Conservative media are attributing California's devastating drought to a "man-made" factor -- but not the one that is actually worsening it.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently recycled many of the same claims it made in a 2009 editorial titled, "California's Man-Made Drought." Right-wing website Hot Air dubbed the drought "California's 'man-made' environmental disaster." And when potential 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina described the drought as "a man-made disaster" during an appearance on Glenn Beck's radio show, Beck demanded to know why "we don't hear that story on the news at all," while Rush Limbaugh declared that "there is a man-made lack of water in California," and "[Fiorina is] right."
No, these media figures haven't suddenly seen the light on climate change. Instead, they're using the historic drought as an opportunity to baselessly attack environmental policies.
This strategy is nothing new. For years, Republican Congressmen, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop have been repeating this same talking point on California's "man-made drought" to promote legislation that would redirect water to California's Central Valley at the expense of water currently dedicated to fish, wildlife, and habitat restoration under the Endangered Species Act. As my former employer the League of Conservation Voters put it, this legislation "uses California's current low water supplies as an excuse to weaken federal and state environmental laws." The Los Angeles Times called it "a tired political tactic barely, and laughably, disguised as a remedy for the lack of rainfall."
The multimedia financial services company The Motley Fool criticized ethanol for allegedly relying on government subsidies -- despite the fact that subsidies for corn ethanol, which comprises the vast majority of ethanol used in the country, ended years ago.
In an April 5 Motley Fool post that was posted on USAToday.com, two of their "energy experts" discussed the viability of ethanol -- which currently comprises about 10 percent of the nation's gasoline supply - as an energy source and concluded that ethanol is overly reliant on government subsidies. Travis Hoium wrote that ethanol "requires government subsidies to exist," and Jason Hall agreed that ethanol is "not cost-competitive without government subsidies."
The Motley Fool may have conflated subsidies with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which does not provide a monetary tax break but does require refiners to blend increasing amounts of renewable fuels into the nation's motor fuel supply. However, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "[fuel] suppliers would probably find it cost-effective to use a roughly 10 percent blend of corn ethanol in gasoline in 2017 even in the absence of the RFS." So even if you (wrongly) considered the RFS to be a "subsidy," The Motley Fool's claim that ethanol needs subsidies to exist simply doesn't hold water.
Meanwhile, immense subsidies are still being handed out to the polluting oil and gas industries -- a fact that was conveniently overlooked by The Motley Fool. President Obama has repeatedly proposed eliminating $4 billion in annual oil and gas handouts from the federal budget - only to have these proposals die in Congress.
From the April 3 edition of ESPN's Pardon the Interuption:
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Conservative media are grossly distorting a recent study on aerosols' climate impact as a "death blow to global warming hysteria." But the study's author himself stated in response that his research does not contradict the scientific consensus on global warming.
A recent study provided new estimates for the rate at which aerosols -- tiny particles of matter suspended in the atmosphere -- deflect the sun's rays, measuring what is known as aerosol "radiative forcing." The study from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, which analyzed data from 1850 to 1950, found that the level of radiative forcing from aerosols is "less negative" than commonly believed, suggesting that aerosols do not cool the atmosphere as much as previously thought.
According to right-wing media, the study represents a "death blow to global warming hysteria." The reasoning behind the claim, which originated in a Cato Institute blog post, is that climate models rely on aerosols to offset much of the projected greenhouse gas effect from carbon dioxide. So if aerosols offset less warming than commonly believed, Cato claims "the amount of greenhouse gas-induced warming must also be less" and "we should expect less warming from future greenhouse gas emissions than climate models are projecting." The Cato blog post was picked up by the Daily Caller, American Thinker, Alex Jones' Infowars, Investors' Business Daily, and Rush Limbaugh. Daily Caller even claimed that the recent study directly disputes the scientific findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, writing: "Basically, the IPCC says aerosols deflect a lot of warming -- the opposite of the Max Planck study's finding."
But the study does nothing to dispute the scientific consensus on global warming, according to the study's author himself. In response to media outlets using his study to make inference's about the climate's sensitivity to carbon dioxide, climate scientist Bjorn Stevens published a statement on the Max Planck Institute's website, debunking the notion that human-induced climate change is "called into question" by his study. He also wrote that his estimates of aerosol radiative forcing are "within the range" of the IPCC's previous findings (which he actually co-authored), and that "I continue to believe that warming of Earth's surface temperatures from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases carries risks that society must take seriously." From Stevens' statement:
A fringe right-wing radio host who believes the government was behind 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, and several other catastrophes, has been a key figure in the political rise of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who will reportedly announce a run for president on April 7.
Paul has credited Alex Jones, who heads conspiracy website Infowars.com and an eponymous radio program, for being a vital part of his 2010 Senate campaign. Jones endorsed Paul, turned out followers to his events, and partnered with Paul for fundraising, at one point crashing his website. Since Paul's election to the Senate, Jones has continued to serve as a key Paul booster, including endorsing him for 2016.
The fringe nature of Jones' program is apparent during the introduction of one of Jones' YouTube videos featuring Paul. The video begins with images of Nazi soldiers goose-stepping next to a Nazi flag-draped White House, and a poster claiming the government covered up 9/11. Such material is regular fodder for Jones, who is "one of the earliest and most influential 9/11 conspiracy theorists."
Paul has been a longtime guest on The Alex Jones Show, originating from Jones' friendship with Rand's father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). Jones said last year he first interviewed Rand in 1996 and was "probably one of the first people to ever interview" him.
Jones hosted Paul several times during his 2010 Senate race, telling listeners that he "can't stress enough how important this race for the Kentucky Senate is." Jones called Paul the "real McCoy" who will fight "against the New World Order" and "stop the thieving, stop the gang raping" in Washington. Jones said on his January 26, 2015, broadcast that he privately encouraged Paul to run for Senate.
From the April 2 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Right-wing media have been mocking a recent resolution to address the disproportionate impacts that women will face from climate change, laughing at the possibility that "climate change will turn women into prostitutes." But the grim reality is that climate change will affect women in ways that should not be laughed at or ignored.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation on March 25 to "recogniz[e] the disparate impact of climate change on women and the efforts of women globally to address climate change." When an identical resolution was introduced in 2013, PolicyMic reported that it would oblige Congress to "acknowledge the disparate effects that climate change will have on women, build gender into a framework for combating climate-related issues, and take steps to reverse this disparity."
Right-wing media coverage of this bill, on the other hand, has been exclusively focused on sex -- by ridiculing the notion that climate change could force women into prostitution.
Conservative news sites published scandalizing headlines such as Breitbart's "Congresswoman Claims Climate Change Will Turn Women Into Prostitutes," WorldNetDaily's "Lefty Lawmaker Warns: Climate Change Makes Women Prostitutes," Powerline's "Will Global Warming Cause Prostitution?" and Daily Caller's "Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): Global Warming Will Turn Women Into Prostitutes For Food." A blog post on the American Spectator wrote that climate change "is going to be great for dudes, who apparently don't have to worry about any negative effects of the transactional sex they engage in as a result of the warming climate." An editorial at Tennessee's Kingsport Times-News quoted the movie Forrest Gump to attack the proposal, writing: "Forrest Gump said that 'stupid is as stupid does.' Witness Rep. Barbara Lee, Democrat of California ... [who says] that global warming will force women into prostitution." Fox News' late night show Red Eye devoted several minutes to mocking the idea that climate change harms women more than men. And Rush Limbaugh asked on the March 27 edition of his show, "which came first, prostitution or climate?"
They are all are referring to a single line in the bill's text: "[F]ood insecure women with limited socioeconomic resources may be vulnerable to situations such as sex work, transactional sex, and early marriage that put them at risk for HIV, STIs, unplanned pregnancy, and poor reproductive health."
The harmful impacts of climate change on women, which Rep. Lee's resolution hopes to address, are no laughing matter. A United Nations analysis detailed how women are often more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than men, particularly in developing countries, and that it is therefore "important to identify gender-sensitive strategies to respond to the environmental and humanitarian crises caused by climate change." U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres noted further in a CNN.com op-ed that "women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt":
Fox hosts falsely attacked the Obama administration for pledging to reduce its carbon emissions, claiming that the U.S. is the only country doing so and that the move will prove unpopular. But 32 other countries -- which account for 58 percent of global emissions -- have already committed to reducing carbon pollution in advance of international climate change negotiations that will occur in December, and both the Obama administration's plan for reducing emissions and its intention to sign a global climate agreement are supported by more than two-thirds of Americans.
A Wall Street Journal editorial contradicted the Journal's own news reporting by falsely claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) never considered costs when setting regulations on mercury and other toxic air pollution. The Journal editorial also deceptively downplayed the public health benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and baselessly dismissed the dangers of mercury pollution.
