MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, Guest Use Blizzard to Complain about the GOP and 'Big Oil’ ‘Fighting’ Science

During her MSNBC show Now on Monday, Alex Wagner had on guest Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, who took advantage of the blizzard set to strike New York City and New England to invoke climate change and blame the “big oil industry” and Republicans for “voting down science” in a Senate vote last week.

Not to be outdone, Wagner took her own swipe at those who don’t subscribe to the view that the storm was bred by humans and climate change: “[J]ust with the flight delays, the economic impact of travel and travel cancellations, it seems like framing this sort-of changing climate in an economic context is a pretty powerful way to get people to start caring a little bit more about the changes that are happening to the Earth.”

The segment began with Wagner swinging the door wide-open on the topic of climate change by asking Sachs about the role it plays in the “interrelation between extreme heat and extreme cold and extremely erratic storms.”

All too happy to dive in, Sachs agreed and pointed to how “of the ten biggest snowstorms, five of them have come since 2003. So, that suggests we're seeing a lot more of this kind of extreme event.”

Wagner then turned to NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins, who also concurred, but was far more reserved about blaming climate change. While Karins stated that “when you start tying 10, 15 different storms within a 10-to-15-year period, that's when you start thinking,” he cautioned that large storms are far from being a new phenomenon and pointed to photos from “the late 1800s” that depicted large mounds of snow falling in New York City.

Moving back to Sachs, Wagner tossed this softball to him regarding the impact of climate change on humans:

We, of course, don't know what the winter storm Juno is going to do, but just with the flight delays, the economic impact of travel and travel cancellations, it seems like framing this sort-of changing climate in an economic context is a pretty powerful way to get people to start caring a little bit more about the changes that are happening to the Earth. 

After harping on the claim that 2014 was the hottest year on record and rattling off some of the recent global weather events, Sachs turned his attention to attacking Republicans and those who “bought the Senate” in the oil industry (emphasis mine): 

The cost lives to lives, to safety, to the economy is vast and getting larger, but we have this powerful, big oil industry that has been fighting this and they bought the Senate unfortunately and the Republicans just voted down science again last week. They were given the opportunity to reflect, on the most basic science, that human activity significantly contributes to climate change, and the Republicans voted against that 49-5 in the Republican Party and if you can believe it, but of course, they're just on the take with the big oil money. 

This type of rhetoric on MSNBC was far from new as just an hour before that, Bill Nye joined The Cycle and blasted “certain viewers” who will reject his assertion that climate change is to blame for the blizzard.

The relevant portion of the transcript from MSNBC’s Now with Alex Wagner on January 26 is transcribed below.

MSNBC’s Now with Alex Wagner
January 26, 2015
4:18 p.m. Eastern

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY’S JEFFREY SACHS: Well, certainly the scientists think so and the scientists say that they are two big reasons why we're getting megastorms such as the big rainfalls in spring and summer and bigger snowstorms in the winter and that is with warmer temperature, the air holds more moisture in general and second, the oceans are really warm right now. That means that extra amount of precipitation in the warmer air over the oceans and so the scientists are saying that while, again, you can never be sure of any particular storm, we should be expecting this kind of trend and I asked one of my colleagues just now what the record is for mega-snowfalls and he points out that since the records starting in 1869, of the ten biggest snowstorms, five of them have come since 2003. So, that suggests we're seeing a lot more of this kind of extreme event. That's what we expect. That's what the climate science says. While you can't say it about any particular storm, it's definitely consistent with those expectations. 

ALEX WAGNER: Bill, when we talk about predictions, I mean, there is an expectation that this part of the world, this part of the country will be hit by more bigger and deadlier storms when we – but this one in particular. This was not supposed to hit the northeast. This was supposed to go out to sea. What happened to change that path? 

BILL KAIRNS: Alex, I think you directed that to me. The process that – this storm was supposed to be about 200 miles off the sea awhile ago and when it kind of switched about Saturday morning erraticly came back to the coast. That's not that unheard of. Our long range computers still have a lot of work to do. That was 72 hours in advance. We kind of knew that this storm was coming. So, we can't tie that into anything, but you know, the important point is, if you look at the top ten snowstorms in New York City, all since 2000, 2006 we broke the record with 27 inches of snow. We had numerous ones that were close to, you know, 18 to 20 inches in 2011 and again in 2013. Of course, with the record breaking February snow fall in Central Park, that was just – I think was 2011 also. So, yes, we have shattered some crazy records. So storms like this aren't unheard of, the question is is the frequency of storms like this increasing? I mean, there’s some famous pictures going back to the late 1800s where there’s some snow banks in the sidewalks of New York City like this and there’s a kid sitting up against it. So, I hope that kind of answers your question. You can never tie one event into anything, but when you start tying 10, 15 different storms within a 10 to 15-year period, that's when you start thinking and one of the important ingredients with his storm – this storm has to throw the moisture back at us. It needs the energy. It needs the warmth from the ocean, from the gulf stream. The temperatures are above average from Maine all the way down the east coast. That's also responsible for this. The warmer the ocean water, the more energy there is available for this storm as it picks it up and tosses it back at us. So that’s all part of this process. If the oceans are warmer, you can get more moisture out of it too.

WAGNER: And that is something we have also been talking about is the unprecedented warming of the ocean, especially on the eastern coast of the United States. Dr. Sachs, you know, Hurricane Sandy cost this area $71 billion of damage. We, of course, don't know what the winter storm Juno is going to do, but just with the flight delays, the economic impact of travel and travel cancellations, it seems like framing this sort-of changing climate in an economic context is a pretty powerful way to get people to start caring a little bit more about the changes that are happening to the Earth. 

SACHS: Of course, that's right. There is a simple cost-benefit analysis that we are making a terrible deal right now in risking massive, massive losses when the cost of getting the climate system safer would be very small indeed. It’s just opposed by very strong invested interests and to keep this in perspective for everybody, I expect that most people heard by now that 2014 was the warmest year on the planet's instrument history. In other words, going back to around 1870 when we've been measuring the temperatures using thermometers and other instrumentation, 2014 is the warmest in history. The trends, the dangers, the disasters all over the world are clear whether it is droughts as in the mega-droughts in California or in Brazil, whether it’s the massive flooding, whether it’s these kind of extreme storms, the storm that hit the Philippines one after another after another of those giant, megastorms. The cost lives to lives, to safety, to the economy is vast and getting larger, but we have this powerful, big oil industry that has been fighting this and they bought the Senate unfortunately and the Republicans just voted down science again last week. They were given the opportunity to reflect, on the most basic science, that human activity significantly contributes to climate change, and the Republicans voted against that 49-5 in the Republican Party and if you can believe it, but of course, they're just on the take with the big oil money. 

WAGNER: Yeah, it is – it is an ironic juxtaposition, I think, that the vote that happened last week in Washington and what is happening this week on the northeast coast.

Oil & Gas Prices Environment Global Warming Weather Conservatives & Republicans MSNBC Now with Alex Wagner New York Alex Wagner Jeffrey Sachs
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