Mainstream Media Advance Climate Science Deniers' Misinformation Campaign Against The Pope
Research ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER
Reports by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters and NPR uncritically relayed climate science deniers' criticism of the Vatican's climate change summit and Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical on climate change. By contrast, other media coverage -- including a different New York Times article -- noted that the organization behind these efforts has received funding from fossil fuel interests and their claim that humans are not responsible for global warming is firmly rejected by the vast majority of climate scientists.
Fossil Fuel-Linked Climate Science Deniers Concocted Publicity Stunt To Interfere With Vatican Climate Summit
Vatican's April 28 Summit Part Of Lead-Up To New Papal Encyclical On Climate Change, Which Will Be Released In June Or July. Vatican Insider reported that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke on April 28 at "a Vatican summit on climate change that is being seen as a key part of the lead-up to release of the new papal encyclical, expected in June or July." [Vatican Insider, 4/28/15]
The Heartland Institute Organized A Publicity Stunt To Disrupt Vatican Climate Summit. On April 24, Climate Depot publisher Marc Morano noted that he "will be part of a high level skeptical delegation with the Heartland Institute, traveling to Rome to offer alternative voices to the Vatican and Pope Francis on global warming." [ClimateDepot.com, 4/24/15]
The Heartland Institute Is A Climate Denial Organization That Has Received Oil Industry Funding. As Media Matters previously documented, the Heartland Institute received over $700,000 from Exxon Mobil between 1998 and 2006. Heartland has also received significant funding from organizations with ties to the oil billionaire Koch Brothers, including the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and Donors Trust, which has been partially funded by the David Koch-chaired Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The Heartland Institute is infamous for its annual climate denial conferences and is perhaps best known for running a billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" like the Unabomber and Charles Manson. [Media Matters, 2/3/15; Media Matters, 3/8/15]
"Merchant Of Doubt" Marc Morano's Climate Denial Blog Has Fossil Fuel Ties. Morano runs the climate science denial blog Climate Depot, which is financed by the fossil fuel industry-funded Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). The New York Times reported that CFACT received "hundreds of thousands of dollars from the ExxonMobil Foundation" between 2003 and 2007. According to the Capital Research Center, CFACT has also received at least $60,500 from Chevron. [The New York Times, 4/10/09; Capital Research Center, archived May 2005]
Vast Majority Of Scientists Agree That Humans Are The Primary Cause Of Global Warming. According to NASA, "Most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the 'greenhouse effect' -- warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space." Similarly, the latest report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states: "It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century." The IPCC defines "extremely likely" as having 95-100% probability. [NASA.gov, accessed 4/29/15; IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers, emphasis original]
Major News Reports Uncritically Advanced Climate Science Deniers' Claims
NY Times Described Heartland Institute's Delegation, Including Morano, As "Self-Proclaimed 'Climate Skeptics' ... That Came To Rome To Challenge" The Vatican On Climate Science. In an April 29 article, The New York Times reported:
Some critics of restrictions on greenhouse gases have said the pope's encyclical could confuse "people into thinking that climate change issues are now an article of faith, part of the Roman Catholic doctrine," said Marc Morano, publisher of ClimateDepot, a global warming website.
Mr. Morano was part of a delegation of self-proclaimed "climate skeptics" led by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, that came to Rome to challenge the symposium's findings. Jim Lakely, the director of communications for the institute, said Monday that the delegates wanted to "prevent the pope from making the mistake" of listening only to what they believe are climate change alarmists.
Mr. Ban conceded Tuesday that "faith leaders should not be scientists," but what is important, he added, "is their moral commitment." [The New York Times, 4/29/15]
Reuters ID'd Heartland As "Chicago Think Tank That Says Climate Change Is Not Human-Induced," Uncritically Quoted Claim That Pope Should "Listen To Both Sides Of The Scientific Argument." Reuters reported on April 28: "The Vatican and the United Nations teamed up to warn the world of the effects of climate change on Tuesday, coming down firmly against skeptics who deny human activities help change global weather patterns." But the article then juxtaposed the Vatican climate summit's final joint declaration that "[h]uman-induced climate change is a scientific reality" with climate science denier Christopher Monckton's claim that the pope "should listen to both sides of the scientific argument ... not only people of one, narrow, poisonous political and scientific viewpoint." Reuters also identified the Heartland Institute only as "a Chicago think tank that says climate change is not human-induced [and] sent a delegation to Rome to contest the premise of the conference." [Reuters, 4/28/15]
NPR ID'd Heartland Only As "Chicago-Based," Reported "Many Skeptics Say The Pope Has No Right To Talk Out On Scientific Issues." In a report from Rome that aired on the April 28 edition of All Things Considered, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli stated that "members of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute ... held a press conference here yesterday urging the pope not to back the United Nations' climate agenda." Poggioli added that "many skeptics say the pope has no right to talk out on scientific issues." [NPR, All Things Considered, 4/28/15]
Wash. Post: "How Strongly [Pope Francis] Links Human Behavior To Climate Change" Has "The Potential For Controversy." In an April 27 article, The Washington Post did not mention the Heartland Institute but claimed that "how strongly [Pope Francis] links human behavior to climate change" has "the potential for controversy." The article uncritically cited "[s]keptics [who] have been speaking out for months on both theological and scientific fronts":
How strongly will [Pope Francis] make the case that humans are causing global warming - a case that many Republicans and many conservative Christians don't buy, think is dangerous to the free market and don't think a priest - even a pope - is qualified to make?
Skeptics have been speaking out for months on both theological and scientific fronts.
Among the most prominent U.S. Christian conservatives is Princeton University Professor Robert George, a Catholic who wrote in the well-respected Christian conservative journal First Things that Catholics are required to follow the pope's general message on morals -- in this case, to care for the environment -- but not when he wanders into areas such as scientific fact.
"The Pope has no special knowledge, insight or teaching authority pertaining to matters of empirical fact of the sort investigated by, for example, physicists and biologists.." George wrote in a widely cited article earlier this year. "Pope Francis does not know whether, or to what extent, the climate changes (in various directions) of the past several decades are anthropogenic - and God is not going to tell him."
Maureen Mullarkey, another First Things writer, put it more bluntly: "He is an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist," she said, citing Francis's involvement in the Middle East and US-Cuba relations. "Megalomania sends him galloping into geopolitical - and now meteorological - thickets."
These are the areas that have the potential for controversy - how strongly he links human behavior to climate change and whether he sets forth an idea of creation that doesn't have humans alone at the center.[The Washington Post, 4/27/15]
By Contrast, Other Media Noted Heartland's Fossil Fuel Ties And The Scientific Consensus On Anthropogenic Climate Change
Separate NY Times Article Noted That Heartland Has Received Funding From Oil Billionaire Koch Brothers And Denies Overwhelming Scientific Consensus. In an April 28 article, The New York Times noted that the Heartland Institute is "partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy." The article further noted that "the vast majority of scientists ... hold that climate change is induced by human activity." [The New York Times, 4/28/15]
The Guardian Noted Scientific Consensus On Climate Change And Heartland's Fossil Fuel Funding. In an April 24 article, The Guardian reported that the Heartland Institute "seeks to discredit established science on climate change," and that "[a] 2013 survey of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals found that 97.1% agreed that climate change is caused by human activity." The Guardian further reported Heartland's ties to the oil industry:
The Heartland Institute says it is a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote "free-market solutions" to social and economic problems. It does not disclose its donors, but says on its website that it has received a single donation of $25,000 in 2012 from the Charles G Koch Foundation, which was for the group's work on health care policy. Charles Koch is the billionaire co-owner of Koch Industries, an oil refining and chemicals group, and is a major donor to Republicans causes and politicians.
Heartland said contributions from oil and tobacco groups have never amounted to more than 5% of its income. [The Guardian, 4/24/15]
Dartmouth Prof. On NPR's Website: Heartland President "Isn't The One To Be Trusted On The Science Of Global Warming." In an op-ed published on NPR.org, Dartmouth University physicist Marcelo Gleiser addressed Heartland President Joseph Bast's claim that the pope should not support "the United Nations' unscientific agenda on the climate." Gleiser wrote that Bast "isn't the one to be trusted on the science of global warming," and cited statements from the American Physical Society and the American Geophysical Union confirming that human activities are driving climate change. [NPR.org, 4/29/15]