Days before winter storm Uri slammed into Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz got advice on how to prepare from a known climate change denier.
The meeting was apparently set up by Fox News host Sean Hannity, who said on his radio show this week that weather forecaster Joe Bastardi “got in touch with us and I got him in touch with both Governor Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz.” Hannity was not available for an interview with VICE News.
Bastardi, who thinks climate change is “naturally occurring” and wrote a book about how progressives “weaponize” extreme weather to push ideas like the Green New Deal, appears frequently on Hannity’s radio show. He’s also a policy adviser to the Heartland Institute, which has attacked the scientific consensus on climate change for over two decades and reportedly has in the past received tens of millions of dollars in funding from Exxon and foundations linked to Koch Industries.
“Well, what happened was, you know, I have contacts and one of the contacts is Sean Hannity,” Bastardi explained this week on the Glenn Beck Program. “Sean called...Senator Cruz, and Governor Abbott. And Friday night I got a call from Senator Cruz and we talked for about a half hour. And then we talked the talk with Governor Abbott.” Neither Abbott nor Cruz responded to a media request from VICE News.
The storm hit Texas on Sunday night, resulting in freezing weather and blackouts that affected millions of people. “It was sort of too late as far as what the state could do. You needed a response starting four or five days away,” Bastardi told Beck.
Appearing on Hannity’s radio show on January 28, Bastardi argued that progressives use extreme weather as an excuse to push socialist ideas like the Green New Deal that “control and take away your free will; that’s what this is about.”
Bastardi began tweeting about the approaching storm on February 10, writing, “I have never in all my years seen anything this bad winter weather wise for Texas.” Two days later he predicted the storm “will cause immense hardship and challenges.”
Bastardi didn’t respond to an interview request from VICE News.
As the extreme winter conditions shut down parts of Texas’ electric grid, resulting in dozens of deaths, some conservatives, including Bastardi, began spreading a false narrative that frozen wind turbines were primarily to blame (in reality, much of the blackouts were due to the cold weather freezing natural gas wells and blocking gas pipes).
Last Tuesday, Abbott went on Hannity’s Fox News show, one of the most-watched cable news programs in the country, and argued the storm “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” Abbott added, “It just shows how fossil fuel is necessary.”
Facing a national backlash for travelling to Cancun during the disaster, Cruz has tried to set a less combative tone, telling reporters, “What we need to do is have a serious fact-based investigation—not based on politics, not based on the Green New Deal and where you are, and this policy and the other.”
The fact that a prominent climate denier like Bastardi had access to Abbott and Cruz days before a major weather disaster struck should be worrying, said Michael Mann, a professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, especially as scientists seek to figure out the role that record high global temperatures linked to fossil fuel use played in the storm.
“The problem here, honestly, wasn’t the weather forecasts. We all knew what was coming days in advance,” Mann said. “The problem is Joe continues to deny the impact that climate change is having on these sorts of extreme weather events, and the heightened risk that we face because of them.”
Journalists like Hannity are supposed to maintain objectivity from the public figures they report on, not set up private meetings with them, said Matt Gertz, a senior fellow with the media watchdog group Media Matters. “For a normal media personality, for a normal journalist, this sort of thing would probably be considered a breach of ethics,” he said.
Bastardi was a meteorologist for AccuWeather until 2011 and now works for WeatherBell, which provides private weather information for oil and gas companies, hedge funds, and other businesses. Bastardi is also an author of The Weaponization of Weather in the Phony Climate War, published last fall.
“What if climate change is naturally occurring and cyclical?” a summary of the book reads. “What if trillions of dollars will be spent to accomplish nothing? What if the real agenda is not about science, climate, and weather, but simply uses this as a tool to disrupt and destroy the foundational concepts of one nation, under God, that have led to the greatest quality of life and liberty the world has ever known?”
Hannity wrote the book’s foreword, arguing efforts to address the climate emergency are “a smokescreen to push another agenda.”
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