On 23 July 2016, news outlets such as Fox News published articles about John Kerry’s trip to Vienna to renegotiate the 1987 Montreal Protocol, using misleading headlines implying that Kerry had declared air conditioners to be as dangerous a threat as ISIS:
Kerry: Air conditioners as big a threat as ISIS
Secretary of State John Kerry said in Vienna that air conditioners and refrigerators are as big of a threat to life as the threat of terrorism posed by groups like the Islamic State.
As these stories filtered through social media they grew further from the truth, with many sites reporting that Kerry had literally said “refrigerators and air conditioners are as dangerous as ISIS”:
This rumor stemmed from Kerry’s visit to Vienna to discuss the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an environmental treaty aimed at reducing the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons. In remarks he offered prior to the commencement of negotiations, Kerry mentioned a meeting he had attended earlier in the week to address the threat of global terrorism:
Yesterday, I met in Washington with 45 nations — defense ministers and foreign ministers — as we were working together on the challenge of Daesh, ISIL, and terrorism. It’s hard for some people to grasp it, but what we — you — are doing here right now is of equal importance because it has the ability to literally save life on the planet itself. Week after week, month after month, year after year, we continue to see new evidence, scientific evidence, tangible evidence, of the danger that climate change poses to life on our planet. Last year was the hottest year in recorded history by far. Last month, the hottest month recorded. The month before that was the hottest month recorded. 2016 is on track to be hotter than last year. And the decade was the hottest decade in history, and the decade before that the second hottest in history, and the decade before that the third hottest in history.
This was the only reference to terrorism in Kerry’s remarks. He didn’t mention air conditioners at all until several paragraphs later, in a passage remote from and unconnected to his earlier reference to terrorism:
And the use of hydrofluorocarbons is unfortunately growing. Already, the HFCs used in refrigerators, air conditioners, inhalers, and other items are emitting an entire gigaton of carbon dioxide — equivalent pollution into the atmosphere annually. Now, if that sounds like a lot, my friends, it’s because it is. It’s the equivalent to emissions from nearly 300 coal-fired power plants every single year.
(A full transcript of the Kerry’s remarks is available here.)
Secretary Kerry did not say that “refrigerators and air conditioners are as dangerous as ISIS,” nor did he mention air conditioners in conjunction with the subject of terrorism. What he did was attempt to inspire a group of bureaucrats and scientists who were about to embark on reshaping an environmental treaty in an effort to curb climate change, exhorting them to recognize that their efforts were of “equal importance” with the battle against terrorism because their work “has the ability to literally save life on the planet itself”:
I know you’re committed; you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. And I know you’ve already spent long days and nights trying to make this work, and we are very, very grateful to each and every one of you for that. I know that the wheels of diplomacy can sometimes turn much too slowly for any of our liking — and I know it can be frustrating – but I also know that there is not a cause more worthy in our time than the world that our children and grandchildren will inherit.
This is a way for us to answer the cynicism of the nihilists who are out there attacking civilization itself. This is a chance for us to prove to people that we understand our responsibility, that we’re willing to accept it, that public people, governments, governance, can work in the interests of people — not the few, but the broad population of the world. And there are few opportunities in life when anyone in public life gets to make the kind of difference that we all get to make with this choice.