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to the National Climatic Data Center, Varney incorrectly asserted that Sandy cost $19 billion in damages (this outdated number represented predicted damages to New York City only).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.
Fox News is calling mileage-based user fees that several states are considering "Orwellian," implying the government would be able to track your vehicle without permission and perhaps even "shut your car off." But the network's segment left out that such proposals generally include devices that cannot track your location and certainly cannot turn off your car, satisfying both the American Civil Liberties Union and several conservative organizations.
In a segment featuring no voices in defense of mileage-based user fees (MBUF), Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum declared such proposals the "most Orwellian thing I've ever heard." MacCallum hosted Berkeley Varitronics Systems President Scott Schober, who suggested the government may be able to "shut your car off" if you do not pay the fees. MacCallum added that if "somebody is stalking you and they want to know where you're going, they could very well hack right into this system and follow you." The segment was so conspiratorial that fellow Fox News anchor Jon Scott joked that "I see the black helicopters over your studio right now":
Ryan Morrison, Founder and CEO of True Mileage, Inc. -- a company that designs devices that could be used for MBUF -- said this "definitely sounds like misinformation." In a phone conversation with Media Matters, Morrison said "no company or departments of transportation are looking into devices that could shut off a car." He added that "certainly no one would be able to do anything like that with our devices, and the only time that I've heard of something like that is with a LoJack" for stolen vehicles.
In addition, according to Morrison, most proposals are suggesting allowing citizens to choose whether to install devices without GPS-tracking -- such as his company's -- or to install ones that do have GPS-tracking -- in order to save money when they travel out of state or on less congested roads. For instance, Oregon, which has moved forward with a pilot program for a MBUF (also known as a "vehicle-miles traveled" (VMT) fee), would allow participants to choose devices that do not have GPS tracking and delete personal data after 30 days. The American Civil Liberties Union is reportedly "satisfied with the privacy protections" in Oregon's program.
Fox Nation is claiming that "Wind Turbines [are] Making Cape Codders Sick" based on an ABCNews.com article. But the story of a resident in that article illustrates that there is no demonstrated impact of wind turbines on health, while substantial evidence suggests that reported health effects are psychological rather than physical in origin.
ABC News' article began with the story of a resident of Falmouth, Massachusetts, who lived near a wind turbine: "Sue Hobart, a bridal florist from Massachusetts, couldn't understand why she suddenly developed headaches, ringing in her ears, insomnia and dizziness to the point of falling 'flat on my face' in the driveway." However, in an online interview with an anti-wind activist, Hobart admitted that she had suffered from ringing in her ears for "quite a while," but claimed it had gotten worse "since the turbines." Hobart, who has compared living near a wind turbine to being in the "line of fire" in a "war zone," attributed various other symptoms to "wind turbine syndrome" in that interview, saying she had "no appetite" in her home and was experiencing "just unrest -- just not being able to settle down -- not really feeling relaxed."
ABC News claimed that based on these self-reported symptoms, "a doctor at Harvard Medical School diagnosed Hobart with wind turbine syndrome, which is not recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." However, in an email to Media Matters, the doctor in question, Dr. Steven Rauch, clarified that there is "no way I can make a definite diagnosis of WTS [Wind Turbine Syndrome]":
Her symptoms were consistent with a diagnosis of WTS but there are no standard diagnostic criteria nor objective tests to confirm the diagnosis. There is no way I can make a definite diagnosis of WTS nor is there any way I can definitely exclude the diagnosis.
A 2011 literature review published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Health Journal stated that "[g]iven that annoyance appears to be more strongly related to visual cues and attitude than to noise itself, self reported health effects of people living near wind turbines are more likely attributed to physical manifestation from an annoyed state than from infrasound." That review also noted that infrasound is "ubiquitous" in the world, emitted from, among other things, air-conditioning units, cars, and even ocean waves.
A New York Magazine report explained there is significant evidence that "wind turbine syndrome" may be psychological in origin, even if, as with a placebo effect, residents experience real physical impacts:
Large-scale population surveys conducted by scientists in Sweden and the Netherlands have found that stress and sleep disturbances were more likely if the turbines were visible and less likely if the individuals benefitted economically from them. Other studies found that having a bad attitude about the turbines and subjective sensitivity to noise were more likely to lead to annoyance and negative health effects than actual exposure to audible sound or infrasound. (Back in 2007, three years before the Falmouth turbines were even built, a handful of residents expressed concern about the potential for illness after reading about symptoms online, and those health effects were even written up in the local newspaper.) And in recent lab tests, subjects who were told to expect side effects from infrasound ahead of time felt some of those symptoms even when they were exposed to sham infrasound.
Hobart is not alone in reporting health effects from the wind turbines. Other Falmouth residents have testified that "wind turbine syndrome" may be behind a wide variety of symptoms, including "eye discharge," "high blood pressure," "drinking," and "anger." But these residents are a minority. New York Magazine reported that "[o]f the nearly 200 or so households located within a half-mile of a turbine in Falmouth, only about 24 complain of symptoms."
Why would some residents complain of symptoms while many others do not if the origin is physical rather than related to a predisposition against the turbines? And why would those that have installed wind turbines on their property have lower rates of "wind turbine syndrome" than those farther away if it is not related to the revenue they're receiving?
In an online post Hobart said, "I am OVER with the peer review double-blind scientific bullshitometer they all hide behind." However, without double-blind studies, biases such as these can be introduced to studies on "wind turbine syndrome," severely undermining their findings.
For instance, it may be more than a coincidence that the pediatrician who coined the term "wind turbine syndrome" and promoted the stories of people such as Hobart, Dr. Nina Pierpont, is married to an anti-wind activist who compared the fight against the "wind bastards" to the Civil Rights movement:
As Rosa Parks did, when she sparked the Civil Rights movement: you need to refuse to give up your seat to the wind bastard on the bus.
Fox is accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of a "power grab" for proposing a rule to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. In fact, the new classification is based on sound science and intended to address years' worth of confusion surrounding the proper protection of the nation's waterways.
Newly-proposed guidelines would allow "greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by providing clarity in determining where the Clean Water Act (CWA) applies," per the EPA, specifically by incorporating recent research on the extent to which small streams and wetlands connect to larger bodies of water downstream. That research, which is under review by the EPA's Science Advisory Board, found that small streams, even those that only flow at certain times, "are connected to and have important effects on downstream waters," and that wetlands are similarly integrated, making them subject to CWA protection.
That is, unless you ask Fox News and Fox Business. This week, the networks have adopted the complaints of GOP lawmakers to claim that the EPA is only using the study to justify a "power grab." Lou Dobbs claimed on his show that the clarified jurisdiction represented "unprecedented control over private property" -- "maybe" extending to "mud puddles." And Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano baselessly asserted on Fox & Friends that the study is "bogus" -- merely a rationalization to "regulate all bodies of water" and "control more behavior."
Despite these claims, the new EPA study did not provide the basis for regulating "all bodies of water" (or "mud puddles"). It found that the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could evaluate small streams on a case-by-case basis to determine their impact downstream. The rule is necessary because the parameters of the CWA are currently quite muddled, as even conservative critics and industry lawyers have noted in the past. This process is in keeping with the March 2013 decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, which re-affirmed nearly unanimously that federal agencies are granted a wide berth in interpretations of their own rules.
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."
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:
From the October 3 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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Fox News misleadingly suggested that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz declared bankrupt solar company Solyndra a "success" in recent remarks. In fact, he was praising the broader clean energy loan program that supported it, noting that its loan recipients, such as Tesla Motors, are mostly still in business.
The new attack came after Moniz defended the Department of Energy's (DOE) green loan initiative in an interview with C-SPAN. He explained that despite the hype surrounding Solyndra, the portfolio has been a "terrific success," as evidenced by the fact that losses represent only a little over 2 percent of the $34.4 billion in loan guarantees, and under 10 percent of the reserve fund that Congress set aside to cover any defaults, knowing that not every company would succeed. Indeed, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis, the amount set aside by Congress for defaults will be more than enough even if every high-risk project fails. This is indicative of the caution that undergirded the program, which mostly apportioned funds to inherently low-risk power generation projects.
But Wednesday's edition of Fox & Friends suggested that Moniz was championing one of the program's rare failures, running a clip from Moniz's interview with a chyron reading "CELEBRATING SOLYNDRA. Energy Official: Failed Solar Co. A 'Success.'"
Watch what Moniz said and how Fox News reported it:
Fox has repeatedly seized on individual companies' troubles to declare the entire solar industry either on the "brink of collapse" or "tanking our economy." Media at-large have not been much better, relentlessly promoting Solyndra as the face of the green loan program and, at times, of clean energy itself, even as they ignored other, more promising developments. However, contrary to this narrative, clean energy sources including solar, are on the rise:
A Fox News anchor suggested that since the majority of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees have been furloughed under the government shutdown, we should simply do without them even after it has been resolved. However, EPA employees furloughed include those in charge of cleaning up hundreds of hazardous waste sites and enforcing clean air and water laws.
On Wednesday, Fox News' America's Newsroom noted that less than 7 percent of the over 16,000 EPA employees would be working during the government shutdown (about 1,000 total employees). Co-anchor Martha MacCallum laughed that "some" have "asked why we need the other 15,000 EPA workers at all," adding that these were "valid questions":
The "some" who are asking this are several Republican lawmakers behind the government shutdown. For instance, Rep. Steve Stockman who has rallied for the shutdown, tweeted a Washington Examiner article suggesting furloughed employees may be "non-essential" long-term, and re-tweeted a follower celebrating the idea that they wouldn't return:
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."