who fishes to support their family facing the loss of their home, way of living, and possibly even life compared to a homeowner in coastal Greenwich, Connecticut who is able to relocate. So after thinking about who will be impacted, maybe you decide you don’t care or maybe you do, but not enough to really devote time to doing something. Maybe you’d like to do something but are unsure what or even what doing something would look like.
2.) Is there a personal benefit to adapting for climate change? There is nothing wrong with accepting that we live busy lives. Let’s say you don’t live on a coast, you aren’t rolling in money but could make a getaway if things get rough, and you have a lot going on in life with work and other obligations that prevent you from committing too much to this issue. That’s okay. This question is about finding out if tackling climate change can also be a win-win for you.
Climate change used to be presented as a problem that required huge sacrifices in order to solve. President Jimmy Carter asked the thermostat to be turned down in our homes as a way to cut carbon and reduce oil demand. Today, renewable energy sources are rapidly becoming cost-effective across the United States. Maybe that’s why businesses support low carbon adaptation. There is an economic component, a social component, and an environmental component. These are reasons why the renewable industry is expected to grow into a multi-trillion dollar industry and the reason even some Republicans are supporting it as it creates green jobs in their districts. Even the Pentagon cited climate change as a national security threat because of its destabilization of vulnerable countries. So is there a benefit to saving on an electricity bill or to having more jobs available in one’s community? A benefit to reducing damages caused by extreme weather events? A benefit to national security?
3.) What can I do about it? Yesterday, we made the Paris withdrawal part of our Take Action Thursday event. That can carry over to today. It takes about five minutes. Asking local representatives to take action is more effective than most people realize. If you want change in your community, simply tell your representative that you are a voter and you want to see more than a press release. If you have a business you frequent, tell them you want to see them take action on this issue.