News Flash: 'Extreme Weather Ends'
According to climate alarmists, a rising level of CO2 in the atmosphere is causing global warming, which results in severe weather. Tornadoes, hurricanes, heat waves, cold snaps, too much rain, too little rain, rising seas, and the end of civilization as we know it – all are the inevitable product of global warming. If only catastrophe would strike, as climate models have long predicted, the left would be jubilant. But that does not seem to be happening.
Not surprisingly, none of the left’s climate predictions is coming true. It has been nine years since a major hurricane (category 3 and above) made landfall in the U.S. – the least hurricane activity in 114 years. Except for the deadly Joplin tornado of 2011, recent tornadic activity has been unusually low compared to the destruction that prevailed throughout most of the 20th century. Sea levels have been rising at a rate of 18cm per century, but this rise began long before the present-day accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. Significantly, there appears to be a deceleration since 1960 – just when CO2 models predict acceleration. As for temperature itself, there has not been an increase in global temperatures in 18 years.
At least there’s still some sign of drought in the West, accompanied by destructive wildfires, and the media has spent an inordinate amount of time focusing on that story. On May 15, for example, NBC Nightly News broadcast a "bird’s-eye view" of wildfires in southern California. On July 17, the same network reported that scientists had linked the severity of western fires to climate change. On September 14, NBC tied “record-breaking heat” to western fires and the difficulty of fighting them. On September 15, NBC reported that western wildfires had caused “evacuations of more than 1,000 homes.”
This is just a small sample of wildfire reporting from one network. Even Fox News is not exempt from the “extreme weather” narrative, though as usual their reporting is “fair and balanced” and far less frenzied than their competitors. Still, extremes attract eyeballs, and eyeballs sell. On October 5, Fox reported that “heat smothers California,” foreshadowing more wildfires and power outages. To its credit, Fox declined to link the heat wave with climate change. And yes, a heat wave is news, but so is the more seasonal weather that has prevailed over nearly the entire country since the spring. A drought that is now confined to parts of California and a small area of the southern plains is not a major news story, except insofar as it is made to seem so.
The cumulative effect of extreme weather reporting is to convince the public that a crisis exists and that government action is called for. In fact, throughout most of the country, climate is now benign, and agricultural conditions are close to perfect. The problem for American farmers has not been bad weather – it’s been good weather producing near-record crops of corn, soybeans, and wheat, resulting in lower prices.
None of the mainstream networks seem to have picked up on the story of the decade: the fact that global temperatures are cooling, rains are at normal or above normal levels, and overall drought conditions have fallen to the lowest level in decades.
The key takeaway is that once the liberal media has latched onto a crisis narrative, it is loath to give it up, and certainly not until another crisis has presented itself. Focusing tightly on a particular wildfire, with “hundreds of homes” in danger and “thousands of acres” burned, makes it appear that global warming has struck with a vengeance. In reality, even before the arrival of mankind, millions of acres of North American forests burned in fires sparked by lightning and lava flows – the cause of 10% of wildfires even today.
The liberal media jump on every storyline that would support the thesis of global warming, but always by ignoring the big picture. Bird’s-eye view reporting suggests that 2014 has been a record year for wildfires, but it’s not even been close. The five largest wildfires recorded in the U.S. (the 1865 Silverton fire in Oregon, the 1871 Peshtigo fire in Wisconsin, the 1871 Great Michigan fire, the 1881 Thumb fire in Michigan, and the 1910 Great Fire of Idaho, Montana, and Washington) all consumed more than 1,000,000 acres, and all occurred long before the rise of man-made CO2 emissions. In contrast, the tragic Yarnell Hill fire of 2013, which claimed the lives of 19 firefighters, burned only 1,900 acres. The idea that recent western fires are unprecedented in intensity and scope – the idea that the left wants to plant in the public’s mind – has no basis in fact.
The more one looks at the facts, the more clearly the left’s strategy of deception comes into focus. By controlling the discussion, the left is able to create the perception of a climate crisis, and thereby further its anticapitalist agenda.
Googling “drought” on the home page of practically any environmental group brings up hundreds if not thousands of results. For the Environmental Defense Council, it brought up an even 1,000 results, including an April 2014 report on the “Texas drought,” which “continues to persist”; a 2013 piece on the 2012 “summer of drought” in Colorado; and even an out-of-date 1999 post on drought conditions in New Jersey, along with numerous reports from California. Yet, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, only a small portion of Colorado remains in drought, the Texas drought has been steadily receding, and New Jersey is entirely drought-free. The one state that has worsened in the past year is California, yet even a cursory look at the state’s history shows the variability of drought conditions there.
The liberal media will continue their saturation coverage of “extreme weather” until the public wises up. At that point, it will be something else. No longer global warming, rising sea levels, fire and flood, but some as yet unimagined end-of-the-world scenario. The intent, as always, is to expand government power.
The conservative response should be that “government is not the solution to our problem: government is the problem.” An efficient and cost-effective solution to “climate change” would be to wait a year or two and see what happens. At that point, as the history of drought conditions in the U.S. indicates, climate will have reverted to the norm in most regions where it had been “in crisis” before.
That, of course, is the last thing the liberal media is going to report. Google “Western drought ends” and one of the top results is the Washington Post’s “Western drought continues with no relief in sight.” As long as it has the Western drought or some other local “crisis” to hang onto, the left will perpetuate the global warming mythology. But eventually they will cry wolf too often, and global warming will no longer seem credible. Global warming will vanish into thin air, but another disaster narrative will arise to take its place.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American politics and culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).