Friday, June 10, 2016

WUWT: "Note to Politifact: Obama DID say there is No Greater Threat than Climate Change"

The climate skeptic site "Watts Up With That" posted an item critical of PolitiFact on June 6, 2016. Contributor Eric Worrall begged to differ with the "Mostly False" rating PolitiFact Arizona gave to Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. Babeu said President Obama has said climate change is the No. 1 security threat facing the United States.

Worrell responded with his post "Note to PolitiFact: Obama DID say there is No Greater Threat than Climate Change."

We think Worrell ends up striking a glancing blow by not addressing Babeu's use of the term "security," but even the glancing blow does a good bit of damage (bold emphasis added):
President Obama may have made other statements which contradict some of his statements on Climate Change – he is after all a politician. But Politifact’s assertion that it is a “mostly false” exaggeration, to say that President Obama thinks Climate Change is the greatest threat to national security, is clearly unreasonable – unless you think that suggesting Climate is the “greatest threat” to future generations, suggesting climate, unlike terrorism, might be an “existential threat” to the entire world, suggesting “we need to act now”, could not reasonably be interpreted as being a suggestion that climate is the nation’s number one priority.
The point in bold could have used more emphasis in Waddell's critique. PolitiFact literally used Obama's claim of prioritizing the fight against terrorists to pooh-pooh Babeu's claim (bold emphasis added):
Obama continues to cite climate change as a great threat to the world, but framing the issue as the country’s top national security threat is an exaggeration. Obama has said fighting terrorism is his most urgent priority.

The Arizona sheriff ignores important context, so we rate his claim as Mostly False.
The truth is that if Obama has said climate change is the top national security priority, he cannot undo the statement by claiming a different top priority.

PolitiFact Arizona's fact check shows its bias by failing to provide the most obvious counterbalance to its key evidence against Babeu.

Contrary to Babeu’s claim, the president’s top national security threat appears to be terrorism.

Out of context

In March, after the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Obama said, "I’ve got a lot of things of my plate, but my top priority is to defeat ISIL."
The president's remarks in the Atlantic downplaying the threat of ISIS compared to the threat of climate change failed to find their way into PolitiFact's fact check (we note that Worrell used the quotation to good effect):
ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States,” he told me in one of these conversations. “Climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it.”
Though it is common sense to suppose that a president will respond to the greatest existential threat by making it the highest priority, it does not follow as a matter of logic that the greatest threat is always the highest priority. In his the Atlantic interview, Obama went on at length about the political difficulty of addressing climate change.

Maybe that is a big part of the reason he does not call it his top priority?

Once again, PolitiFact substitutes opinion journalism for fact-checking. Babeu did not claim he was giving Obama's exact words. So PolitiFact Arizona arrogates to itself the privilege of cooking up, on the spot, a set of standards that result in the "Mostly False" rating.

There is no solid epistemological backing for the rating. In PolitiFact Arizona's opinion, what Babeu said was "Mostly False."

The truth is that President Obama has said climate change is an immediate and growing threat to U.S. national security. And his administration acts as though border security counts very low in terms of national security.

And wasn't that last point really Babeu's point?

The difference between a true underlying point that matters and a true underlying point that doesn't matter, we suppose, is that sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn't.

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