In a mystifying attempt to turn the tables on science itself, Fox News is trying to reclaim the term "climate deniers" to refer to people who accept the preponderance of evidence confirming manmade climate change and support action to limit its impacts.
On Friday's edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy promoted National Review Editor Rich Lowry's attempts to paint "advocates of limits on carbon emissions" as "deniers." Doocy proclaimed that based on our carbon emissions "you would think it would be 900 degrees right now on planet Earth, but instead over the past 15 years or so, we have been flat temperature-wise":
It's interesting that Lowry is now attempting to co-opt the term "climate deniers," when in the past he condemned it as a way of equating climate "skeptics" with Holocaust deniers:
Climate alarmists conjured a world where nothing was certain but death, taxes and catastrophic global warming. They used this presumed scientific certainty as a bludgeon against the skeptics they deemed "deniers" -- a word meant to have the noxious whiff of Holocaust denial.
But advocating action is in no way denying science. Fox News is once again trying to obscure the long-term warming trend, driven by greenhouse gas emissions:
It is true, as Lowry points out, that scientists are continually examining just how much the climate will warm in response to our emissions, but those uncertainties are hardly a good excuse for inaction. After all, we know that scientific studies continue to indicate what they did in 2007: the amount that the Earth would warm in response to a doubling of carbon dioxide "is likely to be in the range 2°C to 4.5°C," or about 3.5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. This led the International Energy Agency to warn in 2011 that drastic actions needs to be taken in order to limit warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
After promoting anecdotes from a firefighter to claim that polar bears are "doing just fine," Fox News has ignored new research that confirms they are still existentially threatened by climate change. This divide in coverage is illustrative of what University of Alberta scientist Dr. Ian Stirling called a "new element" of media -- "the deliberately misleading, and sometimes downright dishonest, treatment of the science around polar bears when it relates to climate warming." In conversations with Media Matters, Stirling and other leading polar bear scientists outlined eight tips for media outlets seeking to accurately cover the plight of the polar bears.
In February, Fox News repeatedly promoted a book by firefighter Zac Unger on his time in Churchill, Manitoba to claim that "the polar bears are doing just fine." Even though bears in that region are actually among the subpopulations in decline, Fox News suggested that the book undermined climate science. Dr. Andrew Derocher, a scientific advisor to Polar Bears International, called that premise "flawed" and told Media Matters that "scientific literature shows very clearly the loss of sea ice in the satellite record and the projections (many many scientific papers) show that the future will be particularly challenging for polar bears as the sea ice disappears." He added, "I've worked on polar bears for 30 years and the changes are incredibly easy to see but as scientists, we don't just look at bears, we measure them and analyze the data."
Stirling criticized Unger for "a very sad piece of deliberately misleading and dishonest writing" that "tells only parts of the story that suit him." Similarly, Derocher said it was "unfortunate" when "someone who clearly doesn't understand a subject well botches up the science." Furthermore, media should not rely on anecdotal information when there is "a lot of data" on sea ice and polar bear body condition. He added:
The book you mentioned was written by someone who spent a few months in 1 place with his family talking to people. What I did on my last trip to Kentucky doesn't qualify me to rewrite the history [of] the eastern US. I've worked on polar bears for 30 years. Many of my colleagues for even longer. You don't go to a plumber for heart surgery but when it comes to polar bears "everybody is an expert". In science, an expert has to demonstrate expertise. Hanging around in Churchill for a few months talking to the locals doesn't qualify as an expert. Our last paper on polar bears in Conservation Letters had something like 200 years of cumulative polar bear expertise. How it can be that media put the scientific perspective on par with a casual observer is beyond me.
In fact, some reports that rely on polar bear sightings to conclude they are doing "fine" may be unwittingly underscoring the urgency of sea ice melt. As lost habitat drives bears from their hunting grounds, they sometimes wander into towns and garbage dumps. This may lead to more contact with humans, and an overall impression that polar bears are abundant, even to the point of being a nuisance. In fact, as Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, a former polar bear project leader at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), told Media Matters, a bear sighting in a new place "probably means the bears are having a hard time making a living where they used to make a living."
Unger promoted the popular media claim that polar bear populations have increased -- or are even "exploding" -- since the 1960s or 1970s, but those reports omit necessary context. Many of the starting-point estimates are based on a Russian calculation from the 1950s -- 5,000-8,000 bears -- that has never been broadly accepted by scientists. Amstrup told Media Matters that "we really don't know how many polar bears there were in the 60s [or 70s]" and it is "important to set the record straight." In 2008, Stirling told then-CNN Executive Producer for Science Peter Dykstra that the estimate was "almost certainly much too low."
In some places, thanks to conservation efforts like the Marine Mammal Protection Act and a subsequent international agreement, it does appear that polar bear populations have increased. According to Amstrup, Alaskan populations are a good example of such managed recovery. But in other areas, such as western Hudson Bay and the southern Beaufort Sea, populations are thought to be declining. And as Derocher pointed out, conservation biology is concerned with the future, normally examining issues three generations down the road. By this measure, polar bears are indeed in trouble, and looking back to the 1960s or 70s makes no sense:
What climate deniers like to pull out is that there are more polar bears now than in the 1960s. That doesn't matter and just because we've corrected excessive harvest rates (commercial hunting for example) in the 1960s doesn't make this argument any more relevant to the conservation of the species today moving forward in time.
Amstrup echoed this point, saying "the population on the Titanic was doing just fine until just before it slipped beneath the waves." Overall, the USGS has projected that changes in Arctic ice conditions could result in "loss of approximately 2/3 of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century."
Rush Limbaugh is claiming contrary to basic physics that "carbon in the atmosphere may actually be making things cooler, not warmer."
Limbaugh asserted that he was backed up by an article in The Economist, but the article actually examined how much the Earth is warming from emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which by definition trap heat in the atmosphere.
The greenhouse effect is the reason that there is life on Earth, but since the Industrial Revolution humans have emitted billions of tons of carbon dioxide, trapping more heat in the atmosphere than the natural greenhouse effect would have. This warming has in turn set off several feedback loops that have on average amplified warming.
Fox News is suggesting that scientists were "wrong" about global warming by using misleading graphics to obscure the long-term global temperature rise.
On his Fox News show, Neil Cavuto suggested that the recent cold weather invalidates concerns about global warming, asking weather forecaster and climate misinformer Joe Bastardi, "How did we get this so wrong?" Cavuto aired a graphic which at first glance appears to show that temperatures are dramatically cooler now than they were last March. But the graphic compares apples to oranges: the map on the left shows whether temperatures were above or below average for the month of March, while the map on the right shows absolute minimum temperatures for last Wednesday, March 20.
If the temperature scale for the map on the right were applied to the map on the left, it would mean that temperatures were over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the upper Midwest in March 2012.
A more honest comparison would look at the same day in March 2012, showing a far less stark contrast:
But even this comparison would be flawed, as daily and regional temperature fluctuations are expected, and do not contradict the observed long-term, global temperature trends.
From the March 25 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Loading the player ...
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) bills itself as an event convened to "crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America" that will showcase "all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers." Media covering CPAC 2013 should know that the conference's speakers, from the most prominent to the lesser-known, have a history of launching smears, pushing conspiracy theories, and hyping myths about the validity of President Obama's birth certificate.
Following the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency, conservative media are once again claiming that the Obama administration's EPA has waged a "war on coal." But that narrative ignores how natural gas has outcompeted coal, and why the long-overdue Clean Air Act regulations on coal are necessary in the first place. Here's what the public should know, as told in charts and graphics:
Low natural gas prices are behind the drop in coal power. As this chart shows, the boom in shale natural gas production has led to a drop in the price of natural gas -- in the free marketplace, many coal plants simply can't compete.
Clean Air Act regulations are long-overdue. George H.W. Bush's EPA administrator acknowledged that the Obama administration inherited several court-mandated rules from previous administrations, calling them "grenades" that required action. For instance, this timeline put together by energy giant Dynegy shows that the Mercury and Air Toxics rule issued under the Obama administration underwent a "thorough and lengthy development process." The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments required that the EPA study mercury and other emissions. In 2005, the EPA issued its final rule for controlling mercury that the Bush administration's own lawyers reportedly said would "almost certainly be reversed" by the courts. After the courts indeed reversed it, the burden of complying with the requirement to regulate mercury fell to the Obama administration:
[Source: Dynegy via SEC, January 2013]
Coal has huge health impacts even after decades of regulation in the U.S. In countries like China and India where coal is not as strictly regulated, coal pollution is extremely deadly. Meanwhile, in the U.S., harmful emissions have been significantly reduced, a fact that conservative media and the coal industry have used to tout coal's alleged cleanliness. But they often fail to mention that the industry only reduced its emissions after being required to by clean air standards, and that coal still has huge health impacts. The following chart details some of the known and quantifiable health impacts of pollution from coal plants:
CBS News is the only major TV news network other than Fox News to ignore a new study finding that global temperatures are higher now than at any time in the past 4,000 years, further evidence of the threat of rapid manmade global warming.
