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.
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:
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.
Fox News claimed that a move to protect an endangered jumping mouse from ranchers who graze cattle on public lands is "going to run [them] out of business" for a mouse they "can't even find," but the mouse is a critical part of the food chain that can be protected if ranchers simply don't let their cattle trample on its habitat.
In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finalized protection for the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, which is at risk of extinction chiefly due to excessive cattle grazing. On July 7, Fox News' Fox and Friends hosted rancher Mike Lucero to lash out against the potential that fences will be erected to further protect the local streams that form the mouse's habitat from his cattle. Co-host Steve Doocy suggested that because Lucero has not seen the jumping mouse, it may not even exist anymore, calling it "crazy" that "they're doing all this to protect a mouse that might not even be there":
The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse is generally nocturnal and hibernates for about nine months a year. It's also "precariously" endangered with only 29 "small" surviving populations, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. So it's not that surprising that Lucero has not seen one of these mice, which are critical because their extinction could disrupt the entire food chain. Jay Lininger of the Center for Biological Diversity explained in a Tech Times article: "They're a highly sought-after food source for a variety of snakes, foxes, and birds like redtail hawks. The entire food chain suffers if the jumping mouse blinks out." The jumping mouse is a "bellwether species" for the Southwestern stream habitats critical to their survival, according to Brian Byrd of WildEarth Guardians. The mouse's stream habitat, critical to preserve clean water in the region, has been degraded primarily due to damaging livestock practices.
While Lucero claimed that protection of the mice's stream habitats will force him "out of business," ranchers can simply pipe water from the river to their cattle rather than letting them go to the river in order to more responsibly graze, according to Lininger. Details such as this have been left out of local media coverage, including an article by New Mexico's largest newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, titled "Endangered mouse may cost NM ranchers their livelihood" and from the right-wing Franklin Center's New Mexico Watchdog.org.
Refusing to act on climate change will be bad for business, according to a major recent report assessing the alarming risks of unchecked global warming on the U.S. economy. But while some top business media outlets recognize global warming as a serious issue for their audience, others are still stuck in denial.
On June 23, the Risky Business Project released a comprehensive analysis of the economic impacts of climate change in the United States. The study found that the current path of "business as usual" -- emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for driving catastrophic climate change without restrictions -- will reduce labor productivity of outdoor workers by up to three percent, reduce agricultural yields by up to 70 percent in some regions, and cost up to $507 billion in property damages from sea level rise by 2100. The co-chairs are calling for business to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent an economic crash on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis or worse.
However, some top U.S. business media outlets are denying that climate change is a problem worth addressing -- a disservice to their business viewers, who have a lot to lose. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly cases of business media covering Risky Business:
In covering the study's findings, Bloomberg Television, a cable and satellite business news channel, featured an interview with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, one of the report's co-chairs and a Republican. Bloomberg's Erik Schatzer began the interview by stating that "the research [on man-made climate change] is overwhelmingly conclusive," and went on to have a rational discussion about solutions to global warming that businesses can take today. Schatzer noted that Bloomberg Television is a child company of the media organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, another co-chair of Risky Business. Paulson suggested that businesses fully disclose their climate change risks, that they invest in "resilience," and that the nation "take out a national insurance policy" to respond to the impacts of climate change, adding that businesses must advocate for government policies that would allow the nation to "avoid the most adverse outcomes."
Paulson elaborated on "the cost of inaction" alongside former Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, in a well-done interview on the June 29 edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS:
Fox Business's coverage of the Risky Business report ridiculed the impacts of climate change and brushed aside the findings as "scare tactics." On the June 24 edition of Cavuto, Fox Business contributor Lauren Simonetti asserted that the organization is using "scare tactics," going on to entirely dismiss the idea of increasing heat-related mortality, saying "what does that mean -- mortality?"
Conservative media are calling the Environmental Protection Agency's clarification of the Clean Water Act an "unprecedented land grab" that will regulate "nearly every drop of water." However, the proposed revision, which will help protect the drinking water of 117 million Americans, will not add any new categories of waters but will clarify that upstream sources will be protected from pollution.
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed pushing for a lift on a decades-old ban on crude oil exports without disclosing that the authors' work was funded by the oil industry, which stands to benefit from its claims.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed by the lead authors of a study for the consulting group IHS Inc. argued that the Obama Administration "needs to lift the ban on oil exports." The co-authors advanced their report's claims that ending a 41-year-old ban on crude oil exports would spur domestic oil production, resulting in lower gasoline prices and fueled job creation. However, the Journal did not disclose that this study, titled U.S. Crude Oil Export Decision: Assessing the Impact of the Export Ban and Free Trade on the U.S. Economy, was funded almost entirely by oil and gas corporations, including industry giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, and ConocoPhillips:
This research was supported by Baker Hughes, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron U.S.A., Concho Resources, ConocoPhillips, Continental Resources, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Helmerich & Payne, Kodiak Oil & Gas, Nabors Corporate Services, Newfield Exploration, Noble Energy, Oasis Petroleum North America, Pioneer Natural Resources, QEP Resources, Rosetta Resources, Weatherford and Whiting Petroleum.
In fact, several top business media outlets repeated the report's boldest claims when it was released in late May -- like that it would lead to $746 billion in investment into the U.S. economy or save U.S. motorists $265 billion by 2030 -- without disclosing its industry funding. CNBC, Bloomberg, USA Today's Money section, and the Wall Street Journal all covered the study with no mention of the oil giants that have a financial incentive to lift the ban on crude oil exports because it would allow them to sell more of their oil at the higher world price. USA Today even noted that two of the report's funders, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhilips, have been pushing for the White House to lift the ban -- but did not disclose their investment in the IHS report. Some outlets got it right: Reuters and conservative news site Breitbart (surprisingly) did mention that the IHS study was funded by oil and energy companies.
The crude oil export ban was enacted in the 1970s in response to an Arab oil embargo, which shocked the U.S. economy. The Center for American Progress explained that lifting the ban would "enrich oil companies," but "could increase domestic gasoline prices and reduce our energy security":
The increase in domestic oil supply, combined with the decline in demand, has also led to a significant decrease in foreign oil imports. These changes make us less vulnerable to a sudden foreign oil supply disruption that could cause price spikes. Unfortunately, the oil industry would squander this newfound price stabilization and energy security by lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Doing so would enrich oil companies by enabling them to sell their oil at the higher world price, but it could increase domestic gasoline prices and reduce our energy security.
Even Goldman Sachs supports keeping the ban - at least until the U.S. market reaches "saturation" where it's producing more oil than it can consume -- because it benefits the economy by keeping refining for U.S. workers.
Lifting the ban on crude oil exports would also be catastrophic for the climate, according to the Sierra Club. Oil Change International published a study finding that keeping the ban on crude exports is imperative for the United States to achieve its climate goals.
The Journal's failure to disclose the background these op-ed authors shared with the oil industry falls in line with a repeated lack of transparency about who the newspaper publishes. In 2012, the Journal was found to have "regularly failed to disclose the election-related conflicts of interest of its op-ed writers."
Image at the top obtained via Flickr user roseannadana with a Creative Commons license.
Fox News anchor Bret Baier lashed out against a local newspaper for refusing to publish denial of the basic fact that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change.
Arizona Daily Sun editor Randy Wilson recently committed to reporting the facts on climate change. In a June 8 op-ed, titled "It's not censorship by ignoring those denying climate change," Wilson -- whose paper serves the residents of Flagstaff, Arizona -- wrote that while there is "room to debate the extreme predictions by some scientists," the "basic idea that human activities are accelerating the pace of global warming in an unsustainable way enjoys the same scientific consensus as the finding that smoking causes cancer." He asserted that debating the basic premise of climate change is actually harmful, acting as "a diversion from finding a solution to the problems raised by the answer to the question."
On the June 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, Baier declared that the newspaper, by choosing to omit climate denial, does not "have room for balance":
The Daily Sun op-ed falls in line with what is becoming a ubiquitous media norm that runs counter to what Fox News interprets as "fair and balanced." As the evidence becomes even more certain that humans are unequivocally driving catastrophic climate change (nearly 200 scientific organizations worldwide acknowledge man-made climate change), media outlets are taking a stance against false balance on global warming. The Los Angeles Times' letters editor similarly stated that the newspaper would not print letters with "an untrue basis" such as those "that say there's no sign humans have caused climate change." The New York Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan spoke out against false equivalence in their newspaper, and blogger Andrew Revkin expanded that false balance serves to "convey a state of confusion even as consensus on warming has built." And several CNN hosts have denounced media for presenting global warming as up for debate and for providing a stage to the vocal minority of climate change deniers (even though others on the channel occasionally violate this norm).
Business media have been spreading the myth that the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to rein in carbon pollution will harm the American manufacturing industry by increasing electricity prices. But a new report by a group of business leaders found that the manufacturing industry is at far greater economic risk from the extreme weather events that the EPA's clean power plan would help prevent.
When the EPA proposed standards for the carbon pollution driving climate change for existing power plants, several top U.S. business media outlets promoted claims that the rules would harm manufacturers. Reuters published two articles that uncritically repeated utility industry lobbyists' claims that the rules will "destroy jobs" at "manufacturing plants." The Wall Street Journal cited a steel industry spokesman that claimed the rules will "impede the post-recession growth of American manufacturing" without criticism, and the newspaper's editorial board suggested that the rules will "punish" regions that rely on manufacturing. Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight hosted Steve Milloy, a policy director at coal giant Murray Energy, who lambasted the rules, stating: "if you work in manufacturing, do you want to see your job exported to China?"
However, an analysis by Business Forward -- an association of American business leaders focused on sound public policy -- found that extreme weather events will have severe economic impacts on the automotive manufacturing industry in the United States, while any increase in electricity prices as a result of turning to clean power will have minimal costs for the manufacturing industries. The analysis has not been covered* by the prominent business media outlets that promoted claims that the standards would harm manufacturers.
For example, automakers, who represent the nation's largest industrial sector, are extremely vulnerable to disruptions in the global supply chain caused by extreme weather events. The study found that extreme weather events -- many of which are happening more frequently -- can cause an auto assembly plant to shut down at immense costs of $1.25 million or more per hour. Business Forward explained that even when extreme weather events happen on the other side of the globe, they impact manufacturers:
Because supply chains are global, disruptions on the other side of the planet can slow down or shut down an American factory. For example, in October 2011, severe floods in Thailand affected more than 1,000 industrial facilities. Production by consumer electronics manufacturers in the U.S. dropped by one-third.
The carbon standards, by contrast, would cost the automotive industry far less because electricity is a "comparatively small portion" of their total costs. The report found that if electricity costs increased by 6.2 percent by 2020, it would add less than $7 to the cost of producing car that sells on average for $30,000. Overall, this would cost the average auto assembly plant about $1.1 million, or the equivalent of less than an hour of assembly line downtime at a single auto plant each year. The EPA estimates that electricity prices will increase slightly as a result of the standards, but efficiency improvements will lower electric bills by 2025.
The Environmental Protection Agency's forthcoming regulations on greenhouse gas emissions will provide legally required protection for the health and welfare of Americans at a cheap cost, while allowing states flexibility -- contrary to media fearmongering about the landmark standards.