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Max Greenberg

Author ››› Max Greenberg
  • AP's Fisker Claims Fall Flat

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    Source: Car and Driver

    The Associated Press is making an unsupported claim that the Obama administration knew electric automaker Fisker was missing milestones required for its loan guarantee well before it froze the loan in mid-2011 by taking newly obtained documents out of context.

    The AP article, published the day of a House hearing on the loan guarantee granted to the troubled company, appears to be based on what a Department of Energy official characterized in an email to Media Matters as "selectively released" documents from Republican politicians leading that hearing.

    The article's lede claims that the documents "show that the Obama administration was warned as early as 2010 that electric car maker Fisker Automotive Inc. was not meeting milestones set up for a half-billion dollar government loan, nearly a year before U.S. officials froze the loan." However, neither of the documents it cites substantiates that claim.

    The first document was an internal email speculating that Fisker could miss a milestone that it met five days later, as AP noted six paragraphs in:

    Aoife McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said the June 2010 email was taken out of context.

    "The document shows that one person at a meeting discussed the possibility that Fisker might not meet a financial commitment" required by the Energy Department, McCarthy said in an email late Tuesday. DOE received the needed certification five days later and subsequently made the loan payment, she said.

    The second document is from April 2010 -- before the loan agreement had even been officially closed -- and thus before milestones had kicked in, as a DOE official explained in an email to Media Matters (emphasis added):

  • Reuters' Climate Change Drudge Bait

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    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:

  • Raining On Fox's Tax Parade

    The "Rain Tax" That Never Was

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Source: The State of Maryland

    Fox News is attacking a new Maryland anti-pollution measure as a "rain tax," adopting the misleading frame of local politicians. But the program doesn't tax rain -- it taxes surfaces that lead to more pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, a vital ecosystem that generates major revenue for surrounding states.

    The program was signed into law in 2012 to meet an Environmental Protection Agency-issued pollution diet for the states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The diet was required under the national Clean Water Act and instituted in response to "continued poor water quality" in the Bay. In order to pay for pollution management and habitat restoration, Maryland is instituting fees based on paved surfaces, which funnel a huge amount of pollution-laden stormwater runoff into gutters, eventually contributing to algal blooms and "dead zones" that kill fish and shellfish. 

    But following the lead of some local politicians, Fox News is misleadingly labelling it as a "rain tax," attacking the program on nine different Fox News or Fox Business programs between April 11 and 14. For instance, Neil Cavuto criticized the program on his Fox Business show, incorrectly characterizing it as a fee levied because some homes "disproportionately benefit from mother nature":

    But Maryland's plan does not tax households that receive more rainfall -- it taxes surfaces that ferry more pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. As the EPA explains, the great size of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in comparison to the Bay itself -- "a ratio much higher than any other comparable watershed in the world" -- makes it "highly susceptible to actions taken on the land, including those associated with agriculture, development, transportation and wastewater treatment." A significant amount of the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that reaches the Bay from stormwater runoff comes from Maryland. Plain soil acts as something of a filter and buffer for this pollution, and impervious surfaces take that benefit away. 

  • New Study Shows Once Again How "Climategate" Emails Were Distorted

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    At the height of the manufactured "Climategate" controversy, distortions of an email from a top climate scientist made it all the way to one of the leading Sunday shows. But a recent study re-confirms what that scientist was actually saying -- that much of recent heat has been trapped deep in the ocean.

    In 2009, a batch of emails was stolen from the University of East Anglia. In one of the emails, which skeptics quickly took out of context, Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, lamented the "travesty" that "we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment." Trenberth was actually referring to gaps in our "observing system" that make it difficult to say where short-term energy -- or heat -- is going, not copping to a lack of long-term climate change, as some claimed. In the email, Trenberth alluded to research suggesting that the "missing" heat might be sequestered deep in the ocean. 

    For some media, none of this mattered. In a November 2009 appearance on ABC's This Week, conservative columnist George Will suggested Trenberth's email showed that "global warming has stopped," and that since climate science is "a complicated business," we "shouldn't wager these trillions" on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. 

    But a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the ocean has in fact played a "key role" in absorbing recent heat, which "strengthens our confidence in the robustness of our climate models." The findings echo the conclusions of a paper co-authored by Trenberth himself as well as findings published in the journal Physics Letters A in late 2012, all indicating that climate change continues apace

    Recent analyses by Media Matters show that the "Climategate" episode was typical of the way the influential Sunday shows favor political spin over scientific fact. On the rare occasion Sunday shows covered climate change between 2009 and 2012, not a single scientist or climate expert was part of the discussion. In addition, every politician who discussed climate change on the Sunday shows in 2012 was a Republican:

    Examining trends more broadly, the Sunday shows have hosted more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives. In this environment, honest appraisals of science are rare, and commentators like George Will fit right in.

  • The Right Wing War On Science: Fox Misrepresents Another Scientist's Position

    Fox Distorts Scientist's Words To Downplay Climate Change Risks

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    TrenberthFox 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 Forgets Its Electric Car Success Story

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Fox News is using the struggles of Fisker, an electric carmaker that received federal loans, to claim that the government only picks "losers." But just one week prior, the network declared Tesla, which received loans from the same program, a "success story." 

    On Monday's edition of Fox News' America Live, Lou Dobbs treated the struggles of Fisker, which has reportedly hired a law firm to prepare for a possible bankruptcy filing and cut staff, as a reason that "we have got to get this government, and this administration, out of picking winners and losers, because all they pick are losers." In 2009, the company received a $529 million conditional loan guarantee through the Department of Energy's (DOE) Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program, of which it received $192 million before DOE froze the loan. Later in the segment, Dobbs added: "I've looked at the winners and the losers. I cannot find the winners."

    Dobbs might have started by watching Fox News, which reported the previous week on Happening Now that Tesla, another hybrid electric automaker that received ATVM funds, was a "success story":

    Indeed, Tesla recently announced that it turned a profit in the first quarter of 2013 and plans on paying back its DOE loan five years early. The company has seen sales of its Model S electric sedan, which was named 2013's car of the year by both Automobile and Motor Trend, exceed goals set by the company.

    Furthermore, even if Fisker does declare bankruptcy and we do not recover any of its assets, the loss would make up only 2.6 percent of the $7.5 billion set aside by Congress to cover losses:

  • Fox Newspeak: Those Who Accept Science Deemed "Climate Deniers"

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    In a mystifying attempt to turn the tables on science itself, Fox News is trying to reclaim the term "climate deniers" to refer to people who accept the preponderance of evidence confirming manmade climate change and support action to limit its impacts.

    On Friday's edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy promoted National Review Editor Rich Lowry's attempts to paint "advocates of limits on carbon emissions" as "deniers." Doocy proclaimed that based on our carbon emissions "you would think it would be 900 degrees right now on planet Earth, but instead over the past 15 years or so, we have been flat temperature-wise":

    It's interesting that Lowry is now attempting to co-opt the term "climate deniers," when in the past he condemned it as a way of equating climate "skeptics" with Holocaust deniers: 

    Climate alarmists conjured a world where nothing was certain but death, taxes and catastrophic global warming. They used this presumed scientific certainty as a bludgeon against the skeptics they deemed "deniers" -- a word meant to have the noxious whiff of Holocaust denial.

    But advocating action is in no way denying science. Fox News is once again trying to obscure the long-term warming trend, driven by greenhouse gas emissions:

    Source: Skeptical Science

    It is true, as Lowry points out, that scientists are continually examining just how much the climate will warm in response to our emissions, but those uncertainties are hardly a good excuse for inaction. After all, we know that scientific studies continue to indicate what they did in 2007: the amount that the Earth would warm in response to a doubling of carbon dioxide "is likely to be in the range 2°C to 4.5°C," or about 3.5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. This led the International Energy Agency to warn in 2011 that drastic actions needs to be taken in order to limit warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as the Wall Street Journal reported:

  • 8 Tips From Scientists On Covering Polar Bears

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Source: Captain Budd Christman, NOAA Corps

    After promoting anecdotes from a firefighter to claim that polar bears are "doing just fine," Fox News has ignored new research that confirms they are still existentially threatened by climate change. This divide in coverage is illustrative of what University of Alberta scientist Dr. Ian Stirling called a "new element" of media -- "the deliberately misleading, and sometimes downright dishonest, treatment of the science around polar bears when it relates to climate warming." In conversations with Media Matters, Stirling and other leading polar bear scientists outlined eight tips for media outlets seeking to accurately cover the plight of the polar bears.

    1. Anecdotal Evidence Doesn't Trump Scientific Evidence.

    In February, Fox News repeatedly promoted a book by firefighter Zac Unger on his time in Churchill, Manitoba to claim that "the polar bears are doing just fine." Even though bears in that region are actually among the subpopulations in decline, Fox News suggested that the book undermined climate science. Dr. Andrew Derocher, a scientific advisor to Polar Bears International, called that premise "flawed" and told Media Matters that "scientific literature shows very clearly the loss of sea ice in the satellite record and the projections (many many scientific papers) show that the future will be particularly challenging for polar bears as the sea ice disappears." He added, "I've worked on polar bears for 30 years and the changes are incredibly easy to see but as scientists, we don't just look at bears, we measure them and analyze the data."

    Stirling criticized Unger for "a very sad piece of deliberately misleading and dishonest writing" that "tells only parts of the story that suit him." Similarly, Derocher said it was "unfortunate" when "someone who clearly doesn't understand a subject well botches up the science." Furthermore, media should not rely on anecdotal information when there is "a lot of data" on sea ice and polar bear body condition. He added:

    The book you mentioned was written by someone who spent a few months in 1 place with his family talking to people. What I did on my last trip to Kentucky doesn't qualify me to rewrite the history [of] the eastern US. I've worked on polar bears for 30 years. Many of my colleagues for even longer. You don't go to a plumber for heart surgery but when it comes to polar bears "everybody is an expert". In science, an expert has to demonstrate expertise. Hanging around in Churchill for a few months talking to the locals doesn't qualify as an expert. Our last paper on polar bears in Conservation Letters had something like 200 years of cumulative polar bear expertise. How it can be that media put the scientific perspective on par with a casual observer is beyond me.

    In fact, some reports that rely on polar bear sightings to conclude they are doing "fine" may be unwittingly underscoring the urgency of sea ice melt. As lost habitat drives bears from their hunting grounds, they sometimes wander into towns and garbage dumps. This may lead to more contact with humans, and an overall impression that polar bears are abundant, even to the point of being a nuisance. In fact, as Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, a former polar bear project leader at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), told Media Matters, a bear sighting in a new place "probably means the bears are having a hard time making a living where they used to make a living."

    2. Recovery From Hunting Doesn't Undercut Ongoing Threat To Polar Bears.

    Unger promoted the popular media claim that polar bear populations have increased -- or are even "exploding" -- since the 1960s or 1970s, but those reports omit necessary context. Many of the starting-point estimates are based on a Russian calculation from the 1950s -- 5,000-8,000 bears -- that has never been broadly accepted by scientists. Amstrup told Media Matters that "we really don't know how many polar bears there were in the 60s [or 70s]" and it is "important to set the record straight."  In 2008, Stirling told then-CNN Executive Producer for Science Peter Dykstra that the estimate was "almost certainly much too low."

    In some places, thanks to conservation efforts like the Marine Mammal Protection Act and a subsequent international agreement, it does appear that polar bear populations have increased. According to Amstrup, Alaskan populations are a good example of such managed recovery. But in other areas, such as western Hudson Bay and the southern Beaufort Sea, populations are thought to be declining. And as Derocher pointed out, conservation biology is concerned with the future, normally examining issues three generations down the road. By this measure, polar bears are indeed in trouble, and looking back to the 1960s or 70s makes no sense:

    What climate deniers like to pull out is that there are more polar bears now than in the 1960s.  That doesn't matter and just because we've corrected excessive harvest rates (commercial hunting for example) in the 1960s doesn't make this argument any more relevant to the conservation of the species today moving forward in time.

    Amstrup echoed this point, saying "the population on the Titanic was doing just fine until just before it slipped beneath the waves." Overall, the USGS has projected that changes in Arctic ice conditions could result in "loss of approximately 2/3 of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century."

  • Head of Meteorological Society Slams "Snowquester" Climate Fiction

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    Source: NOAA-NASA

    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.

  • Scientist Rebukes Latest "Factually Wrong" Attempt To Deny Climate Change

    News That Rising Emissions Could Lead To Dire Warming Should Prompt Action, Not Denial

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    A scientist who spearheaded findings of rising greenhouse gas emissions is rebuking a Forbes columnist who incorrectly claimed that temperatures have been "flat" to question the manmade causes of climate change.

    Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data showed a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2012. Pieter Tans, who heads NOAA's greenhouse gas measurement group, told AP that "The prospects of keeping climate change below" 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100, as world leaders agreed to do, "are fading away." He added that the carbon jump is "just a testament to human influence being dominant."

    Rather than using the news to evaluate the costs associated with our addiction to fossil fuel and discuss the steps we must take to avert the worst consequences of climate change, James Taylor of the industry-funded Heartland Institute used it to deny science. Taylor claimed that global temperatures are "essentially the same today" as they were in 1995 despite a contemporaneous rise in carbon emissions, and that this was a "devastating rebuke to assertions that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are causing a global warming crisis."

    But Tans told Media Matters in an email that Taylor is "factually wrong" even using his short-term example -- 2012 was actually warmer than 1995 by about 0.16°C -- and that Taylor cherry-picked a date that had higher temperatures than surrounding years:

    Taylor is factually wrong about the global temperature. According to the NASA GISS web site the year 1995 was 0.16 deg.C cooler than 2012. He could have compared to 1994 or 1996, in which case the difference from 2012 would have been 0.31 and 0.25 C cooler respectively. Therefore it makes sense to not compare individual years, but to take a 10-year smoothed average. In that case 1995 was cooler than 2012 by about 0.28 C. The second decimal depends a little on your smoothing technique.

    In any case, long-term temperatures trends, a far more relevant indicator of climate change, aren't "flat" at all: each of the 12 years since the turn of the century have ranked among the 14 warmest on record. But Taylor obscured the long-term temperature rise by using a short period of data, as seen in this graphic from Skeptical Science: