Right-wing media are laughing about President Barack Obama mentioning climate change in his fifth State of the Union address because it is cold in D.C. But the wobbly polar vortex bringing cold air to much of the contiguous United States is simultaneously causing record warmth in Alaska, a state often seen as the nation's "ground zero" for climate change.
On January 28, Alaska's largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, ran this remarkable headline: "Record warmth, confused plants: An Alaska January to remember." The article noted that it was 62 degrees Fahrenheit in one town, tying the January state record, but did not allude to the long-term warming trend. In November, the newspaper did briefly invoke the possibility of climate change while expressing disbelief that strawberries were growing "In Anchorage. In November."
Yet just a year ago, right-wing media claimed the state was headed toward "an ice age." The Alaska Dispatch, a prominent online news site, ran the misleading headline, "Forget global warming, Alaska is headed for an ice age." The report was promoted by the conservative British tabloid, the Daily Mail, and the climate denial site, WattsUpWithThat, which highlighted the state's relatively lower average temperature in 2012.
As the chart above also shows though, cherry-picking a short-time period is misleading -- natural variation can mask the long-term trend. Contrary to claims of an "ice age," studies project that average annual temperatures in Alaska will increase "an additional 3.5 to 7°F by the middle of this century," according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Warming in Alaska already has caused highways to buckle and homes in areas such as Shismaref, pictured above, to sink, as the EPA explained:
Many of Alaska's highways are built on permafrost. When permafrost thaws, roads buckle. Vehicles are only allowed to drive across certain roads in the tundra when the ground is frozen solid. In the past 30 years, the number of days when travel is allowed on the tundra has decreased from 200 days to 100 days per year.
Along Alaska's northwestern coast, increased coastal erosion is causing some shorelines to retreat at rates averaging tens of feet per year. Here, melting sea ice has reduced natural coastal protection. In Shishmaref, Kivalina, and other Alaska Native Villages, erosion has caused homes to collapse into the sea. Severe erosion has forced some Alaska Native Villages' populations to relocate in order to protect lives and property.
Image at top via Alaska's Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development
Fox News host Sean Hannity has asserted 192 times that he and other Republicans do not want "dirty water." Yet he has not once covered the recent coal-washing chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginia residents with no tap water to drink or bathe in -- an incident made more likely by the anti-regulation policies he supports.
On January 9, a storage tank at a Freedom Industries facility in West Virginia holding chemicals used to "clean" coal leaked into a river located near a water-treatment center. Residents noticed a strong odor soon after and were told to stop using their water.
The incident outraged many, but Hannity has instead focused his ire at those warning that Republican-backed deregulation would put people at risk of dirtier air and water. He has decried those saying these policies would lead to "dirtier air, dirtier water" 192 times*, calling the warnings "absurd and irresponsible scare tactics" and a vicious "lie." In fact, Hannity has wholeheartedly supported allowing more coal and enforcing fewer regulations -- a plan that could lead to more disasters like the one in West Virginia that he has ignored**.
Here are the five most infuriating things about the West Virginia spill that a self-declared "clean water" defender could have covered:
1. The company behind the spill is avoiding liability by filing for bankruptcy. MSNBC host Chris Hayes described how Cliff Forrest, the owner of the Freedom Industries who previously handed out "stop the war on coal" signs attacking President Barack Obama, filed for bankruptcy while opening another company that could take over "a big chunk of Freedom Industries' assets":
2. The company initially failed to disclose a second chemical in the water. The public only learned about the second chemical 12 days after the leak, as the company had originally told state regulators that the chemical was "proprietary" information. The Centers for Disease Control said that information about the chemical is "limited" but that they didn't anticipate any new health concerns.
3. West Virginia residents still aren't sure if their water is safe. After five days of not being able to use their water, residents were told by West Virginia American Water that the water was safe to drink. However, two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that pregnant women should not drink the water. Hospital admissions have doubled since the ban was lifted, and many health experts have said that not enough is known about the chemical to state definitively that the water is safe to drink or bathe in. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said of the water supply, "it's your decision ... I'm not a scientist."
4. There's a bill that might've stopped all of this. There are more than 62,000 chemicals that have not been publicly tested, including the chemical that spilled in West Virginia, which hampered authorities' attempts to assess and address the health risks it poses. The Safe Chemicals Act, opposed by the chemical industry, would address this by requiring companies to prove a chemical's safety before selling it.
5. But water pollution laws on the books aren't even being enforced. A 2009 New York Times investigation found that "In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses. However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment."
In its latest piece of shoddy journalism, CBS News' 60 Minutes is labeling cleantech a "dirty word" by ignoring the overall success rate of clean energy investments.
In October, 60 Minutes aired a report criticizing the response to the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which eventually had to be pulled as it relied on an untrustworthy "witness" who apparently fabricated his story. Two months later, the news program was widely criticized for a one-sided report on the National Security Agency's surveillance program.
In another one-sided report on Sunday, 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl concluded that "instead of breakthroughs, the [cleantech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops" after stimulus investments, including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program. However, 60 Minutes simply ignored the cleantech breakthroughs that did occur in order to advance this misleading narrative. Here are four facts CBS left out of the story:
1. The DOE Loan Program Has A 97% Success Rate. In July 2012, the former head of the loan guarantee program testified to Congress that funds that went to bankrupt companies represented less than 3 percent of the total Department of Energy portfolio. In other words, the program so far has a 97-percent success rate, far better than that of venture capitalists.
2. Solar And Wind Have Had Big Wins In Recent Years. 60 Minutes made passing mention of Tesla Motors' success after receiving a federal loan guarantee. However, it left out many other successes -- such as SolarCity -- in its myopic focus on Solyndra and other bankrupt companies. Robert Rapier, an energy expert who contributes to the Wall Street Journal and was interviewed for the special, stated on Twitter that he "gave successes they didn't air" and told 60 Minutes "the future is solar power." In 2012, renewable energy was the largest source of new electric capacity, led by wind power. These charts from the Department of Energy highlighted by Think Progress show that as the costs of solar and wind power have decreased, installations have jumped:
3. In Addition To These Strides, Cleantech Jobs Were Created. Stahl claimed that "Everything I've read there were not that many jobs created." However, she never mentioned any actual figures for viewers to assess. The loan program office estimates that its investments have created or saved approximately 55,000 direct jobs.
4. Climate Change Necessitates Cleantech Investments. As energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out, 60 Minutes did not even make a passing mention of climate change. Instead, the program touted the rise of natural gas saying that it was "relatively clean." However, experts from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Council on Foreign Relations have noted that without significant investment to scale up renewables, climate change will continue apace.
UPDATE (1/6/14): Energy expert Robert Rapier told Think Progress that the 60 Minutes report selectively aired his comments, leaving out his response to Stahl's first question that highlighted the successes of solar and wind power and emphasized that Stahl's question, "Clean tech is dead. What killed it?" was based on a false premise. From Rapier's interview with Think Progress:
The first question Lesley Stahl asked me - "Clean Tech is dead. What killed it?"
I immediately said, "Clean tech is not dead." There are many parts of clean tech that are doing very well - solar power is growing by leaps and bounds, prices are plummeting, wind power is growing exponentially.
To hear conservatives tell it, Santa Claus is most definitely white, and his home isn't melting. At least that's what Fox News, with its recent barrage of attacks on an ad in which Santa warns about the impact of climate change on his Arctic home, would lead you to believe.
In December, the environmental group Greenpeace released an ad featuring the butler from Downton Abbey as a distraught Santa, who warns that as climate change drives continued Arctic ice melt, he may have to cancel Christmas. The ad calls for protecting the Arctic from offshore oil drilling, which, in a grim irony, is only possible in the region because of the ice melt.
The cheeky video was a "new low" achieved by "any-means-necessary" tactics, according to Fox News. It was also a chance to deny climate change. Rush Limbaugh declared "The ice is not melting at the North Pole," and a Fox News guest said "Santa's home is going to be fine ... for a long, long time to come." Fox News co-host Eric Bolling claimed contrary to any temperature record that "the globe is getting colder":
But Santa is right: the North Pole is melting. Arctic ice registered a record low in 2012 in line with a long-term melting trend. The sea ice extent in 2013 was not as low as 2012's (as was expected), but it was still among the lowest extents in the 35-year record, and does not represent a "recovery":
Michael Fumento was once fired after it was revealed that he was writing in favor of industry interests while receiving money from those interests and authored a book titled The Myth Of Heterosexual AIDS. The New York Post now thinks you might want to know what he thinks about climate science.
The Post published an op-ed by Fumento on December 5 titled "Global-warming 'proof' is evaporating." In it, Fumento falsely suggested that a slowdown in recent temperatures means that "previous warming may not have been man-made at all" and compared accepting man-made climate change to "cult beliefs" and believing "before Columbus" that the Earth was flat (yes, Fumento appears to need a history lesson about Christopher Columbus in addition to a science lesson).
Like many pseudo-scientific "experts" on climate change, Fumento previously downplayed the dangers of cigarettes while receiving money from the tobacco industry. In the 1990s, Fumento was on the advisory board of the tobacco-funded "Advancement of Sound Science Coaliton" while downplaying the addictive nature of cigarettes and the dangers of secondhand smoke in the media.
It wasn't the last time Fumento took money from powerful industries while writing in favor of them. In 2006 Bloomberg BusinessWeek revealed that Fumento had received $60,000 from agribusiness giant Monsanto while writing columns in favor of both agribusiness and Monsanto. Soon after the revelation, Scripps Howard News Service canceled his syndicated column. Afterwards, Fumento published a public appeal for "patron support" for his writing, boasting that some of his published articles "have 50 hyperlinked citations in pieces only 900 words long."
Fumento, who is a lawyer and has no scientific training, has also previously pushed scientific misinformation. In 1990, Fumento wrote The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS; it only sold 12,000 copies, which he attributed to a conspiracy against him that included his own publisher. Despite the sensationalist title, Fumento did not actually argue that heterosexual people cannot get AIDS. Rather, he suggests that because rates of AIDS are low for the white, middle-class heterosexual people who do not use intravenous drugs, the U.S. is spending too much money on the issue. In order to downplay heterosexual transmission rates, Fumento stated in 1992 that former basketball player Magic Johnson, who contracted HIV, would "eventually probably" be "outed," and in any case probably has more opportunities to "have intercourse with inner-city black women than would a promiscuous heterosexual white basketball player."
After hyping an alleged "pause" in global warming, mainstream media have entirely ignored a groundbreaking study finding that warming over the last 16 years has actually proceeded at the same rate as it has since 1951 with no "pause" compared to that time period.
The study, published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society by Dr. Kevin Cowtan of the University of York and Robert Way of the University of Ottawa, found that the average global surface temperature has warmed 0.12 degrees Celsius between 1997 and 2012 (see the bold "Global" line in the graph above) -- two and a half times the UK Met Office's estimate of 0.05°C (see "Met Office" line). According to the new estimate, over the last 16 years the globe has warmed at the same rate as it has since 1951.
Writing about the study at the scientific blog Real Climate, climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf concluded that the public debate about the "pause" has "become"completely baseless" and that any speed bump in warming is "not surprising" with natural variability:
The public debate about the alleged "warming pause" was misguided from the outset, because far too much was read into a cherry-picked short-term trend. Now this debate has become completely baseless, because the trend of the last 15 or 16 years is nothing unusual - even despite the record El Niño year at the beginning of the period. It is still a quarter less than the warming trend since 1980, which is 0.16 °C per decade. But that's not surprising when one starts with an extreme El Niño and ends with persistent La Niña conditions, and is also running through a particularly deep and prolonged solar minimum in the second half.
An earlier Media Matters analysis found that mainstream media mentioned the alleged "pause" in nearly half of coverage of a major international climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, media have often been reluctant to cover data contradicting that narrative, including a study finding that heat may have been stored in the intermediate depths of the ocean, where warming has proceeded 15 times faster than in the past 10,000 years, rather than in the atmosphere.
As for claims that global warming has "stopped" or that global warming is "[o]ver," the study found with 94 percent probability that there has been some warming over the last 16 years. Dr. Cowtan wrote that "the hypothesis that warming has accelerated ... is four times as likely as the hypothesis that warming has stopped."
Why were previous estimates off?
As part of a campaign to pressure CNBC to improve its climate change coverage, mobile billboards are circulating the financial districts of New York City and Chicago on Thursday and Friday. However, rather than airing accurate information on how prominent business leaders use climate science to optimize their risk management strategies, CNBC has continued to air people denying climate change entirely.
The campaign by Media Matters, Forecast the Facts, and Environmental Action was hosted on fuel-efficient trucks to highlight Media Matters' studies finding that the majority of CNBC's relevant coverage casts doubt on the basic scientific consensus that climate change is real and manmade. So far, CNBC has not shown any signs of improvement -- even after a 45,000-signature petition called on CNBC to improve its coverage.
Most recently, CNBC hosted Joe Bastardi, whose arguments for climate change denial have been called "utter nonsense," "very odd" and "simply ignorant" by scientists, to discuss Super Typhoon Haiyan. When another meteorologist noted that rising sea levels have worsened the damage from storms such as Haiyan, Bastardi -- who has claimed contrary to basic physics that carbon dioxide "literally cannot cause global warming" -- predictably dismissed the greenhouse gas connection:
A Fox Business host said he got a "big smile" when he heard that Australia backed out of its previous pledge to send aid to developing nations coping with climate change. His response comes as an official from the Philippines tearfully called for developed nations to make good on their promises to the climate fund in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
On November 13, Stuart Varney, host of Varney & Co., celebrated Australia's decision, saying he "do[esn't] want to pay" to help the Philippines and other developing nations adapt to a rapidly changing climate:
Varney's callous response stands in sharp contrast to that of Naderev "Yeb" Sano, a United Nations delegate from the Philippines, who announced at a U.N. climate summit that he is fasting until there are "concrete pledges" to the Green Climate Fund. Developed nations previously pledged to give $100 billion to the fund by 2020 in order to help developing nations adapt to climate change and reduce their own emissions.
The U.N. fund is intended to address a critical moral hazard of climate change: those who have contributed the least to climate change will suffer the most. The Philippines, for instance, is the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change -- "particularly exposed" to "cyclones, flooding and sea level rise" -- yet it has much fewer carbon emissions than either Australia or the U.S.:
Fox Business disparaged actor George Clooney as "irresponsible" and "foolish" for allegedly "blaming" Super Typhoon Haiyan on climate change. However, Clooney merely stated that regardless of "whether or not this particular storm" can be attributed to climate change, denying the existence of manmade climate change -- as those censuring Clooney have -- is "ridiculous."
Super Typhoon Haiyan was one of the strongest tropical cyclones in world history when it struck the Philippines on November 7, killing as many as 10,000 people. Scientists have stated that intense tropical cyclones such as Haiyan are expected to become more frequent as the earth warms, although many caution against attributing Haiyan directly to climate change. Sea level rise due to climate change also worsens the deadly storm surge for tropical cyclones such as Haiyan and Hurricane Sandy.
CLOONEY: Well it's just a stupid argument. I mean, whether or not this particular storm is any one -- if you have 99 percent of doctors who tell you "you are sick" and 1 percent that says "ah, you're fine," you probably want to hang out with, check it up for the 99. You know what I mean? I -- the idea that we ignore that we are in some way involved in climate change is ridiculous. What's the worst thing that happens? We clean up the earth a little bit? And you know, yeah, I find this to be the most ridiculous argument ever.
On Monday, Fox Business host Stuart Varney and Fox News' senior meteorologist Janice Dean harangued Clooney for supposedly "us[ing] the tragedy to push his climate change agenda," saying his statement was "irresponsible" and "foolish" -- without ever airing or quoting what he actually said:
Dean also criticized Clooney for weighing in on climate change because he does not have a "seal of approval" from the American Meteorological Society (AMS), as she does. However, AMS officials have criticized broadcast meteorologists such as Dean for offering "nonscientific" opinions on climate change: