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.
The final installment of the U.N.'s top climate report, which calls for prompt, extensive action to avoid calamitous impacts from climate change, garnered relatively little attention from the major print, cable and broadcast media outlets compared to the first installment. However, coverage of the third report rightfully gave far less space to those who cast doubt on the science.
A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed major cable network coverage of climate change in 2013, and found that CNN covered the topic even less than Fox News, and that both featured a significant amount of misleading coverage that "weaken[s] the public's ability to understand and grapple with the risks of climate change."
The latest media analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found (perhaps unsurprisingly) that Fox News misinformed their audience a great majority of the time when discussing climate change. Meanwhile, CNN devoted a paltry amount of airtime to global warming in 2013, and when they did cover the topic, the network frequently presented the science demonstrating global warming as an issue up for debate by pundits. Here are some of UCS' most significant findings:
UCS found that even though Fox News overwhelmingly misled their audience on climate science, the network still covered the topic more than CNN in 2013. On the primetime weekday shows and weekend morning programs that UCS examined, CNN aired 43 segments on climate change, Fox News aired 50 segments, and MSNBC towered over the two with 133 segments -- more coverage than the CNN and Fox combined:
According to UCS' analysis, MSNBC's coverage was 92 percent accurate; the analysis labeled 8 percent of MSNBC's coverage "inaccurate," saying these segments overstated the connection between certain extreme weather events and manmade global warming or the severity of sea level rise.
Climate "skeptics" have latched on to a myth that scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970s. However, as even a Fox News anchor pointed out in 2006, there was never a consensus on cooling in the 1970s the same way there currently is on global warming -- in fact, the majority of the scientific literature at the time was predicting warming. Yet that hasn't stopped Fox from regurgitating this myth ad nauseum:
While some on Fox News have claimed that "global cooling was the consensus" in the 1970s to dismiss the current climate science consensus in its entirety, a realistic examination of the scientific literature shows the opposite is true. In 2006, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) took a look at published papers from the 1970s and found that a consensus around global warming -- not cooling -- was beginning to emerge. Of 71 peer reviewed studies on climate change from 1965 to 1979, only seven articles predicted global cooling -- less than ten percent -- while well over half (44 studies) predicted global warming. Even 40 years ago, predictions of global cooling were only on the fringe of climate science.
There were indeed a couple of magazine articles published in that era that overhyped theories of "global cooling," but they were cherry-picking the science. For instance, Newsweek ran a nine-paragraph, back-page article titled "The Cooling World" in 1975 and Time magazine ran an article titled "Another Ice Age?" in 1974. Despite these magazine articles' infamy among climate "skeptics," they never made the cover as Fox News or internet hoaxes would have you believe.
If there was a global cooling "scare," it was more of a media wrongdoing than a failure of scientists.
Time's Bryan Walsh accurately summarized the situation:
The reality is that scientists in the 1970s were just beginning to understand how climate change and aerosol pollution might impact global temperatures. Add in the media-hype cycle -- which was true then as it is now -- and you have some coverage that turned out to be wrong. But thanks to the Internet, those stories stay undead, recycled by notorious climate skeptics like George Will. Pay no attention to the Photoshop. It's the science we should heed -- and the science says man-made climate change is real and very, very worrying.
The video in this report was created by Coleman Lowndes and John Kerr with voiceover by Todd Gregory.
From the March 7 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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From the February 14 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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CNN gave a platform to "toxic and divisive" Marc Morano to dismiss global warming on its new program, The 11th Hour. But the network did not disclose that Morano, who has no scientific expertise, is paid by fossil fuel companies to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change, as he did on CNN.
On December 10, The 11th Hour host Don Lemon tweeted a preview of the show: "Is #climatechange real? We discuss tonight on @The11thHour on #CNN." Such a "debate" over verifiable facts is often counter-productive, but if CNN is going to air it, the network needs to at least disclose if any of its guests have a financial incentive to deny the facts on climate change.
The CNN segment featured Marc Morano, who currently runs a climate skeptic website paid for by a fossil fuel-funded lobbying group, alongside the Sierra Club's Michael Brune and Earth Echo International's Philippe Cousteau. However, Morano commandeered the majority of the segment -- at one point Lemon joked to Cousteau, "Philippe, you've got to be aggressive if you want to get in on these guys because they're really fired up about this." Morano, who previously made a living by feeding misleading talking points on global warming to Rush Limbaugh and Senator James Inhofe, used his CNN airtime to claim that the "most pro-child thing you can do" in poverty-stricken areas is to build coal plants -- despite the fact that many countries are struggling with fatal levels of air pollution from those plants. After Morano rattled off his usual talking points, dismissing any trend of increasing extreme weather events, Lemon said, "We get your point. You don't think [climate change] is real." Morano responded, "Scientific journals don't think it's real."
To which scientific journals might Morano have been referring? Currently, 97 percent of all papers that take a stance on climate change have found that human activities contribute to global warming.
A study of coverage of the recent United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finds that many mainstream media outlets amplified the marginal viewpoints of those who doubt the role of human activity in warming the planet, even though the report itself reflects that the climate science community is more certain than ever that humans are the major driver of climate change. The media also covered how recent temperature trends have not warmed at as fast a rate as before in nearly half of their IPCC coverage, but this trend does not undermine long-term climate change.
Bloomberg News gave a platform for a fossil-fuel funded climate misinformer to advance groundless allegations against scientists -- the second time this year it has drawn a false equivalence between top climate scientists and climate deniers.
In an article on the recently leaked draft of a climate change report authored by the world's top scientists, Bloomberg News quoted Marc Morano, who runs the industry-funded blog Climate Depot that Bloomberg described as "skeptical of climate change" (New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin has called it "divisive and toxic"). Morano has no scientific background, yet Bloomberg gave him space to baselessly assert that the report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is based on "predetermined science" and will "add very little to the scientific debate." The global panel of scientists actually determined with over 95 percent certainty that human activities are the primary drivers of climate change, and found that global sea levels are rising swiftly, potentially adding 3 feet by the end of the century and bringing devastating impacts to several parts of the world including three major cities in the United States.
Bloomberg's article paralleled Fox News' coverage of the report, which also quoted Morano in an effort to cast doubt on the IPCC's findings. In the article, FoxNews.com promoted Morano's claim that "all of these fatuous figures are pulled out of the air to support the IPCC ideologies and not based upon any statistical analysis or science." (The report is actually based on the synthesis of the peer-reviewed scientific literature by hundreds of top scientists.)
This is the second time this year that Bloomberg has given false balance or "false equivalence" to claims that run counter to established climate science, even though the facts lie squarely in one camp. In May 2013, Bloomberg also gave a platform to Morano, uncritically repeating his absurd claim that catastrophically high carbon dioxide levels should be "welcomed" because "plants are going to be happy."
Following the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon, radio host Alex Jones was quick to suggest the attacks may have been a "false flag" operation staged by the U.S. government. Jones' reaction is far from surprising; he has made a career out of pushing outlandish conspiracy theories.
Among other conspiracies, Jones has blamed the U.S. government for perpetrating, coordinating, or otherwise being involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. But despite Jones' well-known history, he is regularly validated by conservative media figures, politicians, and prominent activists that frequent his program, as well as by right-wing websites that promote his work and mainstream outlets that host him on their networks.
In recent years, former Rep. Ron Paul and current Sen. Rand Paul; Fox News figures Lou Dobbs and Andrew Napolitano; gun activists Ted Nugent and Larry Pratt; and climate misinformer Marc Morano have all repeatedly appeared on Jones' show. His immensely popular website Infowars is also frequently promoted by conservative websites like The Drudge Report.
Shortly following the April 15 Boston attacks, Jones tweeted that "our hearts go out to those that are hurt or killed," but added that "this thing stinks to high heaven" and suggested it was a "false flag" operation.
On a special webcast of his show that aired the night of April 15, Jones elaborated on his suggestion, saying, "You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that's why I'm so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody's got to tell you the truth."
As Jones uses yet another national tragedy to push baseless, absurd conspiracy theories, it's worth asking whether there's anything he can say or do to lead media figures, politicians and activists to stop validating him.
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Fox News is claiming that a top climate scientist said global warming "doesn't equal warming," when he actually pointed out that much of recent warming has gone into the oceans.
A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change concluded that much of the warming since the year 2000 has been absorbed by the ocean. In a story on the new findings, Reuters quoted Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, as saying "Global warming is continuing but it's being manifested in somewhat different ways":
"Global warming is continuing but it's being manifested in somewhat different ways," said Kevin Trenberth, of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. Warming can go, for instance, to the air, water, land or to melting ice and snow.
Warmth is spreading to ever deeper ocean levels, he said, adding that pauses in surface warming could last 15-20 years.
However, on Tuesday's edition of Special Report, Fox's flagship nightly news show, Trenberth's words were warped beyond recognition. Claiming that there may be "a breach in the wall of climate science," Fox News played a clip of industry-funded climate misinformer Marc Morano alleging that Trenberth "is announcing that global warming doesn't mean rising temperatures. In other words, that warming doesn't equal warming."
Actually, Trenberth noted that air temperatures make up only a small fraction of the way we measure climate change. As this chart from a study published in Physics Letters A shows, oceans have absorbed much of recent warming -- a factor that Fox News completely ignored:
Fox Business host Stuart Varney and guest Marc Morano falsely suggested higher truck sales in March translate into a rejection of more fuel efficient vehicles by American consumers. In fact, the driving force behind higher truck sales is a rebounding construction sector, and sales of more fuel efficient vehicles have also been robust.
A group named Donors Trust has been funneling far more money than ExxonMobil ever did to climate denial groups, but because the source of the funds remains largely hidden, the public has been unable to pressure the donations to stop as they did with Exxon. A small portion of Donors Trust's funding was recently revealed by the Center for Public Integrity, yet even that small portion has significant ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests.
Between 2008 and 2011, Donors Trust doled out over $300 million in grants to what it describes as "conservative and libertarian causes," serving as "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement." Donors Trust enables donors to give anonymously, noting on its website that if you "wish to keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues," you can use it to direct your money.
One of the "controversial issues" that Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund have bankrolled is the campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change and delay any government action to reduce emissions.* The following chart created by The Guardian based on data from Greenpeace shows that as ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations have reduced traceable funding for these groups, donations from Donors Trust have surged:
Several of these organizations have sown confusion about the science demonstrating climate change. The Heartland Institute, which The Economist called the "world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change," received over $14 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, making up over a quarter of Heartland's budget. in 2010. In 2012, Heartland launched a billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate science to The Unabomber, Charles Manson, and Fidel Castro. Several corporate donors distanced themselves from the organization, but Donors Trust made no comment. Heartland removed the billboard soon afterward but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Meanwhile, The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) received over $4 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, accounting for over 45 percent of CFACT's budget in 2010. The highest-paid member of CFACT's staff is Marc Morano, who runs a website that pushes misleading attacks on climate science. Morano defended Heartland's billboard and said that climate scientists "deserve to be publicly flogged." Despite Morano's sordid background, CNN twice hosted him to "debate climate change and if it is really real" without disclosing that he has no scientific training and is paid by an industry-funded organization. CFACT lists the Forbes columns of Larry Bell, who calls global warming a "hoax," as "CFACT research and commentary." The organization is advised by several prominent climate misinformers, including Lord Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has revealed the sources of approximately $18.8 million of Donors Trust's funding from 2008 to 2011, culled from Internal Revenue Service filings. That leaves over $281 million in anonymous funds during that period, assuming that the organization gives out approximately as much as it takes in each year.
While the individuals and corporations funding Donors Trust remain largely hidden, we know that at least five separate foundations connected to Koch Industries have given over $3.8 million to Donors Trust in recent years. Koch Industries, owned by brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, is the largest privately owned company in the U.S. and controls several oil refineries and pipelines.