How Tucker Carlson was a terrible and effective megaphone for climate misinformation
But even with the host gone, Fox’s climate lies will continue
Prior to his departure from Fox News on April 24, Tucker Carlson was one of the network’s most prolific purveyors of climate change misinformation. Carlson elevated fringe ideas and conspiracy theories from relative obscurity on the internet to become drum beats for right-wing media. He also dishonestly spun major news events and weaponized his viewers’ most deep-seated prejudices about race and power to push climate denial.
His absence will be a blow to the forces aiming to mock environmental justice, derail climate action, and protect polluting industries and their allies in Washington. But the end of Tucker Carlson’s prime-time show is far from the end of climate change denial on Fox News — his project is sure to be carried on by other Fox personalities who will continue the network’s awful history of climate coverage.
Carlson propelled internet misinformation and obscure conspiracy theories into right-wing media narratives against climate action
One thing that set Carlson apart at Fox was his ability to seemingly jump-start a tidal wave of misinformation. His producers seemingly scoured the internet so he could amplify right-wing grievances, as well as any obscure video or article that could be easily decontextualized to sound absurd or inflammatory. He knew his audience, and he knew exactly how to push their buttons.
Carlson’s response to the deadly Texas winter storm that killed hundreds of people in February 2021 triggered a deluge of misinformation from Fox News. He was the first Fox News host to blame the widespread power outages on wind energy. The reality was that Texas still largely relies on natural gas for power, and this infrastructure wasn’t ready for the extreme cold.
Over the last few years, Carlson helped create a misinformation crisis around climate action and even told his audience that climate activists were going to try to shrink children and force everyone to eat bugs, when there is no evidence that those things are actually happening.
Fittingly, one of the very last things Carlson did in his final Fox segment was to promote Let Them Eat Bugs. Notably, he said that the chocolate-covered cricket was “delicious.”
- During Carlson’s new Fox Nation original Let Them Eat Bugs, right-wing comedian Jay Dyer said, “Is there a group of unelected bureaucratic elites that are involved in a global campaign to minimize meat consumption and convince people not to eat meat and to eat bugs to save the world from climate change? I think we can answer in the affirmative, absolutely.” [Fox Nation, Let Them Eat Bugs, 4/14/23]
- In the same program, Carlson said, “The people we spoke to in the edible insect industry didn’t seem like extremists. In fact, to a person, they came off as decent and well-meaning. … But they are not the ones setting the bigger agenda.” [Fox Nation, Let Them Eat Bugs, 4/14/23]
- In an unhinged February 2023 monologue claiming climate change is a fake religion being used to “make people suffer” and “atone for their climate sins,” Carlson said: “What else are you allowed to have in the name of the climate crisis? Well, how about no more heat or air conditioning or electricity or cars or wearing leather or eating meat or having children? All are sins against the climate. So, for you, it is insects, tap water, and celibacy. That's a tough religion. Even John the Baptist got to eat honey and locusts. No honey for you. We’re beyond self-denial.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 2/10/23]
- In June 2021, the Fox host also created panic around an obscure video of a New York University bioethicist at a conference talking speculatively about using genetic engineering to lower our carbon footprint. Carlson made it sound as though this was already being carried out as “potentially world-altering experiments” being “funded by the secretive daisy-chain of government health agencies, and powerful NGOs.” He then compared the idea to the Holocaust, saying that “bioethicists have short memories apparently. And in any case, climate change is a pressing emergency.” He later mockingly added, “All we need to do is experiment on human children. And we can solve climate change.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 6/22/21]
- Promoting a false claim two relatively unknown Twitter accounts had popularized in the days after the Texas storm, Carlson said that the state’s inability to keep the lights on was due to its “reckless reliance on windmills.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 2/15/21]
Misinformation about frozen windmills was just the tip of the iceberg for Carlson’s attacks on clean energy and climate action
Often portraying climate policies as a means to control the population or create a “permanent caste system,” Carlson regularly injected fearmongering about the clean energy transition into his segments. At the core of his argument was the fossil fuel industry talking point claiming the renewable energy technology was insufficient and that transitioning away from fossil fuels would weaken the U.S. and put Americans “under the complete and total control of people who wish us ill.” In October 2021, Carlson even used his newest venture, Tucker Carlson Originals on Fox Nation, to promote wind energy misinformation in the documentary Blown Away: The People vs. Wind Power.
- Carlson was among those on Fox News pushing the false claim that offshore wind development was responsible for whale deaths. In January he pushed this claim multiple times punctuating his misinformation with chyrons (“Green New Deal wind farms are killing off whales”) and graphics (“The Biden whale extinction”). [Media Matters, 2/3/23]
- Carlson suggested that China is working through a climate organization to push a supposed ban on gas stoves: “Why would China push fake science like that? Maybe because the United States has some of the biggest natural gas reserves in the world. And if we can be convinced not to use those gas reserves, we will be weak and they will be strong.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 1/20/23]
- Carlson suggested “mass disobedience in the face of tyranny” in response to the potential regulation of gas stoves. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 1/10/23]
- In response to the United Nations’ COP27 climate negotiation in November 2022, Carlson fearmongered about the implementation of green energy policies, stating, “Fossil fuels are the reason we have civilization. Take them away and countries collapse.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 11/21/22]
- In an over 13-minute May 2022 monologue, Carlson suggested that renewable energy was making energy more costly while enriching Democrats: “Invest trillions of dollars of other people's money in batteries and wind farms and electric school buses. That way Democratic politicians get fingertip control over the entire U.S. economy and all of their friends get rich.” He also blamed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for high gas prices, claiming that “she has worked hard to prevent the United States from producing more gasoline, and that is the main reason it is so expensive.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/27/22]
Carlson continued to push climate denial even during extreme weather events, when the reality of the climate crisis was most evident
As the science connecting extreme weather to our warming planet has become more conclusive — and with other TV news outlets more frequently reporting on these connections in the aftermath of major disasters — Carlson relentlessly misinformed his audience about these connections and claimed that the media making the link between climate change and extreme weather were captured by the radical left or using the occasion to politicize tragedy.
- In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which pummeled Florida and South Carolina in late September 2022, Carlson dedicated a 15-minute monologue to denying the relationship between hurricanes and climate change and implied that humans cannot influence weather events because “they’re called natural disasters. We didn’t cause them, they’re products of nature. God’s in charge.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 9/29/22]
- During an extreme heat wave in July 2022, Carlson devoted a monologue to undermining the existence of climate change, mockingly suggesting, “For the first time in history, it’s going to be hot and then it’s going to rain hard.” “No one really believes in global warming, and that’s why all of the liberals in the United States live on the coasts – because they don’t believe it,” he added. “The entire theory is absurd and they know it.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 7/20/22]
- In the wake of Hurricane Ida in September 2021, Carlson mocked Democrats for connecting the extreme storm to climate change and pointing to the need to pass climate policy over a chyron reading, “Dems Blame Wild Rain on Man-Made Climate Change.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 9/2/21]
- Carlson claimed Democrats were politicizing wildfires by linking them to climate change: “It took no time at all for the usual vultures and parasites to swoop in and try to make political advantage out of this. Barack Obama and governor of California Gavin Newsom are now telling you that these fires are a direct result of climate change, and according to Barack Obama, Donald Trump is directly responsible for them.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 9/10/20]
- Ignoring the clear scientific links between the climate crisis and natural disasters or extreme weather, Carlson said “there's no evidence” climate change contributed to apocalyptic wildfires ravaging the West Coast in 2020. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 9/10/20]
- In January 2020, Carlson hosted former Fox personality Anna Kooiman to suggest that arson, not climate change, was responsible for the severity of the bushfires that torched millions of acres of forest and residential areas in Australia. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 1/8/20]
Even beyond these extreme weather events, Carlson regularly promoted climate denial on his Fox show in order to feed doubt and discredit climate science.
Carlson platformed climate change deniers who influenced his coverage
Carlson used any excuse, such as new climate policies, initiatives, or convenings, to platform some of the most notorious climate deniers and controversial climate contrarians. For example, according to Media Matters’ internal database, from 2019 through the end of Carlson’s show in 2023, he hosted failed politician Michael Shellenberger 21 times, climate change denier Marc Morano 14 times, meteorologist Joe Bastardi 8 times, and fossil fuel shill Bjorn Lomborg 4 times. These guests pushed the “Great Reset” conspiracy theory, cherry-picked statistics to downplay the impacts of extreme weather, or suggested climate activism is a “cult” or a “new religion.”
- In September 2022, Shellenberger said that power outages during a heat wave in California were “a warning to the rest of the United States to not go down this path of over-relying on weather-dependent renewable energies.” Responding to Carlson’s claim that climate change activists are “a cult” devoted to “the one true faith of renewable energy,” Shellenberger then said “people that move away from traditional religion, they basically turned nature into a new god, a new victim god.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 9/7/22]
- Carlson would later use Shellenberger’s talking points on the subject in 2022 after Hurricane Ian devastated Florida, when he unsuccessfully attempted to discredit then-CNN anchor Don Lemon: “There has been, as a factual matter, no increase in hurricane frequency in the continental United States from 1900 to 2020.” (Only Lemon never made that claim — he had instead made the point that hurricanes are becoming more intense, which is true.) [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 9/29/22]
- Talking about the damage from Hurricane Ida in 2021, Shellenberger said “you can’t blame floods on climate change when we know the central factor is flood management. It’s the same thing with forest fires that we’ve talked about. It’s all about forest management to prevent those high-intensity fires, it’s not about modestly higher temperatures.” He also argued that renewable energy sources “make grids more vulnerable” and “don’t provide any additional resilience” because they are weather-dependent. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 9/2/21]
Carlson has run with the idea that climate change is like a new religion, which Shellenberger has written about at length.
- “As church attendance and self-identified religious faith have fallen off a cliff in this country, the cult of climate has grown even stronger,” Carlson said in February. “Zealots want to punish people in the name of their faith. That's always been true. It happens around the world still … So, what does that mean? It means you're about to be severely punished in the name of someone else's crackpot climate religion.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 2/10/23]
- In a nearly 14-minute monologue from December 2022, Carlson suggested that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had been deemed the new climate god: “In place of the concept of an omnipotent, loving God who brings justice to the world, Buttigieg simply substituted the word ‘climate.’ Thanks be to climate. Our climate, who art in heaven, that kind of thing.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 12/12/22]
- Discussing his new book hyping the “Great Reset” conspiracy theory during a 2022 segment about multiple food-driven global conflicts that occurred over the summer, such as Sri Lanka’s economic collapse and protests lead by Dutch farmers, Morano claimed that the “war on agriculture” by global institutions has been going on for years with “their goal to literally get us to eat insects and this lab-grown fake meat” by shutting down traditional farming in order to adhere to countries’ climate goals. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 7/12/22]
- In 2021, Carlson promoted and praised Morano’s Green Fraud: Why the Green New Deal Is Even Worse Than You Think, calling it “a book with a title that sells itself.” Discussing the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Morano claimed Democrats and climate activists would end private car ownership and abolish private home ownership because “in a climate emergency, it’s just too damaging to the Earth.” He added, “They love the lockdowns for this reason. They call it degrowth, they call it planned recessions.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 4/1/21]
- In his final appearance on Carlson’s show, Bastardi pushed the absurd idea that climate advocates are trying to pollute the air as much as possible so that they can have an excuse to prevent others from using transportation. Bastardi offered that another option is that “it's a phony climate war, it's fraudulent,” and “has nothing to do with CO2.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 12/12/22]
- In August, 2022, Carlson called Bastardi “the most famous, most accomplished, most trusted meteorologist and weather forecaster in the United States.” In the segment, Bastardi claimed there is no significant warming in the Arctic because it’s “still very, very cold” and only a few degrees warmer in the winter, so “instead of freezing to death in three minutes, you’ll freeze to death in three and a half minutes.” [Fox Nation, Tucker Carlson Today, 8/4/22]
- In September 2021, Bastardi downplayed the intensity of Hurricane Ida by stating that other bad storms happened in the 1950s and 1930s. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 9/8/21]
- In March 2019, Bastardi said young people are concerned about climate change because they “don’t look at everything. I have said hundreds of times that if all I looked at and all that I was told was the global warming issue, I'd say ‘Well, I believe it too. CO2 is causing this.’ But when you start looking at the entire picture … you realize that there is a very, very different story here.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 3/20/19]
- In July 2022, Bjorn Lomborg suggested that climate change is actually good because “many more people die from cold” than heat. “Actually, over the last 20 years at least, we’ve seen more people being saved than extra people dying,” he added. “We need to hear both sides of that story if we’re going to be well-informed.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 7/20/22]
- Parroting Lomborg during a monologue the following month, Carlson implied the existence of winter disproves the science of climate change while claiming that “the real threat to people is global cooling” because “far more people freeze to death every year than die of heat.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 8/29/22]
In the last several years, Carlson had started to merge his climate denial and defense of fossil fuels with overt racism and white grievance
In response to climate justice and environmental justice becoming more mainstream and being incorporated into policy, Carlson seized on the opportunity to apply his increasingly overt racism to climate and environmental issues. Notably, Carlson has insisted that climate policies, not climate change, hurt marginalized communities. He has often claimed that environmental justice has “nothing to do” with the environment — with the exception of the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which the former Fox host used to stoke more conservative grievances.
- In March 2023, Carlson went into a tirade over a Los Angeles Times piece about minority communities facing disproportionately high levels of car pollution, insisting the story argued “that just by breathing, white people are hurting others.” Carlson later claimed that white people are victims of “Rwanda-style race hatred” pushed by the media. [Media Matters, 3/15/23]
- After a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, Carlson asserted that there would have been a more robust federal response if the derailment had occurred in “the favored cities of Philadelphia and Detroit. … But it happened to the poor, benighted town of East Palestine, Ohio, whose people are forgotten and, in the view of the people who lead this country, forgettable.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 2/14/23]
- Just a few months prior, Carlson had a very different tone when talking about the Inflation Reduction Act spending directed at disadvantaged communities: “So really, this is about spreading race hate, as virtually everything they do is. They call it equity. It's not about protecting the environment. And if you're wondering how the environment's doing, take a very close look. Is anyone monitoring the chemicals in our water? No. We're busy conducting workshops for billions of dollars for disadvantaged communities.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 8/17/22]
- In 2021, Carlson similarly attacked the bipartisan infrastructure bill with a slew of white supremacist dog-whistles. “The entirety of this infrastructure plan looks more like a mashup of intersectional theory from Wesleyan and some kind of South African-style spoils system,” he said. “First and most obviously, is this really about infrastructure — bridges, roads, airports, things we can actually use — or is it yet another weird climate scheme-slash-power grab-slash-race-based redistribution plan?” [Media Matters, 4/2/21]
- During a segment that aired a few weeks later, Carlson and Fox contributor Mark Steyn mocked comments made by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) linking the harmful effects of climate change and racism. [Media Matters, 4/23/21]
- In a 2019 segment reacting to then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ immigration plan, Carlson used language reflective of eco-facism, saying, “Why would a climate migrant have a right to come to my country?” Carlson later asked, “Why would you want a crowded country? Isn't crowding your country the fastest way to despoil it, to pollute it, to make it a place you wouldn't want to live?” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 11/11/19]
- Complaining about climate change “propaganda” targeted toward children, Carlson asked: “Why, since more people were killed last year in the United States by illegal aliens than were killed by climate change — why do you think they are so focused on scaring us, and telling us that we are all going to die? Why did they need to tell us that, when they don't know that?” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 3/20/19]
Other Fox figures will carry the climate denial torch in Carlson’s absence
Carlson was far from the only Fox News personality to regularly peddle climate change misinformation, and others will continue to carry the torch:
- In April, Fox host Greg Gutfeld went full climate denial mode saying, “None of their predictions have come true. None of them. They are fighting. They are forcing America to do this crap over one — less than a percent Celsius, less than a percent Celsius. It has no effect. And in fact, as this climate gets warmer, people's lives improve. That's a fact. That’s a fact. People die from cold weather more frequently than warm weather, so don’t give me your cancer BS.” [Fox News, The Five, 4/12/23]
- In January, Fox host Jesse Watters platformed a fossil fuel industry-funded envoy as an “ocean advocate” to argue that offshore wind farms are killing whales. [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 1/12/23]
- When discussing a “loss and damage” fund for developing countries to address climate impacts, Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth described it as an example of “self-loathing. It’s the belief that the West's success was premised on pollution, so now it's our turn to pay developing countries basically a sin tax of the past so they can catch up to us because we built the world based on their backs.” Co-host Will Cain then described the proposal as “climate reparations.”[Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 11/20/22]
- Prime-time host Laura Ingraham in October 2022 spoke with a climate change denier who claimed that “there is no climate crisis” and so we need to “use solid, dependable sources of energy like coal.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 10/12/22]
- Last September, Gutfeld called youth climate activists including Greta Thunberg “shrieking psycho brats” and blamed them for power outages during a heat wave in California, saying they had “poisoned the dialogue with hysteria.” He added that you “can’t take it seriously when you have a woman or a girl” speaking out passionately about the issue. [Fox News, The Five, 9/7/22]
- On America’s Newsroom, co-anchor Bill Hemmer interviewed the CEO of Big Oil’s lobbying arm, the American Petroleum Institute, to cast blame on Biden and present the fossil fuel industry as the answer to high gas prices. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 7/25/22]
It’s uncertain who will be placed in Carlson’s 8 p.m. slot. But whatever the outcome, one sure thing is that Fox will continue to supplement its climate coverage with racism, bigotry, misogyny, and brain-frying idiocy.