On September 30, California became the first state to ban the use of plastic bags in stores, leading to a barrage of misinformation from various media outlets claiming the ban would actually hurt the environment. However, these contrarian claims are undermined by research showing that previous bans and taxes have reduced energy use and litter, while doing no harm to the economy.
Jonah Goldberg criticized environmental reporters for focusing on climate change, saying that they were missing "serious problems, such as ocean acidification." However, ocean acidification is caused by the same carbon pollution driving climate change.
In his syndicated column on April 23, National Review Online editor-at-large Goldberg wrote that Republican politicians "still care about the environment," suggesting that they pay attention to environmental problems "such as ocean acidification, overfishing, elephant and rhino poaching, and loss of habitat" rather than climate change:
Contrary to what you may have heard, GOP politicians still care about the environment, but they take their cues from public opinion, not from the green lobby.
Important work is being done on serious problems, such as ocean acidification, overfishing, elephant and rhino poaching, and loss of habitat. None of these issues get a fraction of the coverage they deserve. That's because many environmental reporters think their beat begins and ends with climate change.
Ocean acidification is sometimes known as the "evil twin" of climate change as it is also driven by carbon dioxide emissions, making the ocean more acidic -- surface ocean waters are now about 30 percent more acidic than they were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, as carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere and is increasingly absorbed by the ocean. Goldberg is correct that ocean acidification does not get the attention it deserves, as it threatens coral reefs that provide coastal protection from storms and tourism, and shellfish that make up a large part of the fishing industry.
Climate change also exacerbates species loss further threatened by overfishing, poaching and habitat destruction -- the other issues Goldberg names as truly "serious." In addition, climate change is itself emerging as one of the main drivers of habitat loss. This is why environmental groups and reporters have focused on climate change, while continuing to address environmental problems from overfishing to poaching, as it is a threat multiplier with global consequences.
While Goldberg is now calling for attention to these particular environmental topics, he has not given much attention to them himself in the past. The only time Goldberg has previously mentioned ocean acidification in his column* was to claim that we could address it by giving the ocean "some antacid" in 2009:
Is the atmosphere getting too hot? Cool it down by reflecting away more sunlight. The ocean's getting too acidic? Give it some antacid. The technology's not ready. But pursuing it for a couple of decades will cost pennies compared with carbon rationing.
Oyster hatcheries have indeed been resorting to putting the equivalent of Tums into hatcheries to make up for the declining numbers of oysters in the ocean, but dumping huge amounts of antacid into the ocean at large is considered impractical by scientific groups such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The only time that Goldberg mentioned overfishing** was in 2005. In that same column was the last time that Goldberg mentioned animal habitats, claiming that the United States had "added vast new habitats for animals" without ever mentioning continuing habitat loss.*** Goldberg has never before covered poaching in his column.****
Carbon dioxide emissions are not just warming up our atmosphere, they're also changing the chemistry of our oceans. This phenomenon is known as ocean acidification, or sometimes as global warming's "evil twin" or the "osteoporosis of the sea." Scientists have warned that it poses a serious threat to ocean life. Yet major American
news outlets covered the Kardashians over 40 times more often than ocean acidification over the past year and a half.
Rising carbon dioxide emissions have caused the oceans to become around 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution, and if we do not lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the ocean surface could be up to 150 percent more acidic by 2100. At that level, the shells of some plankton would dissolve, large parts of the ocean would become inhospitable to coral reef growth, and the rapidity of the change could threaten much of the marine food web. According to the National Research Council, the chemical changes are taking place "at an unprecedented rate and magnitude" and are "practically irreversible on a time scale of centuries."
Despite a boom of recent scientific research documenting this threat, there has been a blackout on the topic at most media outlets. Since the end of 2010, ABC, NBC, and Fox News have completely ignored ocean acidification, and the Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNN, and CBS have barely mentioned it at all.
In strikingly one-sided reports, Fox News assailed an anticipated regulation protecting streams from mountaintop coal mining waste. Among other misleading claims, Fox accused the Obama administration of punishing a contractor who said the rule would kill jobs, when in fact, extensive evidence indicates the contract was halted simply because the firm did shoddy work.
Following a lengthy investigation, the national Oil Spill Commission concluded in January 2011 that "the root causes" of the BP disaster were "systematic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur." This week the same panel of experts found that Congress "has yet to enact any legislation responding to the explosion and spill." Rather than implement the panel's recommendations, the House has actually "passed several bills" with provisions that "run contrary to what the Commission concluded was essential for safe, prudent, responsible development of offshore oil resources," said the commissioners.
So far ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News have ignored the panel's assessment report, issued just days before the second anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan was the exception, running a segment on the panel's findings and the ongoing impacts of the spill.
Citing a recent study by the government of Nunavut in Canada, conservative media are claiming that the number of polar bears is "increasing." The takeaway, according to these media outlets, is that concerns about the fate of polar bears in a warming world are overblown. But polar bear scientist Steven Amstrup says these commentators are mistaken.
