The final installment of the U.N.'s top climate report, which calls for prompt, extensive action to avoid calamitous impacts from climate change, garnered relatively little attention from the major print, cable and broadcast media outlets compared to the first installment. However, coverage of the third report rightfully gave far less space to those who cast doubt on the science.
Fox News promoted predictions of "an impending ice age" from David Archibald, an oil and mining CEO who has said that he wants to be in DeSmogBlog's "Global Warming Disinformation Database." So far, Archibald has not won that dubious distinction -- but if he did, it would look something like this:
Archibald started working in coal and oil shale exploration in 1979, then went on to become a financial analyst and stockbroker before returning to oil companies in the 2000s. In 2003 he led an oil exploration company called Oilex, then joined a Canadian oil exploration company in 2006 at the same time he was CEO of mineral exploration company Westgold Resources. As of 2008, he was operating 8.6 million acres of oil exploration permits in Australia as of 2008. In a phone call with Media Matters, Archibald stated that he currently runs his own company in the oil industry.
When called out for having ties to the coal industry in 2008, Archibald responded that his most recent ties were actually to the oil industry:
You know you are being effective when people complain about you. The letter in the Sept. 8 issue of Oil & Gas Journal, though, followed an established formula, starting with an impugned association with the coal industry (OGJ, Sept. 8, 2008, p. 12).
A point by point refutation would be tedious, but I am compelled to say that neither I nor the Lavoisier Society has any association with or funding from the coal industry. I left the coal industry in 1980 to join the oil industry. Right now I am the very happy operator of oil exploration permits totaling 8.6 million acres of Palaeozoic intracratonic rift sediments in the Canning basin of northwestern Australia.
From an interview with regular Fox News guest Michelle Fields for the right-wing website PJ Media:
FIELDS: Is global warming a real thing?
ARCHIBALD: Not at all.
FIELDS: But global cooling is, then?
ARCHIBALD: There's nothing you can do and it's a natural solar cycle.
April 14, 2014
David Archibald was interviewed on Fox News' Fox & Friends by Fox host Eric Bolling to promote his new book and advance his claim of "global cooling." Bolling omitted Archibald's ties to the fossil fuel industry, and introduced the segment by saying, "remember that harsh, cold winter? Well it could become the norm. Our next guest says the earth is heading into another ice age":
Showtime's new nine-part documentary on climate change features hard-hitting connections between global warming and extreme weather, interviews with expert scientists, and calls for action. Is "Years of Living Dangerously" catching on to a new trend with reporting on climate change?
"Years of Living Dangerously," the Showtime documentary series produced by Oscar-winning James Cameron and other Hollywood icons, has been heralded as "perhaps the most important climate change multimedia communication endeavor in history." The nine-part series' Hollywood filmmakers paired with veterans from CBS' 60 Minutes (Joel Back and David Gelber), and featured a science advisory board to ensure accuracy, including scientists Heidi Cullen, Jim Hansen, Michael Mann, Michael Oppenheimer, and more. The series seeks to tell "the biggest story of our time" in an emotion-evoking blockbuster format, as a way to "close the gap" between science and action.
The April 13 series premiere came one week after NBC's deep-dive special on climate change, and both are sorely needed. Even as top reports are showing that the issue is becoming a dire threat that calls for immediate action, a Pew Research poll indicates that Americans continue to rank addressing climate change as a low priority. Social science research suggests that how people rank the importance of various issues is a direct result of media coverage of the issue. In an interview with National Journal, Media Matters Executive Vice President Angelo Carusone stated that the recent large-scale expositions on global warming are a reflection of "the hollowness of the overall landscape and the anxieties around the inaction starting to percolate and feeding a demand to end this endless debate," adding that "[w]hen a major network devotes that much time to it, it shows they're responding to a demand." "Years of Living Dangerously" and NBC's climate special both work to reverse the attitude of apathy, by showing the impacts of climate change are already happening and drastically altering quality of life. The premiere episode of Showtime's series, titled "Dry Season," takes viewers to see climate refugees in Syria (displaced due to severe drought), rainforests in Indonesia being burned to the ground, and cattle ranches in Texas suffering from drought.
Both specials treat manmade global warming as a given and feature established experts on climate science, a welcome change from the contrarian "skeptics" that have been infiltrating the media with doubt and misinformation. "Years of Living Dangerously" begins with Harrison Ford inspecting carbon dioxide measurements -- the primary cause of manmade global warming -- with the help of NASA scientists. The premiere episode goes on to feature Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a specialist in drought, along with three other climate scientists. The episode included more climate scientists than celebrities (or contrarians). Carusone lauded this aspect, saying "[e]nding this debate is controversial, but someone needs to do so."
