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Max Greenberg

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  • Limbaugh's Latest Dose Of Tabloid Science

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Seeking to cast doubt on a major climate change report due later this month, Rush Limbaugh cited a widely-pilloried British tabloid for the second time in as many weeks.

    On the September 17 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh attacked the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is set to release a study affirming that scientists are more confident than ever that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet. Declaring that climate models "have all been wrong," he read the first seven paragraphs of a recent The Mail on Sunday article purportedly to that effect, pausing to identify the IPCC as "the holding company, if you will, for all the hoax data":

    In fact, the claims Limbaugh cited have already been called "completely incorrect" and "a huge misinterpretation of reality."

  • Middle School Kids May Soon Know More About Climate Change Than Fox

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    Source: BES Photos via flickr

    Fox Business is crying foul over Environmental Protection Agency-hosted climate change lesson plans, which it calls "propaganda." However, the material is aligned with the National Research Council, reflects the view of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, and covers many topics that conservative media have flagrantly misreported in the past. 

    The lesson plans, which have been available online to middle school educators for months, drew conservative ire after a tweet from the EPA appeared on Fox contributor Michelle Malkin's social media aggregation site, Twitchy.com, on September 12. By the next morning, it was considered big enough news that Fox News contributor Monica Crowley covered it on Varney & Company, asking, "Are they going to tell these kids to not exhale? Because every time you exhale, that's carbon dioxide."

    The plans don't teach kids not to exhale. Instead, they explain that carbon plays a critical role in sustaining life on this planet. This is entirely uncontroversial. Nice job, Monica.

    Equally uncontroversial is the view that industrial activities -- particularly the burning of fossil fuels for energy -- have led to a surplus of life-supporting gases like carbon dioxide, which has made the planet hotter -- too hot, in fact. Even many prominent climate deniers acknowledge this much.

    It is no surprise that the EPA's lesson plans are grounded in good, basic science; they were adapted from material designed by preeminent scientific institutions including the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The material is also aligned with the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards.

    Fox figures would do well to take a look at these plans. Here are three issues they cover that have proven tricky for them in the past:

  • Conservatives Can't Quit Tabloid Science

    Limbaugh, Others Butcher Science To Claim Arctic Isn't Melting

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Source: Muppet Wiki

    Conservatives are still turning to British tabloids for their climate science, most recently treating a single year's Arctic sea ice -- which is still far below previous and long-term averages -- to claim that the region is not melting.

    The latest instance of tabloid-reviewed science began when the The Mail on Sunday -- a sister newspaper to serial climate misinformer the Daily Mail* -- published an article titled "And now it's global COOLING!" suggesting that an increase in Arctic sea ice cover between September 2012 and August 2013 is among "mounting evidence that Arctic ice levels are cyclical." The story was summarily picked up by other British tabloids and a variety of conservative outlets, all to cast doubt on climate change. Notably, Rush Limbaugh used the report to claim "the Arctic ice sheet is at a record size for this time of year. They told us the ice was melting in the Arctic Ice Sheet. It's not." 

    Actually, Arctic sea ice is nowhere near "a record size." A graph from the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) illustrates that 2013 Arctic sea ice extent minimum (beige line), while not as low as last year's record (dotted line), is still tracking well below the 1979-2000 average (as have the minimum extents of every year since 1997). It is on track to be the sixth-lowest in satellite annals:

    As 2012 was a record low, it is not terribly surprising that 2013 looks like it will be higher. This is due to a phenomenon known as regression to the mean, eloquently illustrated by this Skeptical Science graphic:

  • Fox Wonders What's Eroding Our Beaches

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Source: City of Fort Lauderdale

    Fox News reported on the "very unusual problem" of diminishing sand at Florida beaches, terming it an "environmental ... crisis of the future." However, the network did not mention that phenomenon's connection to sea level rise, a major consequence of climate change.

    On Tuesday's edition of Happening Now, correspondent Phil Keating checked in from Miami Beach to relate that some beaches in Florida are "running out of sand." This, he said, threatens the region's booming tourism industry and indirectly weakens an important buffer against hurricane damage as municipalities are forced to take sand from offshore to replace what has been lost. The segment went on to explain that Broward County, which contains Fort Lauderdale, has considered grinding up glass as a substitute:

    To its credit, Fox News explained that erosion is to blame for this sand shortage (rather than, say, aliens). Unfortunately, the network did not mention any of the underlying trends driving such changes, prominent among which is rising sea levels along with coastal development and high foot traffic. As Climate Central reported in 2012, climate change could make matters much worse:

    And then there's the growing danger of sea level rise, caused by climate change. "Even 25 years ago, sea level was rising," [U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Asbury] Sallenger said in a recent interview, "but not a heck of a lot." But that's changing as the planet's temperature keeps going up, sea water keeps expanding and ice is flowing faster to the ocean, especially in Greenland and Antarctica. "If sea level rises another foot," said Duke University beach expert Orrin Pilkey in an interview, "the shoreline in northeastern North Carolina could be pushed back 5 or 6 miles. And all of the projections I've seen suggest it will be more like 3 feet by 2100."

  • Fox Under Three Feet Of Denial

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Source: George Steinmetz via National Geographic

    Seeking to downplay the impacts of climate change, Fox News claimed that sea-level rise would only amount to "a few inches over a century" in a "worst-case scenario." However, just a few days prior, a draft report from the world's top climate scientists showed that the actual number would be around three feet, exacting a great toll on coastal cities.

    On Fox News' America's Newsroom Thursday, anchor Gregg Jarrett suggested that former Vice President Al Gore "tends to exaggerate" the consequences of global warming, alleging that Gore said "the sea level would rise 20 feet" (more on that later). Jarrett continued, "Scientists are laughing at that, saying 'wait a minute, okay, maybe, worst-case scenario, a few inches over a century.'"

    But if anyone is "laughing," it should probably be at Gregg Jarrett, who has evidently modeled his own disregard for science on that of the North Carolina general assembly. Earlier this week, a leaked draft of a major report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the year 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise rapidly -- in other words, a "worst-case scenario." Only in a scenario in which "the world's governments would prove far more successful at getting emissions under control than they have been in the recent past" would sea level rise be limited to "as little as 10 inches" in addition to the eight-inch rise we've already experienced, according to The New York Times. Some scientists have said this assessment is "overly conservative," and there are studies suggesting "the possibility of as much as two meters (six feet) sea level rise by 2100."

  • What Al Jazeera America Didn't Say About Climate Change

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    During its first day on the air, Al Jazeera America gave climate change nearly half as much coverage as network news programs did during the year 2012, all while avoiding common pitfalls like providing false balance to those that deny the science and leaving the crisis' manmade origins ambiguous.

    The fledgling network's first climate report comprised the entirety of Tuesday's edition of Inside Story, a half-hour news discussion program that promises to "take an in-depth look at the story behind the headlines." Indeed, the inaugural show featured a meaningful dialogue on -- in guest Heidi Cullen's words -- "coming to terms with the fact that we're all part of the problem ... [and] the solution" to manmade global warming, and discussed consequences like extreme weather and rising sea levels. It never wavered on the veracity of the issue:

    Al Jazeera America's 30 minutes of climate coverage (about 24 minutes not including commercial breaks) represented nearly half of what was seen on all network nightly news programs in 2012, and more than what was featured by CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront and Anderson Cooper 360 and Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity combined in the past four and a half months:

    While the network's early attention to climate change is a breath of fresh air, it may not qualify as a surprise. After all, network heads promised serious, in-depth reporting with "less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings," and commentators have held out hope for a new source of solid TV journalism ever since the sale of Current TV was finalized early this year.

    Bottom line: this was a great start. But just as encouraging as what Al Jazeera America discussed last night -- climate change -- is the list of things it didn't do:

    1. Provide False Balance.

    Perhaps most significantly, Inside Story explored public opinion on climate science, and even presented differing views on climate policy, without once offering marginal contrarian viewpoints as a "counterbalance." Ehab Al Shihabi, Al Jazeera America's acting chief executive, has cited PBS as a model, and it showed. Other cable news channels have sometimes run afoul of this standard.

  • Fox Can't Do The Math On Climate Change

    Expert: Arctic Sea Ice Claims Are "Absolutely Ridiculous"

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Fox Business is claiming that because 2013 Arctic sea ice extent is unlikely to beat the 2012 record low, melting in the region is "slowing," an idea one climate scientist called "absolutely ridiculous" in the context of a long-term decline. 

    On Wednesday, Fox Business' Charles Payne launched a segment on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) State of the Climate report by claiming that the agency "has forgotten to mention ... that 2012 was one of the coolest years of the decade," thereby "slowing down the melting of Arctic ice this summer."

    This statement was based on a lack of understanding of "regression to the mean" -- or in the case of climate change, regression to the new mean. This and other mathematical concepts seem to give Fox a lot of trouble.

    1. Regression To The Mean 

    Unfortunately for baby harp seals, Payne is wrong about Arctic sea ice melt "slowing" -- it seems he either didn't grasp the aforementioned idea or didn't read NOAA's report very carefully. The State of the Climate found record low Arctic sea ice extent in 2012 and included this chart illustrating monthly trends compared to the 1979-2000 average:

    As Skeptical Science explained, it's unsurprising that 2013 will not likely beat that record low if you consider "regression toward the mean":

    [N]ote that neither [of two statistical predictions for 2013 Arctic sea ice extent] predicts that 2013 will break the 2012 record (3.6 million square kilometers). There is a principle in statistics known as "regression toward the mean," which is the phenomenon that if an extreme value of a variable is observed, the next measurement will generally be less extreme, i.e. we should not expect to observe record lows in consecutive years. This is because when extremes are reached and records are broken, a number of different variables generally have to align in the same direction to make this happen.

  • Fox Takes Interior Secretary Out Of Context To Claim A Climate "Witch Hunt"

    Network Conjures Cults And Zombies From Jewell's Remarks

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Fox News took the Interior Secretary's remarks on the urgency of climate change out of context to claim that the Obama administration is engaged in a "witch hunt" to purge climate deniers from the agency.

    Fox & Friends hosted contributor Michelle Malkin Tuesday to suggest that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is planning on conducting a "witch hunt" because she said she "hope[s] there are no climate change deniers in the Department of the Interior." Malkin added that Jewell was "talking like a cult leader" and insinuated that the administration is full of "eco-zombies."

    But extended video from the meeting undermines this attack. Jewell was not trying to intimidate anyone; rather, she was emphasizing the signs of climate change already evident on our public lands, and encouraging the department to heed those signs and address the broader issue through renewable energy leasing and other measures.

    Here's what Jewell actually said and how Fox News clipped the video to make it seem like she was announcing a "witch hunt":

    JEWELL: I hope there are no climate change deniers in the Department of the Interior. If you don't believe in it, come out into the resources, go on to some [federal] land, go to Alaska where the permafrost is melting, go into the Sierra, which used to retain a lot more water in its frozen form that's now running off the hillsides quicker, and we don't have the storage capacity to be able to serve the downstream users like the demand requires. We have far-reaching impacts in every part of the department, but we are in a unique position to actually be able to do something about it. How exciting is that?

  • The Physical Impossibility Of The Washington Times' Universe

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    The Washington Times is claiming that carbon emissions could be causing "global cooling" in contradiction of basic physics.

    In an editorial Monday designed to ridicule Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) for convening a summit on clean energy in Las Vegas, the Times repeatedly referred to climate change as a "scam" and cited several "facts" that allegedly discredit it -- including that "there's new evidence that carbon-dioxide emissions, which first set off global-warming hysteria, are actually triggering global cooling."

    But there isn't "new evidence" of that. Or any kind of evidence, really.

    As Duke University scientist William Chameides explained to Media Matters when Fox News tried to advance this "utter nonsense" claim, scientists established the greenhouse effect "more than a century ago":

    What CO2 does is trap a larger amount of the heat from the sun, preventing it from escaping and thus driving up temperatures. To argue otherwise is to argue that the greenhouse effect does not exist. In fact the existence of the greenhouse effect was established by scientists more than a century ago. It would be impossible to explain the temperatures of Mars and Venus, as well as the Earth, without invoking this effect.

    The "greenhouse effect" is part of a complex process -- a "balancing act" -- that makes life on earth possible. However, mankind's use of fossil fuels has led to a surplus of these gases, which prevents more radiation than usual from escaping back into space, thus making the planet hotter. This is not the slightest bit controversial in the scientific community, and the reverse is a vanishingly remote belief even among the climate deniosphere. For instance, the chairman of the industry-funded George C. Marshall Institute, a physicist who has conducted no climate research but suggests we should be "clamoring for more" carbon dioxide, has said that "most people like me believe that industrial emissions will cause warming, but just much less than has been predicted by many computer models." Indeed, industrial emissions have already caused substantial warming, as seen in this chart from NASA:

  • NRA Pulled Its Science-Denying Website That Claimed Lead Ammunition Isn't Poisoning Endangered Wildlife

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL, TIMOTHY JOHNSON & MAX GREENBERG

    The NRA's newly launched campaign to oppose a California legislative proposal to ban lead ammunition for hunting, Hunt for Truth, has already been pulled from the Internet along with an accompanying NRA press release announcing the initiative. Using archived webpages, Media Matters documents the NRA's repeated denial that lead ammunition poses a danger to wildlife, despite scientific evidence that lead ammunition threatens the survival of the critically endangered California condor.