Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, sweeping the island nation with near-record winds and a towering storm surge. There are many scientific uncertainties around the factors contributing to storms such as Super Typhoon Haiyan, but scientists know that rising sea levels driven by manmade climate change worsen the damage caused by these storms. Yet an analysis of Typhoon Haiyan coverage in television and print media finds that less than five percent of stories mentioned climate change.
After hyping an alleged "pause" in global warming, mainstream media have entirely ignored a groundbreaking study finding that warming over the last 16 years has actually proceeded at the same rate as it has since 1951 with no "pause" compared to that time period.
The study, published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society by Dr. Kevin Cowtan of the University of York and Robert Way of the University of Ottawa, found that the average global surface temperature has warmed 0.12 degrees Celsius between 1997 and 2012 (see the bold "Global" line in the graph above) -- two and a half times the UK Met Office's estimate of 0.05°C (see "Met Office" line). According to the new estimate, over the last 16 years the globe has warmed at the same rate as it has since 1951.
Writing about the study at the scientific blog Real Climate, climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf concluded that the public debate about the "pause" has "become"completely baseless" and that any speed bump in warming is "not surprising" with natural variability:
The public debate about the alleged "warming pause" was misguided from the outset, because far too much was read into a cherry-picked short-term trend. Now this debate has become completely baseless, because the trend of the last 15 or 16 years is nothing unusual - even despite the record El Niño year at the beginning of the period. It is still a quarter less than the warming trend since 1980, which is 0.16 °C per decade. But that's not surprising when one starts with an extreme El Niño and ends with persistent La Niña conditions, and is also running through a particularly deep and prolonged solar minimum in the second half.
An earlier Media Matters analysis found that mainstream media mentioned the alleged "pause" in nearly half of coverage of a major international climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, media have often been reluctant to cover data contradicting that narrative, including a study finding that heat may have been stored in the intermediate depths of the ocean, where warming has proceeded 15 times faster than in the past 10,000 years, rather than in the atmosphere.
As for claims that global warming has "stopped" or that global warming is "[o]ver," the study found with 94 percent probability that there has been some warming over the last 16 years. Dr. Cowtan wrote that "the hypothesis that warming has accelerated ... is four times as likely as the hypothesis that warming has stopped."
Why were previous estimates off?
Although all of President Obama's qualified nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit are currently at risk of being refused an up-or-down vote by unprecedented Republican obstructionism, right-wing media have targeted Georgetown law professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard in particular with misguided smears.
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.
Multiple mainstream media outlets have covered a new report touting the economic benefits from hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") without disclosing the report's industry funding.
The recently released study, titled "America's New Energy Future: The Unconventional Oil & Gas Revolution and the US Economy," received widespread media attention on Thursday. The report, conducted by consulting group IHS CERA, was commissioned by multiple fossil fuel organizations that stand to benefit from growth in the oil and gas industry. According to the report, the increase in unconventional oil and natural gas extraction has added an average of $1,200 in discretionary income to each US household in 2012, and now supports 1.2 million jobs -- projected to increase to 3.3 million by 2020. These figures are much larger than the findings of many previous economic studies.
However, multiple major news outlets, including Reuters, CNBC, Forbes.com, and the Los Angeles Times, covered the new report with no mention of its financial ties to the industry. The research was monetarily supported by America's Natural Gas Alliance, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council, the Natural Gas Supply Association, and others who stand to gain economically from an unregulated increase in fracking. Kyle Isakower, vice president of regulatory policy at the American Petroleum Institute -- the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry -- lauded the new report, saying "[f]or an organization like the American Petroleum Institute, being able to cite the findings and reputation of IHS goes a long way toward making its point to government officials." According to Steve Forde, vice president of policy and communication at the Marcellus Shale Coalition (an industry trade group), economic impact studies such as this are "an important advocacy tool" for industry development.
Bloomberg, which did disclose the report's industry ties, reported that the IHS report didn't take potential environmental impacts from extracting unconventional oil and gas through drilling and fracking, such as groundwater contamination and strains on water resources, into account.
UPDATE (9/10/13): The Wall Street Journal joined the slew of coverage that failed to disclose the report's oil and gas industry funding, in an editorial published on Tuesday. The editorial claimed the IHS report was "evidence" that fracking "may be the country's best antipoverty program." The Wall Street Journal has published editorials downplaying the risks of fracking before.
News outlets who continue to refer to U.S. Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning, who formerly went by the name Bradley, using masculine pronouns after she announced that she identifies as female this week are drawing criticism from transgender advocates, raising the issue of how such news subjects should be covered.
Manning, who on August 21 was found guilty of crimes related to giving classified documents to Wikileaks, on August 22 released a statement through her lawyer which said in part: "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female." Manning requested that "starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun."
In response, the GLAAD and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association each issued statements informing media outlets that they should use the name and pronouns that Manning prefers. But many media outlets have continued to refer to Manning as "Bradley" and describe her using male pronouns.
Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the GLAAD, specifically singled out the Associated Press and Reuters, saying the group had reached out to these two news organizations and requested a correction in their approach going forward.
"Today our focus is on reaching out to them and asking for corrections," Ferraro said of A.P. and Reuters.
Ferraro also pointed out that he believes the AP had violated its own policy that states when reporting on transgender news subjects, "use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth."
AP and Reuters have not yet responded to requests for comment, but AP posted a statement on its website that said the service "will use gender-neutral references to Manning and provide the pertinent background on the transgender issue. However, when reporting is completed, the AP Stylebook entry on 'transgender' will be AP's guide."
The AP, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post on Thursday referred to Manning with a male pronoun throughout stories about her announcement Thursday morning that she wished to be identified as a woman and had wished to be called Chelsea, not Bradley.
"We would probably criticize the media overall," Ferraro said when asked about GLAAD's reaction to such references. "Chelsea Manning's announcement today and subsequent media judgment reflects a lack of education on covering transgender people. Media today should respect Chelsea Manning's announcement and that includes using female pronouns when speaking about her and that includes referring to her as Chelsea."
A Media Matters study finds that Reuters' coverage of climate change declined by nearly 50 percent under the regime of the current managing editor, lending credence to a former reporter's claim that a "climate of fear" has gripped the agency.
David Fogarty, a former Reuters climate change correspondent, wrote that Managing Editor Paul Ingrassia, then serving as deputy editor-in-chief, identified himself as "a climate change sceptic" in 2012. As time went on, Fogarty alleged, "getting any climate change-themed story published got harder," as some desk editors "agonised" over decisions and allowed articles to become mired in bureaucracy. Eventually, amid a "climate of fear," Fogarty's role was "abolished."
An earlier report published by The Baron, an independent site that caters to current and former Reuters employees, similarly noted that in recent years the news service has been steered in a "new direction" in its climate change coverage, as evidenced by decreased attention, in-print "skepticism" and the reassignment of regional environment correspondents to other beats.
In line with claims from Fogarty and The Baron, a survey of coverage in the six months immediately prior to Ingrassia's appointment compared to an analogous period in 2012 found that Reuters filed 48 percent fewer articles on climate change under the new regime, despite the fact that the latter period featured the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, a continuing fight over the European Union's proposal to impose a carbon tax on international flights, record heat in the U.S. and other noteworthy developments.
As Midwestern states assess the damage wrought by record flooding in recent weeks, scientists tell Media Matters that the media has missed an important part of the story: the impact of climate change. A Media Matters analysis finds that less than 3 percent of television and print coverage of the flooding mentioned climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rain storms and exacerbated flood risks.
Seven out of eight scientists interviewed by Media Matters agreed that climate change is pertinent to coverage of recent flooding in the Midwest. Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Media Matters it is "not only appropriate, but advisable" for the press to note that rainstorms in the Midwest are increasing in frequency and that climate models "suggest this trend will continue," which will contribute to more flooding. Aquatic ecologist Don Scavia added that this is the "new normal," and that the media is "missing an important piece of information" by ignoring this trend.
