The media heralded a report in early 2014, which claimed that building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant impact on climate change. Since then, multiple studies have found that same report to be flawed, but most mainstream media outlets have refused to give these studies coverage.
President Obama has stated that he would not approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands crude from Canada through the United States, if it "significantly exacerbate[s] the problem of carbon pollution." So when the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact statement concluding that the Keystone XL would not have a significant impact on climate change, the media touted State's findings as justification for the contentious pipeline's approval.
However, various studies have since called the State Department's report into question, finding specifically that their climate impact analysis is likely inaccurate. The agency's conclusion rests on the assumption that if the Keystone XL is not approved, the oil sands will simply be transported by rail instead. This may not be the case. According to Reuters, the State Department's predictions of increased rail capacity have been consistently wrong. Reuters broke the news in March that State's latest estimates of tar sands being transported by rail were overestimated by over 400 percent. But no* other major mainstream outlet reported on these findings, which undermined the claim that Keystone XL won't affect the climate - a meme many of these same outlets previously had amplified.
More recently, a study published in Nature Climate Change found that approving the Keystone XL could lead to carbon dioxide emissions four times greater than the State Department's highest estimates. Again, the findings were mostly ignored by top U.S. media outlets** -- with one notable exception. The Los Angeles Times amplified the study and its findings that State's analysis didn't account for the pipeline's impact on the global oil market, which would lead to far greater greenhouse gas emissions. The study authors projected that the pipeline will increase carbon emissions by up to 110 million metric tons due to increased global consumption, far overshooting State's projection of 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons. The oil industry has dismissed this study based on the faulty argument that the oil will be shipped by rail anyways, which Associated Press reported -- without mentioning Reuters' contradictory findings.
The authors previously concluded in a similar study that approving the Keystone XL could "potentially counteract some of the flagship emission reduction policies of the U.S. government." How many more studies and reports need to be issued before the mainstream media corrects themselves on the climate impact of approving the Keystone XL pipeline?
*According to a LexisNexis search for "keystone" from March 5 to March 8 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
**According to a search of LexisNexis and internal video archives for "keystone" from August 8 to August 11 for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and a Factiva search with the same parameters for The Wall Street Journal.
Image at the top of an oil sands site from Flickr user Pembina Institute with a Creative Commons license.
The Washington Post editorial board scolded Congress for not doing enough to act on climate change. But the board later found itself at odds with its own criticism, calling on Congress to lift a ban on crude oil exports without mentioning that doing so could further contribute to global warming.
The Washington Post recently published an editorial criticizing Congress' failure to pass any legislation to cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions to help mitigate global warming. The board commended the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for "fill[ing] Congress' irresponsible policy void," asserting that global warming is a serious problem that calls for action. From the editorial:
Here's the reality: The world is warming, scientists say humans are responsible, the United States has contributed more than any other nation to the carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere, and the problem won't get addressed any time soon without serious U.S. buy-in and leadership. The consequences of unabated warming are somewhat uncertain -- yet the possibility of very negative, perhaps catastrophic, global outcomes is too distinct to do nothing.
This is a consistent stance at the Post -- in July, the newspaper published an editorial again reprimanding Congress for its "head-in-the-sand approach to climate change." So it may come as a surprise to see the same editorial board asking Congress to implement a policy that would be a step backwards from climate action.
On August 7, the Washington Post published an editorial calling for the United States to increase exports of crude oil, which have been mostly illegal since the 1970s. The board asked Congress to "lift the ban" on crude oil exports "entirely," asserting that since crude oil production has grown in the past few years to levels greater than U.S. refineries can currently handle, increasing crude exports would help "support U.S. profits and U.S. jobs, and to tolerate imports of crude oil that U.S. refineries can handle."
The Post left out one thing: Lifting the ban could increase greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. An analysis from Oil Change International found that overturning the crude export ban would expand the global crude market and increase U.S. oil production by an additional 9.9 billion barrels by 2050, thereby increasing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 4.4 billion tons. The Post even acknowledged that lifting the ban would "encourage the development of oil fields and transport infrastructure," with no mention of that development's impact on climate change.
This statement presents a tension with the board's previous position that asked Congress to take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And the EPA's carbon pollution plan that the Post recently praised as "filling Congress' irresponsibly policy void" could be more than negated by lifting the crude export ban. The EPA plan is expected to decrease carbon dioxide emissions by up to 383 million metric tons; lifting the ban could increase emissions by almost 12 times that amount.
The Washington Post board frequently calls for "urgent" climate action, so why is it simultaneously advocating a policy that could negate it?
Photo at the top from Flickr user Terence Wright with a Creative Commons license.
A recent national report from the Government Accountability Office found that a higher regulatory standard is needed to ensure that drinking water sources are protected from fracking wastewater practices. But the largest circulating newspapers of the states with the highest levels of fracking production -- therefore among the most vulnerable to its risks -- have ignored this study.
Coal giant Murray Energy's chief executive was promoted on Fox News to express "concern" about coal miners by attacking the Obama Administration's keystone climate change legislation. Here's what wasn't mentioned during the segment -- or any time this year on Fox News prime time: the organization has been fighting an effort to regulate coal dust, which would help save hundreds of coal miners' lives.
The July 31 edition of Fox News' Your World With Neil Cavuto featured coal CEO Bob Murray to attack the Environmental Protection Agency's recently proposed carbon pollution standards. When Fox News host Neil Cavuto asked him to expand on his claim that the standards will "hurt the coal industry," Murray nearly broke down in tears while claiming that the standards will harm the industry with "no environmental benefit at all." He then touted the possibility of "clean coal technology" as a substitute, and stated, "I'm concerned about my coal miners":
Actions speak louder than words: Murray Energy has been fighting a coal dust regulation for months that would help save 1,500 coal miners' lives each year. On April 23, the U.S. Labor Department announced a long-awaited rule to regulate coal dust, which causes the deadly black lung disease; the disease has reportedly killed over 76,000 miners since 1968. The new rule would restrict exposure to coal dust to half of the current limit, a move that is estimated to lower medical bills by about $37 million a year and help save hundreds of lives. Murray Energy announced that it would file a federal lawsuit against the regulation later that day.
Fox News' prime time shows, including Your World With Neil Cavuto, have not mentioned the move to protect coal miners from coal dust, nor Murray Energy's attempt to dismantle it.*
The EPA's carbon standards will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by coal plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels and are an important effort to mitigate climate change. Their health benefits are expected to help prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in 2030. Murray Energy is attempting to sue these regulations as well, and its effort has gained support from nine state legislatures.
There was no need for him to sack these people so quickly. There was no guarantee that he'd be dramatically more profitable in, say, March 2013. But he fired them, because he's basically amoral.
*Based on a Nexis search of Fox News primetime shows for "coal dust" from January 1 to July 31.
From the July 31 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Company:
Climate change comes with a steep price tag for the economy, and mainstream media outlets are starting to get the message: NBC illustrated this by connecting "the new price of fighting fires" in California to global warming.
The July 29 edition of NBC's The Today Show reported on the extreme costs of fighting the dozens of wildfires currently burning in Yosemite National Park and across California, and how they are connected to climate change. The fires, taking place during Yosemite's driest year on record, have destroyed 20 homes and forced over 1,200 people to be evacuated. NBC correspondent Miguel Almaguer stated that the dozens of California wildfires are "costing big money," expanding that the state of California will spend $1 billion to fight wildfires this year. Almaguer also highlighted how global warming has had a direct impact on the fire, citing firefighters who are working on "the front lines of climate change":
MIGUEL ALMAGUER: Firefighters say this is the front lines of climate change.
FIREFIGHTER: The days are continuously longer, warmer, hotter periods during the summer, which helps dry the fuels out.
ALMAGUER: With record-setting wildfires in Washington and Oregon, 300-plus homes destroyed, this is the season of megafires. These massive blazes burning bigger, hotter, faster than ever before. In California where nearly 5,000 wildfires have burned this year, they'll spend $1 billion to fight flames. The price tag for a single retardant drop from a DC-10: $60,000.
FIREFIGHTER: It is not a cheap venture. Absolutely. It costs money to make these things happen. We are in unprecedented conditions.
ALMAGUER: The new cost of fighting fires to protect what is priceless in a season like no other.
The broadcast aired the same day that the White House Council of Economic Advisors released a report detailing the economic costs of not acting on climate change. The report found that the nation will suffer $150 billion in economic damages each year if we fail to prevent global temperatures from increasing two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Another recent report released by the Risky Business Project determined that a "business as usual" approach to climate change will cost the nation up to $507 billion in property damages by 2100. And the National Climate Assessment recently found that the United States is already paying an economic price for climate change. These findings illustrate why it is necessary to act on climate change as soon as possible; further delay may make the problem unavoidable.
Australia last week became "the world's first developed nation to repeal carbon laws that put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions." The country's carbon tax, which has been a passionate political topic there for more almost a decade, was finally instituted in 2012. But after a new conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, was elected in September 2013, the carbon tax was aggressively targeted and then successfully repealed by Australia's Senate on July 17.
The retreat represents a win for climate deniers in Australia who dismiss the looming dangers of climate change and the science behind it. (It's "absolute crap," claimed Abbott, echoing Tea Party-type rhetoric in the United States.) It's a win for energy and mining interests who claimed the Australian tax was too burdensome
The retreat also signals a victory for Rupert Murdoch, the Australian native whose media empire, News Corp., did everything in its power to elect Abbott last fall and to attack the tax. Days before the repeal vote, Murdoch spoke out again against climate change science, telling an Australian interviewer it should be treated with great skepticism. Murdoch's dismissal stands in stark contrast to his 2007 proclamation that "climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats."
Murdoch's anti-climate change crusade in Australia certainly mirrors his company's commitment to misinformation in America, and highlights the dangers of having news media moguls who are dedicated to propaganda efforts regarding pressing public policy issues. (Murdoch is currently eyeing a bid to buy media giant Time Warner.) Indeed, Murdoch's media properties in Australia have been shown repeatedly to be wildly unfair and unbalanced when it comes to the topic of climate change.
Australia's carbon emissions repeal represents a dramatic U-turn for a country that just a few years ago was seen as a leader on the global issue under the guidance of previous Labor Party prime minsters, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. "The Brookings Institution has previously described Australia as an "important laboratory and learning opportunity" for U.S. thinking about climate change and energy policy, as it was one of the first major countries outside Europe to adopt a carbon price," The Wall Street Journal recently noted.
From the July 23 edition of TawkrTV's The Bill Press Show:
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The globe recently experienced the hottest June on record, fitting in with the trend of global warming. Yet several top media outlets reported on the announcement without mentioning climate change at all.
2014 has been a record-breaking year for global temperatures. On July 21, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association announced that the average global temperature for the month of June was the hottest experienced for 134 years of records. This finding follows the hottest May on record, the hottest March to June period on record, and the third hottest first half of the year on record. The average ocean surface temperatures for the month of June were the warmest on record for any month of the year. NOAA's climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt explained succinctly to the Associated Press -- the only top U.S. print source* that reported on the findings in the context of global warming -- stating that the planet is in the "steroid era of the climate system." Climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck added: "This is what global warming looks like."
But if you consume mainstream media, you likely missed this context. CBS, NBC, MSNBC, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal,** and The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang all covered the announcement without mentioning its key context: global warming, driven by human activities, is making hotter temperatures the norm.
The July 21 edition of ABC's World News With Diane Sawyer was the only broadcast network program to report on the record in the context of global warming, introducing it as "a new statistic for arguments about climate change," and going on to discuss extreme weather events currently happening across the United States:
From the July 22 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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A Media Matters study found that most network nightly news programs this year are on track to offer no more coverage of global warming than they did in 2013. However, PBS NewsHour remains a notable exception, covering climate change more than any other network and interviewing the largest number of scientists on the topic.
