President Obama has a new climate change message for America: Protect the children!
"[A] changing climate already affects the air that our children are breathing," he said last month in the Everglades. On ABC's "Good Morning America," he linked his climate focus to his own daughter's asthma attack 12 years ago. Even Obama's Twitter account announces: "Addressing climate change isn't just good for our planet and our economy — it's good for our health…#ActOnClimate."
Time magazine reported that focusing on the health effects of climate change, particularly on children, "produces the most emotionally compelling response." But that makes it no less illogical — only more manipulative. Air quality and children's asthma are not reasons to #ActOnClimate, and the claim only adds to the bad information and confusion characterizing the climate issue.
The claim comes in three flavors, overlapping and intentionally muddled to prevent teasing apart fact from propaganda. First there's the claim that climate change is worsening air quality and leading to problems like asthma. Thus, the president speaks of "doctors and nurses and parents who see patients and kids grappling with the health impacts."
But while higher temperatures can lead to increased smog, pollutants that harm health have been plummeting for decades. Even Obama concedes this. "The fact is that air quality has dramatically improved…the American people are a lot healthier," he has said. Meanwhile, regardless of longer-term climate trends, surface temperatures have barely increased in years.
If air temperature is holding steady and air quality improving, it is hard to understand how, per White House senior advisor Brian Deese: "This is not just a future threat — this is a present threat."
Claim two is that children will suffer disproportionately from climate change. "Certain people and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, the poor and some communities of color," reads a White House fact sheet. The EPA warns that children are "more affected" by climate change because they "breathe, eat and drink more for their size compared to adults" and "rely on adults for their care."
Maybe. More than anything, it brings to mind the joke that a New York Times headline on Armageddon would read: "World Ends, Women and Minorities Hit Hardest."
The third claim is both the most valid and the most specious: Climate-related efforts to shutter coal power plants have the side effect of reducing actual pollutants that affect health.
Technically, that's true. But carbon dioxide — the focus of #ClimateAction – is not one of those pollutants. Existing Clean Air Act rules aimed directly at safeguarding public health tightly control those pollutants today. One could tighten the rules or accelerate the shift toward natural gas, which emits significant carbon dioxide but little other pollution. But the president's climate agenda goes in a different direction.
It is as if, after trying to eliminate all roads in order to protect wildlife, the Obama administration suddenly defended the idea because it would reduce motorcycle deaths. Well yes, eliminating all roads might reduce motorcycle deaths. But we already have motorcycle safety policies. And if we were really concerned, we could ban motorcycles. It's no way to sell a destroy-all-roads policy.
Obama is careful to make his statements "true" by insinuating links that do not exist and making emotional claims that do not justify his policies. "Climate change is just one more example of how the environment will cause health problems," he says. "You can't cordon yourself off from air or climate." His surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, cautions: "Asthma can be very difficult for patients...The impacts of climate change could make the situation worse."
These statements might fit well on a formal logic exam, but they are not real arguments, and they only encourage more of the overheated rhetoric that prevents a serious debate on climate change.