Fox News’s Attacks on Climate Science Now Include The Denial of Basic Physics

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There was a time, believe it or not, when Fox New’s Shepard Smith openly mocked global warming deniers—seriously comparing them to a man who got stuck in a portable toilet. (Hat tip to D.R. Tucker for showing me this clip.) But since then, Fox has become a veritable misinformation machine on this topic.

One way the station sows doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change is through constantly putting climate “skeptics” on the air. A study by American University’s Lauren Feldman and her co-authors, for example, found that in the period of 2007-2008, 46 percent of Fox’s guests discussing global warming were climate change doubters. By contrast, only 40 percent of guests defended the scientific consensus.

That’s not just phony “balance”–that’s coverage strongly tilted towards unreality. And if anything, I suspect that Fox has grown still more unbalanced during the Obama years.

One of Fox’s frequent doubter guests is meteorologist Joe Bastardi,  who recently said on the show that carbon dioxide “literally cannot cause global warming.” As Media Matters soon pointed out, this statement seems to throw out over 100 years of science on the greenhouse effect, and the behavior of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

We’ve literally known how the greenhouse effect works since the time of Darwin (although maybe that’s not a good analogy, since I’m sure many of Fox’s viewers also deny evolution). Still, if you don’t believe me, I recommend visiting Spencer Weart’s history of climate science website, where you’ll learn about scientists like John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius, who established the basic science of climate well before the 20th century dawned.

At the Tucson Festival of Books yesterday—broadcast on CSPAN—I explained just how strong our scientific knowledge about global warming is, noting that this is about physics, not the computer models that climate “skeptics” usually attack. As I put it, all else being equal, if you put more carbon dioxide up there, the planet simply has to warm up, and ice has to melt, and sea level has to rise.  That’s the greenhouse effect; that’s how carbon dioxide works in the atmosphere. It’s that simple.

But let’s give Bastardi some credit: In the past, “skeptics” have tended to focus on big diversions, like attacking the hockey stick. They haven’t gone head to head with the real opponent: physics. It strikes me as kind of unlikely that Bastardi will win this scientific battle–but hey, at least he’s finally tilting at the right foe.

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