On the five-year anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, television reporters detailed the devastating environmental and economic impacts still facing the Gulf Coast region today, and directly rebutted BP's misleading spin. But they should not lose sight of another equally-important part of the story: how increasingly risky and expansive offshore drilling practices, along with insufficient oversight, could lead to another major spill.
BP is trying very hard to convince the world that the Gulf of Mexico has recovered from the oil well explosion that killed 11 workers and devastated the region's ecosystem and economy -- but television reporters spent the five-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster picking apart BP's claims. MSNBC's Chris Hayes asserted: "As much as BP wants you to think it's all better, it's really not." NBC's Kerry Sanders called out BP's misleading advertisements on Today, rebutting BP's claim that "seafood catches are back to pre-spill levels" by reporting that Louisiana oyster harvest levels have actually decreased by nearly 25 percent. Fox News' Shepard Smith lambasted BP's public relations campaign -- recalling his past criticism of BP, which stood in stark contrast to the rest of the network's BP-friendly coverage in the aftermath of the spill. Smith teased a segment on his show by asking rhetorically: "Five years later you see the BP commercials, everything is great. Right?" He then answered his own question, detailing the tourism and wildlife damages that still exist, and concluding: "Five years later, this ain't over."
It's encouraging to see media figures debunk BP's misleading public relations campaign, which comes as the company seeks to reduce the up to $13.7 billion in Clean Water Act fines it faces if a federal judge r efuses to reconsider a ruling that BP was "grossly negligent" in its handling of the disaster.
But the media should continue to explore the many reasons that offshore drilling still poses immense, inherent risks.
Syndicated columnist George Will claimed that fossil fuel divestment is an ineffective exercise in "right-mindedness" that will only serve to harm universities' endowments, returning to arguments he made almost 30 years ago to dismiss divestment from apartheid South Africa. But many financial analysts have determined that divesting from fossil fuels has a negligible or even positive impact on institutions' investment portfolios, and the track record of past divestment campaigns -- including in South Africa -- suggests that the current movement can be successful by stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry.
The Wall Street Journal is calling on states to "revolt" against the EPA's Clean Power Plan, claiming that "virtually everyone who understands the electric grid" is warning that the plan will threaten grid reliability and could lead to rolling blackouts. In reality, nonpartisan energy experts say the EPA's proposal will not affect Americans' access to electricity.
A deceptive op-ed campaign to undermine action on climate change is underway in states across the country. Infamous corporate lobbyist Richard Berman is funding sham "studies" attacking the EPA's Clean Power Plan that are produced by the Beacon Hill Institute and distributed by the State Policy Network -- two organizations with financial ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers. The Beacon Hill Institute studies, which will appear in 16 states this year, dramatically inflate the Clean Power Plan's projected costs and admittedly don't even analyze the EPA's actual proposal -- so newspapers owe it to their readers to avoid promoting these studies or publishing op-eds that do.
The multimedia financial services company The Motley Fool criticized ethanol for allegedly relying on government subsidies -- despite the fact that subsidies for corn ethanol, which comprises the vast majority of ethanol used in the country, ended years ago.
In an April 5 Motley Fool post that was posted on USAToday.com, two of their "energy experts" discussed the viability of ethanol -- which currently comprises about 10 percent of the nation's gasoline supply - as an energy source and concluded that ethanol is overly reliant on government subsidies. Travis Hoium wrote that ethanol "requires government subsidies to exist," and Jason Hall agreed that ethanol is "not cost-competitive without government subsidies."
The Motley Fool may have conflated subsidies with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which does not provide a monetary tax break but does require refiners to blend increasing amounts of renewable fuels into the nation's motor fuel supply. However, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "[fuel] suppliers would probably find it cost-effective to use a roughly 10 percent blend of corn ethanol in gasoline in 2017 even in the absence of the RFS." So even if you (wrongly) considered the RFS to be a "subsidy," The Motley Fool's claim that ethanol needs subsidies to exist simply doesn't hold water.
Meanwhile, immense subsidies are still being handed out to the polluting oil and gas industries -- a fact that was conveniently overlooked by The Motley Fool. President Obama has repeatedly proposed eliminating $4 billion in annual oil and gas handouts from the federal budget - only to have these proposals die in Congress.
Conservative media are grossly distorting a recent study on aerosols' climate impact as a "death blow to global warming hysteria." But the study's author himself stated in response that his research does not contradict the scientific consensus on global warming.
A recent study provided new estimates for the rate at which aerosols -- tiny particles of matter suspended in the atmosphere -- deflect the sun's rays, measuring what is known as aerosol "radiative forcing." The study from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, which analyzed data from 1850 to 1950, found that the level of radiative forcing from aerosols is "less negative" than commonly believed, suggesting that aerosols do not cool the atmosphere as much as previously thought.
According to right-wing media, the study represents a "death blow to global warming hysteria." The reasoning behind the claim, which originated in a Cato Institute blog post, is that climate models rely on aerosols to offset much of the projected greenhouse gas effect from carbon dioxide. So if aerosols offset less warming than commonly believed, Cato claims "the amount of greenhouse gas-induced warming must also be less" and "we should expect less warming from future greenhouse gas emissions than climate models are projecting." The Cato blog post was picked up by the Daily Caller, American Thinker, Alex Jones' Infowars, Investors' Business Daily, and Rush Limbaugh. Daily Caller even claimed that the recent study directly disputes the scientific findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, writing: "Basically, the IPCC says aerosols deflect a lot of warming -- the opposite of the Max Planck study's finding."
But the study does nothing to dispute the scientific consensus on global warming, according to the study's author himself. In response to media outlets using his study to make inference's about the climate's sensitivity to carbon dioxide, climate scientist Bjorn Stevens published a statement on the Max Planck Institute's website, debunking the notion that human-induced climate change is "called into question" by his study. He also wrote that his estimates of aerosol radiative forcing are "within the range" of the IPCC's previous findings (which he actually co-authored), and that "I continue to believe that warming of Earth's surface temperatures from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases carries risks that society must take seriously." From Stevens' statement:
Right-wing media have been mocking a recent resolution to address the disproportionate impacts that women will face from climate change, laughing at the possibility that "climate change will turn women into prostitutes." But the grim reality is that climate change will affect women in ways that should not be laughed at or ignored.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation on March 25 to "recogniz[e] the disparate impact of climate change on women and the efforts of women globally to address climate change." When an identical resolution was introduced in 2013, PolicyMic reported that it would oblige Congress to "acknowledge the disparate effects that climate change will have on women, build gender into a framework for combating climate-related issues, and take steps to reverse this disparity."
Right-wing media coverage of this bill, on the other hand, has been exclusively focused on sex -- by ridiculing the notion that climate change could force women into prostitution.
Conservative news sites published scandalizing headlines such as Breitbart's "Congresswoman Claims Climate Change Will Turn Women Into Prostitutes," WorldNetDaily's "Lefty Lawmaker Warns: Climate Change Makes Women Prostitutes," Powerline's "Will Global Warming Cause Prostitution?" and Daily Caller's "Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): Global Warming Will Turn Women Into Prostitutes For Food." A blog post on the American Spectator wrote that climate change "is going to be great for dudes, who apparently don't have to worry about any negative effects of the transactional sex they engage in as a result of the warming climate." An editorial at Tennessee's Kingsport Times-News quoted the movie Forrest Gump to attack the proposal, writing: "Forrest Gump said that 'stupid is as stupid does.' Witness Rep. Barbara Lee, Democrat of California ... [who says] that global warming will force women into prostitution." Fox News' late night show Red Eye devoted several minutes to mocking the idea that climate change harms women more than men. And Rush Limbaugh asked on the March 27 edition of his show, "which came first, prostitution or climate?"
They are all are referring to a single line in the bill's text: "[F]ood insecure women with limited socioeconomic resources may be vulnerable to situations such as sex work, transactional sex, and early marriage that put them at risk for HIV, STIs, unplanned pregnancy, and poor reproductive health."
The harmful impacts of climate change on women, which Rep. Lee's resolution hopes to address, are no laughing matter. A United Nations analysis detailed how women are often more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than men, particularly in developing countries, and that it is therefore "important to identify gender-sensitive strategies to respond to the environmental and humanitarian crises caused by climate change." U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres noted further in a CNN.com op-ed that "women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt":
Fox hosts falsely attacked the Obama administration for pledging to reduce its carbon emissions, claiming that the U.S. is the only country doing so and that the move will prove unpopular. But 32 other countries -- which account for 58 percent of global emissions -- have already committed to reducing carbon pollution in advance of international climate change negotiations that will occur in December, and both the Obama administration's plan for reducing emissions and its intention to sign a global climate agreement are supported by more than two-thirds of Americans.
At least 16 U.S. newspapers have recently published op-eds by state officials of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch brothers' political advocacy group, urging state legislatures to oppose the EPA's plan to address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants. These newspapers have consistently failed to disclose the authors' oil industry ties, and the op-eds themselves "misleadingly" cite statistics on electricity prices from an industry-funded study, as a media fact-checker has explained.
Conservative media are alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is attempting to "punish" governors who do not acknowledge climate change by "holding disaster funds hostage." In reality, FEMA is simply updating its requirements for state disaster mitigation plans to ensure that they include consideration of climate change impacts, which is essential to reduce risk from hazards that states will face as the climate continues to change.