A recent incident in which 7,500 songbirds died after flying over a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant has been ignored by the same conservative media outlets that often exaggerate the danger posed to birds by wind turbines, including hyping an incident in which a single bird was killed in Scotland.
The birds killed by the LNG facility, which may have included some endangered species, were headed south for the winter when a routine "flare" release at the Canaport LNG facility in Canada, used to burn off excess natural gas, drew them in. Though company officials apologized for the episode and said they are modifying equipment to reduce flaring, one manager at the plant admitted "At the moment there's not a whole lot I can do to resolve it in the short term." The dead reportedly included "a large number of red-eyed vireos" (see photo above).
Three months prior, another migrating bird, the white-throated needletail, died after flying into a wind turbine off Scotland. The needletail is not endangered or threatened, but it is sighted only rarely in the United Kingdom.
Can you guess how conservative media covered these two cases?
Searches of Nexis, Google and an internal video database indicate that the thousands of birds that died after flying into a Canadian gas flare have not been mentioned by any U.S. conservative outlet to date (or any major U.S. outlet other than the environmental sites Treehugger and National Geographic).
Conversely, the single bird that flew into a wind turbine became a big story in the conservative media bubble. Right-wing outlets used the episode to smear green energy, sometimes betraying sheer glee, as when National Review Online blogger Greg Pollowitz wrote "Your [sic] laughing as you read this, aren't you?" or Rush Limbaugh remarked "[a] bunch of environmentalist whackos watched a precious windmill kill a rare bird."
Conservative media's fixation on a single bird death -- albeit regrettable -- while completely ignoring thousands more seems to let slip that feigning an interest in conservation is simply a convenient way for these outlets to attack wind power, which they have depicted as an agent of "mass slaughter " or an "open-ended aviary holocaust," while overlooking far more elementary, existential threats to wildlife, including climate change. Lest we forget, conservative media figures have regularly mocked those who are concerned about the impact that humans are having on animals -- one Fox News contributor declared "lots of species may be about to leave the planet, and I don't care" -- and attacked conservation efforts for endangered species from lizards to polar bears.
The Wall Street Journal debunked several of what it labeled "myths" about renewable energy on Monday. But the paper itself has promoted several of these myths in the past, obscuring the promising growth of renewable energy as prices rapidly decline.
According to Wall Street Journal reporter Keith Johnson, "[o]ld ideas die hard" when it comes to renewable energy. He went on to debunk "six myths about renewable energy" that he said stemmed from "outdated facts and assumptions." Three of these myths, as follows, have been pushed by the Wall Street Journal:
The Wall Street Journal has called the potential of wind and solar power "trivial" in an editorial and has published an op-ed by Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute that claimed "[p]hysical limitations will keep this energy source a niche provider of U.S. electricity needs."
But as Johnson reported, the scale of the U.S. electricity supply is so great that our current renewable energy mix, which has accounted for 14 percent of U.S. electricity production so far this year (mostly from hydropower), is greater than some countries' total electricity capacity -- far from trivial.
And as this Wall Street Journal chart shows, renewable sources are on a rapid upward trend, particularly from wind power:
False claims popularized by the media in recent weeks were used as fodder in a Republican hearing to cast doubt on global warming.
The House Energy and Power Subcommittee interrogated cabinet officials Gina McCarthy and Ernest Moniz on Wednesday in a hearing that Organizing for Action dubbed "DenierPalooza." Committee members have accepted over $12 million from the fossil fuel industry in 2013 alone, and a majority are known to deny the science demonstrating manmade global warming. During the hearing, several false claims about climate change that originated in the media were repeated as fact.
An egregious claim advanced by British tabloid The Mail On Sunday was recited by Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) in an effort to claim that global warming isn't happening, asserting "Arctic ice has actually grown 60 percent." Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) also cited the Mail, stating "I recently read an article that stated that the Arctic ice had nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at this time of year."
However, these claims were based on a typographic error from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), later corrected. The NSIDC found the Arctic sea ice increase was actually half of what the Mail reported: about 500,000 square miles of ice were added to the Arctic from the previous year (not one million), an increase of 29 percent.
Regardless of this error, it is misleading to use these figures to argue that we are experiencing "global cooling" (as did the Mail On Sunday), as 2012 was a record low for Arctic ice, and some increase in ice extent was expected. Even with the increase, the August 2013 average sea ice extent was about 70 percent less than the 30-year average -- the Arctic is still experiencing rapid sea ice decline in the long-term, mostly due to global warming. Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment concluded that the article was "deliberately misleading."
As misinformation from British tabloids about climate change has been magnified by American conservative media in the past several weeks, it was only a matter of time before inaccuracies permeated Congress and entered the political debate.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch published an editorial dismissing the alleged "fear and disinformation" surrounding hydraulic fracturing to claim it is "not so toxic," but admitted the process is not safe enough for Virginia.
The September 11 editorial attacked opponents of hydraulic fracturing -- also known as fracking - claiming that they "have waged a campaign of fear and disinformation" about the process, which is "not so toxic as its foes make it out to be."
But the Times-Dispatch quickly pivoted to denounce fracking in Virginia's George Washington National Forest, which provides drinking water to millions of people. As the editorial explains, it's still a process "that uses strong chemicals and relies on heavy machinery," which is "a lot to introduce to a largely pristine landscape":
The U.S. Forest Service is completing a 15-year management plan and soon will decide whether to permit fracking in George Washington. While fracking is not so toxic as its foes make it out to be, it remains an industrial process -- one that uses strong chemicals and relies on heavy machinery. That is a lot to introduce to a largely pristine landscape.
Granted, the federal government owns far too much real estate -- particularly out west. Public lands should not be categorically sealed off from private use. The George Washington Natural Forest, however, is not just any old lump of real estate. It is a treasure that merits close guarding.
The Times-Dispatch's NIMBYism is clearly concerning. It is understandable that the editorial board would not want to contaminate the drinking water and decimate the beauty of Virginia's natural landscape, but it is unclear why it is willing to tolerate such damage in another state. The Times-Dispatch's reasoning that public lands should be targeted because "the federal government owns too much real estate - particularly out west" is misleading, as approximately 3,400 wells, or about 90 percent of those drilled on Federal and Indian lands, are already "stimulated using hydraulic fracturing techniques."
From the September 7 edition of Fox News' Forbes on Fox:
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Multiple mainstream media outlets have covered a new report touting the economic benefits from hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") without disclosing the report's industry funding.
The recently released study, titled "America's New Energy Future: The Unconventional Oil & Gas Revolution and the US Economy," received widespread media attention on Thursday. The report, conducted by consulting group IHS CERA, was commissioned by multiple fossil fuel organizations that stand to benefit from growth in the oil and gas industry. According to the report, the increase in unconventional oil and natural gas extraction has added an average of $1,200 in discretionary income to each US household in 2012, and now supports 1.2 million jobs -- projected to increase to 3.3 million by 2020. These figures are much larger than the findings of many previous economic studies.
However, multiple major news outlets, including Reuters, CNBC, Forbes.com, and the Los Angeles Times, covered the new report with no mention of its financial ties to the industry. The research was monetarily supported by America's Natural Gas Alliance, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council, the Natural Gas Supply Association, and others who stand to gain economically from an unregulated increase in fracking. Kyle Isakower, vice president of regulatory policy at the American Petroleum Institute -- the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry -- lauded the new report, saying "[f]or an organization like the American Petroleum Institute, being able to cite the findings and reputation of IHS goes a long way toward making its point to government officials." According to Steve Forde, vice president of policy and communication at the Marcellus Shale Coalition (an industry trade group), economic impact studies such as this are "an important advocacy tool" for industry development.
Bloomberg, which did disclose the report's industry ties, reported that the IHS report didn't take potential environmental impacts from extracting unconventional oil and gas through drilling and fracking, such as groundwater contamination and strains on water resources, into account.
UPDATE (9/10/13): The Wall Street Journal joined the slew of coverage that failed to disclose the report's oil and gas industry funding, in an editorial published on Tuesday. The editorial claimed the IHS report was "evidence" that fracking "may be the country's best antipoverty program." The Wall Street Journal has published editorials downplaying the risks of fracking before.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes released a documentary on climate change Friday, continuing relatively in-depth coverage of what he calls "the single greatest threat that we face." In fact, Media Matters found that even prior to this documentary, Hayes dedicated over 1 hour and 40 minutes to climate change since the launch of his primetime show -- more than three times that of four shows on CNN and Fox News combined in that same time period. Including the coverage that Hayes dedicated to previewing and airing the documentary "The Politics of Power" on Thursday and Friday, Hayes has covered climate change for over 3 hours -- about nine times those shows combined.
From April 1, when the show All In with Chris Hayes premiered, to August 14, Hayes discussed climate change 19 times, devoting approximately 1 hour and 42 minutes to the issue*. By contrast, CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront only mentioned climate change once for about two minutes, Anderson Cooper 360 didn't mention it at all, and Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity only mentioned climate change dismissively, devoting twelve and seven minutes to the topic, respectively. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow also devoted more coverage than these other four primetime shows combined, discussing climate change eight times for a total of 32 minutes.
During this time period, President Barack Obama gave a major speech on climate change, carbon dioxide levels exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in human history, wildfires in the West and flooding in the Midwest were worsened in the context of this carbon pollution, and Republican politicians made several colorful claims denying the overwhelming science on climate change as a pro-Obama group conducted a campaign to highlight exactly these types of remarks.
Columnist Joe Nocera of The New York Times made a sweeping negative generalization about "mass tort" lawsuits and "plaintiffs' lawyers" because BP is currently paying out more in damages than it expected for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
BP pled guilty to the felony manslaughter of 11 workers who perished when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April 2010. In addition, BP pled guilty to lying to Congress about the extent of the resulting environmental catastrophe and agreed to a $4 billion plea agreement - a record sum in criminal penalties. BP also settled in civil proceedings for damage beyond the immediate blowout, such as the extensive economic and medical harm caused to those who depend on a Gulf of Mexico unpolluted by millions of barrels of oil.
Currently, BP, which remains the "world leader in deepwater drilling," is attempting to renege on this agreement.
Defending BP's appeal of its settlement and advertising campaign warning against potential claimants "tak[ing] money they don't deserve," Nocera claimed that many Gulf residents and business owners receiving court-ordered damage awards are "basically bystanders...[with] their hands out" represented by "plaintiffs' lawyers [who] gin up cases because, well, that's what they do." From the NYT:
One of the things I find particularly offensive is that the settlement includes criteria that virtually ensure that businesses unharmed by the oil spill will get compensation. All over the Gulf, lawyers are advising clients to line up at the BP trough, and they are doing so.
But how is this righting a wrong? Why is it appropriate to transfer money from BP shareholders to people who were basically bystanders and now have their hands out? When I posed this question to the plaintiffs' lawyers who sued BP, I received a lengthy statement from one of the lead lawyers, Steven Herman, describing a formula that, he noted several times, BP had agreed to, and even encouraged. He said that the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was aimed at helping people who have been harmed "indirectly." What he didn't say is that the more claimants getting BP's money, the more money winds up with the lawyers themselves.
If some claimants or attorneys have profited from illegitimate claims, that is wrong.
As Congress considers legislation promoting energy efficiency, Media Matters examines the facts behind such efforts. Contrary to persistent myths in the media, increasing energy efficiency of appliances and buildings is a cost-effective way to benefit the environment and economy, and has historically enjoyed bipartisan support.
As House Republicans try to slash funding for research and development of new energy technologies, conservative figures who once proclaimed their support for such initiatives have been curiously silent.
Buoyed by Republican lawmakers, the House recently passed a spending bill that cuts funding for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the key federal program that invests in research and development of new energy technologies, by 81 percent. ARPA-E is a bipartisan Bush-era creation modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which spurred breakthroughs like the internet and stealth fighter. Now, even a midpoint reconciliation with the more generous Senate spending bill could leave funding for the program in tatters.
These cuts are an extreme departure from the rare interparty comity that has typically surrounded research and development for alternative energy. Indeed, conservative media figures have frequently embraced such efforts -- as opposed to programs that award loans to address the so-called "valley of death" between development and commercialization -- echoing the pro-ARPA-E views of free-market groups and some Republican leaders. Among the latter was former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who supported increasing funding. But with ARPA-E now in trouble, these figures appear tongue-tied.
No, seriously. Fox News reported that the "power disruptions that were caused by Superstorm Sandy" will become more frequent across the country as a result of climate change, according to a new report from the Department of Energy.
Watch as Fox News -- on the same show that once wondered whether moon volcanoes meant global warming wasn't occurring -- connects "higher temperatures [and] more frequent droughts" to climate change:
Sure, the Fox News reporter felt the need to tack on the inane disclaimer that "there are those that are skeptical of climate change and feel that a lot of the data out there has been sort of bloated a little bit." But this segment is a big step forward for a network that once directed its reporters to cast doubt on the basic fact that the planet has warmed and has misled its audience in 93 percent of its coverage according to an analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The report in question, released July 11, found that our unrestrained greenhouse gas emissions will lead to more power disruptions, and noted that many of these impacts are already being felt -- drought in Texas, wildfires in the Southwest, flooding in the Midwest, and other events connected to climate change have caused blackouts and billions of dollars of damage.
As Fox News has now recognized the economic threat posed by climate change, will the network continue its refrain that the issue should not be a priority?
UPDATE (7/12/13): The reporter in this segment, Rick Folbaum, was previously the host of a 2005 special "The Heat Is On: The Case of Global Warming" that did not dispute the science demonstrating manmade climate change. In a preview to the special, Folbaum unequivocally conveyed the threat of climate change:
After months of research and interviews with many experts, I've learned this simple fact: the earth is heating up. And it's happening much faster than ever before. No one can argue with this. The vast majority of the scientific community says we're witnessing a unique and troubling kind of climate change, one where changes that used to occur over centuries are now taking place during the course of a single lifetime.
However, after conservative groups (including several who received funding from ExxonMobil at the time) lashed out at Fox News, the network responded by airing a special that only featured contrarians on the science and threat of global warming.
Fox News cut away from President Barack Obama's address on climate change in favor of a lawyer from a fossil-fuel-funded think tank, who proceeded to dismiss the science indicating significant manmade global warming.
On Tuesday, America Live interrupted Obama's speech, claiming that the president's statement that "the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it" is "not the full story." Host Megyn Kelly then interviewed Chris Horner, a Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and American Tradition Institute (ATI) fellow who often appears on Fox News to cast doubt on climate science.
Kelly granted Horner, a lawyer who has no scientific training, nearly as much air time (approximately 4 minutes and 10 seconds) as the leader of the free world (approximately 4 minutes and 35 seconds):
Kelly and Horner each claimed there has been "no warming" in the last 15 years, with the latter laughably declaring "the presidency deserves more than [warnings about climate change]." However, short-term temperature trends do not undermine the extensive evidence that the planet is getting warmer, largely due to human activity, at a rate that will have significant negative impacts.
Horner has spearheaded an ongoing effort to attack the Environmental Protection Agency and hype the Obama administration's alleged "war on coal," even when no evidence backs him up. Both CEI and ATI have financial ties to Koch Industries and other fossil fuel interests.
Media outlets have pounced on a quote from one member of a science advisory panel to once again claim a White House "war on coal," but they are missing crucial context about President Barack Obama's expected plan, which sets aside money for the development of so-called "clean coal" technology in addition to proposing necessary regulations on the pollution that coal-fired power plants currently emit.
Tuesday, The New York Times published a quote from Harvard University professor Daniel P. Schrag, a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, in anticipation of the Obama administration's announcement of measures to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change:
"Everybody is waiting for action," he said. "The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they're having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what's needed."
The Washington Post singled out the remarks in a post titled "Obama science adviser calls for 'war on coal." However, Schrag is not Obama's primary science adviser -- he is simply one of 18 advisors in a group that includes current and former executives from Microsoft, Google and tech conglomerate Honeywell, Inc. Additionally, as the Post noted, "he is not closely involved in setting regulatory policy for the White House."
Right-wing outlets immediately began publicizing the remarks, suggesting they are a sign of President Obama's true motives, with The Washington Free Beacon claiming the quote shows that the president's plan "is explicitly aimed at attacking the coal industry." Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin followed up by asking "Is Obama waging a 'war on coal?' and responding that "[t]o a large extent, the answer is yes."
However, Schrag's remark is not representative of President Obama's record as The Columbia Journalism Review and others have previously pointed out. Schrag responded to an email inquiry from Media Matters that he believes "there is nothing wrong with coal if technology is used to remove CO2 emissions and other harmful pollutants" (emphasis added):
The quote was slightly out of context. I was asked about the question of a war on coal, and I explain that shutting down conventional coal plants is a critical step in moving towards a low-carbon economy. But the phrase "war on coal" is really inappropriate and I shouldn't have used it - simply because it is not the coal that is the problem, but the emissions from coal, and what they do to our health, the health of our children, and of course the climate. So there is nothing wrong with coal if technology is used to remove CO2 emissions and other harmful pollutants. But conventional coal, that is harming our children and changing the climate system should have no place in our society.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed authored by a staffer of the industry-funded Heartland Institute claimed that "[p]hysical limitations" will not allow wind to become a major source of our power. However, he ignored recent positive developments for the wind industry and areas where further innovation can help wind capacity further grow.
Fox News falsely suggested that 56 percent of car companies that received loans through the same government program as electric automakers Tesla and Fisker have failed. In fact, most of the automakers are up and running -- 56 percent of those that asked for loans have gone under, indicating that the Department of Energy exercised due diligence in reviewing applicants.
This week, Fox & Friends Sunday claimed that "56% Of Carmakers Who Got Federal Help Fizzled," citing a Daily Caller story on the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program. Co-host Tucker Carlson, who also serves as editor-in-chief at the Daily Caller, later opined "If I run a venture capital firm ... and in four years, 56 percent of the companies I invest your money in go bankrupt ... I would be in deep trouble." He concluded, "the government should not be in the venture capital business. They're not good at it."
However, Fox News reversed the success of the program: 56 percent of the identifiable car companies that applied for loan guarantees have ceased operations, but most of the car companies that received these loan guarantees are up and running. Venture capitalists, on the other hand, expect a successful investment strategy to yield a 70 percent failure rate.