Environment & Science

Issues ››› Environment & Science
  • Wash. Post Editor: This Election “Could Change The Climate Debate For The Better” In Political Journalism

    James Downie: “More Journalists Have Seen That The Sky Won’t Fall If They Treat Falsehoods As Falsehoods”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post’s digital opinions editor, James Downie, wrote that this year’s election cycle has “altered political journalism” in a way that could lead to journalists taking a more aggressive approach to fact-checking climate denial. In a November 7 column, Downie quoted CNN’s Dylan Byers saying, “The traditional model of ‘he said, she said’ journalism . . . was thrown out the window in favor of a more aggressive journalism that sought to prioritize accuracy over balance.” Downie added that “climate change is an obvious area to apply this new model.”

    In the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, Media Matters found that media often failed to fact-check candidates when they denied the science of climate change. But media have since scrutinized Republican nominee Donald Trump’s false claims that “there is no drought” in California, that he will put coal miners “back to work,” that he has not called climate change a “hoax,” and more

    From Downie's column:

    Shifting the discussion is one area where, surprisingly, the 2016 campaign could change the climate debate for the better, even though climate change has been absent from the discussion. The contest has altered political journalism in a important way: As CNN’s Dylan Byers writes, “The traditional model of ‘he said, she said’ journalism . . . was thrown out the window in favor of a more aggressive journalism that sought to prioritize accuracy over balance.” More journalists have seen that the sky won’t fall if they treat falsehoods as falsehoods, and climate change is an obvious area to apply this new model. Senators should not be able to bring snowballs onto the Senate floor to “disprove” climate change without every headline fact-checking them. The realities of climate change are as much objective truth as the murder or unemployment rates. Regarding them as such will be an early test of whether political journalism has rededicated itself to the facts.

    The debate over climate change is changing, but not as rapidly as it can or should. We have largely squandered decades that could have been spent heading off the danger, and now the consequences are no longer abstract. Climate change is a perilous threat to the country and the world; we must finally treat it that way.

  • Final Scorecard: Climate Change Absent From Debates In Most Key Senate And Governors’ Races 

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    In late September, we launched a real-time scorecard to keep tabs on how often debate moderators and panelists in the presidential election and 18 tightly contested Senate and governors’ races were asking the candidates about climate change. We’ve been constantly updating the scorecard ever since, publishing transcript and video/audio whenever climate questions were asked. Check out our completed scorecard here.

    The November 4 Senate debate in Illinois was the last of the 55 debates we examined, and the final results are not pretty for those of us concerned about climate change. Here are the key takeaways from our scorecard of climate change questions in presidential, Senate, and governors’ debates:

    • Just 12 of the 55 debates held in these key races included questions about climate change (22 percent). If you exclude the three presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate, where the lack of climate questions was well-chronicled, the portion of debates with climate questions inches up to 24 percent.

    • Broken down by individual race, only eight of the 19 contests featured at least one debate question about climate change (42 percent). In addition to the presidential campaign, debate moderators completely ignored climate change in the following races: Arizona Senate, Indiana Governor, Missouri Senate, Missouri Governor, Montana Governor, Nevada Senate, New Hampshire Governor, North Carolina Senate, North Carolina Governor, and West Virginia Governor. Each of these states face serious climate-related challenges, some of which I detailed here.

    • Only races in two New England states -- Vermont and New Hampshire -- featured more than one debate with a climate question. The Vermont Governor race had four debates with questions about climate change, and the New Hampshire Senate race had two.

    • In six of the 12 debates with climate questions, the climate questions were asked because voters spoke up and asked them. The climate change questions generated by voters included a Twitter question in Wisconsin, two Facebook questions in Vermont, an audience question in Ohio, a question from the Open Debate Coalition website in New Hampshire, and a question in Indiana submitted to the Indiana Debate Commission using an online form.

  • STUDY: Fox News Spent Less Than Five Minutes Covering The Dakota Access Pipeline Protests This Week

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    One of the largest tribal protests in modern history is being virtually ignored by Fox News, even as clashes between protesters and militarized police over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota came to a head. A Media Matters analysis found that Fox devoted less than five minutes to coverage of these events in the past week.

