The Wall Street Journal editorial board defended the corporate bill mill American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in an editorial whitewashing the organization's climate change denial and vindicating their one-sided attacks on renewable energy.
This week, several large technology companies have left ALEC, which connects corporations, including many fossil fuel giants, to legislators. Just weeks after Microsoft ended its ties to the corporate bill mill for its attacks on renewable energy policies, Google chairman Eric Schmidt announced in an interview with NPR's Diane Rehm that his company would not renew its membership with ALEC, stating that ALEC is "literally lying" about climate change and that its policies are "really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place." Facebook, Yelp, and Yahoo quickly followed.
In response to the fallout, The Wall Street Journal defended ALEC and demonized Google in a September 26 editorial, claiming that "ALEC takes no position on the substance of climate change." This echoes ALEC's recent statement refuting the claims of climate change denial and defending their position on climate and renewable energy policies.
But throughout the years, ALEC has made their denial of the scientific consensus on climate change clear. Their climate change model bill -- one of many bills that the legislative members later push through state legislatures -- declares that "human activity" may lead to "possibly beneficial climatic changes," going on to say that climate change influences "may be beneficial or deleterious." Yet consensus reports have found that the negative impacts of global warming will far outweigh any potential benefits. This falls in line with ALEC's stance on the consensus itself -- at its most recent conference, the organization featured the Heartland Institute's Joseph Bast who claimed that "there is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change." The organization also featured a document called "Top 10 myths about global warming" on its website for years, including as a myth that "human activity is causing the earth to warm," according to Forecast the Facts and the Center for Media Democracy. And in their most recent statement on climate change, ALEC continued to undermine the consensus, writing: "Climate change is a historical phenomenon and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions."
None of this was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal editorial.
The Wall Street Journal went on to defend ALEC's nationwide attacks on renewable energy, another driving force behind Google and others dropping their membership. The Journal derided Google's many investments in wind and solar projects for "kill[ing] birds," an argument that falls flat. Statistics show that renewable energy's impact on bird deaths is miniscule compared to that from buildings, urban light, cell phone towers, and even cats -- and is far outstripped by bird deaths from other energy sources, as seen in this chart by U.S. News and World Report:
Conservative media figures have been attacking climate change policies by claiming that they would harm the poor. But their feigned concern contradicts previous attacks on aid for the poor -- and the climate policies in question would actually help developing countries the most.
On September 23, President Obama spoke at the United Nations' climate summit to call for strong international action on climate change. His remarks were immediately met with mockery and criticism in conservative media, with Rush Limbaugh and Fox News' Greg Gutfeld claiming that climate action would hurt the poor. On Fox News' The Five, co-host Gutfeld complained that climate action is a way for "rich people" to "deny" resources to others, going on to say "there are no poor people in this fight." And on the September 23 edition of Limbaugh's show, Rush ranted that climate change regulations are going to keep "[t]hird world countries" poor:
LIMBAUGH: Do you know who these climate change regulations, this dream of limiting carbon emissions, do you know who it'll really affect? Third world countries are going to be kept poor. They are not going to be allowed economic growth.
So all of these things Obama and his buddies are dreaming about would keep poor people poor, and never allow them to make their way up.
But Limbaugh and Gutfeld -- and many conservative media pundits -- have a history of attacking policies that would help the developing countries for which they claimed to express concern. Limbaugh previously denounced United States' international aid efforts, lamenting that the U.S. is "practically the only one loaning any money" despite the fact that U.S. international aid programs at the time were less generous than some from other countries. Limbaugh also likened a United Nations Development Programme proposal to finance global problems to "rap[ing] the U.S. for $7 trillion."
