Media figures are touting the Keystone XL pipeline as an "environmentally safe" alternative to truck and rail transportation, uncritically citing a State Department report on the environmental impact of building Keystone XL. But experts and subsequent studies have determined that the report is based on faulty conclusions and grossly underestimates greenhouse gas emissions caused by Keystone.
A 60 Minutes report on groundwater depletion brought attention to a critical issue that many regard as a national security threat, but failed to mention the inherent connection between water scarcity and climate change.
The November 16 edition of 60 Minutes featured a segment on the threat of groundwater scarcity titled "Depleting the Water." In it, host Leslie Stahl covered the severe droughts around the world that are leading people to extract fresh water from the ground at unsustainable rates, warning that "the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water."
But Stahl completely ignored climate change, which is projected to increase the severity and frequency of such droughts and is inherently linked to groundwater scarcity. A United Nations climate science report concluded earlier this year that manmade climate change will reduce groundwater resources "significantly in most dry subtropical regions," and a 2013 study from Simon Fraser University determined that climate change may already be exacerbating water shortages in many areas around the globe.
The 60 Minutes segment highlighted that California's "record-breaking drought" is inducing farmers to drill for water in underwater aquifers at unsustainable rates -- without mentioning that this drought that has been directly linked by scientists multiple times to manmade climate change. Stahl also highlighted severe droughts across southern Asia and in the Middle East, regions that the National Center for Atmospheric Research and other scientific institutions have projected will experience worsening droughts as the planet warms.
Stahl's comment that groundwater shortages may lead to political unrest also has roots in global warming. As Stahl pointed out, many aquifers that are being severely depleted are in "volatile regions" such as in Iraq and Syria. Many military officials have warned that unabated global warming could exacerbate wars and terrorism and pose a national security threat.
The segment ended by asserting that if no action is taken, California's aquifers could end up completely depleted. But the only responses to the drought that the news magazine covered were a process in which sewage water is recycled into freshwater and a recently enacted law that regulates groundwater. 60 Minutes didn't discuss ways to combat climate change, which would work to prevent catastrophic droughts from happening in the first place.
60 Minutes' failure to mention global warming -- in a segment focused on a problem related to manmade climate change -- follows the news magazine's widely panned report on clean energy, which also made no mention of climate change.
This year's midterm election campaigns were filled with promises to dismantle climate change policies, at a time when climate action is more important than ever. But even against the backdrop of record-breaking temperatures, recent landmark climate reports, and candidates denying climate change, the broadcast networks ignored the implications of climate change in their evening news coverage of the midterms.
A Media Matters analysis of broadcast networks' coverage of the midterm elections found that their nightly news programs glossed over policy issues. Moreover, the programs offered no discussion about climate change or how the candidates plan to address the issue.
Here are several opportunities that the media could have used to bring climate change into their discussion of the midterm elections.
Environmental issues were a top platform issue in this year's elections; environment and energy-related issues were the "third-most mentioned issue in political advertisements" according to an analysis from Kantar Media/CMAG, especially in battlegrounds states like Kentucky and West Virginia. The New York Times reported that the surge in energy and environmental ads "suggests the prominent role that the issues could play in the 2016 presidential race."
Many of these ads included promises to dismantle environmental regulations and even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A main target of conservative attacks has been the EPA's Clean Power Plan, a key piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which has been seen by foreign government leaders as an important step for reaching a global agreement on climate change. Dismantling the Climate Action Plan could have global ramifications and dissuade other countriesfrom taking action to curb emissions themselves.
At the same time, the reality of climate change is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. The globe just experienced the hottest June, August, and September on record, as well as the warmest six-month stretch ever recorded.
Just days before the elections, the United Nations' climate panel released the culmination of their five-year effort to synthesize climate science in a report concluding that the world needs to take action and completely phase out fossil fuels by 2100 to avoid the "irreversible"effects of man-made climate change.
Yet several GOP candidates waffled on the issue of climate change, or even backtracked to global warming denial. Denial of climate science has become something of a litmus test for Republican politicians, and in order to deflect questions about their belief in climate change, candidates have repeated the refrain: "I'm not a scientist."
A plurality of Americans agree that climate change is happening and support government effort to curb emissions, but now that the Senate has flipped, the nation's current efforts to address climate change are at risk.
The broadcast nightly news programs have an alarming trend of paltry climate change coverage. Their coverage of the midterm elections fits in with this trend --instead of focusing on climate issues, the networks devoted much of their midterm coverage to President Obama's low favorability ratings.
A Media Matters study on the coverage of key policy issues in nightly news' midterm election broadcasts finds that 65 percent of network news segments that dealt with the midterm elections failed to discuss the policy issues most important to the American people.
