Environment & Science

Issues ››› Environment & Science
  • The Media Were The Biggest Promoters Of Marco Rubio's Doomed Campaign

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) dropped out of the 2016 Republican presidential election after losing his home state of Florida in the state's March 15 primary. The media had touted Rubio's candidacy throughout the race, despite his poor performance in debates and GOP primaries. Here's a look back at the media's promotion of the Marco Rubio presidential candidacy.

  • Las Vegas Review-Journal Twists Exxon Climate Change Deception Allegations

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    UPDATE (3/16/16): The Wall Street Journal editorial board has one-upped the Review-Journal in egregiously distorting a potential federal investigation of Exxon and other oil companies for intentionally misleading shareholders and the public about climate change. In a March 15 editorial, the Journal falsely claimed that the Department of Justice may "throw people in jail for scientific skepticism," and managed to do so without ever uttering the words "Exxon" or "oil companies." A March 15 Washington Times op-ed by Southeastern Legal Foundation chief operating officer Todd Young also attacked the potential investigation without mentioning oil companies, falsely alleging that the investigation could broadly apply to "those who question human-caused climate change science," when it would actually examine evidence that oil companies knew of reality of climate change but publicly sowed doubt about climate science in order to protect their profits.

    ORIGINAL POST:

    In discussing a possible investigation into whether ExxonMobil deceived the public through a campaign to sow uncertainty about climate science research, the Las Vegas Review-Journal misstated the issue as one of beliefs: "The last time we checked, there was no crime in being skeptical of climate change." But the reason for a potential Department of Justice investigation is that evidence shows the company intentionally misled the public about the role fossil fuels play in climate change.

    The March 13 editorial takes issue with a proposed federal investigation into what Exxon knew about climate change from its research and what the company chose to do with that information. The Review-Journal disputes that Exxon could be in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) -- as charged by several House Democrats. The editorial misrepresents the alleged RICO violation, saying there "is no crime in being skeptical of climate change" and that an investigation would be "a trampling of [Exxon's] First Amendment rights" (emphasis added):

    As reported by Kate Sheppard of the Huffington Post, Reps. Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier, House Democrats from California who were persuaded by environmental groups' smear tactics, approached the Department of Justice last fall to look into whether ExxonMobil violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or any other federal laws. The company was allegedly "organizing a sustained deception campaign disputing climate science and failing to disclose truthful information to investors and the public."

    Rep. Lieu says he believes the company was working publicly to undermine climate science, and that its actions are on par with tobacco companies who were guilty of "lying to the American people" by denying the link between smoking and cancer in order "to better sell their product." Just as the DOJ used RICO law to prosecute tobacco companies in the late 1990s, Rep. Lieu says he would "would hope for a prosecution" of ExxonMobil if the facts warrant it.

    [...]

    If the FBI decides to open an investigation, the move would be motivated entirely by political considerations. The last time we checked, there is no crime in being skeptical of climate change or advocating for policies that aid ExxonMobil's interests. An investigation would simply be Democrats and the environmental lobby seeking a big scalp.

    Furthermore, such an investigation is a trampling of First Amendment rights. ExxonMobil is under no obligation to worship at the altar of climate change, nor is any other company or individual. There is no constitutional rationale for punishing the company for its actions relating to dubious climate change claims, and the FBI shouldn't humor Democrats or environmental lobbyists any longer on this issue. There should be no further investigation.

    The case against Exxon would be based not on the company's "skepticism," but on whether Exxon violated the law. Sharon Eubanks -- a former U.S. attorney who helped prosecute a RICO case against Big Tobacco for its denial of the health risks of smoking -- told ThinkProgress that a similar RICO case could be made against Exxon for its role in misleading the public about its research on climate change:

    "The cigarette companies actively denied the harm of cigarette smoking, and concealed the results of what their own research developed," she said. "The motivation was money, and to avoid regulation."

    Based on the revelations about ExxonMobil, Eubanks said the Department of Justice should consider investigating whether similar collusion occurred among big fossil fuel companies and other high-carbon-emitting industries that would profit from climate denial.

    "It appears to me, based on what we know so far, that there was a concerted effort by Exxon and others to confuse the public on climate change," Eubanks said. "They were actively denying the impact of human-caused carbon emissions, even when their own research showed otherwise."

    Independent reports into Exxon's handling of its climate research reinforce Eubanks claim that there could be reason to investigate Exxon. The Pulitzer Prize-winning InsideClimate News published a six-part series detailing its eight-month investigation into what Exxon knew using "primary sources including internal company files dating back to the late 1970s [and] interviews with former company employees."

    InsideClimate's investigation showed that "Exxon confirmed global warming consensus in 1982 with in-house climate models." Despite the company's scientific confirmation of climate change and fossil fuels' role, Exxon "sowed doubt about climate science for decades by stressing uncertainty."

    The Los Angeles Times, in conjunction with the Energy and Environmental Reporting Project at Columbia University, came to similar conclusions surrounding what Exxon knew and how its subsequent cover-up deceived the public. The Times' reporting showed that the oil giant spent millions to raise questions about climate science, only to return to what it had learned in the '80s by admitting in 2007 that fossil fuels were playing a significant role in climate change:

    From 1998 to 2005, Exxon contributed almost $16 million to at least 43 organizations to wage a campaign raising questions about climate change, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental activist group. Greenpeace has estimated that Exxon spent more than $30 million in that effort.

    [...]

    Today, the effect of climate change is widely accepted. Average global temperatures have risen approximately 1.5 degrees since 1880, and the sea level has risen at a rate of 0.06 of an inch per year and is accelerating. Moreover, Arctic sea ice coverage is shrinking so drastically that last August, National Geographic had to redraw its atlas maps.

    In 2007, the company, for the first time since the early 1980s, publicly conceded that climate change was occurring and that it was in large part the result of the burning of fossil fuels.

    "There was a fork in the road. They had the opportunity to make a decision to go one way or the other way," said Martin Hoffert, an Exxon consultant in the 1980s and professor emeritus of physics at New York University. "If Exxon had listened to its scientists and endorsed our research -- and not started that campaign -- it would have had, in my opinion, an enormous impact."

  • Conservative Media Distort Hillary Clinton's Plan To Revitalize Coal Country

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS & JARED HOLT

    Conservative media figures are cherry-picking a comment made by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during CNN's March 13 Democratic town hall in Columbus, Ohio to deceptively claim that she wants to "destroy" coal miners' livelihoods. Clinton was actually discussing her plan to help the predominantly low-income communities that have been hardest hit by the generation-long decline of the coal industry, which has been primarily driven by market forces beyond the control of any politician.

  • Fox's Bret Baier Grossly Distorts "Exxon Knew" Climate Change Scandal

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Bret Baier climate

    Fox News' Bret Baier badly misrepresented the "Exxon Knew" scandal, falsely claiming that Exxon and other oil companies could be punished by the federal government simply because they "do not believe man is responsible for global warming." In fact, the reason Exxon could face a federal Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation is because of evidence that the company intentionally "misled the public regarding the role of fossil fuels in climate change," as Fox News reporter James Rosen explained later in the same segment.

    On the March 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, Baier introduced Rosen's report by alleging that the government could target oil companies because of their "politically incorrect thinking" on climate change:

    BAIER: Some of the millions of people around the world who do not believe man is responsible for global warming could soon be facing more than just mockery from the left. President Obama's top lawyer admits the government is considering much more forceful action. Chief Washington correspondent James Rosen tonight, on the growing campaign against politically incorrect thinking.

    But a potential DOJ investigation of Exxon and other oil companies would occur not because of what Exxon "believe[s]" or because Exxon's position is "politically incorrect"; the federal investigation, like ongoing or possible investigations by attorneys general in New York, California, and Maryland, would focus on whether oil companies violated the law by purposely withholding truthful information about climate change from shareholders and deceiving the public at large. Last year, InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times each reported on a series of documents showing that Exxon deceived the public for decades about the science of climate change, and InsideClimate News detailed further evidence that other oil companies -- including Shell and Texaco -- also knew as far back as the 1970s about the dangers fossil fuel pollution poses for the climate.

    Climate scientists and members of Congress have called for the DOJ to investigate Exxon and Shell under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which would apply only to those that purposely misled the public about climate change. The DOJ previously filed a civil RICO lawsuit against big tobacco companies, and a federal judge ruled that the tobacco companies had violated RICO by lying about the health risks associated with smoking.

    Later in the Special Report segment, Rosen directly contradicted Baier's claim that Exxon could be punished over an honest disagreement about whether humans are responsible for climate change, pointing out that the investigation would be about whether Exxon "misled the public." Rosen explained: "It was Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California who first asked the Justice Department to investigate, specifically whether ExxonMobil has misled the public regarding the role of fossil fuels in climate change."

    Baier's false description of the "Exxon Knew" scandal recalls equally incorrect comments about the issue by other conservative media figures, who have alleged that those seeking investigations of Exxon's climate deception are trying to "shut down free speech."

    From the March 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

  • Minorities Largely Excluded From Climate Change Discussions On Sunday Shows

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    latinos

    The African-American and Latino communities were badly underrepresented in climate change discussions on the network Sunday shows last year, according to a new Media Matters analysis, despite being among those who are most vulnerable to climate impacts.

    Of the 33 guests invited onto the major broadcast networks' Sunday news shows to discuss climate change last year, only 12 percent were non-white. The climate change conversations on the Sunday shows, which often set the media and political agenda for the week, included only two African-Americans, one Latino, and one Asian-American. This is a gross underrepresentation of the African-American and Latino communities in particular. African-Americans and Latinos made up 6 and 3 percent of the Sunday show guests who were asked about climate change, respectively. According to the most recent U.S. Census, African-Americans comprise 13.2 percent of the country's population and Latinos comprise 17.4 percent.

    Moreover, two of the four non-white guests -- including the only Latino -- were Republican presidential candidates who are also climate science deniers: Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. In an April 19 interview on CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer allowed Rubio to question the "percentage" of climate change that is "due to human activity," failing to point out in response that the vast majority of climate scientists say human activities are the primary factor in climate change. And on the February 8 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Carson to respond to criticism from "some Democrats" that "there are some elements in the Republican Party, both candidates and voters, who deny science, whether it is vaccinations, or climate change or evolution." Carson did not address climate change in his response, and then Wallace moved on to a discussion of "politics."

    The other African-American guest was American Meteorological Society president Marshall Shepherd, who was invited on Face the Nation on December 13 to discuss the landmark international climate agreement reached in December at a United Nations conference in Paris. The Asian-American guest was Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden, who appeared on a Fox News Sunday panel discussion of the Paris climate agreement, also on December 13.

    Looking at the results by show, two of the four non-white guests -- Shepherd and Rubio -- appeared on CBS' Face the Nation, comprising one-third of Face the Nation's six total guests who were asked about climate change. The other two non-white guests, Carson and Tanden, appeared on Fox News Sunday, which hosted 18 total guests to discuss climate change in 2015. Neither ABC's This Week nor NBC's Meet the Press hosted a single non-white guest to discuss climate change in 2015. 

    Ethnicity chart

    The African-American and Latino communities were largely left out of the climate change discussion even though climate change affects them disproportionately. The NAACP has noted that African-Americans are particularly at risk from climate impacts such as rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths because they are more likely than whites to live in urban and coastal areas. New Hispanic immigrants are also more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to the National Climate Assessment, due to "[l]ow wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing."

    Furthermore, minority communities have the most to gain from the shift away from dirty fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that low-income communities face disproportionate health impacts from fossil fuel pollution, and that shifting to low carbon energy sources can lessen these impacts. In 2014, a report from the NAACP found that nearly three-quarters of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. African-Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to die from asthma-related causes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Hispanic children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Hispanic whites.

    This may help explain why African-Americans and Hispanics in the U.S. overwhelmingly support acting on climate change, according to multiple polls. And why prominent civil rights organizations have expressed support for the the Obama Administration's flagship climate policy, the Clean Power Plan -- including the NAACP, The League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Council of La Raza, and many more.

    The lack of minority voices in the Sunday shows' climate coverage is in line with a broader lack of diversity on the Sunday shows that Media Matters has continued to observe. According to a new Media Matters study of diversity on the Sunday shows in 2015, the percentage of guests on the four network Sunday shows -- and CNN's State of the Union -- who were people of color ranged from 17 percent on Face the Nation to 25 percent on Meet the Press. And no more than a quarter of the guests on any of the Sunday shows were people of color in 2014, either.

    chart

    Civil rights and environmental justice advocates have previously spoken out against the underrepresentation of communities of color in the media. Prominent advocates for the nation's Latino community have highlighted how the media's nearly complete lack of Latino representation ranges from the dearth of Latino voices and perspectives included in English-language news to the absence of substantive coverage of issues that matter most to Latinos.

    As Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of the environmental justice organization Uprose, has explained to Media Matters, "understanding the intersectionality" between climate change and social justice is "really important. We can't pick, we can't choose. It all matters to us, all of these issues."

    Yeampierre further wrote in The Guardian:

    Those of us from low-income communities of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. US cities and towns that are predominantly made up of people of color are also home to a disproportionate share of the environmental burdens that are fueling the climate crisis and shortening our lives.

