Refusing to act on climate change will be bad for business, according to a major recent report assessing the alarming risks of unchecked global warming on the U.S. economy. But while some top business media outlets recognize global warming as a serious issue for their audience, others are still stuck in denial.
On June 23, the Risky Business Project released a comprehensive analysis of the economic impacts of climate change in the United States. The study found that the current path of "business as usual" -- emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for driving catastrophic climate change without restrictions -- will reduce labor productivity of outdoor workers by up to three percent, reduce agricultural yields by up to 70 percent in some regions, and cost up to $507 billion in property damages from sea level rise by 2100. The co-chairs are calling for business to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent an economic crash on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis or worse.
However, some top U.S. business media outlets are denying that climate change is a problem worth addressing -- a disservice to their business viewers, who have a lot to lose. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly cases of business media covering Risky Business:
In covering the study's findings, Bloomberg Television, a cable and satellite business news channel, featured an interview with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, one of the report's co-chairs and a Republican. Bloomberg's Erik Schatzer began the interview by stating that "the research [on man-made climate change] is overwhelmingly conclusive," and went on to have a rational discussion about solutions to global warming that businesses can take today. Schatzer noted that Bloomberg Television is a child company of the media organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, another co-chair of Risky Business. Paulson suggested that businesses fully disclose their climate change risks, that they invest in "resilience," and that the nation "take out a national insurance policy" to respond to the impacts of climate change, adding that businesses must advocate for government policies that would allow the nation to "avoid the most adverse outcomes."
Paulson elaborated on "the cost of inaction" alongside former Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, in a well-done interview on the June 29 edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS:
Fox Business's coverage of the Risky Business report ridiculed the impacts of climate change and brushed aside the findings as "scare tactics." On the June 24 edition of Cavuto, Fox Business contributor Lauren Simonetti asserted that the organization is using "scare tactics," going on to entirely dismiss the idea of increasing heat-related mortality, saying "what does that mean -- mortality?"
Conservative media are calling the Environmental Protection Agency's clarification of the Clean Water Act an "unprecedented land grab" that will regulate "nearly every drop of water." However, the proposed revision, which will help protect the drinking water of 117 million Americans, will not add any new categories of waters but will clarify that upstream sources will be protected from pollution.
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed pushing for a lift on a decades-old ban on crude oil exports without disclosing that the authors' work was funded by the oil industry, which stands to benefit from its claims.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed by the lead authors of a study for the consulting group IHS Inc. argued that the Obama Administration "needs to lift the ban on oil exports." The co-authors advanced their report's claims that ending a 41-year-old ban on crude oil exports would spur domestic oil production, resulting in lower gasoline prices and fueled job creation. However, the Journal did not disclose that this study, titled U.S. Crude Oil Export Decision: Assessing the Impact of the Export Ban and Free Trade on the U.S. Economy, was funded almost entirely by oil and gas corporations, including industry giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, and ConocoPhillips:
This research was supported by Baker Hughes, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron U.S.A., Concho Resources, ConocoPhillips, Continental Resources, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Helmerich & Payne, Kodiak Oil & Gas, Nabors Corporate Services, Newfield Exploration, Noble Energy, Oasis Petroleum North America, Pioneer Natural Resources, QEP Resources, Rosetta Resources, Weatherford and Whiting Petroleum.
In fact, several top business media outlets repeated the report's boldest claims when it was released in late May -- like that it would lead to $746 billion in investment into the U.S. economy or save U.S. motorists $265 billion by 2030 -- without disclosing its industry funding. CNBC, Bloomberg, USA Today's Money section, and the Wall Street Journal all covered the study with no mention of the oil giants that have a financial incentive to lift the ban on crude oil exports because it would allow them to sell more of their oil at the higher world price. USA Today even noted that two of the report's funders, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhilips, have been pushing for the White House to lift the ban -- but did not disclose their investment in the IHS report. Some outlets got it right: Reuters and conservative news site Breitbart (surprisingly) did mention that the IHS study was funded by oil and energy companies.
