Image at top via Flickr user Fintrvlr using a Creative Commons License.
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, environmental justice advocates feel the time is long overdue for the media to start connecting the dots between climate change and social justice.
There may be no clearer example of this intersection than in the impact and aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Between the devastating effects of the storm itself, and the decade-long effort to restore destroyed communities afterwards, the region's African-American population has demonstrably suffered the most.
In media coverage of the storm's upcoming 10-year anniversary, a few reports have discussed how the hurricane's strength was exacerbated by climate change -- warmer seas lead to stronger storms, and global warming-driven sea level rise causes catastrophic storm surges. Others have looked at how African-American communities have suffered -- and continue to suffer -- disproportionately compared to white communities from the storm's impacts.
But rarely do media discuss the relation between the two.
There have been a handful of excellent exceptions, including a Guardian op-ed from Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of Uprose, an organization that fights for environmental justice. Yeampierre wrote:
Those of us from low-income communities of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. US cities and towns that are predominantly made up of people of color are also home to a disproportionate share of the environmental burdens that are fueling the climate crisis and shortening our lives. One has only to recall the gut-wrenching images of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath to confirm this.
Yeampierre explained to Media Matters that "understanding the intersectionality" between climate change and social justice is "really important. We can't pick, we can't choose. It all matters to us, all of these issues." When asked why media should report on the connection between the two issues, Yeampierre said: "On top of generations and generations of struggling to have their human rights respected, now [communities of color] are dealing with climate change on top of that. That's the story for front-line communities all over the country."
Yeampierre also noted the problem with dealing with these issues in "silos," adding that climate change "is demanding something different":
Our communities have always known that there is an intersection, that's not new. We've always known that. ... The way that people usually solve problems is in silos, so because they think and provide resources and attention in a way that's siloed, it slows down the ability to really address our communities' needs in a holistic way. This is a problem that goes across issues.
Climate change is demanding something different. Climate change is demanding that we build just relationships. Climate change is demanding that, because we know that by 2040 people of color will be the majority in this country, at a time when climate change will have fully taken a hold, it's important that we are developing intergenerational indigenous relationships on the ground right now.
Yeampierre is not alone in her views. Tracey Ross, associate director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, told Media Matters that she hopes the Katrina anniversary will bring renewed media attention to "just how vulnerable low-income communities and communities of color are to extreme weather events":
Following Hurricane Katrina, news reports revealed to the country just how vulnerable low-income communities and communities of color are to extreme weather events. While days of hurt turned into years of struggle for families, news coverage largely shifted its focus away from the impacts of the tragedy. Today, low-income communities in New Orleans remain in disrepair, and the intersections of climate change, racial inequality, and poverty are more pressing for the country than ever before. We hope that the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina brings renewed attention to these important issues.
Vien Truong, the national director of Green for All -- which works to "make sure people of color have a place and a voice in the climate movement" -- told Media Matters that the real story of Katrina's devastation on low-income communities "has been under-reported":
Hurricane Katrina showed the country the devastating impacts extreme weather events have on us all -- and especially to low income communities. The impact of the storm -- the loss of homes, lives, and livelihood -- revealed the importance for all communities to engage in the conversation around environmental equity. This is a story, however, that has been under-reported.
She added: "As we remember the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, let us also reaffirm the importance of environmental justice."
Image at the top from Gulf South Rising, a movement created to highlight the impact of the global climate crisis on the Gulf South region.
It seems like a different study attacking the EPA's Clean Power Plan pops up in the media every other week. But many of these studies are riddled with flaws and funded by fossil fuel interests, so media should think twice before repeating their claims.
A new briefing from the Energy & Policy Institute (EPI) detailed the fossil fuel funding and methodological flaws of six reports attacking the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) carbon pollution standards. One of them, a study from NERA Economic Consulting, has been thoroughly debunked by multiple experts, who say the report is completely out of date, uses faulty efficiency cost assumptions and outdated renewable energy cost assumptions, and does not acknowledge any of the EPA plan's economic benefits, rendering its findings irrelevant.
The deeply flawed NERA study also forms the basis for a new analysis from the Institute for Energy Research (IER) (not included in EPI's briefing), which concluded that the Clean Power Plan will result in 14,000 premature deaths. IER's analysis led to horrific (and completely false) headlines like this, from the conservative news site Daily Caller:
To arrive at their conclusion, IER used NERA's GDP loss estimate and converted it directly into increased premature deaths. However, using that method doesn't make much sense, as NERA failed to acknowledge the Clean Power Plan's projected life-saving health and economic benefits. Thankfully, IER's conclusion has so far been confined to the conservative media fringe.
However, numerous groups have touted the public health benefits of pollution standards, and the EPA estimates that its plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants would prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. So how does IER's analysis arrive at such a drastically different conclusion? A look at the chain of fossil fuel-funding behind IER and the NERA study may provide the answer.
The cover page of the NERA study states that it was prepared for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the Association of American Railroads, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, Consumer Energy Alliance, and the National Mining Association. Combined, they're a who's who of fossil fuel industry trade groups and advocacy organizations. EPI put together a graphic showing many of the coal and oil companies that comprise these groups:
As for IER, the group lists former Koch lobbyist Thomas Pyle as its president and is partly funded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers and their political network. IER has also received funding from Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Koch-backed DonorsTrust and Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.
The other reports detailed in EPI's briefing include one from the National Black Chamber of Commerce, another from the Beacon Hill Institute, two from Energy Ventures Analysis (one of which was funded directly by coal giant Peabody Energy), and one from IER. These reports are often publicized through coordinated media campaigns and newspaper op-eds across the country.
EPI's report illustrates how multiple industry-funded studies work in concert to simulate a chorus of diverse voices attacking the EPA's flagship climate plan. But really, it's just the industry protecting its bottom line.
Image at top via Flickr user Fintrvlr using a Creative Commons License.
A 2014 report from National Economic Research Associates (NERA), which claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan will greatly increase electricity bills, has been roundly criticized as premature and reliant on faulty assumptions. But even after the EPA released the final version of their plan -- which has significant differences from the draft plan -- media have continued to uncritically cite NERA's report. Expert analysts explained to Media Matters the NERA report's many flaws, and why media should avoid broadcasting NERA's claims if they want to report the facts.
In coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) newly-proposed standards to lower methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, several major media outlets uncritically quoted oil industry officials who claim that the new rules are unnecessary because the industry is already effectively limiting its emissions. By contrast, other outlets mentioned a new study by the Environmental Defense Fund showing that methane emissions are far higher than official estimates, part of a body of evidence that undercuts the industry's claim.
The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and Fox Business are aggressively criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for accidentally spilling toxic wastewater into Colorado's Animas River while attempting to treat pollution from an abandoned gold mine. But over the years, these same conservative media outlets have almost completely ignored pollution that was caused by the fossil fuel industry, devoting more attention to the EPA spill than to seven recent cases of industry-caused pollution combined.
Investor's Business Daily published an Aug. 12 op-ed with the headline: "EPA Regulations Are 'Jim Crow' Laws Of 21st Century." The op-ed, written by a senior fellow at the oil-funded Heartland Institute, attacked the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan -- which places the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants -- as harmful to minorities. To make his case, the author cited a National Black Chamber of Commerce study that relies on several thoroughly debunked studies and climate science denial. The op-ed also cited conservative author Deneen Borelli, who called the EPA climate plan "the green movement's new Jim Crow."
From the op-ed:
EPA Regulations Are 'Jim Crow' Laws Of 21st Century
In announcing EPA's new so-called "Clean Power Plan" regulations, President Obama repeatedly told us that by restricting power plant emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the plan would "cut carbon pollution." But that repeated phrase "carbon pollution" reveals fundamental, disqualifying ignorance.
As a new report from the National Black Chamber of Commerce documents, EPA's new regulatory requirements will result in estimated job losses reaching 7 million for blacks and 12 million for Hispanics, with the poverty rate increasing by more than 23% for blacks and 26% for Hispanics.
That's because the rules will ultimately more than double the cost of natural gas and electricity, adding over $1 trillion to family and business energy bills.
"A lot of people on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum are going to die," says Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V. African-American author Dineen Borelli calls EPA's overregulation "the green movement's new Jim Crow." National Black Chamber of Commerce President Harry Alford calls the EPA's regulatory overkill "a slap in the face to poor and minority families."
By now you're probably familiar with Koch-funded science denial. Now meet Coke-funded science denial.
Fox News host Shepard Smith compared the news that Coca-Cola is funding scientists who dispute the link between caloric intake and obesity to the fossil fuel industry money behind climate change deniers, in stark contrast with how right-wing media figures reacted.
The New York Times recently revealed how Coca-Cola is behind a new organization called the Global Energy Balance Network that is promoting exercise as "a solution to chronic disease and obesity while remaining largely silent on the role of food and nutrition." The group's vice president, Steven N. Blair, said in a video announcing the organization: "Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is ... blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks, and so on [for obesity]. And there's really virtually no compelling evidence that that in fact is the cause."
But the Times reported that health experts "say this message is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes." The experts "contend that the company is using its new group to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite scientific evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume." Global nutrition professor Barry M. Popkin told the Times that "Coke's support of prominent health researchers was reminiscent of tactics used by the tobacco industry, which enlisted experts to become 'merchants of doubt' about the health hazards of smoking."
On the August 10 edition of Fox News' Shepard Smith Reporting, anchor Smith offered a similar analogy -- and extended it even further to climate change denial. Smith said the story "reminds you of exactly what the tobacco industry did back in day, and more recently, it also reminds you of what the climate deniers -- the climate change deniers -- are doing as well":
However, Fox contributor Lisa "Kennedy" Montgomery countered with rhetoric more in line with that of Fox News, claiming that "there's so much adulterated science out there that people are no longer going to trust the scientific method at all," and that it's "hard to figure out ... what is emotional rhetoric and what is fact" on climate change. (The facts undoubtedly show that climate change is real and that humans are causing it.)
And Rush Limbaugh came to the complete opposite conclusion as Smith. On the August 10 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh ranted that the Times' Coca-Cola story "undermine[s] the whole notion of a scientific consensus," because it "can be bought and paid for":
LIMBAUGH: If Coca-Cola can find scientists and get an opinion that they want from by paying them, do you think the same thing could happen to climate change scientists and a "consensus" of them? Do you think somebody could come along and offer those scientists enough money? I mean, the left, if anybody's paying attention, is writing their own obituary in this stuff.
They're undermining the whole notion of a scientific consensus. Now it can be bought and paid for by Coca-Cola.
The tobacco industry has used deceitful tactics for decades to deny and cast doubt upon the scientifically proven health impacts of cigarettes, and the fossil fuel industry has employed the same tactics on climate change. Now, the Coke-funded scientists agreeing with the industry's bottom line have been roundly criticized by independent scientists and health experts. Is Coke the new flavor of industry-funded science denial?
When it comes to covering climate change, it's not just The Wall Street Journal's editorial section that is problematic in the Rupert Murdoch era -- a new study shows the paper's newsroom has misinformed readers on the issue, too.
A new joint study from researchers at Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oslo appearing in the journal Public Understanding of Science (PUS) found major differences between the climate change reporting of The Wall Street Journal and other major U.S. newspapers. The July 30 study, titled "Polarizing news? Representations of threat and efficacy in leading US newspapers' coverage of climate change," examined non-opinion-based climate change articles in The Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post from 2006 to 2011.
The study found some disturbing trends in The Wall Street Journal's news reporting on climate change, including that the Journal was less likely than the other newspapers to discuss the threats or impacts of climate change and more likely to frame climate action as ineffective or even harmful. The authors of the study concluded that, given the Journal's conservative readership, the negative nature of its climate reporting "could exacerbate ideological polarization on climate change."
Fox News Channel founder Rupert Murdoch purchased The Journal in 2007, so this flawed reporting largely happened on his watch.
Here's how The Journal differed from other major newspapers in its climate reporting:
The Journal was far less likely than the other newspapers to mention at least one impact of climate change on the environment, public health, national security, or the economy. The Journal only mentioned climate change impacts in 21.6 percent of its climate stories, far less frequently than The New York Times (40.3 percent), Washington Post (48.8 percent) and USA Today (58.2 percent). In particular, The Journal was far and away the least likely newspaper to mention the impacts of climate change on the environment and public health.
The Journal was also least likely to cover climate change as a threat -- particularly as a present-day threat. The study found that The Journal discussed present-day threats from climate change in only 12.7 percent of its articles, whereas The Times, Washington Post, and USA Today discussed climate threats in 28.3, 39.5, and 40.3 percent of their climate coverage, respectively. Recent Pew polling shows that Americans consider climate change less of a threat than people in many other countries do, a trend that may be exacerbated by The Journal's coverage.
The Journal was by far the most likely newspaper to discuss climate change actions, particularly government actions. The Journal mentioned at least one action that could be taken to address climate change in 93.3 percent of its coverage, and mentioned government actions in 81.3 percent of its stories. By contrast, the other newspapers discussed climate actions in 82.1-83.6 percent of their climate coverage, including government action in 60.9-66.4 percent of their climate stories.
But that's not actually a good thing, because The Journal tended to frame those actions as difficult or ineffective. The study found that The Journal included "positive efficacy" -- framing climate actions as manageable or effective -- in just 20.1 percent of its climate coverage. It included "negative efficacy" -- framing climate actions as unsuccessful or costly -- in 33.6 percent of its climate stories.
The New York Times was the only other newspaper to frame climate actions negatively more often than positively. The Times included "positive efficacy" in 16.8 percent of its climate coverage, and "negative efficacy" in 23.9 percent.
Finally, The Journal was the most likely newspaper to use "conflict" framing -- presenting the issue as "a conflict or power struggle between politicians or stakeholder groups (e.g. Democrats and Republicans battling over legislation, international disputes over climate policy, climate change as an election issue)." It did so in 53 percent of its climate coverage.
Right-wing media have reacted to the unveiling of the final version of President Obama's historic Clean Power Plan with claims that it will hurt America, denials that it will benefit public health, and personal attacks on the president and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. Here's a sampling of the conservative media's most unhinged, over-the-top reactions.
Rightwing media are echoing claims by the fossil fuel industry that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, President Obama's landmark climate change policy, will dramatically increase electricity bills. In reality, while the Clean Power Plan may slightly increase Americans' electric bills in the short term, multiple independent analyses support the EPA's claim that the plan will result in significantly lower electric bills once it is fully implemented.