Fox News cherry-picked numbers to suggest that the cost of extreme weather events has decreased in past decades in order to attack President Obama's executive order to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change. However, the damages from extreme weather events have been on the rise since 1980 and are projected to increase in part due to climate change.
On Fox and Friends' November 4 show, contributor Stuart Varney denied the link between climate change and certain extreme weather events in the United States, denouncing Obama's executive order on climate preparedness. To assist his claim, Varney cherry-picked statistics to falsely suggest that disaster costs have decreased since the 1980s -- including an incorrect statistic on Hurricane Sandy.
Though damages from Sandy totaled approximately $65 billion, according to the National Climatic Data Center, Varney incorrectly asserted that Sandy cost $19 billion in damages (this outdated number represented predicted damages to New York City only). He contrasted his $19 billion statistic to the $160 billion in losses from extreme weather events in 2005 -- the most costly year on record in terms of extreme weather events -- and the fact that weather disasters have cost the United States over $1 trillion since 1980. After prattling off these numbers, Fox and Friends co-anchor Brian Kilmeade exclaimed, "look how they've gone down, the number of disasters and the price!"
In reality, spending on weather disasters has increased since 1980, alongside the rise of extreme weather events costing at least one billion dollars in damages:
Despite Varney's claims, five top insurance companies have recognized that disaster losses are increasing, which may be related in part to climate change:
Fox News attacked President Obama's decision to sign an executive order that will make it easier for states and communities to prepare for impacts of climate change by denying the existence of global warming.
On November 1, Obama signed an executive order on climate preparedness. The New York Times reported that the order will "make it easier for states and communities to build resilience against storms, droughts and other weather extremes" and establish "a high-level task force of state and local leaders to offer advice to the federal government" on how to help local communities deal with climate change.
Reporting on the executive order during the November 2 edition of Fox & Friends Saturday, co-host Tucker Carlson denied the existence of global warming. He said that "temperatures have not risen in the past several years, they have gone down," and claimed there is "an emerging scientific consensus that we may be in for a period of global cooling caused not by greenhouse gases but by fluctuations in solar energy -- sun spots."
Carlson concluded that those calling for action in response to climate change "what they don't know definitively is the truth. And no one wants to admit -- maybe there's some things they don't fully understand. Why not just admit that?"
Contrary to Carlson's claim that an "emerging scientific consensus" predicts an upcoming period of global cooling, 97 percent of climate scientists and most leading U.S. scientific societies agree that a climate-warming trend has existed over the last century and that the trend is "very likely due to human activities." In September, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which convenes hundreds of top climate experts from around the world to assess the scientific understanding of climate change, released a report concluding that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and will continue under all greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.
While climate scientists overwhelmingly believe the Earth is warming, Fox News has relentlessly championed climate change denial. This coverage has a real impact on the network's conservative viewers - while two-thirds of Americans believe in global warming, only 25 percent of Tea Party Republicans agree.
CNN and Fox News devoted massive coverage to the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, but both networks omitted any mention of climate change in their reporting despite its likely role in the extreme nature and devastation of the event.
Though it is difficult to determine just how much of Sandy's unprecedented destruction can be directly linked to climate change, climate scientists agree that higher tides produced by global warming exacerbated flooding from the storm, and hurricane severity is expected to increase as sea levels continue to rise. Unlike Fox and CNN, several MSNBC segments about the Sandy anniversary mentioned climate change. But overall, just under 8 percent of segments on the top cable news networks mentioned climate change in their anniversary coverage.
Fox News and CNN devoted approximately 52 minutes and 54 minutes, respectively, to Sandy coverage on its anniversary. Coverage centered around the devastating impacts of the storm, the subsequent complications with disaster relief funding, and efforts to rebuild the damaged coastal areas and prepare for the next natural disaster. Missing from their coverage, however, was climate change's role in worsening the impact of storms like Sandy and the fact that climate change could drastically affect coastal communities in the future.
During a segment on Fox News' Happening Now, meteorologist Janice Dean warned that "another Hurricane Sandy" could happen again "in the next decade or so" as we are heading into "an active period in terms of tropical development." She dissected the "anatomy" of Sandy, citing the angle of the storm, the storm's unnatural width, and the high tide as key factors for the storm system's extreme damage, but left out that climate change has triggered rising sea levels.
CNN's Indra Petersons also discussed the many factors that contributed to Sandy's impacts -- but excluded climate change-caused sea level rise.
The Los Angeles Times recently announced it does not publish Letters to the Editor that deny man's role in climate change, but most major newspapers are not following suit. A study from Media Matters found that 14 letters that deny manmade climate change have been printed in The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, The Washington Post and The New York Times so far in 2013.
The founder of the Weather Channel, now a local weatherman on a San Diego television station, dedicated nearly half an hour to climate change misinformation, including claiming that there are more polar bears because "Eskimos ... have now become more civilized."
John Coleman, who is a weatherman for the independent news station KUSI News after being "forced" out of the Weather Channel, said in a segment on climate change this week that polar bear populations have increased because "the Eskimos no longer kill the polar bears for the meat and furs in order to stay alive, it's -- we have now become more civilized in our Eskimo populations around the poles."
In fact, the majority of polar bear populations for which there are sufficient data are declining. Those population levels are somewhat higher than in the 1970s thanks to a ban on polar bear hunting with limited exceptions for traditional hunting by Inuit populations. However, despite conservative media claims to the contrary, this recovery in no way negates the ongoing existential threat that global warming poses to polar bear populations.
In the segment, Coleman -- who has accused NASA climate researchers of "lying" about temperature records -- hosted four paid associates of the Heartland Institute, which has received funding from the fossil fuel industry and once compared those who accept climate science to the "Unabomber." Coleman called Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast, who claimed in the 1990s that moderate smoking has "few, if any, adverse health effects" while simultaneously receiving money from tobacco giants Philip Morris, "a hero of mine."
In a misleading editorial about the Supreme Court's decision to hear a case on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, The Wall Street Journal accused the agency of "regulatory overreach," despite decades of legal precedent that permits such discretion.
On October 15, the justices accepted for review a narrow legal question from a broad industry-led attack on the authority of the EPA to fight climate change under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The WSJ celebrated this limited decision despite it being yet another in a long line of obstructionist lawsuits filed against the federal government by Republican-led states.
From the October 15 editorial, which applauded "[s]tate attorneys general [who] have challenged the Administration's agenda on everything from ObamaCare to the plan to get rid of the Yucca Mountain waste depository":
The Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency has spent the last few years stretching its legal authority, and now it will have to defend its actions before the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the Justices agreed to review how far the agency can go in regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, the Court consolidated six cert petitions and will consider a single legal question: Does the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from "mobile sources" like cars also apply to emissions from "stationary sources" like power plants? To put it another way: Can the EPA make up the rules as it goes along?
This story started in 2004, when environmentalists sued to force the EPA to regulate CO2, even though the Clean Air Act never defined it as a pollutant. The Justices nonetheless ruled 5-4 (Massachusetts v. EPA, 2007) that the agency could do so for mobile sources such as cars under Title II of the Act. Gentleman, start your regulatory engines.
When Congress wrote the Clean Air Act, it created numerical thresholds specifying that the government could only start regulating after a plant was shown to be putting out more than 100 tons a year of a pollutant.
By the EPA's own estimates, applying that 100-ton threshold to greenhouse gases would require some six million buildings to get environmental permits, including such grand polluters as churches and farms. Recognizing that such a rule would create "absurd results" like shuttering the entire economy, the EPA rewrote Congress's numbers and adjusted the threshold to 75,000 tons from 100 tons. EPA's clear political purpose was to escape a large political backlash to its new rules by unilaterally limiting their reach.
The EPA says that its rewrite is no big deal, and that plaintiffs should have no standing to sue since the agency was doing everyone a favor by lifting the thresholds. But regulatory agencies don't have the power to rewrite laws on their own without the authority granted by Congress.
However, the WSJ editorial fails to mention that Congress has granted the EPA authority to enforce the Clean Air Act (CAA) - including the power to promulgate rules to implement it.
USA TODAY became the latest mainstream newspaper to incorrectly "balance" the views of the hundreds of scientists behind a major climate report with the the Heartland Institute, a fossil-fuel-funded organization that once compared those who accept climate science to the "Unabomber." In an op-ed published by the newspaper Tuesday, the head of the organization portrayed outright falsehoods as simply "opinion" in order to dismiss the United Nations panel behind the report as a "discredited oracle."
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), which convenes hundreds of top climate experts from around the world to assess the scientific understanding of climate change, stated in its most recent report that scientists are 95 percent certain that the majority of recent warming is manmade, or about as certain as they are that cigarettes kill. This is an increase from just over 50 percent certainty in 1995, and 66 percent certainty in 2001. Yet the head of the Heartland Institute, Joseph Bast, counterfactually suggested in USA TODAY that "we are no more certain about the impact of man-made greenhouse gases than we were in 1990, or even in 1979."
Bast also falsely claimed that the IPCC "admits, but does not explain, why no warming has occurred for the past 15 years." It would be one thing for Bast to claim that he is not convinced by the IPCC's explanation that that the slightly slower rate of atmospheric warming in the last 15 years was likely due to the ocean absorbing much of recent heat, along with other natural factors such as volcanic eruptions. But Bast simply pretended that this explanation does not exist so that he could cling to the myth that short-term variability rebuts the idea of a long-term greenhouse gas signal.
A recent study by Media Matters found that The Washington Post and Bloomberg News also turned to Bast, making him one of the most frequently quoted climate doubters in IPCC coverage. The New York Times quoted a report backed by the Heartland Institute. None of these newspapers disclosed that Heartland has recently received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, backed by the CEO of a corporation with major oil interests, and received funding from ExxonMobil from 1998 to 2006. Nor did they mention factors that might help readers assess the credibility of the Heartland Institute, including that in 2012 the group launched a billboard campaign associating "belief" in global warming with murderers such as Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber," which they discontinued after backlash from many of their own donors but refused to apologize for.
A study of coverage of the recent United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finds that many mainstream media outlets amplified the marginal viewpoints of those who doubt the role of human activity in warming the planet, even though the report itself reflects that the climate science community is more certain than ever that humans are the major driver of climate change. The media also covered how recent temperature trends have not warmed at as fast a rate as before in nearly half of their IPCC coverage, but this trend does not undermine long-term climate change.
An independent report has all but destroyed one of the right's most cherished Obama administration "scandals," a fever dream that featured former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson intentionally shirking transparency laws with the help of a secret email account under the name "Richard Windsor." Fox News mentioned the saga in at least 40 different segments in the last year -- yet despite the network's fascination with the story, it has not covered the recent development, which undermines most of its previous coverage.
The EPA's Inspector General (IG) recently found "no evidence" that the department has "used, promoted, or encouraged the use of private email accounts to circumvent records management responsibilities." The IG was similarly unable to turn up proof of any senior agency officials trying to dodge federal recordkeeping, and the report noted that the EPA has taken various actions to improve its electronic content management in the last four years.
That inquiry came in response to claims that Jackson and others were using such accounts to elude Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Congressional Republicans who pushed for the review had cited a Daily Caller article that reported Jackson used the name "Richard Windsor" for her "secret" secondary account. The Daily Caller got its information from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a partly industry-funded free-market think tank obsessed with the idea that some elusive, unguarded conversation would expose the Obama administration's (effectively imaginary) "War on Coal." (Later, when CEI actually got to read some FOIAed emails, it declared the lack of suspicious content somewhat suspicious).
But Jackson has explained that she regularly told people to "make sure" they searched for the Richard Windsor account when they made FOIA requests. Furthermore, EPA officials (and the IG) have noted that the use of a primary, staff-managed public account as well as a secondary account is common in both the public and private sectors in order to stem the flow of emails and get work done. Two former EPA administrators under George W. Bush reportedly used secondary (sub. required) email addresses as well.
However, the ordinariness of the practice didn't stop conservatives from feeding the "scandal" oxygen. Right-wing media couldn't get enough of Richard Windsor. They speculated that unseen emails contained information on an "expected" carbon tax (even though the administration has repeatedly stated that it is not pursuing a carbon tax). They bizarrely insinuated that the digital nom de plume was related to a "fetishistic" website (it was actually in honor of Jackson's family dog and hometown). They claimed the administrator was fleeing from the issue when she stepped down after a little over four years at the helm (neglecting to mention that she'd held the post longer than all but one past EPA chief). And in order to keep the "scandal" relevant once she resigned, they connected the allegations to Jackson's nominated replacement, Gina McCarthy (even though McCarthy told a Senate committee that she did not conduct business with a secondary account).
Fox News played a leading role in making Richard Windsor a story. A search of Nexis and internal video archives indicates that the network has mentioned the ordeal in more than 40 different segments in the last year, hosting the putative architect of the "scandal," CEI's Christopher Horner, ten times to promote it. In all, about 86 percent of guests discussing the issue voiced anti-EPA sentiment (7 percent defended the EPA and 7 percent were neutral). Over 90 percent of segments did not mention the mitigating factor that previous administrations had also used secondary email accounts:
The same week a major report found that global warming is both unequivocal and "extremely likely" to be manmade, Fox News announced that it has hired longtime Washington Post columnist George Will, who has helped cultivate a "climate of doubt" about the issue, as a commentator and analyst.
Will is expected to be a featured analyst on programs including Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday after more than 30 years as a regular panelist on ABC's This Week. This provides another prominent platform for a man whose opinions already appear in The Washington Post and hundreds of other newspapers.
Will has often used these platforms to regurgitate common misleading claims from those who deny climate change and grossly distort climate data. In a 2009 column, Will claimed that global sea ice levels were unchanged from 1979, citing the Arctic Climate Research Center. That center responded that this was a "disturbing" misstatement, as its data showed a decline in sea ice "roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined." The Post's ombudsman eventually criticized the fact-checking process that had led to the error.
Recently, Will cherry-picked a year with record wildfires in an attempt to deny the trend toward larger and longer-duration U.S. wildfires. That claim found its way to Fox News within days despite the extensive research showing that, as the U.S. Global Change Research Program has explained, "Wildfires in the United States are already increasing due to warming."
Will's repeated promotion of climate misinformation has led the late Los Angeles Times editorial writer Dan Turner to pronounce the columnist's misunderstanding of some elements of climate change "mystifying," and a Discover Magazine columnist to write that Will is "helping to muddle our collective scientific literacy."
This climate misinformation will likely find a welcome home at Fox News, which has frequently come under fire for sowing doubt about the veracity of climate change and focusing on purported "scandals" rather than the scientific consensus. One study found that Fox News viewers were "significantly more likely" to be misinformed about the scientific consensus on climate change due to such coverage, which often creates confusion under the guise of "balance." Similarly, a 2012 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that coverage of climate science by Fox News, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, has been "overwhelmingly misleading," despite Murdoch's 2007 pledge that his media outlets would treat manmade climate change as "a fact."
From the September 30 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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In the weeks leading up to the release of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report summarizing climate science on Monday, conservative media have spread a variety of myths about the process, credibility and findings of the group. Contrary to misinformation, the report reflects that scientists are more convinced than ever that manmade climate change is real and dangerous.
After reviewing the latest evidence from a major climate change report -- released in full on Monday -- the prominent consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers concluded that climate change is the "mother of all risks." But while many businesses recognize climate risks, the media often cloud these risks by framing climate change in terms of "uncertainty," according to a recent study. This can lead to a disconnect between scientific understanding and public perception, and a misguided contentment with inaction.
"What 95% Certainty Means To Scientists"
The lead author of the University of Oxford study on media framing clarified, "the general public finds scientific uncertainty difficult to understand and confuses it with ignorance." In fact, as Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein explained on Tuesday, in an article headlined "What 95% Certainty Means To Scientists," the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report's finding that scientists are 95 percent certain about manmade global warming reflects a certainty analogous to scientific fact:
Top scientists from a variety of fields say they are about as certain that global warming is a real, man-made threat as they are that cigarettes kill.
They are as sure about climate change as they are about the age of the universe. They say they are more certain about climate change than they are that vitamins make you healthy or that dioxin in Superfund sites is dangerous.
They'll even put a number on how certain they are about climate change. But that number isn't 100 percent. It's 95 percent.
And for some non-scientists, that's just not good enough.
But in science, 95 percent certainty is often considered the gold standard for certainty.
"Uncertainty is inherent in every scientific judgment," said Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Thomas Burke.
What 95% Certainty Means To Businesses
The disconnect between how the public and scientists view uncertainty may lead some people to come to the misguided conclusion that we should wait to act until the science is "certain." Fox News host Neil Cavuto, for instance, once said that "whether there is or not [a consensus among scientists on climate change], you want to make 100% sure before you plunk down trillions on something." But for a purported business expert, Cavuto seems to have little concept of risk management. As PricewaterhouseCooper's Will Day explained, hedging against catastrophic climate change now is only sensible:
From the September 25 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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