DNC says it’s a myth humans can’t cut CO2 emissions

DNC-logo-on_white-sq-250“Myth: Humans can’t do anything to combat rising CO2 levels.”

—The Democratic National Committee, Nov. 27, 2014 on its “My Republican Uncle” website

 

Overview

We’re not convinced this is something a Republican uncle is likely to say.

The Facts

The DNC created its “Your Republican Uncle” website to give Democrats the perfect answer to the Republican at holiday family gatherings.  We continue our series on the “Your Republican Uncle” website with a fact check of the second claim in the “Climate” section:  “Myth: Humans can’t do anything to combat rising CO2 levels.”

The DNC provides a paragraph in support:

Except we already are combating rising CO2. In 2012, the U.S. recorded the lowest levels of carbon emissions in nearly two decades . And by taking steps like improving fuel efficiency, we can do more in the years ahead. Because of new standards, for instance, the average car in 2025 will achieve a fuel economy equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon, nearly double that of cars on the road today. A goal, by the way, that Republicans tried to block.

 

Below the supporting paragraph the DNC provides two linked supporting sources.  The first leads to an infographic hosted at the White House website.  The second leads to a Christian Science Monitor story about the Obama administration’s new CAFE standards for the auto industry.

Analyzing the Rhetoric

We’d never heard it was a myth that nothing can be done to combat rising CO2 levels, so we were immediately suspicious that the DNC created a straw man with its second would-be climate change myth.

The DNC’s myth carried the most similarity with a trio of ideas conservatives circulate.  First, that reductions in CO2 likely achieved through existing proposals are too little and too late to do anything significant to stop climate change according to the same science liberals use to justify limiting CO2 emissions.  Second, that factors other than CO2 levels, such as solar activity, serve as the true drivers of climate change, therefore making CO2 reductions ineffective as a response to the phenomenon.  Third, that reducing CO2 emissions to the proposed degree imposes too great a cost on society.

Obviously none of the three ideas serves as the equivalent of saying humans literally can’t do anything about CO2 levels.

So let’s just follow the straw man and see where it leads.

“In 2012, the U.S. recorded the lowest levels of carbon emissions in nearly two decades.”

The above claim is true, as PolitiFact Texas demonstrated while giving a Republican representative a “Mostly False” rating for saying greenhouse gas emissions were at 20-year lows.

“Because of new standards, for instance, the average car in 2025 will achieve a fuel economy equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon, nearly double that of cars on the road today.”

The DNC’s wording is a bit sloppy here.  The government’s CAFE standards do not dictate the fuel economy of the average car.  The standards don’t even dictate the minimum fuel economy of the average new car.  They use a complicated system of rules to influence the way manufacturers make cars and trucks, but the results have little to do with average fuel economy and perhaps even less to do with CO2 emissions.

Edmunds.com:

CAFE mpg still comes from the original pair of tests that are now widely viewed as bad predictors of real-world mpg. The 34.1 mpg CAFE target for 2016 is actually equal to only 26 mpg on a window sticker. The talked-about 2025 CAFE standard — usually described as 54.5 mpg — amounts to a figure of 36 mpg Combined on a window sticker.

 

In the new system of rules, a system of credits for shifting to hybrid and electric cars will make the claimed average of 54.5 miles per gallon unrealistic.  In reality, the average car is likely to get mileage in the neighborhood of 35 miles per gallon.

“Republicans tried to block [the 54.5 mpg goal]”

Republicans opposed the EPA standard on the grounds the new standard exceeds EPA authority.  Republicans might also oppose the new mileage standard owing to secondary effects such as raising the price of a new car by an estimated $2,000 of dollars by 2025.

Misdirection?

Though the new CAFE standards may help slightly in reducing U.S. CO2 emissions, at present the bulk of the credit goes to increased domestic production of natural gas.  Democratic initiatives have had little or nothing to do with this phenomenon, which largely relies on improved drilling technologies (fracking).  The boom in production of natural gas has reduced its price and made it a preferred fuel for generating electricity.  Natural gas emits far less CO2 than the coal it often replaces.

Republicans tend to support fracking and increased domestic energy production.  That doesn’t fit well with the DNC’s narrative.

Summary

The DNC’s assertions of fact are broadly true, though often trivially so.  Some of them are misleading, likely intentionally so.

It’s a myth humans can’t do anything to combat rising CO2 levels

True Statement Straw Man fallacy

Humans can combat rising CO2 levels.  We’re not sure what Republican uncle would say differently.  The question from Republicans is whether the effort is worth the price.

“In 2012, the U.S. recorded the lowest levels of carbon emissions in nearly two decades.”

True Statement

Government data back the claim, as a related fact check from PolitiFact found.

“Because of new standards, for instance, the average car in 2025 will achieve a fuel economy equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon, nearly double that of cars on the road today.”

True Statement Missing Context Booby Trap Fallacy of Ambituity

Beware the fine print.  “Fuel economy equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon” may not mean what you think it means.

“Republicans tried to block [the 54.5 mpg goal]”

True Statement Minimal Charitable Interpretation One-Sidedness Fallacy

Republicans tried to block the EPA’s new standards, including the 54.5 mpg goal, but the DNC uses a fallaciously one-sided version of the story.  Republicans would likely support a 54.5 mpg goal if they perceived lower costs to the measure and a constitutionally proper means of establishing the standard.  So it’s not as simple as blocking the mileage goal.  For that reason the DNC’s claim requires some charitable interpretation to take the claim as true.

Correction Aug. 1, 2014:

Corrected titular typo, changing “DNA” to “DNC.”

 

“A one-year ‘timeout’ is necessary as EPA and (California) are setting national fuel economy standards without explicit authorization by Congress, under laws not designed to regulate fuel economy,” said the letter signed by Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton; Joe Barton, R-Texas; Tim Walberg, R-Tipton; Darrell Issa, R-Calif.; and others.” – See more at: http://www.dailytech.com/Republicans+Try+to+Block+545+MPG+CAFE+Standard/article23081.htm#sthash.MBvuflE5.dpuf

References

The Democrat’s Guide to Talking Politics with Your Republican Uncle.” Your Republican Uncle. Democratic National Committee, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 20 July 2014.

President Obama’s Plan to Fight Climate Change.” The White House. The White House, 25 June 2013. Web. 20 July 2014.

Clayton, Mark. “Fuel-efficient US Cars? Obama Sets Target of 54.5 Mpg by 2025.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 28 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 July 2014.

Stenquist, Paul. “How Green Are Electric Cars? Depends on Where You Plug In.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Apr. 2012. Web. 30 July 2014.

O’Dell, John. “6 Ways New CAFE Standards Could Affect You.” Edmunds. Edmunds.com, Inc., 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 31 July 2014.

Nealer, Rachael. “How Do Lifecycle Carbon Emissions from Electric Vehicles Compare to Conventional Gasoline-powered…Union of Concerned Scientists. Union of Concerned Scientists, Jan. 2014. Web. 31 July 2014.

Lomborg, Bjorn. “Bjorn Lomborg: Green Cars Have a Dirty Little Secret.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 11 Mar. 2013. Web. 31 July 2014

Edmunds, Dan, and John O’Dell. “FAQ: New Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards.” Edmunds. Edmunds.com, Inc., 9 Sept. 2013. Web. 31 July 2014.

Miller, John. “Can the New CAFE Standards Deliver (Promised Benefits)?The Energy Collective. Social Media Today LLC, 20 Aug. 2012. Web. 31 July 2014

Too Late to Stop Global Warming by Cutting Emissions: Scientists Argue for Adaption Policies.” Phys.org. Phys.org, 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 31 July 2014.

Romm, Joe. “The Dangerous Myth That Climate Change Is Reversible.” ThinkProgress. ThinkProgress, 17 Mar. 2013. Web. 31 July 2014

Horn, Art. “The Utter Futility of Reducing Carbon Emissions.” Energy Tribune. Energy Tribune, 01 Dec. 2010. Web. 31 July 2014.

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