Fox News is using Hurricane Ida to downplay the seriousness of climate change and attack President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, including the infrastructure bill which contains measures to make us more resilient in the face of extreme weather.
The fingerprints of climate change on the recent Hurricane Ida, which caused extensive damage from the Southeast to the Northeast U.S., were clear. One was its rapid intensification over very warm Gulf waters before pummeling Louisiana. Another was the amount of heavy rainfall that the storm brought in the Northeast that broke records in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, and caused major flash flooding. Beyond clearly showing that climate change is happening now, Ida’s devastating impacts, particularly in the Northeast, exposed how ill-prepared we are for it. And much of the coverage of Hurricane Ida was permeated with the theme that “the infrastructure in place today was built for a climate that no longer exists.”
In fact, with increased media coverage of events such as Ida, 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.
Fox networks downplayed climate change and accused Biden of politicizing Hurricane Ida to push a climate agenda
Since September 2, the day after Ida’s remnants ravaged the Northeast, Fox News and Fox Business have aired at least a dozen segments, combined, that claimed that the Democrats are using Ida as a pretext to implement a massive climate agenda including through the infrastructure bill. These attacks, coupled with instances of climate denial, show the network’s ultimate goal is to stop the implementation of Biden’s climate agenda by all means necessary.
Fox’s favorite new climate contrarian Michael Shellenberger appeared on two Fox programs to downplay climate’s impact on Ida and to argue that the climate crisis is actually overblown, first on the September 2 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, and later on the September 7 edition of The Ingraham Angle. In both segments, Shellenberger accused Democrats of using climate change only as a cover to make the economy more dependent on renewable energy sources like solar power, which he has a history of attacking. (Shellenberger is useful for Fox News because he doesn’t outright deny that climate change is happening; he only -- and falsely -- suggests that it’s not a major problem. In this sense, he provides the perfect cover for the fossil fuel industry to keep polluting the planet.)
Perhaps one of the more egregious examples came during a discussion of Biden’s response to Hurricane Ida during the September 3 edition of Fox Business’ Mornings With Maria. Guest Patrice Lee Onwuka of the Koch-funded Independent Women's Forum accused Biden of using the “fallacy” of climate change to get his agenda passed:
There is no “fallacy” here and she is wrong on the facts -- climate scientists know that climate change has an impact on hurricanes, from things like rainfall to intensity level to how slow they move, and these impacts will only get worse in the future unless carbon emissions are rapidly cut.
There were many other examples that attacked Democrats for politicizing extreme weather events and threw cold water on the infrastructure bill. On the September 3 edition of Fox News’ Your World With Neil Cavuto, correspondent Chad Pergam began a segment on the infrastructure bill by stating, “Democrats are using the storm to justify their push for the infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion bill. It's loaded with environmental provisions.”
During the September 4 edition of Bongino Unfiltered, host Dan Bongino began a segment on Ida by also claiming, “Democrats wasted no time demanding action against climate change.” The segment which displayed chyrons like “Democrats’ Climate Power Play” and “Dems Push Climate Alarmism After Deadly Storms” also featured a Democratic strategist squaring off against longtime climate denier Marc Morano. Morano used his time to argue that the climate crisis is overblown. Although climate “both-sides” debates should be a relic of the past as they were promoted solely by polluting interests wanting to advance the narrative that climate change is “debatable,” Fox had no qualms in reviving it here despite overwhelming evidence of climate’s impact on Ida.
In addition, Fox invited climate-denying meteorologist Joe Bastardi on the September 8 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight. The segment began with guest host Brian Kilmeade claiming that Joe Biden is “using these disasters for political purposes” in order to pass the infrastructure bill. Bastardi then backed up Kilmeade’s claim by dismissing the climate impacts of Ida, simply noting that other bad storms have happened in the past. He also falsely claimed, “The sun, the oceans, the events, the very design of the system, always try to fight back, and at the very least you can't tell what CO2 is doing.”
During an interview with U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) on the September 4 edition of Fox News Live, co-anchor Anita Vogel referenced Biden’s and Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) comments on Ida and climate change, and asked Malliotakis if “it's appropriate to blame this on climate change. … Should he be bringing politics into this when people are suffering?” Malliotakis responded, “We all need to do our part to be more environmentally friendly and reduce our footprint, but at the end of the day, you know, they're using this to push their radical-left agenda to try to pass a $3.5 trillion socialist wish list.”
Some Fox hosts also made similar comments in the wake of Ida. On the September 2 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, host Sean Hannity began a segment that ultimately downplayed the climate impacts of Ida by stating, “The left is blaming climate change for the heavy rainfall, severe weather and using it as another pretext to push their Green New Deal socialist agenda.” On the September 5 edition of Fox News’ The Next Revolution With Steve Hilton, host Steve Hilton did a short segment on Democrats using Ida to implement the Green New Deal.
Although the infrastructure bill is not the Green New Deal, that hasn’t stopped congressional Republicans, Fox News, and other right-wing media outlets from trying to compare the two. Fox is utterly obsessed with the Green New Deal and is using it to undermine basically every climate action that is proposed, however modest. This time, it’s the infrastructure bill the costs of which would pale in comparison to what unchecked climate change would do to the global economy.
Ida hit the U.S. against the backdrop of the recent report from U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that conclusively linked climate change “to an increased frequency and/or intensity of some weather and climate extremes since pre-industrial times.” It also followed a summer of harrowing extreme weather events that also had climate fingerprints all over them, including Western U.S. wildfires and drought, and a brutal Pacific Northwest heat wave. The fact that, despite all these events, Fox continued to diminish climate’s impact on Ida and argued for continued delayed action on climate change shows how much of a dangerous threat the network is to the discourse on climate change.