Climate denier on Fox & Friends: International efforts to address climate change are "medieval witchcraft"
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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a Green New Deal resolution on Thursday -- a framework for what they intend to include in detailed legislation down the line. Ocasio-Cortez's office also released a less formal summary and answers to frequently asked questions about the plan.
Right-wing media figures and outlets -- who've been freaking out over the Green New Deal and Ocasio-Cortez in general over the last couple of months -- swiftly went on the attack, insulting Ocasio-Cortez's intelligence and employing misinformation, mockery, and straight-up climate denial to argue against the plan.
Many of the attackers appear not to have actually read the 14-page resolution. Instead, they focused on the FAQ document and mischaracterized it, so Ocasio-Cortez's office removed it from her website and said they'll post a better version later, but it's still available in other places online. [Update, 2/11/19: In a February 9 Twitter thread, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff explained that “an early draft of a FAQ that was clearly unfinished and that doesn’t represent the GND resolution got published to the website by mistake.”]
Here's a sampling of comments and arguments from right-wing media.
MSNBC contributor Hugh Hewitt waxed melodramatic while discussing the Green New Deal on his radio program on February 8: "It is not socialism; it is communism, it is fascism, it is despotism."
Sean Hannity went on an extended rant on his Fox show Hannity on February 7:
History is riddled with the roadkill and the misery and of many versions of socialism, almost always ending the same way: false promises, broken promises, failure, poverty, misery among the people. This is a real, serious threat to our way of life.
Ocasio-Cortez and others put forth one of the most dangerous, impractical, misguided, economically guaranteed-to-be-devastating plans ever championed by any American politician.
All aboard, the poverty express is coming.
Fox's Laura Ingraham said the Green New Deal would result in a "hellscape." Fox's Tucker Carlson said, "It's literally insane and anti-American." Watch these and other lowlights:
Ocasio-Cortez introduced the legislation jointly with longtime lawmaker Markey, who has served in Congress since 1976 and co-authored major climate legislation that passed the House in 2009. But in attacking the measure, conservative commentators focused almost exclusively on Ocasio-Cortez, calling her "immature" and an "idiot."
Ben Stein, an actor, political commentator, and climate denier who frequently appears on Fox programs, offered sexist insults about Ocasio-Cortez during Fox Business Network's Cavuto Coast to Coast on February 7:
The fact that we listen to her is just amazing. The fact that we pay attention to anything she says is just amazing. I mean, she doesn't know her ass from her elbow about investments and the return on investments. Why do we even listen to her? I mean, she’s charming and she’s very good-looking, but why do we even listen to her?
BRIAN KILMEADE: Why would you stand behind a deal like this when it is -- looks like something that was put out by a 10th-grader?
MARC MORANO: Actually, 10th is being very, very generous.
KILMEADE: Let's go seventh.
MORANO: I would go as low as third grade.
Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of the right-wing Daily Wire, attacked Ocasio-Cortez in a tweet:
Whoever wrote AOC's Green New Deal document is a full-scale idiot. There is no way to read that document as a rational person and think otherwise.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 7, 2019
Shapiro elaborated on this theme in a blog post at The Daily Wire titled "AOC's Green New Deal Proposal Is One Of The Stupidest Documents Ever Written":
Whoever wrote the proposal is, to put it kindly, dense. Idiotic. Moronic.
How bad is the Green New Deal paper? Putting aside the fact that, as written, it would receive a C+ in any high school English class, it essentially articulates a magical world in which the skies rain chocolate, the world is powered by unicorn farts, and AOC dances through the gumdrop meadows to Lisztomania.
My two-year-old son could come up with a better, more realistic proposal than this one.
David Harsanyi, a climate denier and senior editor at the conservative online magazine The Federalist, played on similar themes during an appearance on Fox's The Ingraham Angle:
A Federalist editor just called the Green New Deal "immature," said it's something "a high-schooler would write," and would "cost $25 bazillion dollars." pic.twitter.com/oHfnHfljGA
— jordan (@JordanUhl) February 8, 2019
Conservative media figures propagated a number of falsehoods about the Green New Deal. Here are a few:
They say the plan would ban cars. It wouldn't: Madison Gesiotto, a columnist for The Hill and a member of the Trump campaign's advisory board, suggested in a tweet that the Green New Deal would require Americans to give up their cars. In fact, the resolution calls for "investment in … zero-emissions vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing," not the banning of vehicles.
