Fossil fuel advocates are criticizing Pope Francis' recent climate encyclical, claiming his call to phase out fossil fuels will harm the poor by preventing access to electricity and keeping them in "energy poverty." But fossil fuels are not economically viable in most of the communities that suffer from a lack of electricity, and on-the-ground experts have explained that distributed renewable energy sources are often a more effective way to lift the world's impoverished -- who will be most affected by the adverse impacts of climate change -- out of energy poverty.
Toxic air pollution from power plants has been linked to serious health problems including cancer, heart attacks, and premature death, and mercury in particular is a potent neurotoxin that is especially dangerous for young children and pregnant women. But that hasn't stopped conservative media from joyfully celebrating a U.S. Supreme Court decision that jeopardizes the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) plan to rein in this harmful pollution.
Like Americans for Prosperity, the Beacon Hill Institute, and the State Policy Network before it, the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) is the latest oil industry front group to run a deceptive op-ed campaign against the EPA's climate change plan, with NBCC president Harry C. Alford alleging in newspapers across the country that the Clean Power Plan will impose "economic hardship" on blacks and Hispanics. None of these newspapers disclosed that the NBCC has received $1 million from the ExxonMobil Foundation, and the op-eds themselves rely on climate science denial and thoroughly debunked industry-linked studies in an attempt to dismiss the financial and health benefits the Clean Power Plan will provide to black and Hispanic communities.
Conservative media have long alleged that progressives are waging a "war on Christianity" in the United States. Now many of these same media figures are waging their own war on the man who leads the world's largest Christian denomination, the Catholic Church's Pope Francis, for addressing the urgent issue of climate change.
Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change reveals his belief that there is a moral obligation to act swiftly on climate change, which disproportionately harms the world's poor. But conservative media are relentlessly attacking the pope over the encyclical, calling it "insipid" and "blasphemous," and fearmongering that the Catholic leader is a "Marxist" pushing for "a new world order," among other things.
Bloomberg has published several columns by contributor Robert Bryce that either attack renewable energy or promote oil without disclosing that he is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Center for Energy Policy and the Environment, which has long received significant funding from ExxonMobil.
The Wall Street Journal's opinion page has been serving as a mouthpiece for the fossil fuel industry's attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which will set limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Nearly every WSJ op-ed about the proposed rule since it was released on June 2, 2014 has been written by people with ties to the energy industry -- and every single one has attacked it.
Many major media outlets reported that a new Environmental Protection Agency study found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking") has had "widespread" impacts on Americans' drinking water, but did not mention the EPA's explanation for why the study doesn't necessarily indicate "a rarity of effects on drinking water resources." The EPA study identified several "limiting factors," including insufficient data, the lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, which it said "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty."
UPDATE (6/5/15): Following the publication of this post, The Washington Times changed its headline from "EPA: Fracking doesn't harm drinking water" to "EPA finds fracking poses no direct threat to drinking water." However, the New York Post published an article on June 5 adopting The Washington Times' original language, headlined, "Fracking doesn't harm drinking water: EPA."
Within hours of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releasing a study on hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," Newsweek and The Washington Times published online articles with headlines that falsely claimed the EPA determined fracking does not pollute drinking water. However, while the EPA said it found no evidence that fracking has led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States," the study also identified "specific instances" where fracking "led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells."
In its headline, Newsweek asserted: "Fracking Doesn't Pollute Drinking Water, EPA Says." The Washington Times' similar headline, "EPA: Fracking doesn't harm drinking water," was also adopted by The Drudge Report, a highly influential conservative news aggregator.
But the EPA study said none of those things. Rather, the EPA concluded (emphasis added):
From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources. These mechanisms include water withdrawals in times of, or in areas with, low water availability; spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water; fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources; below ground migration of liquids and gases; and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.
We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.
A more accurate headline about the EPA's study would have resembled that of U.S. News & World Report, which stated: "EPA: Fracking Tainted Drinking Water, but Problems Not Widespread."
Indeed, the EPA's determination that fracking has contaminated some drinking water wells was even included within the body of The Washington Times article. But a headline often shapes the way the rest of the article is perceived, and even reading the article may not be enough to correct for the headline's misinformation -- that is, if the reader gets past the headline, which most Americans do not.
In addition to mischaracterizing the EPA study, Newsweek and The Washington Times also excluded EPA's explanation of why its findings don't necessarily indicate "a rarity of effects on drinking water resources." The agency identified several "limiting factors" in its analysis, including insufficient data, the lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, stating that these limitations "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty." As the Environmental Defense Fund stated in a press release about the EPA study, "Better and more accessible data on activities surrounding hydraulic fracturing operations is needed."
"The floods in Texas, the strengthening storms ... these things are a result of human activity making things worse."
On CNN, Bill Nye provided this necessary climate change context to the devastating floods, which killed dozens last week in Oklahoma and Texas, where new monthly rain records were set. But this time, it isn't just "the Science Guy" who is connecting the dots. While past media coverage has largely failed to explain the role of climate change in extreme weather events like wildfires, snowstorms and droughts, Nye's CNN appearance was just one of many examples of major media outlets covering the recent floods in a science-based global warming context, a promising sign that the press is beginning to do more to address the relationship between climate change and extreme weather.
In recent days, the role of human-induced climate change in devastating weather events like the floods was also a featured story on both NBC's Nightly News and the CBS Evening News. On NBC, anchor Lester Holt introduced a report about Texas's "weather whiplash" in which national correspondent Miguel Almaguer explained that "[s]cientists say climate change is exacerbating the wild swings."
On CBS, correspondent Kris Van Cleave noted that a new study by researchers at Rutgers University found that "climate change in the Arctic is slowing the jet stream over the Northern Hemisphere," resulting in prolonged weather conditions that lead to more heavy rain, heat waves, droughts, and snowstorms. As Rutgers climatologist David Robinson explained during the CBS segment: "Everything slows, and with it, weather patterns persist over areas for longer periods of time. That could make a wet situation dangerously wet ... [and] a heat wave dangerously long."
CNN's coverage of the floods has also stood out. CNN's Carol Costello began her May 29 interview with Nye by affirming that "97 percent of scientists say climate change is real and much of it is driven by man," and what followed was a helpful discussion about how the floods demonstrate the need for media to "talk about" climate change.