USA TODAY announced in its cover story today that it will be doing a year-long series on climate change, sending reporters around the U.S. to examine how climate change is already affecting Americans. The series, "Weathering The Change," comes at a time when climate change coverage -- including at USA TODAY -- has been relatively low in the U.S.
USA TODAY covered climate change the least of the major national newspapers in the context of the 2012 presidential election. It entirely ignored how climate change has worsened fire risks in the Western U.S. in its print coverage of the destructive 2012 wildfires. It only mentioned ocean acidification once between January 2011 and June 2012, and ignored a study that found that the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 50 percent in the past 27 years largely due to human activities. And it closed its green blog in September 2012.
The ongoing decline in climate coverage may be influencing public opinion, as research suggests that volume of media coverage has a large impact on what people considerpolicy priorities. This week, conservative media celebrated "Public Concern For Global Warming Hit[ting A] 20-Year Low." Once again demonstrating their inability to fact-check, they got the details wrong -- the survey actually found that global warming is the only environmental issue where concern is higher now than it was from 1998 to 2003. But concern about global warming is still lower than it was before the financial crisis.
A group named Donors Trust has been funneling far more money than ExxonMobil ever did to climate denial groups, but because the source of the funds remains largely hidden, the public has been unable to pressure the donations to stop as they did with Exxon. A small portion of Donors Trust's funding was recently revealed by the Center for Public Integrity, yet even that small portion has significant ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests.
Between 2008 and 2011, Donors Trust doled out over $300 million in grants to what it describes as "conservative and libertarian causes," serving as "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement." Donors Trust enables donors to give anonymously, noting on its website that if you "wish to keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues," you can use it to direct your money.
One of the "controversial issues" that Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund have bankrolled is the campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change and delay any government action to reduce emissions.* The following chart created by The Guardian based on data from Greenpeace shows that as ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations have reduced traceable funding for these groups, donations from Donors Trust have surged:
Several of these organizations have sown confusion about the science demonstrating climate change. The Heartland Institute, which The Economist called the "world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change," received over $14 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, making up over a quarter of Heartland's budget. in 2010. In 2012, Heartland launched a billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate science to The Unabomber, Charles Manson, and Fidel Castro. Several corporate donors distanced themselves from the organization, but Donors Trust made no comment. Heartland removed the billboard soon afterward but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Meanwhile, The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) received over $4 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, accounting for over 45 percent of CFACT's budget in 2010. The highest-paid member of CFACT's staff is Marc Morano, who runs a website that pushes misleading attacks on climate science. Morano defended Heartland's billboard and said that climate scientists "deserve to be publicly flogged." Despite Morano's sordid background, CNN twice hosted him to "debate climate change and if it is really real" without disclosing that he has no scientific training and is paid by an industry-funded organization. CFACT lists the Forbes columns of Larry Bell, who calls global warming a "hoax," as "CFACT research and commentary." The organization is advised by several prominent climate misinformers, including Lord Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has revealed the sources of approximately $18.8 million of Donors Trust's funding from 2008 to 2011, culled from Internal Revenue Service filings. That leaves over $281 million in anonymous funds during that period, assuming that the organization gives out approximately as much as it takes in each year.
While the individuals and corporations funding Donors Trust remain largely hidden, we know that at least five separate foundations connected to Koch Industries have given over $3.8 million to Donors Trust in recent years. Koch Industries, owned by brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, is the largest privately owned company in the U.S. and controls several oil refineries and pipelines.
China is reportedly set to impose a modest carbon tax, as well as effectively increase taxes on its coal industry. As the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases continues to take steps to curb climate change, the oft-repeated conservative argument that the U.S. can't act until China does becomes increasingly tenuous.
In 2011, the International Energy Agency warned that unless dramatic action is taken by 2017, it will be effectively impossible to meet the international commitment to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) -- a goal that many nations said still would not be enough to guarantee their survival. Experts say that the longer we delay, the more it will cost to reach the target. In light of this, arguing that we can't work to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions until other nations agree to do the same could be seen as immoral.
But in recent years, it's also become nearly counterfactual: China has been taking steps, including investing more in clean energy than the U.S. and creating a long-term, comprehensive plan for expanding its renewable energy industries. Now this developing nation is set to put a price on carbon -- a move that most economists from across the ideological spectrum agree is one of the best ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (along with cap-and-trade). Yet the U.S. -- a much wealthier nation -- is no closer to making such a move.
It is true that China will play a critical role in whether we are able to limit catastrophic climate change. In 2007, China overtook the U.S. as the largest contributor to global carbon emissions (although the U.S. still emits far more per person), and its emissions are expected to grow until at least 2030. If China goes through with plans to expand coal production, it will emit more carbon than any other planned energy project in the world. However, China has recently signaled that it will take steps to limit its coal consumption.
Fox News is raising the red herring of Solyndra to attack President Barack Obama's proposal for an alternative vehicle research fund as a potential waste of "taxpayer dollars." But the proposal would be funded by existing fees on oil and gas companies and has received bipartisan support for its potential to improve our energy security.
The government currently collects over $10 billion a year in fees from oil and gas companies drilling on federal lands. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama proposed directing $200 million of that, or a total of $2 billion over 10 years, toward research into alternative transportation technology including vehicles that can run on electricity, biofuels or natural gas. The program would aptly be named the "Energy Security Trust," as it would work to reduce our dependence on oil. A White House spokesman told Bloomberg News that the proposal "wouldn't add to the debt because money would be shifted from other programs." Yet Fox News' America's Newsroom suggested on Thursday that the administration would be using "taxpayer dollars," adding to the debt:
On Fox News, Republican strategist Brad Blakeman denied the scientific consensus on manmade climate change, saying "For every one scientist that says there is, I'll give you 10 scientists that said it's not manmade":
But in fact, credible surveys have repeatedly found that the vast majority of climate scientists agree humans are changing the climate. For instance, a 2009 survey published by the American Geophysical Union found that 97 percent of those who specialize in climate science said human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures:
Fox News co-host Greg Gutfeld attacked President Barack Obama for connecting wildfires to climate change. But scientists say climate change has increased fire risks in parts of the Western U.S. by promoting warmer and drier conditions, and the number of wildfire acres burned each year is on the rise.