A study published Friday in the journal Science reconstructed global temperatures for the last 11,000 years, establishing the longest continuous temperature record. According to the National Science Foundation's Candace Major, the research shows that "we've experienced almost the same range of temperature change since the beginning of the industrial revolution as over the previous 11,000 years of Earth history - but this change happened a lot more quickly." Shaun Marcott, the study's leading author, added: "We've never seen something this rapid. Even in the ice age the global temperature never changed this quickly."
Marcott's temperature reconstruction is consistent with the famous "hockey stick" graph published by Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann in 1999, which conservative media outlets have repeatedly sought to discredit, as this chart from Mother Jones illustrates:
Scientists say this is further evidence that human activity is driving global warming, noting that Earth was in a cooling period for thousands of years before a sudden reversal after the Industrial Revolution. Under nearly any emissions scenario, Marcott noted, Earth's temperatures will rise "beyond anything human society has ever experienced" by 2100. If we continue on our current emissions path, some project we could far exceed past temperatures, as illustrated in this chart by ClimateProgress:
In the wake of a milder-than-expected snowstorm, the president of the American Meteorological Society has batted aside claims that balky short-term weather forecasts undermine long-term climate models.
Last week, a snowstorm forecast for the Mid-Atlantic, the "Snowquester," petered out in some areas expected to be hit hard. The incident served as another reminder that, as the Washington Post's Jason Samenow explained, short-term weather prediction is difficult, and carries a certain pressure to arrive at "the bottom line" for the benefit of viewers without qualification or explanation of uncertainties (of which there are many).
You may already know how this next part goes: writing in Forbes, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels suggested the "busted forecast" of the storm was actually a lesson that "Our "best science" can be wrong," and that in this sense there were "parallels with global warming." He allowed that this was a "statement of the human condition" -- presumably, rather than another example of scientists acting "Like lab rats that will do anything to keep the cocaine flowing." Unfortunately for a guy who invoked "The Natural" in his column, Michaels' logic was about as persuasive as that of a scout deciding that a .335 lifetime hitter may bat .111 the next few years based on a single 1-for-9 doubleheader.
Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, the president of the American Meteorological Society, wrote in an email to Media Matters that Michaels' argument indicates a "fundamental [...] misunderstanding of weather and climate models," an "apples vs. oranges comparison." Weather models try to predict the weather at a specific place and time, while climate models project the average of those weather events over a longer time period and larger area, which is more predictable.
Back to that baseball analogy: Minnesota Twins' first baseman Rod Carew went 0-for-5 on April 26, 1977. On the season, he hit .388, leading the league. Carew finished his 19-year career with a .329 average, about 1.6 hits for every 5 at-bats. Given all this, it would have been very hard to predict his performance in any one game -- but easier to predict how he would hit generally.
Shepherd added that the "somewhat bad" Snowquester forecast was being "cherry-picked" from several "great" recent weather forecasts.
Michaels is among the professional climate "skeptic" world's few actual climate scientists, and has been paid handsomely by the fossil fuel industry for this dubious distinction, but making such a fundamental mistake in his column further undermines his credibility.
A scientist who spearheaded findings of rising greenhouse gas emissions is rebuking a Forbes columnist who incorrectly claimed that temperatures have been "flat" to question the manmade causes of climate change.
Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data showed a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2012. Pieter Tans, who heads NOAA's greenhouse gas measurement group, told AP that "The prospects of keeping climate change below" 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100, as world leaders agreed to do, "are fading away." He added that the carbon jump is "just a testament to human influence being dominant."
Rather than using the news to evaluate the costs associated with our addiction to fossil fuel and discuss the steps we must take to avert the worst consequences of climate change, James Taylor of the industry-funded Heartland Institute used it to deny science. Taylor claimed that global temperatures are "essentially the same today" as they were in 1995 despite a contemporaneous rise in carbon emissions, and that this was a "devastating rebuke to assertions that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are causing a global warming crisis."
