More than 72,000 Americans are calling on ABC, CBS and NBC to reassess their priorities after a Media Matters analysis found that their nightly news programs devoted very little time to climate change in 2012 -- less than they covered the British royal family.
Even during the warmest year on record in the U.S., the nightly news programs combined devoted only 12 full segments to climate change. By contrast, these programs dedicated over seven times more coverage to the royals in 2012, as this graphic by the Climate Reality Project in collaboration with Media Matters illustrates:
The disparity was greatest on ABC World News, which dedicated 43 segments to the royal family and only one to climate change. NBC Nightly News wasn't much better, devoting 38 segments to the royals and only 4 to climate change. CBS Evening News covered climate change the most -- in 7 segments -- but still less than its 11 segments on the royal family.
This ongoing imbalance was illustrated just last week when scientists announced that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is set to surpass 400 parts per million, likely for the first time in human history. ABC World News and NBC Nightly News ignored the story, even as NBC found time to cover Prince Harry's visit to the United States.
A previous Media Matters report found that the broadcast networks covered Donald Trump more than climate change in 2011.
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million (ppm) on Thursday for the first time in human history. But one thing hasn't changed: false balance still crops up in climate change stories.
False balance occurs when journalists give equal weight to arguments from both sides, regardless of where the facts lie. Climate change is a textbook example of this problem -- in fact, the term was coined in academic papers to criticize climate coverage in the 1990s.
Yet 20 years later, we still get articles like this from Bloomberg News, reporting on the 400 ppm milestone:
"The Earth has had many-times-higher levels of CO2 in the past," said Marc Morano, former spokesman for Republican Senator James Inhofe and executive editor of Climate Depot, a blog that posts articles skeptical of climate change. "Americans should welcome the 400 parts-per-million threshold. This means that plants are going to be happy, and this means that global-warming fearmongers are going to be proven wrong."
That position is disputed by many researchers, said Melanie Fitzpatrick, climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"This needs to be a wake-up call," she said in a statement. "Reaching 400 parts per million represents a dire experiment with the climate system. As long as humans have walked the Earth, we've never seen carbon dioxide levels this high."
Marc Morano is not a scientist and has no scientific education. He is paid by an oil-industry funded organization to confuse the public about climate change, and has compared climate science to the Mayan calendar, Nostradamus, and medieval witchcraft. Moreover, his argument is laughable: by focusing on how carbon dioxide stimulates plant growth in a controlled environment, he ignores that our huge emissions of it and other greenhouse gases are warming up the planet, thereby increasing the risk of extreme rainfall and drought to the detriment of agriculture. A Wall Street Journal op-ed made the same argument on Thursday, leading to a deluge of condemnation.
As wildfires swept through southern California over the past week, experts warned that the state is in for an especially dangerous wildfire season due to unusually hot and dry conditions. But in their coverage of the fires, several of California's major newspapers have entirely ignored how climate change has increased wildfire risks in the region.
California's wildfire season kicked off early this year, with record temperatures, heavy winds and ongoing drought conditions fueling fires across the state that have threatened thousands of homes and businesses. California has already experienced 680 wildfires this year -- about 200 more than average for this period -- and the National Interagency Fire Service is predicting "above normal" potential for significant fires in northern and southern California this season. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is preparing for a higher number of significant fires across the West.
Climate experts warn that rising global temperatures are already leading to more frequent and more severe wildfires and longer fire seasons in the Southwest, calling large fires like those in California "the new normal." But several major print outlets in California have failed to make this connection, even after Governor Jerry Brown noted the link Monday.
The San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and U-T San Diego have not mentioned climate change while reporting on the recent fires. These papers also printed several stories from the Associated Press, none of which mentioned climate change. By contrast, the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times mentioned climate change in 33 percent and 27 percent of coverage, respectively.
The Wall Street Journal once again published an op-ed disputing climate science by authors with no peer-reviewed papers on the topic and ties to groups funded by the oil industry. The op-ed argues that we should be "clamoring for more" carbon dioxide because it is a "boon to plant life," ignoring scientific research establishing that our excessive carbon dioxide emissions are rapidly changing the climate, which will have significant negative impacts for plants and humans.
As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.
From the May 3 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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Fox News has often claimed that "liberals" stopped using the term "global warming" in favor of the term "climate change" because the planet is no longer warming. Fox News' The Five, for instance, celebrated Earth Day 2013 by trotting out this talking point to deny global warming - even though 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record and each of the 12 hottest years on record have come in the last 15 years. In reality, it was Republican consultant Frank Luntz -- now a Fox News contributor -- who advised Republicans in a 2002 memo to use the term "climate change" because "'climate change' is less frightening than 'global warming.'"
The term "climate change" was used long before Luntz's memo, particularly in the scientific literature. For instance, a 1970 paper published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was titled "Carbon Dioxide and its Role in Climate Change" and discussed how emissions of carbon dioxide warm the atmosphere.
Scientists use "global warming" when speaking about the increase in average global surface temperatures. They use "climate change" to refer to all the other disruptions that greenhouse gas emissions are causing -- from rising sea levels, to abruptly changing precipitation patterns that increase the likelihood of droughts and wildfires in certain areas and extreme flooding in others, to acidifying oceans that disturb the marine food web.
John Kerr created the video in this report.
Reuters is purporting to examine how scientists are "struggling" to reconcile short-term temperature variation with long-term climate change, but fails to quote any scientists about the issue.
In an article titled "Climate scientists struggle to explain warming slowdown" that is being promoted by the Drudge Report, Reuters claimed that short-term temperature variability "has exposed gaps" in scientists' understanding of climate change. However, the article didn't quote a single scientist about the temperature trends, instead talking to environmental contrarian and business school professor Bjorn Lomborg and economist Richard Tol, considered a conservative estimator of climate damages, to sow doubt about the quality of climate science (Reuters quoted Dr. Paul Holland, a British Antarctic Survey scientist, about a separate topic at the end of the report).
Perhaps due to this, Reuters characterized the time period since 2000 as a "pause in warming," without mentioning that it included the warmest decade on record or that each of the 12 years since the turn of the century have ranked among the 14 warmest on record.
This map from NASA illustrates the temperature anomaly (or amount above the 1951-1980 average) between 2000 and 2009:
At the height of the manufactured "Climategate" controversy, distortions of an email from a top climate scientist made it all the way to one of the leading Sunday shows. But a recent study re-confirms what that scientist was actually saying -- that much of recent heat has been trapped deep in the ocean.
In 2009, a batch of emails was stolen from the University of East Anglia. In one of the emails, which skeptics quickly took out of context, Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, lamented the "travesty" that "we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment." Trenberth was actually referring to gaps in our "observing system" that make it difficult to say where short-term energy -- or heat -- is going, not copping to a lack of long-term climate change, as some claimed. In the email, Trenberth alluded to research suggesting that the "missing" heat might be sequestered deep in the ocean.
For some media, none of this mattered. In a November 2009 appearance on ABC's This Week, conservative columnist George Will suggested Trenberth's email showed that "global warming has stopped," and that since climate science is "a complicated business," we "shouldn't wager these trillions" on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
But a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the ocean has in fact played a "key role" in absorbing recent heat, which "strengthens our confidence in the robustness of our climate models." The findings echo the conclusions of a paper co-authored by Trenberth himself as well as findings published in the journal Physics Letters A in late 2012, all indicating that climate change continues apace.
Recent analyses by Media Matters show that the "Climategate" episode was typical of the way the influential Sunday shows favor political spin over scientific fact. On the rare occasion Sunday shows covered climate change between 2009 and 2012, not a single scientist or climate expert was part of the discussion. In addition, every politician who discussed climate change on the Sunday shows in 2012 was a Republican:
Examining trends more broadly, the Sunday shows have hosted more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives. In this environment, honest appraisals of science are rare, and commentators like George Will fit right in.
Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial board member Kimberley Strassel misrepresented the win-loss record of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in court in order to suggest the Obama administration's environmental rulemaking is frequently illegal.
In an April 9 column, Strassel attempted to smear President Obama's nominee for EPA Administrator, the highly qualified and widely regarded Gina McCarthy, with the accusation that she shared blame for an alleged "embarrassing string of [legal] defeats" suffered by the Obama administration while serving as the senior EPA official in charge of regulating air pollution. From the WSJ:
[C]ritics have also started to take note of the embarrassing string of defeats the courts have recently dealt the agency regarding rules it issued in Mr. Obama's first term. Those judicial slapdowns are making a mockery of former Obama EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's promise in 2009 to restore the agency's "stature" with rulemaking that "stands up in court."
This past year alone has proven a banner year for EPA rebukes[.]
Mrs. McCarthy--who has spent four years as EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation--was nominated precisely because she shares Mrs. Jackson's aggressive view of the EPA's authority. With the administration now looking to push the EPA boundaries even further on climate, expect senators to grill Mrs. McCarthy on why she believes those coming rulemaking procedures will fare any better in court. A number of senators are particularly focused on this question, since it is their authority Mr. Obama is usurping in having the EPA unilaterally implement a climate program.
But Strassel - like influential House Republicans - misrepresents the record of the Obama EPA in court, especially in the area of Clean Air Act rulemaking, which McCarthy oversaw. As opposed to the win-loss record of the Republican EPA under George W. Bush, the Obama administration has been highly successful in defending its Clean Air Act actions in court.
Republican Representative Joe Barton denied manmade climate change by citing the biblical story of Noah's flood, yet no major news outlet except for the online publication Buzzfeed has noted his comments.
Rep. Barton stated in a hearing on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that climate change could be natural because the biblical story of the Great Flood, wherein God told Noah to build an ark to prepare for the flood, occurred prior to the Industrial Revolution:
I would point out, though, that people like me that support hydrocarbon development don't deny that the climate is changing. I think you can have an honest difference of opinion on what's causing that change without automatically being either all in, it's all because of mankind, or it's all just natural. I think there's a divergence of evidence. I would point out that if you're a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change. And that certainly wasn't because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy. So, in any event -- I would ask the gentleman from the Canadian government if you agree with the professor at the other end of the table that if we don't do Keystone, that these projects won't be developed to get the oil to the West Coast of Canada and on to Japan and China?
Bloomberg published a 650-word plus article about the hearing, but ignored Barton's comments. Buzzfeed noted his comments but did not note that they run counter to 97 percent of actively-publishing climate scientists, who agree that recent climate change is mostly manmade.
The press' failure to call out distortions of science does a disservice to the public, many of whom are under the mistaken impression that global warming either isn't happening or is mostly natural:
Rep. Barton has repeatedly suggested that climate change is entirely natural and misled on climate science, including commissioning a reportedly plagiarized report casting doubt on climate change. He has also received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies.
UPDATE (4/11/13): The Huffington Post, MSNBC's First Look, and ABCNews.com have covered Barton's remarks. ABCNews.com stated that a "group of extreme athletes, however, disagree" with Barton, but did not note that the vast majority of scientists also disagree with him.
Fox News is claiming that a top climate scientist said global warming "doesn't equal warming," when he actually pointed out that much of recent warming has gone into the oceans.
A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change concluded that much of the warming since the year 2000 has been absorbed by the ocean. In a story on the new findings, Reuters quoted Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, as saying "Global warming is continuing but it's being manifested in somewhat different ways":
"Global warming is continuing but it's being manifested in somewhat different ways," said Kevin Trenberth, of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. Warming can go, for instance, to the air, water, land or to melting ice and snow.
Warmth is spreading to ever deeper ocean levels, he said, adding that pauses in surface warming could last 15-20 years.
However, on Tuesday's edition of Special Report, Fox's flagship nightly news show, Trenberth's words were warped beyond recognition. Claiming that there may be "a breach in the wall of climate science," Fox News played a clip of industry-funded climate misinformer Marc Morano alleging that Trenberth "is announcing that global warming doesn't mean rising temperatures. In other words, that warming doesn't equal warming."
Actually, Trenberth noted that air temperatures make up only a small fraction of the way we measure climate change. As this chart from a study published in Physics Letters A shows, oceans have absorbed much of recent warming -- a factor that Fox News completely ignored:
From the April 5 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Although the Dayton Daily News accurately reported on the agricultural industry's effect on dangerous algae blooms in Lake Erie, it failed in its original reporting to identify climate change as a crucial factor in creating ideal conditions for the algae growth.
A recently released report by researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science found toxic cyanobacteria -- which also plagues Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio -- in Lake Erie, creating a smelly coating on the water's surface and causing the death of "untold numbers of marine creatures by hypoxia" in 2011. As explained in a piece in Atlantic Cities, two main factors were to blame: the agriculture industry's spreading of phosphorus-based fertilizers, which ran into the lake, and climate change, which fed the algae with warmer temperatures and weak water circulation:
Who's to blame here? The likeliest culprit is the agricultural industry with a helping hand from global warming, according to researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science. The scientists conducted a detailed postmortem on the 2011 muck-up using satellite imagery and computer models. As in past years, the process began with farmers spreading phosphorus-based fertilizer in the fall to prepare for spring planting. Because of ideal growing conditions, they were especially fertilizer-happy in the autumn of 2010.
Much of this fertilizer was then washed into the lake by rain, where it acted as a "nutrient load" (aka dinner) for a legion of tiny microorganisms. The river washing was especially intense in May 2011, because a number of massive storms swept great amounts of sediment into Erie. The algae was not only well-fed but encouraged to grow by warmer temperatures and a weak water circulation that kept the stuff near the sunny surface. The result was a bumper year for algae farmers, which might actually become a thing in the future if the algae-based biofuel industry ever gets off the ground.
While the Dayton Daily News reported on the agriculture industry's effect on the short-term algae blooms, it missed the connection to climate change, which could have longer term effects on algae blooms, according to the report's findings. On March 30, the paper published a piece discussing the algae bloom's effect on fishing in the lake. On January 19, it published a piece on Lake Erie's algae bloom diverting attention away from the algae problem at Grand Lake St. Marys, highlighting agriculture's role in the algae bloom:
Governor John Kasich said recently, "We are making progress," but did not elaborate about the problems at Grand Lake St. Marys. He, too, realizes the problems at Lake Erie have taken center stage.
The only real "progress" will come when the last farmer stops pouring manure on his land without safeguards against runoff into the lake. Achieving that goal might mean such steps as mandatory filter strips in the watershed, hauling away manure, created wetlands in every feeder stream and any other innovation that comes along.