The Washington Post's media writer Erik Wemple and Climate Desk's Tim McDonnell observed that debate moderators have thus far failed to adequately address climate change in the presidential debates, and urged them to ask more -- and better -- questions about the issue.
In a February 10 blog post on washingtonpost.com, Wemple stated that debate moderators "have had plenty of data to pose strong questions to candidates regarding climate change," including the Pentagon issuing "a study identifying climate change as a national-security problem," a determination that "could well have informed a number of sizzling questions from the leading lights of broadcast journalism regarding climate change." Instead, Wemple noted, the "little substance" that moderators have provided on climate change through the first twenty presidential debates "show how easily journalists get sidetracked by frivolities in their quest to hold politicians accountable."
Wemple examined several flawed questions from previous debates that "failed to yield an extended discussion of climate change," and suggested that PBS, which is hosting a Democratic presidential debate tonight, "follow the example" of a graduate student from Arizona State University who managed to provoke a through discussion of the topic:
For tips on how to phrase a simple and consequential question, the PBS-ers may want to follow the example of an outsider. During the Oct. 13 CNN Democratic debate, Arizona State University graduate student Anna Bettis of Tempe, Ariz., asked via video, "As a young person, I'm very concerned about climate change and how it will affect my future. As a presidential candidate, what will you do to address climate change?" An extensive discussion of the topic followed.
Easily done, right?
Not right, to judge from other attempts by full-time journalists to poke at this topic.
McDonnell, who is Climate Desk's Associate Producer, similarly criticized debate moderators in a February 11 article for Mother Jones, stating that the debates "so far have tended more toward theater of the absurd than substantive policy issues," and "climate change has barely surfaced." McDonnell argued that "[t]he moderators need to dig much deeper" in order to provide "a clearer view of how the different candidates would (or wouldn't) confront global warming."
In order to "help out the moderators," McDonnell reached out to climate scientists, environmentalists, academics, economic and defense experts, a former Republican congressman and even actor Mark Ruffalo to provide some ideas for questions to ask the candidates. You can see the list of potential questions that McDonnell compiled here.
From Mother Jones:
The moderators need to dig much deeper. The Pentagon has identified climate change as a major national security threat; cities and states are investing in clean energy and protection from extreme weather; and President Barack Obama will soon officially sign the global climate deal reached in Paris.
"It's amazing when you think of the infrastructure and other changes we're gonna see, that people are not asking hard questions about 'What is your plan to address emissions, and prepare for the changes?,'" says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center.
A dirty energy advocate with Big Oil ties is falsely smearing Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' wind energy plan -- with an assist from The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal published a February 7 op-ed attacking Sanders' renewable energy plan by Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, without disclosing that the Manhattan Institute has received at least $800,000 from ExxonMobil and millions more from foundations run by the oil billionaire Koch brothers. Unsurprisingly, given his track record, Bryce's criticism of Sanders is badly at odds with the facts.
In the op-ed, Bryce claimed that Sanders "better check with his Vermont constituents about the popularity of wind energy." Citing anti-wind proposals in the Vermont state legislature and a few scattered examples of local opposition to specific wind energy projects, Bryce declared: "Nowhere is the backlash [against wind energy] stronger than in Mr. Sanders's state."
However, despite the presence of a vocal minority who oppose large-scale wind projects, support for wind energy development is actually very strong in the Green Mountain State.
According to an April 2014 poll that was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), 71 percent of Vermonters support building wind turbines along the state's ridgelines, while only 23 percent oppose wind energy development. The poll also found that 86 percent of Vermonters support the state's goal of getting 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, and 72 percent of Vermonters said they would look more favorably on a candidate for state legislature who would make "advancing energy efficiency, clean energy and action on climate change central to their work."
These findings are in line with other polls conducted in Vermont. A May 2014 survey by the Castleton Polling Institute found that 89.3 percent of Vermonters agree that it is necessary and important to change the state's energy mix from the "current system based on fossil fuels, such as oil, and gas" to "a new energy system based on increasing energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro and biomass." And a February 2013 Castleton poll found that 69 percent of Vermonters would favor the development of a wind farm in their own community.
Indeed, Bryce's entire attack against Sanders is premised on deceptively cherry-picking several isolated incidents of local opposition to wind energy. This cherry-picking is exemplified by the very first example he cited as supposed evidence that opposition to wind turbines "has been growing" in the state:
Wind-generated electricity in the U.S. has more than tripled since 2008, but opposition to the gigantic turbines, which can stand more than 500 feet, has been growing. In Vermont several protesters were arrested in 2011 and 2012 while trying to stop work on a wind project built on top of Lowell Mountain.
In reality, 75 percent of Lowell residents voted for Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project on Lowell Mountain in 2010, and Lowell voters strongly reaffirmed their support for the project in March 2014, as the Associated Press noted at the time.
Fox News' Chris Stirewalt placed blame on the residents of Flint, Michigan for the city's drinking water crisis, saying that "[t]he people of Flint should have been protesting in the streets" after noticing that their water was poisoned. Stirewalt also appeared to blame Flint parents for giving their children contaminated water, declaring: "[I]f you were pouring water into a cup for your child and it stunk and it smelled like sulfur and it was rotten, would you give that to your child? No, you'd revolt, you'd march in the street."
Stirewalt overlooked the protests that took place last year in January, February, April, July, and October, and this year in early January. Most recently, there have been at least three rallies since January 16, when hundreds of people gathered at Flint's City Hall to confront Governor Rick Snyder and demand justice.
This has been an ongoing crisis since April 2014, when the city switched its water supply from Lake Huron (via the city of Detroit) to the Flint River. Residents started lodging complaints about the drinking water shortly thereafter. The new water system was later found to be contaminated with chemicals that can cause nervous system problems and increase the risk of cancer, and General Motors refused to use the water because it was rusting car parts. Snyder declared a state of emergency on January 5, 2016, months after children in the city were found to have high levels of lead in their blood. There's a "very strong likelihood," according to Virginia Tech drinking water expert Marc Edwards, that Flint's water is linked to Genesee County's recent spike in Legionnaire's disease, which has killed 10 residents.
From the January 20 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
MEGYN KELLY (HOST): But now the city manager apparently knew. I mean it's not -- the thing that's so egregious about this is, correct me if I'm wrong, is, that they had knowledge. They knew, Chris, that there was something was wrong with the water. And they let the people that were too proud to give up but too poor to matter continue drinking it, including children!
CHRIS STIREWALT (CONTRIBUTOR): Well, look, I will say that an individual -- people have no choice, right? If you are poor you have no place to go and you don't have resources to move -- but if you were pouring water into a cup for your child and it stunk and it smelled like sulfur and it was rotten, would you give that to your child? No, you'd revolt, you'd march in the street. You know, we've had a lot of demonstrations of late in the United States. We've had a lot of demonstration movement about justice for this, and don't do that and don't say this. The people of Flint should have been protesting in the streets.
UPDATE (1/15/16): After publication of this post, The Washington Post updated its article to include the following:
Update: Supporters of wind power energy noted [the Utah State/Strata] report is backed by wind power critics, and said it's unfair to criticize the tax credits because fossil fuels have received many more government incentives than renewables over a longer period of time. They pointed to other sources showing wind's costs to be lower than for other electricity sources.
The Washington Post's Fact Checker wrongly challenged President Obama's State of the Union comments about wind energy by citing a study linked to the oil billionaire Koch brothers. By contrast, FactCheck.org cited an Energy Department analyst who confirmed that Obama was correct when he said that wind energy is less expensive than fossil fuels in the regions of the country that he mentioned.
During his January 13 State of the Union address, Obama highlighted the advancements renewable energy has made since he took office, citing the low price of wind energy as an example: "In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power."
