As House Republicans try to slash funding for research and development of new energy technologies, conservative figures who once proclaimed their support for such initiatives have been curiously silent.
Buoyed by Republican lawmakers, the House recently passed a spending bill that cuts funding for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the key federal program that invests in research and development of new energy technologies, by 81 percent. ARPA-E is a bipartisan Bush-era creation modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which spurred breakthroughs like the internet and stealth fighter. Now, even a midpoint reconciliation with the more generous Senate spending bill could leave funding for the program in tatters.
These cuts are an extreme departure from the rare interparty comity that has typically surrounded research and development for alternative energy. Indeed, conservative media figures have frequently embraced such efforts -- as opposed to programs that award loans to address the so-called "valley of death" between development and commercialization -- echoing the pro-ARPA-E views of free-market groups and some Republican leaders. Among the latter was former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who supported increasing funding. But with ARPA-E now in trouble, these figures appear tongue-tied.
Conservative media have denigrated solar energy by denying its sustainability, ignoring its successes, and arguing the U.S. should simply cede the solar market to China. Yet this booming industry has made great strides, and with the right policies can become a major source of our power.
The Wall Street Journal failed to disclose the fossil fuel ties of an op-ed writer who criticized an effort to encourage colleges to divest from fossil fuel-producing companies.
On Sunday, the Journal published an op-ed by Robert Bryce, which attacked environmental activists who are seeking to have colleges and universities shed their investments in fossil fuel producing companies. Bryce alluded to the supposed "absurdity of the activists' calls for a 'fossil free' future." The diverstiture effort, Fossil Free, is a campaign managed by 350.org, an organization committed to "building a global grass roots movement to solve the climate crisis."
But the Journal did not disclose that Bryce's organization, the Manhattan Institute, has received over $600,000 from Exxon Mobile since 1998, including $95,000 in 2011. The Manhattan Institute has also received funding from the David H. Koch Foundation and the Olin Foundation, foundations started by energy titans David Koch and John Olin.
The Journal has an ongoing problem with disclosing the affiliations of its op-ed contributors, including 12 advisers to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign leading up to November's election and Karl Rove. This disclosure problem has permeated several issue areas, including a number of climate change-denying op-eds from Bryce.
Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the "controversy" over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.
Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded "experts" a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.
The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change." Every year, Heartland hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change," bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.
Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland's environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses "alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed," and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the "the Little Ice Age and the Black Death." But that hasn't stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn't stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.
Natural gas can help the U.S. transition away from reliance on coal in the near-term if it is produced responsibly. But conservative media have dismissed the risks involved with the rapid spread of natural gas extraction to push for deregulation, attack the Obama administration, and ignore the need for a comprehensive energy policy to transition to renewable energy.
Following relentless attacks on the solar industry in the wake of Solyndra's bankruptcy, wind power has become the latest target of the right-wing campaign against renewable energy. But contrary to the myths propagated by the conservative media, wind power is safe, increasingly affordable, and has the potential to significantly reduce pollution and U.S. reliance on fossil fuels.
Media outlets have turned to the Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce at least 39 times this year to comment on energy issues without disclosing that the Manhattan Institute is partly funded by oil interests. Bryce, who often promotes fossil fuels while disparaging renewable energy, has been criticized for making misleading claims.