Indeed, climate change has been almost entirely absent from national and local reporting on the floods. Only one of 74 television segments mentioned climate change, on CBS News. ABC, NBC and CNN never mentioned the connection.
Meanwhile, USA TODAY was the only national print outlet to report on Midwest floods in the context of climate change. USA TODAY also created a video, featured above, explaining the connection as part of a year-long series on the impacts of climate change.
The Midwest has experienced near record flooding this spring, resulting in four deaths, extensive property damage, and disruptions of agriculture and transportation. Evidence suggests that manmade climate change has increased the frequency of heavy downpours, and will continue to increase flooding risks. But in their ample coverage of Midwestern flooding, major media outlets rarely mentioned climate change.
Reuters is purporting to examine how scientists are "struggling" to reconcile short-term temperature variation with long-term climate change, but fails to quote any scientists about the issue.
In an article titled "Climate scientists struggle to explain warming slowdown" that is being promoted by the Drudge Report, Reuters claimed that short-term temperature variability "has exposed gaps" in scientists' understanding of climate change. However, the article didn't quote a single scientist about the temperature trends, instead talking to environmental contrarian and business school professor Bjorn Lomborg and economist Richard Tol, considered a conservative estimator of climate damages, to sow doubt about the quality of climate science (Reuters quoted Dr. Paul Holland, a British Antarctic Survey scientist, about a separate topic at the end of the report).
Perhaps due to this, Reuters characterized the time period since 2000 as a "pause in warming," without mentioning that it included the warmest decade on record or that each of the 12 years since the turn of the century have ranked among the 14 warmest on record.
This map from NASA illustrates the temperature anomaly (or amount above the 1951-1980 average) between 2000 and 2009:
Media are touting the claim from Rep. Paul Ryan's new budget plan that constructing the Keystone XL pipeline would create nearly 140,000 jobs, but that figure comes from exaggerating a heavily criticized, industry-funded analysis.
Reuters uncritically repeated the Ryan budget's assertion that constructing Keystone XL would create "20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 indirect jobs." Fox News host Sean Hannity later claimed the pipeline would create "nearly 140,000 jobs," while promoting the Ryan budget, which would likely raise taxes on the middle class:
But that number comes from inflating an analysis funded by TransCanada, the company trying to build the pipeline. That study, which has been called "dead wrong," "meaningless," and "flawed and poorly documented" by independent analysts, claimed that Keystone XL would create "118,000 person-years of employment." In other words, if one person holds a job for two years, that is counted as two "person-years of employment." And as a TransCanada spokesman eventually clarified to Huffington Post reporter Tom Zeller, the 118,000 figure already includes the 20,000 direct construction and manufacturing job-years that TransCanada claims will be created. Those numbers are also now outdated, as they included jobs associated with the southern portion of the pipeline, which is already under construction.
Independent analyses have found that the pipeline would create far fewer jobs. A 2011 report by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute found that the TransCanada estimate ignored the potential economic consequences of the pipeline -- which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf coast oil refineries primarily for export -- including the possibility of a spill. A State Department analysis found that the pipeline would create less than 4,000 construction jobs for the 1- to 2-year construction period, and only 35 permanent jobs. In total, that study found that Keystone XL would create 42,100 direct, indirect and induced average annual jobs during the 1- to 2-year construction period. As their exaggerated jobs claims have been exposed, conservative media have struggled to stay on the same page about how many jobs the pipeline would create:
Reuters is running the headline: "More US coal plants to retire due to green rules-study." But the group that authored the study says the additional expected retirements are "Due To Low Natural Gas Prices," not Environmental Protection Agency rules.
Economists at the Brattle Group project in a new report that "59 GW to 77 GW (for lenient versus strict [regulatory] scenarios, respectively) of coal plant capacity are likely to retire" by 2016 -- more than previously forecast. But as David Roberts at Grist first noted, the report attributed this change primarily to "changing market conditions, not environmental rule revisions, which have trended toward more lenient requirements and schedules."