Meanwhile, Gutfeld has mocked the serious security threat that small islands face from rising sea levels due to climate change, despite that many experts have determined that small islands "are expected to lose significant proportions of their land," and that many will become uninhabitable if global warming continues unabated. One such small island resident, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands, delivered a moving poem during the U.N. climate summit about how climate change could impact her child, and has impacted many nations already:
The Wall Street Journal sandwiched their coverage of the largest climate change march in history between commentaries that cast doubt on global warming and the need for action, fulfilling the newspaper's trend of pushing harmful rhetoric against international climate negotiations.
On September 21, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the People's Climate March to raise awareness about the need for climate action. The New York City march, which was "by far the largest climate-related protest in history," received front page attention nationally and around the globe:
But the Wall Street Journal, headquartered a few blocks from the march, did not include their story on the action on the front page -- it was buried in the local section. Moreover, the paper criticized the march and cast doubt on the state of climate science, providing ammunition for critics to argue against climate action in the days ahead.
The day before the march, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed headlined "Climate Science Is Not Settled," which cast doubt on the influence of human activities on global warming and argued for more debate about climate science's "uncertainties." Steven Koonin, former chief scientist of BP, claimed that the "climate has always changed and always will" to downplay the influence of human activities on climate change -- a favorite Fox talking point that is as inherently misleading as asserting that just because people have died naturally they can't be murdered.
The op-ed's flaws were broken down in a lengthy post from Climate Nexus. They explained that Koonin's extensive discussion about uncertainty ignores what those uncertainties actually entail, writing that the range of uncertainties will result in outcomes "from bad to worse." The Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli expanded that even the best case scenario will result in severe impacts, including "widespread coral mortality, hundreds of millions of people at risk of increased water stress, more damage from droughts and heat waves and floods, up to 30% of global species at risk for extinction, and declined global food production."
Moreover, Koonin's assertion that the "impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself" is false, according to Nuccitelli, as scientists have determined that human impacts have been the dominant cause of global warming since 1950.
Many experts say that the "uncertainties" around climate science are not an excuse for inaction, but rather should be looked at with a risk management perspective -- an apt description, as many top insurance companies are incorporating climate change into their long-term strategies and calling for climate action. Koonin himself admitted this, but only after discussing uncertainties for the bulk of the piece. According to a study from the University of Oxford, focusing on what uncertainties remain on the basic premise of manmade global warming -- as Koonin did -- can denigrate public understanding of climate science and the need for action.
Climate Nexus and Nuccitelli both noted that Koonin's op-ed was (for the most part) technically accurate, but that his framing would lead readers to reach inaccurate conclusions. They were right: the op-ed was picked up the next day by conservative news site Newsmax.com, which asserted that Koonin's op-ed "strikes a blow against climate change activists." And the National Review Online cited it as a "pathbreaking piece" in an article claiming that the scientific consensus on climate change is "crumbling" and equating acceptance of climate change to "hysteria."
Fox News host Sean Hannity promoted a new documentary on his show, suggesting it backs up his own views on energy. However, the film, Pump, calls for an end to America's "oil addiction," and makes several points that Hannity often fails to account for when pushing for more drilling.
On the September 18 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity promoted the new documentary Pump to call more drilling in the United States. He interviewed the film's producer Yossie Hollander and John Hofmeister -- former C.E.O. of Shell and current director of several oil and gas companies -- to discuss alternatives to oil that can be produced domestically. Hannity implied throughout the segment that their goals were in line, concluding by asking: "How many problems would we solve by doing what you guys are advocating? And what I'm advocating?"
But the message that Pump is trying to communicate is far different from Hannity's strong support for oil, according to reviews and clips from the film itself. Here are three things Hannity could learn if he watched the documentary Pump:
Hannity frequently touts domestic oil extraction and oil pipelines as ways to achieve energy independence. During the show, he asked his guests: "If we were to use our energy resources here at home, oil, gas, coal, all of these things, how long can we be independent?" to which Hofmeister responded, "We'd see ourselves through the century."
Yet on the film's website, a somewhat contradictory quote from Hofmeister is splayed on the homepage:
Hannity showed part of the trailer on his show, but cut it off right before the narrator stated: "Until we have a moment of truth with ourselves, this country is destined to not only be addicted to oil but addicted to all the terrible trappings that come with oil."
A flagship report found that acting on climate change and improving the economy go hand in hand, which was reported by business media outlets across the globe. But three prominent outliers left their audiences in the dark: CNBC, Fox Business, and The Wall Street Journal.*
On September 16, many major business media outlets from Fortune Magazine to BusinessWeek reported on a recent analysis finding that the next 15 years are essential for acting on climate change, and that it is possible to do so while simultaneously growing the global economy. The report, titled "The New Climate Economy" and carried out by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, refutes the "false dilemma" between economic growth and climate change mitigation -- an important finding for businesses that want to thrive in the decades ahead. From Reuters:
Investments to help fight climate change can also spur economic growth, rather than slow it as widely feared, but time is running short for a trillion-dollar shift to transform cities and energy use, an international report said on Tuesday.
Yet the report was ignored by three prominent business media outlets -- a disservice to their business audiences who deserve to know the economic risks of global warming. The outlets that ignored the findings of the "New Climate Economy" report may not come as a surprise: CNBC, Fox Business, and The Wall Street Journal all have a sordid history with reporting on climate change.
When the "Risky Business" report was released earlier this year -- another report detailing the economic costs of climate change inaction -- CNBC was caught soliciting a writer to talk about "global warming being a hoax" to rebut the report's findings. The network's on-air coverage of "Risky Business" featured Squawk Box co-host Joe Kernen criticizing the acceptance of global warming as "Orwellian groupthink." Media Matters analyses found that CNBC misled their audience on global warming in the majority of their reporting on the topic in 2013.
Fox Business also regularly offers demonstrably false reporting on global warming. Co-hosts have often claimed that global warming is over, or even that we are in a period of global cooling. When the Risky Business report was released, Fox Business mocked its findings of heat-related mortalities and dismissed the report entirely as using "scare tactics."
Similarly, Wall Street Journal dismissed the findings of the Risky Business report, with its editorial board calling one of its authors' suggestions for a carbon tax as economically harmful as the 2008 financial crisis. The Journal has downplayed and dismissed the impacts of climate change and other environmental threats for decades, and gives a frequent platform to "skeptics" that urge inaction on climate change and dismiss the basic science behind the consensus.
The New Climate Economy was heralded by political leaders around the world advocating a transformation in the global economy. By ignoring it, these outlets are showing that their priorities are at odds with businesses that want to prosper in a changing climate.
*Based on a search of internal video archives from September 15 to 12 p.m. September 17 for "climate" for Fox Business and CNBC, and a Factiva search for "climate" for Wall Street Journal.
Fox News lambasted local Texas schools' implementation of Meatless Mondays as anti-scientific "propaganda" that won't improve the environment. But several scientific studies show that reducing meat from the average diet brings considerable environmental benefits.
Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples has been railing against the implementation of "Meatless Mondays" in several Texas elementary schools as "agenda-driven propaganda," and he continued his campaign on Fox News' September 15 edition of Fox & Friends. The lunch programs, taking place in several Texas and California schools, will serve vegetarian meals on Mondays, giving students the option of bringing their own non-vegetarian lunch as well. Staples berated the program as an "agenda-driven campaign" that's "really not sound science," and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck agreed, wondering, "Why should our children be subjected to such propaganda?" And when co-host Steve Doocy asked Staples if Meatless Mondays are "brainwashing," Staples answered: "Clearly, it is," suggesting that it will not be "better for the environment":
Far from "brainwashing," the idea that eating less meat is better for the environment is based on sound science. Many studies show that meat production places a substantial burden on land and water use and contributes substantially to the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. A United Nations agency determined in 2013 that the agricultural sector is the third greatest contributor to global warming, largely due to livestock production. A 2014 study of over 50,000 United Kingdom residents found that switching to a meatless diet can cut an individual's diet-related carbon footprint in half. A study published in Climatic Change also found that greenhouse gas emissions for meat-eaters are substantially higher, meaning that "if agricultural emissions are not addressed ... meeting the climate target [is] essentially impossible" according to science news website Phys.org. Moreover, according a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a non-vegetarian diet uses "2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides," as a vegetarian diet, concluding that "[f]rom an environmental perspective, what a person chooses to eat makes a difference."
Reuters and CNBC uncritically promoted a new report claiming that government regulations cost the economy over $2 trillion each year, ignoring any benefits of regulation. But the study uses the same flawed methodology as an earlier report by the same authors that was so widely panned that even the organization that commissioned it distanced itself from it.
When BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010, Fox News pundits rushed to the corporation's defense with excuses ranging from pitiful to conspiratorial. But now the ruling is out, exposing the falsities of Fox's defense: BP was to blame for the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Fox News pundits pulled out all the stops to deflect blame from BP when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers and causing devastating environmental impacts. They accused environmentalists and the government for "forcing" the company to drill further from shore and touted conspiracy theories. The network berated the Obama administration for "villainiz[ing]" and "demonizing" the corporation and compared Congressional hearings on the disaster to "Soviet-style" trials and "Inca ritual slaughter":
A federal court, however, ruled on September 4 that BP was largely responsible for the disaster -- not the scapegoats that Fox News tried to pin the blame on.
Watch the difference between Fox News' spurious defense and the facts:
A federal judge assigned 67 percent of the blame to BP, concluding that the corporation acted in "gross negligence" and "willful misconduct." The Wall Street Journal reported on several instances where the court found that BP forewent safety measures in the name of profit:
Struggling with a dangerously unstable oil well in April 2010, BP chose to drill an additional 100 feet into a fragile rock formation thousands of feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico.
That decision set in motion a series of failures that led to the deadly Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
"BP's decision to drill the final 100 feet was the initial link in a chain that concluded with the blowout, explosion and oil spill," Judge Carl Barbier wrote. The decision "was dangerous," he added, and "motivated by profit."
Video created by Coleman Lowndes.
Several media outlets ignored the opening of the country's largest advanced biofuel plant -- which produces a fuel with a far lesser climate impact than gasoline that can help reduce our dependence on oil -- even though they previously claimed that such a biofuel "does not exist."
The New York Times brazenly claimed in 2012 that cellulosic ethanol, a type of fuel made from agricultural waste such as corn stalks, "does not exist" -- and many other news outlets also adopted this misleading framing. Industry journal Platts published a blog titled: "Puzzling over the US mandate for a fuel that doesn't exist yet," later clarifying that the fuel simply did not exist "in the US at commercial volumes" at the time. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that "Congress subsidized a product that didn't exist" and "is punishing oil companies for not buying the product that doesn't exist." FoxNews.com called the fuel "merely hypothetical." National Review Online contributing editor Deroy Murdock stated "EPA might as well mandate that Exxon hire leprechauns."
However, since a new facility started producing cellulosic ethanol on a commercial-scale on September 3, these outlets have remained silent.* Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels opened the biggest cellulosic ethanol facility in the country for production, which will "convert 570 million pounds of crop waste into 25 million gallons of ethanol each year." The Iowa facility is being heralded as "a major step in the shift from the fossil fuel age to a biofuels revolution."
Cellulosic ethanol and other "advanced biofuels" are included in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires oil companies to mix fuel made renewable sources into their product. This standard was part of a bill that passed during the Bush Administration with bipartisan support -- a fact that several right-wing news outlets failed to mention in their coverage.
A lifecycle analysis from Argonne National Laboratory estimated that the type of fuel produced at the new Poet-DSM facility emits up to 96 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline. The Poet-DSM facility is the first of three cellulosic ethanol plants scheduled to start production this year, which will together produce an estimated 17 million gallons per year. Jeremy Martin, an expert from the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the plant opening "an important milestone on the road to clean transportation." Martin added: "With efficient vehicles and clean fuels like cellulosic biofuel we can cut our projected oil use in half in 20 years."
*Based on a search of publicly available content from September 1 - September 7.
Photo at top of cellulosic biofuel crop from Flickr user KBS with a Creative Commons license.
A group of right-wing news sites coordinated across the U.S. are baselessly pushing a conspiracy theory that the Environmental Protection Agency has been hiding new maps that reveal an "alarming" power grab. But the maps of U.S. waterways were simply updated from versions created during the Bush administration, and are helping the agency keep drinking water safe more efficiently.
Earlier this year, the EPA proposed clarifying which waterways are under the protection of the Clean Water Act, as companies have been able to pollute "beyond the law" due to legal confusion. Conservative media have been accusing the EPA of attempting "the biggest land grab ever" with this revision, even though the clarification will not add any new waterways compared to the EPA's historical authority -- in fact, it will cover fewer bodies of water than it did under President Ronald Reagan.
In line with this conservative media narrative, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) accused the EPA on August 26 of hiding maps that would allow them to advance the planned revision in order "to control a huge amount of private property across the country." Rep. Smith's claims are being uncritically touted by Watchdog.org, a conservative news website with state bureaus across the nation. Watchdog.org's Colorado bureau stated that the maps "graphically show the increase reach [sic] of the EPA's regulatory authority," including a map for Colorado they called "particularly alarming." Their North Dakota bureau published an article claiming that a landowner is already experiencing "the federal government attempting to regulate wetlands that aren't always wet." And an article from their Maryland bureau was boldly headlined: "Maps reveal EPA water grab in Maryland," going on to state that "the Maryland map plainly shows how much more authority the rule would give over bodies of water in the state of Maryland."
However, the maps, which were created during the Bush administration and recently revised to reflect new data, are not intended to show the scope of the EPA's jurisdiction, but will provide a scientific tool for the EPA to better understand which water bodies need protection. An EPA spokesperson explained to the Washington Examiner:
Let us be very clear -- these maps have nothing to do with EPA's proposed rule or any other regulatory purpose. They were first created during the Bush administration to identify waters that would be vulnerable as a result of a 2001 Supreme Court case and pending litigation. The maps were subsequently updated to reflect new data and a 2006 Supreme Court decision.
The agency added in a response on their website that the maps "do not show the scope of waters" to be regulated but "show generally the location" of water bodies and "serve as a tool for visualizing how water flows across our nation and in regions of this country," and will ultimately help to "reduce leg work, saving time and money." Furthermore, the width of the waterways was distorted on the maps for ease of use by water resource managers "mak[ing] it seem like water is more prevalent than it really is."
Jon Devine, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), stated on the NRDC's blog that "Only in the House of Representatives and the any-government-is-bad-government press could an expert agency having a map prepared from another expert agency's public data be a reason for hysteria."
Devine's statement was prescient. The Watchdog.org bureaus are a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which advocates "free markets" and "limited government," according to its president. The Franklin Center, which claims to provide 10 percent of daily reporting from state capitals and owns at least 55 news sites around the country, aims to "expose corruption and incompetence in government." Their funding comes almost completely from Donors Trust -- of which the Koch brothers are top contributors -- also known as the "Dark-Money ATM" of the right wing.
Devine stated in an email to Media Matters that the media's concern over the EPA's maps characterize the "bogus" rhetoric of calling the rule unprecedented:
People are using distorted maps to distort what the administration's Clean Water Protection Rule would do, but they can't escape one fact that shows how bogus all of the rhetoric is - if this proposal were finalized, fewer water bodies would be protected by the Clean Water Act than was the case during the Reagan administration. Because this proposal focuses on waters that science shows are important to people's health and well-being, it is critical that a strong rule be finalized as soon as possible.