The crude oil export ban was enacted in the 1970s in response to an Arab oil embargo, which shocked the U.S. economy. The Center for American Progress explained that lifting the ban would "enrich oil companies," but "could increase domestic gasoline prices and reduce our energy security":
The increase in domestic oil supply, combined with the decline in demand, has also led to a significant decrease in foreign oil imports. These changes make us less vulnerable to a sudden foreign oil supply disruption that could cause price spikes. Unfortunately, the oil industry would squander this newfound price stabilization and energy security by lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Doing so would enrich oil companies by enabling them to sell their oil at the higher world price, but it could increase domestic gasoline prices and reduce our energy security.
Even Goldman Sachs supports keeping the ban - at least until the U.S. market reaches "saturation" where it's producing more oil than it can consume -- because it benefits the economy by keeping refining for U.S. workers.
Lifting the ban on crude oil exports would also be catastrophic for the climate, according to the Sierra Club. Oil Change International published a study finding that keeping the ban on crude exports is imperative for the United States to achieve its climate goals.
The Journal's failure to disclose the background these op-ed authors shared with the oil industry falls in line with a repeated lack of transparency about who the newspaper publishes. In 2012, the Journal was found to have "regularly failed to disclose the election-related conflicts of interest of its op-ed writers."
Image at the top obtained via Flickr user roseannadana with a Creative Commons license.
Fox News anchor Bret Baier lashed out against a local newspaper for refusing to publish denial of the basic fact that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change.
Arizona Daily Sun editor Randy Wilson recently committed to reporting the facts on climate change. In a June 8 op-ed, titled "It's not censorship by ignoring those denying climate change," Wilson -- whose paper serves the residents of Flagstaff, Arizona -- wrote that while there is "room to debate the extreme predictions by some scientists," the "basic idea that human activities are accelerating the pace of global warming in an unsustainable way enjoys the same scientific consensus as the finding that smoking causes cancer." He asserted that debating the basic premise of climate change is actually harmful, acting as "a diversion from finding a solution to the problems raised by the answer to the question."
On the June 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, Baier declared that the newspaper, by choosing to omit climate denial, does not "have room for balance":
The Daily Sun op-ed falls in line with what is becoming a ubiquitous media norm that runs counter to what Fox News interprets as "fair and balanced." As the evidence becomes even more certain that humans are unequivocally driving catastrophic climate change (nearly 200 scientific organizations worldwide acknowledge man-made climate change), media outlets are taking a stance against false balance on global warming. The Los Angeles Times' letters editor similarly stated that the newspaper would not print letters with "an untrue basis" such as those "that say there's no sign humans have caused climate change." The New York Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan spoke out against false equivalence in their newspaper, and blogger Andrew Revkin expanded that false balance serves to "convey a state of confusion even as consensus on warming has built." And several CNN hosts have denounced media for presenting global warming as up for debate and for providing a stage to the vocal minority of climate change deniers (even though others on the channel occasionally violate this norm).
Business media have been spreading the myth that the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to rein in carbon pollution will harm the American manufacturing industry by increasing electricity prices. But a new report by a group of business leaders found that the manufacturing industry is at far greater economic risk from the extreme weather events that the EPA's clean power plan would help prevent.
When the EPA proposed standards for the carbon pollution driving climate change for existing power plants, several top U.S. business media outlets promoted claims that the rules would harm manufacturers. Reuters published two articles that uncritically repeated utility industry lobbyists' claims that the rules will "destroy jobs" at "manufacturing plants." The Wall Street Journal cited a steel industry spokesman that claimed the rules will "impede the post-recession growth of American manufacturing" without criticism, and the newspaper's editorial board suggested that the rules will "punish" regions that rely on manufacturing. Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight hosted Steve Milloy, a policy director at coal giant Murray Energy, who lambasted the rules, stating: "if you work in manufacturing, do you want to see your job exported to China?"
However, an analysis by Business Forward -- an association of American business leaders focused on sound public policy -- found that extreme weather events will have severe economic impacts on the automotive manufacturing industry in the United States, while any increase in electricity prices as a result of turning to clean power will have minimal costs for the manufacturing industries. The analysis has not been covered* by the prominent business media outlets that promoted claims that the standards would harm manufacturers.
For example, automakers, who represent the nation's largest industrial sector, are extremely vulnerable to disruptions in the global supply chain caused by extreme weather events. The study found that extreme weather events -- many of which are happening more frequently -- can cause an auto assembly plant to shut down at immense costs of $1.25 million or more per hour. Business Forward explained that even when extreme weather events happen on the other side of the globe, they impact manufacturers:
Because supply chains are global, disruptions on the other side of the planet can slow down or shut down an American factory. For example, in October 2011, severe floods in Thailand affected more than 1,000 industrial facilities. Production by consumer electronics manufacturers in the U.S. dropped by one-third.
The carbon standards, by contrast, would cost the automotive industry far less because electricity is a "comparatively small portion" of their total costs. The report found that if electricity costs increased by 6.2 percent by 2020, it would add less than $7 to the cost of producing car that sells on average for $30,000. Overall, this would cost the average auto assembly plant about $1.1 million, or the equivalent of less than an hour of assembly line downtime at a single auto plant each year. The EPA estimates that electricity prices will increase slightly as a result of the standards, but efficiency improvements will lower electric bills by 2025.
The Environmental Protection Agency's forthcoming regulations on greenhouse gas emissions will provide legally required protection for the health and welfare of Americans at a cheap cost, while allowing states flexibility -- contrary to media fearmongering about the landmark standards.
Fox News brushed aside the value of Environmental Protection Agency research grants for clean cooking and heating technologies, saying that the dangerous indoor pollution from dirty stoves is only "a mere contribution" to 4.3 million deaths, and fearmongered that the EPA would soon come after American stoves. However, even Fox News' "favorite" environmental pundit has said that the fact that millions are dying from dirty cooking stoves -- more deaths than from AIDS and malaria combined -- is an "immediate problem."
One year ago, New York City launched its bike share program to the chagrin of a Wall Street Journal editorial board member who claimed it was a "totalitarian" instrument of "aesthetic torture" that has "appalled" New Yorkers. However, the program has survived conservative attacks on it and proven immensely popular, with nearly 9 million rides in its first year.
Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of Wall Street Journal's editorial board, made waves last year by railing against the launch of Citi Bike, New York City's bike share program. In a video op-ed on WSJ Live, Rabinowitz derided the "totalitarian"-backed program that has "begrimed" NYC neighborhoods, saying the city is "helpless" to the wishes of its "autocratic" mayor and the bike lobby.
Even after Rabinowitz' argument was mocked on both the Colbert Report and The Daily Show, Rabinowitz stuck to her vendetta, dubbing the bike racks "instruments of aesthetic torture," and her colleagues defended her. She is not alone among conservatives for displaying an irrational hatred of bicyclists. Soon afterward, Fox Business' Melissa Francis called the Citi Bike racks a "nuisance" and an "eyesore," putting it frankly: "I hate these bikes." But they have proven to be the exception rather than the rule.
Rabinowitz claimed that she represented "the majority of [NYC] citizens" who are equally "appalled" by the bike share program, but polling has shown the opposite with even the Wall Street Journal itself dubbing the bike share "popular." Before the program was launched, polls from Quinnipiac University's Polling Institute found that 74 percent of New Yorkers polled agreed the bike rental program was a "good idea." One month after its launch, the same institute found that only 20 percent were opposed to the program, with the majority of every "age, income party, gender and educational group" supporting the program:
Conservative activist James O'Keefe suggested that in his new video he would show that "a lot" of environmental "propaganda" is funded by foreign oil interests. O'Keefe duped two small-time filmmakers into accepting funding from a man posing as an oil tycoon from the Middle East, but his attempts to broaden the scope of the sting to more prominent organizations and activists were based on deceptive edits.
O'Keefe hyped his latest YouTube video, titled "Expose: Hollywood's War On U.S. Energy," by suggesting in a fundraising email that it would expose "the darker side of how a lot of the feel-good environmentalist propaganda gets funded by international interests who jeopardize national security." In it, he convinces the filmmakers of FRACKED, an upcoming documentary about the risks of fracking, to accept funding from an actor posing as "Muhammed," an oil tycoon from the Middle East who is being represented by an ad executive. The filmmakers said in a statement that they agreed to this funding because "It was understood that the investor would have no control over the content of the film and that we, the directors, would have final cut. We thought to ourselves 'oh the irony! We'll use the funding from an oil company to make a film that promotes green energy!'" Encouraging reliance on green energy, rather than oil from domestic or foreign sources, is essential to national security and it's not clear how a real "Muhammed" would benefit from this.
The video suggested that not only would the filmmakers, Josh and Rachel Tickell, accept oil money but that larger environmental organizations may as well, by adding a false voiceover. The voiceover claimed that the Tickells named environmental groups "When asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off":
VOICEOVER: And when asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off...
"AD EXECUTIVE" REPRESENTING "MUHAMMED": Which ones? Which ones?
REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --
JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too?
REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film.
But the Tickells were actually stating that they could reach out to these groups to promote their film, not that these groups would accept oil funding - the parts in bold were in the unedited tape starting at 3:28:30 but not in the edited version:
JOSH TICKELL: What's our market reach? We essentially work with six verticals. And these are things that we have developed for the better part of two decades. Grassroots? We have a number of organizations that actively activate our grassroots base. [...] Universities -- as I said, we do a lot of work with universities. That builds credibility, it also allows you to do a back and forth when you're taking people from the university, putting them in the film, and then you're screening it. That university becomes part of your prestige of the film -- oh we have an MIT professor, oh we have this professor, we have that professor. NGOs --
REBECCA TICKELL (interrupting): Which these two organizations, their main focus is anti-fracking.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Which ones? Which ones?
REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --
JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too? I want my client to --
REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film. They would make sure that all of their members saw the film. They would speak at the screenings, they would send out email blasts.
Kate Kiely, a spokeswoman for The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement to Media Matters that "NRDC actually has very strict rules about donations. We have a hard and fast policy not to accept money from any fossil fuel industries. Nor do we accept money to advocate for projects. Our advocacy is always based on strong science, law and policy." When asked whether the organization had "ever accepted funding from foreign oil interests" or if they had any part in the upcoming film FRACKED, Kiely wrote that the answer to both was "a resounding 'NO.'"
Most environmental organizations and activists do not accept funding from special interests that contradict their values. As the Tickells stated during O'Keefe's video, public knowledge that they had agreed to accept Middle Eastern oil money would damage their credibility among environmentalists.
However, according to O'Keefe, his deceptive editing job has already convinced a Senate committee to investigate:
Marlo Lewis, senior fellow of the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, argued that moving regions that will be affected by sea level rise is a better idea than taking efforts to mitigate climate change.
During the May 20 episode of NPR's On Point, Lewis was hosted alongside two climate experts to discuss the recent findings that the collapse of a West Antarctic ice sheet "appears unstoppable," and will cause global sea levels to rise of ten feet or higher in the next 200 to 1,000 years. Lewis dismissed taking action to reduce our carbon emissions, saying we could simply adapt to the effects of climate change.
Host Tom Ashbrook challenged him, saying, "So you're saying move New York, move Miami, move Southern Florida, move Boston?" Lewis responded, "Yeah." His reasoning: "The built environment from the studies I've seen, most building stock turns over in about 50 years. And so the markets adapt to this sort of phenomenon anyway."
Lewis' argument doesn't make much economic sense. The flood damages from just five U.S. cities will cost nearly $8 billion per year by 2050, according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change -- and this is before the 10 feet of sea level rise is expected. According to the study, taking adaptive action in coastal cities at risk could cost up to $50 billion per year globally -- much more expensive than simply preventing the worst damage from happening in the first place.
Lewis is listed as one of the National Journal's energy experts and contributes to FoxNews.com, National Review Online, and Forbes.com. Lewis has used his media platform to defend Fox News and the Wall Street Journal for their use of false balance in reporting on climate science.
These readers may be interested to know of Lewis' fossil fuel funding, as Ashbrook disclosed for NPR listeners:
ASHBROOK: What are your motivations here? We've got a lot of fossil fuel money in your organization. Does that mean you're speaking up to defend their interests? And how do we have confidence that you're not?
LEWIS: Well, Tom, I kind of make it a policy not to respond to ad hominem arguments.
ASHBROOK: Ad hominem? I mean I'm just looking at your funders. Isn't that fair?
LEWIS: I think, you know, if you can ever find an instance in which I've changed any position I've ever taken at any time in my professional life because of a contribution to an organization that I've worked for, I'll pay you a thousand dollars. So let's drop that subject.
ASHBROOK: I don't think it's ad hominem, Mr. Lewis, it's just an honest question. A tax on carbon would be tough for ExxonMobil and Texaco.
Listen to the entire 45-minute podcast below.
Image at the top from Flickr user stacyflower with a Creative Commons license.