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"A Reprieve From Climate Doom"

He'll be fine.

If only the Fox News universe was real

When I first saw the September 17 Wall Street Journal headline, “A Reprieve from Climate Doom: A forthcoming report dials back the alarm on global warming,” I hoped against all odds this was a credible, evidence-based story and not just another piece of well-placed oil industry PR. Skimming down to paragraph three, I learned that a forthcoming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s largest and most respected international body of climate scientists, “points to the very real possibility that, over the next several generations, the overall effect of climate change will be positive for humankind and the planet.” Wow. If only the Fox News universe was real, life could be grand.

Counting paid digital subscriptions, the Journal has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the United States. Once a credible respected conservative newspaper of record, it moved into the Fox universe in 2007 when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation purchased its parent corporation, Dow Jones. Today’s Wall Street Journal is nothing more than an upscale version of its sister News Corp. publication, the New York Post.

But really, I wanted this one story to be true—to be accurate like the stock market numbers the paper publishes.

Unlike most web surfers who seldom graze a page for more than 45 seconds, or newspaper readers who rarely venture beyond the fifth paragraph, I read on. The further I read, however, the more the story twisted and turned, struggling to make a credible case out of select factoids ripped from their scientific context.

When the IPCC finally released its report on September 27, it reported a climate realty in sharp contrast to the Wall Street Journal’s fairytale. The Los Angeles Times’s September 27 headline read, “Experts set threshold for climate-change calamity: Researchers say an emissions tipping point for the planet may be 25 years away.” The Times reported that the IPCC has raised its level of certainty that global warming is the result of human carbon emissions from 90 to 95 percent, citing a co-author of the study who warns that the fate of humanity is tied to whether or not we can cut carbon emissions in the next few years. According to the IPCC report, “Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes.”

This is the part of the report that the Fox universe seized upon. The report reads that oceans are getting warmer faster than expected, while the atmosphere is warming a bit slower than expected, with the end result confirming the accuracy of overall planetary warming predictions. Aside from acting as a heat sink, warming oceans threaten a plethora of environmental consequences on their own. And the scientific consensus warns that their function as a heat synch will be short-lived, with a warmer ocean eventually accelerating atmospheric warming, keeping long-term predictions for catastrophic atmospheric warming on course.

But enough with the actual science—that seems to be the Fox universe strategy, as they downplayed or ignored the warming ocean, focusing instead on the “good news” on the warming atmosphere. Picture a news story celebrating the fact that firefighters extinguished an attic fire, while not reporting that the basement is still burning out of control.

Of course the Fox universe climate stories are polished with an academic veneer, often either authored by (as in a September 26 piece) or citing climate expert Marlo Lewis, PhD. Little known to Fox universe readers and viewers is that Lewis’s prestigious Harvard PhD is in government, with a related BA in political science. Like myself, he has no training or expertise in climate science. He is employed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which is funded by ExxonMobile, Texaco, the American Petroleum Institute, the Koch Brothers, and a host of coal and oil interests, among other mostly corporate players. It is one of the main public relations entities fighting to blunt climate change/global warming awareness. Among the few credentials CEI cites for Lewis are his publications in the Unification Church (Moonie) owned Washington Times and appearances on Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy’s radio programs, as well as a stint as visiting assistant professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College.

When the IPCC report was released, the national news cycle was focused not on the threats of climate apocalypse, but instead on the pop-up political circus surrounding the congressional fight on whether or not to force the US government to default on its bills and shut down major operations. At this crucial juncture in human history our media was focused on Texas Senator Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham and The Little Engine that Could to the Senate, rather than on this global scientific plea that our house is on fire and we must put it out. We also learned that Cruz is a fan of White Castle burgers, Ashton Kutcher, and Duck Dynasty. Meanwhile, the Fox universe succeeded in launching enough climate-doom-averted memes into the news cycle to reframe the IPCC report as nothing more than another opinion, and a real bummer of one at that.

Think what you will of Fox News, but a major chunk of the population views this confusion machine as bona fide news. And few people realize that the Wall Street Journal brand is now a front for this machine. Add to this the little-known fact that Fox’s parent, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., has been in negotiations to acquire the afore cited Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune and the Tribune group of newspapers, and that Murdoch allies and climate change deniers, the Koch brothers, are looking at major media acquisitions as well, and we start seeing a hegemonic propaganda machine.

Looking at the scientific consensus voiced by the IPCC and a plethora of independent climate science groups, and then looking at the successful coordinated efforts of the climate-la-de-da PR machine, I just have to ask, is there an end-of-the-world lobby? The oil and coal lobbies have successfully thwarted serious climate damage mitigation efforts since climatologists sounded the global warming alarm with an emerging consensus in the early 1970s. Now, as we are starting to see the early signs of global warming playing out before us, as we enter this end-game period of last chances to possibly avert the worst-case civilization-ending scenarios, we’re seeing ever more sophisticated climate change denial efforts.

Thin as global warming denial arguments are, they have the advantage that we want to believe them. We want to be able to continue our consumer lifestyle, driving our cars, flying our planes and burning oil to ship bottles of designer waters across the planet. We want to believe that it was all a hoax by trolls, and that the Wall Street Journal is correct, that this hoax-induced warming will help us grow bigger and tastier tomatoes.

Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at SUNY Buffalo State. His previous columns are at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.

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