On January 28, President Obama gave his fifth State of the Union speech during which he addressed the urgent need to act on climate change. Conservative media pundits latched on to the cold winter weather in the area during his speech to laugh off global warming, despite the clear long-term warming trend.
A review of claims made by the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels over the last quarter century shows that he has repeatedly been proven wrong over time. Michaels is one of a few contrarian climate scientists who is often featured in the media without disclosure of his funding from the fossil fuel industry.
In the wake of a milder-than-expected snowstorm, the president of the American Meteorological Society has batted aside claims that balky short-term weather forecasts undermine long-term climate models.
Last week, a snowstorm forecast for the Mid-Atlantic, the "Snowquester," petered out in some areas expected to be hit hard. The incident served as another reminder that, as the Washington Post's Jason Samenow explained, short-term weather prediction is difficult, and carries a certain pressure to arrive at "the bottom line" for the benefit of viewers without qualification or explanation of uncertainties (of which there are many).
You may already know how this next part goes: writing in Forbes, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels suggested the "busted forecast" of the storm was actually a lesson that "Our "best science" can be wrong," and that in this sense there were "parallels with global warming." He allowed that this was a "statement of the human condition" -- presumably, rather than another example of scientists acting "Like lab rats that will do anything to keep the cocaine flowing." Unfortunately for a guy who invoked "The Natural" in his column, Michaels' logic was about as persuasive as that of a scout deciding that a .335 lifetime hitter may bat .111 the next few years based on a single 1-for-9 doubleheader.
Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, the president of the American Meteorological Society, wrote in an email to Media Matters that Michaels' argument indicates a "fundamental [...] misunderstanding of weather and climate models," an "apples vs. oranges comparison." Weather models try to predict the weather at a specific place and time, while climate models project the average of those weather events over a longer time period and larger area, which is more predictable.
Back to that baseball analogy: Minnesota Twins' first baseman Rod Carew went 0-for-5 on April 26, 1977. On the season, he hit .388, leading the league. Carew finished his 19-year career with a .329 average, about 1.6 hits for every 5 at-bats. Given all this, it would have been very hard to predict his performance in any one game -- but easier to predict how he would hit generally.
Shepherd added that the "somewhat bad" Snowquester forecast was being "cherry-picked" from several "great" recent weather forecasts.
Michaels is among the professional climate "skeptic" world's few actual climate scientists, and has been paid handsomely by the fossil fuel industry for this dubious distinction, but making such a fundamental mistake in his column further undermines his credibility.
Conservative media outlets are claiming that a leaked draft of the UN climate panel's upcoming report undermines previous predictions of rapid warming driven by rising CO2 emissions. But scientists say these claims are "nonsense" and that the draft report only adds to the existing body of evidence that manmade climate change is a serious problem.
A draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report, due to be published in fall 2013, was leaked by Alec Rawls, a blogger who volunteered to review the report despite having no scientific expertise. In a blog post on Watts Up With That, Rawls claimed that the draft report contains a "game-changing admission" that galactic cosmic rays have significantly contributed to global warming, undermining the scientific consensus that climate change is driven by human activity. But experts say Rawls "completely misrepresented the IPCC report," noting that he ignored a paragraph that explicitly states there is "high agreement" among scientists that cosmic rays do not have a meaningful impact on global temperatures. Dr. Steve Sherwood -- a lead author of the chapter in question -- told Australia's ABC News that Rawls' claim is "ridiculous," adding: "we conclude exactly the opposite, that this cosmic ray effect that the paragraph is discussing appears to be negligible."
Furthermore, as Skeptical Science pointed out, even if cosmic rays did influence global temperatures, "they would currently be having a cooling effect." Dr. John Abraham of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team told Media Matters:
The IPCC report certainly was not saying the changes in the sun were causing the earth to warm. In fact, if the leaker was correct in his interpretation, the earth should be cooling right now!
But that didn't stop Investor's Business Daily from echoing his misinformation, claiming that the leaked draft "indicates the IPCC is actually admitting that a factor outside man's activities is playing a significant role in our climate." IBD quoted Rawls' claim that the section on cosmic rays "completely undercuts" the IPCC's conclusion that manmade climate change poses a significant threat, without noting that Rawls is not a scientist and has been thoroughly discredited.
Meanwhile, climate contrarian blogger Anthony Watts claimed to have discovered the real "bombshell" in the draft report: a chart comparing observed changes in global average surface temperatures with projections from the four previous IPCC reports. The chart indicates that early UN projections may have slightly overestimated warming because they did not take into account natural factors like solar forcing or aerosols, which tend to have a cooling effect. But the draft notes that "observations through 2010 generally fall well within the projections made in all of the past assessments."
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.
PBS' Frontline recently aired a documentary titled "Climate of Doubt," examining how conservative groups, frequently funded by the fossil fuel industry, have pushed Republicans to reject the scientific consensus on manmade global warming. Here, Media Matters looks back at how Fox News has contributed to that "Climate of Doubt," often teaming up with industry to misrepresent science and attack all efforts to address this threat.
The Prius is now the world's third best-selling car line, but before it became a clear success story, it was the target of attacks from conservative media similar to those now being leveled against electric vehicles.
In 2000, the year the Prius was released in the U.S., Diane Katz and Henry Payne wrote at the Wall Street Journal that hybrid cars are not "what the public wants." The next year, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels declared the Prius would "never" deliver a profit for Toyota and hyped how "demand has been weak" for hybrids. That these conservative pundits have clearly been proven wrong with time is a lesson for today's pundits who suggest that current electric car sales mean that electric cars will never be successful. As Bloomberg reporter Jamie Butters noted in a video report, "a lot of people will criticize the sales of the Chevy Volt by GM or the Nissan Leaf, but when you really look back they're selling at significantly higher opening volumes than the Prius when it came out 15 years ago."
Even after Prius sales had significantly ramped up, conservative media were still downplaying the market for hybrids in the U.S. In 2004, a Fox News guest declared that "Americans don't want hybrids":
Media Matters analyzed television news guests who discussed the Environmental Protection Agency's role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from December 2009 through April 2011. Driven largely by Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, results show that in 76 percent of those appearances, the guest was opposed to EPA regulations while 18 percent were in favor. Of the appearances by elected officials, 86 percent were Republican. Only one guest in 17 months of coverage across nine news outlets was a climate scientist -- industry-funded Patrick Michaels.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Cato Institute fellow and author Patrick Michaels claimed that recently stolen emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) reveal "a silencing of climate scientists" and "dramatically weakened the case for emissions reductions." Michaels cited emails that show scientists' objections to certain papers being published in journals, however, the scientists do not appear to be in a position "to bias" the scientific literature, because several of the papers they criticized were published or cited, and in one paper's case, editors at the journal conceded that it should not have been published as written.