Environment & Science

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  • Matt Drudge Peddles Irresponsible Conspiracy Theory Downplaying Deadly Hurricane Matthew

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    As millions evacuate the east coast of Florida in preparation for Hurricane Matthew, which has already been responsible for more than 113 deaths across the Caribbean, the curator of the most widely read conservative website, Matt Drudge, irresponsibly peddled a conspiracy theory that federal officials have exaggerated the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew “to make exaggerated point on climate.”

    On October 6, Drudge claimed “the deplorables” were wondering if the government was lying about the intensity of the deadly hurricane and also questioned the legitimacy of the National Hurricane Center’s data:

    [Twitter, 10/6/16]

    [Twitter, 10/6/16]

    Drudge also used his website, one of the most widely read sites on the internet, DrudgeReport.com to put Florida residents in danger and push the conspiracy theory with a banner titled “STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED!,” alongside links titled “IT’S A 4?” and “RESIDENTS NOT TAKING SERIOUSLY...”.

    In direct contrast to Drudge, Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott warned those in the hurricane’s path that “this storm will kill you,” while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) described the storm as “dangerous.” Fox News host Shepard Smith warned Floridians that if they did not evacuate “you and everyone you know is dead,” and that “you can’t survive it,” while The National Weather Service for Melbourne, Florida warned residents that the storm was “LIFE-THREATENING,” and “more impacting than Hurricane David and 2004 hurricanes!”:

    Drudge joined Rush Limbaugh in peddling irresponsible conspiracy theories about the hurricane, placing their audience in danger. Earlier, Limbaugh downplayed the storm by ranting about “politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes,” and previously claimed the National Hurricane Center is "playing games" with "hurricane forecasting" to convince viewers of climate change.

    UPDATE: Conspiracy theorist and Trump ally Alex Jones retweeted Matt Drudge, expressing support and agreement with his dangerous hurricane conspiracy while adding the white supremacist “altright” hashtag:


  • Media Should Not Forget About Climate Change In Coverage Of Hurricane Matthew

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Hurricane Matthew was reportedly the strongest hurricane to hit Haiti since 1964, and the National Hurricane Center is now warning that there is “a danger of life-threatening inundation during the next 36 hours along the Florida east coast and Georgia coast.” Alerting the public to the threat and urging people to take all precautions necessary to stay safe are the top priorities for reporters covering this historic storm. But media outlets should also keep the broader climate change context in mind as they report on Hurricane Matthew in the coming days.

    When record-breaking rainfall and flooding struck Louisiana in August, major newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post addressed how the devastation was in line with the predicted impacts of a warming planet, but the major TV networks’ nightly newscasts did not. As CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter noted at the time, it’s essential for media to explain that extreme weather events “are happening more often due to climate change and are more extreme due to climate change,” particularly in the “early stages” of covering a weather disaster.

    Time will tell if the major television networks cover the relationship between climate change and Hurricane Matthew, but the scientific evidence is clear.

    As Climate Nexus’ Climate Signals has explained, Matthew has been “fueled by seas warmer than the historical average” and the threat of catastrophic flooding from heavy rainfall is “significantly amplified by climate change”:

    As the global temperature has increased, so too has the capacity of the atmosphere to hold and dump more water. At the same time warming of the ocean increases evaporation making more moisture available to the atmosphere. In parallel, coastal flooding has been amplified by sea level rise which extends the reach of storm surge driven by hurricanes such as Matthew.

    Similarly, TheGuardian reported on October 5 that scientists say major storms like Matthew “will grow in menace as the world warms and sea levels rise.” The article quoted Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Kerry Emanuel, who said, “We expect to see more high-intensity events, category 4 and 5 events” due to global warming, and “there are hints that we are already beginning to see it in nature.” The Guardian also cited James Done of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who said, “The message is that hurricanes that do occur in the future, the major ones, will be stronger. Category four and five hurricanes could double or triple in the coming decades.”

    Emanuel added that scientists expect the damage from hurricanes like Matthew to “steadily increase” as sea levels continue to rise over the rest of the century.

  • What Media Should Know About The GOP Attorneys General Suing To Block EPA’s Climate Plan

    Investigations Exposing Attorneys General-Fossil Fuel Alliance Provide Key Context For Clean Power Plan Fight

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    As the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals hears challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, media should note that the Republican attorneys general suing the EPA have formed what a New York Times investigation described as an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with the fossil fuel industry. Since the Times investigation was published, additional details of this alliance have come to light, including the revelation that fossil fuel companies paid for private meetings with Republican attorneys general shortly before the attorneys general sued the EPA to block the flagship climate change policy.

  • New Book Provides Illustrated Guide To Media-Fueled “Madhouse” Of Climate Change Denial

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Sometimes even the world’s most serious problems are best handled with a little bit of humor.

    Case in point: The Madhouse Effect (Columbia University Press), a new book by Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann and Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, which lays out a plan for media, politicians, and the public at large to “escape the madhouse” of climate change denial before it’s too late.

    There is no shortage of books about climate change. But what makes this one unique is the way it combines Mann’s science communication skills, which help succinctly describe the roots, methods, and implications of climate science denial, and Toles’ illustrations, which provide an equally biting and amusing perspective on the dynamics the book describes. The book speaks to both our left and right brains, with the hope that it will motivate many to push for climate action -- and maybe even convert a few deniers along the way.

    The Madhouse Effect is also a book about media, and it dissects many common media failings that we frequently analyze and write about here at Media Matters.

    First among them is false balance, which the book describes as giving false industry-friendly claims about climate change “an equal place on the media stage with actual science.” As we documented in a recent study of newspaper opinion pages, one place where this problem is alive and well is USA Today, which often pairs scientifically accurate editorials about climate change with “opposing view” op-eds that flatly deny climate change is happening or that it's caused by human activities.

    Several of these climate science-denying “opposing views” in USA Today were written by Republican members of Congress, exemplifying another point Mann and Toles make in the book: False balance is “greatly exacerbated by the increasing polarization of our public discourse.” This can also be seen in print and TV news coverage of GOP presidential candidates’ climate denial, which frequently failed to indicate that the candidates' statements about climate change conflicted with the scientific consensus on the issue.

    Mann and Toles argue that false balance has been further worsened by the decentralization of news sources, particularly the rise of the “right-wing echo chamber” led (at least in the U.S.) by Rupert Murdoch-owned outlets Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Indeed, climate science denial remains a staple of both outlets, with the Journal editorial board and Journal columnist Holman Jenkins peddling every denialist trope imaginable, and Fox News recently erasing all mentions of climate change (and coincidentally, Mann) from an Associated Press article about Tropical Storm Hermine.

    The Madhouse Effect also pinpoints where these denialist talking points often originate, detailing many of the fossil fuel front groups whose representatives frequently mislead about climate change in major print and TV media without disclosing their glaring conflicts of interest. Among them are leading opponents of climate action such as Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Heartland Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), all of which have received funding from the oil billionaire Koch brothers.

    The book exposes many of the individual industry-funded operatives known for misinforming about climate change, too, including the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, Heartland’s Fred Singer and James Taylor, Junkscience.com editor Steve Milloy, ClimateDepot’s Marc Morano, and CEI’s Chris Horner and Myron Ebell.

    Mann and Toles give special attention to Bjorn Lomborg, a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and USA Today:

    Of Lomborg’s particular style of misinformation, they write:

    Lomborg’s arguments often have a veneer of credibility, but scratch the surface, and you witness a sleight of hand, where climate projections are lowballed; climate change impacts, damages, and costs are underestimated; and the huge current subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, both direct and indirect, are ignored.

    (Unfortunately, after Mann and Toles wrote a September 16 op-ed in the Washington Post profiling Lomborg and other members of the book’s climate “deniers club,” the Post opted to publish its first Lomborg op-ed in nearly two years on its website on September 19.)

    Thankfully, The Madhouse Effect debunks many of the top climate falsehoods promoted by these industry operatives -- and conservative media. These include claiming that addressing climate change will keep the poor in “energy poverty”; citing the global warming “hiatus” or “pause” to dismiss concerns about climate change; pointing to changes in the climate hundreds or thousands of years ago to deny that the current warming is caused by humans; alleging that unmitigated climate change will be a good thing; disputing that climate change is accelerating sea level rise; and denying that climate change is making weather disasters more costly.

    And Mann and Toles detail some of the climate connections that major media outlets often ignore, such as the counterintuitive role of climate change in the winter snowstorms that blanketed the Northeast in early 2015, and the impacts of climate change on national security, the economy, and public health. In part, they attribute this lack of coverage to a modern media environment where very few stories can survive more than a few 24-hour news cycles, which is “prohibitive for raising awareness about slowly growing threats such as climate change.”

    The book concludes with a call to action for readers to “leave the madhouse” and help lead the fight against climate change. The authors convey a sense of urgency, writing: “We will not, we cannot, wreck this planet. There is no Planet B.” As with so much else in The Madhouse Effect, that sentiment is also expressed in cartoon-form, via Toles’ illustration of a thermometer for a chapter titled, “Why should I give a damn?”:

  • As Trump Visits Flint, Media Should Remember His Anti-Clean Water Agenda

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is visiting Flint, MI, a city that is still struggling to recover from a drinking water crisis that Trump claimed “would have never happened if I were president.” Media should be wary if Trump repeats this claim, given his plans to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and rescind the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, as well as his energy adviser’s reported statement that the Clean Water Act would likely be “rolled back" by a Trump administration.

  • Media Call Out Trump For Dodging Key Science Questions

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Media are calling out GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump for providing vague and evasive answers to a series of science-related questions posed by a coalition of major science organizations, including a question about climate change. Trump has a long track record of denying the reality of climate change, but he was not asked about the topic during any of the 12 GOP presidential primary debates.