Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Fox News has gone from saying climate change wasn’t real to arguing it’s too hard to try to stop it

And that's when the network covers it at all; Fox covered the recent landmark climate report for roughly three minutes this week

  • Even optimistic scenarios for climate change would lead to environmental calamity as early as 2040, far sooner than previously thought, according to a stark report from a United Nations-backed assemblage of leading scientists from 40 countries. The report, issued Sunday night by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, concludes that preventing disaster requires nations to drastically reduce carbon emissions through a global economic transformation that has “no documented historic precedent.”

    Fox News would rather those nations not try.

    The conservative network has basically ignored the IPCC’s report altogether and passed on bringing it up during two interviews with President Donald Trump this week. Special Report, Fox’s flagship broadcast, provided a 30-second news brief on Monday. The network’s only other substantive coverage has come from Shepard Smith, a rare real journalist at Fox and one who has acknowledged the reality of global warming. Smith hosted the network's only full segment devoted to the report, introducing the two-and-a-half-minute Monday segment by saying, “Climate change is real, the situation is urgent, and time is running out: That's the new warning from a landmark United Nations report.” But soon after, Fox correspondent Trace Gallagher put his thumb on the scale in favor of inaction.

    “Even outside scientists who acknowledge that something has to be done to prevent the planet from warming say the goal laid out by the United Nations is really unreasonable,” Gallagher said, “because it would mean draconian cuts in emissions and dramatic changes in the way that we use energy, meaning extremely high gas prices, a lot more regulations, and putting governments right in the middle of decisions on how people utilize their private property.”

    Fox has spent years telling its audience that global warming is a lie. The network made an institutional decision to use its powerful megaphone to undermine the climate change consensus, making legislation to reduce carbon emissions less politically feasible. And now, the situation has apparently become so dire that a network correspondent is arguing it is just too costly to do anything to solve the problem.

    These things are connected. Every year of delay means more carbon emissions. If the goal is to keep the temperature increase below a specific target, then the longer world leaders wait to take action, the more drastic -- and expensive -- the cuts to carbon emissions need to be. The resulting “net mitigation costs increase, on average, by approximately 40 percent for each decade of delay,” according to a 2014 report by President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.

    Fox has played a key role in engineering that delay. In the middle of the last decade, many prominent Republicans acknowledged global warming was a real threat that required government action, and Fox itself produced reporting that did not dispute the science. But for the last dozen years, as the GOP became the “world's only major climate-denialist party,” Fox has done everything it could to defeat all possible actions to mitigate climate change.

    The network is, of course, far from the only reason a global problem has not been systematically addressed.

    But Fox’s influence on U.S. politics is great enough that when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was working on a bipartisan climate bill in 2010, he warned his Democratic colleagues that they needed to move the legislation quickly, before the network had time to train its guns on it.

    Graham was right to worry. Fox’s intense, network-wide effort to undermine the notion that climate change is a real problem helped stymie Democratic efforts to pass a cap-and-trade climate bill during Obama’s first term, and it has made the issue toxic with Republicans ever since.

    That effort included specific instructions from Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon to network reporters to “refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question.”

    Fox relentlessly promoted the fabricated “Climategate” scandal, which revolved around smearing a group of climate scientists by misrepresenting their emails, which were stolen by hackers.

    Its hosts brought on climate deniers to malign actual scientists and attacked people who referred to them as climate deniers.

    The network’s shows brought up global warming when it was cold outside (suggesting the cold temperatures disproved the science) and ignored it during heat waves.

    They propagated an ocean of lies and distortions of climate science research aimed at distracting from the scientific consensus supporting man-made climate change -- at one point, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that 93 percent of Fox News' representations of climate science were misleading.

    When Fox’s commentators weren’t lying about the story, they were treating it as a punchline, responding to cold weather with “snow-trolling,” denouncing celebrities who talked about it, and making a joke about former Vice President Al Gore while showing a person dressed as a Hawaiian lei-wearing polar bear.

    In one particularly baffling attempt at a gotcha, Fox’s Jon Scott asked whether the former existence of volcanoes on the moon disproved global warming. Then there was the time the network went to war over cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants’ climate change advocacy.

    And, in a shifting of the goal posts that presaged Gallagher’s recent comment, the landmark Paris Climate Agreement brought about a change in the network’s emphasis, with hosts saying the agreement would have little impact while costing too much. After long denying that there was a problem,  the network now -- when it bothers to mentions climate change at all -- is suggesting it can’t be solved.