From Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change, to the establishment of the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, to a landmark international climate agreement, 2015 has been full of major landmarks in national and global efforts to address global warming. Yet you wouldn't know it if you inhabited the parallel universe of the conservative media, where media figures went to ridiculous and outrageous lengths to dismiss or deny climate science, attack the pope, scientists, and anyone else concerned with climate change, and defend polluting fossil fuel companies. Here are the 15 most ridiculous things conservative media said about climate change in 2015.
From the December 22 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the climate science-denying presidential candidate who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, convened a December 8 hearing that purported to answer whether the "debate over the magnitude of human impact on earth's climate" is being driven by "data or dogma." One of Cruz's star witnesses is frequent Rush Limbaugh Show guest host Mark Steyn, whose extreme attacks on a climate scientist appear to be the main reason he was invited to participate.
The most obvious explanation for Steyn's appearance would seem to be that Cruz couldn't find enough scientists who oppose the 97 percent of climate scientists that say human activities are causing climate change, so he had to turn to a talk radio shock jock instead. But the fact that Steyn is "not a scientist" only scratches the surface of why he is unqualified to testify on global warming.
Steyn has a long history of making extreme and scientifically illiterate claims that could give Cruz a run for his money. For instance, Steyn alleged in 2009 that "[t]here has been no global warming this century." In 2010, he declared that "environmentalism is fundamentally anti-human." Most recently, Steyn was seen proclaiming that Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' remarks describing the link between climate change and terrorism were "insane," and even imagining terrorists "sawing Bernie Sanders' head off" while Sanders worries about "an emissions trading scheme." According to Science Blogs' Greg Laden, Steyn also "recently self published a book made up, apparently, of cherry picked quotes and related material in an effort to discredit top climate scientists."
In addition to his track record of climate denial, Steyn provided another possible explanation for his inclusion at the hearing when he explained why he was invited to a conference held by the climate science-denying Heartland Institute earlier this year, as Energy & Environment recently reported (emphasis added):
Also testifying will be Mark Steyn, the Canadian National Review writer and author of "Climate Change: The Facts" who told attendees at the Heartland Institute's International Conference on Climate Change this summer that his claim to fame is calling fraudulent the well-known "hockey stick" theory that Michael Mann -- a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University -- has developed.
"I've made no useful scientific contribution," Steyn said at the [Heartland] conference in July. "I've basically only been invited here because ... I'm being sued by the inventor of the global warming hockey stick, Michael Mann."
Indeed, as Laden observes, "[i]t appears that the Republicans on the Senate science subcommittee are allowing an anti-science Canadian citizen [Steyn] to use the Senate hearing room to argue his side of a civil law suit." As the Union of Concerned Scientists noted, Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann sued Steyn for defamation after Steyn wrote a 2012 blog post for National Review Online that falsely claimed Mann's "hockey stick" research showing a spike in global warming in the last century was "fraudulent" -- and cited a Competitive Enterprise Institute blog comparing Mann to disgraced Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The CEI blog, by Rand Simberg, asserted that Mann was "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data" (that sentence has since been removed). Steyn said of Simberg's accusation: "Not sure I'd have extended that metaphor all the way into the locker-room showers with quite the zeal Mr Simberg does, but he has a point."
The ongoing lawsuit gets at a broader reason why Steyn may have been invited to appear before the subcommittee: to present his story as supposed proof that dogma trumps data in the climate "debate." In his prepared remarks to the subcommittee, Steyn said that his own personal "travails" are relevant "[b]ecause too many people within the climate cartel are demanding that dissent from the alleged 'consensus' should be not merely a civil offense but a criminal one - and far too many legislators and bureaucrats are willing to entertain it." He then used that as a jumping off point to dismiss investigations into wrongdoing by Exxon Mobil, alleging that New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman is "su[ing] Exxon for not holding the same views on climate change as the more pliable oil companies have been forced to adopt in public."
But Steyn's version of events badly misstates the issue. Exxon is not under fire simply for "dissent from the alleged 'consensus'," or for "not holding the same views" on climate science as others. The New York investigation and calls for a federal investigation relate to strong evidence that Exxon knew the science of climate change and then purposely misled stakeholders and the public about the issue.
In the end, this shock jock's trip to Capitol Hill is a notable chapter in the joint efforts of congressional Republicans and conservative media to attack climate scientists and defend the supposed "right" of corporations to intentionally deceive the public about climate change.