In his second inaugural address, Obama called for action to avoid the destructive impacts of climate change, saying, "Some may deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms." On the January 29 edition of Fox News' The Five, Gutfeld criticized Obama for suggesting that wildfires were "somehow linked" to climate change, claiming that there were "a third fewer U.S. wildfires in 2012":
Gutfeld's statistic came from a Washington Post column by George Will that compared the number of U.S. wildfires in 2012 to 2006 -- a year that saw the most wildfires since 1982. By cherry-picking data from that year, Will obscured the upward trend in acres burned from wildfires. In fact, the number of acres burned by wildfires in 2012 was the third-highest on record in the U.S., and the National Research Council states that "large and long-duration forest fires have increased fourfold over the past 30 years in the American West" as increased temperatures have dried soils and plants and boosted tree-killing beetles. While wildfires are influenced by numerous factors, the U.S. Global Change Research Program stated that "Wildfires in the United States are already increasing due to warming":
A Bloomberg News article claims that new data from Norway "Shows" that global warming is "Less Severe Than Feared." But Bloomberg failed to mention that this claim is based on a PhD thesis that has not yet been peer-reviewed or accepted for publication by any scientific journal.
A press release by the Research Council of Norway states that new research has found that the amount that earth's temperature will rise if we continue emitting greenhouse gases at our current rate will be lower than estimates from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC, a group that assembles thousands of experts to review and summarize predominantly peer-reviewed research on climate change, estimates that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would cause warming between 2°C and 4.5°C (3.6° to 8.1° F), and estimates that 3°C (5.4° F) is the most likely outcome. By contrast, the Norwegian study estimates that 1.9°C (3.4° F) is the likely outcome.
But the research, which runs counter to the IPCC and the extensive body of research on this topic, is actually a PhD thesis. It has not been accepted by a scientific journal and thus should be treated as preliminary. And according to environmental scientist Dana Nuccitellli, writing at the climate science website Skeptical Science, the study may be flawed, by "overfitting the short-term natural variability" in temperatures.
Conservative media have denigrated solar energy by denying its sustainability, ignoring its successes, and arguing the U.S. should simply cede the solar market to China. Yet this booming industry has made great strides, and with the right policies can become a major source of our power.
In contrast to official temperature records showing a consistent warming trend, Fox Business reporters have claimed that the "temperature basically hasn't changed much since the ice age" and that it's actually "getting colder." Fox News figures have also denied the scientific consensus that human activity is driving climate change, claiming that carbon dioxide "literally cannot cause global warming" and suggesting that "Mars wobbles" or "wind farms" may be causing it instead. Those are just some of the 10 dumbest things Fox News, Fox Business and their websites said about climate change in 2012:
1. Fox Reporter: "The Temperature Basically Hasn't Changed Much Since The Ice Age." During the Ice Age, much of North America, northern Europe and southern South America were covered with ice sheets. Natural climate cycles led to the end of the Ice Age tens of thousands of years ago. In the last century, temperatures have increased dramatically as a result of our massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Yet Fox Business reporter Tracy Byrnes claimed in March that "the temperature basically hasn't changed much since the Ice Age," before confusing global warming with the depletion of the ozone layer:
2. During Record-Breaking Heat, Fox Anchor Claims "It's Getting Colder." During the third warmest summer on record in the U.S., David Asman, who hosts shows on both Fox News and Fox Business, claimed "it's getting colder":
3. Fox "Expert": Carbon Dioxide "Literally Cannot Cause Global Warming." Joe Bastardi is a meteorologist that is often presented as a climate change expert on Fox News, even though he has no climate science training. Bill O'Reilly has cited Bastardi as the reason that he is "skeptical" about global warming, but scientists have called Bastardi's statements "completely wrong," "simply ignorant," and "utter nonsense." In March, Bastardi attempted to "throw out 150 years of physics" by dismissing the greenhouse effect -- the reason there is life on Earth -- as impossible. Bastardi stated on Fox Business that carbon dioxide (CO2) "literally" -- yes, literally -- "cannot cause global warming" because it doesn't "mix well in the atmosphere." But physicist Richard Muller told Media Matters that CO2 is actually "completely mixed."
4. Fox Reporter: "Mars Wobbles" May Be Causing Climate Change. Elizabeth MacDonald, a Fox Business reporter who often appears on Fox News, incorrectly said in November that "there's no consensus on what's causing climate change, and asked "is it solar flares? Is it the Mars wobbles? Is it the earth's axis tilting in a different way? I mean, that's the issue." After being subject to mockery, she tried to walk back her comments saying she doesn't "think Mars wobbles cause hurricanes," but did not explain her previous comments.
5. Fox Website: "Wind Farms Cause Global Warming." In April, a study found that nighttime temperatures in areas around Texas wind farms were higher than in areas without wind turbines. Fox Nation, a section of FoxNews.com, linked to a story about the study with a headline declaring that wind farms "cause global warming." But the study's authors called this coverage "misleading," explaining that it is "[v]ery likely" that "wind turbines do not create a net warming of the air and instead only re-distribute the air's heat near the surface, which is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases."