The Kansas City Star failed to note the significant influence of Koch-funded conservative groups in its coverage of two bills seeking to roll back Kansas' green energy standards.
A recent report by Greenpeace's Connor Gibson outlined several organizations that are influencing the debate surrounding an effort to repeal Kansas' green energy standards. As Gibson notes in his report, groups with significant ties to the fossil fuel industry and funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, including the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, the State Policy Network, and the Beacon Hill Institute, are trying to influence legislators to roll back green energy standards in Kansas. From Greenpeace:
ALEC and a hoard of other Koch-funded interests operating under the umbrella of the State Policy Network have hit Kansas legislators hard with junk economic studies, junk science and a junk vision of more polluting energy in Kansas' future. Koch Industries lobbyist Jonathan Small has added direct pressure on Kansas lawmakers to rollback support for clean energy.
Unfortunately, clean energy is not palatable to the billionaire Koch brothers or the influence peddlers they finance. All of the following State Policy Network affiliates (except the Kansas Policy Institute) are directly funded by the Koch brothers, while most of the groups get secretive grants through the Koch-affiliated "Dark Money ATM," Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which have distributed over $120,000,000 to 100 groups involved in climate denial since 2002.
Despite the pressure these groups have placed on the repeal legislation -- including the author of a Beacon Hill Institute report attacking green energy testifying before the Kansas legislature -- The Kansas City Star failed to note these groups' influence on either of the two pieces of legislation making their way through the state legislature.
The paper also failed to put Kansas' green energy initiatives in context. Wind energy in Kansas is a booming industry. A fact sheet from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that renewable energy in Kansas has created more than 12,000 jobs and provided $13.7 million in annual lease payments and royalties to Kansas landowners. According to the American Wind Energy Association, after the adoption of the green energy standard, wind turbine manufacturer Siemens announced a $50 million investment in its first American wind energy manufacturing facility in Kansas. Even Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was a supporter of green energy standards. In 2010, while a U.S. senator, he co-sponsored a national version of Kansas' successful renewable portfolio standard with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), which, if enacted, would have required 15 percent of utilities to be derived from alternative energy by 2021.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) bills itself as an event convened to "crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America" that will showcase "all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers." Media covering CPAC 2013 should know that the conference's speakers, from the most prominent to the lesser-known, have a history of launching smears, pushing conspiracy theories, and hyping myths about the validity of President Obama's birth certificate.
Fox News is promoting a Wall Street Journal column by Bjorn Lomborg to claim that electric vehicles are "even worse" for the environment than conventional gasoline cars. But experts say Lomborg's assumptions are out of step with reality and that the environmental benefits of electric vehicles will only grow in the near-future.
Lomborg, a prominent critic of environmentalists, claimed that because producing an electric car is more carbon-intensive, it could produce more carbon dioxide over its lifetime than a conventional car, citing a study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology:
If a typical electric car is driven 50,000 miles over its lifetime, the huge initial emissions from its manufacture means the car will actually have put more carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere than a similar-size gasoline-powered car driven the same number of miles.
Fox News hosted Lomborg on Wednesday to expose what it called the "dirty little secret" of electric vehicles. Seizing on Lomborg's figures, Fox Business' Stuart Varney claimed that "the battery powered cars are just as bad for the environment as your average sedan -- even worse!" And Fox Business host Gerri Willis suggested electric cars are not "contributing less to global warming" than conventional cars:
But Lomborg's assumption of a 50,000 mile lifetime "seems too low," according to University of California at Los Angeles' Dr. Deepak Rajagopal, an environmental economist who focuses on life cycle assessments. Indeed, the study Lomborg cites "assumes almost twice that lifetime," according to co-author Guillaume Majeau-Bettez. It estimates a 20-24 percent reduction in emissions from electric vehicles driven 90,000 miles and powered by average European electricity. The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, the two most popular electric cars in the U.S., both have 100,000 mile battery warranties.
