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  • Pointed debate question on climate change draws out starkly different views from Oregon governor candidates

    Democrat Brown: Climate change is "the biggest challenge that we face." Republican Buehler: "I’m against Gov. Brown’s cap-and-trade plan"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    During the final Oregon gubernatorial debate on October 9, the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Kate Brown, and her opponent, Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler, had two opportunities to address climate change. Panelist Steve Duin, a columnist at The Oregonian, asked a pointed question about climate change, and a voter asked a question by video about clean energy, which also prompted discussion of the climate threat.

    Media Matters is tracking debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races and encouraging moderators to ask candidates questions about climate change. See our scorecard.

    From the October 9 Oregon governor debate:

    STEVE DUIN (PANELIST): Rep. Buehler, you’ve made leadership an issue in the campaign, and I’m searching for some on climate change. You’re anti-coal, but pro-fracking. You’ve dismissed a carbon tax as an attempt to generate a $1.4 billion slush fund for green energy profiteers. When the threat of climate change has never been more urgent, why the milquetoast argument that Oregon has done or paid enough to address the problem?

    KNUTE BUEHLER (R): Well, Steve, I reject a lot of the premises of your question, as you can imagine. I certainly believe in climate change. It’s why I was one of the few Republicans to vote to transition Oregon away from coal-based electricity to renewable energy sources. It’s why I’ve spoken out frequently against the Trump’s administration policies, specifically with regards to withdrawing the United States from the climate accords. I’m against Gov. Brown’s cap-and-trade plan, or, probably a better description of it is a $1.4 billion sales tax on energy. And I’m against that because it’s going to hit hard-working Oregonians -- Oregonians who are struggling to pay the bills right now -- with a sales tax that they can’t afford. And importantly, those dollars won’t go to schools, they won’t go to providing health care; they’re going to go to a complex tax-credit scheme for green energy companies. And we’ve already had problems with that in the past, something called the “business energy tax credit scheme,” where hundreds of millions of dollars were misallocated to the extent that people have gone to jail for corruption. I don’t want to repeat that again.

    DUIN: Gov. Brown?

    KATE BROWN (D): The League of Oregon Conservation Voters agrees with you. My opponent has a lifetime ranking of an F based on his three years’ voting record in the Oregon legislature. I’ve continued to make steady, incremental progress on tackling global climate change, from reducing the carbon intensity of our fuels; from transitioning off of coal; from investing in EV rebates and public transit, which my opponent voted against; and we worked hard last session to reduce carbon emissions. We weren’t able to successfully complete the legislation, but we are working collaboratively with utilities, with the business community, and with the ag sector to make sure that we reduce carbon emissions in such a way that it doesn’t exacerbate already existing economic disparities in our low-income communities and our rural communities.

    TRACY BARRY (MODERATOR): Our first video question comes from Ron Pernick of Portland. He works in the clean energy field. I just want to remind you guys that you’re both going to have a full minute to respond to this question, and Rep. Buehler, you’ll take the lead on this one right after we hear it. So here’s the question.

    [BEGIN VIDEO]

    PERNICK: Gov. Brown, Rep. Buehler, solar and wind are now the most cost-competitive sources of new energy, and energy storage is rapidly declining in costs. Our neighbors to the south, California, and Hawaii to the west, have both enacted 100 percent renewable energy targets by 2045. As governor, what will you do to ensure Oregon’s leadership in a clean energy future?

    [END VIDEO]

    BARRY: OK, I’m going to jump back in because I know you couldn’t hear that at the beginning. Ron’s question was, “Solar and wind are now the most cost-competitive sources of new energy, and energy storage is rapidly declining in cost.” And then he went on to mention “our neighbors to the south, California, to the west, Hawaii, have both enacted renewable energy targets by 2045. As governor, what will you do to ensure Oregon’s leadership in a clean energy future?” Representative, we’ll let you start.

    BUEHLER: It’s a very important question, an issue of vital concern. I certainly believe in global climate change. I’m trained as a scientist, and the data is overwhelming. It’s why I was one of the few Republicans to vote for transitioning Oregon’s electrical generation capacity from coal-based to renewables, breaking with my party and even business interests. It’s why I have spoken out against the Trump administration policies with regards to environmental issues -- specifically United States withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. That’s the kind of leadership that Oregonians want to see on these important issues, and I think it’s important that we keep that balance though, the balance of improving the environment, but also taking into consideration there are hardworking Oregonians that are just struggling to get by everyday, to pay the bills at the end of the month. And, unfortunately, under Gov. Brown, we’ve driven up the cost of living in this state, the high cost of health care, of housing, and now, with energy costs, we have to be very, very careful that we don’t challenge people too much with regards to these issues.  

    BARRY: Gov. Brown?

    BROWN: As Oregonians, we’re all feeling the impacts of global climate change. In the Rogue Valley alone, this summer, they had roughly eight weeks of smog, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to cancel 26 outdoor productions. So we’re feeling it. We need to continue to tackle this with every single tool in our toolbox because it is the biggest challenge that we face. And future generations will judge us, not on the fact of global climate change, but what we do to tackle it. So I’ve led to reduce the carbon intensity of our carbon fuels. Number two: We brought “Coal to Clean,” the first in the nation to transition away from coal-generated electricity and double our renewable energy portfolio by 2040. Lastly, invested in a transportation package, investing in EV vehicles and public transit. But, most importantly, this isn’t enough. And we need to move forward, and I believe that we can move forward and reduce carbon emissions and create clean energy jobs by 5,000 if we move forward on the clean energy job bill. 

  • ABC, CBS, and NBC largely failed to connect climate change to extreme wildfires this summer

    Major broadcast networks mentioned climate change in just 2 percent of wildfire reports, ignoring science that links climate change to more intense fires

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As wildfires raged in the Western U.S. this summer, the major broadcast TV networks largely failed to explain how climate change influences such fires, mentioning climate change in less than 2 percent of their reports on the fires. Media Matters analysis of coverage on the networks’ morning and evening news shows found that ABC made no mention at all of climate change during its 172 segments reporting on wildfires, while CBS brought up climate change in only six of its 183 segments that mentioned wildfires, and NBC discussed climate change in only three of its 116 wildfire segments.

    Major wildfires burn in Western U.S., part of a pattern that scientists attribute to climate change

    Wildfires have ravaged huge swaths of the Western U.S. this year. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, fires had burned over 7.7 million acres of land as of September 28 -- nearly 1.8 million acres more than the 10-year year-to-date average from 2008-2017. The most destructive wildfires blazed in California, and they were some of the worst on record. The Ranch Fire, part of the massive Mendocino Complex, in August became the largest single fire in California history, while the Carr Fire was one of the deadliest, killing seven people. Five of the 10 most destructive fires in the state’s history happened in just the last three years. The 2018 wildfire season is still ongoing, with blazes active in 12 states.

    Destructive wildfires have not been limited to the U.S. -- they also burned through parts of Europe this summer. In Greece, nearly 100 people were killed by wildfires outside of Athens. In Sweden, scorching temperatures contributed to over 50 fires, including some inside the Arctic Circle, and forced evacuations. As of late July, the number of European fires in 2018 was up 40 percent on average.

    Numerous scientific studies have found that human-caused climate change has exacerbated both the frequency and duration of wildfires. Other variables affected by climate change, such as extreme heat and drought, are also increasing the risk for longer and more intense wildfires. “To dismiss the role of climate change on these fires is simply incorrect,” Michael F. Wehner, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told The New York Times. And Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, told The Independent in July that the longer fire season in California is related to climate change:

    What we’re seeing over the last few years in terms of the wildfire season in California … [is] very consistent with the historical trends in terms of increasing temperatures, increasing dryness, and increasing wildfire risk. They’re also very consistent with what we can expect in the future as global warming continues.

