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.
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.
Conservative media have claimed that the Obama administration is waging a "war" on "cheap," "clean" coal that will cause blackouts and massive layoffs. In fact, the Obama administration has simply implemented long overdue and legally required clean air regulations to protect public health without hurting electric reliability or employment, and much of the transition away from coal is due to the rise of cheaper, cleaner natural gas.
In a Washington Times op-ed, serial misinformer Steve Milloy called for EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to resign for "rail[ing] against the coal industry." But in his attempt to reinforce the narrative that EPA has launched a "war on coal," Milloy grossly distorted Jackson's remarks about coal pollution regulations. Milloy wrote:
It is time for Lisa P. Jackson to resign. Last Friday at Howard University, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) railed against the coal industry, saying, "In [the coal industry's] entire history - 50, 60, 70 years or even 30 - they never found the time or the reason to clean up their act. They're literally on life support. And the people keeping them on life support are all of us."
This is patently false, of course, as emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants are quite heavily regulated. Those emissions controls are the reason U.S. air is clean and safe and why, say, the air in regulation-free China is not.
But Milloy took Administrator Jackson's quote entirely out of context. Jackson was specifically referring to the aging coal-fired power plants that have failed to install long overdue pollution control technology, not to the coal industry as a whole -- as many coal plants have already installed this technology. Here's what she actually said:
One of the reasons the mercury standards are so important is that the vast majority of plants that are going to have to meet the standards - - that don't meet them now - - are very, very old, uncontrolled coal fired power plants.
But you know, 50, 60, we actually I think had one that was approaching 70 years old. And in their entire history - 50, 60, 70 years or even 30 - even though we had A Clean Air Act of 1970, even though we had Clean Air Act amendments in 1990, they've never found the time or the reason to clean up their act. That's what we're dealing with. They are literally on life support. And the people keeping them on life support are all of us, because we get to breathe in the pollution that they put out, or our rivers and streams get contaminated with the mercury and arsenic and lead and acid gases that they put out. That's a very important rule, and it has come only because of the President's strong support.
Good news, everyone: America has eliminated pollution.
At least that would be your impression if you watched John Stossel and Steve Milloy on Fox yesterday.
Fox's Stossel said, "Thank goodness for the EPA. The air and water are cleaner than they used to be." Following that, he declared that the EPA's purpose has been fulfilled:
STOSSEL: It's diminishing returns. They've done a wonderful job. Stop already. Stick a fork in it, and it's done.
Later on Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight, climate skeptic Steve Milloy said, "We have made tremendous environmental progress since 1970, but guess what? It's no longer 1970, it's 2011. Our environment is clean and safe. We do not need more environmental regulations," which he called "a luxury." Watch:
Of course, these claims are absurd and simply not true. The EPA's clean air regulations reportedly "prevented 160,000 premature deaths" in 2010 alone. Yet Stossel and Milloy seem to think it's simply no longer necessary to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths annually by regulating pollution.
When Solyndra, a California based solar panel manufacturer, announced this week that it will file for bankruptcy, conservative media outlets immediately cheered the loss as evidence that solar power doesn't work. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Arizona-based First Solar is currently building its second U.S. factory, which will "roughly double the solar-panel maker's U.S. production capacity," according to the Wall Street Journal. The company is also investing in several large solar farms.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers announced in June that solar panels, which have great potential for increases in efficiency, could become most cost-effective electricity source within a decade, even challenging fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency also recently said solar generators, including both solar photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants, may produce most of the world's electricity within 50 years.
Despite all this, conservative media claim solar power isn't worth pursuing.
Conservative media claim stricter standards for ground-level ozone, the primary component of smog, are unreasonable and unnecessary. In fact, EPA is strengthening the standards because health experts, including the scientific panel that advised the Bush administration, have said that the standards set in 2008 are not sufficient to protect the public.
Steve Milloy claimed in a Washington Times op-ed that air pollution from power plants is "not causing air-quality or public-health problems" and that EPA's clean air regulations "will bring no health or environmental benefits." However, health experts disagree with Milloy, who previously downplayed the dangers of secondhand smoke while taking money from the tobacco industry.
Conservative media outlets are reprimanding three prominent Republicans who recently acknowledged what scientists have been saying for years -- that human activities are contributing to global climate change.
In a Washington Times op-ed, Steve Milloy responds to the National Research Council's warnings about the threat of climate change by offering false and misleading talking points to potential Republican presidential candidates.
In a February 9 Washington Times op-ed, global warming skeptic Steve Milloy urged Republicans to defund the Environmental Protection Agency, stating that the GOP's "best (and really only) shot at reeling in the arrogant Obama EPA is to cut the agency's funding." He later stated: "Cut the EPA's budget. Cut it in March. Close down the federal government if necessary. Save us now."
From Milloy's op-ed:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has hit the ground running with its greenhouse-gas regulations. But congressional Republicans are just getting around to introducing well-intended, but futile legislation to stop the agency.
There is another way. The GOP could rescue us from the EPA as soon as March, but it won't.
Though these and many more jobs around the country are threatened by the EPA and its new authority, the GOP seems to be doing everything but addressing the problem head-on.
Its best (and really only) shot at reeling in the arrogant Obama EPA is to cut the agency's funding. Without House approval, the EPA has no budget. A great opportunity to choke off EPA funding arrives early next month when last December's deal to fund the federal government until March 4 expires.
But the GOP needs to gird itself for battle. The EPA is coming for our jobs, electricity and economy. The Obama administration is preparing to make cap-and-trade look like a walk in the park compared to EPA regulation. Its regulatory apparatus is running amok.
Cut the EPA's budget. Cut it in March. Close down the federal government if necessary. Save us now.