    For months, Native demonstrators known as “water protectors” have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would transport crude oil near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation in North Dakota, potentially harming sacred grounds or endangering their water supply. In recent weeks, the ongoing water protection actions have expanded to include larger groups of allies, in what activists say is now “the largest, most diverse tribal action in at least a century, perhaps since Little Bighorn.” Local police forces have reportedly used rubber bullets, mace, and other violent means, as well as mass arrests in an attempt to control the ongoing protests. Prominent progressive online publications have been covering the actions against the pipeline for months, and major print outlets have begun writing editorials about the pipeline. The protests even spawned a viral Facebook post, delivering news about the clashes between peaceful demonstrators and local authorities to wider audiences. Cable news coverage this week has not been as comprehensive, with Fox News, in particular, merely mentioning the events during headline readings.

    Media Matters analyzed coverage for the last week -- from October 26 through November 3 -- on the cable news networks CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and found that all three networks together spent less than an hour covering the ongoing protests and police response. Fox News stood out for its lack of coverage, devoting just four and a half minutes to reporting on the events.

    CNN’s coverage over the same period amounted to 18 minutes and 45 seconds, while MSNBC led the charge with just over 30 minutes of coverage. Both CNN and MSNBC featured multiple updates from reporters on the ground at Standing Rock (Sara Sidner at CNN and Miguel Almaguer at MSNBC), and panel discussions about the ongoing protection actions and the response from local authorities.

    MSNBC’s October 27 edition of The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell provided exemplary coverage of the issue, with a panel discussion that included the leader of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, Dave Archambault II, and delved into the nuances of the the pipeline debate.

    Meanwhile, Fox’s scant coverage of the issue was in line with the network’s tendency to overlook or demonize protesters of color while elevating white armed protesters as “patriotic.” In a one-and-a-half-minute segment -- its longest segment on the matter this week -- during the October 28 edition of America’s Newsroom, Fox characterized the protest movement writ large as violent, calling the stand-off “a mess” and saying “there is no evidence” that the pipeline construction will pollute the Sioux tribe’s water. The segment featured a brief interview clip with just one person at Standing Rock -- a local sheriff:

    Media have a responsibility to provide coverage of the environmental and human rights battles of our time because coverage can pressure politicians to speak out. Protests against police brutality in Ferguson, MO, and Baltimore, MD, for example, were widely covered by media -- and the coverage, though often frustrating and problematic, helped start a debate that has now set needed reforms in motion.

    Raising the voices of the Native water protectors in North Dakota would also improve the lack of representation of minorities of color in media, a challenge that is far from being overcome.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC transcripts using the SnapStream video archive from October 26 at 6:00 a.m. through November 3, 2016 at 12:00 p.m. for any mention of the term "Dakota" within 20 seconds of the terms "access" or "pipeline." We excluded teasers for upcoming segments and duplicate segments that were re-aired.

  • Three New National Geographic Documentaries Detail Climate Change Impacts And Battle Lines

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    While climate change has been largely overlooked as an electoral issue this year, it is receiving the attention it deserves in at least one place: National Geographic. This month, three new National Geographic documentaries have shed light on the serious consequences of climate change and the industry-funded forces standing in the way of finding solutions.

    Environmental advocates expressed concern when News Corporation’s 21st Century Fox bought the National Geographic Society’s magazine last year, given founder Rupert Murdoch’s climate science denial. But National Geographic pledged it would maintain its editorial independence, and soon after, it published a special edition of the magazine focused on climate change.

    Now, National Geographic is making another important contribution to the climate change discussion in two documentaries that aired back-to-back on its television channel on October 30, as well as a new film now playing in IMAX theaters.

    The season two premiere of Years of Living Dangerously, a documentary series co-produced by James Cameron and featuring a range of famous actors, includes a segment about the utility-funded opposition to rooftop solar policies that are critical to fighting climate change. Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong explores the battles in Nevada and Florida against net metering, a policy that allows customers to send excess electricity from their rooftop solar panels to the electric grid in exchange for a credit. In Florida, Strong interviewed a spokesperson for solar advocacy group Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC), who explained how big utility companies financed a front group called “Consumers for Smart Solar” (CSS) that is behind a deceptive anti-solar ballot measure. CSS was successful in garnering enough signatures to put its anti-solar amendment on the ballot, duping voters into thinking they were supporting a pro-solar initiative and thwarting a rival FSC petition that would have actually helped expand rooftop solar. FSC’s Alissa Jean Schafer told Strong, “The whole point” of the CSS initiative was “to confuse people,” adding: “The utility-backed initiative talks about solar choice but doesn’t actually give people any choices.”

    CSS has gotten away with deceiving Florida voters in many of the state’s newspapers, too. Florida newspapers have published at least 14 op-eds by CSS co-chairmen Dick Batchelor and Jim Kallinger without disclosing their financial ties to utilities.

    From Years of Living Dangerously:

    In addition to Strong’s segment on the anti-solar initiative in Florida, season two of Years of Living Dangerously will feature many other “emotional and hard-hitting accounts of the effects of climate change” in the coming weeks, as National Geographic explained in a press release. In an interview with E&E News, David Gelber, creator and executive producer of the series, argued that the general public’s lack of awareness of climate impacts “allows debate moderators to ignore climate change as an issue,” and added that he hopes his series “does something to change” that fact.

    In Before the Flood, a documentary directed by Fisher Stevens and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, DiCaprio interviews Penn State University’s Michael Mann, who explains that he and other climate scientists are up against the fossil fuel industry’s “massive misinformation campaign to confuse the public.” Mann explains: “Websites and news outlets and think tanks, they find people with fairly impressive credentials who are willing to sell those credentials to fossil fuel interests.” Key to this strategy, he explained, is the use of fossil fuel front groups “with lofty sounding names, like Americans for Prosperity or the Heartland Institute.”

    Indeed, Media Matters has documented many occasions where fossil fuel-funded “experts” have misled on climate change in the media, including people affiliated with the groups Mann highlighted. Americans for Prosperity, which coordinated a misleading nationwide op-ed campaign against the Environmental Protection Agency’s landmark climate change policy, “frequently provides a platform for climate contrarian statements,” as the Union of Concerned Scientists has noted. And the Heartland Institute, which is known for its annual climate denial conferences, has sought to undermine important steps forward on climate including the pope’s climate change encyclical and state renewable energy standards.

    Mann concludes: “These people are engaged in an effort to lead us astray in the name of short-term fossil fuel profits so that we end up leaving behind a degraded planet. What can be more immoral than that?”

    The rest of Before the Flood takes viewers around the world to witness the impacts that climate change is already having, from the South Pacific, where sea level rise is an existential threat, to Miami, Florida, where millions of dollars are being spent to keep rising seas at bay.

    The impacts of climate change are also the focus of another National Geographic-produced documentary, called Extreme Weather, which was released in IMAX theaters on October 15. The film aims to demonstrate "how climate change is rapidly affecting our land, oceans and atmosphere to produce natural disasters as ruinous as they are spectacular." Director Sean Casey said in an interview that he wanted to show how climate change is connected to extreme weather with "powerful imagery that really does justice to what's happening." Watch the trailer:

    With broadcast networks frequently ignoring the climate change context of many extreme weather events, this film is both a call to action for concerned citizens and a welcome reminder for media.

  • Conspiracy Theorist Matt Drudge Thinks He Knows More About Hurricanes Than Hurricane Experts Do

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Earlier this month, Matt Drudge, proprietor of the highly trafficked Drudge Report, drew widespread criticism when he irresponsibly alleged that the federal government’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) was “lying” about the strength of Hurricane Matthew in order to “make [an] exaggerated point on climate [change].” The storm ultimately killed over 1,000 people, but Drudge is still sticking to his conspiracy theory, even as two hurricane experts provided a detailed explanation of why he was wrong to dispute government data relating to Matthew’s wind speeds.

    In an October 26 column for The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog, University of Miami senior research associate Brian McNoldy and Colorado State meteorologist Phil Klotzbach dissected Drudge’s claims. In particular, McNoldy and Klotzbach noted that Drudge had questioned the NHC’s statement that Hurricane Matthew had produced 165 mph gusts. In an October 6 tweet, Drudge declared: “Nassau ground measurements DID NOT match statements!” (emphasis original).

    In response to that claim, McNoldy and Klotzbach wrote:

    Drudge argued the point based on data from Caribbean weather stations and buoys that were not reporting winds as strong as what the National Hurricane Center used in its advisories. But the National Hurricane Center uses a lot of different methods to determine a hurricane’s actual peak intensity, and there are some serious issues with relying simply on weather stations and buoys.

    McNoldy and Klotzbach went on to explain some of the “serious issues” that cause buoys and weather stations to underestimate hurricane wind speeds. These include that buoys use a longer “wind averaging time” than NHC measurement devices; buoys are “sheltered from the strongest winds” when they are in the trough of a wave; weather stations often “wash away” before the strongest winds come ashore; and the “small region” of a storm containing its strongest winds will not typically reach a weather station.

    McNoldy and Klotzbach concluded: “Matthew’s strongest winds would likely not have been measured by a weather station. The National Hurricane Center provides the best analysis that science can offer.”

    The best analysis science can offer, however, is apparently not good enough to convince Drudge. On October 27, the front page of the Drudge Report included the following headlines:

    Both headlines linked to the Post column by McNoldy and Klotzbach.

    So even though two actual hurricane experts say surface stations are not adequate to measure the maximum wind speeds of a hurricane, self-styled hurricane expert Matt Drudge begs to differ.

  • How Florida Newspapers Helped A Utility Front Group Promote A Deceptive, Anti-Solar Amendment

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    A utility-backed front group deceptively named “Consumers for Smart Solar” has been campaigning for a misleading ballot initiative in Florida that is disguised to look pro-solar but could actually hamper the growth of rooftop solar power and protect utilities’ electricity monopoly. Florida newspapers have published over a dozen op-eds in favor of the amendment by representatives of this group without disclosing their utility industry ties.

  • Wash. Post Weather Editor Debunks Myth That Hurricane “Drought” Disproves Climate Science

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    The Washington Post’s weather editor Jason Samenow debunked the claim by climate science deniers and conservative media outlets that the lack of category 3 or higher hurricanes striking the U.S. over the last 11 years is "evidence that global warming is not affecting the storms."

    This month marks 11 years since the U.S. mainland was last struck by a “major” hurricane, defined by the National Hurricane Center as a category 3, 4 or 5 storm with sustained wind speeds of at least 111 miles per hour. In response, conservative media have misleadingly cited this fact to wrongly dispute the link between hurricanes and global warming.

    For instance, The New American asserted, “The latest report from NOAA that major hurricane activity has subsided for 11 years — despite high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere — provides welcome relief from the assorted predictions made by the ‘global warming’ doomsayers of catastrophic events that supposedly will be caused by human activity.” Similarly, The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch wrote that “the hurricane drought sort of runs counter to predictions global warming will make storms more frequent and more intense.” And perhaps most notably, radio host Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed that the lack of a major hurricane making landfall in the U.S. over the past 11 years “bores a hole right through the whole climate change argument.”

    But as Samenow explained, researchers believe it is just "dumb luck" that Atlantic storms with sufficient wind speeds to be defined as "major" hurricanes have remained offshore or slowed down before making landfall on the U.S. coastline. Atlantic hurricane activity also accounts for only a small portion of the total storms occurring around the world, as PolitiFact noted when it rated Limbaugh's claim a "Pants on Fire" falsehood.

    Samenow, who described the hurricane “drought” as “the most overblown statistic in meteorology,” also pointed out that many hurricanes that had devastating impacts due to extreme rainfall and flooding occurred during this "drought." He noted that because the definition of a “major” hurricane is tied only to wind speeds and not impacts from water, the term “omits some of the most consequential storms in modern history”:

    But the criteria for what makes a major hurricane is impossibly restrictive. It is tied to a single hazard, wind, and ignores impacts from water, which causes the lion’s share of fatalities and damage in most hurricanes.

    While big wind speeds grab people’s attention and sound scary, precious few people, if any, ever experience a storm’s peak winds. Such high winds are typically confined to a tiny area near the hurricane’s eye.

    But tens of thousands of people are exposed to a hurricane’s water, whether it’s freshwater flooding from heavy rainfall or coastal flooding from storm surge, the rise in ocean water as the hurricane comes ashore.

    Because the definition of a major hurricane ignores the effects of water, it omits some of the most consequential storms in modern history, which have occurred during the so-called drought.

    Consider, in the 11 years since Wilma, two of the three most costly storms in U.S. history occurred: Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Ike in 2008 — neither of which was classified as “major.”

    Moreover, the "impacts from water" that Samenow describes are intensified by climate change. Scientists say that a warming climate is making storms more destructive due to warming air and oceans -- which lead to more rainfall -- and rising sea levels, which worsen storm surges.

    Samenow ultimately concluded: “The major-hurricane-landfall drought is an interesting statistic, and that’s about it. It is a fine metric to track and report as a curiosity, but it cannot be used to say anything useful about how hurricanes are affecting society or how their behavior may or may not be changing over time.” 

  • NY Attorney General: “Dark Money Machine” Is Using Media To Defend Exxon’s Climate Deceit

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called out the “dark money machine” that is attacking him through the media over his investigation into whether ExxonMobil committed fraud by deceiving its shareholders and the public about climate change.

    Schneiderman launched his probe into ExxonMobil in November 2015 after investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times found that Exxon officials knew about the science of climate change decades ago but continued to fund climate denial groups for many years. California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey have since followed suit and also launched investigations of Exxon.

    During an October 19 forum on public integrity, Schneiderman explained that fossil fuel front groups are “directing a disinformation campaign aimed at bolstering Exxon’s case,” Politico reported. Schneiderman specifically called out Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Heritage Foundation, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), all of which are conservative organizations that have been heavily funded by fossil fuel industry interests, including Exxon. He also identified how these and other front groups pursue a media strategy, stating that they seemed to have “pulled a lever on the dark money machine,” and “60 or 70 op-ed columns or editorials” appeared attacking Schneiderman’s investigation. He added: “The challenge is, in most media markets in the country, all people have heard is the other side of the argument because [the conservative groups’] infrastructure is so remarkable.”

    Indeed, several of the nation's most widely read newspapers have provided a platform for fossil fuel front groups to deceptively defend Exxon. As of September 1, The Wall Street Journal had published 21 opinion pieces in less than a year criticizing government entities for investigating Exxon, including an op-ed written by CEI lawyers and a column that falsely claimed AFP has “never received a dime from Exxon.” The Washington Post also published an op-ed by officials from CEI, syndicated columns by George Will and Robert Samuelson, and a letter by the Heritage Foundation’s Hans A. von Spakovsky, all of which falsely claimed that the attorneys generals’ investigations violate Exxon’s First Amendment rights. And contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View also peddled the false claim that the attorneys general are threatening Exxon’s right to free speech. (As Schneiderman noted, “The First Amendment is not designed to protect three-card monte dealers. … You can’t commit fraud and argue, ‘Oh, I’m exercising my First Amendment rights.'”)

    Other conservative media outlets have also provided space for CEI and the Heritage Foundation to defend Exxon and other oil companies that may have purposely misled the public on climate change to protect their profits, including the National Review, Townhall, and The Washington Times (on many occasions).

    Image at the top from Flickr user Azi Paybarah with a Creative Commons license.

  • Climate Silence Witnessed At Presidential Debates Extends To Key Battleground States

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    There were roughly 190 questions (including follow-ups) asked to the candidates during the presidential and vice presidential debates this year, and not one of them was about climate change. This stunning media failure has rightly drawn the attention of journalists, environmental groups, and at least one U.S. senator.

    But it’s also important to recognize that the climate silence we have witnessed on the national stage is not unique to the presidential election. Media Mattersdebate scorecard is tracking climate change questions in 18 of the most closely contested Senate and governors’ races across the country, and the results so far are troubling. We’ve found that just eight of the 37 debates held in these races through October 20 included questions about climate change. That's 22 percent.

    Climate change was not addressed in the Senate debate or any of the three governors’ debates in North Carolina, a state that was recently devastated by Hurricane Matthew, which featured record-breaking rainfall and flooding that scientists have linked to global warming. It was also ignored in the Senate debate in Arizona, which was recently identified as the western state that is most at risk from increased wildfires as a result of climate change, and in both governors’ debates in West Virginia, which suffered through flooding over the summer that was made worse by global warming.

    There have also been zero climate change questions in Senate or governors’ debates in Missouri, Montana, and Nevada, which are all among the states that are least prepared to deal with emerging climate-related threats, according to a report card produced by Climate Central and ICF International.

    The eight debates that have included climate change questions occurred in seven states: Florida (Senate), Indiana (Senate), New Hampshire (Senate), Ohio (Senate), Pennsylvania (Senate), Wisconsin (Senate), and Vermont (in two debates for governor).

    In more than half of these states, the climate questions were asked because voters spoke up and requested them. In Wisconsin, the climate question was submitted by a citizen via Twitter. In Vermont, the moderator asked a climate question submitted by a voter on Facebook. In Ohio, an audience member asked the climate question. And in Indiana, the climate question, while flawed, was submitted by a voter to the Indiana Debate Commission.

    The lesson from both the presidential debates and these Senate and governors’ debates is clear: If voters want to hear about climate change, they’ll need to continue to press moderators to ask about it and continue to take advantage of opportunities to make their voices heard.

  • Seven Pressing Debate Questions We Never Heard

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Presidential debate season is officially over, and critical policy questions that directly impact millions of Americans remain unasked just 19 days before the election.

    Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump met last night in Las Vegas, Nevada for the final presidential debate, which was likely the last chance for the candidates to discuss specific policy issues face-to-face before November 8. Just as in the previous two presidential debates this year, moderator Chris Wallace chose to focus questions on a handful of familiar topics. Even within the context of six pre-announced debate topics, Wallace could have asked questions on major policy issues that deserve thoughtful and substantive prime-time discussion from the presidential candidates, like affordable health care, climate change, or tax plans.

    But that didn’t happen. When debate discussions did manage to turn to policy specifics on critical topics like reproductive rights or gun violence prevention, Wallace didn’t ask necessary follow-up questions or offer clarifications on the facts. (Prior to the debate, Wallace announced his intention to be a debate timekeeper rather than fact-checker.)

    All in all, last night’s debate largely covered the same ground as the previous two debates, both in topics discussed and in tone. If any of the three debates had focused more aggressively on what’s truly at stake -- what voters have said they wanted asked, what people actually believe is most important for their own families and communities -- the questions in this debate cycle would have looked very different. And the answers could speak for themselves.

    Let’s explore just how hard the moderators dropped the ball.

    This year, the United States began the process of resettling its first climate refugees. A bipartisan group of top military experts warned that climate change presents a “strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security and international security.” While Clinton wants to build on President Obama’s climate change accomplishments, Trump wants to “cancel” the historic Paris climate agreement, “rescind” the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency -- and he’s even called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

    Moderators did not ask a single question about the effects of climate change in any of the three presidential debates or the vice presidential debate.

    Several tragic mass shootings -- including the single deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando, FL, in June -- have shaken the nation since the beginning of the election season. Gun deaths in the United States, both in instances of mass shootings and in more common day-to-day violence, vastly outnumber gun deaths in other Western democracies -- so much so that the American Medical Association has declared gun violence a public health crisis. And Americans are overwhelmingly ready for lawmakers to take action. Seventy-two percent of voters say gun policy is “very important” in determining their vote this year, and an astonishing 90 percent of voters -- representing both Democrats and Republicans -- think that strengthening background check requirements for firearm purchases is a good place to start, as does Clinton. Trump recently told the National Rifle Association -- which has endorsed him  -- that he opposes expanding background checks. 

    Moderators failed to ask a single question about specific policies for gun violence prevention in the first two presidential debates, and they failed to ask a question about background check policies specifically in any debate. In the final debate, Wallace asked about gun policies in the context of the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision about the scope of the Second Amendment, but he failed to follow up when Trump skirted questions about the case and about his specific positions on several gun policies like his opposition to an assault weapons ban and his oft-repeated false claim that "gun-free" zones are responsible for public mass shootings. The entire exchange lasted just under five minutes.

    Though seven in 10 Americans support legal abortion and one in three American women report having had an abortion procedure, states have enacted 288 anti-choice laws since 2010. These laws are creating a crisis by preventing women from low-income families -- many already parents who are struggling to keep families afloat -- from receiving the health care services they need. Some evidence even suggests greater numbers of women are contemplating dangerous self-induced abortions due to a lack of access to care. Trump has espoused support for these types of restrictive laws, and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), wants to “send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.”

    But moderators did not ask a question about the candidates’ stances on reproductive rights until the final debate -- when Chris Wallace asked about Roe v. Wade. Again, Trump repeatedly lied about abortion policy, and the misinformation was left hanging as Wallace pivoted to a new topic after about five minutes of discussion.

    How about tax policies? Tax rates are a critical issue that directly affect all Americans, and the candidates’ respective tax policy proposals could not differ more. Clinton’s plan would benefit low- and middle-income families most and hike tax rates only for the wealthiest earners and for corporations. Trump’s plan has been called “a multitrillion-dollar gift to the rich” that “screws the middle class,” and has been panned even by conservative economists and The Wall Street Journal. One analysis concluded that Clinton’s plan  “trims deficits,” while Trump’s plan could add $6.2 trillion to the national debt. These numbers directly impact  the short-term and long-term financial health of families and communities, and 84 percent of voters say the economy is “very important” in deciding their vote in 2016.

    Substantive questions about the candidates’ specific tax plans were missing from the debates, though Trump still managed to lie about his tax proposals on several occasions. When the candidates mentioned their tax plans briefly in the final debate when asked about the economy, Wallace again lived up to his promise not to fact-check.

    A record number of anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, and LGBT students face significantly more violence than their peers, but the debates did not include a single question about policy positions related to LGBT equality.

    About 70 percent of today’s college graduates leave school with student loans, and more than 43 million Americans currently have student debt. This economic squeeze is changing how Americans plan their families, buy homes, and spend their money. Clinton has responded by making college affordability a signature issue of her campaign, while Trump’s newly described plan could “explode the student debt crisis.” Neither candidate was asked to address this issue either.

    The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world -- we account for 5 percent of the world’s population but a whopping 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Inmate organizers recently launched what could be the nation’s largest prison strike to draw attention to deplorable prison conditions. The majority of Americans want to see changes to a federal prison system they believe is “too large, too expensive, and too often incarcerating the wrong people.” Moderators didn’t ask about criminal justice reform policies at all.

    The presidential debates instead largely focused on statements made on the campaign trail, whichever offensive comments Trump had made most recently, and -- again, always -- Hillary Clinton’s email use as secretary of state. Viewers might now  know a lot about these topics  -- or at least what each candidate has to say about them -- while still having very little information on the candidates’ starkly contrasting policy positions on issues with direct and immediate consequences to citizens’ daily lives.

    Americans relied on moderators to raise the questions they think about every day, to help them understand how the next president can help ensure that their families are safe, secure, and set up to thrive. It’s a shame the debates did not deliver. 

  • If USA Today Is Concerned About Fossil Fuel Groups Spreading Climate Confusion, It Should Stop Helping Them Do It

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    In an October 19 editorial, USA Today criticized the “powerful fossil fuel lobby” for standing in the way of addressing climate change by “underwrit[ing] organizations that challenge the science and confuse the public.” Yet at the same time, USA Today provided a forum for precisely that sort of climate confusion by publishing its editorial alongside a falsehood-filled op-ed by the head of a fossil fuel industry front group.

    In its editorial, which expressed dismay at the lack of climate change discussion in the presidential debates, USA Today cited fossil fuel industry front groups as one of the “obstacles” to addressing climate change:

    [A]s with pension promises to public employees, today’s politicians will be long gone when the worst effects manifest themselves. The powerful fossil fuel lobby resists change; it underwrites organizations that challenge the science and confuse the public. And no individual city, state or nation can solve the climate problem; that will take a global effort in which individual countries have economic incentives to cheat on their emissions-reduction pledges.

    Given all these obstacles, the progress of the past year has been remarkable.

    But as is often the case, USA Today published this editorial -- which it describes as “our view” -- alongside an “opposing view,” a practice that has frequently resulted in USA Today publishing scientifically inaccurate claims about climate science that could confuse its readers. And this instance was no different.

    In this case, the “opposing view” was written by Alex Epstein, whom USA Today identified as “president and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, a for-profit think tank that has clients in the fossil fuel industry.” That disclosure of Epstein’s fossil fuel ties is commendable, but it does not excuse publishing an op-ed containing false claims about climate science.

    In the op-ed, Epstein claimed that political candidates who “think carefully about the magnitude of man-made warming and compare it with the unique benefits of fossil fuels” will conclude that “man-made warming is mild and manageable, not runaway and catastrophic.”

    But Epstein’s claim that global warming is “mild and manageable” directly contradicts the findings of the world’s leading climate scientists. For example, NASA says that “small changes in temperature correspond to enormous changes in the environment,” and notes that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that “the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time." Similarly, the National Climate Assessment states that climate change impacts “are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond,” and that there is “mounting evidence that harm to the nation will increase substantially in the future unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are greatly reduced.”

    According to Epstein, one reason that the “unique benefits” of fossil fuels outweigh their impact on the climate is that wind and solar energy are “expensive.” But that’s also not true, particularly for wind. As Fortune magazine recently reported, a new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance found:

    Electricity generated by large wind farms is now cheap enough in many places around the world to compete effectively with electricity generated by coal and natural gas.

    At the same time, solar panel farms aren’t quite low cost enough to be as competitive with fossil fuels as wind energy is. Still, the cost of electricity generated by solar panels has also come down significantly this year.

    The Bloomberg New Energy Finance report further stated that wind and solar will “become the cheapest ways of producing electricity in many countries during the 2020s and in most of the world in the 2030s.” And analyses from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and investment banking firm Lazard show that wind energy is already the cheapest source of electricity in some parts of the country.

    Epstein also peddled the myth that “only the fossil fuel industry” can rescue poor people around the world from “energy poverty.” The truth is that fossil fuels are not economically viable in most of the communities that suffer from a lack of electricity, and experts say distributed renewable energy sources are often a more effective way to lift the world's poor out of energy poverty.

    The USA Today editorial board is correct when it writes, “Aside from the possibility that mankind will blow itself up, no issue is more important to the future of the planet than global warming.” And it's right when it pinpoints climate science denial by fossil fuel front groups as a major roadblock to dealing with the climate crisis.

    The question, then, is an obvious one: Why does USA Today continue to provide a forum for these front groups to confuse the public about climate change?

  • San Antonio Express-News Won't Endorse Lamar Smith, Citing “Bullying Tactics” On Climate Change

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    In past elections, the San Antonio Express-News has endorsed House Science Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) because of his “undeniably conservative credentials.” But this year, the newspaper is refusing to endorse Smith, citing his “bullying on the issue of climate change” as behavior that “should concern all Americans.”

    Smith has wrongly alleged that attorneys general investigations into ExxonMobil’s climate change deception threaten Exxon’s First Amendment rights, when in fact, as the Express-News noted, “The issue is fraud -- alleged at a state level -- and whether the corporate giant withheld information from shareholders and others.” Smith and other Republican members of the House Science Committee responded to the Exxon investigations by demanding documents from attorneys general and environmentally focused organizations, which drew criticism from legal scholars, and Smith recently expanded his subpoena campaign to include a separate investigation of Exxon by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    The Express-News also noted that Smith has sought to “chill” scientific inquiry by “threaten[ing] the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], Kathryn Sullivan, with criminal charges if she didn’t release emails from scientists about a certain climate change study.” Smith baselessly accused NOAA of manipulating temperature records to show a warming trend, when in reality, NOAA routinely makes adjustments to historical temperature records that are peer-reviewed and necessary to account for changes to measuring instruments and other factors.

    Smith has accepted over $770,000 in career campaign contributions from the oil and gas and electric utility industries, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. He is being challenged for his congressional seat by Democrat Tom Wakely.

    From the San Antonio Express-News editorial, which appeared in the newspaper’s print edition on October 18:

    In elections past, we have supported U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith’s bids for re-election.

    We no longer can. We offer no recommendation in this race. Smith is being challenged by Democrat Thomas Wakely and by Libertarian and Green candidates as well.

    We’ve argued that Smith’s undeniably conservative credentials have been a good fit for the 21st Congressional District. However, Smith’s actions have developed more transparently this last term into an issue that goes beyond the boundaries of his district.

    A particular issue is his abuse of his position as chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Specifically, it is his bullying on the issue of climate change that should concern all Americans.

    [...]

    Smith issued subpoenas on the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general, environmental groups, philanthropies and an attorney after the states began investigating Exxon Mobil over allegations the company buried its own global warming research in the 1970s.

    The issue is fraud — alleged at a state level — and whether the corporate giant withheld information from shareholders and others. Think Big Tobacco, which had early knowledge of the cancer dangers of its products. Smith has contended it is a First Amendment issue, the right of a company to speak its mind.

    [...]

    Thoughtful action is what the public has been due from Smith. But last year Smith threatened the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Kathryn Sullivan, with criminal charges if she didn’t release emails from scientists about a certain climate change study. That study refuted gospel by deniers that global warming slowed between 1998 and 2012.

    Smith said he was shielding scientific inquiry. But the real effect would be to chill such efforts.