On August 9, the United Nations released its sixth report on climate change, warning of a stark -- and grim -- future for the planet. Fox’s flagship “straight news” program, Special Report with Bret Baier, however, failed to accurately communicate the current crisis and stepped in line with other Fox opinion shows in spreading climate denial.
The 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in cooperation with 195 governments, issued its most clear-cut conclusion yet: There is “unequivocal” evidence that humans are responsible for climate change, and furthermore, climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying.”
The U.N. secretary-general called the report a “code red for humanity.” The report says future warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius is extremely likely, threatening over 1 billion people with extreme heat waves and lack of water due to more severe droughts, and killing off animal species and coral reefs. Its summary for policymakers states that “climate change is already affecting every inhabited region across the globe.”
Not straying from the show’s routine dismissal and undermining of the climate crisis, anchor and Fox chief political correspondent Bret Baier introduced the report as alarming to the “global warming community” rather than to all of humanity.
Fox News foreign affairs correspondent Benjamin Hall continued the misguided reporting, first acknowledging unprecedented fires, heat, and floods, but then undermining the report’s dire news by claiming that “some experts have cast doubt on its conclusions.”
Hall then brought in Steve Koonin, a theoretical physicist with no formal background in climate science and an experienced Fox guest who has used his controversial history within the scientific and political climate change community to contradict established scientific consensus. Among other things, Koonin claimed that the aforementioned natural disasters are “on the face of it, weather.” Koonin continued, “If they were climate, we would see trends over several decades in those phenomena, and we don't.”
Koonin’s claim is nonsense. In fact, climate scientists can now pinpoint exactly how much climate change affects any given extreme weather event. Scientists found that the heatwave that sent temperatures in the Pacific Northwest in June into triple digits would not have been possible without global warming and that climate change boosted the damage done by Hurricane Sandy by $8 billion. The report also details how climate change will contribute to unprecedented heavy precipitation, floods, droughts, fires, and extreme storms.
Koonin then moved onto another familiar bad faith argument from the right, employing nationalistic defenses of climate inaction and setting up a false conflict between a healthy planet and thriving economy. As Hall warned that the Biden administration’s climate policies, which are modest compared to the level of action required, could put “jobs and the economy at risk,” Koonin pivoted to the unsubstantiated claim that Chinese and Indian emissions reduction is a “fantasy.”
The U.S. caused more global warming than any other country and produced the highest per capita emissions rates, and in order to pressure other big emitters like China and India, the U.S. needs to show a strong commitment to climate action. Furthermore, scientists and policy experts have repeatedly pleaded that transitioning to a clean energy economy is not only necessary to ensure a livable planet, but will also reduce the price of mitigation after irreversible climate impacts take hold.
While Hall conceded that Koonin’s beliefs were in the “minority,” Hall dedicated more than three times as much speaking time to Koonin as to Ko Barrett, the IPCC’s vice chair and deputy assistant administrator for research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Following the segment, Baier even used Koonin’s misleading statements as a basis to question Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm about whether the Biden administration’s climate policies are “too much, too fast.” (Granholm advised Media Matters prior to entering the administration.)
Koonin’s testimony contributes to the impression that climate change is not decided science. It is: More than 97% of climate scientists believe that the past century of climate-warming trends is extremely likely to be due to human activities.
Hall followed Koonin’s interview with a clip from youth climate activist Greta Thunberg noting “the gap in between what politicians are saying and what they are actually doing,” a dubious nod given the network’s unhinged demonization of Thunberg and the activism she has helped inspire.
Hall also undercut decades of opinions about the national security risks of climate change from federal and international experts by claiming that “thousands” have lost their jobs because of unnamed Biden administration policies. While many fossil fuel-derived jobs will face cuts, the industries have been declining for decades, and there must be assurances of equitable job transition programs for those most affected. Moreover, the bipartisan infrastructure bill heralded by the administration is overwhelmingly supported by labor groups and is estimated to add, on average, around 2 million jobs per year of the course of the decade.
Special Report’s failure to accurately depict the dire climate crisis presented in the IPCC’s report is unsurprising, giving the network’s general dismissal of the report and tendency to host climate deniers.