"The floods in Texas, the strengthening storms ... these things are a result of human activity making things worse."
On CNN, Bill Nye provided this necessary climate change context to the devastating floods, which killed dozens last week in Oklahoma and Texas, where new monthly rain records were set. But this time, it isn't just "the Science Guy" who is connecting the dots. While past media coverage has largely failed to explain the role of climate change in extreme weather events like wildfires, snowstorms and droughts, Nye's CNN appearance was just one of many examples of major media outlets covering the recent floods in a science-based global warming context, a promising sign that the press is beginning to do more to address the relationship between climate change and extreme weather.
In recent days, the role of human-induced climate change in devastating weather events like the floods was also a featured story on both NBC's Nightly News and the CBS Evening News. On NBC, anchor Lester Holt introduced a report about Texas's "weather whiplash" in which national correspondent Miguel Almaguer explained that "[s]cientists say climate change is exacerbating the wild swings."
On CBS, correspondent Kris Van Cleave noted that a new study by researchers at Rutgers University found that "climate change in the Arctic is slowing the jet stream over the Northern Hemisphere," resulting in prolonged weather conditions that lead to more heavy rain, heat waves, droughts, and snowstorms. As Rutgers climatologist David Robinson explained during the CBS segment: "Everything slows, and with it, weather patterns persist over areas for longer periods of time. That could make a wet situation dangerously wet ... [and] a heat wave dangerously long."
CNN's coverage of the floods has also stood out. CNN's Carol Costello began her May 29 interview with Nye by affirming that "97 percent of scientists say climate change is real and much of it is driven by man," and what followed was a helpful discussion about how the floods demonstrate the need for media to "talk about" climate change.
From the June 1 edition of CBS Evening News:
Univision and the Los Angeles Times have thoroughly debunked an ad by the anti-immigrant group Californians For Population Stabilization (CAPS) that blames California's drought-induced water shortage on immigration.
Although CAPS presents itself as an organization focused on "preserv[ing] the environment," numerous experts have pointed out that the group disingenuously uses environmental concerns to promote an anti-immigrant agenda. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described CAPS as "a nativist organization masquerading as an environmental group." Similarly, Huffington Post reported that the executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC) remarked of CAPS: "They're basically trying to find any way to spin their anti-immigrant vitriol, so hey, why not choose the environment?" And NBC News reported that "[t]he National Council of La Raza said CAPS can say their concern is the environment, but that it is actually an anti-immigrant group."
According to SPLC, CAPS is part of an anti-immigration network that includes several organizations that have been labeled as "hate groups." Further, SPLC notes that CAPS has received funding from the Pioneer Fund, which has bankrolled "leading Anglo-American race scientists." The California drought is not the first example of CAPS exploiting a crisis in order to advance its anti-immigrant agenda -- in 2011, the group used California's unemployment rate to advocate for "slow[ing] legal immigration."
CAPS' television ad that plays on concerns about the drought features a young boy asking, "[i]f Californians are having fewer children, why isn't there enough water?" On the May 27 edition of Univision's Noticiero Univision, correspondent Luis Megid interviewed San Francisco State University professor Oswaldo Garcia about the ad:
Garcia, a meteorology professor and tropical climatology expert, dismissed CAPS' claims. He noted that although California's population has grown, 80 percent of the state's developed water supply is used for agricultural -- not residential -- purposes.
The Los Angeles Times also rebutted CAPS in both a news article and column. Addressing CAPS' claims in a May 24 article, the Times reported:
Some drought experts have taken issue with [CAPS'] claims, pointing out that the majority of the state's water supports agriculture.
Blaming the drought on immigrants "doesn't fit the facts," said William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The drought is caused by meager snowpack and poor planning, he said, "not because the immigrants are drinking too much water or taking too many showers.
Others point out that many immigrants probably use less water than the average California resident because they tend to live in multi-family dwellings, not higher-consuming single-family homes.
"It's unlikely that the 'burden' of immigrants is very significant," said Stephanie Pincetl, professor in residence at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA."
Additionally, in a May 26 column, the Times' Michael Hiltzik wrote that CAPS was "exploit[ing]" the drought by "immigrant bashing," and added that "pointing the finger at immigrants" is "cynical, dishonest and factually incorrect." Hiltzik noted that even with population growth, "a sharp reduction in urban per capital water use" has allowed the state's total water consumption to go down (emphasis added):
The truth is that California has been able to sustain that huge increase in population without a commensurate increase in water consumption--actually, with a decrease in water consumption. In 1990, when the census placed the state's population at 29.8 million, the state's freshwater withdrawals came to 35.1 billion gallons per day, according to the authoritative U.S. Geological Survey. In 2010, with a population of 37.3 million, that state drew 31.1 billion gallons per day.
How did that happen? Chiefly through a sharp reduction in urban per capital water use, which has been falling steadily since the mid-1990s, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, and especially in the populous coastal zone.
CAPS' anti-immigration claims, which were recently echoed by the National Review, are reminiscent of other conservative media outlets that have used the California drought as an opportunity to baselessly attack environmental policies.
From the May 29 edition of CNN Newsroom:
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Fox News host Bill Hemmer falsely claimed there were no major hurricanes in 2014, during a segment criticizing action on climate change. But just one day earlier, Fox News correctly reported that two major hurricanes formed last year.
Hemmer introduced a segment on the May 28 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom by noting that President Obama was about to "get an update on the upcoming hurricane season" from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Hurricane Center. Hemmer then declared: "Three major storms predicted this year. They predicted a lot last year. We got zero."
