Rachel Maddow: "How Can The Republicans Possibly Defend" Voting To Confirm Scott Pruitt Before His Emails With Oil Companies Are Released?
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As part of CBS News’ “Climate Diaries” series, correspondent Mark Phillips has traveled to Antarctica to report on climate change. We’ll be posting video of the segments here as they air on CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News throughout the week.
Phillips told TVNewser, “With any luck, the biggest take away from our reporting here will be to turn the climate change argument, which has gotten very political, back to science. The polar regions are where the evidence of climate change is greatest, and what happens here will eventually affect us all.”
Phillips further explained that “it’s an important time to be here doing this type of reporting.” And indeed, CBS’ Anthony Mason introduced Phillips’ initial report on CBS This Morning by noting that it was occurring “at a time of uncertainty over the U.S. government’s policy towards climate change.”
In his first report, versions of which aired on the February 13 editions of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, Phillips discussed a 100-plus-mile-long crack in the Larsen C ice shelf and the potential impact the loss of the shelf could have on sea levels that are already rising due to climate change. On CBS This Morning, Phillips stated, “It's not so much the floating sea ice from the shelf that is worrying. It’s that without the ice shelf to hold it back, the glacial ice on land will flow into the oceans more quickly and drive sea levels up even more than the 3 feet that is already predicted for the century.”
Phillips also described a “chill in the scientific community that’s working [in Antarctica] -- a fear that the kinds of money they need for their work will be less forthcoming in the future and that there’ll be a less sympathetic ear in government for the kind of science they do.” Many scientists have expressed grave concerns about the future of climate science under President Donald Trump, who has dismissed climate change as a “hoax” and whose administration may “attempt to undermine the years of science underpinning” climate policies, as Time magazine put it.
From the February 13 edition of CBS This Morning:
On February 14, CBS This Morning aired Phillips’ second report from Antarctica, which focused on how climate change could be threatening the food supply of killer whales.
In the segment, Phillips accompanied Palmer Station scientists tracking and studying sick and malnourished killer whales. Phillips explained that the scientists so far only have a hypothesis for why the whales are in bad health, but they believe that warming waters -- which have reduced the pack ice and led to fewer seals in areas where the whales normally hunt -- might be to blame.
In Phillips’ reports on the February 15 editions of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, researchers at Palmer Station detailed how dramatic changes in Antarctica are impacting another animal found in the region -- the Adélie penguin, whose population on the island housing Palmer Station has declined by around 85 percent, from a peak of almost 9,000 to about 1,200 this year. As Phillips explained in the CBS This Morning report, “These Adélie penguins need one essential condition to thrive: they need sea ice to hunt from, and there is less of that around now,” with the sea ice season now three months shorter than it used to be.
On CBS This Morning, Phillips also discussed how in addition to sea ice, glaciers are retreating at increasing rates, leaving Palmer Station researchers “shocked” at how dramatically the landscape has changed. Standing along the shoreline, Phillips explained that the Marr Ice Piedmont glacier is retreating so quickly that researchers were able to witness the creation of a new island in an area they had previously thought was part of the mainland. Introducing a similar version of the report on the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley noted that NASA found that last month was the third-warmest January on record and 2016 was the warmest year, adding, “Mark Phillips sees the change at the bottom of the earth.”
Here’s Phillips’ report from the February 15 edition of CBS This Morning:
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt has proposed the creation of a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” However, any credibility that Hewitt’s proposal may have had disappeared instantly when he suggested that the commission include Rush Limbaugh, a vocal climate science denier and conspiracy theorist who is among the least likely people imaginable to “listen to the scientists.”
Hewitt proposed the commission in a February 9 op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he asserted that “we don’t know enough” about the cost of addressing climate change or “the nature of the risk.” He also declared, “We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.”
Those claims themselves are dubious -- there is a wealth of research from both governmental and non-governmental organizations about the risks posed by climate change, and lumping proponents of climate action together with (often fossil fuel industry-funded) climate science deniers is false balance 101. But even if Hewitt is correct that a commission of non-scientists could help move the climate conversation forward, his proposal can’t be taken seriously when he suggests the commission include Limbaugh, simply because it ought to include “luminaries of left and right” and Limbaugh has created one of the “largest audiences of the past 30 years.”
Limbaugh has long been a promoter of some of the most over-the-top and fringiest climate science denial and climate-related conspiracy theories. Among other things, Limbaugh concocted a conspiracy theory that the federal government was overstating Hurricane Matthew’s severity in order to manufacture concern about climate change; claimed that NASA’s announcement that it found water on Mars was part of a climate change conspiracy; and distorted a study from Duke University, claiming it shows that "there isn't any [global] warming going on." For Hewitt to believe that Limbaugh belongs on a climate change commission requires a willful ignorance of Limbaugh’s long track record of climate science denial and overt disdain for science and scientists.
From Hewitt’s February 9 op-ed in the Post:
Imagine, if you will, an August 2017 Post headline: “McChrystal Commission report surprises, energizes and outrages.” The first paragraph reads:
“The much-anticipated and closely guarded final report of the McChrystal Commission on Climate Change released Tuesday shook nearly every interest and player in the capital. The commission, headed by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and including such luminaries of left and right as Oprah Winfrey and Rush Limbaugh and such captains of industry as Bill Gates and Peter Thiel, kept its work secret and its executive summary short and accessible. President Trump tweeted: “THANK YOU General McChrystal and colleagues. Great work. All must read and think on your report carefully!”
This is a not-yet-established commission, of course, and I don’t know whether the remarkable McChrystal would agree to lead it or if Trump would empanel it. I only know the country needs such a body, just as it needed the National Commission for Social Security Reform more than three decades ago.
[The “insurance policy” theory of combating climate change is] a good argument — but only an argument — because when it comes to climate change, we don’t know enough about the cost of the premium or the nature of the risk. Thus, a national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials and also populated with visible and controversial opinion leaders of left and right would serve us well. We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.
So what, if anything, ought to be done in light of what, if any, significant dangers lurk — especially if either or both of China and India continue on their emissions trajectory? That would render U.S. actions at best noble gestures and at worst moot and economically self-destructive gestures. Yes, I know about the Paris Accord and the “undertakings” of the big emitters but — the key — I don’t trust it or them.
I don’t know who to trust actually on these issues. But I would take very seriously the recommendations of a such a commission, and tens of millions would at least pay attention if it is populated in part by big names from entertainment. Winfrey and Limbaugh built and sustained the two largest audiences of the past 30 years after all. Dismiss them if you will, but only two people have accomplished that. Add on a Sheryl Sandberg if you’d like, provided there was also a Thiel to complement the Facebook chief operating officer. You get the picture: Diverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists — all of them — and report back on what ought to be done.
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A story by David Rose of the British tabloid Daily Mail falsely alleged that researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “manipulated global warming data” in order to “dupe” world leaders into agreeing to provisions of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. In reality, the NOAA report’s finding that there was no slowdown in the rate of global warming has since been independently verified by other experts, and it’s the Daily Mail story -- and the GOP politicians and right-wing media outlets like Breitbart News championing it -- that are distorting climate science to score political points.
Some media have called President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, District Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, “relatively mainstream.” But this label is misleading -- if Trump’s nominee is a “mainstream” conservative judge, it is only because conservative legal thought has shifted to the far right, as The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse explained. That shift is also reflected in the extreme anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ “originalist” decisions Gorsuch has issued, which have radical impacts that some in the media have downplayed.
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On January 24, two anonymous sources at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Reuters that the Trump administration had instructed EPA officials to remove the data-heavy climate change page from the agency’s website, and that the page could be taken down as soon as the following day. A public backlash quickly ensued, and the Trump administration at least temporarily backed away from its plan to shut down the website on January 25, as E&E News reported.
Whether the Trump-led EPA will ultimately remove the website remains to be seen, but regardless, the episode represents a victory for open data and a guide for how whistleblowers can work with reporters to push back against Trump administration gag orders that have alarmed science and transparency advocates.
And judging from their initial response, major media outlets seem to recognize that seeking out whistleblowers is particularly important in the current political landscape.
On the same day that the EPA employees alerted Reuters of Trump’s plan to shut down the EPA climate website, Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein reminded government scientists and officials that they can “securely and confidentially” send tips and documents to the AP via its SecureDrop service. The Washington Post also ran through its version of SecureDrop in a January 25 article titled, “Here’s how to leak government documents to The Post.”
Meanwhile, the staff at InsideClimate News (ICN) provided whistleblowers with a list of do’s and don’ts for revealing internal documents and information to ICN without compromising themselves.
It is safe to say that there is already widespread concern among civil servants about government transparency under the Trump administration, as a series of rogue climate-related tweets from National Park Service employees clearly demonstrates. But this battle over information is really just beginning, and it’s more important than ever that reporters work with whistleblowers to hold the White House accountable.
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Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), took part in a contentious hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on January 18. The hearing largely focused on Pruitt’s deep ties to polluting energy companies and track record of opposing the EPA’s clean air and water safeguards. Here are eight key moments from the hearing that are worthy of media attention.
1. Pruitt doubled down on climate science denial, despite affirming that climate change is not a “hoax.”
Coming into the hearing, Pruitt was on the record as a climate science denier who has refused to accept the consensus among climate scientists and the world’s leading scientific institutions that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are the main cause of global warming. Pruitt was given multiple opportunities during the hearing to clarify his views on climate science -- and he responded by doubling down on his climate science denial.
In his opening remarks, Pruitt stated: “Science tells us that the climate is changing, and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.”
Later in the hearing, Pruitt admitted that he does not believe climate change is a “hoax,” as Trump has claimed, but that doesn’t mean that he suddenly made an about-face and aligned his view with that of the world’s leading climate scientists. In response to a question from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who cited the 97 percent of climate scientists who say global warming is caused by human activities, Pruitt again asserted that “the ability to measure with precision the degree of human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate on whether the climate is changing or whether human activity contributes to it.”
Finally, in response to further questioning from Sanders, Pruitt made the astounding proclamation that his personal opinion on the subject is “immaterial” to serving as the EPA administrator.
2. Pruitt misled about the basis of his opposition to EPA safeguards against dangerous mercury pollution from power plants.
Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin, and mercury pollution, which largely comes from coal- and oil-fired power plants, is particularly dangerous for children and expecting mothers. In 2011, the Obama administration issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to cut mercury pollution by requiring power plants to install proven and widely available pollution control technology. Pruitt responded by issuing a series of lawsuits to block the EPA’s mercury safeguards, including one lawsuit that is ongoing.
During the hearing, Pruitt defended his lawsuits against the EPA’s mercury standards, despite acknowledging that mercury should be regulated by the EPA. At one point, following pointed questions by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Pruitt claimed that “there was no argument that we made from a state perspective that mercury is not a hazardous pollutant under Section 112 [of the Clean Air Act]. Our argument focused upon the cost-benefit analysis that the EPA failed to do.” In fact, Pruitt’s 2012 lawsuit against the EPA’s mercury standards did cite Section 112 and asserted that “the record does not support EPA’s findings that mercury … pose[s] public health hazards,” as Environmental Defense Fund’s Jeremy Symons pointed out.
Moreover, Pruitt’s ongoing lawsuit against the EPA is based on a “rigged” cost-benefit analysis that “considers all of [the regulations’] costs, but only some of their benefits,” as the Union of Concerned Scientists has noted. The lawsuit claims that that EPA’s calculation of the financial benefits of the safeguards cannot include indirect benefits, such as reduced smog and sulfur dioxide, that would also be reduced by the pollution control technology used to cut mercury pollution -- even though the EPA accounted for indirect costs, such as higher electricity prices (in addition to direct costs like the expense of installing pollution controls).
3. Pruitt refused to rule out blocking California’s clean car rules and other state-level pollution limits.
First, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) noted that “the EPA has historically recognized California’s authority to issue new motor vehicle pollution standards that go above and beyond federal standards,” and she asked Pruitt whether he would commit to “recognizing California’s authority to issue its own new motor vehicle air pollution standards.” Pruitt replied that he would “review” the issue but refused to commit to upholding California’s right to set stronger pollution standards.
Later, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) returned to this topic, noting that Pruitt wouldn’t commit to supporting the right of California, Massachusetts, and other states “to do what is best for global warming in their own states,” adding, “When you say ‘review,’ I hear undo.” Markey concluded that Pruitt has a “double standard” in which he says states like Oklahoma that agree with “the oil and gas industry perspective” have “a right to do what they want to do,” while states like California and Massachusetts may not have the right to “increase their protection for the environment” and reduce carbon pollution.
4. Pruitt confirmed that he equates the interests of the oil industry with those of the people of Oklahoma.
In 2014, The New York Times reported that Pruitt sent a letter to the EPA on state government stationery that accused federal regulators of overestimating industry air pollution, and that the letter was secretly almost entirely written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of the biggest oil and gas companies in Oklahoma. At the time, Pruitt responded to the controversy by declaring, “That’s actually called representative government in my view of the world.” During the hearing, Pruitt again confirmed that he equates representing the people of Oklahoma with representing the oil industry.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) mentioned the letter, asking Pruitt if he would acknowledge that he “presented a private oil company’s position, rather than a position developed by the people of Oklahoma.” Pruitt replied that he “disagree[d]” with Merkley’s conclusion and asserted that the letter was “representing the interests of the state of Oklahoma” because it “was representing the interest of an industry in the state of Oklahoma, not a company.” Pruitt cited the fact that the oil industry is “a very important industry to our state” as justification for equating the industry’s position with that of the state.
5. Pruitt claimed he didn’t solicit fossil fuel contributions for the Republican Attorneys General Association.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) drilled down on Pruitt’s extensive financial ties to fossil fuel companies, including Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Murray Energy, and Devon Energy. At one point, Whitehouse asked Pruitt if he had ever solicited funds from those companies for the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), to which Pruitt answered, “I have not asked them for money on behalf of RAGA.”
While it’s possible Pruitt’s claim is true, a document uncovered by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) shows that RAGA gave call sheets to Republican attorneys general to solicit funds from corporations, as CMD’s Nick Surgey noted. So the exchange is an important area for reporter follow-up, as the Natural Resources Defense Council’s John Walke explained.
6. Pruitt refused to recuse himself from his ongoing litigation against the EPA, setting up an apparent conflict of interest.
Sen. Markey asked Pruitt if he would recuse himself as EPA administrator from the lawsuits that he has brought against the EPA to overturn the agency’s clean air and water safeguards, adding that if Pruitt refused, “people are going to think that it’s not just the fox guarding the henhouse, it’s the fox destroying the henhouse.” Pruitt answered that he would recuse himself only “as directed by EPA ethics counsel.” Markey noted that Pruitt’s continued involvement in those lawsuits would create a “fundamental conflict of interest.”
Later in the hearing, Sen. Harris pressed Pruitt on whether he has “discretion” to recuse himself from the cases, independent of what the ethics counsel says. After initially dodging the question, Pruitt acknowledged, “Clearly there’s a discretion to recuse.”
7. Pruitt inflated his environmental credentials by misrepresenting two poultry industry cases.
In addition to criticizing Pruitt’s efforts to overturn clean air and water protections, opponents of Pruitt’s nomination have pointed out the lack of evidence that he has taken any proactive steps to protect Oklahoma’s environment during his time as attorney general. For example, Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project noted in a New York Times op-ed, “During his six-year tenure, [Pruitt’s] office issued more than 700 news releases announcing enforcement actions, speeches and public appearances, and challenges to federal regulations. My organization could not find any describing actions by Mr. Pruitt to enforce environmental laws or penalize polluters.”
When the question of Pruitt’s environmental credentials arose during the hearing, Pruitt grossly exaggerated his record of holding polluters accountable by misrepresenting two poultry industry cases.
First, noted anti-environment Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) invited Pruitt to explain “why you have become such a hero of the [Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission] people.” Pruitt replied by touting an agreement he reached with the state of Arkansas related to chicken manure pollution, declaring, “I actually reached out to my Democratic colleague Dustin McDaniel, the attorney general of the state of Arkansas, and we were able to negotiate an agreement that had phosphorous levels set at 0.037, scientifically driven and enforced on both sides of the border for the first time in history.”
But Pruitt’s agreement with Arkansas “didn’t take any steps to reduce pollution, but actually only proposes another unnecessary study and attempts to suspend compliance” for another three years of pollution, as Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) explained during the hearing. Indeed, as the Environmental Working Group noted, “Instead of fighting to enforce his state’s own water quality standards for phosphorus, [Pruitt] stalled. Pruitt’s 2013 amendment to the earlier agreement gave poultry polluters three more years to meet the goals established in 2003, plus an opening to weaken the standard by commissioning further study of the problem.”
Later, Sen. Harris asked Pruitt if he could “name a few instances in which you have filed a lawsuit in your independent capacity as attorney general against a corporate entity for violating state or federal pollution laws.” Pruitt responded by citing a lawsuit against the Mahard Egg Farm, which he described as involving “the clean-up of a large hen operation that affected water quality.”
However, parties on both sides of the lawsuit told ThinkProgress that the Mahard case “began years before he took office.” ThinkProgress further noted that while “Pruitt did technically file the case on behalf of Oklahoma, it was both filed and settled on the same day” after years of extensive negotiations that did not involve Pruitt, and it quoted Mahard’s lawyer as saying, “Nothing against AG Pruitt, but it was really a DOJ, EPA-driven process.”
8. Pruitt passed the buck on addressing Oklahoma’s fracking-induced earthquakes.
Citing Oklahoma’s “record-breaking number of earthquakes” that scientists attribute to the process of fracking for oil and gas, Sen. Sanders asked Pruitt if he could cite “any opinion that you wrote, any enforcement actions you took against the companies that were injecting waste-fracking water.” Pruitt replied that he was “very concerned” about the issue, but that “the corporation commission in Oklahoma is vested with the jurisdiction and they’ve actually acted on that.”
However, although the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is responsible for regulating wastewater injection, experts told The Atlantic that “there were a number of legal questions on which Pruitt could have engaged” (emphasis original). Those include issuing a legal opinion on whether the commission could stop wastewater from coming from other states or join Pawnee residents in a class-action lawsuit against oil companies that they say are liable for the earthquakes. The Atlantic added that “while it is true that Pruitt does not regulate oil and gas extraction in Oklahoma, other attorneys general have involved themselves in difficult fracking cases.”
Sanders concluded: “Your state is having a record-breaking number of earthquakes. You’ve acknowledged that you are concerned. If that’s the type of EPA administrator you will be, you’re not going to get my vote.”
Kevin Kalhoefer contributed to this report.
After Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) grilled CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo on climate change during his January 12 Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing, Fox News responded to Harris’ inquiries with mocking condescension. But the fact is, the intelligence community has taken climate change very seriously under both the Bush and Obama administrations, and Harris has every reason to press Pompeo on whether that will remain the case in the Trump administration.
During the hearing, Harris began by asking Pompeo whether he has “any reason to doubt the assessment” of CIA analysts that climate change is one of the “deeper causes of rising instability in the world.” Pompeo responded that it’s the CIA’s role to gather foreign intelligence and understand global threats, and that “to the extent that changes in climatic activity are part of that foreign intelligence collection task, we will deliver that information to you all and to the president.”
Harris then pointed out that Pompeo has previously “questioned the scientific consensus on climate change,” and asked whether he has any reason to doubt NASA’s statement that multiple studies show “97 percent or more of actively published climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” Pompeo responded by claiming that his political commentary has been primarily focused on critiquing the effectiveness of climate policies, and he added that he hasn’t “looked at NASA's findings in particular” and couldn’t give Harris “any judgement about that” during the hearing.
Pompeo also made this very telling remark: “I, frankly, as the director of CIA, would prefer today not to get into the details of climate debate and science. It just seems my role is going to be so different and unique from that.” In doing so, Pompeo signaled that climate change will not be a focus of the CIA under his leadership, which “could leave the CIA without crucial context as it evaluates threats around the world,” as Climate Central reported.
At the same time, Pompeo’s remark has inspired several Fox News pundits to mock Harris for choosing to ask about climate change -- beginning with Fox News contributor and Libre Initiative spokesperson Rachel Campos-Duffy, who like Pompeo himself, has deep ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers.
On the January 12 edition of Outnumbered, Campos-Duffy declared that Harris had asked a “dumb question.” Later that evening, The Five co-host Eric Bolling said Harris’ question was “ridiculous,” adding, “This is a spy agency. They are supposed to gather intel on bad guys, not the weather.” And on the January 13 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy joked, “Maybe [Harris] thinks the C in CIA stands for climate, but it doesn't. It stands for Central.”
What these Fox pundits either don’t understand or are unwilling to acknowledge is that evaluating climate change impacts is a critical component of the CIA’s mission. According to a September 2016 report prepared by the National Intelligence Council and coordinated with the U.S. intelligence community, “Climate change and its resulting effects are likely to pose wide-ranging national security challenges for the United States and other countries over the next 20 years.” As Harris mentioned, current CIA director John Brennan has also spoken to the importance of the agency accounting for climate change, stating in a 2015 speech that climate change is aggravating existing security problems and “is a potential source of crisis itself.”
And lest you think that only the Obama CIA views climate change as a priority for the intelligence community, a 2008 National Intelligence Assessment completed under the Bush administration also concluded that climate change poses a national security threat, as Grist reported at the time.
This is far from the first time that Fox News has dismissed the national security implications of climate change, but if the CIA itself adopts that misguided view, it will be a dramatic shift that should concern all Americans.
Secretary of state nominee and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 11. Tillerson is already under fire for making the seemingly false claim that Exxon has not lobbied against sanctions on Russia and other nations that would affect Exxon’s business dealings, but here are five other climate change-related takeaways that reporters should keep in mind in their coverage of the hearing and Tillerson nomination going forward.
1. Tillerson distorted climate change science … again.
As researchers at Harvard and MIT have documented, Tillerson has falsely claimed in the past that the temperature record “really hadn’t changed” over the previous decade and repeatedly made scientifically inaccurate claims “seeking to sow doubt about the reliability of climate models.”
Tillerson again wrongly cast doubt on climate models during the confirmation hearing. When asked by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) whether climate change is caused by human activities, Tillerson replied that the “increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect,” but that “our ability to predict that effect is very limited.”
In reality, “climate models have proven themselves reliable in predicting long-term global surface temperature changes,” as The Guardian’s Dana Nuccitelli has noted. Indeed, in remarks to Mashable responding to Tillerson’s comments, Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann similarly said, "Climate models have proven extremely skillful in predicting the warming that has already been observed.” And David Titley, the former head of the Navy's climate change task force, explained, “The ability of climate scientists to predict the future is significantly more skillful than many other professions (economics, intelligence, political science) who try and predict the future."
As Texas Tech University climate researcher Katherine Hayhoe told Mashable, climate projections of emissions scenarios are “based on physics and chemistry, the fundamentals of which have been understood” since the 1850s.
2. Tillerson disputed the Pentagon’s determination that climate change is a significant national security threat.
When Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asked Tillerson whether he sees climate change as a national security threat, Tillerson answered, “I don’t see it as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do.”
Among the “others” who disagree with Tillerson is the Pentagon, which has called climate change a “security risk” and said that considering the effects of climate change is essential to meeting the Defense Department’s “primary responsibility” to “protect national security interests around the world.” A 2014 Defense Department report similarly stated that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” and a bipartisan group of defense experts and former military leaders recently sent a briefing book to President-elect Donald Trump containing recommendations for addressing these risks.
For its part, the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change calls climate change a “global threat.”
3. Tillerson refused to discuss the “ExxonKnew” scandal.
Tillerson refused to answer questions from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) about media investigations documenting that Exxon’s own scientists had confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterward. Tillerson declared that he was “in no position to speak on [Exxon’s] behalf," and that “the question would have to be put to ExxonMobil." Kaine explained that he wasn't asking Tillerson to respond on behalf of Exxon, but rather to confirm or deny the accuracy of the allegations against the company, which he ran until the end of December. When Kaine asked Tillerson whether he was unable or unwilling to answer Kaine’s questions, Tillerson replied: “A little of both."
The media reports on Exxon, published in the fall of 2015 by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, prompted attorneys general in New York, California, and Massachusetts to each launch investigations of Exxon that are still ongoing. As InsideClimate News noted, “If Tillerson spoke about this under oath at this hearing, it conceivably could complicate matters for lawyers at the company he led.”
4. Tillerson declined to endorse the Paris climate agreement.
Under Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon issued several statements in support of the Paris climate agreement, which committed countries around the world to cutting emissions, with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees Celsius. However, Tillerson declined to explicitly endorse the Paris agreement during his confirmation hearing.
When initially asked about the agreement by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tillerson did not address the agreement specifically, but he did say that it’s “important that the United States maintain a seat at the table on the conversations around how to address the threats of climate change, which do require a global response.” But when asked about the agreement by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) later in the hearing, Tillerson left open the possibility of renegotiating -- or even withdrawing from -- the agreement, as InsideClimate News noted:
In case you missed it, Tillerson answered questions about whether the United States would remain in the Paris climate accord in a such a non-committal way that he left open the possibility for the Trump administration to ditch the agreement or pull out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as some of the President's team have recommended.
Tillerson suggested that the "America First" motto that Trump ran on would be the main criterion in assessing participation in the global climate accord.
Responding to a question from Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey about staying in the accord, Tillerson said that Trump would conduct a thorough review of global and bilateral accords on climate and that he would make his views known to the new president, who has vowed to 'cancel' the agreement and who has most recently called climate change a 'hoax' invented by the Chinese to hobble American business. Tillerson did not say what his views or recommendations would be.
Tillerson then continued: "I also know that the president as part of his priority in campaigning was to put America first. So there's important considerations as we commit to such accords and as those accords are executed over time, are there any elements of that put America at a disadvantage?"
Markey then asked if it should be a priority of the U.S. to work with other countries to find solutions to that problem.
Tillerson answered: "It's important for America to remain engaged in those discussions so we are at the table expressing a view and understanding what the impacts may be on the American people and American competitiveness."
Trump has said that he would “renegotiate” or “cancel” the Paris agreement. He’s also claimed since the election that he has an “open mind” about the agreement, but internal documents from Trump’s transition team “show the new administration plans to stop defending the Clean Power Plan,” which is the linchpin of the United States’ emissions reduction commitments under the Paris agreement.
Some reporters are interpreting Tillerson’s reference to a “seat at the table” as support for the Paris agreement, but his broad phrasing could also apply to seeking to rewrite the terms of the deal -- or withdrawing from it altogether. Later in the hearing, Tillerson added that he believes it’s important to have a “seat at the table” in order to “judge the level of commitment of the other 189 or so countries around the table and again adjust our own course accordingly.”
5. Tillerson did not address climate change, oil, or even Exxon itself in his opening remarks.
In their initial coverage of the Tillerson nomination, several major media outlets uncritically portrayed Tillerson as an advocate for action to combat climate change, despite his -- and Exxon’s -- troubling track record on the issue. But when Tillerson was given the opportunity to outline his vision and priorities for the State Department during his opening statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he did not once mention climate change, lending credence to the contention of Tillerson’s critics that his and Exxon’s professed support for climate action “was all P.R.”
Tillerson’s opening statement also neglected to mention oil or even Exxon itself, where Tillerson has worked for the last 41 years. That glaring omission hints at a lack of concern for crucial questions about whether Tillerson’s oil industry experience prepares him to serve as America’s top diplomat, or whether, as The New Yorker’s Steve Coll put it, he will be willing and able to “embrace a vision of America’s place in the world that promotes ideals for their own sake, emphatically privileging national interests over private ones.”
With National Media Undercovering These Stories, It's Just A Matter Of Time Until It Happens To Another Community
In 2016, major environmental crises that disproportionately affect people of color -- such as the Flint water crisis and the fight over the location of the Dakota Access Pipeline -- were undercovered by the national media for long periods, despite being reported by local and state media early on. The national media’s failure to spotlight these environmental issues as they arise effectively shuts the people in danger out of the national conversation, resulting in delayed political action and worsening conditions.
In early 2016, Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in the majority black city of Flint over the dangerous levels of lead in the drinking water -- more than a year after concerns about the water were initially raised. While some local and state media aggressively covered the story from the beginning, national media outlets were almost universally late to the story, and even when their coverage picked up, it was often relegated to a subplot of the presidential campaign. One notable exception was MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who provided far more Flint coverage prior to Snyder's state of emergency declaration than every other network combined. Flint resident Connor Coyne explained that when national media did cover the story, they failed to provide the full context of the tragedy by ignoring the many elements that triggered it. In particular, national outlets did not highlight the role of state-appointed “emergency managers” who made arbitrary decisions based on budgetary concerns, including the catastrophic decision to draw Flint’s water from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron (via the Detroit water system).
This crisis, despite media’s waning attention, continues to affect Flint residents every day, meaning serious hardships for a population that's more than 50 percent black, with 40.1 percent living under the poverty line. Additionally, according to media reports, approximately 1,000 undocumented immigrants continued to drink poisoned water for considerably longer time than the rest of the population due in part to a lack of information about the crisis available in their language. Even after news broke, a lack of proper identification barred them from getting adequate filtration systems or bottled water.
At Standing Rock, ND, like in Flint, an ongoing environmental crisis failed to get media attention until it began to escalate beyond the people of color it disproportionately affected. Since June, Native water protectors and their allies have protested against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), an oil pipeline which would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s primary water source. Several tribes came together to demand that the pipeline be rejected, as it had been when the (mostly white) residents of Bismarck, ND, raised similar concerns. The tribes’ calls for another route option for the pipeline went “criminally undercovered” by the national press until September, when security forces and protesters started clashing violently. CNN’s Brian Stelter wondered whether election coverage had crowded out stories about Standing Rock, saying, “It received sort of on-and-off attention from the national media,” and, oftentimes, coverage “seemed to fall off the national news media’s radar.” Coverage of this story was mostly driven by the social media accounts of activists on the ground, online outlets, and public media, while cable news networks combined spent less than an hour in the week between October 26 and November 3 covering the escalating violence of law enforcement against the demonstrators. Amy Goodman, a veteran journalist who consistently covered the events at Standing Rock, even at the risk of going to prison, told Al Jazeera that the lack of coverage of the issues at Standing Rock went “in lockstep with a lack of coverage of climate change. Add to it a group of people who are marginalised by the corporate media, native Americans, and you have a combination that vanishes them.”
The reality reflected by these stories is that people of color are often disproportionately affected by environmental hazards, and their stories are often disproportionately ignored.
In a future in which the Environmental Protection Agency could be led by Scott Pruitt -- a denier of climate science who has opposed efforts to reduce air and water pollution and combat climate change -- these disparities will only get worse. More so than ever, media have a responsibility to prioritize coverage of climate crises and amplify the voices of those affected the most, which hasn't happened in the past.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has reported that more than three-quarters of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. African-Americans are also particularly at risk from climate impacts like rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths, and the black community is three times more likely than whites to die from asthma-related causes. Similarly, Latinos are 60 percent more likely than whites to go to the hospital for asthma and 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than white people. New Hispanic immigrants are particularly "vulnerable to changes in climate" due to "low wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing," all of which are "critical obstacles to managing climate risk."
