Industry-funded climate denial organizations hosted events during the United Nations' climate change negotiations in Paris in an attempt to inject false balance and misinformation into media coverage of the event. But unlike coverage of the Vatican climate summit earlier this year, mainstream media outlets did not take the bait this time around, instead noting these groups' diminished influence and accurately portraying them as outliers that are out of step with mainstream climate science.
A Media Matters analysis found that four of the ten largest-circulation newspapers in the country published op-eds, editorials, or columns that denied climate science while criticizing the international climate change negotiations in Paris, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Post, and The Orange County Register. Altogether, 17 percent of the 52 opinion pieces that the ten largest newspapers published about the Paris conference included some form of climate science denial, and many of them repeated other myths about the climate negotiations as well.
A new study found that organizations funded by ExxonMobil and the oil billionaire Koch brothers may have played a key role in sowing doubt in the U.S. about climate change. These findings reveal how important it is for media to disclose the industry ties behind front groups that consistently misinform the public.
Over recent decades, the scientific consensus that fossil fuel emissions are driving global climate change has grown stronger, yet Americans have become increasingly divided on the issue along partisan lines. A new study, led by Yale University sociologist Justin Farrell, examined the "organizational and financial roots" behind this polarization and found that funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers may have played a key role.
The study, published November 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that "organizations with corporate funding were more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." It focused on organizations funded by ExxonMobil and the Koch family foundations, noting that those two funders had been previously "identified as especially influential," and that funding from these groups "signals entry into a powerful network of influence."
The study follows criticisms of Exxon Mobil for sowing doubt on climate change through its front groups despite its own scientists confirming the climate change consensus decades ago. New York's Attorney General is currently investigating whether Exxon deliberately misled the public about climate change, and more than 350,000 people recently signed a petition calling for a federal investigation of the company's climate misinformation campaign. Documents compiled by Greenpeace show that since 1998, Exxon has given over $30 million in funding to organizations "that work to spread climate denial."
According to the PNAS study, many of these groups' climate change positions were likely influenced by Exxon's funding; specifically, the study found that not only were these groups "more likely to have written and disseminated contrarian texts," but also that "corporate funding influences the actual language and thematic content of polarizing discourse."
The study detailed the "thematic content" touted by these organizations, which include many industry front groups, and found that fossil fuel-funded organizations more often discussed "temperature trends," "energy production," "the positive benefits of CO2," and "climate change being a long-term cycle" than organizations that did not receive industry funding:
Those deceptive "themes" have made frequent appearances in the media. "Temperature trends" have recently become a pervasive talking point, with much coverage devoted to a supposed 18-year "pause" in global warming (multiple studies confirm that this "pause" never happened, as the planet continues to warm). The false talking point that carbon dioxide emissions could have positive impacts has been touted by Marc Morano -- who is paid by industry-funded Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow to run a climate denial blog -- and has also made its way onto Fox News, and, most alarmingly, into California textbooks. And the misleading emphasis on "climate change being a long-term cycle" is a frequent soundbite on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, even though the science shows that the global climate is currently experiencing a significant shift that award-winning astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says "the Earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes in the past."
Yet, as study author Farrell told The Washington Post, "contrarian efforts have been so effective for the fact that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust."
Farrell's study suggests that fossil fuel industry front groups' efforts to polarize the climate change debate may have been intended to delay climate action, stating in its discussion: "It is well understood that polarization is an effective strategy for creating controversy and delaying policy progress, especially around environmental issues."
As Media Matters has documented, many groups funded by ExxonMobil and the Kochs have pervaded mainstream media to fight against environmental protections. It is essential that reporters, at the very least, disclose the industry funding behind them -- or better yet, think twice before providing such a wide platform for corporate interests to stymie progress on climate change.
Image via Creative Commons courtesy of Flickr user CGP Grey.
New research from Southern Methodist University (SMU) found that 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 a language analysis of four major California science textbooks, the SMU researchers found that the books delivered a message "that climate change is possibly happening, that humans may or may not be causing it, and that we do not need to take immediate mitigating action."
The study concluded that the four 6th grade textbooks -- including books from major national publishing companies McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson -- used language and writing techniques that "more closely match the public discourse of doubt about climate change rather than the scientific discourse" one might expect from academic texts. The books used language that misleadingly amplified uncertainty about the causes of climate change, undermined the expertise of climate scientists, and implied a false balance narrative around the realities of climate change within the scientific community.
For example, the authors found that only 21 percent of the instances discussing the cause-effect factors in climate change identified the effects of human activity, and that in the texts, "Scientists were often said to think or believe but rarely were scientists said to be inferring from evidence or data."
The SMU study explained that conservative media falsehoods about climate change contribute to a shift in public discourse, which eventually influences textbook language by creating competing interests within the textbook market. Publishers' attempts to cater to the largest market -- which includes textbook buyers who ascribe to the "public discourse of doubt" around climate change -- ultimately result in misleading textbook language and factual inaccuracies. Although the study focused on California textbooks, such a large textbook market often "set[s] standards for the rest of the country" according to the study's authors -- an effect that may already be seen in Texas.
How does this "public discourse of doubt" on climate change first develop? The researchers at SMU cited Fox News' coverage of climate science as one factor in shaping misinformation, pointing 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 (emphasis added):
[I]n discussing the topic of climate change, some segments of the media use the journalistic norm of 'balance' -- giving equal weight to all positions about this phenomenon -- when building frames to present to the public (Boykoff 2007). When frame setting, segments of the media adhere to this norm to give equal time to a climate scientist and a climate denier when addressing climate change. For example, Fox News presents climate change as uncertain by interviewing a greater proportion of climate deniers (Feldman et al. 2012). As a result, at the individual-level effects of framing stage, the audience may come to understand human-caused climate change as controversial. And indeed, viewers of Fox News are more likely to be climate skeptics even when taking into account political affiliation (Feldman et al. 2012). The effects of framing go beyond individual positions about specific topics. Frames accumulate into larger discourses, which are 'a shared way of apprehending the world... enabling those who subscribe to it to interpret bits of information and put them together into coherent stories or accounts' (Dryzek 2013, 9). We see two discourses prevalent in climate change communication: a 'scientific discourse' and a 'public discourse.'
The researchers' implication of Fox News in the creation of a misinformed public discourse is well founded. Media figures at Fox have a long record of repeating scientific inaccuracies on air and allowing fringe figures to perpetuate widely debunked claims. The similarities between the doubtful language and inaccurate claims on Fox and in the textbook examples from the study are striking:
The SMU study found that the textbooks dedicated substantial portions of their passages on climate change to discussing natural causes rather than human causes, despite that "there is little doubt about the causes of current climate change" within the scientific community that human activities are the driving force behind the phenomenon:
All four textbooks dedicated a substantial portion of the chapters about climate change to describe the natural factors that could be causing this phenomenon. Although all four textbooks indicated that human beings could be having an impact on climate change, they framed this topic as an issue in which not all scientists are in agreement as can be seen in the following example:
- Not all scientists agree about the causes of global warming. Some scientists think that the 0.7 Celsius degree rise in global temperatures over the past 120 years may be due in part to natural variations in climate. (Prentice Hall 2008)
The study stated in a discussion of its findings: "The causes of climate change were shrouded in uncertainty in the texts we analyzed. Specifically, the human contribution to climate change was presented as a possibility rather than a certainty."
Fox Host: Is Global Warming Man-Made? "Nobody Knows." In a June 2014 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Fox News' Steve Doocy asserted that "nobody knows" if the causes of global warming are natural or man-made:
STEVE DOOCY: Keep in mind: nobody is saying that the planet isn't getting warmer. Although, you know, we had a story a couple of days ago that the 1930s were much, much warmer than the decade we're in right now. And the globe has not warmed in 17 years. Here's the thing - nobody's saying the globe isn't warming. The question comes down to, if it is, what's making it warm up? Is it just a natural climactic [sic] cycle? Or is it something man-caused? Nobody knows.
Fox News Correspondent: "There Is Not Consensus" On Causes Of Climate Change. On the September 1 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News correspondent Dan Springer rejected the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change, stating that "while the Obama administration blames man and the burning of fossil fuels, there is not consensus," before cutting to an economist from the conservative Heritage Foundation to support his claim.
DAN SPRINGER: Scientists say the Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the nation. Sea ice is arriving later in the fall and melting sooner in the summer. This was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in the Last Frontier State -- 5 million acres burned, about the size of Massachusetts. But while the Obama administration blames man and the burning of fossil fuels, there is not consensus.
The SMU study identified language in multiple textbooks that emphasized the historical context of climate change "to support the idea that climate had been changing well before humans were here and, therefore, is a naturally occurring phenomenon," including the following examples:
However, climates have gradually changed throughout Earth's history. (Prentice Hall, 2008)
Scientists have found evidence of many major ice ages throughout Earth's geologic history. (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Inc. 2007)
Media figures often appear on Fox News to suggest that historical shifts in the global climate somehow disprove the notion that human-driven climate change is threatening our way of life. Media Matters compiled several, such as Competitive Enterprise Institute's Chris Horner, saying: "Climate changes. It always has, it always will."
