Democrat, Greens Fume Over NBC's Global Warming "˜Debate'

Senators had angled for stronger coverage of climate change, but NBC's planned climate-science tussle is ruffling feathers in the environmental movement.

The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009. In cooperation with AEP, the French company Alstom unveiled the world's largest carbon capture facility at a coal plant, so called 'clean coal,' which will store around 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide a year 2,1 kilometers (7,200 feet) underground. (National Journal)

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Senate Democrats recently joined a long-standing liberal coalition of media critics to demand that major news networks up their coverage of climate change.

This is not what they had in mind.

Sunday's episode of NBC's Meet the Press will feature a "climate-change debate" between celebrity science educator Bill Nye ("the science guy") and Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

For the political coalition — and, indeed, for the overwhelming majority of climate scientists — the connection between human greenhouse-gas emissions and climate change is settled science, and they were hoping the networks would cover the effects of that change. But Blackburn has disputed the scientific consensus on human-induced global warming, and the segment's critics fear the episode will feature a he-said/she-said vibe that's at odds with the science.

Greens may take solace in the other major networks — ABC and CBS will both devote portions of their Sunday news shows to climate change and recent extreme weather like California's drought and the East Coast snowstorms — but they're ripping NBC's segment before it even airs.

"Seriously? Hosting a debate on the science of climate change? Shame on [Meet the Press]," tweeted Becky Bond, political director of Credo Mobile.

"Next week's debate: Do cigarettes cause cancer? An oncologist debates a tobacco executive!," writes environmentalist Miles Grant on his blog. Grant does communications work for the National Wildlife Federation but stresses that items on his personal blog represent him alone.

Both Grant and Bond, among others, highlighted a Friday piece about the NBC segment by Salon's Alex Pareene. His subheadline: "If it's Sunday, it's the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community being treated as a partisan argument."

"Unfortunately, Meet the Press cannot deal with any issue without framing it as a binary debate between two opposing partisans, with the assumption being that 'the truth' lies directly between their views," Pareene writes.

NBC News did not respond to an email about the segment.

A month ago, nine Senate Democrats wrote to NBC, ABC, Fox, and CBS calling for more climate coverage on the Sunday shows. They flagged a study by the watchdog group Media Matters for America, which found that the Sunday programs last year devoted just 27 minutes to climate change.

Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, spearheaded the letter with Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"While its good to see Meet the Press waking up to the fact that climate change is an issue — the debate is over," Schatz told National Journal in a statement Friday evening when asked for comment on the Meet the Press segment.

"Climate change is a public health threat. Giving scientists and climate change deniers equal time is like having tobacco executives debate doctors on the safety of cigarettes," Schatz said. "It's time to move on from treating climate change as a debate and talk about what we can do about it for people's lives and businesses."