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.
The Daily Caller's claim that "global warming is increasing biodiversity" is a "complete distortion" of a peer-reviewed study according to its lead author, who actually found that invasive species are changing local species compositions at an alarming rate, while the planet faces a period of mass species extinction.
Man-made global warming is having drastic impacts on biodiversity around the world, putting species at risk and driving mass extinction according to several studies. As climate changes, species are driven out of their primary habitats into different regions where they can't always adapt. As a result, the globe is currently experiencing the worst rate of species die-offs since the end of the dinosaur age, and studies show that climate change could further cause an extinction rate of up to one-third of the world's flora and fauna species.
The Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch published a May 15 article that contradicts this basic concept, titled "Global Warming Is Increasing Biodiversity Around The World." The article claims: "A new study published in the journal Science has astounded biologists: global warming is not harming biodiversity, but instead is increasing the range and diversity of species in various ecosystems."
The lead author of the study cited, Dr. Maria Dornelas from the Centre for Biological Diversity, responded in a statement to Media Matters that the Daily Caller article was "a complete distortion of what we say" and that there "is nothing in our paper to even suggest that climate change is beneficial for biodiversity":
No, our study shows nothing of the kind! It is a complete distortion of what we say, and I had no idea this story was running.
What we do show is that despite indisputable loss of biodiversity at the scale of the planet, in most places we detect a change in the species that live there, rather than loss of species everywhere. We suggest that part of this is caused by species migrating towards the poles in response to climate change, and part to invasive species replacing local species.
There is nothing in our paper to even suggest that climate change is beneficial for biodiversity.
An author of a corresponding perspective paper on the biodiversity study in Science, Dr. John Pandolfi, concurred in an email to Media Matters, saying that the Daily Caller's claim that global warming is "increasing" biodiversity is a "gross distortion" that "directly contradicts the main message of the paper."
The study actually finds that invasive species are moving to new regions -- in part due to climate change -- and subsequently are changing the species composition of local habitats at an alarming rate. As the Daily Caller buried in its article, the study found, for instance, that "coral reefs in many areas of the world are being replaced by a type of algae," replicating previous studies finding that coral reefs are being severely damaged by human activity.
Ohio may soon become the first state to freeze its clean energy mandates after a relentless effort from utilities. But the state's major newspapers continue to overlook that the legislators behind the bill are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council -- an organization that connects corporations, including fossil fuel interests, to legislators -- despite repeatedly quoting the organization's members.
A Washington Post columnist claimed that there is "no solution" to global warming in an op-ed that itself included -- and buried -- a possible solution to mitigate climate change. The damage done by advancing the defeatist claim that nothing can be done about climate change may make it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This year has brought one landmark climate report after another, each stating with more certainty than ever that the cost of inaction against climate change will be far greater than the cost of mitigating catastrophe. The National Climate Assessment found that unchecked global warming will affect every region of the country and cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars. The report also found that it's not too late to implement greenhouse gas reduction policies to avoid this scenario. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the findings that climate change is having "sweeping effects" on every continent, and made the case for "immediate mitigation" in a subsequent report, providing hundreds of different pathways for countries to take in order to avoid the worst effects. The American Association for the Advancement of Science published an explainer on the current state of climate science, stating that "The sooner we act [on climate change], the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do."
Yet in a May 12 op-ed, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson brazenly declared that "we have no solution" to climate disruption. He suggested for every report on global warming to come with a "disclaimer" that "we now lack the technologies to stop it," despite the fact that the reports he detailed in his op-ed actually found that these resources already exist.
The "reality" Samuelson provides, that global emissions are currently projected to increase nearly 50 percent by 2040, mostly from fossil fuels, should warrant an even stronger case for action. The longer the world waits to take action on climate change, the costlier it will be -- up to $1.9 trillion in the U.S. alone, according to an analysis by Tufts University. In other words, Samuelson's "solution" -- to do nothing -- would end up costing the economy more in the long-run.
Just because one U.S. policy may not be sufficient to negate global climate change does not make an action "futile." Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist and writer for The Guardian and Skeptical Science, analogized Samuelson's argument to "saying that somebody who's obese shouldn't stop eating deep fried Twinkies, because by itself that's not sufficient to lose 100 pounds" in an email to Media Matters. Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman has also spoken out against this logic in the New York Times:
What about the argument that unilateral U.S. action won't work, because China is the real problem? It's true that we're no longer No. 1 in greenhouse gases -- but we're still a strong No. 2. Furthermore, U.S. action on climate is a necessary first step toward a broader international agreement, which will surely include sanctions on countries that don't participate.
The most obvious idea is a carbon tax to help finance government and stimulate energy-saving technologies and new forms of non-carbon energy. If these technologies went global, the gap between rich and poor countries would narrow.
So why is Samuelson claiming that a "central truth for public policy" is that "we have no solution?" Solutions exist, as he himself admitted later in the column. But the longer they are delayed, the worse the problem will become, especially if global warming worsens past a potential tipping point. Providing solutions to global warming in the media is essential for closing the "science-action gap" and creating change. Without knowing the solutions, the Washington Post's readers are more likely to reject the threat of climate disruption. Framing climate change as a solution-less problem may create a scenario where that's true.
Photo at top via Flickr user Takver with a Creative Commons license.
The Wall Street Journal downplayed a recent report that found the impacts of global warming are being felt in every region of the United States. The latest National Climate Assessment, which forecasted dire predictions for the nation's economy if global warming remains unchecked, was highlighted above the fold on the front page of every major U.S. newspaper except for the Journal.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program released its third National Climate Assessment (NCA) on the morning of May 6, focusing on how global warming will affect different regions of the United States and what can be done about it. The report received widespread attention, with most of the major newspapers devoting above the fold coverage to the NCA on May 7. But readers of the Wall Street Journal might have missed the story -- the paper devoted a mere factbox to the report on the lower half of the front page, under the "World-Wide" sidebar:
The WSJ instead chose to highlight on the front page: the conversion of office buildings into high-end apartments, the regulatory investigation into large banks' hiring practices in Asia, a Chinese internet company's plans to expand its share offerings to the U.S., early primary results that are favorable to the Republican Party, and the "chic" fashion of the current Afghan president whose "Fur Caps Set Standard." Though front page placement might be less relevant as newspapers are shifting to digital, it is still telling of the paper's judgment of which stories are important.
The Wall Street Journal article that did run fittingly highlighted the dire economic aspects of the National Climate Assessment: the report states that climate change is already costing our economy billions. But by burying it, far fewer people likely saw this warning.
Ever since Rupert Murdoch took over the Journal in 2007, there have been worries that the conservative tilt of the editorial page is spreading into its news division. Downplaying the NCA corresponds with how the Journal's editorial page has covered the issue in the past: as something that can be easily dismissed. In 2011, for instance, the Journal's U.S. print edition did not publish an op-ed by a former climate "skeptic" whose Koch family funded research re-confirmed rising global temperatures, choosing instead to run a highly misleading column disputing the temperature record. The Journal also printed the most climate-denying letters to the editor of the top newspapers in 2013, and has published op-eds with statements that run counter to science, including one that suggested that "humanitarians" should be "clamoring for more" carbon dioxide because it is a "boon to plant life." Furthermore, the paper's editorial board has been criticized by environmental journalists for misleading on climate science.
Here's how the top U.S. newspapers covered the story in their May 7 print editions (images retrieved via Newseum front pages):
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has found a surprising home on FOX Broadcasting Network to host Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. In the 13-part documentary series, Tyson's advocacy of scientific literacy -- particularly related to climate change -- is directly at odds with its sister network, Fox News.
In the latest episode of Cosmos, Tyson devoted the hour to the Earth's history of changing climates and subsequent mass extinctions. He ended the show by forecasting the next mass extinction due to climate change, imploring his audience to break society's "addiction" to fossil fuels:
TYSON: We can't seem to stop burning up all those buried trees from way back in the carboniferous age, in the form of coal. And the remains of ancient plankton in the form of oil and gas. If we could, we'd be home free climate-wise. Instead, we are dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past. The ones that led to mass extinctions. We just can't seem to break our addiction to the kinds of fuel that will bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs, a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves. All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate, free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need. Why can't we summon the ingenuity and courage of the generations that came before us? The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming. What's our excuse?
During the series, Tyson has also spelled out how corporate interests and funding can debilitate science, and has touted alternative energy research into artificial photosynthesis to reduce climate disruption from greenhouse gases.
FOX's decision to broadcast the remake of Cosmos might seem unexpected. You would never hear these narratives on Fox News -- at least without being mocked. A study from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that when Fox News does bring up climate change, it is overwhelmingly to mislead. In an interview with the New York Times, executive producer Seth MacFarlane stated, "I suppose it's incumbent upon Fox to do something like this, to make up for all the damage it's done with its news network."
Tyson himself has admitted that the idea of broadcasting Cosmos on FOX initially gave him pause. In an interview with tech blog io9, Tyson recalled a meeting with Family Guy's MacFarlane, who worked with Tyson to turn the idea of a Cosmos re-make into a reality:
[MacFarlane] told me he wanted to do something to serve science in America and he asked me what he should do. I thought maybe he could invest in a pilot that we could use to show sponsors. He said "I have a good idea, let's take it to Fox."
Now, there are a series of thoughts I'm about to share with you that I think lasted about 12 seconds. My first thought was "This is the stupidest idea I've ever heard, he doesn't get it, this is a waste of a lunch."
Yes, there's Fox News, but also the Fox Network which has acerbic liberal commentary of The Simpsons and Family Guy. And there's Fox Sports. I realized Fox has more demographics of American culture going through their portfolio than any other network. And so, I concluded that there's no better place to be than on Fox.
Vox.com provided a misleading take of the Keystone XL pipeline in a short video explainer. The video for former Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein's new venture was sponsored by General Electric, which has publicly supported the tar sands pipeline.
The visually appealing "Vox Explains" video gives a two-minute overview of the Keystone XL, but provides a misleading view of the number of jobs the pipeline would create. While the voiceover states that building the pipeline would "create thousands of temporary construction jobs," the number on the screen shows 42,000 temporary jobs, suggesting that all 42,000 jobs will be in construction. But the State Department report actually projects only 3,900 temporary construction jobs if construction took one year or 1,950 jobs if construction took two years. The 42,000 figure includes tens of thousands of indirect jobs in everything from food service to finance that the State Department estimates will be supported by Keystone XL's construction. The State Department estimates an outcome of only 35 permanent jobs would result from construction of the pipeline.
The video shows how new media can mislead in ways that newspapers never could. In the Keystone XL video, both the voiceover and the text were technically accurate. However, the combination of the two resulted in a misleading impression.
In response to criticism, the narrator of the video, Brad Plumer, tweeted that pointing out the much lower number of construction jobs was a "fair point" and that he could "break down that more precisely." Plumer left The Washington Post's WonkBlog to join Vox, and is generally excellent at explaining everything from global warming to air pollution.
The video also repeats the State Department's claim that the Keystone XL won't greatly impact climate change because "most of the oil would just get shipped by rail anyway," offering only that "green groups are disputing that analysis" as a rebuttal. But it's not just green groups -- reports from Reuters (largely ignored by the media) have found that the State Department's projections on rail transport were way off, undermining the Department's climate change claims. And as the number of disastrous train accidents rises, tougher regulations may increase the cost of moving oil by rail, making it even less attractive as an alternative. The claim that Keystone XL will not worsen climate change is becoming all the more dubious.
Strangely, this video has been cited by conservative news site Washington Free Beacon as an example of how GE's corporate sponsorship of Vox.com, including many of the "Vox Explains" videos, may be advancing the priorities of the Democratic Party. However, GE actually signed a letter in 2013 urging President Obama to approve the Keystone XL.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board is continuing to pretend that the EPA is acting against the law by regulating coal pollution, despite repeated Supreme Court rulings that conclude otherwise.
On April 29, the Supreme Court ruledin a 6-2 decisionto re-instate the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which regulates air pollution that crosses state lines and "significantly" prevents neighboring states from achieving national air quality standards. The rule, which is part of the Clean Air Act by way of the "Good Neighbor Provision," was delayed in 2011 for further review after being challenged by a major coal-fired operator -- to the delight of the Wall Street Journal, which lauded the decision to delay for showing "how out of bounds the cross-state regulation is." The board decided that the Supreme Court "should overturn [the Cross-State pollution rule] for violating the federalist intentions of Congress," adding it would "to show this increasingly rogue agency that it can't rewrite the law as it pleases."
Now that the rule has been reinstated (counter to the wishes of the Journal) in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, the paper is scrambling to find wrongdoing. The board published an editorial titled "The EPA Unchained" recycling its own faulty arguments that concluded with the fear that "the Obama EPA will feel even less bound by legal restraints, if that's possible." Its claims, however, are extremely misguided.
The regulations of smog and soot pollution will yield up to $280 billion in health benefits nationwide by preventing hospital visits and avoiding lost work days, according to the EPA's cost-benefit analysis. The human benefits are just as stark, with The American Thoracic Society estimating the new transfer rule could prevent upwards of 40,000 premature deaths annually.
The WSJ summarily dismisses the court's defense of the EPA's use of cost-benefit analysis when considering the best regulatory action, calling it "ironi[c]" because "the EPA typically dismisses cost-benefit analysis unless a statute explicitly calls for it." However, according to an amicus brief from NYU's Institute for Policy Integrity, the EPA has been using cost-benefit analyses to guide inter-state air pollution regulations for decades. The "Good Neighbor Provision," for instance, does not explicitly call for cost-benefit analysis. The Court deferred to the EPA as the most appropriate body to determine whether or not to use cost-benefit analysis to regulate pollutants that are clearly covered by the Clean Air Act.
The board also repeated its tired claim that the EPA is "ignor[ing] the federalist obligations of the Clean Air Act," suggesting the EPA is going over the heads of individual states. But states have tried and failed at coming up with their own solutions to this interstate phenomenon, and Congress and the Supreme Court determined that the issue of cross-state pollution is an inherently nationwide problem that prompts federal regulation. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outlined in her majority opinion for the Court, the air pollution of "upwind" states is inescapably a "combined and cumulative effect" that may significantly pollute several "downwind" states at different proportions, so regulating emissions based on each individual state's pollution levels (as WSJ suggests) simply doesn't work. This was not only the conclusion of the EPA, but also of leading atmospheric scientists and air quality modeling experts, who submitted an amicus brief arguing that the WSJ's preferred solution was likely "impossible." The complexity of the scenario is illustrated by this EPA graphic showing "linkages" between "upwind" and "downwind" states in what they have called a "spaghetti-like matrix":
The revival of the cross-state pollution rule was timely -- one day after the Court's ruling, the American Lung Association (ALA) released the findings that nearly half of Americans currently live in areas with high levels of pollution from smog and soot particles. The ALA report also illustrates the necessity of the EPA air pollution rules: 18 of the 25 cities with the highest pollution rates have seen a drop in pollutants, partly thanks to the EPA regulations.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled on the side of the EPA, despite WSJ's constant criticisms -- two weeks prior, the Court upheld a separate EPA rule to cut mercury emissions from coal plants. Will the newspaper continue to claim that coal pollution regulations are unlawful?