Right-wing media outlets have advanced a number of myths regarding automatic across-the-board spending cuts -- commonly called the sequester -- in order to hide the facts behind an inherently harmful economic policy.
Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the "controversy" over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.
Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded "experts" a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.
The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change." Every year, Heartland hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change," bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.
Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland's environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses "alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed," and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the "the Little Ice Age and the Black Death." But that hasn't stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn't stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.
In order to distract from the announcement this week that Arctic sea ice is at a record low, right-wing media are pointing to Antarctic sea ice as proof that climate change isn't occurring. But Antarctic sea ice gains have been slight, whereas Arctic ice decline -- a key indicator of climate change -- has been extreme. Furthermore, scientists have long expected the Arctic to experience the first impacts of climate change, and still project that in the long run, sea ice in both regions will decline as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.
On September 16, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent for the year and the lowest seasonal minimum measured since record keeping began in 1979. But in a blog post published the day of that record low, climate contrarian Steven Goddard changed the subject, asserting that Antarctic ice on "day 256" (September 12 in a leap year) was the highest ever recorded for that date, and the eighth highest daily recording ever. A few days earlier, contrarian Anthony Watts cited satellite readings showing "mass gains of the Antarctic ice sheet" to similar end.
Heartland Institute fellow and Forbes contributor James Taylor quickly seized on the argument, complaining that instead of covering the Antarctic, news reporters were "breathlessly spreading fear and warning of calamity because Arctic sea ice recently set a 33-year low." Investor's Business Daily used the Antarctic ice growth to pass judgment on "global warming alarmists" for noting record summer temperatures across much of the U.S. and concluded " The alarmists' bible has turned out to be full of false prophets."
But the low Arctic sea ice came on the heels of a "record-breaking summer," and it is lower than any since observation began "by a wide margin." According to a NASA release on the record, the difference between the new Arctic sea ice extent and the old mark is larger than the state of Texas, whereas, as National Snow & Ice Date Center [NSIDC] Director Mark Serreze told LiveScience, "Antarctic sea ice hasn't seen these big reductions we've seen in the Arctic."
Indeed, the daily sea ice extent for the Arctic is well outside of two standard deviations from the 1997-2000 average, while the Antarctic daily sea ice extent is only slightly outside of this range for 2012:
And according to a study published in Nature of 69 sites around the Arctic, the drop in late summer sea ice in the Arctic is unprecedented in over a thousand years:
Conservative media have claimed that the Obama administration is waging a "war" on "cheap," "clean" coal that will cause blackouts and massive layoffs. In fact, the Obama administration has simply implemented long overdue and legally required clean air regulations to protect public health without hurting electric reliability or employment, and much of the transition away from coal is due to the rise of cheaper, cleaner natural gas.
Natural gas can help the U.S. transition away from reliance on coal in the near-term if it is produced responsibly. But conservative media have dismissed the risks involved with the rapid spread of natural gas extraction to push for deregulation, attack the Obama administration, and ignore the need for a comprehensive energy policy to transition to renewable energy.
A recent Forbes column alleges that federal scientists are "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend, after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the last 12-month period was the warmest on record for the continental U.S.
But what the column paints as a nefarious conspiracy is actually just proper science -- NOAA painstakingly applies peer-reviewed adjustments to account for errors and gaps in the raw data from thousands of temperature stations across the country. The resulting temperature record has been independently evaluated and corroborated.
The column is by James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, the libertarian group that recently made headlines with a short-lived billboard campaign tastelessly invoking the Unabomber. This is not the first time Taylor has used his platform at Forbes to malign scientists and spread bad information about climate research.
At issue are the corrections NOAA uses to eliminate errors and known sources of bias from the raw weather station data (which Taylor likes to call "the real-world data"). Keep in mind that the U.S. represents just 2% of the Earth's surface so the data we're talking about are a small part of the evidence of global climate change.
The scientists (Taylor calls them "bureaucrats") know that the raw data have flaws -- stations are moved, natural disasters knock stations offline, measuring instruments change -- so NOAA performs quality control using methods that are published in peer-reviewed papers. Taylor concedes that "it is, of course, possible that certain factors can influence the real-world temperature readings such that a correction in real-world temperature data may be justified." But when he doesn't like the results, he concludes that the adjustments aren't valid corrections but "doctored data."
Following relentless attacks on the solar industry in the wake of Solyndra's bankruptcy, wind power has become the latest target of the right-wing campaign against renewable energy. But contrary to the myths propagated by the conservative media, wind power is safe, increasingly affordable, and has the potential to significantly reduce pollution and U.S. reliance on fossil fuels.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day, rallying across the country to raise awareness about pressing environmental challenges. Organized by a Democratic senator and a Republican congressman, Earth Day 1970 "achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats," according to Earth Day Network, and provided momentum for the passage of landmark legislation to protect our air, water, and endangered species.
But in today's political climate, even Earth Day has become the target of partisan attacks from the right.
This past Sunday, as millions of Americans celebrated Earth Day, conservative media figures spent the day downplaying the impact of human activity on the environment, advocating for more fossil fuel development, and taking credit for misleading the public about the threat of climate change. Others attempted to spread fear about the holiday by noting that it falls on Vladimir Lenin's birthday, and by linking it to a convicted murderer who falsely claimed to be behind the first Earth Day.
And one right-wing blogger recalled how he tried to delay his son's birth because he "really didn't want a child born on Earth Day."
It was not long ago that Earth Day -- and the values of conservation and environmental responsibility it represents -- enjoyed bipartisan support. The Times-Picayune reported on Sunday on the shift that has taken place over the last 40 years:
Both mainstream and conservative media outlets have responded to the recent spike in gasoline prices by circulating talking points rooted in politics rather than facts. As a whole, these claims reflect the misconception, perpetuated by the news media, that changes in U.S. energy policy are a major driver of oil and gasoline prices.
The Heartland Institute's James Taylor is on the defensive after an independent study undermined critics of the temperature records establishing global warming. In his most recent Forbes.com column, Taylor accuses media outlets of knocking down a straw man in their reports on the study. But in doing so, Taylor himself advances a bad argument which misconstrues the basic physics of the climate.
Dismissing as old news the warming trend confirmed by the study, Taylor writes that temperatures have increased because the climate is "recovering from the Little Ice Age":
Very few if any skeptics assert that the earth is still in the Little Ice Age. While the Little Ice Age raged from approximately 1300 to 1900 AD, it is pretty well accepted that the Little Ice Age did indeed end by approximately 1900 AD. The mere fact that the Little Ice Age ended a little over 100 years ago, and that temperatures have warmed during the course of recovering from the Little Ice Age, tells us absolutely nothing about the remaining components necessary to support an assertion that humans are creating a global warming crisis.
This is not the first time Taylor has claimed in his weekly Forbes column that "the earth continues to recover from the abnormally cold conditions of the centuries-long Little Ice Age" and that "there was little room for temperatures to go at the time but up." But it's an entirely hollow argument.
"Recovery" from the Little Ice Age is not an explanation for warming any more than "recovery from falling" is an explanation for why a basketball bounces. University of Arizona climatologist Malcolm Hughes said via email that Taylor's claim is "as unscientific and uninformative as that other old chestnut, that 'climate has always varied,'" adding, "Science is about how things work."
In the rush to cover the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a loan guarantee from the federal government, many news media outlets have misrepresented or omitted key facts.
A New York Times/Bay Citizen article cherry-picked statistics from a Brookings Institution report and reportedly misrepresented interviews to call the goal of creating 5 million green jobs in 10 years a "pipe dream." Conservative media have seized upon the Times article to claim that "even" the "left" agrees that investment in green jobs is a "a waste of money and time."
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.
"Has a central tenant [sic] of global warming just collapsed?" That's the first sentence of a July 29 Fox News article about a recent study which shows nothing of the sort, demonstrating just how broken climate change coverage is at news outlets like Fox, where scientific illiteracy meets political slant.
Last week, Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), one of the few climate scientists who think we don't need to worry much about global warming, published a paper purportedly challenging mainstream climate models that is both limited in scope and, by many accounts, flawed. After a Forbes column by James Taylor of the libertarian Heartland Institute misinterpreted the study and declared that it blows a "gaping hole in global warming alarmism," an avalanche of conservative media outlets, including Fox, followed suit:
A Forbes column falsely attributed to climate scientist Phil Jones a quote that appears to have been written by conservative commentator Steven Hayward. The Forbes column also attempts to undermine global surface temperature records with several other misleading claims.