Environment & Science

Issues ››› Environment & Science
  • Fifty-Six Prominent Organizations Urge Media To Press Presidential Candidates On Science

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    A coalition of U.S. nonpartisan organizations representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers is calling on journalists to press the presidential candidates about major science policy issues in the lead-up to the election.

    The nonprofit ScienceDebate.org has been running a campaign calling for at least one presidential debate exclusively focused on science, health, tech, and environmental issues. It teamed up with several prominent science-focused organizations -- including the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Union of Concerned Scientists; and more -- to crowdsource the best science-related questions for the candidates. Now, the coalition of 56 organizations has released its list of 20 questions for journalists to ask the presidential candidates. In a press release, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that a president’s “attitude toward and decisions about science and research affect the public wellbeing, from the growth of our economy, to education, to public health.” The coalition’s list of 20 suggested questions for candidates contains topics ranging from space exploration to vaccination to technological innovations, and three of the questions focus on addressing global changes in the climate:

    • The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?
    • We now live in a global economy with a large and growing human population. These factors create economic, public health, and environmental challenges that do not respect national borders. How would your administration balance national interests with global cooperation when tackling threats made clear by science, such as pandemic diseases and climate change, that cross national borders?
    • There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?

    Such questions would fill a glaring gap in the debates thus far. A Media Matters analysis found that only 1.5 percent of the questions posed to candidates during the first 20 presidential primary debates were about climate change. Instead, the debate moderators gave outsized attention to the political horse race and other non-substantive issues. And, of the few climate-related questions that were asked during the primary debates, zero were directed to Donald Trump.

    Now the case for pressing Trump on the issue is even greater, given recent comments he has made. This week, Trump announced he would “cancel” the Paris climate agreement and “rescind” the Climate Action Plan. He has also repeatedly called global warming a “hoax” and recently told The Washington Post’s editorial board that he is “not a great believer in man-made climate change.”

    In his book The War on Science, ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto wrote that in 2008, media figures dismissed his concerns that science policy issues were being overlooked in the presidential race. News directors and editors told Otto that they “thought it was a niche topic, and the public wasn’t interested.” But a 2015 national poll commissioned by ScienceDebate.org and Research!America shows that a large majority of Americans “say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues.” And a more recent Gallup poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans worry about global warming, leading Gallup to conclude that “Americans are now expressing record- or near-record-high belief that global warming is happening, as well as concern about the issue.”

  • Media Explain How Trump Distorted Obama's Clean Energy Revolution

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    The New York Times and The Washington Post both explained how GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump flipped the script on energy and electricity in his August 8 speech on economic policy. Despite Trump’s fearmongering over the Obama administration’s energy policies and his claim of rising costs of electricity, the U.S. has seen stable electricity prices and a boon in clean energy over the past eight years.

    In his August 8 speech at the Detroit Economic Club, Trump asserted that the “Obama-Clinton Administration has blocked and destroyed millions of jobs through their anti-energy regulations, while raising the price of electricity for both families and businesses.”

    But as The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney pointed out, home electricity prices increased greatly under the Bush administration -- from about 8 cents per kilowatt hour to 12 cents, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) -- and “there hasn’t been as much growth since then.” The New York Times’ editorial board noted that the EIA projects a decrease in electricity prices this year, from 12.82 cents per kilowatt hour to 12.64 cents.

    Trump also completely overlooked the renewable energy and natural gas sectors, which have spurred an increase of energy-related jobs, when he claimed that “millions of jobs” have been “blocked and destroyed” during Obama’s administration. The Post cited a recent study from the Solar Foundation that found the solar industry added 115,000 jobs over the past six years and another Duke University study that found coal job losses between 2008 and 2012 were far outpaced by job gains in wind and solar and natural gas, resulting in a net increase of about 125,000 jobs over these sectors. The Times pointed out the irony of calling for an “energy revolution” that makes “no mention of carbon-free renewable energy sources.”

    Multiple outlets also pointed out that Trump’s pledge to put coal miners “back to work” is an unachievable promise based on a false premise. Vox’s Brad Plumer explained that the coal industry is “collapsing” and is “not coming back,” and CNBC’s Tom DiChristopher cited the EIA saying the demise of coal has been "mainly a market-driven response to lower natural gas prices that have made natural gas generation more economically attractive.”

