They say comedy is just a funny way of being serious. So it's natural that a deepening climate crisis would produce a deepening well of climate comedy. We don't yet have our climate-themed Dr. Strangelove, but there's now a feature film's worth of gags, skits, and riffs exploring the lighter side of a cooking planet. Stand-up comics, from mainline stars like Louis C.K. to niche acts like the Christian comic Paul Kerensa, have mined climate change for material. Climate activist groups like 350.org have recently begun to take a cue from Comedy Central. Even NASA climatologists have gotten awkwardly into the act.
Like the global temperature, the phenomenon is on an upswing. In May, a New Yorker science blogger mused on the benefits of employing a "comedic frame" in climate coverage. A couple weeks later, the Guardian collected climate-comedy highpoints, from The Onion to "Ali G." The newest item on the list came from a May bit from an exasperated John Oliver on the media habit of "balancing" the climate consensus with fringe skeptics.
The biggest sign the genre is maturing hums with neon. Today, Chicago's Heartland Institute, the kings of unintentional climate-comedy, will hit the Vegas strip with a three-day show at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, featuring a chorus line's worth of hilarious climate rejectionists. The line-up will collectively perform the energy-policy equivalent of a Henny Youngman routine: "Take my planet capable of supporting civilization. Please!"
The think tank that flacked for Big Tobacco against the science of lung cancer will perform off the same playbook to flack for Big Carbon against the science of greenhouse gases. Tickets to see these self-styled climate researchers and political operatives -- almost none of whom are climate or earth systems scientists and nearly all of them funded at one- or two-degrees remove by oil and coal interests -- run $129, including meals.
On the Strip, Heartland speakers will pretend to be qualified to dissent from the equivalent to the National Academy of Sciences of every industrial country. Against the faint ring of slot machines, they'll dismiss the stark warnings of experts from 130 countries who contribute to the authoritative assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Because the first rule of improv comedy is "Yes, and...", some Heartland speakers will concede that, yes, man-made warming is occurring. The kicker comes when they echo Heartland's April report concluding that this is a net positive for all carbon-based life forms. With this pivot toward "Yes, and...", Heartland is ensuring they'll continue to have topical comedy fodder for years to come, even after their carbon denial becomes as outdated as their lung cancer material.
Heartland's Vegas appearance also suggests a strategy to avoid repeating the troupe's 2012 funding crisis. Instead of depending on corporate contributions, Heartland could find steady revenue as a regular sell-out act on the Strip. They aren't in a position to challenge Carrot Top for a headlining residency at the MGM Grand, but in a city whose economic base is expected to suffer devastating effects from climate change, there is a role for a group with years' worth of climate change gags, including slide shows and props. Heartland policy advisor Norman Rodgers, for example, would kill audiences with classic one-liners such as, "The few examples of coal or oil companies actually giving money to dissenters or dissenting organizations are so minor that one suspects that the gift was an accident or bureaucratic snafu." James Taylor would have them rolling with lines like, "I successfully completed Ivy League atmospheric science courses, so I'm a scientist by training."
If Don Rickles can make a Vegas career as the "Merchant of Venom," the folks at Heartland can make a run as the "Merchants of Doubt." The timing could not be better. Nevada's nearly 50 golf courses will likely soon be wilting under heat waves and water shortages, and the dwindling number of tourists visiting Vegas will want more air-conditioned entertainment. To draw these crowds, Heartland just needs to punch-up its clunky ad copy, which now reads, "Come to fabulous Las Vegas to meet leading scientists from around the world who question whether 'man-made global warming' will be harmful to plants, animals, or human welfare." A permanent show needs something that sparkles, like the tagline for the Cirque Du Soleil show "O: An aquatic masterpiece of surrealism and theatrical romance."
Heartland's might read, "Take the Money and Run: A planet-crushing masterpiece of delusion and breathtaking corruption."
There are other benefits to turning Heartland events into entertainment spectacles worthy of a Vegas marquee. Real scientists would no longer have to "tie up all our time fighting denialist propaganda," as astronomer Phil Plait put it. Instead, they could relegate Heartland coverage to the entertainment critics at Variety and Las Vegas Magazine. Heartland is a good bet to open to rave local reviews. They already have friends at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Heartland is also getting into the movie side of show business. Its main co-sponsor in Vegas this week is the concurrent libertarian event, FreedomFest, held at Planet Hollywood. On Wednesday night, Heartland ticket-holders are invited to attend the debut the film, Atlas Shrugged 3: Where is John Galt? Fox Business host and popular climate comedian John Stossel will introduce the screening and broadcast his show from the FreedomFest floor.
Media Matters has produced brief playbill bios of Heartland's Vegas cast.
Sebastian L. Lüning
From the January 2 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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As part of a campaign to pressure CNBC to improve its climate change coverage, mobile billboards are circulating the financial districts of New York City and Chicago on Thursday and Friday. However, rather than airing accurate information on how prominent business leaders use climate science to optimize their risk management strategies, CNBC has continued to air people denying climate change entirely.
The campaign by Media Matters, Forecast the Facts, and Environmental Action was hosted on fuel-efficient trucks to highlight Media Matters' studies finding that the majority of CNBC's relevant coverage casts doubt on the basic scientific consensus that climate change is real and manmade. So far, CNBC has not shown any signs of improvement -- even after a 45,000-signature petition called on CNBC to improve its coverage.
Most recently, CNBC hosted Joe Bastardi, whose arguments for climate change denial have been called "utter nonsense," "very odd" and "simply ignorant" by scientists, to discuss Super Typhoon Haiyan. When another meteorologist noted that rising sea levels have worsened the damage from storms such as Haiyan, Bastardi -- who has claimed contrary to basic physics that carbon dioxide "literally cannot cause global warming" -- predictably dismissed the greenhouse gas connection:
Former Fox News host Glenn Beck once declared "Do I believe scientists? No. They've lied to us about global warming." But the study, by the Yale Project on Climate Communication, concludes that it's actually the other way around: conservative media consumers don't believe in scientists, therefore they don't believe in global warming.
The study suggests that watching and listening to outlets like Fox News and The Rush Limbaugh Show may be one reason that only 19 percent of Republicans agree that human activity is causing global warming, despite the consensus of 97 percent of climate scientists. The Yale researchers depicted five tactics used by conservative media to erode trust in scientists, which Media Matters illustrates with examples.
Conservative media typically turn to a roster of professional climate change contrarians and portray them as "experts" on the issue. What they don't mention is that most of these climate "experts" don't have a background in climate science and are often on the bankroll of the fossil fuel industry.
A Media Matters study detailed how certain climate contrarians have been given a large platform by the media, particularly Fox News.
For instance, Fox News cut away from President Barack Obama's recent climate change speech to host Chris Horner of the industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute -- giving approximately equal time to Horner and the president.
Fox News promoted climate deniers and disputed the scientific consensus that climate change exists and is man-made in response to a proposal from President Obama to lower carbon emissions that contribute to the warming of the planet.
On June 25, President Obama delivered a speech where he laid out policy proposals to combat climate change, including the regulation of carbon emissions from existing power plants. Fox News immediately reacted by hosting prominent climate deniers and dismissing the reality of climate change.
America Live host Megyn Kelly cut away from Obama's speech after several minutes, saying that Obama's assertion that "the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it" is "not the full story." Kelly then turned to climate denier Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an organization that has financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. Kelly and Horner both pushed the false notion that recent short-term temperature trends undermine the scientific consensus that climate change is ongoing.
On Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer reacted to the speech by also pushing the idea that recent temperature trends undermine the long-term warming trend.
Your World with Neil Cavuto hosted weather forecaster and climate denier Joe Bastardi, who incorrectly claimed that Obama was wrong when he said in his speech that the "12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years."
Opening The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld said climate skeptics "were right all along" and said Obama was "denying science" in his climate change speech.
And on Hannity, Fox contributor Liz Cheney dismissed the science behind climate change when she said that Obama is "using phony science to kill jobs." She continued, saying that "the science is just simply bogus."
But despite Fox's efforts to deny it, the fact is that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists that publish peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change agree that global temperatures have risen and that "human activity is a significant contributing factor" in the rising temperatures. Eighty-four percent of scientists acknowledge that the planet is warming due to human activity, and nearly 200 scientific organizations from around the world have made public statements acknowledging that manmade climate change is real.
Fox News is questioning accurate temperature data in an attempt to refute evidence of climate change cited by President Barack Obama in a major speech Tuesday.
During coverage of Obama's address, Fox News host Neil Cavuto asked weather forecaster Joe Bastardi whether Obama's statement that "[t]he 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years" is correct. Bastardi responded "no":
But Politifact examined the temperature data and rated a similar statement by Obama true:
Data from NASA shows 13 of the hottest years on record have come in the last 15, and by a different data set produced by NOAA, 14 of the hottest years on record have come in the last 15. Obama was actually over-cautious in his statement, so we rate his statement True.
Furthermore, studies have shown that the "urban build-up" that Bastardi referenced has not compromised the reliability of this temperature data.
While Cavuto suggested that Bastardi was "part of the 3 percent" of climate scientists who deny manmade climate change, Bastardi is not a climate scientist and weather forecasting differs from climate science in important ways. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explained, the projections made by climate models are more predictable than short-term weather forecasts:
[L]ong-term variations brought about by changes in the composition of the atmosphere are much more predictable than individual weather events. As an example, while we cannot predict the outcome of a single coin toss or roll of the dice, we can predict the statistical behaviour of a large number of such trials.
Bastardi has made several statements about climate change that scientists have called "completely wrong," "scientifically incorrect" and "nonsense." In 2012, Bastardi claimed that carbon dioxide "literally cannot cause global warming," which Rolling Stone rated the number one "dumbest thin[g] ever said about global warming."
From the May 3 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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Fox News is suggesting that scientists were "wrong" about global warming by using misleading graphics to obscure the long-term global temperature rise.
On his Fox News show, Neil Cavuto suggested that the recent cold weather invalidates concerns about global warming, asking weather forecaster and climate misinformer Joe Bastardi, "How did we get this so wrong?" Cavuto aired a graphic which at first glance appears to show that temperatures are dramatically cooler now than they were last March. But the graphic compares apples to oranges: the map on the left shows whether temperatures were above or below average for the month of March, while the map on the right shows absolute minimum temperatures for last Wednesday, March 20.
If the temperature scale for the map on the right were applied to the map on the left, it would mean that temperatures were over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the upper Midwest in March 2012.
A more honest comparison would look at the same day in March 2012, showing a far less stark contrast:
But even this comparison would be flawed, as daily and regional temperature fluctuations are expected, and do not contradict the observed long-term, global temperature trends.
From the February 21 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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In contrast to official temperature records showing a consistent warming trend, Fox Business reporters have claimed that the "temperature basically hasn't changed much since the ice age" and that it's actually "getting colder." Fox News figures have also denied the scientific consensus that human activity is driving climate change, claiming that carbon dioxide "literally cannot cause global warming" and suggesting that "Mars wobbles" or "wind farms" may be causing it instead. Those are just some of the 10 dumbest things Fox News, Fox Business and their websites said about climate change in 2012:
1. Fox Reporter: "The Temperature Basically Hasn't Changed Much Since The Ice Age." During the Ice Age, much of North America, northern Europe and southern South America were covered with ice sheets. Natural climate cycles led to the end of the Ice Age tens of thousands of years ago. In the last century, temperatures have increased dramatically as a result of our massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Yet Fox Business reporter Tracy Byrnes claimed in March that "the temperature basically hasn't changed much since the Ice Age," before confusing global warming with the depletion of the ozone layer:
2. During Record-Breaking Heat, Fox Anchor Claims "It's Getting Colder." During the third warmest summer on record in the U.S., David Asman, who hosts shows on both Fox News and Fox Business, claimed "it's getting colder":
3. Fox "Expert": Carbon Dioxide "Literally Cannot Cause Global Warming." Joe Bastardi is a meteorologist that is often presented as a climate change expert on Fox News, even though he has no climate science training. Bill O'Reilly has cited Bastardi as the reason that he is "skeptical" about global warming, but scientists have called Bastardi's statements "completely wrong," "simply ignorant," and "utter nonsense." In March, Bastardi attempted to "throw out 150 years of physics" by dismissing the greenhouse effect -- the reason there is life on Earth -- as impossible. Bastardi stated on Fox Business that carbon dioxide (CO2) "literally" -- yes, literally -- "cannot cause global warming" because it doesn't "mix well in the atmosphere." But physicist Richard Muller told Media Matters that CO2 is actually "completely mixed."
4. Fox Reporter: "Mars Wobbles" May Be Causing Climate Change. Elizabeth MacDonald, a Fox Business reporter who often appears on Fox News, incorrectly said in November that "there's no consensus on what's causing climate change, and asked "is it solar flares? Is it the Mars wobbles? Is it the earth's axis tilting in a different way? I mean, that's the issue." After being subject to mockery, she tried to walk back her comments saying she doesn't "think Mars wobbles cause hurricanes," but did not explain her previous comments.
5. Fox Website: "Wind Farms Cause Global Warming." In April, a study found that nighttime temperatures in areas around Texas wind farms were higher than in areas without wind turbines. Fox Nation, a section of FoxNews.com, linked to a story about the study with a headline declaring that wind farms "cause global warming." But the study's authors called this coverage "misleading," explaining that it is "[v]ery likely" that "wind turbines do not create a net warming of the air and instead only re-distribute the air's heat near the surface, which is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases."
Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the "controversy" over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.
Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded "experts" a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.
The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change." Every year, Heartland hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change," bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.
Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland's environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses "alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed," and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the "the Little Ice Age and the Black Death." But that hasn't stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn't stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.
From the November 1 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News figures have cast Hurricane Sandy as an event that "has nothing to do with global warming." But climate scientists agree that global warming has exacerbated the flooding from storms like Sandy, and is expected to increase the severity of hurricanes.
"Completely wrong." "Simply ignorant." "Scientifically incorrect." "Utter Nonsense." "Very odd." These are words scientists have used in the past to describe the nationally televised ramblings of weather forecaster Joe Bastardi, who Fox News hosts from time to time in an apparent effort to dismantle whatever its viewers might know about physics.
When we last saw Joe, he was breaking the news that the world's climate scientists had overlooked the first law of thermodynamics. (He was wrong.) After a thorough round of mockery in the blogosphere, we thought surely Fox would throw away Bastardi's phone number. But here he is on Fox Business this morning, declaring that carbon dioxide "literally cannot cause global warming":
BASTARDI: CO2 cannot cause global warming. I'll tell you why. It doesn't mix well with the atmosphere, for one. For two, its specific gravity is 1 1/2 times that of the rest of the atmosphere. It heats and cools much quicker. Its radiative processes are much different. So it cannot -- it literally cannot cause global warming.
Asked about Bastardi's statements, Kerry Emanuel of MIT said: "Utter rubbish. Sorry to be so direct, but that is just the case." NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt added: "Bastardi is attempting to throw out 150 years of physics." "He seems very confused," said physicist Richard Muller.
On this week's edition of Environment Matters, Jocelyn Fong and Shauna Theel discuss ExxonMobil's sponsorship of Fox News ventures and climate change misinformation propagated by frequent Fox guest Joe Bastardi.