During the first six months of 2014, PBS NewsHour produced more news that featured climate change than any other major network evening broadcast, continuing a trend that Media Matters identified in both 2012 and 2013. The program aired 28 stories that at least mentioned global warming, nearly as much as all coverage combined from ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News during the same period, and four times the amount of coverage from ABC World News alone. Among all major nightly news programs, ABC by far offered its viewers the least coverage that gave any substantial mention of global warming, with only seven stories. While it is worth noting that NewsHour is an hour-long broadcast compared to the half hour broadcasts on the other networks, it nonetheless offered more than double the number of stories offered by its closest network news competitor, CBS Evening News.
ABC World News' lack of climate coverage so far this year correlates with its 2013 coverage when the program aired the fewest stories among all network nightly news shows, a flip in coverage from 2012 when the network was second only to PBS in such coverage.
Of the 28 stories that PBS NewsHour aired, 16 were segments focused on global warming. PBS NewsHour's coverage offered analysis of significant policy developments and major international reports, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution standards and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report that found climate change already has taken a toll on the planet and warned that food security and economic growth would be undermined if carbon pollution is not drastically cut. The program also connected unusual events, such as diseased starfish in the Pacific Northwest and coastal flooding on Alaska's North Slope, to the broader climate context.
More scientists were interviewed about climate change on PBS NewsHour than on any other network nightly news broadcast. During the first six months of the year, the NewsHour featured 14 scientists in its reports on global warming, nearly as many as the combined total of 16 scientists who appeared on all nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC. For an issue firmly based in scientific research and evidence, PBS NewsHour relied heavily on scientists, only turning to six media figures and six politicians during the first half of 2014.
This report analyzes news coverage of "climate change" and "global warming" that aired on PBS NewsHour, ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News between January 1, 2014, and June 30, 2014. Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript and/or or a definitive statement about climate change). Transcripts from Nexis and Media Matters' internal video archives, as well as the Internet Archive online database, were used to collect these stories.
After calling for major network news outlets to air more reporting about climate change, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) praised the finding that Sunday morning news shows dramatically increased their coverage of the climate crisis.
"This is a step in the right direction. Global warming is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet," Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a written statement.
A Media Matters analysis found that ABC's This Week, CBS' Face The Nation, NBC's Meet The Press and FOX Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday included 1 hour, 5 minutes of reporting related to climate change during the first six months of 2014 -- as much as these outlets aired in the previous four years combined.
In response to a year of lackluster coverage assessed in a 2013 Media Matters study, a group of nine U.S. senators demanded that Sunday morning news shows broadcast more reporting about global warming in a January 16 letter to executives at the major broadcast networks. In the letter, they decried how "shockingly little discussion" the Sunday shows devoted to climate change, which poses a "huge threat" to the United States and planet as was confirmed this year in reports issued by the federal government, international climate experts and the business community. From the letter:
We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of attention to climate change on such Sunday news shows as ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS's "Face the Nation," and "Fox News Sunday."
According to the scientific community, climate change is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet. The scientists who have studied this issue are virtually unanimous in the view that climate change is occurring, that it poses a huge threat to our nation and the global community, and that it is caused by human activity. In fact, 97% of researchers actively publishing in this field agree with these conclusions.
The scientific community and governmental leaders around the world rightly worry about the horrific dangers we face if we do not address climate change. Sea level rise will take its toll on coastal states. Communities will be increasingly at risk of billions of dollars in damages from more extreme weather. And farmers may see crops and livestock destroyed as worsening drought sets in. Yet, despite these warnings, there has been shockingly little discussion on the Sunday morning news shows about this critically important issue. This is disturbing not only because the millions of viewers who watch these shows deserve to hear that discussion, but because the Sunday shows often have an impact on news coverage in other media throughout the week.
