WSJ's Noxious Climate Coverage Surrounding Historical March

The Wall Street Journal sandwiched their coverage of the largest climate change march in history between commentaries that cast doubt on global warming and the need for action, fulfilling the newspaper's trend of pushing harmful rhetoric against international climate negotiations.

On September 21, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the People's Climate March to raise awareness about the need for climate action. The New York City march, which was “by far the largest climate-related protest in history,” received front page attention nationally and around the globe:

Front Pages

But the Wall Street Journal, headquartered a few blocks from the march, did not include their story on the action on the front page -- it was buried in the local section. Moreover, the paper criticized the march and cast doubt on the state of climate science, providing ammunition for critics to argue against climate action in the days ahead. 

The day before the march, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed headlined “Climate Science Is Not Settled,” which cast doubt on the influence of human activities on global warming and argued for more debate about climate science's “uncertainties.” Steven Koonin, former chief scientist of BP, claimed that the “climate has always changed and always will” to downplay the influence of human activities on climate change -- a favorite Fox talking point that is as inherently misleading as asserting that just because people have died naturally they can't be murdered.

The op-ed's flaws were broken down in a lengthy post from Climate Nexus. They explained that Koonin's extensive discussion about uncertainty ignores what those uncertainties actually entail, writing that the range of uncertainties will result in outcomes “from bad to worse.” The Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli expanded that even the best case scenario will result in severe impacts, including “widespread coral mortality, hundreds of millions of people at risk of increased water stress, more damage from droughts and heat waves and floods, up to 30% of global species at risk for extinction, and declined global food production.”

Moreover, Koonin's assertion that the “impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself” is false, according to Nuccitelli, as scientists have determined that human impacts have been the dominant cause of global warming since 1950.

Many experts say that the “uncertainties” around climate science are not an excuse for inaction, but rather should be looked at with a risk management perspective -- an apt description, as many top insurance companies are incorporating climate change into their long-term strategies and calling for climate action. Koonin himself admitted this, but only after discussing uncertainties for the bulk of the piece. According to a study from the University of Oxford, focusing on what uncertainties remain on the basic premise of manmade global warming -- as Koonin did -- can denigrate public understanding of climate science and the need for action.

Climate Nexus and Nuccitelli both noted that Koonin's op-ed was (for the most part) technically accurate, but that his framing would lead readers to reach inaccurate conclusions. They were right: the op-ed was picked up the next day by conservative news site, which asserted that Koonin's op-ed “strikes a blow against climate change activists.” And the National Review Online cited it as a “pathbreaking piece” in an article claiming that the scientific consensus on climate change is “crumbling” and equating acceptance of climate change to “hysteria.”

The United Nations is holding a climate summit this week in New York City -- the core reason for Sunday's climate march. Secretary of State John Kerry stated in a keynote address that the summit will set the agenda for international negotiations later this year, which many are hoping will result in a global agreement to take action on climate change. But the Wall Street Journal treated the summit with cynicism in an editorial which, like Koonin's op-ed, cast doubt on climate science. The editorial board doubted any agreement from the climate summit would be effective, and wrote that “the climate lobby should return to the climate science and explain the hiatus that has now lasted for 16, 19, or 26 years” -- even though the supposed “hiatus” has been explained again and again.

The Wall Street Journal previously sowed doubt on the landmark international reports that form the groundwork for the U.N.'s climate negotiations. The paper has a history of downplaying environmental threats to bolster their decades-long campaign against environmental regulations. As Nuccitelli put it, the longer the Journal and others advocate against climate action, the worse it will be:

The bottom line is that while there are and always will be uncertainties in climate science that require further research, it's already been several decades since we've understood climate change well enough to justify taking serious action to solve the problem. The longer we wait, the costlier those actions become, and the worse the impacts of human-caused global warming will be. The hundreds of thousands of people who marched yesterday understand that, but the Murdoch media hasn't caught up yet.