The two-fisted gut punch of Harvey and Irma devastated Caribbean islands, swamped major American cities, blacked out power for millions, and exposed who-knows-how-many people to toxic soup of polluted floodwaters. But one thing these immensely powerful storms could not do was move the television networks to talk about how these storms got to be so strong.
The Sunday morning news shows, which still help determine the narrative for the Capital, failed to mention the clear connection between these more powerful storms and climate change. The hurricanes were covered, of course, but the scientifically established link between our warming climate and their increased destructive power was raised on only one of the four* major talk shows (CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper), according to the non-profit group Media Matters.
More broadly, the study found that two broadcast networks, ABC and NBC, failed to air a “single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows” on the link between climate change and the storms.
The reality is that warmer waters fuel big hurricanes, warmer air holds more water, and rising sea levels surge higher and father. In short, climate change puts storms on steroids. A point NASA drove home as Irma approached Florida with this tweet:
— NASA (@NASA) September 7, 2017
Without serious coverage of this connection, we are left with only political propaganda from the White House and its allies. President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have repeatedly denied or downplayed the facts of climate science, even though every major American scientific organization has recognized this reality.
These attempts to deny the science are, not surprisingly, backed up by voices like Rush Limbaugh, who claimed last week that the discussion of stronger hurricanes was based on a “desire to advance this climate change agenda” – and then promptly evacuated his Florida studio.
Pruitt is trying to bury the views of the scientific community on climate change generally. The latest climate assessment by government scientists sheds light on the topic of climate change and hurricanes. But Pruitt is sitting on the report because there is apparently never a time he wants people thinking about climate change.
According to the “final draft” of the report, which was provided to the New York Times by authors worried about Pruitt’s political interference, it is “likely” that hurricanes’ maximum wind speeds and rainfall rates will increase. Pruitt has said that he is going to review the report, and it hasn’t been seen since.
The failure to inform the public about the link between more climate pollution and stronger storms – along with more wildfire, droughts, increasing flows of refugees, and other climate costs – means we are more likely to continue down the path toward a more dangerous future. Already, we are paying billions to clean up and rebuild after these storms; Citigroup has estimated that the total bill for unchecked climate change will be more than $40 trillion.
The networks have a lot on their plate covering Washington these days. There’s no shortage of misinformation to correct, and many serious stories to cover. But it’s hard to think of many that are a bigger threat to public health and well-being than the continued rampage of climate change. And just as with any other big story, the causes – not just immediately visible impacts – must be part of the reporting.
*Meet the Press was pre-empted.
By Eric Pooley
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