Leading environmental justice scholar Robert D. Bullard has found that “government is disproportionately slower to respond to disasters when communities of color are involved.” But media have the power to pressure governments into action with investigative journalism. According to a Poynter analysis on media’s failure to cover Flint, “a well-placed FOIA,” a “well-trained reporter covering local health or the environment,” or “an aggressive news organization” that could have “invested in independent water testing” could have been decisive in forcing authorities to act much sooner. Providing incomplete, late, and inconsistent coverage of environmental crises of this type, which disproportionately harm people of color, has real life consequences. And as Aura Bogado -- who covers justice for Grist -- told Media Matters, the self-reflection media must undertake is not limited to their coverage decisions; the diversity of their newsrooms may be a factor as well:
“When it comes to reporting on environmental crises, which disproportionately burden people of color, we’re somehow supposed to rely on all-white (or nearly all-white) newsrooms to report stories about communities they know very little about. That doesn’t mean that white reporters can’t properly write stories about people of color – but it’s rare.”
Media have many opportunities -- and the obligation -- to correct course. Media have a role to play in identifying at-risk communities, launching early reporting on environmental challenges that affect these communities, and holding local authorities accountable before crises reach Flint’s or Standing Rock’s magnitude.
While the dangers in Flint and Standing Rock eventually became major stories this year, they were not the only ones worthy of attention, and there are other environmental crises hurting communities of color that still need the support of media to amplify a harsh reality. Media could apply the lessons left by scant coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline and Flint to empower these communities and bring attention to the many other ongoing situations of disproportionate impact that desperately need attention -- and change. As Bullard suggests, every instance of environmental injustice is unique, but media coverage should be driven by the question of “how to provide equal protection to disenfranchised communities and make sure their voices are heard.”
Illustration by Dayanita Ramesh
Donald Trump and the presidential election dominated news coverage in 2016. But talking heads still found plenty of time to make jaw-dropping comments about climate change, energy, and the environment. This year’s list of ridiculous claims includes a dangerous conspiracy theory about Hurricane Matthew, over-the-top worship of fracking and coal, and absurd victim-blaming around the Flint water crisis. Here is our list of the 15 most ridiculous things that media figures said about climate, energy, and environmental issues in 2016.
1. Rush Limbaugh And Matt Drudge Peddled A Reckless Conspiracy Theory Downplaying The Threat From Hurricane Matthew. Shortly before Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the U.S., Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge concocted a conspiracy theory that the federal government was overstating the hurricane’s severity in order to manufacture concern about climate change. On The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh accused the National Hurricane Center of "playing games" with hurricane forecasting and added, “It's in the interest of the left to have destructive hurricanes because then they can blame it on climate change, which they can desperately continue trying to sell.”
Limbaugh doubled down on this theory the next day, telling his audience, “There’s politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes.”
Drudge, the curator of the widely read Drudge Report website, promoted the conspiracy as well, suggesting that federal officials were exaggerating the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew “to make [an] exaggerated point on climate.”
Drudge also used his website to persuade Southeast residents not to take the storm seriously, with a banner “STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED!” and additional headlines “IT’S A 4?” and “RESIDENTS NOT TAKING SERIOUSLY...”.
Climate scientist Michael Mann explained that people "could die because of the misinformation that folks like Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge are putting out there," and two actual hurricane experts provided a point-by-point rebuttal of Drudge’s claims. But that did nothing to dissuade Drudge, who refused to give up on the conspiracy theory.
2. Fox News Blamed The Flint Water Crisis On Climate Change Policies, "PC Stuff,” And Even Flint Residents Themselves. National media outlets largely ignored the water crisis in Flint, MI, as it unfolded over almost two years, but when the story did finally make national headlines, Fox News pundits were quick to pin the blame on anyone and anything other than the Republican governor of Michigan.
On Fox & Friends, host Heather Nauert and guest Mark Aesch suggested that “misplaced priorities,” including climate change and “PC stuff,” allowed the water crisis to happen:
And on The Kelly File, Fox News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt placed blame on Flint residents themselves, saying that the "people of Flint should have been protesting in the streets" after noticing that their water was poisoned. Stirewalt also blamed Flint parents for giving their children contaminated water, declaring: "If you were pouring water into a cup for your child and it stunk and it smelled like sulfur and it was rotten, would you give that to your child? No, you'd revolt, you'd march in the street." In addition to being offensive, Stirewalt’s comments were premised on a falsehood; Flint residents did in fact repeatedly protest throughout the year to demand safe drinking water for their families.
3. CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Claimed Trump EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt “Hasn’t Denied Global Warming.” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, is a climate science denier who has refused to accept the clear consensus of the scientific community that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are primarily responsible for global warming. Yet according to CNN New Day anchor Alisyn Camerota, Pruitt simply “sees nuance” and “hasn’t denied global warming.” Camerota falsely claimed that Pruitt only disputes climate “predictions” and “forecasts,” when in fact he has also denied that global warming is human-caused, and even Camerota's premise that climate models are unreliable is incorrect. As Camerota wrongly absolved Pruitt of climate denial, CNN’s on-screen text read: “Climate Change Denier Scott Pruitt To Lead EPA.” Co-anchor Chris Cuomo also pushed back on Camerota, stating that Pruitt “says it’s ‘far from settled.’ That means he’s not accepting the science.”
Camerota badly butchered climate science, but it's noteworthy she was even discussing the issue given CNN’s spotty track record. In April, a Media Matters analysis found that CNN aired almost five times as much oil industry advertising as climate change-related coverage in the one-week periods following the announcements that 2015 was the hottest year on record and February 2016 was the most abnormally hot month on record. And in one segment later in the year where CNN did cover climate change, CNN Newsroom host Carol Costello speculated, “Are we just talking about this and people's eyes are glazing over?”
4. MSNBC's Mike Barnicle: ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson "Is A Huge Green Guy.” Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies. Exxon is currently under investigation in several states for possibly violating state laws by deceiving shareholders and the public about climate change, while Tillerson himself has misinformed about climate science and mocked renewable energy. Yet according to Mike Barnicle, a regular on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “Rex Tillerson is a huge green guy.” And alas, no, we don't think he was comparing Tillerson to the Jolly Green Giant or the Incredible Hulk.
5. Disregarding Everything Trump Has Said And Done On The Subject, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough Claimed “I Just Know” Trump Believes In Climate Science. On Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough defended Trump after it was announced he had selected Pruitt, a climate science denier, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scarborough -- who along with co-host Mika Brzezinski has repeatedly carried water for Trump -- insisted, “I just know” that Trump “has to believe” in climate science.
Scarborough’s comments followed a wave of TV coverage about how Trump had supposedly “reversed course” on climate change, which was based on a New York Times interview in which Trump said he has an “open mind” about the Paris climate agreement and that “there is some connectivity” between human activities and climate change. But few of these reports addressed any of the substantive reasons that such a reversal was highly unlikely, such as his transition team’s plan to abandon the Obama administration’s landmark climate policy, indications that he will dismantle NASA’s climate research program, and his appointment of fossil fuel industry allies as transition team advisers -- not to mention the full context of Trump’s remarks to the Times.
6. Trump Adviser Stephen Moore: Being Against Fracking “Is Like Being Against A Cure For Cancer.” While discussing his new book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy on C-SPAN2's Book TV, conservative economist and Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore stated that opposing fracking “is like being against a cure for cancer” because it is “one of the great seismic technological breakthroughs” that is “giving us huge amounts of energy at very low prices.” Never mind that many of the chemicals involved in fracking have actually been linked to cancer.
7. Stephen Moore: “We Have The Cleanest Coal In The World.” Moore’s preposterous praise for fossil fuels wasn’t just confined to fracking. On Fox Business’ Varney & Co., he declared that the U.S. has “the cleanest coal in the world.” That statement is quite difficult to square with the fact that “Coal combustion contributes to four of the top five leading causes of death in the U.S.—heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases—according to Physicians for Social Responsibility,” as Climate Nexus has noted.
Pro-coal propaganda also found a home on Fox Business’ sister network, Fox News, where The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld asserted that “coal is a moral substance. Where coal reaches, people live longer, happier lives.”
8. Breitbart’s James Delingpole: Climate Change Is “The Greatest-Ever Conspiracy Against The Taxpayer.” In an article promoting a speech he gave to the World Taxpayers’ Associations in Berlin, Breitbart’s James Delingpole wrote: “Climate change is the biggest scam in the history of the world – a $1.5 trillion-a-year conspiracy against the taxpayer, every cent, penny and centime of which ends in the pockets of the wrong kind of people.” In the speech itself, Delingpole similarly claimed that “the global warming industry” is “a fraud; a sham; a conspiracy against the taxpayer.”
Breitbart, which was until recent months run by Trump’s chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon, has frequently denied climate change and viciously attacked climate scientists. Delingpole, in particular, has described climate scientists as “talentless lowlifes” and referred to climate advocates as “eco Nazis,” “eco fascists,” and “scum-sucking slime balls.” Bannon has criticized Pope Francis for succumbing to “hysteria” about climate change; The Washington Post has written about how Bannon influenced Trump’s views on the issue during his time at Breitbart.
9. Fox Report On Law Gas Prices: “Put The Tesla In The Garage And Break Out The Hummer.” Just 10 days after Trump was elected president, Fox News began giving him credit for low gas prices, the latest proof of the network’s blatant double standard when it comes to covering gas prices under Republican and Democratic presidents. But simply shilling for Trump was apparently not enough for Fox Business reporter Jeff Flock, who provided the slanted gas prices report on Fox News’ America’s News Headquarters. At the conclusion of the report, Flock also displayed a brazen lack of concern about climate change, declaring: “I would say put the Tesla in the garage and break out the Hummer.”
10. Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel Instructed Viewers To “Trust” A Climate Science-Denying Fossil Fuel Front Group. In a video interview posted on The Wall Street Journal’s website, Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel instructed viewers who are “confused about the science surrounding climate change” to “trust” Rod Nichols, chairman of a climate science-denying fossil fuel front group known as the CO2 Coalition. During the interview, Nichols denied that human activities such as burning oil and coal are responsible for recent global warming, claiming that “climate change has been going on for hundreds of millions of years,” “there is not going to be any catastrophic climate change,” and “CO2 will be good for the world.” Kissel asked Nichols, “Why don't we hear more viewpoints like the ones that your coalition represents,” and concluded that the CO2 Coalition’s research papers are “terrific.”
The Wall Street Journal has made a habit of “trusting” climate science deniers like Nichols -- or at least repeating their false claims about climate science. A recent Media Matters analysis of climate-related opinion pieces found that the Journal far outpaced other major newspapers in climate science misinformation, publishing 31 opinion pieces that featured climate denial or other scientifically inaccurate claims about climate change over a year-and-a-half period.
11. Fox Host Clayton Morris: Rubio's Climate Science Denial At Presidential Debate Was An "Articulate Moment.” During a Fox News discussion of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s performance at a CNN presidential debate, Fox and Friends co-host Clayton Morris described Rubio’s claim that the climate is “always” changing -- a common talking point among climate science deniers -- as “a really articulate moment.”
While Morris’ endorsement of Rubio’s climate denial as “articulate” is particularly striking, a 2015 Media Matters analysis found that media frequently failed to fact-check GOP presidential candidates’ climate change denial.
12. Fox Hosts Mocked Leonardo DiCaprio's Oscar Speech On Climate Change: "Focus On Something Else Other Than The Weather.” When actor Leonardo DiCaprio took home the Oscar for best actor for his role in The Revenant, the hosts of Fox News’ The Five and Fox and Friends mocked DiCaprio for devoting much of his acceptance speech to making the case for climate change action. On The Five, co-host Jesse Watters declared, “So the guy finally gets an Academy Award and he's talking about the weather. What's going on here?” Co-host Eric Bolling helpfully added, “Focus on something else other than the weather.”
That wasn’t the only time in 2016 that DiCaprio was caught in Fox News’ crosshairs for having the nerve to talk about climate change. Later in the year, The Five aired footage from an event in which President Obama criticized congressional climate deniers and DiCaprio said, “The scientific consensus is in, and the argument is now over. If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts, or in science, or empirical truths, and therefore in my humble opinion should not be allowed to hold public office.” The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld then responded by likening criticism of climate science deniers to religious extremism, saying: “You have to wonder about a belief system that doesn't want any challenges, that doesn't want any of their theories to be questioned. This -- what he is talking about is radical Islam of science. He is actually turning science into a religion.”
13. Fox’s Meghan McCain: "The Liberal Hysteria Over Climate Change Was So Overblown That Now People Have A Hard Time Even Believing It.” Rather than criticize conservatives or Republicans who frequently deny climate science, Fox News host Meghan Mccain blamed liberals for public confusion about climate change, declaring on Fox News' Outnumbered that “the liberal hysteria over climate change was so overblown that now people have a hard time even believing it and believing that it's something that's justified.” McCain, who also mocked Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for campaigning on the issue with Al Gore, added, “I do think there are signs we should look at, but if Al Gore, if you take his word for it, there's a big flood that's going to come in and wipe us all away in five minutes.”
14. Fox’s Steve Doocy: Obama’s Monument Designation Was Done To “Appease Environmental Terrorists.” On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy declared that President Obama’s designation of the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean was “done to appease environmental terrorists.” Not so shockingly, Doocy and his co-hosts did not comment when their guest, Deadliest Catch’s Keith Colburn, acknowledged that "increased water temperatures" from climate change are impacting fisheries across the United States.
15. Fox Hosts Flipped Out About Portland Public Schools Decision To Stop Teaching Climate Denial To Children. In May, the Portland Public Schools board unanimously approved a resolution “aimed at eliminating doubt of climate change and its causes in schools.” But while climate science denial may no longer be taught in Portland public schools, it still has a place on Fox News, as the hosts of Outnumbered demonstrated in their flippant response to the resolution.
Co-host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery said the Portland schools decision is “so anti-scientific,” adding, “There are still scientists, believe it or not, out there who say, ‘No, we still have to look at the data.’ And it's impossible to predict how the climate is going to change over hundreds or thousands of years.” Co-host Jesse Waters remarked, “So getting out of the ice age, how did the Earth warm up after the ice age? There were no humans there with cars and factories.” He also stated, “It gets hot, it gets cold, this spring has been freezing. It's not getting warmer, it seems like it's getting colder. Am I wrong?”
But Fox News pundits aren’t just defenders of teaching climate science denial; they’re also partially to blame for it, according to researchers at Southern Methodist University (SMU). Last year, the SMU researchers released a study that found some children's textbooks that depict the reality of human-caused climate change with uncertainty are influenced by a climate science knowledge gap that finds its roots partly in conservative media misinformation. In particular, the SMU researchers pointed to previous research that showed Fox has disproportionately interviewed climate science deniers and that its viewers are more likely to be climate science deniers themselves.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final report on the drinking water impacts of hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) has provoked howls from The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, which blasted EPA analysts as “science deniers” pushing “fake news.” But the editorial’s deeply flawed reasoning is the latest evidence that the Journal is in denial when it comes to scientific findings that conflict with its pro-fossil fuel agenda, whether they relate to fracking or climate change.
In the December 18 editorial, the Journal misrepresented the changes the EPA made to its draft version of the report, which was released in June 2015:
After being barraged by plaintiff attorneys and Hollywood celebrities, the EPA in its final report substituted its determination of no “widespread, systemic impact” with the hypothetical that fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances” and that “impacts can range in frequency and severity” depending on the circumstances.
The EPA now asserts that “significant data gaps and uncertainties” prevent it from “calculating or estimating the national frequency of impacts.”
In reality, all of the findings the Journal pointed to in the final version of the report were also present in the draft version. The draft version stated that “there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources,” identified “factors affecting the frequency or severity” of those impacts, and acknowledged that "data limitations" prevent the agency from having "any certainty" of how often fracking has actually impacted drinking water.
The one change the Journal correctly identified was that in the final version of the report, the EPA rescinded its draft conclusion that there was no evidence fracking has “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” But contrary to the Journal’s claim that the EPA disavowed that finding because the agency had been “barraged by plaintiff attorneys and Hollywood celebrities,” it was actually changed after the EPA’s scientific advisory board, which evaluates the agency’s “use of science,” pointed out that the draft conclusion wasn’t supported elsewhere in the report:
The [Science Advisory Board] has concerns regarding the clarity and adequacy of support for several major findings presented within the draft Assessment Report that seek to draw national-level conclusions regarding the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.
Of particular concern in this regard is the high level conclusion statement on page ES-6 that “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” The SAB finds that the EPA did not support quantitatively its conclusion about lack of evidence for widespread, systemic impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, and did not clearly describe the system(s) of interest (e.g., groundwater, surface water), the scale of impacts (i.e., local or regional), nor the definitions of “systemic” and “widespread.” The SAB observes that the statement has been interpreted by readers and members of the public in many different ways. The SAB concludes that if the EPA retains this conclusion, the EPA should provide quantitative analysis that supports its conclusion that hydraulic fracturing has not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.
EPA Deputy Administrator Tom Burke recently confirmed that the EPA chose to remove the “no widespread, systematic impacts” language after receiving feedback from the science advisory board, and “Burke said the EPA opted to remove the phrase because it ‘could not be quantitatively supported’ and it ‘showed that sentence did not clearly communicate the findings of the report,’" as American Public Media reported.
The Journal further claimed that “the EPA’s faulty construction of a monitoring well caused contamination” in Pavillion, WY, citing that situation as an example of how “any technology has the potential to inflict some damage” if mismanaged. However, that claim – which has been pushed by a fossil fuel industry front group – has been debunked by experts at Stanford University, as the Casper Star-Tribune reported:
Industry critics once argued samples from the EPA’s groundwater monitoring wells should be discounted because of faulty construction. But the compounds found in those monitoring wells are more commonly associated with fracking—not the cements used to encase a well, [Stanford researchers Dominic DiGiulio and Robert Jackson] say.
The Journal concluded its editorial by asserting that it is “ironic” that liberals who “denounce anyone who cites uncertainties about carbon’s climate impact as ‘deniers’” are now “justifying their opposition to fracking based on scientific uncertainties.” As quite possibly the most frequent purveyor of climate science misinformation in the entire media landscape, the Journal has rightly received substantial criticism for its climate denial. The difference, of course, is that there is near-universal scientific consensus that carbon pollution is warming the planet, whereas both the draft and final versions of the EPA report show that no such consensus yet exists about the impacts fracking has had on drinking water resources.
Such false equivalency only goes to show that the Journal editorial board is in denial about both climate change and fracking.