So while Steyn freely admits that he is no expert on climate science ("I am not a climate scientist, but I am an acknowledged expert in the field of musical theatre"), he was nevertheless one of the five witnesses testifying on the issue before the Senate today. And to give you an even better sense of how far he should be from a Senate hearing, here are some other instances of Steyn talking about issues he is not an expert on, culled from the Media Matters library:
Right-wing media criticized President Obama for condemning Islamophobia and roundly denied the existence of anti-Muslim discrimination in the United States as "pure myth" and "something that doesn't really exist." These claims gained traction just as GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump released a controversial proposal to ban Muslim entry into the United States.
Right-wing media have repeatedly exploited the November 13 ISIS-led terror attacks in Paris to stoke fears about Syrian refugees posing a terror threat in the U.S., falsely claiming that the United States lacks a rigorous refugee vetting system, that most Syrian refugees are adult males "of fighting age," and that, like the attacks in Paris, the Boston Marathon bombing and Ft. Hood shooting were perpetrated by refugees.
Conservative media deceptively took President Obama's comments following the November 13 terror attacks in Paris out of context to argue that he is being "apathetic" and "cavalier" about the threat of ISIS. However, in his full remarks, Obama referred to the acts as "heinous" and "a terrible and sickening setback" in the fight against ISIS.
At least 30 state governors -- 29 Republican, 1 Democratic -- are parroting right-wing media myths about security concerns presented by incoming Syrian refugees to argue against taking part in expanded refugee resettlement programs. However, the overwhelming majority of refugees pose no credible threat to the United States, and the vetting process for refugee applicants is thorough. Furthermore, state governments lack the legal authority to dictate immigration policy in the United States.
In the wake of the November 13 Paris attacks, Republicans rushed with their conservative media allies to call for a halt to the admission of Syrian refugees into America, claiming that they would pose a significant threat to the United States. Major editorial boards slammed Republicans for "def[ying] what the nation stands for" and pushing divisive rhetoric that could "provide propaganda benefits to the Islamic State."
Right-wing media seized on the November 13 terror attacks in Paris to make at least five false or misleading claims about Syrian refugees, past statements from Hillary Clinton, President Obama's strategy against ISIS, the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees, and how guns in civilian hands could have supposedly changed the outcome of the attacks.
Right-wing media mocked Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for linking climate change to terrorism during the November 14 CBS Democratic presidential debate. Sanders explained that if climate change continues to go largely unaddressed, "you're going to see all kinds of international conflict." Right-wing media called Sanders "insane" and "someone who doesn't understand what the real subject is." However, major studies and reports from foreign policy and defense experts support Sanders' assessment that climate change was a significant factor contributing to the rise of ISIL (or ISIS).
From the November 16 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co.:
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Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently claimed that Democrats use the promise of "free stuff" to court black voters, echoing years of dubious claims by conservative media that government assistance programs exist to "buy votes."
Right-wing media are championing a government shutdown, ignoring that it would cause millions of Americans to lose access to food assistance, health care, and their paychecks while costing the government billions of dollars.
From the April 8 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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When a mass shooting occurs, conservative media rush to blame mental health, video games, a lack of armed people present, and even liberal values -- anything but the fact that the shooter was able to get a gun.
But the single proximate factor in all mass shootings, and in all gun violence really, is that it is easy for dangerous people to access high-powered firearms. Lack of access to firearms typically makes it difficult for would-be mass murderers to carry out their plans. For instance, experts say mass stabbings are extremely rare in the United States. To the contrary, 69 percent of all homicides are committed with a gun. Of 37 public mass killings since 2006, 33 involved firearms, while the Boston Marathon bombings, an incident involving a car, and two cases of arson accounted for the other four incidents.
Furthermore, academic research has linked the easy availability of firearms to homicide. According to numerous studies, "where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide." Compared to other high income nations which typically more strongly regulate the availability of firearms, the United States' gun homicide rate is 19.5 times higher, leading to an overall homicide rate that is 6.9 times higher. Research has also shown, "across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded."
Following the April 2 shooting at Fort Hood that left three victims dead and 16 others wounded, conservative media have refused to acknowledge the role of easy access to firearms in shootings and have instead claimed mass shootings are caused by video games, mental health problems, the "culture war," and by a deficiency in the number of firearms carried by the general public.