    California’s recent Climate Change Assessment estimated that the average acreage burned across the state annually will rise by 77 percent by the end of the century. Some firefighters, including the director of California's firefighting department, have also pointed to climate change as a factor making the blazes worse.

    Major broadcast TV networks neglect to connect the dots between wildfires and climate change

    The broadcast networks devoted a lot of coverage to wildfires this summer, but very little of it discussed climate change. A Media Matters analysis of the ABC, CBS, and NBC morning and evening news shows over the summer, from June 21 to September 21, showed that out of 471 segments discussing the wildfires, only nine of them, or 1.9 percent, mentioned climate change.
     


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    ABC completely ignored climate change during its wildfire coverage. ABC aired a total of 172 segments that discussed wildfires on its morning and evening news shows this summer, including 89 news reports or in-depth segments, 57 weather reports, and 26 news headline rundowns -- and not one of them mentioned climate change. That makes ABC the worst-performing network at incorporating climate change into its reporting on the fires, which is in line with the network's recent history. In June, ABC was the only major broadcast network to make no mention of climate change in relation to the deadly heat wave that affected much of the U.S. And in August, ABC was the only major network that did not mention climate change during its coverage of Hurricane Florence, just as it failed to mention climate change during coverage of Hurricane Harvey last year.

    CBS and NBC mentioned climate change in roughly 3 percent of their segments on wildfires. CBS' morning and evening news shows aired a total of 183 segments reporting on wildfires, including 84 news reports or in-depth segments, 14 weather reports, and 85 news headline rundowns. Only six of the 183, or 3.3 percent, mentioned climate change. NBC ran a total of 116 wildfire segments, of which 73 were news reports or in-depth segments, 22 were weather reports, and 21 were news headline rundowns. Only three of the 116, or 2.6 percent, included discussion of climate change.

    Sunday shows on the major broadcast networks made no mention of the wildfires. Thirty-eight combined episodes of ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press aired from June 21 to September 21, and not one of them mentioned the wildfires, let alone the ways that climate change influences such fires. This is sadly consistent with the Sunday shows' lack of coverage of past disasters exacerbated by climate change. Last year, the weekend after Hurricane Maria made landfall and knocked out power to 3.5 million Americans, the five major Sunday political talk shows dedicated less than one minute to coverage of the storm and its effects.

    Networks' climate change mentions in wildfire coverage almost all occurred in August, more than a month after their summer coverage of wildfires began in earnest. CBS aired its first wildfire segment of the summer on June 24, but it didn't mention climate change in such a segment until August 1 -- over one month later. NBC ran its first summer wildfire segment on June 25, but didn't incorporate climate change into any such segments until July 28. By that point, the Carr Fire had already killed five people, and by August 1, 16 of the largest wildfires in California were burning an area larger than Los Angeles.

    CBS' first mentions of climate change in the context of wildfires were brief and not particularly informative. The August 1 episodes of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News featured Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman saying, “I don't care where you stand on your opinion of global warming. There's something changing, and we're seeing fires that have never happened in this area before.” Mendocino County was the site of the massive Mendocino Complex fire, which was not fully contained until September 18.

    CBS’ next mentions of climate change as it relates to wildfires occured on the August 4 episodes of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News. Both shows aired segments on a European heat wave that featured Time magazine climate reporter Justin Worland, who said, “Human fingerprints are all over this particular heat wave.” The segments reported that wildfires in Europe were being fueled by hot and dry conditions, blaming the region's “unusually hot air on warming Arctic temperatures due to greenhouse gases.”

    CBS' other mentions of climate change in wildfire segments came during the August 7 episode of CBS This Morning. Reporter John Blackstone noted President Donald Trump’s inaccurate claim that wildfires were worsened by California’s water policy, and contrasted it with the view from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that “the true problem is climate change.” Later on in the episode, anchor Gayle King pointed out that 15 of the 20 largest fires in California have happened since 2000, and noted, "State fire officials say that is a direct result of climate change."