    Many of the false claims Trump made about energy have been debunked before, which allowed journalists at The Washington Post to fact-check his speech while it was happening. The Post’s Glenn Kessler tweeted a fact check of the bunk study Trump cited on the cost of federal regulations, and Michelle Ye Lee Hee pointed to another fact check explaining how conservatives distorted Clinton’s speech discussing her plan to provide aid to struggling coal communities.

    The Post’s Mooney summarized Trump’s speech:

    In the end, Trump’s negative picture of the energy sector is similar to his dire picture of the economy, which has been criticized for being inaccurately skewed towards the negative. U.S. energy is definitely undergoing major changes. Whether it’s in trouble — that’s a much tougher argument.

    Photo at the top via Flickr user Greens MPs with a Creative Commons license.

  • New Book Explains Media’s Role In Today’s Toxic State Of Public Discourse

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Why is it so hard to create meaningful action on climate change? Discussion about global warming -- and many other critical issues -- has become “polluted” by toxic rhetoric, argues author and public relations specialist James Hoggan, which in turn “discourage[s] people from taking action.” In his new book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How To Clean it Up, Hoggan examines why and how the public sphere has become “polluted” by “polarized rhetoric, propaganda and miscommunication,” and offers advice on how to clean it up.

    In discussions with dozens of scholars and thought leaders, from NASA scientists to the 14th Dalai Lama, Hoggan details several factors that have degraded rhetoric around important political issues. Here are four ways that conservative media have played a key role:

    Right-Wing Tactic #1: Use Ad Hominem Attacks To Damage Credibility Of Advocates, Scientists

    Because science is not on the side of those who oppose acting on climate change, it is much easier for climate science deniers to vilify their opponents than to address the actual issue. Sociology professor Alex Himelfarb pointed out to Hoggan that there is an “increasing and effective use of a classic rhetorical ploy called ad hominem -- where attacks are aimed at a person’s character, not their line of reasoning,” a ploy that is frequently used against climate advocates.

    Media Matters has documented this tactic countless times on Fox News and other right-wing media, where pundits have attempted to smear climate scientists as corrupted by money, falsely claimed the Paris climate conference had a large carbon footprint to paint its participants as hypocrites, and frequently mocked prominent climate activists Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore.

    As Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley explained to Hoggan, deniers “attack and undermine [their] opponents’ integrity while making them appear to have a vested interest” simply because they “can’t rely on [their] own credibility” and “the facts aren’t on [their] side.”

    Right-Wing Tactic #2: Change The Frame -- Or Create A False One

    Conceptual frameworks “permeate everything we think and say, so the people who control language and set its frames have an inordinate amount of power,” argues Hoggan. He spoke with linguistics professor George Lakoff, who noted that “if you do a bad job of framing your story, someone else will likely do it for you.” Hoggan also spoke with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who noted that he heard right-wing radio host Glenn Beck say, “Climate change is not about the environment; it’s about control.” In this case, Beck re-framed the discussion about climate change action to be about empowering “the nanny state,” according to Haidt, who added that Beck “very skillfully pushed certain moral buttons that sowed profound doubt.”

    As a case study, Hoggan pointed to the manufactured “Climategate” controversy, an “international campaign to discredit scientists” before the landmark international climate change summit in Copenhagen, according to DeSmogBlog. Fox News had a heavy hand in amplifying the phony controversy, even after official investigations proved -- six times over -- that there was no wrongdoing.

    Hoggan wrote that he was “astonished to see how a group of legitimate climate scientists, with stacks of peer-reviewed evidence on their side, could lose debates to a group of people who had none -- all because of a lens created by mischief-makers.” But he noted that the scientific facts in this controversy were complicated, and the public was not equipped to analyze them on their face. Thus, “Climategate was a battle of frames versus facts, and the frames won.”

    Right-Wing Tactic #3: Silence -- And Erode Trust In -- Mainstream Media

    According to Yale professor Stanley, who wrote the book How Propaganda Works, right-wing media are less interested in reporting “accurate, well-researched stories” and more interested in “broadcasting noise so that it becomes difficult to hear the truth.” Stanley called out Fox News in particular, stating that its “fair and balanced” slogan is not only false, but intentionally so:

    Fox engages in a kind of silencing tactic when describing itself as “fair and balanced,” especially to an audience that is perfectly aware that it is neither. The effect is to suggest there is no possibility of balanced news, only propaganda; this results in a silencing of all news sources by suggesting everyone is grossly insincere.

    The complex science behind global warming, and the huge scale of actions needed to address it, can defy easy description -- a fact that conservative media often exploit. Hoggan cited psychologist and author of State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind Bryant Welch, who noted that in response to confusion, an “authoritative person who takes command -- ‘think of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh’ -- and spews strong feelings with absolutely certainty is appealing to a beleaguered mind.”

    Welch has written about “gaslighting” -- the process of manipulating someone into questioning their sense of reality -- and he explained to Hoggan that the tactic is commonplace on Fox News. When “people begin to doubt their own perceptions and observations,” they “become less rational, less capable of thinking for themselves,” and “more and more beholden to Fox News.”

    Right-Wing Tactic #4: Make The Challenge Of Addressing Climate Change Seem Impossible

    The easiest way to inhibit progress on climate change is to make it seem impossible, argues Hoggan -- to promote the “do-nothing stance.” He explains that to take action “requires an anti-gravity position, which is so-called because it takes energy, hard work and a real sense of the common good.” He said deniers “don’t have to convince the public that climate change isn’t real,” but instead can “exaggerat[e] the hazards of solutions to make them seem unbelievably risky.”

    This tactic is common among fossil fuel front groups, which have employed baseless fearmongering and false attacks to attack key climate actions over and over -- and too often, conservative media take the bait, as Media Matters has documented. Dozens of front groups have attacked the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, and many of these groups published bunk studies and reports falsely claiming that the landmark carbon pollution rule would hurt consumers or harm the economy (it won't). Conservative media also targeted a barrage of misleading attacks at the Paris climate agreement reached by 195 countries in December and recycled many of these attacks on Earth Day. This rhetoric has also made its way into mainstream media, with prominent Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson brazenly declaring that "we have no solution" for addressing climate change.

    Hoggan argues that conversations about climate change should not focus solely on the negative, because doing so can lead to paralysis. Correspondingly, his book includes positive suggestions for the media to help improve public discourse and create “healthier dialogue” that moves people forward instead of exacerbating conflicts and creating divisions.

    Here are some of his suggestions for media:

    Tell More Positive Stories

    A Rutgers University study once found that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both frame climate action as ineffective more often than effective. Yet Hoggan argues that barraging people with facts about climate change that evoke feelings of fear and guilt is not going to inspire action. Instead, he writes, it is time to “build hope instead of fear, empathy instead of alienation, people’s sense of self-worth rather than their sense of inadequacy.” Harvard professor Marshall Ganz explained to Hoggan that stories that offer hope can become “an emotional dialogue that speaks about deeply held values, about an inspired future that is hopeful and steeped in those values.” Hoggan also explained:

    Environmentalists must explain why every previous generation did what was necessary to secure the infrastructure and climate for people to succeed, and emphasize this generation’s obligation to do the same.

    Studies have shown that while negative stories about climate change can turn readers into cynics, stories about successful political activism and individual actions can generate enthusiasm.

    Disclose Special Interests Behind Front Groups

    People need to know where most of the climate misinformation is coming from: fossil fuel corporations that want to protect their bottom line. As Hoggan pointed out, corporations are “furiously focused on creating shareholder value,” meaning “they can and must act in the interest of their shareholders.” And when something threatens their license to operate -- such as the knowledge that fossil fuels are disastrously changing the climate -- these big businesses are “motivated to become skilled at propaganda.”

    That’s why it’s so important to disclose the fossil fuel funding behind front groups that claim to represent the best interest of citizens. It’s also why corporations work so hard to hide their support for these groups, through “astroturfing” -- creating fake grass-roots groups that Hoggan says “makes it almost impossible to distinguish between a legitimate groundswell and manufactured opinion.”

    As a case in point, Hoggan details the “ethical oil” PR campaign, when oil companies used the front group EthicalOil.org to rebrand dirty tar sands oil in Canada as “ethical” and tar sands opponents as “foreign-funded radicals.” He also pointed out other industry-funded front groups, including Citizens for a Sound Economy, which pushed the myth of “clean coal.” In fact, there are dozens of fossil fuel industry front groups that are currently attacking environmental protections in the United States, but their industry ties often go unmentioned.

    Invite Scientists To Discuss Climate Change

    Media Matters analyses have shown that when discussing climate change, broadcast news networks have turned to politicians and media figures far more often than scientists. This may be why French scientist Bruno Latour argues that scientists should get more involved in the public debate about climate change -- “to stand up and fight, with full disclosure, full respect, scrupulous honesty, honoring of the democratic process.” As Hoggan explained:

    We have long passed the point where we can talk about a fight between good, clean science and science that has been sullied and distorted by personal and public interests.


    We need scientists to become more political because pure evidence -- facts, figures and flow charts -- cannot form an adequate basis for public debate. Why? Primarily because public is not equipped to get to the bottom of such a discussion or analyze all these facts.

    There is much more to examine in the book, from pundits repeating false myths over and over to the Dalai Lama’s appeal for “warm-heartedness.” Improving public discourse begins with expanding knowledge, and reading I’m Right and You’re an Idiot is a good first step.

  • Trump Adviser Stephen Moore Compares Fracking To "The Cure For Cancer"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    While GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump recently suggested that voters should be allowed to ban fracking at a local or state level, one of Trump’s economic advisers believes that “to be against fracking is like being against a cure for cancer.”

    During the August 1 edition of C-SPAN2's Book TV, while discussing his new book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy, conservative economist Stephen Moore stated that opposing fracking “is like being against a cure for cancer” because it is “one of the great seismic technological breakthroughs” that is “giving us huge amounts of energy at very low prices.” He criticized Florida high school students who oppose fracking, claiming they were “indoctrinated in their high school classes” to think that “somehow fracking is a bad thing.”

    Moore also dismissed the widespread concerns about fracking contaminating drinking water supplies by claiming that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “said there were no findings of water contamination from fracking.” But the EPA’s report actually found multiple instances of water contamination from fracking, and that the EPA itself emphasized that its data was “insufficient” to evaluate how often fracking impacts water “with any certainty,” leading its own scientists to call its conclusions into question.

    Days before C-SPAN2 aired the discussion, Trump told a local Denver television station that “voters should have a say" in whether to allow fracking, adding, "[I]f a municipality or a state wants to ban fracking I can understand that.” Many towns in Colorado have placed local bans or moratoriums on fracking, and Democrats are currently working to place an initiative for a statewide ban on fracking on the November ballot, the Los Angeles Times reported.

    Moore is reportedly one of Trump's "council of wise men" and a campaign adviser, who was picked by Trump, along with CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow, to re-write his tax plan. Moore, who is also a Fox News contributor and senior economist at the fossil fuel-funded Heritage Foundation, has compared fracking to a cancer cure in the past, and has also distorted a NASA study to claim that it was an "indication" that global warming is "actually not happening."

    From the August 1 edition of C-SPAN2's Book TV:

    STEPHEN MOORE: How many of you have seen that video from Gasland where the West Virginia -- they light the big lighter near the water and it looks like -- I'm sure you've seen that, it looks like a blowtorch -- and I remember when that came out, when did that come out? Four or five years ago or something like that? And I remember we went to West Virginia to give a talk about energy policy, and I was talking to these folks about it and I mentioned the Gasland scene, and these people burst out laughing, they were like, "This has been happening for 75 years in West Virginia." ... So the point is, that's not fracking. This is just a perfect example of a propaganda campaign that's going on. It's not fracking, it's natural seepage of that, just as you're describing, it seeps up into the -- so, if that being the case, how do you prevent it from getting into the drinking water? You actually drill it out. If you drill it out, it's less likely to contaminate drinking water. The EPA -- correct me if I'm wrong on this, you're the expert -- but, was it about a year or so ago, the EPA said there were no findings of water contamination from fracking. I've got to say, this is an amazing thing that's going on in this country. I gave a talk two years ago to the valedictorians, high school valedictorians of Florida. And there were about 50 of these kids, and they were incredibly impressive and bright and smart and they were inquisitive and so on. And I remember during my little talk to them -- I gave two or three minutes about this energy stuff and how great this is -- and I remember they started to frown. And I said, "Gee, this is kind of weird." And then all of a sudden I said, "Wait a minute. Wait, wait wait. How many of you in this room, of you 50 kids, how many of you think fracking is a good thing?" About 12 of them raised their hands. "How many of you think fracking is a bad thing?" Thirty of them raised their hands. Now, look, to be against fracking is like being against a cure for cancer. This is one of the great seismic technological breakthroughs. We're way ahead of the rest of the world. It's giving us access to huge amounts of energy at very low prices. How could anybody be against this? And it occurred to me, these kids have been indoctrinated in their high school classes that somehow fracking is a bad thing. And this is a tough thing to defeat, this kind of wacko propaganda campaign that infiltrates every area of our culture.

  • Chris Hayes: Conservatives’ Climate Denial Explained By “The Alex Jonesification Of The GOP”

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    MSNBC host Chris Hayes explained in a series of tweets how conservatives’ denial of the evidence of human-caused climate change exemplifies “the rot in the conservative movement” and the Republican Party.

    USA Today reported on July 26 that according to the federal government’s Climate Prediction Center, “for the first time on record, every square inch of all 50 states is forecast to see above-average temperatures for the next three months.”

    Hayes cited this report in explaining the GOP’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of human-caused climate change. Hayes went on to say the conservative movement’s climate change denial represents “breathtaking epistemic nihilism” and that the three-decade-long “conspiracy theory” that climate change is a hoax is the embodiment of “the Alex Jonesification of the GOP.” (Alex Jones is a notorious conspiracy theorist and 9/11 truther who received special guest credentials at the Republican National Convention):

    Fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil have known for nearly three decades that fossil fuel emissions harm the climate, but have been working to “deceive the public,” according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). An earlier UCS report explained that MSNBC’s climate coverage has been overwhelmingly accurate, especially when compared to conservative cable news channel Fox News.

  • At Party Conventions, Big Oil’s Media Manipulation Strategy Is On Full Display

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    A few months ago, we documented that the American Petroleum Institute (API), the trade group for oil companies including industry giants ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, was blanketing CNN’s airwaves with ads persuading Americans to support the oil industry’s agenda. It’s a standard formula for the well-heeled industry to control the on-air narrative around climate and energy issues -- and one that in this case drowned out the cable network’s meager discussion of the ominous global warming records that were being set.  

    Now, as the Republican and Democratic parties are in the midst of hosting their national conventions, we are reminded of yet another tool at Big Oil’s disposable for influencing media coverage of key energy issues. Vote4Energy, the same API campaign featured in the ads on CNN, is sponsoring events held by Politico, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post at both conventions.

    As reported by The Intercept's Alex Emmons, at the recently concluded GOP convention, The Atlantic hosted a forum on energy and the environment that featured two climate science-denying congressmen and an API lobbyist -- with no one present to address the scientific facts of climate change. The Intercept added that API also sponsored events held by The Washington Post and Politico “where API literature was distributed, API representatives gave opening remarks, and not one speaker was an environmentalist, climate expert, scientist, or Democrat.”

    Both The Atlantic and the Post said that they tried but were unable to find speakers who could represent the other side of the energy debate. In any event, the end result was a forum for misinformation. For instance, all three events included at least one speaker who espoused some form of climate science denial, according to remarks included in The Intercept article:

    At The Atlantic‘s event, [North Dakota Rep. Kevin] Cramer and [Ohio Rep. Bill] Johnson both downplayed concerns about climate science. “The 97 percent of the scientists who believe [it’s] real, don’t all believe the exact same level,” said Cramer. “Whose fault it is, what’s going to stop it … there’s a wide range in that spectrum.”


    At the Washington Post’s discussion, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said that in the past 15 years the earth was, on average, “cooling down,” but stressed “the point is that it’s not a settled science.”


    At Politico‘s API-sponsored event, the oil lobbying group’s CEO, Jack Gerard, opened the event by telling the audience that “the United States has become the superpower of energy in the world.”

    Rep. Cramer, who was also a guest at the Politico event, joked with the audience that in his home state of North Dakota, “we’re for a warmer climate.”

    The media figures hosting the events provided limited pushback, according to The Intercept, even though the media organizations insisted that the presence of their journalists was enough to hold the panelists accountable. The most direct rebuttal to outright denial came from Washington Post opinion writer Stephen Stromberg, who informed Rep. Blackburn that “I think there would be a vast bulk of climate scientists who would disagree” with her statements about climate change, but then allowed that “we don’t have to litigate the science of it this morning.” The Atlantic’s panel moderator, Steve Clemons, told The Intercept that “I had trust in my own ability to be the alternative, and I had trust that the audience would ask questions to provide balance,” but he also conceded that he “should have done more.”

    The Atlantic, the Post, and Politico all have similar events lined up for the Democratic National Convention, which has spurred advocacy group Climate Hawks Vote to launch a petition calling on Democratic officials not to appear at the API-sponsored events. As Hill Heat noted, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) recently condemned API for its role in spreading climate science denial during his contribution to senators’ “web of denial” speeches on the Senate floor.

    Beyond the conventions, another reminder of the oil industry’s multifaceted approach to co-opting media is taking place at the Los Angeles Times, where the Occidental Petroleum spinoff company California Resources Corp. (CRC) has teamed up with the Times’ “content solutions” team to dole out more industry propaganda on the Powering California website.

    As we’ve explained, the Times’ branded content department, which the newspaper says is wholly independent from its reporting and editorial staff, produced a fearmongering video for CRC last fall suggesting that life as we know it would descend into chaos without the oil industry.

    A year later, as the oil industry stands in the way of California passing critical legislation that would set the standard for other states to fight climate change, Powering California is out with a series of new videos praising oil and attacking clean energy sources. One of the videos baselessly asserts that “renewable energy can’t replace oil,” falsely claims wind energy is “expensive,” and bombastically declares that “oil and natural gas are woven into the fabric of America.” Another video features feel-good man-on-the-street interviews with paid actors touting California’s oil and gas industry.

    Concerns about these types of arrangements between media and the fossil fuel industry have not subsided, despite media organizations’ assurances that the relationships would not affect their coverage. Pointing to the API-sponsored events and The Hill’s offer to “sell interviews” at the conventions, The Intercept’s Emmons concluded: “What were once blurred lines in the journalism business are becoming increasingly clear -- because they have been crossed.”

  • Three Things Media Should Know About Harold Hamm, Trump’s Leading Pick For Energy Secretary

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Fracking industry billionaire Harold Hamm is the “leading contender” to be energy secretary in a Donald Trump administration, according to a Reuters source, which would make Hamm the first ever U.S. energy secretary drawn directly from the oil and gas industry. Hamm has a history of influencing government officials to promote legislation that benefits his company’s bottom line, exploited the Orlando shooting tragedy to call for more oil drilling, and tried to suppress scientific research that was unfavorable to the fracking industry.

  • Fox Business' GOP Convention Coverage Promotes 5 Big Coal Myths In 7 Minutes


    During Fox Business’ July 20 coverage of the Republican National Convention, host Maria Bartiromo and coal industry executive Robert Murray peddled industry-friendly myths while attacking clean energy with falsehoods. Murray also said he is thus far “elated” with the GOP convention, which is aligned with a radical anti-environmental platform, and he repeatedly declared that the energy policies of the Obama administration and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are “evil.”

    Here are five Big Coal myths that Bartiromo and Murray espoused during the segment:

    Myth #1: Obama regulations are to blame for the coal industry’s decline. Bartiromo aired a clip of Clinton that has repeatedly been distorted by conservative media to claim she wants to harm coal miners, and then Bartiromo claimed that “the policies in place have already put [coal industry employees] out of work.” Murray declared that “there’s hundreds of thousands of people” at the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies “writing rules against we who are trying to maintain jobs,” and added: “The coal industry is virtually destroyed … we had 200,000 miners before Obama. We now have 60,000.” But industry experts say market forces, including technological advances and competition from natural gas and renewables, are the primary cause of the coal industry’s decline -- not policies from the Obama administration.

    Myth #2: Murray “cares” about coal miners. As he was attacking environmental protections, Murray stated: “I’ve been forced to lay off 3,300 coal miners this year. It just kills me because I am a coal miner. I care about these people.” Bartiromo might have pointed out in response that Murray has pressured employees to support his favored political candidates, allegedly fired employees to influence the 2012 presidential election, and has repeatedly fought against health benefits, safety protections, and labor rights for coal miners.

    Myth #3: Coal energy is cheaper than wind energy. During the segment, Murray claimed that wind energy is highly subsidized and far more expensive than coal, which he said provides “low-cost reliable electricity.” However, according to both the U.S. Energy Information Agency and the investment banking firm Lazard, the unsubsidized cost of wind energy is substantially lower than that of coal.

    Myth #4: It’s not possible to retrain coal miners for jobs in the clean energy economy. Bartiromo baselessly dismissed the concept of retraining coal miners for clean energy industry jobs, declaring: “The other thing is the skill sets and the training. What does a coal miner know about windmills? How do they know about solar panels? There’s no training." However, according to a recent study by researchers at Oregon State University and Michigan Technological University, “a relatively minor investment in retraining would allow the vast majority of coal workers to switch to [solar photovoltaic]-related positions even in the event of the elimination of the coal industry.”

    Myth #5: There is a “war on coal.” The “war on coal” is a favorite talking point of the coal industry and the Republican party, most recently adopted in the GOP’s 2016 energy platform. Fox Business endorsed it with on-screen text:

    The “war on coal” was manufactured by the GOP and the coal industry to attack Democrats during the 2012 election -- as Greenpeace has pointed out, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney released an ad claiming President Obama was “ruining” the coal industry around the same time that House Republicans pushed a “Stop the War on Coal Act.” Associated Press reporter Vicki Smith succinctly explained the misleading nature of the phrase at the time:

    The war on coal is a sound bite and a headline, perpetuated by pundits, power companies and public relations consultants who have crafted a neat label for a complex set of realities, one that compels people to choose sides.

    It's easier to call the geologic, market and environmental forces reshaping coal — cheap natural gas, harder-to-mine coal seams, slowing economies — some kind of political or cultural "war" than to acknowledge the world is changing, and leaving some people behind.

    The full video, from the July 20 edition of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria:

  • Senators Explain How Fossil Fuel Groups Use Media To Spread Denial And Thwart Climate Action

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A group of U.S. Senators took to the Senate floor on July 11 and 12 to expose the “web of denial” that the fossil fuel industry has spun to block action on climate change. Essential to this effort is a media misinformation campaign that several senators described in detail.

    Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) remarked on the “unfortunate role” that the media has played in spreading misinformation by providing false balance on the science of climate change:

    Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) noted that “so-called experts” at the Koch- and Exxon-funded Heritage Foundation “publish op-eds and do interviews in media outlets around the country, talk radio, helping to spread disinformation or misinformation or what we sometimes call lies”:

    Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) noted that some of the same groups that deny climate science are also using the media to push for a “land grab” that would transfer public lands from federal to state control, which could pave the way for more drilling and mining:

    And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) explained that the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, whose website Watchdog.org has been described as “delivering political propaganda dressed up as journalism,” has extensive ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers:

  • Washington Post Weather Editor Urges TV Meteorologists To “Openly Discuss Climate Change”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On-air meteorologists owe it to their viewers to discuss climate change, says The Washington Post’s weather editor Jason Samenow.

    In a July 12 column on the Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog, Samenow pushed back against the criticism he has received for writing about climate change as a meteorologist, stating that “climate change is a scientific reality, and it’s one that is modifying the weather in important ways.”

    The share of American meteorologists who recognize that human activities are driving global warming has increased in recent years, but that knowledge isn’t typically reflected in on-air coverage -- yet. Samenow lamented that only a minority of television weathercasters “feel very comfortable” presenting climate change information on air, according to the latest survey on the subject from George Mason University.

    It is worth keeping in mind that vast differences exist between meteorologists and climate scientists (climate science is not meteorologists’ area of expertise), but Samenow nonetheless argued that “[i]gnoring climate change in weather reporting is anti-scientific by omission, and it’s irresponsible.” He quoted Raleigh, North Carolina meteorologist Greg Fishel, who said that even though broadcast meteorologists "have the least education [on climate change], we have [the] most responsibility to educate ourselves so we can educate the public in the right way.” Curbed urbanism editor Alissa Walker agrees, asking in a July 12 column for Gizmodo: “Why aren’t meteorologists, the people who tell the public about severe weather, also telling us what’s contributing to it?”

    Samenow also noted in his blog post that even weathercasters in “politically conservative television markets” have found success when they’ve attempted to educate their audiences about climate change. He pointed to Columbia, South Carolina meteorologist Jim Gandy, who has “hosted a series of educational segments branded ‘Climate Matters’” that “demonstrably improved climate change understanding” among his viewers.

    From Samenow’s July 12 blog post:

    It is perhaps the most frustrating response I encounter as a meteorologist when I write about climate change. It stems from doubts about climate change or the view that it’s a political issue, one that shouldn’t contaminate straight weather reporting.

    “Stick to the weather,” people say.

    But climate change is a scientific reality, and it’s one that is modifying the weather in important ways.

    Every meteorologist who is in the business of communicating weather information has an obligation to explain why the weather does what it does, and climate change is playing an ever-increasing role in this story. Ignoring climate change in weather reporting is anti-scientific by omission, and it’s irresponsible.


    On-camera meteorologists who work in politically conservative television markets with significant contingents of climate change doubters have found success in their efforts to educate their audiences about the state of the science.

    Jim Gandy, a TV meteorologist at WLTX in Columbia, S.C., has hosted a series of educational segments branded “Climate Matters,” which has demonstrably improved climate change understanding among his viewers.

    “I have been doing it for almost six years and now people consider me an expert on climate change,” Gandy said. “I think our research showed that the subject did not turn people away. In fact, I find people quite interested in how climate change is affecting them and how it will in the future.”

    However, despite overwhelming evidence that climate change is impacting weather, George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication found that only “a minority” of television weathercasters “feel very comfortable” presenting climate change information on air. Most say discussing climate change won’t help their careers. Some fear discussing the role of climate change on weather will upset their viewers — or even newsroom management.

    But TV weathercasters need to find the courage to communicate about climate change responsibly. The science is on their side.

  • Climate Advocates Expose Oil Industry Ties Of Exxon Defender At U.S. News & World Report

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Several environmental organizations called out the oil industry ties of U.S. News & World Report contributing editor Peter Roff, who in a recent column attacked efforts to hold the industry accountable while promoting its misleading talking points and downplaying the threat posed by climate change.

    Democratic senators are speaking out against the fossil fuel industry and its efforts to promote climate science denial for financial gain. This comes as ExxonMobil is under investigation by several attorneys general for possibly committing fraud by deliberately misleading shareholders and the public about climate science for decades after its own scientists confirmed that fossil fuels are causing global warming. The senators also introduced a resolution that compares the oil industry’s misinformation campaign to the tobacco and lead industries’ efforts to deliberately deceive the public about the health impacts of their products, stating that each industry “developed a sophisticated and deceitful campaign that funded think tanks and front groups, and paid public relations firms to deny, counter, and obfuscate” peer-reviewed research and “used that misinformation campaign to mislead the public and cast doubt in order to protect their financial interest.”

    In response, U.S. News’ Roff penned a July 11 column lashing out at the senators and proclaiming that there is an “as yet unsettled debate about climate change and what to do about it.” Roff labeled the senators’ resolution an “attack on the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.” But as the dean of Yale Law School has explained, Exxon and its allies are blurring “the essential difference between fraud and public debate,” and if Exxon has indeed committed fraud, “its speech would not merit First Amendment protection.”

    And as environmental advocates pointed out on Twitter, Roff’s misleading defense of Exxon is hardly surprising given his own ties to Exxon and the oil billionaire Koch brothers. The Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch.org tweeted to Roff: “[W]hy don't you report Exxon's denial funding @usnews? Because you're a ‘fellow’ at an Exxon-funded op.” Common Cause’s Jay Riestenberg pointed out that Roff “once worked for a Koch funded org.” Greenpeace’s Connor Gibson stated that Roff “often recycles the Koch bros talking points in their defense.”

    Indeed, Roff is currently a senior fellow at the conservative think tank Frontiers of Freedom, which received more than $1 million from ExxonMobil between 2001 and 2007. In both 2012 and 2014, Roff’s organization received $50,000 from DonorsTrust -- the dark money group with significant ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests -- and it got $75,000 from the Charles G. Koch foundation in 2014.

    As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) put it, it is “long past time that we shed some light on the perpetrators of this web of denial.” He’s right, and that includes detailing the oil industry ties of a U.S. News contributing editor defending Exxon’s climate change deception.

    Image at the top via DeSmogBlog.