Fact-checking claims on climate change

President Barack Obama speaks to reporters during a hike at Exit Glacier in Alaska, Sept. 1, 2015. (The New York Times)
President Barack Obama speaks to reporters during a hike at Exit Glacier in Alaska, Sept. 1, 2015. (The New York Times)

President Barack Obama hiked up a melting Alaskan glacier on Tuesday as part of a weeklong trip to surmount an arguably more difficult task: getting the world to act climate change.

"The fact is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it," Obama said in a speech on Sept. 1. "We’re not acting fast enough."

But some environmentalists are saying the visit is contradictory, if not downright hypocritical. After all, less than a month ago, Obama gave Shell the okay to drill for oil on Alaska’s coast.

Progressive activist group Credo Action annotated a White House video promoting the Alaska trip. In its video, Credo says the Obama administration is "proposing to mine another 10 billion tons of Wyoming coal, which would unleash three times more carbon pollution than Obama's Clean Power Plan would even save through 2030."

We rated the claim Mostly False. A Credo spokesperson said its source is a 2015 report by Greenpeace, another environmental activist group.

Burning 10 billion tons of coal over would unleash more carbon pollution than the federal clean energy regulations expect to save over the next 15 years.

However, there is no plan to mine for 10 billion new tons of coal. Greenpeace -- and others who have quoted this figure -- are distorting a single line buried in a 3,000-page report. The figure refers to an estimate -- developed solely for analysis -- of the maximum amount of coal that could be available for mining in a particular region of Wyoming over the next 20 years.

In his speech, Obama also slammed "the critics and the cynics and the deniers" of climate change, saying, "Those who want to ignore the science, they are increasingly alone. They’re on their own shrinking island."

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who has repeatedly called climate change "a hoax," would beg to differ. In a Aug. 28 appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Santorum argued he’s not alone.

"The most recent survey of climate scientists said about 57 percent don’t agree with the idea that 95 percent of the change in the climate is caused by CO2," he said.

"Rick, I don’t know what ass you’re pulling that out of," Maher retorted.

Santorum’s numbers are not made up, but his claim commits "two orders of mischaracterization," an expert said. He uses a blog’s flawed analysis of a survey (and misquotes what it’s allegedly disapproving). The survey actually supports the idea of scientific consensus on climate change, its lead author told us. We rated his claim False.

Santorum’s other claim on scientific consensus also received a False rating. He said the claim that 97 percent of scientists believe climate change is man-made — a figure cited by Obama — was debunked by the "head" of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"The head of the UN IPC (sic) said that number was pulled out of thin air. It was based on a survey of 77 scientists," he said. "Not even 97 scientists responded to that survey."

The claim confuses several points. First, the critic of the figure he’s referring to isn’t the "head" of the IPCC, but an economist who worked on the IPCC’s fifth report.

Second, the 97 percent doesn’t come from one specific survey — it appears in at least three. And finally, the study Santorum describes isn’t the one the economist objects to.The economist takes issue with with the methodology of a different survey of over 1,300 climate change studies, but he says he has "very little reason to doubt that the consensus is indeed correct."