The polar bears located west of the Hudson Bay are one of 19 polar bear subpopulations, and one of 8 subpopulations that are thought to be shrinking, according to a comprehensive review conducted in 2009. (One population was found to be increasing, three are stable, and there isn't enough data to assess the other seven). Amstrup and others previously analyzed bears captured from 1984-2004 and found that the West Hudson Bay population declined from 1,194 in 1987 to 935 in 2004.
But a new survey by the government of Nunavut, a largely Inuit territory in Northern Canada, puts the population size as of last August at 1,013, according to a widely circulated article in Canada's Globe and Mail. This new estimate is derived from a plausible range of 717 to 1,430 bears and, importantly, comes from an aerial survey, unlike the previous studies which involved capturing and recapturing bears.
Amstrup said media outlets claiming the aerial survey shows an increasing population are mistaking a single point estimate for a trend. "The population size is just a number. It is a valuable number to have, but from the standpoint of population welfare, it is the trend in numbers that is critical," he wrote in an email. Because previous estimates used a different methodology, and covered a different geographic area, they cannot be easily compared to the latest figures, contrary to the media narrative. When the aerial survey is repeated in later years, it will then be able to tell us more about how the population size is changing. In the meantime, the Canadian government is expected to release its latest capture-recapture data next month.
Population estimates are used to determine how many polar bears can be killed each year. Hunting polar bears is a significant source of income among the Inuit, who have been skeptical of dire predictions of popopulation decline.
Amstrup emphasizes that "in the bigger picture, whether any one population is currently declining, stable or increasing is beside the point," adding, "it is criticial to remember that our concern about polar bears is focused on the future." The scientists who spend their lives studying polar bears have been unable to envision how the population numbers can withstand the long-term decline of the sea ice.
More detailed responses from Amstrup below:
From the August 30 edition of Fox News' The Five:
Loading the player reg...
In response to the suspension of federal scientist Charles Monnett, author of a 2006 article documenting polar bear deaths, conservative media have tried to dismiss the threat posed to polar bears by global warming. On Sunday, a New York Post editorial claimed Monnett's paper "led directly to the 2008 classification of the bears as a 'threatened' species, whose survival is allegedly at risk due to global warming." The editorial, titled "The (polar) bear facts," concluded that there is "no need to weep for 'threatened' polar bears just yet - nor, especially, for the planet."
In fact, the Fish and Wildlife Service's determination that "the polar bear is threatened throughout its entire range by ongoing and projected changes in sea ice habitat" was based on a comprehensive evaluation of "the best available scientific and commercial information on polar bear habitat and projected effects of various factors (including climate change) on the quantity and distribution of polar bear habitat."
Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity stated in response to Sen. James Inhofe's claim that Monnett's paper provided "the foundation" for the FWS determination: "That paper was one of literally hundreds of scientific articles cited in the listing."
Indeed, the determination cites many studies documenting how the "observed declines in the extent of Arctic sea ice" has and will affect polar bears, for instance:
From the August 11 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Loading the player reg...
Conservative media have used the suspension of federal scientist Charles Monnett to declare that polar bears are not threatened and that global warming is a "hoax." Media Matters researchers Jocelyn Fong and Shauna Theel discuss these claims on this week's edition of Environment Matters.
In response to the suspension of federal scientist Charles Monnett, who authored a 2006 article documenting polar bear deaths, conservative media have claimed that the case exposes "the global warming fraud" and that polar bears are not threatened by climate change. In fact, extensive research establishes that polar bears are vulnerable to extinction due to decreasing sea ice, and human-induced global warming is supported by a robust body of evidence independent of any polar bear studies.
In recent weeks, the right-wing media have used reports of wildlife deaths -- particularly those of bats and birds -- in order to attack wind energy. Although wind turbines are responsible for a number of wildlife deaths, precautions are being taken to reduce the number of deaths caused by wind turbines annually. As unfortunate as these wildlife deaths are, the fact remains that wind turbines provide more benefit to the environment than they do harm to wildlife.
Animals affected by wind turbines have included birds, Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, and bats. The right-wing media found these deaths significant, but presumably only because it suits their alternate energy bashing agenda.
Fox Nation asked, "Bald Eagles vs [sic] Wind Farms: Who Wins?"
From the June 27 edition of Fox Business' America's Nightly Scoreboard:
Loading the player reg...
From the June 15 edition of Fox Business' Follow the Money:
Loading the player reg...
The June 2 broadcast of Fox & Friends devoted two segments to hyping GOP lawmakers' and oil companies' claims that a Texas lizard will cost "thousands of Texas oil jobs" and could cause "the price of gas [to] go up as well."
The segments centered on this: environmental groups have long been asking the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the dunes sagebrush lizard -- whose habitat in New Mexico and Texas has been severely threatened by "oil and gas activities, and herbicide treatments" -- as an endangered species. Oil companies and Texas lawmakers say the listing would harm the oil and gas industry in the Permian Basin, an area of prolific oil fields in which the lizards' habitat is located. Environmentalists say such claims are greatly exaggerated and that the area of affected land is very small.
Of course, you can guess how this unfolded on the very environmentally-unfriendly Fox News Channel. First, co-host Steve Doocy invited Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a vocal opponent of designating the lizard as an endangered species, on the show to explain how the designation could, in Doocy's words, cost "thousands of Texas oil jobs" and cause "the price of gas [to] go up." From the show: