A Wall Street Journal op-ed by a photographer and blogger attacked the credibility of a major report on the state of climate change by distorting the caution and breadth of research that undergirds the work of the group preparing to release it, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The op-ed, published Wednesday under Donna Laframboise's byline, suggested a 2010 review of the procedures for IPCC reports was an indication that the media should not listen to the panel when it says that "'science' has spoken." Laframboise noted that one respondent to a questionnaire included in the review said that some of the 450 lead authors, 800 contributing authors and more than 2,500 reviewers have "insufficient scientific competence." However, she did not mention that the IPCC itself asked the InterAcademy Council (IAC) to carry out the review, or that the IAC stated that it was "pleased that so many of our report's recommendations were adopted" by the organization for its upcoming report. Furthermore, the IAC said the IPCC's recommendations "are well supported by the scientific evidence."
While Laframboise went on to criticize the IPCC for occasionally relying on non-peer-reviewed sources, a standard bugbear, the same review defended that practice, stating that doing otherwise "would require the IPCC to ignore some valuable information" and that the review procedures for such literature were "adequate." The IAC review found that 84 percent of the references cited in the primary scientific assessment report of the IPCC were peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Laframboise also alleged that five authors (out of hundreds) from the last report had conflicts of interest because they had written reports or were employed by environmental groups. She offered no evidence that those authors' scientific credentials are in any way deficient, and neglected to concede the point that some lead authors have also been connected to oil companies or other fossil fuel interests. Laframboise did not mention that one of the IPCC guidelines taken on after the IAC review was a conflict of interest policy covering "all individuals directly involved in the preparation of IPCC reports," including authors and review editors.
A recent incident in which 7,500 songbirds died after flying over a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant has been ignored by the same conservative media outlets that often exaggerate the danger posed to birds by wind turbines, including hyping an incident in which a single bird was killed in Scotland.
The birds killed by the LNG facility, which may have included some endangered species, were headed south for the winter when a routine "flare" release at the Canaport LNG facility in Canada, used to burn off excess natural gas, drew them in. Though company officials apologized for the episode and said they are modifying equipment to reduce flaring, one manager at the plant admitted "At the moment there's not a whole lot I can do to resolve it in the short term." The dead reportedly included "a large number of red-eyed vireos" (see photo above).
Three months prior, another migrating bird, the white-throated needletail, died after flying into a wind turbine off Scotland. The needletail is not endangered or threatened, but it is sighted only rarely in the United Kingdom.
Can you guess how conservative media covered these two cases?
Searches of Nexis, Google and an internal video database indicate that the thousands of birds that died after flying into a Canadian gas flare have not been mentioned by any U.S. conservative outlet to date (or any major U.S. outlet other than the environmental sites Treehugger and National Geographic).
Conversely, the single bird that flew into a wind turbine became a big story in the conservative media bubble. Right-wing outlets used the episode to smear green energy, sometimes betraying sheer glee, as when National Review Online blogger Greg Pollowitz wrote "Your [sic] laughing as you read this, aren't you?" or Rush Limbaugh remarked "[a] bunch of environmentalist whackos watched a precious windmill kill a rare bird."
Conservative media's fixation on a single bird death -- albeit regrettable -- while completely ignoring thousands more seems to let slip that feigning an interest in conservation is simply a convenient way for these outlets to attack wind power, which they have depicted as an agent of "mass slaughter " or an "open-ended aviary holocaust," while overlooking far more elementary, existential threats to wildlife, including climate change. Lest we forget, conservative media figures have regularly mocked those who are concerned about the impact that humans are having on animals -- one Fox News contributor declared "lots of species may be about to leave the planet, and I don't care" -- and attacked conservation efforts for endangered species from lizards to polar bears.
After the Daily Mail falsely accused scientists of "cover[ing] up" temperature data based on leaked comments to the world's preeminent climate report, conservative media, including the Daily Caller, are once again adopting the British tabloid's misinformation verbatim. However, the comments actually showed scientists and governments making the same points privately that they have made publicly about why the slightly slower rate of warming in the last 15 years doesn't undermine the overwhelming science showing long-term climate change.
A recent Associated Press article showed that leaked private comments on the upcoming comprehensive U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report reflect what scientists have been saying publicly: despite experiencing the warmest decade on record from 2000-2010, the planet is heating up at a slightly slower rate -- but this in no way undermines the science demonstrating manmade climate change is occurring. What the AP report -- which FoxNews.com tried to turn into "Climategate II" -- described was a debate over how to best explain this to the public. During the exchange in question, representatives of various governments pointed out that cherry-picking 1998 as a starting point for global temperatures trends is misleading because that year had record warmth, and this short time period does not undermine the long-term warming trend.
Somehow, the Daily Mail used this to say that "it is claimed" that scientists producing the IPCC report "were urged to cover up the fact that the world's temperature hasn't risen for the last 15 years." The paper didn't actually provide anyone who has alleged this.
The draft report and comments also show several experts pointing out that scientists are conducting ongoing research about the extent to which this phenomenon is based on heat being trapped in the oceans or various temporary natural cooling factors in order to better project the exact future impacts of climate change.
False claims popularized by the media in recent weeks were used as fodder in a Republican hearing to cast doubt on global warming.
The House Energy and Power Subcommittee interrogated cabinet officials Gina McCarthy and Ernest Moniz on Wednesday in a hearing that Organizing for Action dubbed "DenierPalooza." Committee members have accepted over $12 million from the fossil fuel industry in 2013 alone, and a majority are known to deny the science demonstrating manmade global warming. During the hearing, several false claims about climate change that originated in the media were repeated as fact.
An egregious claim advanced by British tabloid The Mail On Sunday was recited by Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) in an effort to claim that global warming isn't happening, asserting "Arctic ice has actually grown 60 percent." Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) also cited the Mail, stating "I recently read an article that stated that the Arctic ice had nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at this time of year."
However, these claims were based on a typographic error from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), later corrected. The NSIDC found the Arctic sea ice increase was actually half of what the Mail reported: about 500,000 square miles of ice were added to the Arctic from the previous year (not one million), an increase of 29 percent.
Regardless of this error, it is misleading to use these figures to argue that we are experiencing "global cooling" (as did the Mail On Sunday), as 2012 was a record low for Arctic ice, and some increase in ice extent was expected. Even with the increase, the August 2013 average sea ice extent was about 70 percent less than the 30-year average -- the Arctic is still experiencing rapid sea ice decline in the long-term, mostly due to global warming. Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment concluded that the article was "deliberately misleading."
As misinformation from British tabloids about climate change has been magnified by American conservative media in the past several weeks, it was only a matter of time before inaccuracies permeated Congress and entered the political debate.
Fox News is glossing over the near-unanimous consensus* on climate change by citing a fringe study that claims the phenomenon is minor and "not dangerous." But the network did not mention the latter's industry ties or dubious pedigree -- or that a major report is expected to undercut it later this month.
Happening Now first mentioned the questionable study Wednesday, in a segment on a hearing in the House of Representatives. Host Gregg Jarrett and Fox News reporter Doug McKelway suggested that two new pieces of evidence weaken testimony offered in support of the science behind climate change: a leaked draft of the forthcoming U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report, which McKelway claimed "will acknowledge temperatures have remained stable for the last 15 years or so," and a just-released study from a similarly-named front group, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which concludes that warming will likely be "modest and cause no net harm." Based on these, McKelway concluded, "evidence of global warming is coming under increased scrutiny and increased doubt."
However, Fox News omitted what is expected to be the signature finding of the IPCC, an unpaid group that works to summarize the state of climate science and has been called "inherently conservative" in its approach -- that "the odds are at least 95 percent that humans are the principal cause" of climate change (short-term trends do not undermine this verdict).
In the first half of 2013, a little more than half of CNBC's climate change coverage cast doubt on the consensus position that it exists and is manmade. In the three months since, little has changed -- in a disservice to its viewers, who will need to factor climate change into their long-term business planning, CNBC has continued to deny the science.
Seeking to cast doubt on a major climate change report due later this month, Rush Limbaugh cited a widely-pilloried British tabloid for the second time in as many weeks.
On the September 17 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh attacked the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is set to release a study affirming that scientists are more confident than ever that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet. Declaring that climate models "have all been wrong," he read the first seven paragraphs of a recent The Mail on Sunday article purportedly to that effect, pausing to identify the IPCC as "the holding company, if you will, for all the hoax data":
Fox Business is crying foul over Environmental Protection Agency-hosted climate change lesson plans, which it calls "propaganda." However, the material is aligned with the National Research Council, reflects the view of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, and covers many topics that conservative media have flagrantly misreported in the past.
The lesson plans, which have been available online to middle school educators for months, drew conservative ire after a tweet from the EPA appeared on Fox contributor Michelle Malkin's social media aggregation site, Twitchy.com, on September 12. By the next morning, it was considered big enough news that Fox News contributor Monica Crowley covered it on Varney & Company, asking, "Are they going to tell these kids to not exhale? Because every time you exhale, that's carbon dioxide."
Equally uncontroversial is the view that industrial activities -- particularly the burning of fossil fuels for energy -- have led to a surplus of life-supporting gases like carbon dioxide, which has made the planet hotter -- too hot, in fact. Even many prominent climate deniers acknowledge this much.
It is no surprise that the EPA's lesson plans are grounded in good, basic science; they were adapted from material designed by preeminent scientific institutions including the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The material is also aligned with the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards.
Fox figures would do well to take a look at these plans. Here are three issues they cover that have proven tricky for them in the past:
Conservatives are still turning to British tabloids for their climate science, most recently treating a single year's Arctic sea ice -- which is still far below previous and long-term averages -- to claim that the region is not melting.
The latest instance of tabloid-reviewed science began when the The Mail on Sunday -- a sister newspaper to serial climate misinformer the Daily Mail* -- published an article titled "And now it's global COOLING!" suggesting that an increase in Arctic sea ice cover between September 2012 and August 2013 is among "mounting evidence that Arctic ice levels are cyclical." The story was summarily picked up by other British tabloids and a variety of conservative outlets, all to cast doubt on climate change. Notably, Rush Limbaugh used the report to claim "the Arctic ice sheet is at a record size for this time of year. They told us the ice was melting in the Arctic Ice Sheet. It's not."
Actually, Arctic sea ice is nowhere near "a record size." A graph from the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) illustrates that 2013 Arctic sea ice extent minimum (beige line), while not as low as last year's record (dotted line), is still tracking well below the 1979-2000 average (as have the minimum extents of every year since 1997). It is on track to be the sixth-lowest in satellite annals:
As 2012 was a record low, it is not terribly surprising that 2013 looks like it will be higher. This is due to a phenomenon known as regression to the mean, eloquently illustrated by this Skeptical Science graphic:
Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal is using the victory of conservative Tony Abbott in Australia's recent race for prime minister as a cautionary tale, warning American politicians to "beware the faddish politics of climate change." The warning, issued by an editorial board with a long history of misinforming the public on climate policy, comes on the heels of accusations that Abbott's victory was influenced by severe attacks on his opponent lobbed in the pages of Murdoch's Australian press empire.
Over the weekend, Australians elected Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott -- a man who has been compared to former American President George W. Bush -- to serve as the nation's 28th prime minister. Among other initiatives, Abbott intends to dismantle the country's fight against climate change, arguing that the science behind the phenomenon is "absolute crap."
In an editorial September 9, The Wall Street Journal attributed former PM Kevin Rudd's loss, and the overall defeat of the center-left Labor Party, to the party's push for a tax on carbon emissions and other "anticarbon policies." The Journal argued that Abbott successfully made the carbon tax a "political liability," and the editorial board used the opportunity to warn Republicans in the United States against going along with attempts to curb carbon emissions:
A carbon tax is one of those ideas that economists love to propose but that turn out to be lousy politics. If Republicans want to toy with the idea, they had better be prepared to eliminate the income or payroll tax along with it. Otherwise voters will figure out that the politicians are merely looking for one more way to tap into their incomes, in this case by raising their electricity and other energy bills.
Despite The Wall Street Journal's claim, voters were probably not sending a message about carbon policy. Only 37 percent of Australians support eliminating the carbon tax and replacing it with the policies of Abbott and the Coalition. The tax didn't even break voters' top three concerns, with those spots going to concerns about the economy, asylum seekers, and health care. In fact, most Australians think the country's climate policies should remain the same or stronger.
Instead, voter antipathy toward the center-left government may be rooted in an aversion to political hypocrisy and broken promises. Leaders of the Labor Party, including former PM Julia Gillard, previously promised there would be no carbon tax, then flipped on the issue and instated one any way. A reporter for The Guardian's Australian edition noted that the Labor Party was thrown out of power because for voters, it "became an issue of her [former PM's] credibility really rather than carbon pricing." The Journal did not see fit to include this important context in its editorial.
The Daily Caller wrote that a recent survey of scientific literature only confirmed the "uncontroversial points" that warming has occurred and that it is in part manmade, but the Daily Caller itself has cast doubt on these facts.
The peer-reviewed survey found that 97 percent of scientific abstracts that stated a position on global warming endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. While these points are uncontroversial in the scientific world, they are controversial among many in Congress and the public -- due in part to the misinformation pushed by conservative media outlets such as the Daily Caller.
The Daily Caller also regularly publishes articles that cast doubt on global warming -- including near-transcriptions of Sen. Inhofe's latest attacks on climate science -- yet conveniently leave out the "uncontroversial" fact that the majority of scientists agree that manmade, or anthropogenic, climate change is occurring. For instance, the online publication promoted "Lord" Christopher Monckton, who likes to compare climate activists to Nazis, challenging "Al baby" (Al Gore) to debate him on climate change without stating that the majority of scientists accept that climate change is real and manmade.
The Daily Caller article, headlined "Report: There is no 97 percent global warming consensus," quoted the Global Warming Policy Foundation's Andrew Montford (who is not a scientist) quibbling with the survey by claiming it didn't examine whether the papers endorsed the view that "human activity is the main driver behind global warming" (emphasis added). However, the authors of the report have already addressed this criticism, a fact the Daily Caller left out, explaining that the scientific abstracts they examined didn't go into this detail, but they contacted the authors and 96 percent of them agreed that humans have caused more than half of recent warming (emphasis removed):
Environmental activists, spurred in part by a Media Matters study that found CNBC was misleading on climate change, held a protest in front of CNBC's headquarters Tuesday and submitted more than 42,000 signatures in support of a petition urging the cable network to improve its coverage of that issue.
Members of Environmental Action and Forecast the Facts gathered in front of the business network's offices in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., for a 20-minute event. Their protest highlighted the damage done to New Jersey during last year's Hurricane Sandy and pointed out that CNBC's poor climate change coverage does a disservice to its audience, whose companies can reduce risk and increase profits with accurate information on how climate change is impacting their industries.
"There is this growing evidence of the economic impact of climate change," said Jesse Bacon, field organizer for Environmental Action. "It is crucial and we hope to see an improvement in their climate coverage. CNBC has a reputation as a journalistic outlet so people take them seriously."
The protest is, in part, a response to findings by Media Matters in June that the majority of CNBC's climate coverage cast doubt on the validity of the situation.
At the end of Tuesday's event, Bacon and other organizers presented the petition with what they said were more than 42,000 signatures to CNBC spokesman Brian Steel.
The petition states:
To CNBC Chief Executive Officer and President Mark Hoffman:
Tell Joe Kernen and your other on-air personalities and guests to stop denying climate science and start reporting the facts on the economic risks of fossil-fueled climate change.
Media Matters identified Kernen, the co-anchor of Squawk Box, as "the most vocal CNBC figures on climate change in 2013, frequently pointing to cold weather to suggest that global warming is not occurring."
Bacon said more than 42,000 signatures was "a very high number of people for us. This really resonated. People do care what's on television and what's being covered."
Steel met the group in the parking lot of CNBC and said he "will commit to read these. We always appreciate the feedback, we love viewer feedback."
Fox News reported on the "very unusual problem" of diminishing sand at Florida beaches, terming it an "environmental ... crisis of the future." However, the network did not mention that phenomenon's connection to sea level rise, a major consequence of climate change.
On Tuesday's edition of Happening Now, correspondent Phil Keating checked in from Miami Beach to relate that some beaches in Florida are "running out of sand." This, he said, threatens the region's booming tourism industry and indirectly weakens an important buffer against hurricane damage as municipalities are forced to take sand from offshore to replace what has been lost. The segment went on to explain that Broward County, which contains Fort Lauderdale, has considered grinding up glass as a substitute:
To its credit, Fox News explained that erosion is to blame for this sand shortage (rather than, say, aliens). Unfortunately, the network did not mention any of the underlying trends driving such changes, prominent among which is rising sea levels along with coastal development and high foot traffic. As Climate Central reported in 2012, climate change could make matters much worse:
And then there's the growing danger of sea level rise, caused by climate change. "Even 25 years ago, sea level was rising," [U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Asbury] Sallenger said in a recent interview, "but not a heck of a lot." But that's changing as the planet's temperature keeps going up, sea water keeps expanding and ice is flowing faster to the ocean, especially in Greenland and Antarctica. "If sea level rises another foot," said Duke University beach expert Orrin Pilkey in an interview, "the shoreline in northeastern North Carolina could be pushed back 5 or 6 miles. And all of the projections I've seen suggest it will be more like 3 feet by 2100."
Fox News seized on a cold winter forecast from the Farmers' Almanac to mock global warming. But meteorologists say the periodical, whose prediction has been hyped by many in the media, is "like the Ouija board of weather."
Even if the publication's predictions were accurate, it would do nothing to contradict the long-term trend of warmer global temperatures, including warmer winters in the U.S.:
Yet more remarkable than Fox's annual mockery of global warming is that its source essentially gives out the horoscopes of the weather world. Farmers' Almanac broadcasts vague predictions based on a "secret formula" of "tides, astronomical events" and other factors known only to their pseudonymous weatherman Caleb Weatherbee. It then declares itself correct 80 percent of the time -- apparently based on its readers' assessments, as the outlet has not done any actual analysis. Due to this, a Fox News meteorologist previously said she was "weary" of Almanac forecasts.
Yet now the channel is hyping a prediction that The Washington Post Chief Meteorologist Jason Samenow called "outrageous" and "baseless," concluding that "only a fool would take them seriously."
What's worse is that Fox News is not alone: The Associated Press, in a widely reprinted article, broadcast the same weather predictions from the Farmers' Almanac, noting that "[m]odern scientists don't put much stock in" the Farmers' Alamanac's methods, but then credulously repeating its claim that it is "correct about 80 percent of the time." Additionally, in a seeming violation of their own stylebook, AP referred to "Caleb Weatherbee" without explicitly stating that this is a pseudonym.
Seeking to downplay the impacts of climate change, Fox News claimed that sea-level rise would only amount to "a few inches over a century" in a "worst-case scenario." However, just a few days prior, a draft report from the world's top climate scientists showed that the actual number would be around three feet, exacting a great toll on coastal cities.
On Fox News' America's Newsroom Thursday, anchor Gregg Jarrett suggested that former Vice President Al Gore "tends to exaggerate" the consequences of global warming, alleging that Gore said "the sea level would rise 20 feet" (more on that later). Jarrett continued, "Scientists are laughing at that, saying 'wait a minute, okay, maybe, worst-case scenario, a few inches over a century.'"
But if anyone is "laughing," it should probably be at Gregg Jarrett, who has evidently modeled his own disregard for science on that of the North Carolina general assembly. Earlier this week, a leaked draft of a major report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the year 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise rapidly -- in other words, a "worst-case scenario." Only in a scenario in which "the world's governments would prove far more successful at getting emissions under control than they have been in the recent past" would sea level rise be limited to "as little as 10 inches" in addition to the eight-inch rise we've already experienced, according to The New York Times. Some scientists have said this assessment is "overly conservative," and there are studies suggesting "the possibility of as much as two meters (six feet) sea level rise by 2100."