One month later, on February 16, every major Sunday show offered at least one substantial mention of climate change in a shift that Sanders' office noted at the time. However, some segments used false balance to frame their climate coverage. These broadcasts misled audiences with flawed debates that allowed guests to question the very premise of global warming, contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made climate change is real. In fact, nearly 30 minutes of all Sunday segments included false balance. CBS' Face the Nation was the only Sunday show that avoided introducing false balance into its program during the first half of 2014. In light of that change in coverage, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told the National Journal that: "It's time to move on from treating climate change as a debate and talk about what we can do about it for people's lives and businesses."
In April, while standing on the Senate Floor, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) stressed the need for more climate coverage and the danger of airing false balance on the science behind global warming, saying, "The denier castle is crumbling."
A Media Matters analysis finds that the Sunday shows covered climate change more in the first half of 2014 than in the last four years combined, following a push from nine U.S. Senators for increased coverage. Although these shows gave the issue more coverage, at times they used false balance, enshrouding the scientific consensus surrounding climate change.
A Daily Caller article cites an increase in the populations of two penguin species to dismiss "global warming scares" that climate change poses a dangerous threat to these animals. But the population "increases" are partially due to better census data, while penguins globally are declining and remain extremely vulnerable to global warming.
Two species of penguins appear to be increasing in population, according to recent census data: the Adélie Penguin and the Emperor Penguin (for reference, those are the two species featured in the animated movie Happy Feet). The Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch trumpeted these findings as a victory against "global warming alarmists, like Al Gore," who have "claimed that penguin populations are in deep trouble due to global warming." Bastasch asserted: "The global population of penguins has boomed."
Not quite. One reason for the observed population increase in Adélie and Emperor Penguins is that scientists are simply better at finding them. The scientists found that a much larger portion of the Adélie population lives in East Antarctica than previously thought, discovering 17 previously unknown colonies. This is enough to offset the decline of Adélie Penguins on the West Antarctic Peninsula, where an ice sheet is melting in warm ocean waters at a rate that in May scientists described as "unstoppable." Heather Lynch, assistant professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University and the lead author of the study, explained in an email to Media Matters that "while the increase in abundance is real," more accurate census data played a role.
And while one species of penguin might be increasing, several others are decreasing. Lynch noted that "many" penguin species have been declining, "particularly temperate species," as well as chinstrap penguins which are "declining across most if not all of their range."
Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist with the Woods Hole Institute, stated to Media Matters that several penguin species are listed as endangered; at least eight as of 2011. Jenouvrier added that their work shows that Emperor Penguins -- one of the species Bastasch cited as growing in size -- should also be listed as endangered, but that "large uncertainties have so far hampered the listing," including the fact that it is "difficult to obtain [a] reliable estimate of [the] global population." Research has shown how Emperor penguins are extremely vulnerable to global warming.
Ron Naveen, a scientist who has been leading the Antarctic Site Inventory project for 20 years, stated in an email to Media Matters that Bastasch's allegation that penguin populations are "booming" is "way off base":
To suggest that Adélies are booming isn't the story, nor is it accurate. To suggest that ALL penguins globally are booming is also, way off base. The only way to know, really know, that would be to compare sat[ellite] phot[o] analyses from decades previous -- and, of course, that's not possible. The technology didn't exist back then.
The real story is that we humans now have much better tools to detect and assess change.
Scientists have been warning for years that global warming poses a critical threat for many species of penguin. Warming ocean waters and reduced sea ice cover are responsible for a major decline in the krill population, the penguins' primary food source, and sea ice loss threatens their nesting grounds. And many species are already suffering from a changed climate, with nearly 50 percent of chick deaths in the largest colony of Magellanic penguins directly attributed to global warming in one year.
Lynch stated that media "are cherry picking" her findings "for and against a climate-change story here." This is becoming the norm at the Daily Caller, which has a history of bastardizing science to dismiss the threat of climate change.
From the July 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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