From the September 30 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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In the weeks leading up to the release of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report summarizing climate science on Monday, conservative media have spread a variety of myths about the process, credibility and findings of the group. Contrary to misinformation, the report reflects that scientists are more convinced than ever that manmade climate change is real and dangerous.
After reviewing the latest evidence from a major climate change report -- released in full on Monday -- the prominent consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers concluded that climate change is the "mother of all risks." But while many businesses recognize climate risks, the media often cloud these risks by framing climate change in terms of "uncertainty," according to a recent study. This can lead to a disconnect between scientific understanding and public perception, and a misguided contentment with inaction.
"What 95% Certainty Means To Scientists"
The lead author of the University of Oxford study on media framing clarified, "the general public finds scientific uncertainty difficult to understand and confuses it with ignorance." In fact, as Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein explained on Tuesday, in an article headlined "What 95% Certainty Means To Scientists," the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report's finding that scientists are 95 percent certain about manmade global warming reflects a certainty analogous to scientific fact:
Top scientists from a variety of fields say they are about as certain that global warming is a real, man-made threat as they are that cigarettes kill.
They are as sure about climate change as they are about the age of the universe. They say they are more certain about climate change than they are that vitamins make you healthy or that dioxin in Superfund sites is dangerous.
They'll even put a number on how certain they are about climate change. But that number isn't 100 percent. It's 95 percent.
And for some non-scientists, that's just not good enough.
But in science, 95 percent certainty is often considered the gold standard for certainty.
"Uncertainty is inherent in every scientific judgment," said Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Thomas Burke.
What 95% Certainty Means To Businesses
The disconnect between how the public and scientists view uncertainty may lead some people to come to the misguided conclusion that we should wait to act until the science is "certain." Fox News host Neil Cavuto, for instance, once said that "whether there is or not [a consensus among scientists on climate change], you want to make 100% sure before you plunk down trillions on something." But for a purported business expert, Cavuto seems to have little concept of risk management. As PricewaterhouseCooper's Will Day explained, hedging against catastrophic climate change now is only sensible:
From the September 25 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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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.
The Wall Street Journal debunked several of what it labeled "myths" about renewable energy on Monday. But the paper itself has promoted several of these myths in the past, obscuring the promising growth of renewable energy as prices rapidly decline.
According to Wall Street Journal reporter Keith Johnson, "[o]ld ideas die hard" when it comes to renewable energy. He went on to debunk "six myths about renewable energy" that he said stemmed from "outdated facts and assumptions." Three of these myths, as follows, have been pushed by the Wall Street Journal:
The Wall Street Journal has called the potential of wind and solar power "trivial" in an editorial and has published an op-ed by Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute that claimed "[p]hysical limitations will keep this energy source a niche provider of U.S. electricity needs."
But as Johnson reported, the scale of the U.S. electricity supply is so great that our current renewable energy mix, which has accounted for 14 percent of U.S. electricity production so far this year (mostly from hydropower), is greater than some countries' total electricity capacity -- far from trivial.
And as this Wall Street Journal chart shows, renewable sources are on a rapid upward trend, particularly from wind power:
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":
From the September 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Saturday:
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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: