In response to Hurricane Ian, Fox News primetime shows sought to mislead viewers about how climate change is affecting hurricanes, using bad faith and often-repeated climate denier talking points.
More than 2.6 million people were without power across the state on Thursday morning, as extreme flooding left many residents trapped in their homes and on top of cars. At a press briefing, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called Ian a “500-year flooding event” and added, “The impacts of this storm are historic and the damage that has been done is historic. … We've never seen a flood event like this, we've never seen a storm surge of this magnitude.” There were at least 21 confirmed deaths as of Friday morning, but that number is expected to rise as recovery efforts continue.
Fox primetime shows recycle debunked or irrelevant talking points on climate
Meanwhile, Fox personalities attempted to gaslight viewers into complacency by describing any hurricane coverage that mentioned climate change as “alarmist.” Fox also cherry-picked information about the relationship between climate change and hurricanes to imply that the two are not related. Climate scientists and media outlets have acknowledged that there is not enough evidence to support the theory that climate change will increase the frequency of hurricanes. However, there is evidence suggesting that higher ocean and air temperatures are causing hurricanes and storms to intensify more rapidly instead of weakening as they approach landfall, as happened with Ian. Hurricanes are also absorbing more moisture and dumping more rain on affected areas. Fox ignored this crucial connection or refuted it all together.
On September 27, Tucker Carlson called severity warnings leading up to the storm a “scam” on Tucker Carlson Tonight. But the next day, he called Hurricane Ian “a catastrophe” and a “national disaster,” adding, “People will certainly be killed.” Carlson then tried to use an exchange between CNN’s Don Lemon and Jamie Rhome, the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, to push his agenda. Carlson used Rhome’s reluctance to link climate change to specific events to suggest that for political reasons, the media is more concerned about climate change than actual climate scientists are. However, Rhome clearly agreed that climate change is having an impact on storms, which is consistent with mainstream reporting on the issue. In fact, on September 28, CNN meteorologist Tom Sater reiterated Rhome’s point and added, “Since 1950 there have been seven landfall hurricanes in Florida that were a category 4 or 5 … the first 4 were each in a different decade. The last three — all in the last 5 years.”
On September 29, Carlson devoted a good chunk of his show to ranting about climate change as well. He was obsessively focused on hurricane frequency, arguing that somehow, a decrease in the numbers of storms would cancel out the plethora of other evidence indicating that the storm events themselves are intensifying. After citing a NOAA research overview highlighting that hurricanes are predicted to become more intense, Carlson went on to insist that “the claim is never proven,” and that “there’s no science behind these claims.” Later in the segment, he implied that humans cannot influence weather events because “they’re called natural disasters. … they’re products of nature, God is in charge.” He then discussed Hurricane Ian with Candace Owens, who has a long history of climate change denial. Owens reiterated that climate change does not exist because “if there was no human beings that walked the face of the planet, there would continue to be hurricanes, like there would continue to be blizzards, and like there would continue to be tornadoes.” She also used several other environmental concerns such as the hole in the ozone layer, which has diminished because of the Montreal Protocol, and ocean acidification, which remains a concern due to climate change, to try and argue that “they’ve been wrong over and over and over again.”
On September 28 edition of The Ingraham Angle, frequent Fox News guest and climate contrarian Michael Shellenberger and host Laura Ingraham told viewers that their personal experiences with extreme weather were untrustworthy and invalid. Ingraham implied that concerns about climate change only exist because people “feel that the ocean is warmer … but a feeling is not fact.” Shellenberger falsely claimed that hurricanes are “not intensifying right now, so any perception that hurricanes are more intense is just a perception fed by that relentless alarmist media.” Guest Mollie Hemmingway, editor-in-chief of The Federalist, later claimed that “the left” is pushing a “conspiracy theory” that “man-made climate change is the cause of hurricanes. … There’s just no evidence for this theory that people keep holding.” Hemmingway said this despite the fact that no one is claiming that climate change is the primary cause of hurricanes, rather it is one factor making them more dangerous.
Hemmingway and Shellenberger also latched onto the idea that hurricane frequency is apparently the only metric that should concern the public, glossing over the very real dangers of threats like higher rainfall rates, which is the main factor that drives deaths and damage during a hurricane. They were fixated on the number of hurricanes that have occurred over different periods of time, using various irrelevant data points to unsuccessfully support their climate denial. They also downplayed damage caused by storms by saying that nowadays more people live in the areas most affected by hurricanes. Shellenberger first said that damage caused by hurricanes “has not increased at all” but then claimed that the increase in damage is due to the fact that “there’s more wealth in harm’s way,” going on to claim that the extreme weather events of the last several decades represent “an incredible success story for America,” because, in his telling, they could have been worse.
Before Ian made landfall, Sean Hannity hosted his favorite climate denier Joe Bastardi to emphasize that hurricane frequency in Florida has not increased. On September 28, Hannity said that the media should not discuss climate change because “this is hurricane season and during hurricane season, you usually have hurricanes like we did a hundred years ago.” Fox News contributor Lara Trump insisted that the Democrats' “marketing arm, the mainstream media” is “now trying to claim that one of the quietest hurricane seasons in 30 years is somehow due to climate change.” Finally, former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, who was a guest on the show, said that people should reject the established science of climate change and instead of “worshipping that which is created rather than the creator … get back to the simple things of science and real faith and trust in God.”
The public is beginning to increasingly understand the dangers of climate change and the need for actions that not only reduce climate-causing emissions, but make our communities less vulnerable to the climate impacts that are already happening. But as the public and more media outlets are starting to connect extreme weather to the need for climate action, Fox News coverage seeks to break those links.