Friday, June 9, 2017

The 5 Biggest Deceptions in Trump’s Paris Climate Speech

Saying wrong things.
 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It wasn’t easy narrowing these down.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump gave a speech announcing that the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. 

It is a remarkable address, in its own way, in that virtually every passage contains something false or misleading. The sheer density of bullshit is almost admirable, from a performance art perspective. Trump even managed to get in some howlers that had nothing to do with climate change. He started by citing an act of terrorism in Manila that wasn’t terrorism. He said, “our tax bill is moving along in Congress,” but there’s no tax bill. And so forth.

A proper fact-check would run longer than the speech itself. To keep this quick, I’ve selected the top five deceptions.

A note: I’m not calling these “lies,” because that implies Trump knows they are false. It is far from clear that Trump understands anything about any of the issues at stake, or is even capable of forming stable beliefs as such (as I wrote here and here).

Anyway, whether he’s lying or merely bullshitting, here are the top five.

1) No, an agreement cannot be both nonbinding and draconian (Spoiler: Paris is the former)

Early on in the speech, Trump said: “Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”
This made me laugh out loud when I first heard it. I still get a kick out of it.
The Paris climate agreement, as I have explained at tedious length (see here and here), is voluntary. Participating countries determine their own targets and their own policies. They can, at any time, revise those targets and policies. They can fail to meet the targets, without penalty. When Trump says “nonbinding” ... that’s what nonbinding means. There are no legal bonds.
The point of Paris is to use the power of public commitment and accountability. The idea is that, by publicly stating targets and reporting transparently on progress, participants will be driven by pride, peer pressure, and internal politics to meet those targets. But the agreement does not impose any legal penalty on participants that fail to meet their targets. Again: That’s what nonbinding means.
So how, then, if there are no threatened penalties, and the US is free, within the agreement, to implement whatever policies it wants ... can the agreement also “impose ... draconian financial and economic burdens”?
The answer: It cannot. That sentence makes no f’ing sense, even internally. The chances that the logical dissonance troubled Trump for even a microsecond seems, however, remote.
Trump warned later of “massive future legal liability. Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in.” This is also 100 percent bullshit. It refers to the theory that Paris participants cannot legally reduce their targets, opening the administration to lawsuits if it, say, rolls back the Clean Power Plan.
That theory is hogwash. No one buys it — not the negotiators in the room when the agreement was forged, not NGOs, not participating countries, no one. The only person who seems to be pushing the theory is Trump’s White House lawyer, Don McGahn. And he’s just doing it to manipulate Trump, which seems to have worked pretty well.

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