Climate activists are no strangers to ongoing, vicious, and sometimes deranged attacks from Fox News and other right-wing media outlets. So it was, perhaps, only a matter of time before those same outlets started also using the worldwide coronavirus crisis to attack climate activists and the policies they espouse.
Last week, a narrative started to take shape in right-wing media suggesting that climate activists are “pleased” that the coronavirus “is accomplishing the Green New Deal’s goals.” The logic behind this idea goes like this: Climate activists have called for a massive drop in carbon emission to fight climate change. Global emissions are dropping due to impacts caused by the coronavirus, including the reductions in travel worldwide. Therefore, climate activists are supposedly happy about the coronavirus.
This argument is patently false. As one prominent climate activist pointed out, the coronavirus is not a cause for celebration at all, while numerous climate scientists have made the same point: the coronavirus, in the long run, is not good for the climate, and no one should be “pleased” by it.
The false narrative reached Fox News on the March 19 episode of The Ingraham Angle. Fox host Laura Ingraham began the segment by stating:
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Shutting down entire industries and then forcing people to stay behind closed doors is terrible for the economy, for mental well-being, and our standard of living. That must be why climate change activists are celebrating.
Ingraham cited examples of reporting from CNN and USA Today about how reduced pollution because of the coronavirus pandemic is helping the planet. Ingraham’s guest for the segment, Environmental Progress President Michael Shellenberger, agreed with Ingraham, stating, “Unfortunately for some of our anti-human environmental brothers and sisters, I think this is a model for the kind of future they’d like to live.” Ingraham later said that climate activists “actually seem to be happier the less we are doing. … They don't want us to see the world.” (Shelleneberger’s appearance should come as no surprise; he has a long history of spreading misinformation, generally to promote nuclear energy while trashing renewables as a solution to climate change, and he’s been lauded by right-wing media for attacking climate activists.)
Examples of the narrative leading up to its debut on Fox News abound. Writing in The Federalist on March 13, Koch alum and fossil fuel shill Daniel Turner wrote that Green New Deal supporters “should be mildly, if not outwardly, pleased” at what the coronavirus is accomplishing, which includes “crushing capitalism, putting the oil and gas industry into panic, ending travel, and controlling population.” Turner has appeared on Fox News 12 times since January 2019, and has written over three-dozen articles for the network's website. In RT on March 19, Graham Dockery wrote:
Airplanes are grounded. Roads, deserted. The skies are clear and fish swim once again in Venice’s canals. Covid-19 has achieved in three short months what Greta Thunberg and her ilk could only dream of.
But climate hysteria has been relegated to the back pages by coverage of Covid-19. Thunberg and her devotees can find some silver linings though: not only does she not have to return to school (nice timing, G), but the virus has helped Mother Earth recover in ways that screaming, crying, and gluing themselves to trains never could.
On the March 14 edition of far-right outlet Rebel News’ The Ezra Levant Show, longtime climate denier Marc Morano appeared in a segment entitled “Coronavirus hysteria is the future environmentalists want.” He stated that climate activists are “just drooling at the prospect of this government expansion, the government power that is going to happen because of coronavirus fears, and they want to apply that, they want those powers for climate.” And writing in Breitbart on March 18, Penny Starr took a few examples of straight reporting that pollution has declined because of the pandemic to claim that “the media is celebrating that the coronavirus –– which has killed over 3,000 in China –– could be combating climate change as nations’ economies around the world are ground to a halt,” adding, “Leftists hope this trend continues.”
Another emerging claim within right-wing media is the idea that the coronavirus is accomplishing the “goals” of the Green New Deal. Daniel Turner focused his article in The Federalist on this idea, concluding that “coronavirus is a glimpse of the long-term pain a Green New Deal and environmental radicalism would inflict on America.” Rush Limbaugh also picked up on it, claiming, “If you want to know what the Green New Deal would look like, you're starting to see it.” And on March 19, The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles said that “The coronavirus chaos is nothing compared to what the Green New Deal would do to our society, and I'm sort of glad that we get a little preview of this so that people stop talking seriously about this policy proposal.”
On the more extreme side of things, Morano retweeted a post titled “The Green New Deal Has Arrived” promoting a YouTube video by fringe, far-right climate denier Tony Heller in which he claimed that climate activists and the media “are celebrating the demise of Western civilization.”
These right-wing media figures and climate deniers generally assume that the Green New Deal will lead to mass deaths, an economic recession, some extremely authoritarian form of socialism or communism, and total government control over our lives. Although he didn’t point to the Green New Deal by name, longtime denier and tobacco and coal industry shill Steve Milloy recently shared the sentiment that the coronavirus crisis is being used to bring about “climate communism.”
Climate activists are not rejoicing over the coronavirus, nor do its impacts accomplish the goals of the Green New Deal. For right-wing media to suggest otherwise is a blatant attempt to advance their dual agenda of demonizing the climate movement and deflecting any negative attention away from President Donald Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak.