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ANALYSIS: Notable Opinion Pages Included Denial In Coverage Of Paris Climate Summit

Media Matters analysis found that four of the ten largest-circulation newspapers in the country published op-eds, editorials, or columns that denied climate science while criticizing the international climate change negotiations in Paris, including The Wall Street JournalUSA Today, the New York Post, and The Orange County Register. Altogether, 17 percent of the 52 opinion pieces that the ten largest newspapers published about the Paris conference included some form of climate science denial, and many of them repeated other myths about the climate negotiations as well.

  • 196 Nations Gathered In Paris For UN Climate Change Conference

    Representatives From 196 Countries Gathered In Paris To Negotiate Landmark Climate Change Agreement. From November 30 to December 11, representatives from 196 nations gathered for the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The objective of the conference was to “achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 [degrees Ceslsius].” On December 12, the countries unanimously reached an agreement to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius while “pursuing efforts” to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. [USA Today, 12/30/15;, accessed 12/16/15; Media Matters, 12/3/15 (updated 12/12/15)]

    97 Percent Of Climate Scientists And Nearly 200 Scientific Organizations Agree On Human-Caused Global Warming. NASA states that "[m]ultiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities." NASA also notes that “most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing” the position that recent global warming is very likely due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels, including “nearly 200 worldwide scientific organizations.” [National Aeronautics and Space Administration, accessed 12/16/15]

    17 Percent Of Opinion Pieces Denied Human-Caused Climate Change

    In Nation's Largest Newspapers, 9 Out Of 52 Opinion Pieces Mentioning Paris Conference Denied Climate Science. Between November 23 and December 14, the ten largest-circulation newspapers as of 2014 --USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, and The Washington Post -- published a total of 52 editorials, columns, or op-eds that mentioned the Paris climate conference. Nine of those opinion pieces -- 17 percent -- included climate science denial. [Cision, 6/18/14]

    Newspapers Vs. Climate Scientists

    Four Of The Ten Largest U.S. Newspapers Published Opinion Pieces About The Conference That Featured Climate Denial

    Newspapers Bar Graph

    The Wall Street Journal Published Four Opinion Pieces About Paris Conference That Denied Climate Science. A December 13 editorial by The Wall Street Journal stated: “Forgive us for looking through the legacy smoke, but if climate change really does imperil the Earth, and we doubt it does, nothing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it.” In a December 1 editorial, the Journal claimed: “The world has warmed modestly in the last 35 years, nearly all of that before the last 15. It may or may not warm more in the future, and the effects could be helpful in some places, harmful in others.” On November 30, Journal columnist Bret Stephens characterized climate change as an “imaginary enemy” and concluded: “Here's a climate prediction for the year 2115: Liberals will still be organizing campaigns against yet another mooted social or environmental crisis. Temperatures will be about the same.” And on November 27, the Journal published an op-ed by former Journal columnist Matt Ridley and Global Warming Policy Forum director Benny Peiser in which the authors wrote that global temperatures “have gone up only very slowly, less than half as fast as the scientific consensus predicted in 1990 when the global-warming scare began in earnest.” [The Wall Street Journal,12/1/15; 11/30/15; 11/28/15; Media Matters, 12/14/15; Media Matters, 10/29/12]

    USA Today Published Two Op-Eds Disputing Climate Science. USA Today published a December 13 op-ed by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) in which Smith claimed: “Climate change is caused by a combination of factors, including natural cycles, solar variability and human activity. Scientists still disagree about how much each of these factors contributes to overall climate change.” Additionally, for the “opposing view” to a USA Today editorial headlined, “Why Paris climate talks matter: Our view,” USA Today published a November 30 op-ed by Marc Morano, the publisher of the climate denial blog Climate Depot. In it, Morano claimed that “many scientists [are] skeptical of the scientific claims and goals behind the U.N. climate agenda,” "[t]he U.N. summit's goal of limiting the Earth's temperature to a rise of no more than 2 degrees Celsius is also not based on science," and "[t]he notion that a U.N. agreement to limit emissions will somehow alter the Earth's temperature or storminess is bordering on belief in witchcraft." However, USA Today also published a December 2 column by Berlin-based USA Today correspondent Kim Hjelmgaard in which Hjelmgaard criticized the false balance the he and other journalists once granted to climate denial groups like the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, writing, “this time around, I have yet to notice the balancing qualifiers so prevalent in the climate coverage of the past. Balance is not balance if it's simply wrong. It's faux balance.” [USA Today, 12/13/15, 11/30/15, 11/30/15; 12/2/15]

    New York Post Published Editorial And Column That Contradict Scientific Consensus On Climate Change. In a December 6 column, the New York Post's Andrea Peyser questioned the existence of climate change, stating: “I don't know if human-caused climate change exists. Neither does Al Gore, President Obama, UN warmists or Duran Duran.” And in a December 1 editorial, the Post disputed the scientific consensus that the Earth is warming, writing: “Sure, many scientists believe the planet's temperature is on a long-term upward trajectory (though even there the science isn't nearly as 'settled' as climate-truthers claim).” [New York Post, 12/6/15, 12/1/15]

    OC Register Editorial Echoed Widely-Debunked Climate Denial Conspiracy Theory. In a December 1 editorial headlined “Paris climate conference at odds with reality,” The Orange County Register wrote that “the climate data used to justify Draconian regulations are just not reliable.” The Register then repeated London Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker's false claim that for 30 years “the official temperature records ... were systematically 'adjusted' to show the Earth as having warmed much more than the actual data justified.” [The Orange County Register, 12/1/15; Media Matters, 2/10/15]

    Many Opinion Pieces About Paris Conference Repeated Other Myths About the Negotiations

    Four Newspapers Published Opinion Pieces Repeating Myth That Climate Agreement Will Harm The Economy. All four newspapers that published climate science denial -- The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Post, and the OC Register - also published opinion pieces alleging that the Paris agreement will harm the economy. In reality, studies show that the benefits of acting on climate change far outweigh the costs. [The Wall Street Journal, 12/1/15, 11/24/15; USA Today, 12/13/15, 11/30/15; New York Post, 12/1/15; The Orange County Register, 12/6/15; Media Matters, 12/3/15]

    Three Newspapers Published Opinion Pieces Repeating Myth That Paris Agreement Won't Limit Warming. The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the New York Post each published at least one opinion piece repeating the myth that the Paris agreement won't impact the rate of global warming. However, multiple research studies show that the agreement can help avert approximately one degree Celsius of warming, and that the additional actions necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change are achievable. [The Wall Street Journal, 12/13/15, 12/1/15, 11/28/15, 11/24/15; USA Today, 12/13/15; New York Post, 12/1/15; Media Matters, 12/3/15]

    Two Newspapers Published Opinion Pieces Repeating Myth About China's Coal Use. A Wall Street Journal editorial and a column by the New York Times' David Brooks each repeated the myth that China lied about its coal use and therefore can't be trusted to uphold its climate pledge. But experts say that China actually revised its coal data because it has become better at measuring and reporting it, and that the revisions were already incorporated into the negotiations that produced the Paris agreement. [The Wall Street Journal, 12/1/15; The New York Times, 12/1/15; Media Matters, 12/3/15]

    Two Newspapers Published Opinion Pieces Echoing Myth That U.S. Is Acting Alone On Climate, China And India Aren't Doing Their Part. An Orange County Register editorial and a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) each suggested that the U.S. should not act on climate because China, India, or both are not doing their part. In fact, all of the world's largest emitters, including China and India, submitted plans to reduce their emissions, and experts have noted the magnitude of the climate commitments by China and India in particular.  [The Orange County Register, 12/1/15; The Wall Street Journal, 12/1/15; Media Matters, 12/3/15]

    Two Newspapers Published Opinion Pieces Featuring Myth That Climate Agreement Will Harm The World's Poor. The Wall Street Journal and Orange County Register each published editorials that claimed the Paris agreement will harm poor people in developing nations. But the reality is that poor, developing countries are the most at risk from unmitigated climate change, and wealthy countries continue to provide these countries with billions in direct poverty aid.  [The Orange County Register, 12/1/15; The Wall Street Journal, 12/13/15; Media Matters, 12/3/15]

    OC Register Perpetuated Myth That Global Public Opinion Is Against Climate Agreement. Two different columnists for the OC Register suggested that global public opinion is against international action on climate change. However, the most comprehensive survey of global attitudes on climate change ever conducted found earlier this year that nearly two-thirds of people around the world said UN negotiators should do “whatever it takes” to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and 78% said they were “very concerned” about the impacts of climate change. [The Orange County Register, 12/13/15, 12/6/13; Media Matters, 12/3/15]