PolitiFact Equates Sanders' Broadly Accurate Climate-Terror Comment With Blatantly False Climate Denial

Bernie Sanders looking perplexed

On November 16, PolitiFact ruled that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' remark that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism” is “mostly false.” But while Sanders arguably overstated how “direct” the connection is between climate change and terrorism, his broader point that the two are linked is well substantiated, as PolitiFact itself noted when it rated a similar statement from fellow Democrat Martin O'Malley. Nonetheless, PolitiFact gave Sanders the same “mostly false” rating it has given to Republican politicians and fossil fuel industry allies who deny that man-made climate change is even occurring.

Foreign policy and military experts agree with Sanders' assessment that climate change helps create the conditions for terrorism to thrive, and major studies and reports have detailed how global warming played an important role in the rise of ISIS. In particular, climate change likely worsened drought conditions in Syria, which in turn helped spark that country's civil war, allowing ISIS to seize territory and establish a base of operations. PolitiFact noted many of these same facts when it assessed a remark by O'Malley and ruled that it was “mostly true” that “the cascading effects” of climate change contributed to the rise of ISIS.

However, PolitiFact took issue with Sanders' use of the word “directly” when he said at a November 14 Democratic presidential debate that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism”:

SANDERS: [C]limate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism. And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say you're gonna see countries all over the world-- this is what the C.I.A. says, they're gonna be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops. And you're gonna see all kinds of international conflict.

PolitiFact rated Sanders' comment as “mostly false,” writing: “While there is a body of literature backing his broader point that climate change contributes to the growth of terrorism, Sanders is overstating the 'direct' connection. ... We couldn't find any evidence of a 'direct' relationship between climate change and terrorism, though many reports have noted an indirect link.”

Maybe so. But when it comes to accuracy, Sanders' remark is light years ahead of Republican politicians and fossil fuel allies who deny the clearly-established scientific consensus that climate change is happening and human activities are the primary cause of it. PolitiFact gave all four of these blatantly false claims the same “mostly false” rating as Sanders' purported “overstatement”:

  • Austin, TX City Council member Don Zimmerman declared: “You don't have to be as smart as a fifth-grader to know what causes the climate is the sun. ... I have people tell me, 'carbon dioxide warms the Earth.'  No, it doesn't.  The sun warms the Earth.”
  • Texas Senator Ted Cruz claimed: “Many of the alarmists on global warming, they've got a problem because the science doesn't back them up. In particular, satellite data demonstrate for the last 17 years, there's been zero warming.”
  • Florida Senator Marco Rubio asserted: "[T]he left loves to go around saying there is a consensus, there is a consensus. There is a majority of scientists that say that global carbon emissions by humans causes some changes in the climate. What there is no consensus on and (what) they conveniently ignore is there is no consensus on the sensitivity of the climate. How much is it changing and how much of it is directly attributable to human carbon emission? There is no consensus on that, which is why the models vary so greatly, which is why, despite 17 years of dramatic increases in carbon production by humans, surface temperatures (on) the earth have stabilized."
  • Fossil fuel industry advocate Patrick Moore alleged: “It has not warmed for the last 17 years. We know that for sure. And that brings into question the whole hypothesis.”

Image at top via Flickr user Michael Vadon using a Creative Commons license.