From the March 25 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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At least 16 U.S. newspapers have recently published op-eds by state officials of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch brothers' political advocacy group, urging state legislatures to oppose the EPA's plan to address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants. These newspapers have consistently failed to disclose the authors' oil industry ties, and the op-eds themselves "misleadingly" cite statistics on electricity prices from an industry-funded study, as a media fact-checker has explained.
Conservative media are alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is attempting to "punish" governors who do not acknowledge climate change by "holding disaster funds hostage." In reality, FEMA is simply updating its requirements for state disaster mitigation plans to ensure that they include consideration of climate change impacts, which is essential to reduce risk from hazards that states will face as the climate continues to change.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto and the Heartland Institute's Jay Lehr denied that hydraulic fracturing has ever been "proven" to pollute water supplies, despite the hundreds of documented cases of leaky fracking wells causing groundwater contamination. Cavuto also dismissed the Bush administration's role in creating the so-called "Halliburton loophole," which exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act's restrictions on injecting toxic chemicals into the ground.
A Daily Caller article made a sweeping generalization to claim that global warming did not harm the South Pacific Islands when a deadly cyclone recently struck. But scientists quoted within the article itself explained definitively that climate change-induced sea level rise actually did worsen the cyclone's devastating impacts.
Cyclone Pam tore through the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu last weekend, killing 24 people and displacing tens of thousands of others. In response, President Baldwin Lonsdale of Vanuatu made an impassioned appeal to world leaders to act on global warming, stating that "climate change is contributing" to the nation's intense cyclones.
The conservative news site Daily Caller was quick to find fault with Lonsdale's remarks. In a March 18 article headlined: "Report: Global Warming Did Not Devastate South Pacific Islands," writer Michael Bastasch claimed that "scientists are hesitant to blame rising carbon dioxide levels for wreaking havoc on Vanuatu."
What some of the scientists had to say, however, actually agreed with the idea that climate change increased the storm's impacts -- specifically, that global warming-driven sea level rise made the effects of the cyclone far worse.
In fact, Bastasch himself ultimately noted in the article that the scientists unwilling to directly attribute Cyclone Pam to global warming were (emphasis added): "instead pointing out that sea level rises caused by global warming, not the cycles themselves, are causing more damage."
Global warming-driven sea level rise is indeed a primary factor for cyclone damage -- particularly in low-lying islands such as Vanuatu -- as it contributes to bouts of sudden extreme flooding known as storm surges. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that storm surges from hurricanes pose "the greatest threat to life and property" in coastal areas. During Cyclone Pam, the Vanuatu islands reportedly experienced storm surges as high as eight meters -- over 26 feet. Vice News reported that a 2014 NOAA study "found that changes in both ocean and atmospheric temperatures had combined to substantially increase the potential intensity of storms in the area where Pam hit."
Fox News is fearmongering that the EPA is going to monitor the shower use of hotel guests because the agency gave a research grant to college students working on a wireless device that would allow hotels to examine guests' shower use and encourage water conservation. Fox News portrayed this as a "Big Brother move," despite a complete absence of evidence that the agency will actually monitor hotel guests' water usage. Further, research into water conservation -- including this project -- is desperately needed as the West Coast suffers from a historic drought.
The EPA recently awarded the grant, for $15,000, to student researchers at the University of Tulsa. The EPA's description of the grant says the device will "assist hotel guest[s] in modifying their behavior to help conserve water."
On the March 18 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Heather Nauert reported on the story by saying, "Well, forget about taking a long, hot shower on vacation, and if you think you're doing it in private, well, you might want to think again." A graphic in the segment also gratuitously claimed: "EPA To Start Monitoring Showers At Hotels":
Other right-wing media took the fearmongering even further, publishing stories with headlines like "The EPA wants to watch you in the shower" and "New EPA Proposal Would Spy On Hotel Guests In The Shower." Rush Limbaugh baselessly warned on the March 17 edition of his radio show that if the grant is implemented, "you're gonna have one in your house before too long." He went on to say, "Everybody's afraid of this administration. Everybody is. So then the EPA is gonna monitor the length of your showers -- My point is, if this ever really happens, this is not gonna stop at hotels. You're gonna have one of these in your house."
The EPA is not going anywhere near your shower. The agency is merely supporting research that would send data on water use to a central hotel accounting system -- much like a smart meter that supplies information to utilities about residents' electricity consumption habits. The device could ultimately help companies save money as well as protect the environment. Many hotels have several conservation efforts currently in place; it makes economic sense to do so.