Denise Robbins

Author ››› Denise Robbins
  • Three New National Geographic Documentaries Detail Climate Change Impacts And Battle Lines

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    While climate change has been largely overlooked as an electoral issue this year, it is receiving the attention it deserves in at least one place: National Geographic. This month, three new National Geographic documentaries have shed light on the serious consequences of climate change and the industry-funded forces standing in the way of finding solutions.

    Environmental advocates expressed concern when News Corporation’s 21st Century Fox bought the National Geographic Society’s magazine last year, given founder Rupert Murdoch’s climate science denial. But National Geographic pledged it would maintain its editorial independence, and soon after, it published a special edition of the magazine focused on climate change.

    Now, National Geographic is making another important contribution to the climate change discussion in two documentaries that aired back-to-back on its television channel on October 30, as well as a new film now playing in IMAX theaters.

    The season two premiere of Years of Living Dangerously, a documentary series co-produced by James Cameron and featuring a range of famous actors, includes a segment about the utility-funded opposition to rooftop solar policies that are critical to fighting climate change. Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong explores the battles in Nevada and Florida against net metering, a policy that allows customers to send excess electricity from their rooftop solar panels to the electric grid in exchange for a credit. In Florida, Strong interviewed a spokesperson for solar advocacy group Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC), who explained how big utility companies financed a front group called “Consumers for Smart Solar” (CSS) that is behind a deceptive anti-solar ballot measure. CSS was successful in garnering enough signatures to put its anti-solar amendment on the ballot, duping voters into thinking they were supporting a pro-solar initiative and thwarting a rival FSC petition that would have actually helped expand rooftop solar. FSC’s Alissa Jean Schafer told Strong, “The whole point” of the CSS initiative was “to confuse people,” adding: “The utility-backed initiative talks about solar choice but doesn’t actually give people any choices.”

    CSS has gotten away with deceiving Florida voters in many of the state’s newspapers, too. Florida newspapers have published at least 14 op-eds by CSS co-chairmen Dick Batchelor and Jim Kallinger without disclosing their financial ties to utilities.

    From Years of Living Dangerously:

    In addition to Strong’s segment on the anti-solar initiative in Florida, season two of Years of Living Dangerously will feature many other “emotional and hard-hitting accounts of the effects of climate change” in the coming weeks, as National Geographic explained in a press release. In an interview with E&E News, David Gelber, creator and executive producer of the series, argued that the general public’s lack of awareness of climate impacts “allows debate moderators to ignore climate change as an issue,” and added that he hopes his series “does something to change” that fact.

    In Before the Flood, a documentary directed by Fisher Stevens and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, DiCaprio interviews Penn State University’s Michael Mann, who explains that he and other climate scientists are up against the fossil fuel industry’s “massive misinformation campaign to confuse the public.” Mann explains: “Websites and news outlets and think tanks, they find people with fairly impressive credentials who are willing to sell those credentials to fossil fuel interests.” Key to this strategy, he explained, is the use of fossil fuel front groups “with lofty sounding names, like Americans for Prosperity or the Heartland Institute.”

    Indeed, Media Matters has documented many occasions where fossil fuel-funded “experts” have misled on climate change in the media, including people affiliated with the groups Mann highlighted. Americans for Prosperity, which coordinated a misleading nationwide op-ed campaign against the Environmental Protection Agency’s landmark climate change policy, “frequently provides a platform for climate contrarian statements,” as the Union of Concerned Scientists has noted. And the Heartland Institute, which is known for its annual climate denial conferences, has sought to undermine important steps forward on climate including the pope’s climate change encyclical and state renewable energy standards.

    Mann concludes: “These people are engaged in an effort to lead us astray in the name of short-term fossil fuel profits so that we end up leaving behind a degraded planet. What can be more immoral than that?”

    The rest of Before the Flood takes viewers around the world to witness the impacts that climate change is already having, from the South Pacific, where sea level rise is an existential threat, to Miami, Florida, where millions of dollars are being spent to keep rising seas at bay.

    The impacts of climate change are also the focus of another National Geographic-produced documentary, called Extreme Weather, which was released in IMAX theaters on October 15. The film aims to demonstrate "how climate change is rapidly affecting our land, oceans and atmosphere to produce natural disasters as ruinous as they are spectacular." Director Sean Casey said in an interview that he wanted to show how climate change is connected to extreme weather with "powerful imagery that really does justice to what's happening." Watch the trailer:

    With broadcast networks frequently ignoring the climate change context of many extreme weather events, this film is both a call to action for concerned citizens and a welcome reminder for media.

  • How Florida Newspapers Helped A Utility Front Group Promote A Deceptive, Anti-Solar Amendment

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    A utility-backed front group deceptively named “Consumers for Smart Solar” has been campaigning for a misleading ballot initiative in Florida that is disguised to look pro-solar but could actually hamper the growth of rooftop solar power and protect utilities’ electricity monopoly. Florida newspapers have published over a dozen op-eds in favor of the amendment by representatives of this group without disclosing their utility industry ties.

  • NY Attorney General: “Dark Money Machine” Is Using Media To Defend Exxon’s Climate Deceit

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called out the “dark money machine” that is attacking him through the media over his investigation into whether ExxonMobil committed fraud by deceiving its shareholders and the public about climate change.

    Schneiderman launched his probe into ExxonMobil in November 2015 after investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times found that Exxon officials knew about the science of climate change decades ago but continued to fund climate denial groups for many years. California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey have since followed suit and also launched investigations of Exxon.

    During an October 19 forum on public integrity, Schneiderman explained that fossil fuel front groups are “directing a disinformation campaign aimed at bolstering Exxon’s case,” Politico reported. Schneiderman specifically called out Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Heritage Foundation, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), all of which are conservative organizations that have been heavily funded by fossil fuel industry interests, including Exxon. He also identified how these and other front groups pursue a media strategy, stating that they seemed to have “pulled a lever on the dark money machine,” and “60 or 70 op-ed columns or editorials” appeared attacking Schneiderman’s investigation. He added: “The challenge is, in most media markets in the country, all people have heard is the other side of the argument because [the conservative groups’] infrastructure is so remarkable.”

    Indeed, several of the nation's most widely read newspapers have provided a platform for fossil fuel front groups to deceptively defend Exxon. As of September 1, The Wall Street Journal had published 21 opinion pieces in less than a year criticizing government entities for investigating Exxon, including an op-ed written by CEI lawyers and a column that falsely claimed AFP has “never received a dime from Exxon.” The Washington Post also published an op-ed by officials from CEI, syndicated columns by George Will and Robert Samuelson, and a letter by the Heritage Foundation’s Hans A. von Spakovsky, all of which falsely claimed that the attorneys generals’ investigations violate Exxon’s First Amendment rights. And contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View also peddled the false claim that the attorneys general are threatening Exxon’s right to free speech. (As Schneiderman noted, “The First Amendment is not designed to protect three-card monte dealers. … You can’t commit fraud and argue, ‘Oh, I’m exercising my First Amendment rights.'”)

    Other conservative media outlets have also provided space for CEI and the Heritage Foundation to defend Exxon and other oil companies that may have purposely misled the public on climate change to protect their profits, including the National Review, Townhall, and The Washington Times (on many occasions).

    Image at the top from Flickr user Azi Paybarah with a Creative Commons license.

  • Evening News Programs, USA Today Ignore Climate Change Context Of Hurricane Matthew

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    The broadcast networks' evening news programs did not address climate change in their coverage of Hurricane Matthew, even when they reported on an event where Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore explained the role that climate change played in worsening the storm's damage. USA Today also ignored the climate context of the storm, while other major newspapers covered it briefly in their print editions, and some published more extensive articles on their websites.

  • The Five Most Ridiculous Things Trump Advisers Have Said About Energy And Climate

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Media Matters has released a media guide to the fossil fuel industry lobbyists, executives, and front groups shaping Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s energy agenda. Here are the five most outrageous statements about climate change and energy that we've seen from Trump's energy advisers so far.

    Stephen Moore: Opposing Fracking “Is Like Being Against A Cure For Cancer”

    During the August 1 edition of C-SPAN2's Book TV, while discussing his new book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy, Trump’s top economic adviser, Stephen Moore, stated that opposing fracking “is like being against a cure for cancer”:

    Harold Hamm Points To Orlando Shooting To Claim “Every Time We Can’t Drill A Well In America, Terrorism Is Being Funded”

    Trump is reportedly considering Harold Hamm, CEO of fracking giant Continental Resources, as energy secretary. During a July 20 speech supporting Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Hamm exploited the June mass shooting at an Orlando, FL, nightclub to baselessly call for more drilling, saying, “Every time we can't drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded”:

    Myron Ebell: "I'd Like To See A Lot More Funding" From Big Coal

    Myron Ebell is reportedly running the Trump campaign’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team. During an interview on the August 5 edition of C-SPAN's Washington Journal, Environmental Defense Fund's Jeremy Symons confronted Ebell on his organization’s funding from coal company Murray Energy, and Ebell responded: “I'd like to see a lot more funding from all of those companies”:

    Rep. Kevin Cramer: “The Idea That CO2 Is Somehow Causing Global Warming Is On Its Face Fraudulent”

    Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), one of Trump’s key energy advisers, is a vocal climate science denier. In audio uncovered by Hill Heat, Cramer alleged, “We know the global climate is cooling,” and declared that “the idea that CO2 is somehow causing global warming is on its face fraudulent”:

    Mike Pence Raised The Fictitious “War On Coal” Five Times During The Vice Presidential Debate

    The “war on coal” was manufactured by the GOP and the coal industry to attack Democrats during the 2012 election, and the phrase has remained popular among the coal industry's biggest advocates. But the phrase is misleading, as Associated Press reporter Vicki Smith has explained: "It's easier to call the geologic, market and environmental forces reshaping coal — cheap natural gas, harder-to-mine coal seams, slowing economies — some kind of political or cultural 'war' than to acknowledge the world is changing, and leaving some people behind."

    During the vice presidential debate on October 4, Trump’s vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, pushed the myth that the Obama administration has been waging a “war on coal” five separate times:

  • What Media Should Know About The GOP Attorneys General Suing To Block EPA’s Climate Plan

    Investigations Exposing Attorneys General-Fossil Fuel Alliance Provide Key Context For Clean Power Plan Fight

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    As the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals hears challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, media should note that the Republican attorneys general suing the EPA have formed what a New York Times investigation described as an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with the fossil fuel industry. Since the Times investigation was published, additional details of this alliance have come to light, including the revelation that fossil fuel companies paid for private meetings with Republican attorneys general shortly before the attorneys general sued the EPA to block the flagship climate change policy.

  • As Trump Visits Flint, Media Should Remember His Anti-Clean Water Agenda

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is visiting Flint, MI, a city that is still struggling to recover from a drinking water crisis that Trump claimed “would have never happened if I were president.” Media should be wary if Trump repeats this claim, given his plans to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and rescind the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, as well as his energy adviser’s reported statement that the Clean Water Act would likely be “rolled back" by a Trump administration.

  • Media Call Out Trump For Dodging Key Science Questions

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Media are calling out GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump for providing vague and evasive answers to a series of science-related questions posed by a coalition of major science organizations, including a question about climate change. Trump has a long track record of denying the reality of climate change, but he was not asked about the topic during any of the 12 GOP presidential primary debates.