And as the Natural Resources Defense Council's Max Baumherner noted, the study used estimates for production emissions that are three times higher than those from Argonne National Laboratory, which perhaps explains why other studies have found greater environmental benefits from electric cars. A life-cycle analysis overseen by Dr. Rajagopal found that battery-electric vehicles (BEV) powered by California's electricity mix produce significantly fewer emissions compared to conventional vehicles (CV):
Media are touting the claim from Rep. Paul Ryan's new budget plan that constructing the Keystone XL pipeline would create nearly 140,000 jobs, but that figure comes from exaggerating a heavily criticized, industry-funded analysis.
Reuters uncritically repeated the Ryan budget's assertion that constructing Keystone XL would create "20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 indirect jobs." Fox News host Sean Hannity later claimed the pipeline would create "nearly 140,000 jobs," while promoting the Ryan budget, which would likely raise taxes on the middle class:
But that number comes from inflating an analysis funded by TransCanada, the company trying to build the pipeline. That study, which has been called "dead wrong," "meaningless," and "flawed and poorly documented" by independent analysts, claimed that Keystone XL would create "118,000 person-years of employment." In other words, if one person holds a job for two years, that is counted as two "person-years of employment." And as a TransCanada spokesman eventually clarified to Huffington Post reporter Tom Zeller, the 118,000 figure already includes the 20,000 direct construction and manufacturing job-years that TransCanada claims will be created. Those numbers are also now outdated, as they included jobs associated with the southern portion of the pipeline, which is already under construction.
Independent analyses have found that the pipeline would create far fewer jobs. A 2011 report by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute found that the TransCanada estimate ignored the potential economic consequences of the pipeline -- which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf coast oil refineries primarily for export -- including the possibility of a spill. A State Department analysis found that the pipeline would create less than 4,000 construction jobs for the 1- to 2-year construction period, and only 35 permanent jobs. In total, that study found that Keystone XL would create 42,100 direct, indirect and induced average annual jobs during the 1- to 2-year construction period. As their exaggerated jobs claims have been exposed, conservative media have struggled to stay on the same page about how many jobs the pipeline would create:
Following the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency, conservative media are once again claiming that the Obama administration's EPA has waged a "war on coal." But that narrative ignores how natural gas has outcompeted coal, and why the long-overdue Clean Air Act regulations on coal are necessary in the first place. Here's what the public should know, as told in charts and graphics:
Low natural gas prices are behind the drop in coal power. As this chart shows, the boom in shale natural gas production has led to a drop in the price of natural gas -- in the free marketplace, many coal plants simply can't compete.
Clean Air Act regulations are long-overdue. George H.W. Bush's EPA administrator acknowledged that the Obama administration inherited several court-mandated rules from previous administrations, calling them "grenades" that required action. For instance, this timeline put together by energy giant Dynegy shows that the Mercury and Air Toxics rule issued under the Obama administration underwent a "thorough and lengthy development process." The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments required that the EPA study mercury and other emissions. In 2005, the EPA issued its final rule for controlling mercury that the Bush administration's own lawyers reportedly said would "almost certainly be reversed" by the courts. After the courts indeed reversed it, the burden of complying with the requirement to regulate mercury fell to the Obama administration:
[Source: Dynegy via SEC, January 2013]
Coal has huge health impacts even after decades of regulation in the U.S. In countries like China and India where coal is not as strictly regulated, coal pollution is extremely deadly. Meanwhile, in the U.S., harmful emissions have been significantly reduced, a fact that conservative media and the coal industry have used to tout coal's alleged cleanliness. But they often fail to mention that the industry only reduced its emissions after being required to by clean air standards, and that coal still has huge health impacts. The following chart details some of the known and quantifiable health impacts of pollution from coal plants:
CBS News is the only major TV news network other than Fox News to ignore a new study finding that global temperatures are higher now than at any time in the past 4,000 years, further evidence of the threat of rapid manmade global warming.
A study published Friday in the journal Science reconstructed global temperatures for the last 11,000 years, establishing the longest continuous temperature record. According to the National Science Foundation's Candace Major, the research shows that "we've experienced almost the same range of temperature change since the beginning of the industrial revolution as over the previous 11,000 years of Earth history - but this change happened a lot more quickly." Shaun Marcott, the study's leading author, added: "We've never seen something this rapid. Even in the ice age the global temperature never changed this quickly."
Marcott's temperature reconstruction is consistent with the famous "hockey stick" graph published by Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann in 1999, which conservative media outlets have repeatedly sought to discredit, as this chart from Mother Jones illustrates:
Scientists say this is further evidence that human activity is driving global warming, noting that Earth was in a cooling period for thousands of years before a sudden reversal after the Industrial Revolution. Under nearly any emissions scenario, Marcott noted, Earth's temperatures will rise "beyond anything human society has ever experienced" by 2100. If we continue on our current emissions path, some project we could far exceed past temperatures, as illustrated in this chart by ClimateProgress:
In the wake of a milder-than-expected snowstorm, the president of the American Meteorological Society has batted aside claims that balky short-term weather forecasts undermine long-term climate models.
Last week, a snowstorm forecast for the Mid-Atlantic, the "Snowquester," petered out in some areas expected to be hit hard. The incident served as another reminder that, as the Washington Post's Jason Samenow explained, short-term weather prediction is difficult, and carries a certain pressure to arrive at "the bottom line" for the benefit of viewers without qualification or explanation of uncertainties (of which there are many).
You may already know how this next part goes: writing in Forbes, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels suggested the "busted forecast" of the storm was actually a lesson that "Our "best science" can be wrong," and that in this sense there were "parallels with global warming." He allowed that this was a "statement of the human condition" -- presumably, rather than another example of scientists acting "Like lab rats that will do anything to keep the cocaine flowing." Unfortunately for a guy who invoked "The Natural" in his column, Michaels' logic was about as persuasive as that of a scout deciding that a .335 lifetime hitter may bat .111 the next few years based on a single 1-for-9 doubleheader.
Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, the president of the American Meteorological Society, wrote in an email to Media Matters that Michaels' argument indicates a "fundamental [...] misunderstanding of weather and climate models," an "apples vs. oranges comparison." Weather models try to predict the weather at a specific place and time, while climate models project the average of those weather events over a longer time period and larger area, which is more predictable.
Back to that baseball analogy: Minnesota Twins' first baseman Rod Carew went 0-for-5 on April 26, 1977. On the season, he hit .388, leading the league. Carew finished his 19-year career with a .329 average, about 1.6 hits for every 5 at-bats. Given all this, it would have been very hard to predict his performance in any one game -- but easier to predict how he would hit generally.
Shepherd added that the "somewhat bad" Snowquester forecast was being "cherry-picked" from several "great" recent weather forecasts.
Michaels is among the professional climate "skeptic" world's few actual climate scientists, and has been paid handsomely by the fossil fuel industry for this dubious distinction, but making such a fundamental mistake in his column further undermines his credibility.
A scientist who spearheaded findings of rising greenhouse gas emissions is rebuking a Forbes columnist who incorrectly claimed that temperatures have been "flat" to question the manmade causes of climate change.
Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data showed a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2012. Pieter Tans, who heads NOAA's greenhouse gas measurement group, told AP that "The prospects of keeping climate change below" 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100, as world leaders agreed to do, "are fading away." He added that the carbon jump is "just a testament to human influence being dominant."
Rather than using the news to evaluate the costs associated with our addiction to fossil fuel and discuss the steps we must take to avert the worst consequences of climate change, James Taylor of the industry-funded Heartland Institute used it to deny science. Taylor claimed that global temperatures are "essentially the same today" as they were in 1995 despite a contemporaneous rise in carbon emissions, and that this was a "devastating rebuke to assertions that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are causing a global warming crisis."