But on May 27, Fox News' Phil Keating noted that NOAA's 2014 forecast was actually "spot on the money." The agency predicted that one or two major hurricanes would form in 2014, and they were right: Hurricanes Edouard and Gonzalo were both classified as "major hurricanes." During the segment, Fox News even provided this helpful graphic:
From the May 28 edition of NBC Nightly News:
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From an interview with former Bush Administration FEMA director Joe Allbaugh on the May 27 edition of BBC News' World News America:
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CNN uncritically advanced presidential candidate Rand Paul's contention that he is "a different kind of Republican" who wants to protect the environment -- ignoring Paul's long track record of voting against environmental protections and denying the science of climate change.
In a May 26 article about Sen. Paul's (R-KY) new book, "Taking a Stand," CNN.com echoed Paul's claim in the book that he is a "tree hugger" who "want[s] our regulatory bodies to protect both our land and water." CNN.com further reported that Paul, who is trying to distinguish himself from a crowded field of Republican presidential candidates, invoked past conservationist Republican presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln while expressing surprise that the GOP has "been branded as a party that doesn't like the environment."
From the May 24 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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It has become increasingly clear that human-induced climate change is exacerbating California's historic drought and will continue to make droughts in the western U.S. more common and more extreme, as many studies and leading climate scientists have concluded. Yet a Media Matters analysis reveals that over a one-month period, the local television stations in California's two largest media markets addressed the role of climate change in less than two percent of their drought coverage, and when they did it was usually in segments that also included climate science denial.
Fox News was quick to criticize President Obama for emphasizing how climate change is a core threat to national security, arguing the president should have focused instead on foreign terrorist organizations during his Coast Guard Academy commencement speech. In fact, the Coast Guard will be at the forefront of the nation's response to the significant challenges afoot due to the earth's changing climate.
Obama spoke at length about the national security threats presented by climate change during his May 20 commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. The president highlighted how "climate change increases the risk of instability and conflict" around the world, citing severe droughts in the Middle East and North Africa that have contributed to the rise of extremist groups, rising sea levels and increasingly powerful storms sparking humanitarian crises, and the impact of Arctic sea ice reduction on international maritime rivalries.
Fox News roundly mocked the address, charging that Obama "seems to have utterly lost his way" on national security issues. Others disapproved of the Coast Guard Academy as the setting for his climate remarks, suggesting it reflected poorly on Obama's priorities and management of the resources of the U.S. military.
But the Coast Guard is perhaps the most appropriate of the five armed service branches to focus future planning efforts on combating the effects of a changing climate. As the president stated, "the threat of a changing climate cuts to the very core" of the Coast Guard's mission.
The breakup of Arctic sea ice presents new challenges for the Coast Guard. Shortly before retiring from the service, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp discussed how climate change affects the Coast Guard's mission in an interview with Defense News:
Part of our maritime governance is to make sure that ships and cargo get safely in and out of our ports. So if the water rises, how does that affect our aid navigation system? How does that affect dredging with the Army Corps of Engineers? These are marine safety type issues.
In July 2014, Papp was appointed as U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic Region for the express purpose of advising American strategy with regard to climate change in the world's northern oceans.
Sea level rise, another direct result of climate change, is occurring faster than previously predicted and threatens low-lying areas of the United States and neighboring countries. According to the United Nations, sea level rise could be up to four times more pronounced in island nations, many of which dot the Caribbean Sea and are likely destinations for Coast Guard humanitarian relief operations.
Climate change exacerbates the impact of extreme weather events and has been shown to supercharge hurricane systems that target the Atlantic seaboard and Gulf coast every year. When these storms destroy communities and threaten American lives, the Coast Guard is among the first responders on-scene to rescue and care for stranded victims. The Coast Guard's "dangerous and exhausting" rescue missions proved to be a lonely silver lining during the Bush administration's botched response to Hurricane Katrina.
Despite Fox News' protests, the Coast Guard is "on the front lines of climate change and national security."
Fox personalities criticized President Obama for calling climate change "an immediate risk to our national security" during his U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement address. But security experts agree with the president that global climate change does threaten U.S. national security.
From the May 18 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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The Las Vegas Review-Journal is mirroring the claims of congressional climate science deniers, who are lambasting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for requiring that states consider climate change impacts to better protect themselves from future disasters.
In a May 11 editorial, the Review-Journal enthusiastically endorsed a letter from a group of senators -- led by famed climate science denier and Environment and Public Works Committee chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) -- which alleged that the new FEMA policy requiring states to address climate change in their disaster mitigation plans "injects unnecessary, ideological-based red tape into the disaster preparedness process."
Echoing the GOP senators, the Review-Journal declared that "climate change is not settled science," and that FEMA has no right to weigh in on an issue as "dogmatic and hyperpolitical" as global warming. Like the letter itself, the editorial also channeled its inner Fox News, claiming the FEMA climate policy is a matter of "ideology." Never mind that 97 percent of climate scientists agree human activities are causing the planet to warm or that NASA scientists say "it is very likely that [climate change] will impact future catastrophes."
In recent months, the Republican attorneys general in West Virginia and Oklahoma have been relentlessly working to block the EPA's proposed carbon pollution standards for power plants, via an ongoing lawsuit, legislation, public relations activities, and Senate testimony. But the media coverage of these efforts has consistently left out a key aspect of the story: These attorneys general have formed what a New York Times investigation described as an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with the fossil fuel industry against the Obama administration's environmental policies.