But Tans told Media Matters in an email that Taylor is "factually wrong" even using his short-term example -- 2012 was actually warmer than 1995 by about 0.16°C -- and that Taylor cherry-picked a date that had higher temperatures than surrounding years:
Taylor is factually wrong about the global temperature. According to the NASA GISS web site the year 1995 was 0.16 deg.C cooler than 2012. He could have compared to 1994 or 1996, in which case the difference from 2012 would have been 0.31 and 0.25 C cooler respectively. Therefore it makes sense to not compare individual years, but to take a 10-year smoothed average. In that case 1995 was cooler than 2012 by about 0.28 C. The second decimal depends a little on your smoothing technique.
In any case, long-term temperatures trends, a far more relevant indicator of climate change, aren't "flat" at all: each of the 12 years since the turn of the century have ranked among the 14 warmest on record. But Taylor obscured the long-term temperature rise by using a short period of data, as seen in this graphic from Skeptical Science:
On MSNBC, the director of the conservative Independent Women's Forum dismissed climate change as a "new science," ignoring the fact that the science behind global warming dates back to the 19th century and has accumulated to an overwhelming body of evidence over the last three decades.
Those seeking to delay action on environmental issues have long resorted to the argument that we need to study this issue more before we act. A classic example of this came Wednesday during a segment on MSNBC with Bill Nye "The Science Guy" and Sabrina Schaeffer, the executive director of the industry-funded Independent Women's Forum. Schaeffer said that she opposed Gina McCarthy's nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency because she may implement rules that would restrict greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Schaeffer insisted that although she opposes this effort to curb climate change, she is a "believer in science" and "the use of experiments and randomization." But when Nye pressed her on whether she accepts climate science, she dismissed it as a "new science" that needs further study:
Schaeffer's comments echo conservative media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal that continue to argue that we don't know enough about climate change to warrant action, despite warnings from the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
But we've known about the greenhouse effect for nearly two hundred years, we've known that humans can enhance that effect by making the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide since 1895, we've known that many scientists have predicted a warming trend since the 1970's, and we've known that the National Academy of Sciences has called for "action" since 2005. To dismiss all of the evidence that has led to a consensus on manmade climate change as a "new science" is anti-science, no matter how much you love random samples.
The Washington Post cited an unreliable Fox News poll to claim that public support for the Keystone XL pipeline "has reached a new high," uncritically repeating the falsehood that the pipeline would lower gasoline prices.
In a survey conducted in late February, Fox News asked respondents whether they support Keystone XL, stating:
Supporters of the pipeline say it would bring needed oil to the U.S., lowering gasoline costs and creating jobs. Opponents of the pipeline have environmental concerns, including the risk of a spill, and also say the pipeline would increase American dependence on oil.
In fact, many supporters of the project -- including the economist hired by TransCanada to assess its economic benefits -- have admitted that the pipeline would have no meaningful impact on gasoline prices. Energy experts across the political spectrum agree that because oil prices are set on the world market, the impact of the pipeline would be "miniscule," and that the best way to reduce our vulnerability to gas price spikes is to decrease our dependence on oil.
Even the Washington Post's own fact-checker has said it is "a step too far" to assert that Keystone XL would impact gas prices.
But that didn't stop the Post from promoting the poll results and uncritically repeating Fox's claims about the benefits of the pipeline:
[P]roponents say the project would create thousands of jobs and lower gasoline prices in the United States.
The Wall Street Journal and Fox News are suggesting that President Barack Obama's nomination of Gina McCarthy as head of the Environmental Protection Agency is a sign that he is acting like a "dictator," using an "end-around" to regulate carbon emissions that drive climate change. But they failed to mention that efforts to curb this greenhouse gas through the EPA are not an invention of the Obama administration -- they were given the go-ahead by a George W. Bush-era Supreme Court decision.
Earlier this week, the president nominated McCarthy, a former official for then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, to succeed Lisa Jackson as EPA administrator. McCarthy is likely to play a major role in the administration's presumptive plans to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants.
But News Corporation's Fox News and Wall Street Journal are launching a preemptive attack on these efforts, claiming they are "antidemocratic" by once again ignoring a Supreme Court decision that all but required action. Monday, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly incorrectly suggested that action through the EPA is unprecedented, saying "It used to be that if you wanted to make a major change or have a major impact on climate change or green energy regulations in this country, you went through Congress" but the president "has found an end-around, and as a result this EPA is extremely powerful right now." The next day, a Wall Street Journal editorial smeared McCarthy as "antidemocratic," adding, "Mr. Obama has been going around saying that the problem is that he's a President, not an 'emperor' or 'dictator,' but on carbon regulation this is a distinction without much difference."
Both failed to note that a 2007 Supreme Court ruling found that greenhouse gases fit the definition of an "air pollutant" and could be regulated under the Clean Air Act if they were determined to be harmful. A subsequent "Endangerment Finding," privately authored during the Bush administration but suppressed until 2009, stated that this was the case due to their contribution to climate change. Stephen Johnson, then the EPA Administrator, told President Bush in early 2008 that the Supreme Court decision "combined with the latest science of climate change requires the Agency to propose a positive endangerment finding," adding "the state of the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research." The Bush administration reportedly refused to open the email containing the Endangerment Finding, leaving it to the next president to take action. As noted by Legal Planet, the environmental law and policy blog of the University of California Berkeley and UCLA law schools, regulation of carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act is not undemocratic. In fact, "[T]here's nothing here that's an end-run around Congress. EPA is (as bureaucracies should do) implementing the orders of the legislature through duly enacted laws." If the president has "given up getting Congress to agree" to regulate emissions by other means, as the Journal argued, it is only because Congress has repeatedly failed to pass legislation doing so, thus compelling the executive branch to act.
The New York Times announced late Friday that it will discontinue its Green blog, less than two months after dismantling its environment desk. The paper insists that despite these changes it will "forge ahead with our aggressive reporting on environmental and energy topics," but coverage of crucial environmental stories is likely to suffer.
When The Times closed its environment desk in January, many expressed concerns that the quality and quantity of the paper's environmental coverage would be compromised. Managing editor Dean Baquet reassured them that this was purely a structural change, and that the Green blog would remain so long as it had "impact and audience." Bora Zivkovic, Blog Editor at Scientific American, said that eliminating the environment desk made the Green blog "much more essential" as a gathering place for environmental reporters and interested readers. But the Times has decided to eliminate the blog to "devote resources elsewhere," which Columbia Journalism Review's Curtis Brainard called "a horrible decision." Brainard noted that the blog provided "a crucial platform for stories that didn't fit into the print edition's already shrunken news hole" and enabled reporters to expand on stories that did make the paper.
Indeed, the Green blog's environmental coverage has often proved to be more thorough than the print edition's. For example, a Media Matters report found that several mainstream media outlets -- including the New York Times print edition -- ignored an October 2012 report on the rapid decline of the Great Barrier Reef, but the Green blog covered it. In November, a World Bank report warning of the calamitous effects of climate change went unnoticed by the New York Times print edition, but not by the Green blog. Since the closure of the environment desk, the Green blog has accounted for 64 percent of the paper's climate change reporting.* And since January 2012, the Green blog has devoted nearly twice as much coverage to the threat of ocean acidification.**
If the past is any indication, it seems Brainard is correct that "without the Green blog, there's no way that these topics are going to get as much attention as they once did."
Fox News' KT McFarland claimed that building the Keystone XL pipeline would decrease dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf and alleviate the impact of future Middle East conflicts on the U.S. economy. In fact, studies show the pipeline will have little effect on foreign crude oil imports, and if the economy remains dependent on oil, events in the Middle East will have a significant impact on U.S. energy markets regardless of where the nation's oil imports originate.
On the March 4 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox News national security analyst KT McFarland said that building the Keystone XL pipeline would make us less vulnerable to conflicts in the Middle East, such as a potential nuclear Iran. She claimed that if "if we get our own oil" from the Keystone pipeline we won't need to rely on Middle East oil, which is responsible for pulling the U.S. "into every Middle East conflict." From the show:
A 2010 study conducted by the U.S. State Department found that building the Keystone pipeline would not significantly affect how much oil was imported from foreign countries including the Middle East. The study included a graphic which showed almost no change in foreign imports of oil with or without Keystone XL pipeline: