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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Spinning Obama’s Climate Change Plan

President Barack Obama’s climate change plan had both sides busy spinning data:

  • Rep. Eric Cantor, in warning that the president’s plan would hurt the economy, said Americans are increasingly “losing faith in their economy.” But the Consumer Confidence Index, released a day before Cantor spoke, showed consumer confidence “is now at its highest level since January 2008.”
  • Obama said that “since 2006, no country on Earth has reduced its total carbon pollution by as much as the United States of America.” That’s accurate in terms of the amount of emissions reduced. But dozens of nations have reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by a larger percentage than the U.S., which is second only to China in total emissions.

The president gave a major speech on climate change on June 25, outlining a broad plan to use his executive powers to reduce greenhouse gases. A day later, House Republican leaders — including Cantor, the House majority leader — held a press conference to denounce the potential economic impact of the plan.

Cantor, June 26: Increasingly, the American people are losing trust in their government and losing faith in their economy, and these are the problems that House Republicans are trying to address and trying to fix. But … yesterday, the president took time out to announce that he will unilaterally introduce new rules and regulations that will impose higher energy costs on our small businesses and our working families, depressing growth in our economy.

Cantor ignores the most recent results from the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index.

The Conference Board, an independent economic research organization founded in 1916, produces monthly reports that are closely watched by businesses and economists and widely reported by business media. The board released its June report a day before the GOP press conference. The results were positive, with the index increasing to 81.4 from 74.3 in May:

Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, June 25: Consumer Confidence increased for the third consecutive month and is now at its highest level since January 2008 (Index 87.3). Consumers are considerably more positive about current business and labor market conditions than they were at the beginning of the year. Expectations have also improved considerably over the past several months, suggesting that the pace of growth is unlikely to slow in the short-term, and may even moderately pick up.

Days before the release of the most recent CCI, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke cited “increases in consumer confidence” as a reason that the Fed may start to slow its bond buying program — an announcement that immediately drove down the markets. Canadian Business magazine reported that Bernanke “returned to that theme” — of consumer confidence — “several times” in his June 19 press conference.

Canadian Business, June 19: The chairman returned to that theme several times again during Wednesday’s press conference. He cited the latest reading on the University of Michigan Survey of Consumer Sentiment, which showed that Americans haven’t felt so good since July 2007.

We contacted Cantor’s office for data supporting his statement. His spokeswoman, Megan Whittemoore, directed us to the June 18 Gallup Economic Confidence Index (a weekly poll) and the June 26 Rasmussen Consumer Index (a daily survey). The Rasmussen Consumer Index, as of June 26, was 100.4 — a drop of 11 points from a six-year high of 111.3 recorded on June 19. Gallup’s June 18 report showed a dip of two points, from -7 to -9, from the previous week. The most recent Gallup report, which was published June 25, showed economic confidence edged up 1 point from the report Whittemoore cited.

Both the June 25 Gallup report and the June 26 Rasmussen Consumer Index report noted that consumer confidence remains relatively high. Rasmussen said it remained “unchanged from three months ago,” despite the recent dip. Gallup reported, “Confidence remains on the higher end of what Gallup has measured the last five years,” as is partly illustrated in the chart below that was included in Gallup’s recent report.


Despite improvements, the surveys do show that most Americans are not optimistic about the economy. Negative Gallup scores “indicate Americans are more negative than positive” about the economy. That’s true, too, of the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which showed more consumers believe business conditions are “bad” than “good.”

Conference Board, June 25: Consumers’ assessment of current conditions continued to improve in June. Those stating business conditions are “good” held steady at 19.1 percent, while those saying business conditions are “bad” decreased to 24.9 percent from 26.0 percent. Consumers’ appraisal of the job market was also more positive. Those claiming jobs are “plentiful” increased to 11.7 percent from 9.9 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” edged up to 36.9 percent from 36.4 percent.

In short, data from multiple sources suggest consumers feel the economy is not good, but getting better — contrary to Cantor’s claim that “increasingly” Americans are “losing faith in their economy.”

U.S. Leader in CO2 Reductions?

In the speech that triggered Cantor’s remarks, Obama did some spinning of his own.

The president’s remark that “no country on Earth has reduced its total carbon pollution by as much as the United States of America” since 2006 is supported by a May 2012 news release from the International Energy Agency on global carbon dioxide emissions in 2011. While global emissions edged up, U.S. emissions went down.

IEA, May 24, 2012: CO2 emissions in the United States in 2011 fell by 92 Mt, or 1.7%, primarily due to ongoing switching from coal to natural gas in power generation and an exceptionally mild winter, which reduced the demand for space heating. US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions.

However, it should be noted that there are few countries that even come close to emitting the amount of carbon dioxide that the U.S. does. The results are different when the reduction amount is calculated as a percentage.

In 2011, the U.S. emitted 5,490.63 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That was second only to China, which emitted 8,715.31 million metric tons. In fact, the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions reduction of over 430 million metric tons since 2006 is more than most countries emit in a single year. Only 14 countries, including the U.S. and China, emitted more than that amount of carbon dioxide in 2011.

The U.S. wouldn’t be tops if emissions reductions were measured by the percentage change.

The U.S. reduced its CO2 emissions by 7.32 percent from 2006 to 2011, according to the most recent data from the Energy Information Administration. The EIA cited “slower economic growth, weather,” higher gasoline prices and an increasing shift from coal to natural gas as reasons for the emissions decline in 2011.

But more than 40 nations had a larger percentage reduction than the U.S., including France (10.10 percent), Germany (12.01 percent), Italy (14.24 percent), Spain (14.41 percent) and the United Kingdom (15.15 percent) — all of which committed to reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol that took effect in 2005 and has since been extended through 2020.

The EU-15 countries — the 15 countries that were members of the European Union before 2004 — were “committed to reducing their collective emissions to 8% below 1990 levels by the years 2008-2012,” the EU says on its “climate action” website. The United States did not ratify the treaty.

The nation with the largest reduction as a percentage since 2006 is the Republic of Tajikistan, which reduced its emissions by 64.71 percent. Its emissions dropped from 7.418 million metric tons in 2006 to 2.618 million metric tons in 2011.

– Madeleine Stevens, D’Angelo Gore and Justin Cohen