— Madison Gesiotto (@madisongesiotto) February 8, 2019
They say the plan would ban airplanes. It wouldn't: Longtime climate denier Rush Limbaugh claimed on his radio show on February 7, "They want to phase out air travel in 10 years." Fox & Friends hosts made the same claim on February 8, including Ainsley Earhardt, who said, "No more airplanes. Airplanes are -- exactly, you have to take a train now." In fact, the resolution makes no mention of airplanes or air travel. The FAQ acknowledges that it's likely not feasible to phase out traditional airplanes within a decade, so it calls for "build[ing] out highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary." The Green New Deal aims to give people a cleaner option than flying, but it doesn't call for the elimination of flying.
They say the plan would ban meat. It wouldn't: Morano said during his February 8 appearance on Fox & Friends that the plan calls for "banning meat." In fact, the resolution makes no mention whatsoever of meat. In contrast, it calls for "working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including ... by supporting family farming [and] by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health." The FAQ mentions just one potential meat source, "farting cows," but says it doesn't appear feasible to get rid of them within 10 years.
Many of the conservative critiques were short on substance, long on silliness and scorn.
Fox personality Laura Ingraham suggested the Green New Deal would send the country back to the time of the Flintstones and the Stone Age:
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) February 7, 2019
Climate-denying blogger Steve Milloy called the plan "bedwetting":
— Steve Milloy (@JunkScience) February 7, 2019
Breitbart's Joel Pollak disingenuously accuses the plan of being "homophobic and transphobic."
Note: the legislation fails to mention — even once — the historic oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities. This is a homophobic and transphobic document.
In many cases, right-wing media figures failed to acknowledge that the Green New Deal is so ambitious because it's trying to address an incredibly serious and deadly threat: climate change. The hosts of Fox & Friends, for example, neglected to mention climate change at all during an extended rant on February 8.
But in some cases, the conservative commentators put their climate denial on full display, making clear that part of the reason they disdain the Green New Deal is because they don't believe climate change is even happening.
Limbaugh launched into a climate-denying diatribe during his Green New Deal segment on February 7:
It is a crime what has been done to these kids. It is literally a crime the way they have been propagandized from the moment they started watching television, from early childhood. They literally believe this planet is under destruction as we sit here today and that human beings in the United States of America are responsible for it, primarily Republicans, and they’re calling for drastic action.
Breitbart's Pollak explicitly contradicted climate science in his Green New Deal blog post:
The “Green New Deal” begins by asserting “human activity is the dominant cause of observed climate change over the past century” — far beyond the “consensus” that humans have some significant impact on global temperature.
It goes on to declare that “a changing climate is causing sea levels to rise and an increase in wildfires, severe storms, droughts, and other extreme weather events that threaten human life” — all speculative claims that even scientists who endorse anthropogenic global warming (AGW) are hesitant to endorse.
In fact, climate scientists have been very clear that climate change is human-caused, it is exacerbating extreme weather, and we have a small window in which to dramatically overhaul our energy, transportation, and agriculture systems if we want to avoid the worst impacts. But if you deny that climate change is a problem, then of course an ambitious plan to address it is going to be anathema.
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The Green New Deal has surged into the American political discourse over the last two months on a wave of activism and high-profile Democratic endorsements. According to its leading proponents at the activist group Sunrise Movement, the plan aims to “transform our economy and society at the scale needed to stop the climate crisis.” It seeks to decarbonize the economy, create millions of green jobs, and rectify racial and economic inequality, though a specific policy agenda has yet to be worked out. The Green New Deal, whose backers include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), has polled very favorably with registered voters -- even though most Americans have heard nothing about it. The Sunrise Movement intends to spend 2019 building momentum and support for the plan so that it becomes a top issue for the 2020 presidential election. From there, the goal is to enact sweeping climate legislation in 2021.
Despite the fact that this plan is not yet fully defined and has no chance of passing through Congress for at least two years, right-wing media have wasted no time in attacking it. Outlets from Fox News to Breitbart News to the Las Vegas Review-Journal have spread inaccurate claims about the Green New Deal to stoke fears that it would destroy the U.S. economy and political system. The Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank known for its climate denial, is one of the most active opponents of the Green New Deal, and it is using right-wing media outlets to amplify its attacks.
Here are some of the bogus arguments being employed by right-wing groups and media outlets as they attempt to discredit the plan.
The Heartland Institute's main argument against the Green New Deal is that it's socialism in disguise. It recently launched a website, StoppingSocialism.com, that criticizes the Green New Deal as “energy socialism.” Justin Haskins, an executive editor and research fellow for Heartland and author of the book Socialism Is Evil, is the group's main spokesperson for its claim that the Green New Deal has a hidden socialist agenda. He has made two appearances on Fox News in January and written several op-eds for conservative outlets to push that line of attack.
On the January 8 episode of Fox's Tucker Carlson Tonight, Haskins called the Green New Deal “the most radical, dangerous policy proposal offered in modern history.” He claimed it would “do nothing to reduce global CO2 emissions,” concluding, “This is all about socialism, not saving polar bears.”
On the January 11 episode of Fox & Friends, Haskins again dismissed the idea that the Green New Deal has anything to do with climate change, saying, “This is actually not about green energy. … This is really about socialism. This is nothing more than a socialist Trojan horse.”
Haskins made the same argument in an op-ed that ran in The Detroit News on January 8 under the headline “Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Green New Deal’ is not about global warming.” In the following days, the right-wing websites Breitbart, Townhall, and the Heritage Foundation's The Daily Signal reprinted the piece. From the op-ed:
Many supporters of the Green New Deal know it will do absolutely nothing to reduce global temperature or prevent future temperature rise—the primary purpose of the proposal, according to Ocasio-Cortez. The real goal of the Green New Deal is to impose a series of radical, socialistic programs—policies that would dramatically increase the size and power of the federal government, cause immense harm to the U.S. economy, and run up the national debt by trillions of dollars.
In a December 31 op-ed published on the Fox News website, Haskins wrote that the Green New Deal would "move the United States closer than ever to socialism. If we don’t stop it, it will destroy our economy for a whole generation of Americans.” In a January 3 Washington Examiner op-ed, Haskins claimed, “This is one of the most dangerous and extreme proposals offered in modern U.S. history. It’s the sort of thing you’d see in the Soviet Union, not the United States.” In another Fox News opinion on January 12, Haskins referred to the Green New Deal as “socialized energy,” and falsely claimed that renewable energy sources are “expensive and unreliable.” And writing for Fox News again on January 19, Haskins claimed that the Green New Deal is not really new or visionary, but rather a “recycled version of a failed, three-year-old socialist proposal from Canada.”
Heartland’s attacks on the Green New Deal should come as no surprise -- the organization has a long history of promoting climate denialism, and it has received funding from both Koch-backed groups and fossil fuel companies. None of its fossil fuel funding was disclosed in any of Haskins’ recent Fox appearances or op-eds attacking the Green New Deal.
Other conservative outlets have followed Heartland’s example by scaremongering about socialism to attack the Green New Deal. For instance, the editorial board of the conservative Las Vegas Review-Journal, which is owned by Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, wrote on January 2:
Some conservatives have been criticized for arguing that fears of global warming are being intentionally exaggerated by those seeking to use the issue to advance collectivism and radical socialism. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” doesn’t even try to hide it.
A few more examples:
Several right-wing attacks on the Green New Deal have invoked the horrors of authoritarianism and warned that the plan would destroy the liberties that Americans currently enjoy.
Some right-wing commentators have minimized the seriousness of climate change or resorted to climate denial when attacking the Green New Deal.
Several of the opinion pieces that the Heartland Institute’s Haskins has written about the Green New Deal don't even mention climate change at all, including two he wrote for Fox News and one for the Washington Examiner.
The Green New Deal is the most ambitious climate-action plan ever to get mainstream attention, and it directly challenges the power structures of right-wing groups and their backers in the fossil fuel industry. Even though it's just a broad outline at this point with no prospects for being enacted anytime soon, it's making conservative commentators very nervous -- so much so that they can't stop chattering about it. The right-wing media’s general obsession with Ocasio-Cortez also feeds their compulsion to cover the Green New Deal.
Right-wing outlets appear to be giving the plan more attention than their mainstream media counterparts. A recent Public Citizen analysis found that Fox News made more mentions of the Green New Deal in November and December than other cable or broadcast networks -- even as half of the top 50 newspapers in the U.S. failed to mention the plan at all during the same time period. Fox's fixation has only intensified since the start of the new year.
As we head into the 2020 election cycle and see some Democratic presidential contenders embrace the ideas behind the Green New Deal, we can expect right-wing media attacks on it to continue -- and to become even more absurd and overblown.
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Facebook, well-known as a breeding ground for misinformation, has a particular problem with disseminating false and misleading messages about climate change science. The platform spreads climate-denying videos and other posts, hosts climate-denying ads, and officially partners with climate-denying media outlets and organizations.
A recent video promoting false arguments against climate change science got more than 5 million views on Facebook, The Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli reported last week.
The video -- posted in June by The Daily Signal, an arm of the right-wing Heritage Foundation -- is titled "Why Climate Change Is Fake News." It features Marc Morano, a longtime spokesperson and blogger for the climate-denial cause, who outlines three things that "the left gets wrong about climate change." Nuccitelli points out that all three are common and easily debunked myths.
Nuccitelli notes that Facebook's viewership numbers are likely inflated, but the video has still reached a lot of people:
Fortunately, the exposure to Morano’s misinformation video is not as bad as it seems at first blush. Although Facebook implies the video has been viewed over 5m times, a “view” is counted after just three seconds, and videos on the site play automatically.
Nevertheless, the video has been shared over 75,000 times, so it has certainly reached a wide audience. Facebook needs to come to terms with the fact that there is an objective reality. Even if Marc Morano sincerely believes humans aren’t causing global warming, that belief is false, and by continuing to host his myth-filled video, Facebook is misinforming tens of thousands, perhaps even millions of its users.
As of this writing, the Daily Signal video has now been "viewed" 6.3 million times and shared 102,000 times.
Other denier videos get traction on Facebook as well. For example, one titled "GLOBAL WARMING IS THE BIGGEST FRAUD IN HISTORY," which features a rant by a climate-denying retired businessman, has gotten at least 2 million views by Facebook's count.
In an interview with Recode published on July 18, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook shouldn't remove content just because it's wrong. Using the example of Holocaust denial, he said it's “deeply offensive,” but “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”
Zuckerberg tried to clarify his views two days later, writing, "Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed."
Joe Romm at ThinkProgress pointed out that Zuckerberg's approach is a major problem when it comes to climate denial, a particularly pernicious form of disinformation.
One of Facebook's official fact-checking partners, the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, has at times been dismissive of climate science and the need for climate action. A piece from July 2017, headlined "Dadaist Science," cast doubt on research that found a scientific consensus around the human causes of climate change. A piece from June 2017 criticized arguments being made on behalf of the Paris climate agreement. A long feature in the magazine from 2014 lauded climate-denying scientist Richard Lindzen.
As Romm put it, "How can Facebook stop climate misinformation when its ‘fact-checkers’ are deniers?"
Meanwhile, Facebook is partnering with the Heritage Foundation to determine whether the platform displays liberal bias -- a persistent but blatantly false claim made by conservatives. Heritage gets funding from the Kochs and other fossil fuel interests, and it has a long history of spreading climate denial. It brought us the "Why Climate Change Is Fake News" video mentioned above.
And the Facebook Watch initiative, in which Facebook partners with media companies to produce original videos, has teamed up with Fox News, despite the network's long history of climate denial. Last month, when Facebook Watch debuted a slate of news shows from eight news publishers, Fox got more than twice as many slots per week as any other outlet.
Late last year, a climate-denier blogger tried to buy ads linking to his site on five social-media platforms and found that Facebook was the only one that ran them with no pushback or questions asked.
Leo Goldstein writes a blog at DefyCCC.com that focuses on what he calls "climate realism." The CCC in the URL stands for "cult of climate change." He also writes periodically for WattsUpWithThat, a more well-known climate-denial blog. He claims that climate change is a "pseudo-scientific fraud" and that "real scientists are against climate alarmism."
Goldstein attempted to buy ads linking to his DefyCCC site. "In November and December 2017, I experimented with distributing the climate realism message using advertising options on Google and some other platforms," Goldstein wrote in a December 31 post on WattsUpWithThat. In a follow-up post the next day, Goldstein described the outcome of his experiment. The short version: Twitter refused to run his ads. Google ran some of his ads for a period of time. Facebook ran his ads with no pushback.
"Facebook has been acting squeaky clean," Goldstein wrote. "None of my messages have been banned for content." Facebook is the only platform that gave him no problems, he reported.
Since then, Goldstein has continued to place ads on Facebook, often under the banner of the Science For Humans and Freedom Institute. One ad he ran on Facebook in July claimed, "CO2 is the gas of life, not a pollutant. Climate alarmism is a dangerous cult":
Facebook's advertising policies prohibit "deceptive, false, or misleading content," but the company has still allowed Goldstein to purchase space for ads like this.
Zuckerberg has expressed concern about climate change, arguing last year that the U.S. should not pull out of the Paris climate agreement and noting that rising temperatures are melting the glaciers at Glacier National Park.
But he is not using the immense power of his platform to halt misinformation about climate change. To the contrary, Facebook is enabling and disseminating climate denial on multiple fronts. In addition to the problems outlined above, the platform helps bogus climate stories to spread -- like a hugely popular climate-denial story from YourNewsWire, a fake news site that Facebook refuses to ban even though fact-checkers have debunked its stories at least 80 times. And one of Facebook's most high-profile scandals involved handing user data over to Cambridge Analytica, a shady political consultancy that has close ties to fossil fuel companies and climate deniers.
Media Matters named Zuckerberg as its misinformer of the year in 2017 for leading a company that is spreading misinformation far and wide. In the first half of 2018, he and Facebook have not changed their ways. Rather, Facebook is currently bending over backward to cater to conservatives who falsely claim that they're discriminated against on the platform, when in fact right-leaning Facebook pages get more interactions than left-leaning ones.
Combating fake news is key to combating climate change. As an editorial in the journal Nature Communications argued last year, "Successfully inoculating society against fake news is arguably essential" if major climate initiatives are to succeed. Facebook could be a big part of the solution. But by kowtowing to conservatives, prioritizing profits over accuracy, and maintaining open-door policies toward misinformation, Facebook is entrenching itself as a major part of the problem.
Sometimes even the world’s most serious problems are best handled with a little bit of humor.
Case in point: The Madhouse Effect (Columbia University Press), a new book by Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann and Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, which lays out a plan for media, politicians, and the public at large to “escape the madhouse” of climate change denial before it’s too late.
There is no shortage of books about climate change. But what makes this one unique is the way it combines Mann’s science communication skills, which help succinctly describe the roots, methods, and implications of climate science denial, and Toles’ illustrations, which provide an equally biting and amusing perspective on the dynamics the book describes. The book speaks to both our left and right brains, with the hope that it will motivate many to push for climate action -- and maybe even convert a few deniers along the way.
The Madhouse Effect is also a book about media, and it dissects many common media failings that we frequently analyze and write about here at Media Matters.
First among them is false balance, which the book describes as giving false industry-friendly claims about climate change “an equal place on the media stage with actual science.” As we documented in a recent study of newspaper opinion pages, one place where this problem is alive and well is USA Today, which often pairs scientifically accurate editorials about climate change with “opposing view” op-eds that flatly deny climate change is happening or that it's caused by human activities.
Several of these climate science-denying “opposing views” in USA Today were written by Republican members of Congress, exemplifying another point Mann and Toles make in the book: False balance is “greatly exacerbated by the increasing polarization of our public discourse.” This can also be seen in print and TV news coverage of GOP presidential candidates’ climate denial, which frequently failed to indicate that the candidates' statements about climate change conflicted with the scientific consensus on the issue.
Mann and Toles argue that false balance has been further worsened by the decentralization of news sources, particularly the rise of the “right-wing echo chamber” led (at least in the U.S.) by Rupert Murdoch-owned outlets Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Indeed, climate science denial remains a staple of both outlets, with the Journal editorial board and Journal columnist Holman Jenkins peddling every denialist trope imaginable, and Fox News recently erasing all mentions of climate change (and coincidentally, Mann) from an Associated Press article about Tropical Storm Hermine.
The Madhouse Effect also pinpoints where these denialist talking points often originate, detailing many of the fossil fuel front groups whose representatives frequently mislead about climate change in major print and TV media without disclosing their glaring conflicts of interest. Among them are leading opponents of climate action such as Americans for Prosperity, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Heartland Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), all of which have received funding from the oil billionaire Koch brothers.
The book exposes many of the individual industry-funded operatives known for misinforming about climate change, too, including the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, Heartland’s Fred Singer and James Taylor, Junkscience.com editor Steve Milloy, ClimateDepot’s Marc Morano, and CEI’s Chris Horner and Myron Ebell.
Mann and Toles give special attention to Bjorn Lomborg, a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and USA Today:
Lomborg’s arguments often have a veneer of credibility, but scratch the surface, and you witness a sleight of hand, where climate projections are lowballed; climate change impacts, damages, and costs are underestimated; and the huge current subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, both direct and indirect, are ignored.
(Unfortunately, after Mann and Toles wrote a September 16 op-ed in the Washington Post profiling Lomborg and other members of the book’s climate “deniers club,” the Post opted to publish its first Lomborg op-ed in nearly two years on its website on September 19.)
Thankfully, The Madhouse Effect debunks many of the top climate falsehoods promoted by these industry operatives -- and conservative media. These include claiming that addressing climate change will keep the poor in “energy poverty”; citing the global warming “hiatus” or “pause” to dismiss concerns about climate change; pointing to changes in the climate hundreds or thousands of years ago to deny that the current warming is caused by humans; alleging that unmitigated climate change will be a good thing; disputing that climate change is accelerating sea level rise; and denying that climate change is making weather disasters more costly.
And Mann and Toles detail some of the climate connections that major media outlets often ignore, such as the counterintuitive role of climate change in the winter snowstorms that blanketed the Northeast in early 2015, and the impacts of climate change on national security, the economy, and public health. In part, they attribute this lack of coverage to a modern media environment where very few stories can survive more than a few 24-hour news cycles, which is “prohibitive for raising awareness about slowly growing threats such as climate change.”
The book concludes with a call to action for readers to “leave the madhouse” and help lead the fight against climate change. The authors convey a sense of urgency, writing: “We will not, we cannot, wreck this planet. There is no Planet B.” As with so much else in The Madhouse Effect, that sentiment is also expressed in cartoon-form, via Toles’ illustration of a thermometer for a chapter titled, “Why should I give a damn?”:
Industry-funded climate denial organizations hosted events during the United Nations' climate change negotiations in Paris in an attempt to inject false balance and misinformation into media coverage of the event. But unlike coverage of the Vatican climate summit earlier this year, mainstream media outlets did not take the bait this time around, instead noting these groups' diminished influence and accurately portraying them as outliers that are out of step with mainstream climate science.
A 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 Journal, USA 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.
PNAS Study Finds Exxon, Koch Funding Influences Organizations, Increases Polarization On Climate Change
A new study found that organizations funded by ExxonMobil and the oil billionaire Koch brothers may have played a key role in sowing doubt in the U.S. about climate change. These findings reveal how important it is for media to disclose the industry ties behind front groups that consistently misinform the public.
Over recent decades, the scientific consensus that fossil fuel emissions are driving global climate change has grown stronger, yet Americans have become increasingly divided on the issue along partisan lines. A new study, led by Yale University sociologist Justin Farrell, examined the "organizational and financial roots" behind this polarization and found that funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers may have played a key role.
The study, published November 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that "organizations with corporate funding were more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." It focused on organizations funded by ExxonMobil and the Koch family foundations, noting that those two funders had been previously "identified as especially influential," and that funding from these groups "signals entry into a powerful network of influence."
The study follows criticisms of Exxon Mobil for sowing doubt on climate change through its front groups despite its own scientists confirming the climate change consensus decades ago. New York's Attorney General is currently investigating whether Exxon deliberately misled the public about climate change, and more than 350,000 people recently signed a petition calling for a federal investigation of the company's climate misinformation campaign. Documents compiled by Greenpeace show that since 1998, Exxon has given over $30 million in funding to organizations "that work to spread climate denial."
According to the PNAS study, many of these groups' climate change positions were likely influenced by Exxon's funding; specifically, the study found that not only were these groups "more likely to have written and disseminated contrarian texts," but also that "corporate funding influences the actual language and thematic content of polarizing discourse."
The study detailed the "thematic content" touted by these organizations, which include many industry front groups, and found that fossil fuel-funded organizations more often discussed "temperature trends," "energy production," "the positive benefits of CO2," and "climate change being a long-term cycle" than organizations that did not receive industry funding:
Those deceptive "themes" have made frequent appearances in the media. "Temperature trends" have recently become a pervasive talking point, with much coverage devoted to a supposed 18-year "pause" in global warming (multiple studies confirm that this "pause" never happened, as the planet continues to warm). The false talking point that carbon dioxide emissions could have positive impacts has been touted by Marc Morano -- who is paid by industry-funded Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow to run a climate denial blog -- and has also made its way onto Fox News, and, most alarmingly, into California textbooks. And the misleading emphasis on "climate change being a long-term cycle" is a frequent soundbite on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, even though the science shows that the global climate is currently experiencing a significant shift that award-winning astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says "the Earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes in the past."
Yet, as study author Farrell told The Washington Post, "contrarian efforts have been so effective for the fact that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust."
Farrell's study suggests that fossil fuel industry front groups' efforts to polarize the climate change debate may have been intended to delay climate action, stating in its discussion: "It is well understood that polarization is an effective strategy for creating controversy and delaying policy progress, especially around environmental issues."
As Media Matters has documented, many groups funded by ExxonMobil and the Kochs have pervaded mainstream media to fight against environmental protections. It is essential that reporters, at the very least, disclose the industry funding behind them -- or better yet, think twice before providing such a wide platform for corporate interests to stymie progress on climate change.
Image via Creative Commons courtesy of Flickr user CGP Grey.
New research from Southern Methodist University (SMU) found that some children's textbooks that depict the reality of human-caused climate change with uncertainty are influenced by a climate science knowledge gap that finds its roots partly in conservative media misinformation.
In a language analysis of four major California science textbooks, the SMU researchers found that the books delivered a message "that climate change is possibly happening, that humans may or may not be causing it, and that we do not need to take immediate mitigating action."
The study concluded that the four 6th grade textbooks -- including books from major national publishing companies McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson -- used language and writing techniques that "more closely match the public discourse of doubt about climate change rather than the scientific discourse" one might expect from academic texts. The books used language that misleadingly amplified uncertainty about the causes of climate change, undermined the expertise of climate scientists, and implied a false balance narrative around the realities of climate change within the scientific community.
For example, the authors found that only 21 percent of the instances discussing the cause-effect factors in climate change identified the effects of human activity, and that in the texts, "Scientists were often said to think or believe but rarely were scientists said to be inferring from evidence or data."
The SMU study explained that conservative media falsehoods about climate change contribute to a shift in public discourse, which eventually influences textbook language by creating competing interests within the textbook market. Publishers' attempts to cater to the largest market -- which includes textbook buyers who ascribe to the "public discourse of doubt" around climate change -- ultimately result in misleading textbook language and factual inaccuracies. Although the study focused on California textbooks, such a large textbook market often "set[s] standards for the rest of the country" according to the study's authors -- an effect that may already be seen in Texas.
How does this "public discourse of doubt" on climate change first develop? The researchers at SMU cited Fox News' coverage of climate science as one factor in shaping misinformation, pointing to previous research that showed Fox has disproportionately interviewed climate science deniers and that its viewers are more likely to be climate science deniers themselves (emphasis added):
[I]n discussing the topic of climate change, some segments of the media use the journalistic norm of 'balance' -- giving equal weight to all positions about this phenomenon -- when building frames to present to the public (Boykoff 2007). When frame setting, segments of the media adhere to this norm to give equal time to a climate scientist and a climate denier when addressing climate change. For example, Fox News presents climate change as uncertain by interviewing a greater proportion of climate deniers (Feldman et al. 2012). As a result, at the individual-level effects of framing stage, the audience may come to understand human-caused climate change as controversial. And indeed, viewers of Fox News are more likely to be climate skeptics even when taking into account political affiliation (Feldman et al. 2012). The effects of framing go beyond individual positions about specific topics. Frames accumulate into larger discourses, which are 'a shared way of apprehending the world... enabling those who subscribe to it to interpret bits of information and put them together into coherent stories or accounts' (Dryzek 2013, 9). We see two discourses prevalent in climate change communication: a 'scientific discourse' and a 'public discourse.'
The researchers' implication of Fox News in the creation of a misinformed public discourse is well founded. Media figures at Fox have a long record of repeating scientific inaccuracies on air and allowing fringe figures to perpetuate widely debunked claims. The similarities between the doubtful language and inaccurate claims on Fox and in the textbook examples from the study are striking:
The SMU study found that the textbooks dedicated substantial portions of their passages on climate change to discussing natural causes rather than human causes, despite that "there is little doubt about the causes of current climate change" within the scientific community that human activities are the driving force behind the phenomenon:
All four textbooks dedicated a substantial portion of the chapters about climate change to describe the natural factors that could be causing this phenomenon. Although all four textbooks indicated that human beings could be having an impact on climate change, they framed this topic as an issue in which not all scientists are in agreement as can be seen in the following example:
- Not all scientists agree about the causes of global warming. Some scientists think that the 0.7 Celsius degree rise in global temperatures over the past 120 years may be due in part to natural variations in climate. (Prentice Hall 2008)
The study stated in a discussion of its findings: "The causes of climate change were shrouded in uncertainty in the texts we analyzed. Specifically, the human contribution to climate change was presented as a possibility rather than a certainty."
Fox Host: Is Global Warming Man-Made? "Nobody Knows." In a June 2014 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Fox News' Steve Doocy asserted that "nobody knows" if the causes of global warming are natural or man-made:
STEVE DOOCY: Keep in mind: nobody is saying that the planet isn't getting warmer. Although, you know, we had a story a couple of days ago that the 1930s were much, much warmer than the decade we're in right now. And the globe has not warmed in 17 years. Here's the thing - nobody's saying the globe isn't warming. The question comes down to, if it is, what's making it warm up? Is it just a natural climactic [sic] cycle? Or is it something man-caused? Nobody knows.
Fox News Correspondent: "There Is Not Consensus" On Causes Of Climate Change. On the September 1 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News correspondent Dan Springer rejected the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change, stating that "while the Obama administration blames man and the burning of fossil fuels, there is not consensus," before cutting to an economist from the conservative Heritage Foundation to support his claim.
DAN SPRINGER: Scientists say the Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the nation. Sea ice is arriving later in the fall and melting sooner in the summer. This was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in the Last Frontier State -- 5 million acres burned, about the size of Massachusetts. But while the Obama administration blames man and the burning of fossil fuels, there is not consensus.
The SMU study identified language in multiple textbooks that emphasized the historical context of climate change "to support the idea that climate had been changing well before humans were here and, therefore, is a naturally occurring phenomenon," including the following examples:
However, climates have gradually changed throughout Earth's history. (Prentice Hall, 2008)
Scientists have found evidence of many major ice ages throughout Earth's geologic history. (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Inc. 2007)
Media figures often appear on Fox News to suggest that historical shifts in the global climate somehow disprove the notion that human-driven climate change is threatening our way of life. Media Matters compiled several, such as Competitive Enterprise Institute's Chris Horner, saying: "Climate changes. It always has, it always will."
The SMU study noted that "all four textbooks mentioned the negative effects of climate change, but two of them also discussed the potential positive results of this phenomenon," pointing out the following examples:
Global warming could have some positive effects. Farmers in some areas that are now cool could plant crops two times a year instead of one. Places that are too cold for farming today could become farmland. However, many effects of global warming are likely to be less positive. (Prentice Hall, 2008)
But farther north, such as in Canada, weather conditions for farming would improve. (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Inc. 2007)
Fox's Gutfeld: "Even If There Is Global Warming ... It's Good For Human Beings." On the April 11, 2012 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld asserted : "even if there is global warming ... it's good for human beings. If a polar bear dies, I don't feel bad. Honestly I don't. No, human beings. When temperature goes up, human beings live longer. When you have cold spells across countries, people die."
Fox Turned To Mark Levin And A Coal Miner To Say "CO's What Make Plants Grow." During an hour-long special on the "green agenda" in 2012, Fox News turned to right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who denied that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that should be regulated, saying: "Carbon dioxide is what we exhale. Carbon dioxide is necessary for plants." Fox later aired video of coal miner Robert "Buz" Hilberry echoing this, saying: "I'm no scientist but CO's what make plants grow and what make you breathe, so they're trying to choke us all out by stopping the burning of coal."
Fox Frequent Marc Morano: Record High Carbon Dioxide "Should Be Welcomed" Because "Plants Are Going To Be Happy." Marc Morano, who was featured on Fox News to discuss climate change 11 times in 2014 alone, said to Bloomberg that Americans "should welcome" a record high in greenhouse gases because "This means that plants are going to be happy, and this means that global-warming fearmongers are going to be proven wrong."
Scientists And Journalists Say AP's Stylebook Change Legitimizes Those Who Reject Scientific Fact
The Associated Press recently updated its Stylebook by instructing AP writers to avoid using the term "denier" to describe those who reject the firmly-held scientific consensus on climate change. The AP's Stylebook change was celebrated by several well-known climate science deniers, but criticized by prominent scientists and journalists who say the new AP-approved term "climate change doubters" grants undeserved legitimacy to those who refuse to acknowledge the consensus.
Rightwing media are echoing claims by the fossil fuel industry that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, President Obama's landmark climate change policy, will dramatically increase electricity bills. In reality, while the Clean Power Plan may slightly increase Americans' electric bills in the short term, multiple independent analyses support the EPA's claim that the plan will result in significantly lower electric bills once it is fully implemented.