Environment & Science

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  • Will Climate Change Come Up In The Second Presidential Debate?

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    By any reasonable measure, climate change is a serious issue that is worthy of significant attention during the presidential debates. Yet as our debate scorecard documented, the topic was ignored by the moderators of the first presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate, further heightening the need for ABC’s Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper to lead a substantial climate discussion when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump square off on October 9.

    Global warming is having profound and wide-ranging impacts in the United States, and a climate question would be just as relevant to a discussion about national security, the economy, or public health as it would be to a discussion about environmental protection. And as climate scientist Michael Mann recently pointed out, climate change meets all the key criteria for a debate question:

    Indeed, the stakes for climate action are high this election year, and the gulf between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the issue is massive.

    The Obama administration has taken many important steps to combat climate change, including the Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, and the historic international agreement to cut global emissions reached in Paris, which was recently ratified by enough countries to formally take effect. But the next president could either help these climate policies come to fruition or try to undercut them.

    Clinton has said she will “[d]efend, implement, and extend” key climate policies, including the Clean Power Plan, and “deliver on the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference.” Trump, meanwhile, has said he will “cancel” the Paris climate agreement, “rescind” the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, initiate a “targeted review” of the Clean Power Plan, and dismantle the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

    Americans deserve to hear more detailed explanations of these proposals, and the upcoming debates provide the best and most high-profile opportunities before Election Day for that conversation to occur. But it can’t be taken for granted. In 2012, the presidential candidates were not asked about climate change in any of the general election debates. And this cycle, Trump has yet to field a single climate change question through one general election debate and 11 GOP primary debates (he skipped one).

    The story is much the same throughout the country, as our scorecard shows. Through the first 21 debates in the presidential election and closely-contested Senate and governors’ races, only two debates -- in New Hampshire and Vermont -- have included questions about climate change. Like the presidential election, these races could also have climate consequences. Newly-elected senators could propose new climate legislation, or they could seek to block the EPA from limiting carbon pollution. And newly-elected governors could either work constructively with the EPA, or fight tooth and nail against implementing the Clean Power Plan.

    Thankfully, it’s not too late for citizens to make their voices heard and convince moderators to ask about climate change in upcoming debates. The nonprofit and nonpartisan Open Debate Coalition notes that the ABC and CNN moderators of the next presidential debate have “agreed to consider the Top 30 questions voted up” on the coalition’s website. The following climate-related questions are currently among the top 30 vote-getters:

    Citizens can also request climate change questions in several Senate and governors’ debates. In Arizona, Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, has an online form for submitting questions ahead of the October 10 Senate debate. In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association told Media Matters that citizens can suggest questions on Twitter during the October 14 Senate debate, using the hashtag #wbadebate. In Ohio, WBNS-10TV is accepting video questions that may appear during its October 17 Senate debate. In Vermont, roundtable organizers will be crowdsourcing questions on Twitter in advance of the October 17 governors’ debate using the hashtag #innov802. And in Indiana, the Indiana Debate Commission has an online form for submitting questions for all of the state’s Senate and gubernatorial debates.

    We’ll be continuing to update the scorecard with additional information about upcoming debates right up until Election Day -- including an update soon on whether climate change comes up at the October 9 presidential debate.

  • Matt Drudge Peddles Irresponsible Conspiracy Theory Downplaying Deadly Hurricane Matthew

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    As millions evacuate the east coast of Florida in preparation for Hurricane Matthew, which has already been responsible for more than 113 deaths across the Caribbean, the curator of the most widely read conservative website, Matt Drudge, irresponsibly peddled a conspiracy theory that federal officials have exaggerated the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew “to make exaggerated point on climate.”

    On October 6, Drudge claimed “the deplorables” were wondering if the government was lying about the intensity of the deadly hurricane and also questioned the legitimacy of the National Hurricane Center’s data:

    [Twitter, 10/6/16]


    [Twitter, 10/6/16]

    Drudge also used his website, one of the most widely read sites on the internet, DrudgeReport.com to put Florida residents in danger and push the conspiracy theory with a banner titled “STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED!,” alongside links titled “IT’S A 4?” and “RESIDENTS NOT TAKING SERIOUSLY...”.

    In direct contrast to Drudge, Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott warned those in the hurricane’s path that “this storm will kill you,” while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) described the storm as “dangerous.” Fox News host Shepard Smith warned Floridians that if they did not evacuate “you and everyone you know is dead,” and that “you can’t survive it,” while The National Weather Service for Melbourne, Florida warned residents that the storm was “LIFE-THREATENING,” and “more impacting than Hurricane David and 2004 hurricanes!”:

    Drudge joined Rush Limbaugh in peddling irresponsible conspiracy theories about the hurricane, placing their audience in danger. Earlier, Limbaugh downplayed the storm by ranting about “politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes,” and previously claimed the National Hurricane Center is "playing games" with "hurricane forecasting" to convince viewers of climate change.

    UPDATE: Conspiracy theorist and Trump ally Alex Jones retweeted Matt Drudge, expressing support and agreement with his dangerous hurricane conspiracy while adding the white supremacist “altright” hashtag:

     

  • Media Should Not Forget About Climate Change In Coverage Of Hurricane Matthew

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Hurricane Matthew was reportedly the strongest hurricane to hit Haiti since 1964, and the National Hurricane Center is now warning that there is “a danger of life-threatening inundation during the next 36 hours along the Florida east coast and Georgia coast.” Alerting the public to the threat and urging people to take all precautions necessary to stay safe are the top priorities for reporters covering this historic storm. But media outlets should also keep the broader climate change context in mind as they report on Hurricane Matthew in the coming days.

    When record-breaking rainfall and flooding struck Louisiana in August, major newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post addressed how the devastation was in line with the predicted impacts of a warming planet, but the major TV networks’ nightly newscasts did not. As CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter noted at the time, it’s essential for media to explain that extreme weather events “are happening more often due to climate change and are more extreme due to climate change,” particularly in the “early stages” of covering a weather disaster.

    Time will tell if the major television networks cover the relationship between climate change and Hurricane Matthew, but the scientific evidence is clear.

    As Climate Nexus’ Climate Signals has explained, Matthew has been “fueled by seas warmer than the historical average” and the threat of catastrophic flooding from heavy rainfall is “significantly amplified by climate change”:

    As the global temperature has increased, so too has the capacity of the atmosphere to hold and dump more water. At the same time warming of the ocean increases evaporation making more moisture available to the atmosphere. In parallel, coastal flooding has been amplified by sea level rise which extends the reach of storm surge driven by hurricanes such as Matthew.

    Similarly, The Guardian reported on October 5 that scientists say major storms like Matthew “will grow in menace as the world warms and sea levels rise.” The article quoted Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Kerry Emanuel, who said, “We expect to see more high-intensity events, category 4 and 5 events” due to global warming, and “there are hints that we are already beginning to see it in nature.” The Guardian also cited James Done of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who said, “The message is that hurricanes that do occur in the future, the major ones, will be stronger. Category four and five hurricanes could double or triple in the coming decades.”

    Emanuel added that scientists expect the damage from hurricanes like Matthew to “steadily increase” as sea levels continue to rise over the rest of the century.