Although the premiere episode of "Years Of Living Dangerously" doesn't touch on any solutions to climate change, the series promises to address solutions in later episodes, including segments on renewable energy, global warming as a political priority, and the "greening" of the corporate sector. According to a study from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, painting a dire picture of climate change without providing a solution may cause an audience to reject the message, echoing previous research. As a recent study shows that most broadcast evening news shows often decoupled solutions from messages about the threat of global warming, the Showtime and NBC series again provide a fresh take on the issue by including possible solutions.
Catastrophic climate change is a simple message with many complexities, so these media deep-dives may be necessary for the message to break through. Chris Hayes also hosted an hour-long MSNBC special on the politics of climate change last fall and spoke of the importance of communicating solutions:
I strongly believe that it is extremely important to convince people that the problem is, in fact, solvable. Our record of environmental regulation of pollution, in fact, shows that very often the eventual cost is far, far less than was originally estimated. Human ingenuity is an incredible thing! So if you picked up a certain upbeat undercurrent in the show, you weren't wrong. I happen to think the problem, as big and terrifying as it is, really is solvable and really will be solved. And I think it's doubly important to let people know that so as to engender the level of investment and action we need to make sure that hopeful future is ours.
The recent excellent reporting on climate change may act as a "vanguard" for a changing media landscape according to Carusone, but is it enough to tip the scales?
A gas company is attempting to use a half-century old Pennsylvania law to frack underneath the land of property owners who refuse to allow the controversial practice on their land, yet a majority of Pennsylvanians may be unaware as two of the state's top three newspapers have failed to mention the contentious issue.
Hilcorp Energy, a Texas-based oil and gas company, is pushing legal action in Pennsylvania to be able to drill underneath the property of landowners that have refused to sign a lease if enough of their neighbors have already signed, a practice known as "forced pooling." The "unused and outdated" law, which is "pitting neighbor against neighbor" as reported by the Associated Press, would "shred private property rights" according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, the only of the three highest circulating papers in Pennsylvania to cover the story. The other two, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have completely overlooked the issue which has received national attention.
The "forced pooling" law would force landowners to allow the use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to extract natural gas reserves underneath their property without their consent, creating concerns about the impact on property values and the threat of water pollution. A leaked document from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that natural gas extraction has caused methane to leak into domestic water wells, causing "significant damage" to the drinking water supply of the town.
Pennsylvania isn't the only state dealing with the "forced pooling" issue. Energy companies have been exploiting similar laws in many states including in Illinois and Ohio to the outrage of unsuspecting landowners. In Ohio, citizens are "furious" about the ruling that one citizen fears will "make him legally responsible for spills and other damage" according to the Associated Press. Some residents have "resigned to losing future income," while dozens of others are pushing forward lawsuits in an attempt to stop the forcible drilling.
There is a similar sentiment in Pennsylvania even among those who support natural gas drilling and fracking. For example, Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett -- a strong proponent of natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania -- opposes the law, likening it to "private eminent domain." And Marcellus Drilling News, a pro-fracking news site, has expressed disapproval of Hilcorp's use of the law, calling it "the low road."
Fox News continues to reverse the success of the federal clean energy loan program by cherry-picking from a small minority of failures, magnifying the trend of mainstream media distorting the program's success.
In an April 11 segment titled "Who's Ruining the Economy?" Fox & Friends denounced the Department of Energy's (DOE) low carbon vehicle program despite its success. Fox Business host Stuart Varney pointed to a few companies that received government assistance and later filed for bankruptcy, saying "they thought they could pick winners. They picked losers." He went on to decry the announcement that the DOE will revamp their advanced technology vehicles manufacturing (ATVM) program, saying "they're not reversing course at the sight of failure, they're actually speeding up down the same road":
Fox News' myopic view of the loan program is a lie by omission -- 98 percent of the funds in DOE's clean energy loan programs have been successful. Of the 31 ventures awarded DOE loans, only four have been discontinued -- a far greater success rate than that of venture capital investments, which typically consider three in ten successes to be a successful portfolio.
The Department of Energy's clean energy loan program helped fuel the achievements of electric car company Tesla Motors, yet the major broadcast, cable and print media only mentioned the loan in 20 percent of their coverage of Tesla in 2013 (and in only 7 percent of coverage of Nissan's best-selling electric car, the Leaf). Meanwhile, 84 percent of coverage of Fisker, an electric car company that declared bankruptcy, mentioned its federal loan. This skewed coverage may have misinformed the public about the overwhelmingly positive success rate of the program.
Clean energy policies are under attack in Ohio, led in force by members of an organization that connects corporations including fossil fuel interests to legislators. But this connection, to the American Legislative Exchange Council, is being overlooked by the state's major newspapers.
NBC aired an hour-long special on the effects of climate change, making bold connections to current extreme weather events and featuring several climate scientists. The network, which previously devoted scant coverage to climate change, is proving that it is taking important steps to improve its coverage of global warming.
On April 6, NBC aired an hour-long special titled "Our Year Of Extremes: Did Climate Change Just Hit Home?" Ann Curry took the reins, making important connections between extreme weather and global warming, and featuring a climate scientist on nearly every topic. From the special:
Media Matters found that broadcast networks, including NBC, have been lacking on climate change coverage in recent years -- Sunday shows devoted only 27 minutes to the topic in all of 2013, with NBC's Meet the Press failing to even substantially mention climate change last year. In response to this paucity of media coverage, a group of senators released a letter urging broadcast networks to devote more airtime to this "critically important issue."
And NBC's coverage on climate change has been improving. When the United Nations released a report assessing the impacts of climate change, a joint work of hundreds of top climate scientists and experts, NBC led its nightly news program with the story, featuring two climate scientists who contributed to the report. (Curry also frequently referenced this report during her climate change special). And NBC's nightly 2013 coverage on climate change was an improvement from 2012, covering the topic four times more than the year prior and giving greater time to scientists.
In "Our Year Of Extremes," Curry took viewers to see how climate change "is already being felt in every continent and across the oceans" -- the melting Arctic sea ice, an "unrelenting" California drought, the Colorado summer floods, western wildfires, and drowning coastlines. She emphasized the impacts on human welfare, such as rising food prices from a suffering agriculture industry in California, a deteriorating way of life for Arctic Inuits, and New York City homes destroyed by a hurricane exacerbated by climate change. In each case, Curry turned to climate experts on the topic, a welcome change. Throughout the hour-long special, Curry interviewed four climate scientists: glaciology expert Jason Box, Florida Atlantic University's Keren Bolter, Rutgers professor Jennifer Francis, and NASA's Tom Wagner.
By making hard-hitting connections between global warming and impacts being felt today, and turning to the work of established climate scientists, NBC's climate change special shows that the network is continuing to make strides on an issue of critical importance.
A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed major cable network coverage of climate change in 2013, and found that CNN covered the topic even less than Fox News, and that both featured a significant amount of misleading coverage that "weaken[s] the public's ability to understand and grapple with the risks of climate change."
The latest media analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found (perhaps unsurprisingly) that Fox News misinformed their audience a great majority of the time when discussing climate change. Meanwhile, CNN devoted a paltry amount of airtime to global warming in 2013, and when they did cover the topic, the network frequently presented the science demonstrating global warming as an issue up for debate by pundits. Here are some of UCS' most significant findings:
UCS found that even though Fox News overwhelmingly misled their audience on climate science, the network still covered the topic more than CNN in 2013. On the primetime weekday shows and weekend morning programs that UCS examined, CNN aired 43 segments on climate change, Fox News aired 50 segments, and MSNBC towered over the two with 133 segments -- more coverage than the CNN and Fox combined:
According to UCS' analysis, MSNBC's coverage was 92 percent accurate; the analysis labeled 8 percent of MSNBC's coverage "inaccurate," saying these segments overstated the connection between certain extreme weather events and manmade global warming or the severity of sea level rise.
Climate "skeptics" have latched on to a myth that scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970s. However, as even a Fox News anchor pointed out in 2006, there was never a consensus on cooling in the 1970s the same way there currently is on global warming -- in fact, the majority of the scientific literature at the time was predicting warming. Yet that hasn't stopped Fox from regurgitating this myth ad nauseum:
While some on Fox News have claimed that "global cooling was the consensus" in the 1970s to dismiss the current climate science consensus in its entirety, a realistic examination of the scientific literature shows the opposite is true. In 2006, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) took a look at published papers from the 1970s and found that a consensus around global warming -- not cooling -- was beginning to emerge. Of 71 peer reviewed studies on climate change from 1965 to 1979, only seven articles predicted global cooling -- less than ten percent -- while well over half (44 studies) predicted global warming. Even 40 years ago, predictions of global cooling were only on the fringe of climate science.
There were indeed a couple of magazine articles published in that era that overhyped theories of "global cooling," but they were cherry-picking the science. For instance, Newsweek ran a nine-paragraph, back-page article titled "The Cooling World" in 1975 and Time magazine ran an article titled "Another Ice Age?" in 1974. Despite these magazine articles' infamy among climate "skeptics," they never made the cover as Fox News or internet hoaxes would have you believe.
If there was a global cooling "scare," it was more of a media wrongdoing than a failure of scientists.
Time's Bryan Walsh accurately summarized the situation:
The reality is that scientists in the 1970s were just beginning to understand how climate change and aerosol pollution might impact global temperatures. Add in the media-hype cycle -- which was true then as it is now -- and you have some coverage that turned out to be wrong. But thanks to the Internet, those stories stay undead, recycled by notorious climate skeptics like George Will. Pay no attention to the Photoshop. It's the science we should heed -- and the science says man-made climate change is real and very, very worrying.
The video in this report was created by Coleman Lowndes and John Kerr with voiceover by Todd Gregory.