But Tans told Media Matters in an email that Taylor is "factually wrong" even using his short-term example -- 2012 was actually warmer than 1995 by about 0.16°C -- and that Taylor cherry-picked a date that had higher temperatures than surrounding years:
Taylor is factually wrong about the global temperature. According to the NASA GISS web site the year 1995 was 0.16 deg.C cooler than 2012. He could have compared to 1994 or 1996, in which case the difference from 2012 would have been 0.31 and 0.25 C cooler respectively. Therefore it makes sense to not compare individual years, but to take a 10-year smoothed average. In that case 1995 was cooler than 2012 by about 0.28 C. The second decimal depends a little on your smoothing technique.
In any case, long-term temperatures trends, a far more relevant indicator of climate change, aren't "flat" at all: each of the 12 years since the turn of the century have ranked among the 14 warmest on record. But Taylor obscured the long-term temperature rise by using a short period of data, as seen in this graphic from Skeptical Science:
On MSNBC, the director of the conservative Independent Women's Forum dismissed climate change as a "new science," ignoring the fact that the science behind global warming dates back to the 19th century and has accumulated to an overwhelming body of evidence over the last three decades.
Those seeking to delay action on environmental issues have long resorted to the argument that we need to study this issue more before we act. A classic example of this came Wednesday during a segment on MSNBC with Bill Nye "The Science Guy" and Sabrina Schaeffer, the executive director of the industry-funded Independent Women's Forum. Schaeffer said that she opposed Gina McCarthy's nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency because she may implement rules that would restrict greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Schaeffer insisted that although she opposes this effort to curb climate change, she is a "believer in science" and "the use of experiments and randomization." But when Nye pressed her on whether she accepts climate science, she dismissed it as a "new science" that needs further study:
Schaeffer's comments echo conservative media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal that continue to argue that we don't know enough about climate change to warrant action, despite warnings from the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
But we've known about the greenhouse effect for nearly two hundred years, we've known that humans can enhance that effect by making the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide since 1895, we've known that many scientists have predicted a warming trend since the 1970's, and we've known that the National Academy of Sciences has called for "action" since 2005. To dismiss all of the evidence that has led to a consensus on manmade climate change as a "new science" is anti-science, no matter how much you love random samples.
The Washington Post cited an unreliable Fox News poll to claim that public support for the Keystone XL pipeline "has reached a new high," uncritically repeating the falsehood that the pipeline would lower gasoline prices.
In a survey conducted in late February, Fox News asked respondents whether they support Keystone XL, stating:
Supporters of the pipeline say it would bring needed oil to the U.S., lowering gasoline costs and creating jobs. Opponents of the pipeline have environmental concerns, including the risk of a spill, and also say the pipeline would increase American dependence on oil.
In fact, many supporters of the project -- including the economist hired by TransCanada to assess its economic benefits -- have admitted that the pipeline would have no meaningful impact on gasoline prices. Energy experts across the political spectrum agree that because oil prices are set on the world market, the impact of the pipeline would be "miniscule," and that the best way to reduce our vulnerability to gas price spikes is to decrease our dependence on oil.
Even the Washington Post's own fact-checker has said it is "a step too far" to assert that Keystone XL would impact gas prices.
But that didn't stop the Post from promoting the poll results and uncritically repeating Fox's claims about the benefits of the pipeline:
[P]roponents say the project would create thousands of jobs and lower gasoline prices in the United States.
The Wall Street Journal and Fox News are suggesting that President Barack Obama's nomination of Gina McCarthy as head of the Environmental Protection Agency is a sign that he is acting like a "dictator," using an "end-around" to regulate carbon emissions that drive climate change. But they failed to mention that efforts to curb this greenhouse gas through the EPA are not an invention of the Obama administration -- they were given the go-ahead by a George W. Bush-era Supreme Court decision.
Earlier this week, the president nominated McCarthy, a former official for then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, to succeed Lisa Jackson as EPA administrator. McCarthy is likely to play a major role in the administration's presumptive plans to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants.
But News Corporation's Fox News and Wall Street Journal are launching a preemptive attack on these efforts, claiming they are "antidemocratic" by once again ignoring a Supreme Court decision that all but required action. Monday, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly incorrectly suggested that action through the EPA is unprecedented, saying "It used to be that if you wanted to make a major change or have a major impact on climate change or green energy regulations in this country, you went through Congress" but the president "has found an end-around, and as a result this EPA is extremely powerful right now." The next day, a Wall Street Journal editorial smeared McCarthy as "antidemocratic," adding, "Mr. Obama has been going around saying that the problem is that he's a President, not an 'emperor' or 'dictator,' but on carbon regulation this is a distinction without much difference."
Both failed to note that a 2007 Supreme Court ruling found that greenhouse gases fit the definition of an "air pollutant" and could be regulated under the Clean Air Act if they were determined to be harmful. A subsequent "Endangerment Finding," privately authored during the Bush administration but suppressed until 2009, stated that this was the case due to their contribution to climate change. Stephen Johnson, then the EPA Administrator, told President Bush in early 2008 that the Supreme Court decision "combined with the latest science of climate change requires the Agency to propose a positive endangerment finding," adding "the state of the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research." The Bush administration reportedly refused to open the email containing the Endangerment Finding, leaving it to the next president to take action. As noted by Legal Planet, the environmental law and policy blog of the University of California Berkeley and UCLA law schools, regulation of carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act is not undemocratic. In fact, "[T]here's nothing here that's an end-run around Congress. EPA is (as bureaucracies should do) implementing the orders of the legislature through duly enacted laws." If the president has "given up getting Congress to agree" to regulate emissions by other means, as the Journal argued, it is only because Congress has repeatedly failed to pass legislation doing so, thus compelling the executive branch to act.
The New York Times announced late Friday that it will discontinue its Green blog, less than two months after dismantling its environment desk. The paper insists that despite these changes it will "forge ahead with our aggressive reporting on environmental and energy topics," but coverage of crucial environmental stories is likely to suffer.
When The Times closed its environment desk in January, many expressed concerns that the quality and quantity of the paper's environmental coverage would be compromised. Managing editor Dean Baquet reassured them that this was purely a structural change, and that the Green blog would remain so long as it had "impact and audience." Bora Zivkovic, Blog Editor at Scientific American, said that eliminating the environment desk made the Green blog "much more essential" as a gathering place for environmental reporters and interested readers. But the Times has decided to eliminate the blog to "devote resources elsewhere," which Columbia Journalism Review's Curtis Brainard called "a horrible decision." Brainard noted that the blog provided "a crucial platform for stories that didn't fit into the print edition's already shrunken news hole" and enabled reporters to expand on stories that did make the paper.
Indeed, the Green blog's environmental coverage has often proved to be more thorough than the print edition's. For example, a Media Matters report found that several mainstream media outlets -- including the New York Times print edition -- ignored an October 2012 report on the rapid decline of the Great Barrier Reef, but the Green blog covered it. In November, a World Bank report warning of the calamitous effects of climate change went unnoticed by the New York Times print edition, but not by the Green blog. Since the closure of the environment desk, the Green blog has accounted for 64 percent of the paper's climate change reporting.* And since January 2012, the Green blog has devoted nearly twice as much coverage to the threat of ocean acidification.**
If the past is any indication, it seems Brainard is correct that "without the Green blog, there's no way that these topics are going to get as much attention as they once did."
NBCNews.com falsely claimed that a recent report by the State Department found that the Keystone XL pipeline would create "as many as 42,000 new construction jobs." In fact, the report found that the pipeline would create less than 4,000 construction jobs and only 35 permanent jobs.
Late Friday, the State Department issued a draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that was largely supportive of the project, which will inform President Barack Obama's decision later this year. The report found that "Including direct, indirect, and induced effects, the proposed Project would potentially support approximately 42,100 average annual jobs across the United States over a 1-to 2-year construction period." Those jobs encompass everything from food service to health care to finance, which the report estimates would be temporary ripple effects from the "approximately 3,900" annual construction jobs created for the 1- to 2-year construction period.
NBCNews.com not only inflated the number of construction jobs anticipated, but it failed to mention that the long-term economic impact of the project would be minimal contrary to persistent conservative claims. The State Department found that "Operation of the proposed Project would generate 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, primarily for routine inspections, maintenance, and repairs. Based on this estimate, routine operation of the proposed Pipeline would have negligible socioeconomic impacts."
USA TODAY announced in its cover story today that it will be doing a year-long series on climate change, sending reporters around the U.S. to examine how climate change is already affecting Americans. The series, "Weathering The Change," comes at a time when climate change coverage -- including at USA TODAY -- has been relatively low in the U.S.
USA TODAY covered climate change the least of the major national newspapers in the context of the 2012 presidential election. It entirely ignored how climate change has worsened fire risks in the Western U.S. in its print coverage of the destructive 2012 wildfires. It only mentioned ocean acidification once between January 2011 and June 2012, and ignored a study that found that the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 50 percent in the past 27 years largely due to human activities. And it closed its green blog in September 2012.
The ongoing decline in climate coverage may be influencing public opinion, as research suggests that volume of media coverage has a large impact on what people considerpolicy priorities. This week, conservative media celebrated "Public Concern For Global Warming Hit[ting A] 20-Year Low." Once again demonstrating their inability to fact-check, they got the details wrong -- the survey actually found that global warming is the only environmental issue where concern is higher now than it was from 1998 to 2003. But concern about global warming is still lower than it was before the financial crisis.
A group named Donors Trust has been funneling far more money than ExxonMobil ever did to climate denial groups, but because the source of the funds remains largely hidden, the public has been unable to pressure the donations to stop as they did with Exxon. A small portion of Donors Trust's funding was recently revealed by the Center for Public Integrity, yet even that small portion has significant ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests.
Between 2008 and 2011, Donors Trust doled out over $300 million in grants to what it describes as "conservative and libertarian causes," serving as "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement." Donors Trust enables donors to give anonymously, noting on its website that if you "wish to keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues," you can use it to direct your money.
One of the "controversial issues" that Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund have bankrolled is the campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change and delay any government action to reduce emissions.* The following chart created by The Guardian based on data from Greenpeace shows that as ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations have reduced traceable funding for these groups, donations from Donors Trust have surged:
Several of these organizations have sown confusion about the science demonstrating climate change. The Heartland Institute, which The Economist called the "world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change," received over $14 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, making up over a quarter of Heartland's budget. in 2010. In 2012, Heartland launched a billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate science to The Unabomber, Charles Manson, and Fidel Castro. Several corporate donors distanced themselves from the organization, but Donors Trust made no comment. Heartland removed the billboard soon afterward but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Meanwhile, The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) received over $4 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, accounting for over 45 percent of CFACT's budget in 2010. The highest-paid member of CFACT's staff is Marc Morano, who runs a website that pushes misleading attacks on climate science. Morano defended Heartland's billboard and said that climate scientists "deserve to be publicly flogged." Despite Morano's sordid background, CNN twice hosted him to "debate climate change and if it is really real" without disclosing that he has no scientific training and is paid by an industry-funded organization. CFACT lists the Forbes columns of Larry Bell, who calls global warming a "hoax," as "CFACT research and commentary." The organization is advised by several prominent climate misinformers, including Lord Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has revealed the sources of approximately $18.8 million of Donors Trust's funding from 2008 to 2011, culled from Internal Revenue Service filings. That leaves over $281 million in anonymous funds during that period, assuming that the organization gives out approximately as much as it takes in each year.
While the individuals and corporations funding Donors Trust remain largely hidden, we know that at least five separate foundations connected to Koch Industries have given over $3.8 million to Donors Trust in recent years. Koch Industries, owned by brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, is the largest privately owned company in the U.S. and controls several oil refineries and pipelines.