Sea-Level-Rise Warrior Philip Levine Can't Answer Basic Paris Agreement Question

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine City of Miami Beach

Tucker Carlson is such an insufferable little snot that he was forced to stop wearing bow ties because they made him look like the estranged son Orville Redenbacher wrote out of his will. The premise of Carlson's poisonous cable-news TV show is to catch liberal politicians and pundits in manufactured "Gotcha!" moments that then feed the conservative clickbait blogosphere for another seven days. If you appear on his show and let him nail you, it is entirely your fault. His show is useless, and you are a mark.

And if you appear on his show and make, say, the entire climate-science community look bad, you should probably quit television — and perhaps politics altogether.

Enter Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. He has fashioned himself as a national warrior against sea-level rise thanks to his efforts at raising street levels and installing flood pumps. Last Thursday, Levine appeared on Carlson's program to express his outrage at Donald Trump for pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. But instead, Carson ended up revealing that Levine might not actually understand how the Paris Agreement works at all.

Carlson even gave Levine a handicap at the beginning of the interview: He ceded that climate change might actually be dangerous, which is more than many Fox News pundits even bother to admit.

"You're concerned about rising sea levels. I'm not here to argue that's not a concern," Carlson began, "or the details of climate science, because I'm agnostic about it. I'm just wondering how this specific agreement — sending $3 billion a year to countries like India and China, who don't have to lower their emissions rates — is going to fix the global-warming problem in Miami Beach."

Instead of answering that factually dubious question (more about that in a second), Levine nervously dodged with all the gymnastic agility of a Greyhound bus. Normally, talking-head appearances on cable news don't matter, but when one of the most prominent sea-level-rise surrogates in America can't answer basic questions about the most consequential piece of climate legislation in world history, that's a problem.

"Tucker, I heard what you had to say, but, I got to tell you something, when the world's leading scientists are telling you that's what's going on, and some of the smartest minds in the world are telling you this is the reason why, at some point, you have to listen," Levine responded.

"You're actually dodging my question completely," Carlson said. "And I'm not denying the existence of sea-level rise. I'm merely asking a very specific policy question, because this is about policies. How will the terms of the Paris Agreement, since this is about policy, how will handing $3 billion a year to India and China — which do not have to lower their emissions in this generation — how will that help the things going on in Miami Beach that you just described?"

Levine appeared not to notice that Carlson was asking factually inaccurate questions. The United States does not give anyone $3 billion "per year," and that money does not go to China. The truth is far more complicated.

But Levine didn't appear to know enough about the details to fight back. He could have told Carlson that, per the terms of the agreement, China did at least agree to curb its carbon "intensity" by 60 to 65 percent by 2030. "Intensity" is the amount of carbon emitted per dollar of economic activity — while Carlson was right that Paris technically didn't "cap" Chinese emissions, the agreement didn't let China totally off the hook. India has also committed to cutting its emissions by roughly 30 percent and powering its country with 40 percent renewable resources by 2030. Neither of those plans would do enough to stop global warming, but they are at least something, which is more than Carlson admitted.

Moreover, the total $3 billion the United States has agreed to spend goes into the United Nations' Green Climate Fund — which does not currently fund any projects in China. As of May 2017, the U.S. had only paid $1 billion of that $3 billion total. Though there is some controversy over the fact that China hasn't agreed to pay into the fund, Carlson's insinuation that we're "giving $3 billion to India and China" is materially false.

This line of questioning is important, because it's one of the main reasons President Trump cited when he pulled out of the plan. But Levine didn't have the wherewithal to rebut any of Tucker's bogus claims.

"Tucker, the bottom line is, as the world is getting too hot and too warm, the oceans are rising, and that's affecting Miami Beach," Levine replied. "And it's affecting all coastal cities. We must cool the globe down. And we have to do it together."

Carlson cut him off. "I can't let you dodge it again," he said. "Because at the end, the specifics make the difference."

"It's not dodging it!" Levine interjected.

"It is dodging it," Carlson responded. "I'm asking about a very specific agreement that you and everyone on the left is beating their chests about, [saying] 'Trump is destroying the world.' Fine — I'm open-minded. Tell me how that specific agreement, and the financial arrangements in it, will help the problems you describe?"

"And I'm going to tell you why," Levine said. "First of all, I'm not the guy from the left. And the one thing I can tell you is this: I'm in that 'radical center'; I call myself a 'radical centrist.'"

Last month, Levine announced he might run for governor as an independent "radical centrist," citing a term that no one uses. Political analysts agree that if Levine runs independently for governor, he'd split the Democratic vote and guarantee a Republican win. New Times asked Levine's spokesperson, Christian Ulvert, whether the mayor actually understands the Paris Agreement, but he hasn't responded.

Levine continued by stating that, in broad terms, the Paris Agreement is important because it gets all the world's countries on the same page and that, when the whole world lowers its emissions, the world cools. That's technically true, but it's a middle-school-level comprehension of climate science. The Paris pact is deeply complicated, and Levine didn't seem able to debate it on its merits. During the interview, Carlson eventually joked that he probably knew more about the deal than Levine did.

Levine's interview let Carlson score points with the public by being willfully disingenuous. Carlson is actually right that the pact doesn't do enough to curb emissions worldwide. Green activists such as Bill McKibben have complained about this since the agreement was signed. But in Tucker-world, this means it's cool to exit the agreement rather than keep it in place while the world works to negotiate tougher emissions rules.

Climate activists need to take this moment to show the world just how sound the science on global warming really is, and Levine could have spent time on TV arguing that we need to toughen the agreement rather than let it die. Instead, he rambled like Mayor Joe Quimby, and now the conservative media is dunking all over him.

"Watch: Tucker Carlson Corners Globalist Mayor Over Paris Withdrawal," the proto-Breitbart outlet World Net Daily — a website otherwise famous for pushing the Barack Obama "birther" conspiracy — warbled earlier today.

Thanks for the help, Mayor Levine.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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