The Post's Fact Checker conceded that the "cost of wind power surely is lower in those states than in others," but stated that "the average price of coal and natural gas ... is still cheaper than newer sources like wind," citing an analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance about the average cost of electricity nationwide (the Post attributed the stat to the Dallas Morning News).
But The Post never actually addressed whether Obama was correct when he said that wind power is less expensive than fossil fuels in parts of Iowa and Texas.
By contrast, FactCheck.org noted that Obama "rightly points out that in some areas of states like Iowa and Texas, wind energy is already cheaper than energy produced by coal or natural gas." Indeed, an analysis from investment banking firm Lazard released last November found that the high-end estimate for the unsubsidized cost of wind energy in Texas and the Midwest ($51 per megawatt hour) is less than the low-end estimate for the cost of all fossil fuel-based forms of energy nationwide (the cheapest being gas combined cycle, with a low-end estimate of $52 per megawatt hour):
Obama's statement was also supported by an official from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), who said in an email to FactCheck.org: "Both our analysis and recent market trends suggest that wind is generally lowest in cost and most competitive in the Great Plains region of the country, roughly corresponding to 'Iowa to Texas.'" The EIA analyst noted that "wind is the low-cost source of power generation in the overnight hours in many states where it exists" and that wind energy has "out-compete[d] other sources in states such as Iowa and Texas during daytime hours." He also explained that when it comes to building new power production nationwide, "wind is generally in a competitive range with combined cycle [natural gas] and perhaps even lower cost than coal, on an unsubsidized basis."
FactCheck.org also cited a March 2015 article from the Dallas Morning News, which noted that "in Texas, the country's largest wind energy producer, renewable energy plans count among the cheapest options available."
The Post's Fact Checker also took issue with Obama's remarks by claiming he "overlook[ed] the impact of the federal tax credit that has driven much of the cost of wind power down." As purported evidence, the Post cited a report by the Institute of Political Economy at Utah State University and the research group Strata, without mentioning that either entity has received funding from the oil billionaire Koch brothers. The report was led by Randy Simmons, who is the former Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State and runs Utah State's "Koch Scholars" program. He is also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Strata received $653,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2013 alone. Meanwhile, Utah State University received over $1.6 million from the Charles Koch Foundation between 2007 and 2013, according to data compiled by Greenpeace. Then in 2015, the university confirmed that its business school -- where the Institute of Political Economy resides -- would receive an additional $1.54 million from the Charles Koch Foundation, including $540,000 in salary and benefits for two tenure-track professors at the Institute of Political Economy.
But while The Post claimed that Obama overlooked the impact of wind subsidies -- the focus of the Koch-linked report it cited -- The Post itself overlooked the fact that fossil fuels have historically received far more in government subsidies and handouts than wind or other forms of renewable energy, particularly in the beginning stages of those industries' expansion. A 2011 analysis by Management Information Services for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) found that a whopping 70 percent of the energy subsidies handed out between 1950 and 2010 were given to the oil, natural gas, and coal industries, compared to only nine percent for renewables like wind and solar. And an analysis from DBL Investors shows how the oil and gas industries received far more in subsidies than renewables during the first 30 years of those subsidies' existence:
The Post's Fact Checker did mention that experts predict unsubsidized wind energy will become cost-competitive with fossil fuels nationwide within the next decade. But only FactCheck.org managed to explain that the President was right when he noted that wind is already cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the country.
The troubling trend of the fossil fuel industry and conservative media twisting scientific research to fit their own agenda is not going away, as Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson recently found out. In the age of rampant climate denial, scientists and researchers like Jacobson are increasingly recognizing that they must fight back against deliberate rightwing distortions of their work.
On January 8, the Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch reported on what he seemed to consider a "gotcha" moment for the environmental movement: environmentalists have been touting a study showing that the U.S. could transition to 100 percent renewable energy, but according to Bastasch, "they must not have realized the study also shows nearly 1.2 million Americans permanently out of work."
Bastasch did not get this statistic from the study itself, nor did he contact any of the study's authors. He turned instead to a fossil fuel industry group called Energy In Depth, which he described as "an oil and gas industry-backed education project."
Last summer, Jacobson led a Stanford University study showing that the U.S. can fully replace its fossil fuel infrastructure with 100 percent renewable energy -- wind, water, and solar (WWS) -- by 2050, and that such a plan would bring economic benefits, including a net gain of two million long-term jobs (defined as jobs lasting at least 40 years).
Last week, Energy In Depth's Steve Everley claimed that the Stanford plan would kill over 1.2 million more long-term jobs than it would create.
The study itself, as Jacobson explained to the ClimateDenierRoundup on Daily Kos, found that shifting to 100 percent renewables "would create 3.9 million 40-year construction jobs (3.9 million people working 40 years on construction) in addition to nearly 2 million permanent operation jobs." It would also lead to a loss of 3.9 million fossil fuel-based jobs, resulting in a net increase of 2 million jobs over 40 years.
Jacobson told Media Matters in an email that Everley "refused to count the construction jobs as 40-year jobs, instead saying they were not 'long-term' jobs and pretending as if they were just short term (e.g., 1 year) construction jobs." He added that Everley "refus[ed] to correct it when informed of the error."
Not surprisingly, the Daily Caller took Everley's post and ran with it. In an article headlined "Enviros Accidentally Tout Study Showing 100% Green Energy Will Permanently Kill Millions Of Jobs," Bastasch wrote that "green groups" such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have ignored the "inconvenient truth" about Jacobson's study. In reality, the only inconvenient truth here is that the Daily Caller has an aversion to accurate climate reporting.
Jacobson acknowledged to Media Matters that it's "necessary" for him to stand up for his work "when the misinformation is so egregious." Said Jacobson, "Whereas I have experienced cases where people didn't like our results because they affected their energy of choice, this is the first time I've come across someone (Everley) actually falsifying data from our study then refusing to correct it when informed of the error."
But this has become a common trend among fossil fuel front groups and rightwing media outlets, which frequently distort climate research to fit a pro-fossil fuel agenda. Scientific researchers have previously expressed deep concerns about conservative media outlets' "ridiculous," "alarming," and "patently false" distortions of their research.
In fact, these media distortions have become so common that a NASA scientist recently predicted climate science deniers would twist his study on Antarctic ice to dispute the climate change consensus -- and of course, that's exactly what happened.
Scientific research can be complicated, so it's a good idea to ask the researchers themselves what their research means, especially if it appears to mean something groundbreaking or unexpected. And when a fossil fuel industry consultant like Everley or rightwing outlet like the Daily Caller won't fix their stories even after the researcher himself demands a correction, then you know the falsehood is intentional.
So when conservative news sites like the Daily Caller continue to echo fossil fuel industry distortions of climate research, we're left with the unfortunate situation in which the researchers themselves must continue to speak out and defend their work.
Photo at top via Flickr user delwedd with a Creative Commons license.
UPDATE (1/15/16): After the publication of this post, Energy in Depth published a new post stating that Jacobson "delete[d]" data "showing a net loss of long-term jobs" from the transition to 100 percent renewable energy, which was echoed by the Daily Caller. In an email to Media Matters, Jacobson clarified that he had informed the Energy in Depth blogger Steve Everley on January 5 "that the numbers [Everley] was using for his article were dead test numbers not used or linked to anything," but that "[e]ven after being informed, [Everley] still used the irrelevant test numbers in his article." Jacobson continued: "Because of [Everley's] abuse of the dead numbers and because they served no purpose, I removed the dead numbers from the spreadsheet. All numbers that the paper relies on are still in the spreadsheet and were never touched." He added: "Any reader can compare the paper with the spreadsheet to determine this themselves."
In his latest column repeating his clients' attacks on climate change policies, lobbyist and Washington Post writer Ed Rogers finally disclosed to readers that his lobbying firm "represents interests in the fossil fuel [industry]." Rogers is the chairman of BGR Group, a top lobbying firm that has received more than $700,000 from the energy industry in 2015. Rogers has personally lobbied this year for Southern Company, one of the largest electric utility companies in the U.S. -- and one of the biggest opponents of the most significant U.S. policy to combat climate change.
Rogers' disclosure, which was placed in a parenthetical in the middle of his December 17 column, could help Post readers recognize that they should take his opinions on the United Nations' historic Paris climate agreement with a grain of salt (he says it's a "sham"). And it marks a stark contrast from Rogers' past columns, in which the Post allowed him to dismiss the scientific consensus on climate change and echo his client's attacks on climate policies without disclosing his firm's fossil fuel ties.
The Post's past failure to require Rogers to disclose his lobbying firm's clients -- both fossil fuel and otherwise -- drew criticism from media ethicists. Among them was Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, who said it's clear that "someone else is paying" Rogers to write his columns and urged the Post to provide "specific disclosure" of Rogers' clients rather than a "blanket description of him as a lobbyist," in order to make plain that he "has a horse to back" in his columns.
From Rogers' December 17 column for The Washington Post's PostPartisan blog (emphasis added):
The [Conference of Parties] 21 conference in Paris was the most predictable event of 2015. Of course an agreement was going to be reached, and of course that agreement is a sham, but it all fits perfectly with what the climate issue has become. The topic of climate change has become manna for exhausted liberals who have nothing much to say and policy failures on almost every front. (Disclosure: My firm represents interests in the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries.) And let's face it, global warming is an issue that perfectly suits Obama as he warms up for retirement. He doesn't really have to do anything, there is never any day of reckoning and it lends itself to sanctimonious moralizing and generally lecturing everybody about how they should live.
Fox News hosts are criticizing the UN climate summit in Paris for having a large carbon footprint, despite the fact that France is planning to fully offset the emissions associated with the conference's events and registered participants' travel. This supposed concern with the conference's carbon footprint stands in stark contrast to previous comments by the same Fox News personalities, who have denied that the carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels is warming the planet.
President Obama is in Paris at a United Nations summit, where nations hope to reach an international agreement on climate change. In response, conservative media figures have resorted to denial, dismissal, and mockery, while criticizing Obama as "simply stupid" and NASA scientists as "talentless low-lives."
A new study found that organizations funded by ExxonMobil and the oil billionaire Koch brothers may have played a key role in sowing doubt in the U.S. about climate change. These findings reveal how important it is for media to disclose the industry ties behind front groups that consistently misinform the public.
Over recent decades, the scientific consensus that fossil fuel emissions are driving global climate change has grown stronger, yet Americans have become increasingly divided on the issue along partisan lines. A new study, led by Yale University sociologist Justin Farrell, examined the "organizational and financial roots" behind this polarization and found that funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers may have played a key role.
The study, published November 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that "organizations with corporate funding were more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." It focused on organizations funded by ExxonMobil and the Koch family foundations, noting that those two funders had been previously "identified as especially influential," and that funding from these groups "signals entry into a powerful network of influence."
The study follows criticisms of Exxon Mobil for sowing doubt on climate change through its front groups despite its own scientists confirming the climate change consensus decades ago. New York's Attorney General is currently investigating whether Exxon deliberately misled the public about climate change, and more than 350,000 people recently signed a petition calling for a federal investigation of the company's climate misinformation campaign. Documents compiled by Greenpeace show that since 1998, Exxon has given over $30 million in funding to organizations "that work to spread climate denial."
According to the PNAS study, many of these groups' climate change positions were likely influenced by Exxon's funding; specifically, the study found that not only were these groups "more likely to have written and disseminated contrarian texts," but also that "corporate funding influences the actual language and thematic content of polarizing discourse."
The study detailed the "thematic content" touted by these organizations, which include many industry front groups, and found that fossil fuel-funded organizations more often discussed "temperature trends," "energy production," "the positive benefits of CO2," and "climate change being a long-term cycle" than organizations that did not receive industry funding:
Those deceptive "themes" have made frequent appearances in the media. "Temperature trends" have recently become a pervasive talking point, with much coverage devoted to a supposed 18-year "pause" in global warming (multiple studies confirm that this "pause" never happened, as the planet continues to warm). The false talking point that carbon dioxide emissions could have positive impacts has been touted by Marc Morano -- who is paid by industry-funded Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow to run a climate denial blog -- and has also made its way onto Fox News, and, most alarmingly, into California textbooks. And the misleading emphasis on "climate change being a long-term cycle" is a frequent soundbite on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, even though the science shows that the global climate is currently experiencing a significant shift that award-winning astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says "the Earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes in the past."
Yet, as study author Farrell told The Washington Post, "contrarian efforts have been so effective for the fact that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust."
Farrell's study suggests that fossil fuel industry front groups' efforts to polarize the climate change debate may have been intended to delay climate action, stating in its discussion: "It is well understood that polarization is an effective strategy for creating controversy and delaying policy progress, especially around environmental issues."
As Media Matters has documented, many groups funded by ExxonMobil and the Kochs have pervaded mainstream media to fight against environmental protections. It is essential that reporters, at the very least, disclose the industry funding behind them -- or better yet, think twice before providing such a wide platform for corporate interests to stymie progress on climate change.
Image via Creative Commons courtesy of Flickr user CGP Grey.
In its draft leasing plan that will set the boundaries for oil development in federal waters from 2017 to 2022, the Obama Administration proposed allowing offshore drilling along the Atlantic Coast between Virginia and Georgia. Newspapers in the states that would be impacted by this plan have published articles and editorials highlighting local opposition and describing the economic and environmental risks associated with offshore drilling. As the administration approaches a final decision on offshore drilling, these concerns identified by state media outlets should inform national media coverage in the days and weeks ahead.
Amid a newly-announced investigation of ExxonMobil by the attorney general of New York and calls from all three Democratic presidential candidates for the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a federal probe of the oil giant, Exxon is feeling heat over evidence that it deceived the public for decades about the science of climate change. So the company is lashing out at the media organizations that compiled that evidence, and recent opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are assisting Exxon's disinformation campaign.
Following an eight-month investigation that included interviews with former Exxon employees and an extenstive examination of primary sources, including internal Exxon documents dating back to the 1970's, InsideClimate News published a six-part series in September and October detailing "how Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then, without revealing all that it had learned, worked at the forefront of climate denial." The Los Angeles Times conducted its own investigation with Columbia University's Energy & Environmental Reporting Project and reached a similar conclusion: in the 1980's Exxon "earned a public reputation as a pioneer in climate change research," but by 1990 the company began "pour[ing] millions into a campaign that questioned climate change." The Times reported that the documents, along with "the recollections of former employees," indicate that ExxonMobil changed its stance on the issue because it "feared a growing public consensus would lead to financially burdensome policies."
Exxon initially responded by seeking to dismiss the InsideClimate News investigation as the work of "anti-oil and gas activists" (never mind that InsideClimate News is a Pulitzer Prize-winning media organization). But now Exxon has adopted a new strategy: seek to discredit the Los Angeles Times' characterization of a single Exxon document in order to undermine the mountains of evidence that Exxon purposefully deceived the public about climate change.
Exxon put this strategy into action in a November 5 blog post, in which Exxon Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Ken Cohen claimed that the Times was "deliberating hiding" a 1989 Exxon presentation it cited against Exxon because the document supposedly "undercuts the paper's claims that ExxonMobil knew with certainty everything there is to know about global warming back in the 1980s yet failed to sound alarms." The Exxon complaint was quickly picked up by a November 8 Wall Street Journal editorial, which claimed that the 1989 document proves that the InsideClimate News and Times investigations "selectively quote from internal Exxon documents," and a November 8 column by The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson, who repeated Cohen's claim that the 1989 document shows how the media investigations "'cherry-pick' their evidence."
Exxon is attacking the Times for reporting that the 1989 presentation, by Exxon scientist Duane LeVine, showed Exxon recognized that "scientists generally agreed gases released by burning fossil fuels could raise global temperatures significantly by the middle of the 21st century." In particular, Exxon objects to the Times not mentioning that LeVine said in the same document, "I do not believe" that "the science has demonstrated the existence of [potential enhanced greenhouse] today," and "enhanced greenhouse is still deeply imbedded in scientific uncertainty." (LeVine defined "potential enhanced greenhouse" as the "enhancement of [the greenhouse effect] due to human activities.")
But the Times is correct in pointing out that LeVine acknowledged the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels was projected to lead to significant warming. From page 20 of LeVine's 1989 presentation (emphasis added):
[The Department of Energy's] CO2 projections are used in current climate models to predict important changes over the next 100 years. This set of results is taken from the National Research Council (NRC) report "Changing Climate".
Consensus predictions call for warming 1.5-4.5 [degrees Celsius] for doubled CO2 with greater warming at the poles. Note that these numbers reflect the range produced by available models. No one knows how to evaluate the absolute uncertainty in the numbers.
The extent and thickness of glaciers are predicted to decrease, leading to sea level rise. The NRC report chose a most likely value of 70 cm sea level rise. Other predictions suggest a broader range from 30-200 cm. The rise occurs both from a larger amount of water in the oceans, and from thermal expansion.
Finally, climate change and higher levels of atmospheric CO2 affect agriculture and ecosystems.
The Times is also correct when it says that LeVine urged Exxon to "[t]ell the public that more science is needed before regulatory action is taken ... and emphasize the 'costs and economics' of restricting carbon dioxide emissions." From page 33 of the presentation (emphasis added, ellipses original):
To be a responsible participant and part of the solution to [potential enhanced greenhouse], Exxon's position should recognize and support 2 basic societal needs. First ... to improve understanding of the problem ... not just the science ... but the costs and economics tempered by the sociopolitical realities. That's going to take years (probably decades). But there are measures already underway that will improve our environment in various ways ... and in addition reduce the growth in greenhouse gases. That's the second need including things like energy conservation, restriction of CFC emissions, and efforts to increase the global ratio of re/de forestation. Of course, we'll need to develop other response options...implementing measures when they are cost effective in the near term and pursuing new technologies for the future.
In the presentation, LeVine drew a distinction between historical warming up to that point -- which he claimed is "not enough to confirm enhanced greenhouse" (page 22) -- and projections, which he said "suggest ... significant climate change with a variety of regional impacts" and "sea level rise with generally negative consequences" (page 22). Then, after identifying the "key players" that were likely to increasingly call for action to address climate change (page 23), LeVine claimed there is a "misconception" that "enough research on the basic problem has been done," and argued that "failure to understand" the need for scientific advances and uncertainty in the climate models could "lead to premature limitations on fossil fuels" (page 31).
So LeVine acknowledged the scientific consensus on climate change while simultaneously arguing that he personally did not believe anthropogenic global warming was fully proven and that more research was necessary before restricting fossil fuel use. In that sense, LeVine's presentation is indicative of Exxon's shift towards attempting to "emphasize [the] doubt," just as the Times described it.
The year of LeVine's presentation also fits with the timeline for Exxon's shift on climate science that was identified in the InsideClimate News investigation (emphasis added):
Through much of the 1980s, Exxon researchers worked alongside university and government scientists to generate objective climate models that yielded papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Their work confirmed the emerging scientific consensus on global warming's risks.
Yet starting in 1989, Exxon leaders went down a different road. They repeatedly argued that the uncertainty inherent in computer models makes them useless for important policy decisions. Even as the models grew more powerful and reliable, Exxon publicly derided the type of work its own scientists had done. The company continued its involvement with climate research, but its reputation for objectivity began to erode as it campaigned internationally to cast doubt on the science.
With this full context, it's clear that the Times' characterization of LeVine's presentation is justified and Exxon's response is a deceptive smokescreen.
But it's also important to remember that LeVine's presentation is just one of many primary source documents examined by the Times and InsideClimate News. Here is a sampling of other documents showing that Exxon scientists and officials recognized by the early-to-mid-eighties that there was broad scientific consensus continuing to burn fossil fuels would lead to climate change, even if the amount of warming was still unclear:
Image at top via Flickr user Mike Mozart using a Creative Commons license.
From the November 6 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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NPR executive editor Edith Chapin and ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen agree it is "unfortunate" that NPR has thus far failed to cover groundbreaking reports documenting that ExxonMobil funded efforts to sow doubt about climate science for decades after confirming that burning fossil fuels causes climate change.
In a November 2 post on NPR's website, Jensen noted that NPR received criticism from some listeners for failing to report on the recent reports by The Guardian, InsideClimate News, and the Los Angeles Times documenting that Exxon amplified doubt about climate science after Exxon's own scientists confirmed the consensus on global warming. Jensen quoted Chapin as saying of the Exxon story, "NPR should have reported on it in some fashion on at least one of our outlets/platforms," and Chapin also said "[i]t is unfortunate that this topic didn't come up [in NPR's daily editorial discussions] or in any conversation or email that I was a part of." For her part, Jensen agreed that the story "seems to have fallen through the cracks," and that given the growing calls for an investigation of Exxon, "the lapse was unfortunate." Jensen noted that the story was addressed in September by WNYC's On the Media, which was at the time distributed by NPR but is no longer affiliated with the outlet.
Since the media investigations were published, climate scientists, members of Congress, and Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O'Malley have called for the Department of Justice to investigate either Exxon specifically or oil companies more broadly to determine if they knowingly deceived the public about climate change.
As one listener wrote to NPR: "Considering the importance of the issue and the prominence of Exxon's role, this story deserved, and still deserves, to be headline news on the national broadcast." Jensen agreed, concluding that "the issue is still a live one, and it's not too late for NPR to find some way of following up."
Andrew Ratzkin, a listener to the New York City member station WNYC, wrote that the only reporting he heard on the issue was in September, by On the Media, which is produced by WNYC (at the time, the show was distributed by NPR, but that business deal ended Oct. 1 and it is no longer NPR-affiliated). That reporting, examining the InsideClimate News reports, included a contentious interview by On the Media co-host Bob Garfield with Richard Keil, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, who disputed the InsideClimate News claims.
"This is not enough," Ratzkin wrote. "Considering the importance of the issue and the prominence of Exxon's role, this story deserved, and still deserves, to be headline news on the national broadcast."
Edith Chapin, NPR's executive editor, told me by email that she believes NPR dropped the ball.While it was not a major headline story, I think it meets the interesting test and thus NPR should have reported on it in some fashion on at least one of our outlets/platforms. Exxon Mobil is the world's largest publicly traded multinational oil and gas company and the debate and research decades ago is interesting in light of contemporary knowledge and action on climate change. Daily conversations at our editorial hub typically cross a range of subjects and stories from across the globe. It is unfortunate that this topic didn't come up there or in any conversation or email that I was a part of. It should have been flagged by someone so we could have discussed it and made an intentional decision to cover or not and if so, how.
My take: The story was on the radar of at least some in the newsroom, but it seems to have fallen through the cracks. Given the latest repercussions--Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is among those calling for a federal investigation--the lapse was unfortunate. But the issue is still a live one, and it's not too late for NPR to find some way of following up.
From the November 3 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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