TV news fact-checked: climate change edition

by Katie Dahl & Nancy Watzman

With President Donald Trump’s announcement on Thursday that the U.S. would pull out of the international Paris climate agreement dominating TV news screens, we devote this round up to the issue of climate change.

Global climate agreement news trending

As of Friday morning, reports on Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement was trending across TV news channels, driving out reports on investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and possible Trump campaign involvement. The one exception was MSNBC, where “Russia” was a top trending topic, while “Paris” was at the top of the list for other cable stations, according to the Television Explorer tool created by Kalev Leetaru, which draws on closed captioning from the TV News Archive to allow users to search news coverage. (The tool now incorporates recent TV news broadcasts, so general trends can be seen as the data rolls in, although for definitive results it is best to wait 24 hours to search.)

“Paris” was trending everywhere but MSNBC, where “Russia” was leading. Source: Television Explorer, TV News Archive

Claim: Paris Agreement would cause $3 trillion drop in US GDP (flawed study) 

Fact-checkers quickly analyzed Trump’s Rose Garden speech (full video available here) where he laid out his reasons for withdrawing from the agreement.  Among them: he said the “cost to the economy at this time would be close to $3 trillion in lost GDP.”

A team of reporters at FactCheck.org provided context. “That figure is for the year 2040 and for one scenario in a report that found a smaller impact under a different scenario. Another analysis estimated the potential economic impact of meeting the Paris Agreement emissions targets would be ‘modest’ and the cost of delaying action would be ‘high.'”

Similarly, PolitiFact’s Jon Greenberg wrote: “Take these statistics with a grain of salt… Yale professor Kenneth Gillingham said the NERA model tends to result in higher costs than other economic models. The study assumes certain hypothetical regulations, but ‘one could easily model other actions with much lower costs.'”

The Washington Post’s Fact Checkers, Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, reported his statistics are from a “study that was funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Council for Capital Formation, foes of the Paris Accord. So the figures must be viewed with a jaundiced eye.”

Of course Trump and his surrogates have made many claims in the past on TV news shows, which were fact-checked. Also worth a look: this compilation Mother Jones created last December of Trump’s statements over the years on different media (including TV news) about global warming.

Claim: the Paris Agreement is one-sided (needs context)

In April 2017, President Donald Trump decried the Paris agreement on climate as “one-sided… where the United States pays billions of dollars while China, Russia and India have contributed and will contribute nothing.”

Reporter Vanessa Schipan from FactCheck.org wrote that the “U.S. has promised to contribute $3 billion to this fund [Green Climate Fund]” and “China and India haven’t contributed to the Green Climate Fund… Russia hasn’t contributed any funds either, but it also hasn’t ratified the Paris Agreement or submitted an outline of what actions it will take…” She also reported “that, per capita, the U.S. emitted more greenhouse gases than China and India combined in 2015.”

Claim: China and India have no obligations under agreement until 2030 (four Pinocchios)

In a related statement on April 13, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt said “China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030.”

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, reported “China, in its submission, said that, compared to 2005 levels, it would seek to cut its carbon emissions by 60 to 65 percent per unit of GDP by 2030. India said it would reduce its emissions per unit of economic output by 33 to 35 percent below 2005 by 2030… Note that both countries pledge to reach these goals by 2030, meaning they are taking steps now to meet their commitments.”

Claim: human activity, or carbon dioxide emissions, is not the primary contributor to global warming (science says, wrong)

In an interview on CNBC in March, EPA administrator Pruitt said “I would not agree that it’s [human activity or CO2] a primary contributor to the, to the global warming that we see.”

For FactCheck.org, Vanessa Schipani reported that “[S]cience says he’s wrong.” She wrote that “[a]ccording to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report, it is ‘extremely likely’ (at least 95 percent probable) that more than half of the observed temperature increase since the mid-2oth century is due to human, or anthropogenic, activities.”

Claim: scientists cannot precisely measure climate change (they can with different levels of certainty)

In a lengthy article for their SciCheck project, FactCheck.org’s Vanessa Schipani reviewed statements by several Trump administration officials on this question of whether we can measure climate change with precision and whether we can measure the human impact. Among those who have made this claim are EPA’s Scott Pruitt, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Schipani reported “scientists can measure that impact with varying levels of certainty and precision” by going through the science for the greenhouse effect, global warming to climate change, and measuring and predicting extreme weather.

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About Nancy Watzman

Nancy Watzman is Managing Editor, Television Archive.

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One Response to TV news fact-checked: climate change edition

  1. Joseph Concordia says:

    Thank you for publishing rational and factual information to balance the fantasy and fallacies the top members of the Trump administration express as official government positions on climate change and global warming. How much longer can we as a public put up with this kind of outright irresponsibility of these people to protect us, and the world, from the future consequences of their actions? I cannot understand the motivation of Mr. Trump in pursuing his agenda on this front and many others that seem to be overt actions to destroy the positive moves that have been made in prior administrations on this item and other initiatives to promote a better world order. It seems like his goal is to bring society down to some lower state in security, quality of life, intellectual honesty, and all-around status in life conditions. I continue to wonder is he just ignorant of the consequences of his actions, or is he bent on an evil agenda for some personal gain to be so derived to him. It certainly can’t be money, since he has plenty of personal wealth now. What is it? Whatever it is there must be something put in place now to somehow stop this insanity before the USA sinks to such a depth that it will be generations before we will be able to correct the situation and return to normalcy.

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