Tell the Truth, CNN, Climate Change Not Pushing Species or Landscapes to the Brink

Just in time for Earth Day, CNN published an interactive story claiming climate change was pushing various plant and animal species to the brink of extinction, and various landscapes to the brink of disappearing. An examination of some of those claims, citing hard data and peer reviewed research, shows that even when a decline is occurring as reported by CNN, there is no link between the loss of these species and places and climate change.

The CNN interactive story, “On the Brink,” examines 16 species or landscapes that the authors, Laura Paddison, Rachel Ramirez, Henrik Pettersson and Byron Manley, assert are being pushed to the brink of non-existence by climate change. For brevity’s sake, Climate Realism selected a few species and landscapes CNN claims are threatened with destruction for closer examination, finding that for some features, there is in fact no evidence they are decline. For others features, factors other than climate change are behind their decline. The latter point means, if their decline is to be reversed, steps rather than vainly attempting to control the climate, must be undertaken. Some of which can be relatively easily accomplished, some not.

CNN claims the arabica coffee bean faces significant decline due to climate change, yet geography and data tell a different story. Brazil is the largest producer of arabica beans. Geographically, Brazil lies along the equator, but temperatures along the equator are least effected by global warming.

Data presented at Climate Realism, here, here, and here, for example, show coffee production in general, and the production of the arabica beans in particular, have grown in Brazil and globally. As evidence, between 2005 and 2021 global Arabica bean production increased by approximately 25 percent. And between 1990 and 2020, Brazil’s coffee production grew by nearly 153 percent, setting new records for production nine times during the period, most recently in 2020.

CNN also claims staghorn coral, among other coral that make up coral reefs and atolls globally, are critically endangered by bleaching due to warmer oceans. Corals face many threats, runoff from coastal development, pollution, agricultural chemicals, siltation, even collection for jewelry, to name a few. Yet, as explored at Climate Realism, here, here, and here, for instance, the vast majority of corals recover from bleaching events, evolving to thrive in the face of modestly warmer ocean temperatures, and coral are expanding their range with new coral species and colonies being discovered with some regularity.

CNN ties the decline in the Colorado River, the two top lakes it feeds, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and the Great Salt Lake, to “climate change-fueled drought,” yet the recent drought experienced in the region is hardly unprecedented. The western United States is relatively arid. Data shows that recent droughts have not been more severe or longer lasting. Nor has drought occurred more frequently in the western United States now than it has historically

Although the recent drought, now nearly wiped out by this winter’s heavy snow accumulation, has contributed to the Colorado River’s and the Great Salt Lake’s shortfalls, in the short-term, the respective bodies of water have been declining for decades so we must seek another cause. Handily, CNN mentions one—it just deemphasized it to play up the false climate change angle— the region’s growing population and its “increasing demand for water.”

As Climate Realism has documented that precipitation and water levels in Lake Mead (which is formed by water from the Colorado River) and the Great Salt Lake,  can vary dramatically from year to year. Over the past century, however, there has been no consistent trend of less precipitation. But there has been a huge increase in population, by tens of millions of people. The population and thus demands on water have grown dramatically for a variety of uses, most importantly agriculture, but also for urban water uses like drinking water, swimming pools, and for watering the region’s lawns and golf courses. As a result, when a drought strikes, whether short-term, which is what has recently been experienced in the West, or long-term, the waterways can shrink dramatically in a short period of time. In short, one doesn’t need to “fight” climate change, whatever that means, to save the Great Salt Lake, the Colorado River, and the reservoirs formed by dams on it, rather one just needs to manage the water withdrawals more effectively, primarily by limiting them.

CNN also bemoans the fate of Pacific islands, like Kiribati, claiming they face inundation by rising seas, making their inhabitants climate refugees. Research and the behavior of the islands residents and governments refute these related claims. Research discussed in Climate Realism, here and here, among other posts, demonstrate that Kiribati is among the numerous island and island nations which have added land mass in recent decades. And since the islands aren’t sinking, their submersion can’t be causing a refugee crisis, and it isn’t, as evidenced, here and by the growing development on the islands, discussed here and here.

CNN also claims the huge Thwaites glacier is threatening to collapse because of warmer temperatures and waters. Once again, CNN has the cause and effect wrong. Surface temperatures haven’t changed enough in Antarctica to cause any glaciers to melt dramatically. A few degrees warming on the Antarctic continent honestly doesn’t mean much. As Aurora Expeditions notes:

Summer maximums across most of the continent rarely exceed -20°C (-4°F). The only exception is the coast, where highs occasionally rise above 0°C (32°F), particularly on the Antarctic Peninsula. [editor’s note, even when temperatures spike to 40℉ or warmer for one or a few days, you don’t get much melting.]

In winter, sea ice envelops the continent and Antarctica is plunged into months of darkness. The monthly mean temperature at the South Pole in winter hovers around -60°C (-76°F). Along the coast, winter temperatures range between −15 and −20 °C (-5 and −4 °F).

Ocean temperatures circulating around Antarctica have risen modestly in recent years, but that has nothing to do with climate change but rather is in response to large scale oceanic circulation patterns, like the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the Southern Ocean overturning circulation, which naturally shift over varying periods of time, only to shift back again after a few years or decades.

Concerning the Thwaites Glacier in particular, because neither surface nor ocean temperatures have dramatically increased, other factors must be to blame for the Thwaites’ glacier’s recently accelerated rate of flow. Unfortunately, the most likely factor for the Thwaites’ recent rate of decline is one that with current technology, we can do nothing about: subsurface geothermal heat flow beneath the glacier. Also referred to as subsurface volcanic activity, research published by the National Science Foundation and in the peer reviewed Nature, indicates that a recent uptick in subsurface volcanic activity beneath the Thwaites glacier and the nearby Pine Island Glacier is a significant factor in the increasing rate the rate of glacial flow.

On Earth Day, CNN released yet another climate horror story, attributing a purported decline or pending disappearance of various species or natural features to climate change. Climate Realism has examined or “Fact Checked” six of those claims, showing either that the supposed decline is not in fact occurring, or that it is occurring but due to factors other than climate change.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute's Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland's Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.

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