Fox News used a baseless, wildly inflated figure to blame the continued delay of the Keystone XL pipeline on spending by climate activist Tom Steyer, who has lobbied against the project. The network claimed that Steyer has spent $42.9 billion on the midterm elections -- a number that is nearly 600 times larger than the amount Steyer has actually spent.
On October 30, the hosts of Fox News' Fox & Friends berated the Obama administration for delaying a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2014 midterm elections. If approved, the pipeline would transport crude oil from so-called "tar sands" deposits in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast for export overseas. Fox co-host Anna Kooiman alleged that part of "the equation" for that delay is the money and influence of Steyer -- a donor and activist supporting environmental causes -- in this year's elections. Kooiman claimed that Steyer had contributed "some $42.9 billion" to defeating the pipeline:
Tom Steyer's entire net worth is $1.6 billion, according to Forbes, and as of October 28, Steyer had spent about $73 million during this year's elections, according to USA Today, on issues ranging from the Keystone XL to the Renewable Fuel Standard to climate change denial. Fox inflated Steyer's contributions in opposition to the pipeline by nearly 600 times, and its estimate is off by roughly $42.8 billion.
On the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Fox News promoted a plan called the "Hurricane Slayer," which works to cool ocean temperatures through geoengineering, without mentioning climate change or the role it played in exacerbating the devastating storm.
In late October 2012, Superstorm Sandy made landfall on the Atlantic seaboard bringing catastrophic damage and massive flooding exacerbated by rising sea levels due to global-warming. As global ocean temperatures continue to rise from man-made global warming, hurricanes are expected to become even more intense.
Fox made no mention of climate change or sea level rise during a segment on how to "lessen the impact of storms like Sandy" on the October 29 edition of Happening Now. Instead, Fox correspondent Doug Kennedy interviewed scientist Alan Blumberg about his plan to lower the intensity of future storms called the "Hurricane Slayer." Blumberg explained that his plan would use "tubular pumps" to bring cold water from deep in the ocean to cool the surface water and lessen the difference between ocean temperature and air temperature, which he explained is "key in lessening a [hurricane] wind's wrath":
After being ignored by the mainstream media, the co-founder of The Weather Channel was given a platform on Fox News to spout climate denial. But the discredited former meteorologist has no formal education in climate science, and he did little in his Fox appearance but repeat falsehoods.
The October 28 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File featured John Coleman, co-founder of The Weather Channel, allowing him to promote his belief that "man-made global climate change is a myth." During the segment, Coleman falsely claimed that the scientific consensus that human activities drive climate change is based on "bad, bad science" and repeated the falsehoods that an increase in Arctic ice disproves global warming and that polar bears are doing just fine. He also blamed Al Gore for making it difficult for a climate skeptic to "get on TV":
Host Megyn Kelly joked that The Weather Channel is now going to "be pushed out of existence since [Coleman has] taken this position." But Coleman's connections to The Weather Channel were severed decades ago; he helped created the 24-hour weather channel in the 1980s and served as CEO of the company until he was forced out one year after it went to air.
Moreover, Coleman's experience in weather forecasting does not make him an expert in climate science -- there is an immense difference between a scientist and a weather forecaster. For starters, they use different models and ask different questions: climate scientists observe and predict long-term trends over entire ecosystems, while meteorologists focus on weekly, daily, and hourly changes in the weather. MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel previously compared asking a meteorologist's opinion on the state of climate science to "asking a country doctor to comment on the latest developments in biomedical research." Disregarding the fact that Coleman never received a formal education in meteorology -- his degree was in journalism -- his experience predicting the weather does not make him a credible source to debunk the vast majority of scientific literature on climate change.
Coleman also claimed that "9,000 Ph.D.'s and 31 [thousand] scientists" agree with his position on climate change, referring to the widely discredited Oregon Petition Project. Its signatories are mostly engineers with master's degrees, and it once included the names of fictitious characters and a member of the Spice Girls.
For years, Coleman has been connected to the Heartland Institute, which has been funded by fossil-fuel interests, and its promotion of climate change denial. Coleman was featured at a Heartland Institute climate conference in July of this year. Previously, he hosted four paid associates of Heartland to deny climate change on the San Diego station where he worked as weathercaster for 20 years (he has since retired). As Coleman told Kelly, the Heartland Institute has been promoting his letter urging UCLA's Hammer Museum to "provide balance" to a debate it recently hosted on climate change. In the letter, Coleman wrote, "It is important to have those who attend know that there is no climate crisis."
On the same day the Kelly and Fox News chose to feature Coleman, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) convened to finalize a report saying that climate change driven by human activities will cause "severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts" if left unchecked, which Bloomberg News noted is "stronger language" than the panel has previously used. At the time of this posting, Fox News has not covered these IPCC meetings.*
*Based on a search of internal video archives for "climate."
A BP executive dismissed the environmental impacts of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the company's role in the disaster in an opinion article for Politico Magazine, while the company is attempting to overturn a court decision finding it "grossly negligent." But the effects of one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history are still being felt in the region today.
Four years after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf, BP's senior vice president of communications and external affairs Geoff Morrell attempted to argue that previous "dire predictions" about the environmental effects of the spill had been overblown. In an October 21 Politico Magazine article, Morell wrote that a yet-to-be-completed environmental assessment -- funded by BP -- will show that "the Gulf environment is rebounding and that most of the environmental impact was of short duration and in a limited geographic area."
But Morrell's Politico Magazine article was misleading. Wildlife in the region is still experiencing the consequences of the spill, according to a recent report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). The NWF studied 14 species that have suffered effects from the spill, including the ongoing illness of bottlenose dolphins and a "dramatic increase" in sea turtle deaths. The report concluded that more needs to be done to speed up the region's recovery. CBS reported of its findings: "No matter how much money is exchanged and what efforts are done, there remains no guarantee that the Gulf Coast regions will fully recover to pre-spill conditions."
Morrell also made the mistaken claim that bacteria in the Gulf's waters "adapted over time to feast on oil," which he claimed showed the Gulf's "inherent resilience" in recovering from the spill. But the bacteria's appetite for oil "die[d] down five months" after the oil rig explosion, according to a team of researchers at Rochester University.
BP is currently attempting to overturn the recent court verdict that the company was "grossly negligent" in advance of and in response to the spill. The verdict, which assigns BP the majority of the blame, sets the financial penalties the company may have to pay at as much as $18 billion.
The night before the court decision was first announced, Morrell blamed "opportunistic" environmentalists for over-exaggerating the spill's environmental impacts and journalists for "under-report[ing]" the company's cleanup efforts. He echoed this argument in the October Politico Magazine article, writing that "we should not be accountable for damages caused by the acts of others, or those conjured up by opportunistic advocacy groups."
Politico has touted its magazine, which launched last November, as containing "consequential stories that are not always the stuff of daily headlines" and aiming "to fill a dangerous vacuum in the rapidly transitioning world of journalism, with too few really big takes on big subjects holding leaders in Washington and beyond accountable."
On September 30, California became the first state to ban the use of plastic bags in stores, leading to a barrage of misinformation from various media outlets claiming the ban would actually hurt the environment. However, these contrarian claims are undermined by research showing that previous bans and taxes have reduced energy use and litter, while doing no harm to the economy.
The Daily Caller tried to "debunk" the "myth" that a recent mass walrus beaching is connected to global warming, even though scientists say the walruses have crowded onshore because they cannot find a resting place on Arctic sea ice, which has declined significantly as the Earth warms.
An October 1 Daily Caller article titled "Myth Debunked: Arctic Walrus Beachings Are Nothing New" promoted zoologist Susan Crockford's claims that a recent massive beaching of around 35,000 walruses on a single Alaskan shore has nothing to do with climate change. To support her claim, Crockford cherry-picked two instances of walrus beachings from the 1970s.
However, Biologist Anatoly Kochnev of Russia's Pacific Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography told NBC News that extended beachings of this size only began occurring in the late 1990s, adding: "The reason is global warming." Vox.com's Brad Plumer further reported that this "appears to be the largest ever observed in northern Alaska, though NOAA is still trying to verify the exact numbers." The current beaching is so vast that the Federal Aviation Authority is re-routing flights in order to avoid setting off a stampede.
In six of the past eight years, all of the floating sea ice in the Chukchi Sea (the region of the Arctic near the current haul-out) that walruses need to rest in between swims has completely melted away by mid-September, according to Chadwick Jay, head of the U.S. Geological Survey's Pacific walrus program.
In the Daily Caller article, Crockford even noted that mass walrus beachings occurred in 2009, 2011 and 2014, but dismissed them simply because they "did not coincide with the lowest levels of Arctic summer sea ice" in 2007 and 2012.
However, every one of these years had much less Arctic sea ice than the historical average, contributing to the extended beachings.
And 2007 actually did experience a massive beaching, contrary to Crockford's claim.
Daily Caller's attempt to rebut what appears to be the consensus, that the massive walrus beaching is one example of climate change's impacts, relied entirely on Crockford. But Crockford may not be the most reliable source -- she has been working to attack the scientific consensus for years, once signing onto a document "rebuk[ing]" President Obama for accepting manmade global warming. A 2012 document from the climate "skeptic" Heartland Institute, which has received funding from oil interests, showed that Crockford was paid by the institute for the explicit purpose of combatting the United Nations' consensus reports on the state of climate science. She has co-authored several of Heartland's "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC) reports that attempt to mirror and debunk the U.N. reports. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth has stated that the NIPCC reports have "no standing whatsoever."