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By Kevin Kalhoefer and Andrew Seifter
Donald Trump and the presidential election dominated news coverage in 2016. But talking heads still found plenty of time to make jaw-dropping comments about climate change, energy and the environment. This year's list of ridiculous claims includes a dangerous conspiracy theory about Hurricane Matthew, over-the-top worship of fracking and coal and absurd victim-blaming around the Flint water crisis.
Climate-denying arguments by Ted Cruz at a Senate committee hearing last year have been soundly debunked by a new study published in the Journal of Climate. Testimony at the hearing attacked climate change by using cherry-picked satellite temperature data allegedly inconsistent with global warming. The paper found errors in this analysis that refutes the bogus claims.
In the midst of the Texas senator's stillborn run for nomination as the Republican presidential candidate, he used his position as chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness to convene a hearing entitled, "Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth's Climate."Hand-picked witnesses included noted climate skeptics John Christy, Judith Curry, conservative author Mark Steyn and Princeton University's William Harper. Harper was caught up in a sting operation by Greenpeace last year when he agreed to write a paper that, he was told, would be paid for by an unnamed Middle Eastern oil and gas company that wanted the payments to remain undisclosed.
The core of the arguments in the Senate hearing centered around satellite data that measures the emissions of oxygen molecules in the atmosphere using microwave sensors and uses that to extrapolate temperature. It's not the same as sticking a thermometer in the troposphere. These datasets are among the least reliable.
The study looked at two claims made by the climate skeptics: that temperatures in the mid-troposphere are rising three times faster in climate models than measured by satellites, and that there has been no statistically significant warming in the troposphere for 18 years. The researchers, who hail from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NOAA and private research firm Remote Sensing Systems, found that the "three times faster" divergence is significantly reduced when the most recent data is used and when the effects of stratospheric cooling on the troposphere is accounted for.
"Next, we assess the validity of the statement that satellite data show no significant tropospheric warming over the last 18 years," states the report. "This claim is not supported by our analysis: in five out of six corrected satellite TMT [mid- to upper troposphere] records, significant global-scale tropospheric warming has occurred within the last 18 years."
Environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli, writing in The Guardian in response to the views aired in the Dec. 8, 2015 hearing, stated, "In the end, Ted Cruz's claim is rated false by every objective measure." New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, a Democratic member of the committee, said, "Climate change should be a bipartisan issues. That is why it is so regrettable today with the way Sen. Cruz is proceeding."
It has been well reported that Ted Cruz repeatedly lies about the science of climate change, has used his position in the Senate to bully Sierra Club president Aaron Mair, works to promote his fossil-fuel funders and calls climate change a "religion."
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Climate change hasn't gotten much air time during the 2016 presidential election, but that changed Tuesday afternoon in Florida when Hillary Clinton and Al Gore appeared together at Miami Dade College.
"Our next president will either step up to protect our planet, or we will be dragged backwards and our whole planet will be put at risk," said Clinton to an enthusiastic crowd of students and supporters.
On the heels of Hurricane Matthew, which set records as the longest-lived category 4-5 hurricane in the Eastern Caribbean and Western Atlantic, and the longest-lived major hurricane that formed after Sept 25, former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore said, "When it comes to the most urgent issue facing our country and the world, the choice in this election is extremely clear. Hillary Clinton will make solving our climate crisis a top priority. Her opponent will take us toward a climate catastrophe."
Gore, remembering Hurricane Andrew, which struck Florida in 1992 as he and the Clintons campaigned for office, noted that, since then, the sea level in the Florida waters has risen three inches. The rate of sea-level rise has tripled over the last 10 years. At the time, Hurricane Andrew was the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history. The category 5 hurricane killed 44 in Florida and was the costliest disaster in the state's history.
Miami is highly vulnerable to climate change. With 441,000 people, it sits just six feet above sea level. Its highest elevation is only 42 feet. In the past 10 years, flooding in Miami Beach from high tides has quadrupled. On a regular basis, ocean waters invade streets, damage cars and disrupt business.
"It's become a daily reality here in Miami," said Clinton. "You have the streets flood at high tide, and the ocean is bubbling up through the sewer system."
The former Secretary of State also pointed to the need to address the challenges brought on by climate change, saying, "We need to invest in resilient infrastructure." Ironically, South Florida is moving forward on an aggressive plan that acknowledges climate change in a state where Florida officials are prohibited from even using the term under the administration of Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
"In this election, the future of Miami and cities up and down the east and west coast of Florida are on the ballot as well," Gore said. He stressed the importance of voting, taking from his personal experience in the state in 2000. "Your vote really, really, really counts," he said emphatically. The event today was the first time that Gore has publicly campaigned for Clinton in this election.
The Miami appearance yesterday comes just ahead of the now-extended voter registration deadline of 5 p.m. on Wednesday. A court order was required to provide additional time for Florida voters—many of whom evacuated or were displaced by Hurricane Matthew—to register, after Gov. Scott refused to extend the deadline. Florida is a key battleground state, with 29 electoral votes. Fivethirtyeight gives Hillary Clinton a 71 percent chance of carrying the state as of today.
And, according to 350 Action's Executive Director May Boeve, if "Clinton really wants to bring young voters to the polls, she'll need to keep adopting even more ambitious positions on climate, like stopping the destructive Dakota Access Pipeline or vocally endorsing fossil fuel divestment. Millennials want someone who will stand up to the fossil fuel industry and help protect our shared future. The louder she gets, the more we'll vote."
Clinton sketched out her plan for dealing with climate change during her remarks, "I want to see 500 million more solar panels installed across America by the end of my first term, and have enough renewable energy to power every home within 10 years," she said. She also noted that renewable energy is now the fastest growing source of new jobs in the U.S., and warned that if America doesn't step up, either Germany or China will become "the clean energy superpower of the 21st century."
Before the two embraced and walked off the stage, Gore concluded by saying, "We have the opportunity to look back on this year as the time when our nation chose to finally answer the alarm bells on the climate crisis."
Hurricane Matthew wasn't an ordinary storm. It killed more than a thousand people in Haiti and at least 20 in the U.S. Its trail of widespread devastation was shocking and it will take the affected regions time to recover.
But while 1.5 million people were being asked by Republican governors to head to safety for the fear for their lives, Drudge wondered if the government was lying to its people to "make an exaggerated point on climate." During the time when hurricane-related reported deaths in Haiti jumped from 20 to more than 300, Drudge questioned National Hurricane Center's data in a now-infamous tweet. Several people (such as Jason Samenow of WaPo and Libby Nelson of Vox) wrote against his outrageous claims for not only trying to score cheap political gains but also putting lives in danger.
Without having any other evidence to disprove the solid climate science linking Hurricane Matthew to climate change, the denial community has been repeating one fact ad nauseam—the arbitrarily defined "major hurricane drought." It's a classic case of cherry-picking data that trivializes the lives disrupted and lost by major storms like Matthew, Sandy and others.
While the U.S. has been fortunate that no hurricane has made landfall in the past decade as a Category 3 or higher, the fact remains that hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin has increased since the 1970s. And there is also increasing evidence of landfalling typhoons in Asia have become more intense over the last four decades due to warmer waters. Politifact has a great article on this subject.
From the time it became apparent that the hurricane will seriously impact the U.S., everyone swung into action. Experts sought to look for climate signals to understand in advance what potential impacts might be. Governors announced states of emergency and mandated evacuations. Climate deniers peddled conspiracy theories.
While most stocked up on food and water, deniers were content with tin foil.
Matt Drudge Joins Rush Limbaugh's Conspiracy Theory That Meteorologists Are Lying About Hurricane Matthew
By Brendan Karet
As millions evacuate the East Coast of Florida in preparation for Hurricane Matthew, which has already been responsible for more than 113 deaths across the Caribbean, the curator of the most widely read conservative website, Matt Drudge, irresponsibly peddled a conspiracy theory that federal officials have exaggerated the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew "to make exaggerated point on climate."
On Oct. 6, Drudge claimed "the deplorables" were wondering if the government was lying about the intensity of the deadly hurricane and also questioned the legitimacy of the National Hurricane Center's data:
Drudge also used his website, one of the most widely read sites on the internet, DrudgeReport.com to put Florida residents in danger and push the conspiracy theory with a banner titled "STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED!," alongside links titled "IT'S A 4?" and "RESIDENTS NOT TAKING SERIOUSLY..."
In direct contrast to Drudge, Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned those in the hurricane's path that "this storm will kill you," while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) described the storm as "dangerous." Fox News host Shepard Smith warned Floridians that if they did not evacuate "you and everyone you know is dead" and that "you can't survive it," while The National Weather Service for Melbourne, Florida warned residents that the storm was "LIFE-THREATENING" and "more impacting than Hurricane David and 2004 hurricanes!":
Drudge joined Rush Limbaugh in peddling irresponsible conspiracy theories about the hurricane, placing their audience in danger. Earlier, Limbaugh downplayed the storm by ranting about "politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes" and previously claimed the National Hurricane Center is "playing games" with "hurricane forecasting" to convince viewers of climate change.
Update: Conspiracy theorist and Trump ally Alex Jones retweeted Matt Drudge, expressing support and agreement with his dangerous hurricane conspiracy while adding the white supremacist "altright" hashtag:
Reposted with permission from our media associate Media Matter for America.