The SMU study noted that "all four textbooks mentioned the negative effects of climate change, but two of them also discussed the potential positive results of this phenomenon," pointing out the following examples:
Global warming could have some positive effects. Farmers in some areas that are now cool could plant crops two times a year instead of one. Places that are too cold for farming today could become farmland. However, many effects of global warming are likely to be less positive. (Prentice Hall, 2008)
But farther north, such as in Canada, weather conditions for farming would improve. (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Inc. 2007)
Fox's Gutfeld: "Even If There Is Global Warming ... It's Good For Human Beings." On the April 11, 2012 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld asserted : "even if there is global warming ... it's good for human beings. If a polar bear dies, I don't feel bad. Honestly I don't. No, human beings. When temperature goes up, human beings live longer. When you have cold spells across countries, people die."
Fox Turned To Mark Levin And A Coal Miner To Say "CO's What Make Plants Grow." During an hour-long special on the "green agenda" in 2012, Fox News turned to right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who denied that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that should be regulated, saying: "Carbon dioxide is what we exhale. Carbon dioxide is necessary for plants." Fox later aired video of coal miner Robert "Buz" Hilberry echoing this, saying: "I'm no scientist but CO's what make plants grow and what make you breathe, so they're trying to choke us all out by stopping the burning of coal."
Fox Frequent Marc Morano: Record High Carbon Dioxide "Should Be Welcomed" Because "Plants Are Going To Be Happy." Marc Morano, who was featured on Fox News to discuss climate change 11 times in 2014 alone, said to Bloomberg that Americans "should welcome" a record high in greenhouse gases because "This means that plants are going to be happy, and this means that global-warming fearmongers are going to be proven wrong."
The Associated Press recently updated its Stylebook by instructing AP writers to avoid using the term "denier" to describe those who reject the firmly-held scientific consensus on climate change. The AP's Stylebook change was celebrated by several well-known climate science deniers, but criticized by prominent scientists and journalists who say the new AP-approved term "climate change doubters" grants undeserved legitimacy to those who refuse to acknowledge the consensus.
Rightwing media are echoing claims by the fossil fuel industry that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, President Obama's landmark climate change policy, will dramatically increase electricity bills. In reality, while the Clean Power Plan may slightly increase Americans' electric bills in the short term, multiple independent analyses support the EPA's claim that the plan will result in significantly lower electric bills once it is fully implemented.
Does the pope's support for action on climate change contradict Catholic principles? Climate science deniers want you to think so -- and conservative media are running with their myths. Here are the facts:
A new documentary shows how a "professional class of deceivers" has been paid by the fossil fuel industry to cast doubt on the science of climate change, in an effort akin to that from the tobacco industry, which for decades used deceitful tactics to deny the scientific evidence that cigarettes are harmful to human health. The film, Merchants of Doubt, explores how many of the same people that once lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry are now employed in the climate denial game.
An infamous 1969 memo from a tobacco executive read: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy." Using similar tactics, a very small set of people have had immense influence in sowing doubt on the scientific consensus of manmade climate change in recent years.
Merchants of Doubt features five prominent climate science deniers who have been particularly influential in deceiving the public and blocking climate action. Their financial connections to the fossil fuel industry are not hard to uncover. Yet major U.S. television networks* -- CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, ABC, CBS, and PBS -- have given most of these deniers prominent exposure over the past several years.
Merchant of Doubt
Number of TV Appearances, 2009-2014
Now that these Merchants of Doubt have been exposed, the major cable and network news programs need to keep them off the airwaves, a sentiment echoed by Forecast the Facts, which recently launched a petition demanding that news directors do just that.
Fox News regular Marc Morano is worried that Google is going to start burying his climate change denial website, Climate Depot, which is full of toxic inaccuracies and could therefore be vulnerable to Google's plan to rank websites based on their truthfulness.
A Google research team has developed a system to more thoroughly judge the accuracy of a web page's information. The team's new research paper describing the metric states that a source would be considered "trustworthy" based on "the correctness of factual information provided by the source." Though the system and its algorithm are still in development, the researchers have claimed that it shows "promise in evaluating web source quality."
Morano's concern over the new search algorithm is understandable, given that his climate denial website, Climate Depot, would likely be buried in searches using the new accuracy-based system.
The recent documentary Merchants of Doubt highlighted how Morano has used his media appearances and his website -- which he is paid to run by a fossil fuel industry-funded organization -- to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change.
The March 6 edition of Fox News' Happening Now featured Morano expressing his concern over the new search metric:
Fox News reported on Pope Francis' upcoming action on climate change by promoting climate change denial and suggesting that the pope is aligning with "extremists who favor widespread population control and wealth redistribution."
While many Catholics praised Pope Francis' recent announcement that he will publish an encyclical -- a papal letter sent to all the bishops in the Catholic Church -- on climate change, Fox News responded by stoking fears and promoting climate change denial. Fox News correspondent Doug McKelway reported on the December 30 edition of Special Report that the move will be "aligning [Pope Francis] with some church enemies," including "a few environmental extremists who favor widespread population control and wealth redistribution." The segment also featured climate "skeptic" Marc Morano -- who is paid by an industry-funded group to run the climate change-denying website ClimateDepot.com -- to falsely claim that there has been "no global warming" for "almost two decades":
But acting on climate change already has widespread support among Catholics. The pope's move comes after senior bishops from around the globe called on the world's governments to phase out fossil fuels completely in order to "protect frontline communities suffering from the impacts of climate change." Christian leaders have been promoting climate action for many years, citing its disproportionate impacts on the poor as a main concern. In 2006, the Evangelical Climate Initiative urged members of the church to act on climate change because it "hit[s] the poor the hardest":
Poor nations and poor individuals have fewer resources available to cope with major challenges and threats. The consequences of global warming will therefore hit the poor the hardest, in part because those areas likely to be significantly affected first are in the poorest regions of the world. Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.
Christians must care about climate change because we are called to love our neighbors, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to protect and care for the least of these as though each was Jesus Christ himself (Mt. 22:34-40; Mt. 7:12; Mt. 25:31-46).
Christians, noting the fact that most of the climate change problem is human induced, are reminded that when God made humanity he commissioned us to exercise stewardship over the earth and its creatures. Climate change is the latest evidence of our failure to exercise proper stewardship, and constitutes a critical opportunity for us to do better (Gen. 1:26-28).
CNN aired only a third as much coverage as MSNBC on the United Nations' Climate Summit and related events including the historic People's Climate March. Even Fox News aired over twice as much on the subject compared to CNN -- though much of its coverage mocked or dismissed the events.
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
The oil-industry funded front group for Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, has a Buzzfeed list featuring animated gifs of the "Top 10 Ways To Celebrate Earth Day: For Conservatives." Media Matters has gathered all the ways that anti-conservation "conservatives" have truly decided to celebrate Earth Day this year:
Fox News celebrated Earth Day by hosting Fox Business' John Stossel who is "cheering for fossil fuels" that were responsible for dozens of disasters last year. Forbes contributor and oil and gas industry consultant David Blackmon caught on to the trend, writing an op-ed glorifying the fossil fuel industry titled "Be Thankful On Earth Day For Oil & Gas."
Earth Day happens to lie on the same day as Vladimir Lenin's birthday, so it must be a communist plot, according to conservative blogger Erick Erickson. Erickson filled in for Rush Limbaugh on his radio show on Earth Day by ranting about the connections between environmentalism and communism.
The United States (and globe) has been warming since the first Earth Day -- but that didn't prevent snow-trollers from emerging once again to cast doubt on global warming. On April 22, climate "skeptic" favorite Ryan Maue tweeted at conservative blogger Erick Erickson: "Remind folks on Earth Day... to not put away their snow shovels until July 4th." Erickson later fulfilled Maue's request as a guest host for on The Rush Limbaugh Show.
Jim Treacher, a reporter for the conservative news site Daily Caller, joked that he would celebrate Earth Day by burning "dangerous tires before they can pollute the planet," mocking NASA's Twitter campaign asking the public to take a "#GlobalSelfie" for Earth Day.
Fox News frequent Marc Morano hyped a piece by Roy Spencer that equated climate science to a "religion" -- one of the most prominent ways conservatives erode trust in scientists according to a study by the Yale Project on Climate Communications. Spencer wrote, in honor of Earth Day:
As in other religions, most Earth worshipers are more or less hypocritical. Spend a day being "good", spend the rest of the year failing.
I mostly find Earth Day just plain annoying for the rank hypocrisy on display. A state-sponsored religious day of worship, along with all of the 1st Amendment-violating regulations to codify it.