    Two of NBC’s wildfire reports that incorporated climate change featured climate scientist Michael Mann, who was interviewed for segments that aired on August 7 and August 8. On the August 7 episode of NBC Nightly News, Mann said, “You take epic drought, you combine it with high temperatures, you've got all the ingredients for unprecedented wildfires”:

    PBS NewsHour incorporated climate change into 16 percent of its wildfire coverage. Public broadcaster PBS has typically produced more quality coverage of climate change than its corporate counterparts, and its reporting this summer continued that trend. Out of 25 segments about the wildfires that aired on PBS NewsHour on weekdays from June 21 through September 21, four discussed climate change. On the July 27 episode of NewsHour, Columbia University bioclimatologist Park Williams noted that forests are “where we really see a strong link between climate change and increased fire.” On August 7, correspondent Nick Schifrin said, “Hotter weather attributed to climate change drives more severe conditions that authorities say residents cannot ignore.”

    And on August 6, NewsHour devoted almost six and a half minutes to discussing how climate change makes wildfires more extreme, including more than four minutes interviewing Mann on the topic. This was the most in-depth segment on climate change and wildfires on any broadcast network:

    Newspapers did better than corporate broadcasters at connecting wildfires to climate change, but they still fell short, Public Citizen found. A recent report by the nonprofit group Public Citizen analyzed both newspaper and TV coverage of the wildfires during 15 days this summer, from July 23 to August 7. It found that less than 13 percent of wildfire articles in the 50 highest-circulation U.S. newspapers mentioned climate change. The New York Times, The Sacramento Bee, and the Los Angeles Times published the most articles connecting climate change and the wildfires.

    A local TV network showed the right way to weave climate change into wildfire coverage. Sometimes local TV stations -- whose viewers are more likely to be immediately affected by fires -- do a better job of reporting on the climate/wildfire connection than national networks. For example, Salt Lake City’s ABC affiliate KTVX aired a segment on its August 9 Good Morning Utah show about how climate change affects the length of wildfire season:

    A recent poll points to the need for more and better media coverage of climate change. A survey conducted by Quinnipiac University in mid-August found that a slim majority of American voters believed climate change was worsening the California wildfires. But that means almost half of voters didn't understand the connection -- including 71 percent of Republicans. The media can help fill that knowledge gap.

    Much has already been said this year about the need for journalists to report on how climate change influences extreme weather events like wildfires. But we also need outlets to discuss responses and solutions to the climate crisis, so that Americans understand the need to mobilize as a society to fight climate change and shift quickly to clean energy.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis and iQ Media for broadcast network TV news segments that covered wildfires using the search terms wildfire(s) or fire(s), and then we searched within those segments for mentions of climate change or global warming or greenhouse gas(es). Our analysis covered morning news shows (ABC's Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC's Today), nightly news shows (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News, plus weekday episodes of PBS NewsHour), and Sunday morning shows (ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press) from June 21 through September 21.

    News headline rundowns included mentions of the wildfires within announcements of top stories of the day. Weather reports included mentions of the wildfires within a meteorologist’s report or a general discussion of weather. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts.

  • USA Today publishes still more climate misinformation, denying a link between climate change and hurricanes

    The paper ran two pieces by climate deniers in two days, despite a previous pledge not to publish climate denial

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow/Media Matters

    On September 13, USA Today's editorial page published a piece that denied the settled science of climate change, despite the page's editor pledging earlier this year, "We won’t run pieces that deny the reality of human-induced climate change."

    On September 14, the paper doubled down, running a longer op-ed by another climate denier, Roy Spencer, who argued, "If humans have any influence on hurricanes at all, it probably won’t be evident for many decades to come."

    Spencer's piece was chock-full of misinformation. As numerous climate scientists have explained this week, climate change is increasing the destructive power of hurricanes.

    Climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, told Media Matters, "There is not a single sentence in that piece, near as I can tell, that is factually defensible. Roy Spencer is an equal opportunity science denier. He denies evolution and he denies climate change."

    Indeed, Spencer has disputed the theory of evolution in his writings and in public testimony, including telling a congressional committee in 2013, "Evolutionary theory is mostly religion.”

    Spencer also has a long history of climate denial. His website claims, "The extra carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere is not enough to cause the observed warming over the last 100 years." Spencer has gone on The Rush Limbaugh Show and Fox News to spread misinformation about climate change.

    In addition to being employed as a scientist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, Spencer is a senior fellow at the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a member of the group's advisory board. The Cornwall Alliance is committed to climate denial, claiming, "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming."

    Climate scientists dispute Spencer's arguments

    Three climate scientists contacted by Media Matters disputed the central claim in Spencer's USA Today piece.

    Mann just published an op-ed in the Guardian that lays out the clear links between human-caused climate change and more devastating hurricanes, including Florence. Last year, he co-authored a piece in Scientific American on the same topic. Mann has also been doing media appearances this week to explain the science connecting climate change and stronger hurricanes.

    Scott Mandia, professor of Earth and space sciences at Suffolk County Community College in Long Island, pointed out that Spencer neglected to mention sea level rise in his piece, one of the most clear ways that climate change leads to more damaging hurricanes. Mandia explained in an email:

    ALL coastal storms are now worse due to sea level rise caused by human activities that are warming the climate. A warmer climate means more ice melt, which adds water to our oceans. Warmer water expands and thus rises upward. A double-whammy for sea level rise.

    Imagine a basketball hoop ten feet above the floor and consider a dunk to be a storm over-topping a sea wall or other barrier. Now imagine humans have caused that floor to rise by a foot. It is much easier to dunk a basketball now. More flooding just like we saw in Sandy, Harvey, Maria, Florence and EVERY hurricane from now onward.

    Do not be fooled by Roy Spencer's misdirection. He cannot deny human-caused sea level rise and that is why he chose not to mention it to USA Today's readers.

    Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, also explained how climate change affects hurricanes. Trenberth was lead author on a study published in May that determined, “[Hurricane] Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change.”

    "Hurricanes are natural, but climate change is supercharging them!" Trenberth wrote in an email to Media Matters. His comments:

    Human-caused increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere produced an energy imbalance and its partitioning between atmospheric, ocean, cryosphere and land heat reservoirs govern how the global climate evolves. Most of the imbalance, over 90%, goes into the ocean and accordingly ocean heat content (OHC) provides a primary indicator of climate change, along with sea level rise. 2017 was the warmest year on record for the global OHC down to 2000 m depth and the latest quarter (April to June) is the hottest on record. The heat fuels storms of all sorts and contributes to very heavy rain events and flooding.

    Hurricanes are natural, but climate change is supercharging them! The observed increases of upper OHC support higher sea surface temperatures and atmospheric moisture, and fuels tropical storms to become more intense, bigger and longer lasting, thereby increasing their potential for damage. Sea level is also steadily rising, increasing risks from coastal storm surges.

    While USA Today chose to elevate the perspective of a notorious climate denier, other papers made the more responsible choice to invite well-informed scientists and experts to explain the ways climate change exacerbates hurricanes -- like The Washington Post, which ran a strong op-ed by meteorologist Eric Holthaus.

    Holthaus ended his piece by saying, "It is a time for courageous action." Trenberth echoed that sentiment in his comments to Media Matters, emphasizing that we can and should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for the future impacts of climate change:

    The damage and loss of life from such storms does not have to be disastrous, however, if there is adequate preparation. We have the options of stopping or slowing climate change from humans, and/or adapting to and planning for the consequences, but we are not doing enough of either!

    If outlets like USA Today educated people about the real dangers of climate change, instead of propagating climate denial, more Americans might be inspired to demand and implement real climate solutions.