    *This post has been updated to incorporate the newly-published study of diversity on Sunday shows in 2015.

  • Debate Moderators Owe It To Florida Latinos To Bring Up Climate Change

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LOPEZ

    Moderators of the Republican and Democratic presidential primary debates in Florida are being urged to ask candidates about climate change. The topic is especially significant in Florida, a state at risk from rising sea levels where Latino voters make up an important portion of electorate and consistently indicate that climate change is "extremely or very important" to them.

    Democratic and Republican presidential primary debates will take place in Miami, Florida on March 9 and 10, respectively. The Democratic debate will be hosted by Univision and The Washington Post, featuring Univision's Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas and The Post's Karen Tumulty as moderators -- it will be cast simultaneously on CNN. The Republican debate will be hosted by CNN, Salem Radio, and The Washington Times, and be moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper, with Dana Bash, Salem Radio's Hugh Hewitt, and The Washington Times' Stephen Dinan joining as questioners.

    According to the Pew Research Center, Latino voters in Florida play a crucial role in "determining the outcome of the state's presidential vote." Latinos make up 18.1 percent of eligible voters in Florida.

    Climate change is one of the issues that the Latino voting bloc cares about the most -- even more than non-Hispanic whites, according to a February 2015 poll by The New York Times, Stanford University, and the nonpartisan Resources for the Future. As the Times noted, the poll indicated that a majority of Hispanics rate climate change as "extremely or very important to them personally," and 63 percent think "the federal government should act broadly to address global warming." More recently, a September 2015 Latino Decisions poll found that 76 percent of registered Latino voters in Florida are in favor of national clean energy standards, while 74 percent "strongly support" measures to combat climate change.

    Florida Latinos care deeply about climate change because they stand to suffer some of its worst consequences. The Latino population is more likely to live in counties near the coastline -- such as Miami-Dade or Broward, where Hispanics are more than 25 percent of the total population. As the Sun Sentinel has noted, in just the next 15 years climate change-induced sea level rise in South Florida will result in "a range of hardships, from endangered drinking water supplies to a degradation of public services." And according to some mapped projections of rising sea levels, large portions of these counties could be underwater by 2100.

    Yet, climate change has been repeatedly glossed over in presidential debates this primary season, prompting a bipartisan group of 21 Florida mayors to call on debate moderators to address the issue in the upcoming presidential debates in the state.

    As New Climate Economy's Helen Mountford wrote in a March 5 letter to the editor in The Miami Herald, "Florida is the right place" to make climate change a "major focus" of a presidential debate, since Florida, with its "more than 1,350 miles of coastline," is already experiencing the damaging effects of rising sea levels.

  • WSJ Pretends Fracking Is A Solution To Poverty In Attack On Clinton And Sanders

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    The Wall Street Journal's editorial board lambasted Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for supporting increasing restrictions and regulations on hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," during CNN's March 6 debate in Flint, MI. The Journal has long claimed that the fracking industry boom functions as an "antipoverty program," ignoring the considerable health risks that the extraction process poses to workers and to the typically low-income communities where many extraction facilities are located.

  • 21 Florida Mayors Urge Networks To Address Climate Change In Miami Debates

    Mayors' Letters Come Amid Mounting Calls To Address Climate Change In Presidential Debates

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    florida

    How many more groups, experts, and citizens have to push for debate moderators to thoroughly address climate change before they finally listen?

    A bipartisan group of 21 mayors from throughout Florida wrote letters to the hosts of the upcoming Democratic primary debate on March 9 and GOP primary debate on March 10, both of which will take place in Miami, urging them to ask the presidential candidates about climate change.

    Presidential primary debates have not yet thoroughly addressed climate change, even while important climate developments have taken place during the primary season, including adoption of a landmark international agreement between 196 nations to act on climate change, and the Supreme Court's move to delay the United States' flagship climate plan. Debate moderators have glossed over climate change -- so much so that the Democratic candidates have been bringing up the issue themselves.

    A group of Nobel Laureates and hundreds of other experts is calling for at least one presidential debate that is exclusively focused on science, health, technology, and environmental issues. And a coalition of 18 climate and civil rights advocacy groups recently asked CNN to focus exclusively on issues of "racial, climate, and environmental justice" in the most recent Democratic debate, held in Flint, MI, on March 6. That debate did address several environmental issues, including Flint's lead-poisoned water, but climate change "appeared only briefly," according to The Guardian.

    Now, 21 mayors in Florida have taken up the call. On March 4, the group, led by Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, wrote two letters to the moderators of the upcoming Democratic and Republican debates, expressing concern that "so little attention has been paid" to climate change in the presidential debates despite the "severe impacts it is having on our communities."

    The letters provided sample questions for the moderators to ask the presidential candidates, and said:

    We, the 21 undersigned mayors from throughout Florida, are concerned about sea level rise and climate change and the severe impacts it is having on our communities. We are equally concerned that so little attention has been paid to these issues in the presidential debates. It would be unconscionable for these issues of grave concern for the people of Florida to not be addressed in the upcoming debate you will be hosting in the state.

    The mayors added in the letter to the GOP debate moderator: "In particular, Senator [Marco] Rubio represents this state and should not be allowed to fail to provide, or side step, substantive answers to these questions."

    Additionally, the Miami Herald published a letter from New Climate Economy program director Helen Mountford on March 5 saying, "None of the 16 presidential debates so far have taken on climate change as a major focus." She added that Florida is the "right place" to do so: "With more than 1,350 miles of coastline, the state is already feeling the cost of rising sea levels." More from the letter:

    Any serious presidential candidate needs a clear plan to tackle climate change, because the reality of this threat is no longer up for debate.

    A majority of both Republican and Democratic voters and 97 percent of scientists understand that global warming is real. What should be discussed instead is how to accelerate the shift to clean, affordable energy.

    [...]

    Americans and American companies are taking climate change seriously.

    Now it's time for our presidential candidates and debate moderators to do the same.

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

  • Sen. Schatz, Rep. Israel Call Out Broadcast Networks' Lacking Climate Coverage As "Troubling," "Wake Up Call"

    Media Matters Study Found Major Networks Aired Less Climate Coverage In 2015 Despite Landmark Actions

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    schatz israel

    Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) responded to a Media Matters study revealing that the major broadcast networks' climate change coverage declined in 2015. The analysis found that the nightly news and Sunday show programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox collectively spent 5 percent less time covering climate change than in 2014, even though there were more newsworthy climate-related events than in previous years. Additionally, the networks rarely addressed the impacts of climate change on national security, the economy, or public health, yet most still found time to provide a forum for climate science denial.

    In an email to Media Matters, Israel called the study's findings "a wake up call to the news networks," adding that climate change is the "most important long term global and national issue" and should not be overlooked. And in a March 7 press release, Schatz called the findings "troubling," and stated: "The facts are clear. Scientists, governments, and major corporations around the world have accepted the facts about climate change and are having real debates on solutions. In this consequential election year, it's time for news broadcasters to do the same." Read their full statements below:

    Rep. Israel's statement:

    As the co-founder of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, I read Media Matters' new study and it's a wake up call to the news networks. The most important long term global and national issue shouldn't be getting short-thrift. People need more information, not less.

    Sen. Schatz's statement:  

    In a year when nearly 200 countries around the world collectively recognized the threat of climate change and the United States made historic commitments to cut carbon pollution, major networks actually cut their media coverage of climate change. In 2015, the network Sunday shows devoted just 73 minutes to climate change, a ten percent decrease from the year before. What makes these findings even more troubling is the fact that with the little time devoted to climate change, these Sunday shows continued to mislead their audiences by including climate denial as part of the discussion. The facts are clear. Scientists, governments, and major corporations around the world have accepted the facts about climate change and are having real debates on solutions. In this consequential election year, it's time for news broadcasters to do the same.

  • STUDY: How Broadcast Networks Covered Climate Change In 2015

    ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER, DENISE ROBBINS & KEVIN KALHOEFER

    ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox collectively spent five percent less time covering climate change in 2015, even though there were more newsworthy climate-related events than ever before, including the EPA finalizing the Clean Power Plan, Pope Francis issuing a climate change encyclical, President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, and 195 countries around the world reaching a historic climate agreement in Paris. The decline was primarily driven by ABC, whose climate coverage dropped by 59 percent; the only network to dramatically increase its climate coverage was Fox, but that increase largely consisted of criticism of efforts to address climate change. When the networks did discuss climate change, they rarely addressed its impacts on national security, the economy, or public health, yet most still found time to provide a forum for climate science denial. On a more positive note, CBS and NBC -- and PBS, which was assessed separately -- aired many segments that explored the state of scientific research or detailed how climate change is affecting extreme weather, plants, and wildlife.