The Chicago Tribune and Scientific American are running the Reuters report with versions of its inaccurate headline. And Roberts noted that another mainstream media outlet is making this mistake: a Christian Science Monitor guest blog titled "Study: EPA regulations squelch US coal industry." (UPDATE 10/10/12: The Christian Science Monitor has removed this post, redirecting readers to an article from September that noted "some experts" say coal plant closures are "coming less from the Obama administration than from natural gas.")
These inaccurate reports feed into the conservative myth that long overdue clean air and water regulations constitute a "war on coal," even though many experts say that the primary reason for declining coal generation is the low price of natural gas.
UPDATE (8/24/12): Reuters revised its report to say: "The White House faulted Romney's plan for relying too heavily on fossil fuels," without noting the implications for climate change. The new version does not include Romney advisor Oren Cass's false claim that wind industry "growth has slowed."
Today Mitt Romney unveiled an energy plan that he claims will enable North America to achieve energy independence by 2020 by expanding domestic oil and gas production. Reuters' Steve Holland was quick to report on Romney's lofty aspirations, but he left out several key details in the process.
Although Romney advertises his plan as a "comprehensive energy strategy," it focuses almost exclusively on developing fossil fuel resources. His proposal would expand offshore oil leasing, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and allow states to control drilling on more federal lands, all while weakening environmental protections. If these policies are enacted, they could have serious consequences for our air, water and climate.
But the Reuters report glossed over these repercussions, saying only:
Romney's energy policies are heavily tilted toward increased production of carbon-based resources, oil, gas and coal, that environmentalists blame for global warming.
Holland was wrong to attribute these concerns solely to "environmentalists" when the vast majority of the world's leading climate scientists and major scientific bodies affirm that human activity is driving climate change. It is this kind of rhetoric from the media that leads many Americans to wrongly believe that manmade climate change is still a matter of scientific debate.
On renewable energy, Holland noted that Romney opposes the production tax credit for wind power, but overlooked the impact of this stance on the growing U.S. wind industry. He uncritically quoted Romney advisor Oren Cass's claim that "the wind industry has lost 10,000 jobs and growth has slowed." In fact, the production tax credit has spurred enormous growth in the wind industry and enabled wind power to be competitive with natural gas. According to the Department of Energy, total U.S. wind capacity recently passed the 50-gigawatt mark -- enough to power 12 million homes annually -- and accounted for 32 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity added in 2011. But despite the tax credit's success, Congress has repeatedly allowed it to lapse, halting the industry's progress in the U.S. Wind manufacturers are already announcing layoffs because of the uncertainty surrounding the production tax credit, and the American Wind Energy Association estimates that up to 37,000 jobs could be lost if it is allowed to expire at the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Romney's plan maintains tax breaks for oil companies, which have disproportionately benefited from permanent subsidies for decades. According to a 2011 study from venture capital firm DBL Investors on inflation-adjusted energy subsidy spending, "federal commitment to [oil and gas] was five times greater than the federal commitment to renewables during the first 15 years of each subsidies' life." But the Reuters article makes no mention of Romney's preferential tax treatment for oil companies.
Media outlets are reporting that Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his vice presidential running mate will shift the election debate to deficit reduction. But economists argue that creating jobs, and not cutting the deficit, should be the current economic priority for policymakers.
This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that July was the hottest month on record for the contiguous U.S. and that so far this year is the warmest on record. Scientists say that this record heat is partially driven by manmade climate change, yet Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, CBS Evening News, and USA TODAY did not mention climate change at all in their reports on NOAA's announcement.
These heat extremes are occurring in the context of rising global temperatures, which the vast majority of scientists agree are driven by greenhouse gas emissions. As the National Research Council explained, extensive climate research indicates that heat waves will become "more intense, more frequent, and longer-lasting" in the United States and around the globe as a result of human-induced climate change.
But not everyone in the media failed to mention these facts. The Associated Press' Seth Borenstein spoke to climate scientists, who noted that July's record heat alone would not be evidence of climate change, but that the broader pattern of record breaking heat shows global warming at work: