REPORT: CNBC Still Deeply In (Climate) Denial

››› ››› MAX GREENBERG & DENISE ROBBINS

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.

More Than Half Of CNBC's Coverage Cast Doubt On Climate Change

Majority Of Network's Climate Coverage Featured Denial. Between June 14 and September 17, 55 percent (or 11 of 20) of the substantial mentions or segments on climate change featured on CNBC cast doubt on its existence, up from 51 percent in Media Matters' original study. The same percentage dismissed that climate change is an important problem that should be addressed. Only 30 percent of mentions and segments featured one or more figures stating that they accept the science behind manmade climate change. Of three full segments on climate change, only one featured a host or guest accepting that climate change is real. [Media Matters6/18/13] [CNBC, Worldwide Exchange, 7/12/13]

Meanwhile, Scientists Overwhelmingly Agree On The Issue. A recent peer-reviewed survey found that 97 percent of scientific abstracts that stated a position on global warming endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. A 2009 study published by the American Geophysical Union reported that 97 percent of climate scientists said human activity was a "significant" contributor to rising temperatures. [Media Matters9/5/13] [Media Matters6/25/13]

CNBC Didn't Host Any Scientists To Discuss Climate Change. During the period of this study, CNBC did not host a single scientist to discuss climate change. Guests included advocates, business figures or politicians -- 33 percent of whom cast doubt on climate change. On these counts, CNBC's coverage fared worse than in the initial study. Most statements casting doubt on climate change still came from CNBC hosts -- 75 percent (nine of 12).

Kudlow And Kernen Still Undermine Climate Science. Several CNBC figures who have previously denied climate change science, including host Larry Kudlow and co-anchor Joe Kernen, stayed true to form during the surveyed period. Since the original report, Kudlow and Kernen cast doubt on climate change five and four times, respectively. They have previously referred to climate change as a "scam analysis" and a "bona-fide cult," and Kernen has devoted time on social media this year to inveigh against climate advocates, variously referring to them as "Eco Taliban" and comparing them to "end of days" evangelists.  [Media Matters6/18/13] [Media Matters8/20/13] [DeSmog Blog, 7/24/13] [Twitter, 7/11/13]

CNBC's "Green Week" Accounted For 33% Of Segments That Accepted Science. One-third of the segments featuring guests who accept the science of climate change were part of CNBC's "special week of climate coverage," which came two months after Media Matters' initial survey. However, that week of programming was limited to Worldwide Exchange, a business show that airs at 4am ET, and during the week Joe Kernen took time to mock it. [Media Matters8/20/13] [Media Matters9/3/13]

But Climate Coverage Actually Worsened Since Original Report. In the first half of 2013, Media Matters found that 51 percent of CNBC's climate change coverage cast doubt on the scientific consensus that global warming exists and is manmade. That study helped push activists to organize a petition drive urging CNBC to improve its reporting on the issue. Members of both Environmental Action and Forecast the Facts staged a protest in front of the network's corporate offices to deliver the petitions to a network spokesman in early September. Nonetheless, climate reporting worsened since the original study -- even with the "special week of climate coverage." During the time period of the study, the percentage of substantial segments or mentions that cast doubt on climate change increased from 51 percent to 55 percent. [Media Matters6/18/13] [Media Matters9/3/13]

Strategic Businesses Acknowledge And Evaluate Climate Change Impacts

Top Companies Consider The Impact Of Climate Change On Their Businesses.

  • Deloitte: "Climate Risk Should Be Included In All Organisations' Risk Management Strategies." [Deloitte, accessed 6/10/13]
  • Unilever: Climate Change "Has A Significant Impact On Our Business." [Unilever, accessed 6/11/13]
  • Kinross Gold Corporation: "Severe Weather Conditions, Including Those Resulting From Global Climate Change, May Adversely Impact Kinross' Operations." [Kinross, 2010, via Ceres]
  • Coors: "The Effects Of Climate Change Could Have A Long-Term, Material Adverse Impact On Our Business." [Coors, 2/22/13]
  • Nike: "Climate Change May Impact Nike's Global Supply Chain And Our Ability To Deliver The Right Product To The Right Place At The Right Time." [Nike, 2011, via Ceres]
  • Johnson & Johnson: "Changes To Global Climate ... Could Affect Demand ... [And] Cause Disruptions." [Johnson & Johnson, 2/20/13]
  • Delta Airlines: Increases In Severe Weather Events "Including From Changes In The Global Climate" Could "Increase The Potential For Greater Loss." [Delta Airlines, 2/12/13]
  • Swiss Re: Climate Change Is "An Important Component Of The Company's Long-Term Risk Management Strategy." [Swiss Re, accessed 6/12/13]
  • AIG: Climate Change Poses "Risks To The Global Economy ... Including Risks To Adequate Water Supply For Human Consumption And Agricultural Use." [AIG, issued May 2006, revised March 2009]
  • Starbucks: Climate Change Poses "A Potentially Significant Risk To Our Supply Chain, Which Is The Arabica Coffee Bean." [The Guardian10/13/11]
  • Lloyd's: "As Climate Change Takes Hold, Few Businesses Will Be Able To Escape The Impact Of Greater Competition For Resources." [Lloyd's, 2009]

Harvard Biz Professor: Climate Change Not Matter Of "Belief"; Better Seen As "Managerial Question." Forest L. Reinhardt of Harvard Business School's Business and Environment Initiative has said that climate change is "better seen as a classic managerial question about decision-making under uncertainty" than a matter of "believing" or not believing widely accepted science:

"It's striking that anyone frames this question in terms of 'belief,' saying things like, 'I don't believe in climate change,' " says John D. Black Professor and BEI faculty cochair Forest L. Reinhardt. "I don't think this ought to be treated as a religious question. I think it's better seen as a classic managerial question about decision-making under uncertainty." [Forbes, 9/9/13]

Study: 70% Of Companies Believe Climate Change Can Significantly Affect Their Revenues. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) noted that "three quarters (73%) [of the companies surveyed] say they feel that climate change presents a physical risk to their operations; just 13% identify regulation as a sole driver":

Seventy percent of companies believe that climate change has the potential to affect their revenue significantly, a risk which is intensified by a chasm between the sustainable business practices of multinational corporations and their suppliers, according to research published today by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Accenture(NYSE:ACN).

"Reducing risk and driving business value" is based on information from 2,415 companies, including 2,363 suppliers and 52 major purchasing organizations who are CDP Supply Chain program members. These members include Dell, L'Oreal and Walmart and represent a combined spending power of c. US$1 trillion. The research marks CDP's most comprehensive annual update on the impact of climate change on corporate supply chains.

Climate change presents near-term risks to businesses, according to the report. Fifty-one percent of the risks that disclosing companies associate with drought or extreme rain are already having an adverse effect on company operations, or are expected to within five years, say those businesses. Additionally, the destructive nature of extreme weather is likely a catalyst for company action on climate change, with physical climate risk identified in the report as a greater driver of investment than climate policy. Of the 678 companies investing in emissions reduction initiatives, three quarters (73%) say they feel that climate change presents a physical risk to their operations; just 13% identify regulation as a sole driver. [Carbon Disclosure Project, 1/22/13]

Some Businesses Already "Hedging Climate Volatility." The Globe and Mail pointed out that while most spending on climate change is not anticipatory, some businesses are "hedging climate volatility" already:

Pick any city, any industry, any business, any government and you will find that most of the spending on climate change comes after the disaster, not in anticipation of it. The U.S. Congress authorized more than $60-billion to pay for Hurricane Sandy's damage last year. In other words, there is no hedging for volatility.

[...]

To be sure, a few smart businesses, big and small, are hedging climate volatility. Some insurers are exiting markets that are particularly prone to climate change disasters, like low-lying areas that get hit with floods a bit too often. [The Globe and Mail5/17/13]

Fmr Goldman Sachs Risk Management Head: Climate Issues Could Develop Quickly. Former Goldman Sachs risk management officer Bob Litterman, who is currently chairman of the risk committee at hedge fund Kepos Capital LP, wrote for LiveScience that the risk-management challenges posed by climate change are related to "time compression," or the problem of risky events "unfold[ing] too quickly, leaving insufficient time to react and manage the consequences," making the need to address climate change even more pressing:

Society should not regard the act of filling the Earth's atmosphere with greenhouse gases lightly. Just as in the financial crisis, when the meltdown in value of the huge investments in risky mortgages unpredictably rippled into other markets, this global chemistry experiment also may spill over into uncontrollable environmental disasters, all compounded by time compression.

[...]

The danger of time compression caused by climate change is real -- thus, society must immediately price the risk. [LiveScience, 9/11/13]

Study: Climate Costs Could Be Similar To Financial Crisis. A recent paper found that the costs of delaying action to mitigate climate change before 2030 "are comparable to the costs of the financial crisis the world just experienced":

The economic costs of failing to agree a deal before 2030 "are comparable to the costs of the financial crisis the world just experienced", the paper's lead author, Dr Gunnar Luderer, says in a press release.

The new paper compares the cost of action depending on whether there is a new international agreement in 2015, 2020, or 2030. It calculates that global economic growth could be reduced by about two per cent if an agreement comes in 2015. Economic growth would be reduced by around seven per cent if the new targets are set in 2030, however. [Carbon Brief, 9/13/13]

57% Of Small Businesses: Climate Change And Extreme Weather Are "Urgent Problems." According to a June 2013 study from the Small Business Majority, a majority of small businesses believe "Climate change and extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy are an urgent problem that can disrupt the economy and harm small businesses." A subsequent report from the same group noted that small businesses, as opposed to large corporations, are uniquely susceptible to devastating extreme weather effects -- an estimated 25 percent of small- to mid-sized businesses do not reopen following a major disaster. [Small Business Majority, 6/25/13] [Small Business Majority, 7/25/13]

Study: Climate's "New Normal" May Force Changes For Insurers. A paper from the Geneva Association, an insurance research group, found that "In some high-risk areas, ocean warming and climate change threaten the insurability of catastrophe risk more generally" because they lead to "a shift towards a 'new normal' for a number of insurance-relevant hazards." As The New York Times explains, this means "the past can no longer reliably predict the future," which has traditionally been the tactic of insurers. [Geneva Association, June 2013] [The New York Times9/1/13]

Swiss Re: Sandy May Be Preview Of Extreme Weather's Impact On Insurance Industry. A report from reinsurance company Swiss Re found that 2012 was the third most expensive year on record for the insurance industry at over $77 billion, largely driven by extreme weather events, some of which may be worsened or made more likely by climate change. For example, even without considering climate change's effect on future hurricanes, "the impact of sea-level rise alone is likely to be significant for both those seeking and those providing insurance protection":

The report found that a 10-inch rise in global average sea levels by 2050 would nearly double the probability of extreme flood losses. "For the industry, this means that a $20 billion insured loss event, now expected once in 250 years, would be expected once in 140 years," Swiss Re said in a press release. A 10-inch increase in sea level by 2050 is considered to be a conservative estimate, since it does not include the effects of a potentially rapid melt of land-based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, Swiss Re said.

"So even without considering how climate change may affect future hurricane frequency or severity, the impact of sea-level rise alone is likely to be significant for both those seeking and those providing insurance protection," the report said.

According to Matthias Weber, Swiss Re's group chief underwriting officer, Hurricane Sandy may be a preview of what's to come as rising seas make future coastal storms more destructive. "Sandy challenged the industry with its combination of record wind field and storm surge," Weber said in a press release. "The possibility that such events could increase in frequency and strike densely populated regions such as the northeast U.S. means that extreme storm surges need to be more thoroughly understood." [Climate Central, 4/1/13]

Extreme Weather Events Cause Billions In Damages. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently aggregated 19 scientific studies of the most extreme weather events from 2012 and found that "approximately half of the analyses found some evidence that anthropogenic climate change was a contributing factor to the extreme event examined." A 2013 report from the Center for American Progress found that "billion-dollar" damage extreme weather events, some of which are made more likely or more damaging by climate change, dealt up to $188 billion in total damage in the U.S. from 2011 to 2012. [Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society9/13] [Center for American Progress, 2/12/13]

PricewaterhouseCoopers: "Climate Change Is A Risk 'Multiplier.'" PricewaterhouseCoopers stated that climate change is a "risk multiplier," as the increasing frequency and intensity of certain extreme weather events can, for instance, disrupt the global supply of commodities. This graphic created by PwC shows that the supply of rice will be particularly disrupted by climate change:

From PwC:

In 2010, Russia suffered a severe heat wave. The resulting economic losses were estimated to be US$15bn as drought and wildfires destroyed crops, particularly wheat. The knock-on effect was export restrictions on wheat in Russia, which contributed to global price increases.

[...]

Often overlooked, climate change adds to complexity. It amplifies or alters existing risks, for example raw material availability (e.g. water, energy) or transport disruption due to extreme weather events. The resulting shocks on the global supply chain can be severe and persistent.

So climate change is a 'risk multiplier'. [PricewaterhouseCoopers, accessed 6/10/13]

Munich Re: We Must "Find Improved Solutions For Adaptation, But Also Mitigation" Of Climate Change. In October 2012, a report from Munich Re, an internationally distinguished reinsurer, looked at extreme weather events in North America and reported that storms accounted for about $805 billion in losses from 1980-2011. The study found that while increasing losses were previously "primarily driven by socio-economic factors, such as population growth, urban sprawl and increasing wealth," the report provided "new evidence for the emerging impact of climate change." From Munich Re's press release on the report:

The Head of Munich Re's Geo Risks Research unit, Prof. Peter Höppe, commented: "In all likelihood, we have to regard this finding as an initial climate-change footprint in our US loss data from the last four decades. Previously, there had not been such a strong chain of evidence. If the first effects of climate change are already perceptible, all alerts and measures against it have become even more pressing." Höppe continued that even without changing hazard conditions, increases in population, built-up areas and increasing values, particularly in hazard-prone regions, need to be on Munich Re's risk radar. All stakeholders should collaborate and close ranks to support improved adaptation. In addition, climate change mitigation measures should be supported to limit global warming in the long term to a still manageable level. "As North America is particularly exposed to all kinds of weather risks, it especially would benefit from this", added Höppe.

Peter Röder, Board member with responsibility for the US market, said: "Climate change-related increases in hazards - unlike increases in exposure - are not automatically reflected in the premiums. In order to realize a sustainable model of insurance, it is crucially important for us as risk managers to learn about this risk of change and find improved solutions for adaptation, but also mitigation. We should prepare for the weather risk changes that lie ahead, and nowhere more so than in North America." [Munich Re, 10/17/12]

Top Consulting Groups: The Winners In Insurance Industry Will Consider Climate Impacts. In 2008, Ernst & Young named climate change the top risk to insurance companies. PricewaterhouseCoopers states that the "winners in [the insurance] sector will be those companies that understand the [climate] risks and opportunities facing their businesses":

The insurance sector is going to be one of the hardest hit by climate change, from rising claims to losses on investments. The winners in this sector will be those companies that understand the risks and opportunities facing their businesses, and embed it into their strategies and operations. [PricewaterhouseCoopers, accessed 6/12/13]  [Ernst & Young Press Release, 3/24/08]

METHODOLOGY: We searched TV News Search and Borrow and an internal video archive for "climate change OR global warming" from June 14, 2013 through September 17, 2013. Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (any mention more significant than listing climate change as one of many topics).

Shauna Theel contributed to this report.

Posted In
Economy, Environment & Science, Climate Change
Network/Outlet
CNBC
Person
Joe Kernen, Larry Kudlow
Show/Publication
Squawk Box
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.