When the State Department released its final Environmental Impact Statement, nearly all the headlines read the same: "Report Opens Way to Approval for Keystone Pipeline" and "State Dept. Keystone XL Would Have Little Impact On Climate Change." Yet after Reuters broke the news last week that the State Department was wrong in its predictions of greatly expanded rail capacity, undermining its claim of no climate impact, no major media outlet amplified the report.
In a report released late on Friday, January 31, the State Department concluded that Keystone XL was "unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas" based on the assumption that if the pipeline were not built, the equivalent amount of tar sands would instead be transported by rail. It was this finding that the media trumpeted, largely ignoring that buried in the analysis, the State Department for the first time acknowledged that under some studied scenarios, the project could have the equivalent climate impact of adding 5.7 million new cars to the road. The idea that the Keystone XL would not harm the climate led many to declare that President Barack Obama should approve the pipeline, even spurring MSNBC host Ed Schultz to call for approval (before later reversing his stance) and liberal commentator James Carville to predict that the pipeline would be built.
On March 5, Reuters added to skepticism that locking in infrastructure enabling tar sands extraction would have no climate impact, reporting that the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had significantly overestimated the amount of tar sands that would move by rail from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The draft EIS projected that about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) would be moved along this route by rail before the end of 2013. However, a Reuters analysis found that "even in December, when deliveries were near their highest for the year, that tally did not top 40,000 bpd" -- less than a quarter of the State Department's prediction. The final EIS removed any specific projections of movement by rail.
Not a single major media outlet has reported on Reuters' finding, according to a Media Matters search.* In fact, some continued to repeat the State Department's claim that Keystone XL could be replaced by rail without mentioning the report.
Much of the initial coverage of the State Department's final EIS left out that an investigation at the time was looking into whether the contractor that wrote the report for the State Department had a conflict of interest in part because it was a member of the pro-pipeline American Petroleum Institute (API). The investigation later concluded that it did not, but environmentalists still contended it was based on too low of a bar. In fact, API told reporters prior to the final EIS release that it received news from inside the State Department about the timing and conclusions of the report, allowing it to spin the findings to reporters beforehand.
Fox News hosts are attacking Apple for defending its green energy measures against right-wing activists. However, Apple is simply the latest business to realize the strategic value of sustainability -- a list that includes Fox's own parent company.
On Friday, the right-wing National Center for Public Policy Research urged Apple CEO Tim Cook at a shareholder meeting to pledge to end all environmental initiatives that didn't lead to a return on investment (ROI), complaining that Apple was concerned with the "chimera" of "so-called climate change." Cook responded that Apple's environmental efforts make economic sense, and that those who want Apple to blindly pursue profit regardless of societal impact should "[g]et out of this stock." Cook added, "When we work on making our devices accessibleby the blind, I don't consider the bloody ROI."
Cook's righteous indignation didn't sit well with Fox News and its sister network Fox Business, which accused him of putting "politics before profits" and "ideology ahead of the shareholders." Fox News host Sean Hannity even announced that he's going to drop his stock after Cook's announcement.
Hannity's bizarro version of the fossil fuel divestment movement would have to extend to Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox as well. Chairman Rupert Murdoch has trumpeted FOX's efforts to "become carbon neutral" and the corporation touts sustainability efforts at Fox News and Fox Business.
Sustainability is not only smart public relations, but also key in long-term planning for businesses according to business leaders such as McKinsey and Co. A recent report by the investor group Ceres found that clean energy investments must reach $1 trillion a year (a "Clean Trillion") in order to have an 80 percent chance of avoiding global warming of more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) -- a measure deemed necessary by international governments at the Copenhagen climate conference to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. However, without greater commitments to addressing climate change, we face the potential of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) warming, which would severely disrupt global supply chains including food stocks. That is one reason why companies such as Apple are recognizing the risks climate change poses to their businesses and turning toward cleaner sources of energy.
This is not the first time Fox News has politicized voluntary corporate social responsibility measures. Earlier this month, Fox News criticized CVS for announcing it would stop selling cigarettes, asking if it was potentially illegal for the pharmacy chain to do so.
Dr. Roy Spencer -- one of the few climate scientists who doubts manmade climate change and one of the few climate scientists often quoted by conservative media -- announced that he is going to start calling his opponents "global warming Nazis."
In a February 20 post on his personal website, Spencer wrote that he was going to start calling those that use the term "deniers" of manmade climate change "global warming Nazis" because, he said, the term "indirectly equate[s]" climate change "skeptics" with Holocaust deniers. He went on to detail how "extremists" on climate change are supposedly like Nazis, including saying that they are "over-educated" like Nazis supposedly were:
Like the Nazis, they advocate the supreme authority of the state (fascism), which in turn supports their scientific research to support their cause (in the 1930s, it was superiority of the white race).
This authoritarianism tends to happen with an over-educated elite class...I have read that Nazi Germany had more PhDs per capita than any other country. I'm not against education, but it seems like some of the stupidest people are also the most educated.
So, as long as they continue to call people like me "deniers", I will call them "global warming Nazis".
The term "denier" has been used since 1475 according to the Oxford English Dictionary and since at least 1800 according to Google's record of English books. However, some argue that is reminiscent of Holocaust deniers, while others, including some of those who doubt the consensus on climate change, have embraced the term. In fact, National Review editor Rich Lowry, who had previously claimed that "climate denier" was intended to invoke Holocaust deniers, now uses the term against those advocating climate action. A scientist at Scientific American wrote that he uses climate denier for those who deny the basic science and thinks those who deny this warming is "almost certainly because of human influence" are "at least leaning toward being a denier." He uses "skeptic" for those who dispute the impacts of climate change.
Spencer has said that recent warming may be mostly natural, contrary to 97 percent of his colleagues. A 2011 study by Spencer received substantial attention from conservative media, including from Fox News, which suggested the study had destroyed a "central tenant [sic]" of global warming. Later, the journal editor that published the study resigned, saying it "likely" had "false claims" and shouldn't have been published. Spencer has also suggested that he is politically motivated, stating that he "view[s] [his] job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government."
The Daily Caller, which -- along with other conservative media outlets -- often quotes Spencer, appeared to trumpet his announcement, writing up his remarks uncritically and detailing those who use the term "climate denier."
After some in the comment section of his website took umbrage with his use of the term Nazi, Spencer doubled down, adding a note that "Considering the fact that these people are supporting policies that will kill far more people than the Nazis ever did -- all in the name of what they consider to be a righteous cause -- I think it is very appropriate."
A massive spill of toxic coal ash in a North Carolina river on February 2 has been entirely ignored by ABC, CBS and NBC. The spill has led to a federal investigation and allegations that the state's Governor -- who worked for the corporation behind the spill and has received substantial campaign donations from it -- has been too lenient on the company, which was discovered to have spilled coal ash into the river again on February 18.
CNN co-host and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is calling for Secretary of State John Kerry's resignation for comparing climate change to a "weapon of mass destruction." However, media coverage of Gingrich's call has largely left out that Gingrich once agreed with Kerry on climate change, even standing with him on stage touting Kerry's book, in which he called climate change the "single largest threat" to mankind.
On February 18, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Kerry discussed climate change as a national security threat, saying "in a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction." Gingrich responded in a misspelled tweet, calling for Kerry's resignation:
The Huffington Post claimed in an article on his tweets, that "Gingrich has repeatedly dismissed the dangers of man-made climate change." But that article, like similar ones in The Washington Post, The Hill, and conservative media, failed to mention that less than a decade ago, Gingrich was sitting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on a couch, agreeing we should act on climate change.
Each year, Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases a "Wastebook" reviewing government projects that he views as wasteful, and each year, the media eagerly promote his report. Yet television news ignored a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that U.S. taxpayers are being stiffed by coal companies buying federal land for less than its worth, which a previous report estimated has cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.
On Tuesday, the GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management was not adequately documenting reasons for accepting bids below the determined market value. Furthermore, as many states are not considering exports in their market value analyses, they may be underestimating the value in the first place. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), who requested the study, stated that "Given the lack of market competition in coal leases" -- the GAO found the vast majority did not have a single competitor, as seen in the chart below -- "if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people."
Based on the report, Sen. Markey's office estimated that recent leases could have yielded an additional $200 million in revenue and "possibly hundreds of millions more." A previous report from the Institute for Energy Economics estimated that selling federally-owned coal for less than fair market value has cost taxpayers $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. That finding adds to the economic damages that coal pollution and disasters exact on the economy. A 2011 study, for instance, found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants imposes more costs on society than the value added to the economy by the industry -- and that study did not include climate change damages. Recently, the spill of a chemical used to clean coal in West Virginia cost the local economy $61 million, according to a preliminary study that did not include the cost of clean-up or emergency expenditures.
Yet none of the major television networks covered the GAO report confirming that coal companies are underpaying the federal government*.
The "Wastebook" received considerably more attention when it was released in December 2013, drawing uncritical coverage from all the major television networks except MSNBC (ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News uncritically touted the report at least once, and NBC hosted Sen. Coburn where he raised the report without pushback). LiveScience reported that nearly a quarter of the projects Sen. Coburn's office listed in 2013 were science-related and that the "Wastebook" often distorts the studies. Last year, for instance, Fox News promoted the Wastebook's attack on a "government study" on Tea Party intelligence that was actually a non-government funded blog post. CNN's S.E. Cupp and others also attacked a study of duck penises included in the "Wastebook," contributing to the pattern of basic research being cut in the face of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes called "ignorant mockery."
Right-wing media are laughing about President Barack Obama mentioning climate change in his fifth State of the Union address because it is cold in D.C. But the wobbly polar vortex bringing cold air to much of the contiguous United States is simultaneously causing record warmth in Alaska, a state often seen as the nation's "ground zero" for climate change.
On January 28, Alaska's largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, ran this remarkable headline: "Record warmth, confused plants: An Alaska January to remember." The article noted that it was 62 degrees Fahrenheit in one town, tying the January state record, but did not allude to the long-term warming trend. In November, the newspaper did briefly invoke the possibility of climate change while expressing disbelief that strawberries were growing "In Anchorage. In November."
Yet just a year ago, right-wing media claimed the state was headed toward "an ice age." The Alaska Dispatch, a prominent online news site, ran the misleading headline, "Forget global warming, Alaska is headed for an ice age." The report was promoted by the conservative British tabloid, the Daily Mail, and the climate denial site, WattsUpWithThat, which highlighted the state's relatively lower average temperature in 2012.
As the chart above also shows though, cherry-picking a short-time period is misleading -- natural variation can mask the long-term trend. Contrary to claims of an "ice age," studies project that average annual temperatures in Alaska will increase "an additional 3.5 to 7°F by the middle of this century," according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Warming in Alaska already has caused highways to buckle and homes in areas such as Shismaref, pictured above, to sink, as the EPA explained:
Many of Alaska's highways are built on permafrost. When permafrost thaws, roads buckle. Vehicles are only allowed to drive across certain roads in the tundra when the ground is frozen solid. In the past 30 years, the number of days when travel is allowed on the tundra has decreased from 200 days to 100 days per year.
Along Alaska's northwestern coast, increased coastal erosion is causing some shorelines to retreat at rates averaging tens of feet per year. Here, melting sea ice has reduced natural coastal protection. In Shishmaref, Kivalina, and other Alaska Native Villages, erosion has caused homes to collapse into the sea. Severe erosion has forced some Alaska Native Villages' populations to relocate in order to protect lives and property.
Image at top via Alaska's Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development
Fox News host Sean Hannity has asserted 192 times that he and other Republicans do not want "dirty water." Yet he has not once covered the recent coal-washing chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginia residents with no tap water to drink or bathe in -- an incident made more likely by the anti-regulation policies he supports.
On January 9, a storage tank at a Freedom Industries facility in West Virginia holding chemicals used to "clean" coal leaked into a river located near a water-treatment center. Residents noticed a strong odor soon after and were told to stop using their water.
The incident outraged many, but Hannity has instead focused his ire at those warning that Republican-backed deregulation would put people at risk of dirtier air and water. He has decried those saying these policies would lead to "dirtier air, dirtier water" 192 times*, calling the warnings "absurd and irresponsible scare tactics" and a vicious "lie." In fact, Hannity has wholeheartedly supported allowing more coal and enforcing fewer regulations -- a plan that could lead to more disasters like the one in West Virginia that he has ignored**.
Here are the five most infuriating things about the West Virginia spill that a self-declared "clean water" defender could have covered:
1. The company behind the spill is avoiding liability by filing for bankruptcy. MSNBC host Chris Hayes described how Cliff Forrest, the owner of the Freedom Industries who previously handed out "stop the war on coal" signs attacking President Barack Obama, filed for bankruptcy while opening another company that could take over "a big chunk of Freedom Industries' assets":
2. The company initially failed to disclose a second chemical in the water. The public only learned about the second chemical 12 days after the leak, as the company had originally told state regulators that the chemical was "proprietary" information. The Centers for Disease Control said that information about the chemical is "limited" but that they didn't anticipate any new health concerns.
3. West Virginia residents still aren't sure if their water is safe. After five days of not being able to use their water, residents were told by West Virginia American Water that the water was safe to drink. However, two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that pregnant women should not drink the water. Hospital admissions have doubled since the ban was lifted, and many health experts have said that not enough is known about the chemical to state definitively that the water is safe to drink or bathe in. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said of the water supply, "it's your decision ... I'm not a scientist."
4. There's a bill that might've stopped all of this. There are more than 62,000 chemicals that have not been publicly tested, including the chemical that spilled in West Virginia, which hampered authorities' attempts to assess and address the health risks it poses. The Safe Chemicals Act, opposed by the chemical industry, would address this by requiring companies to prove a chemical's safety before selling it.
5. But water pollution laws on the books aren't even being enforced. A 2009 New York Times investigation found that "In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses. However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment."
In its latest piece of shoddy journalism, CBS News' 60 Minutes is labeling cleantech a "dirty word" by ignoring the overall success rate of clean energy investments.
In October, 60 Minutes aired a report criticizing the response to the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which eventually had to be pulled as it relied on an untrustworthy "witness" who apparently fabricated his story. Two months later, the news program was widely criticized for a one-sided report on the National Security Agency's surveillance program.
In another one-sided report on Sunday, 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl concluded that "instead of breakthroughs, the [cleantech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops" after stimulus investments, including the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program. However, 60 Minutes simply ignored the cleantech breakthroughs that did occur in order to advance this misleading narrative. Here are four facts CBS left out of the story:
1. The DOE Loan Program Has A 97% Success Rate. In July 2012, the former head of the loan guarantee program testified to Congress that funds that went to bankrupt companies represented less than 3 percent of the total Department of Energy portfolio. In other words, the program so far has a 97-percent success rate, far better than that of venture capitalists.
2. Solar And Wind Have Had Big Wins In Recent Years. 60 Minutes made passing mention of Tesla Motors' success after receiving a federal loan guarantee. However, it left out many other successes -- such as SolarCity -- in its myopic focus on Solyndra and other bankrupt companies. Robert Rapier, an energy expert who contributes to the Wall Street Journal and was interviewed for the special, stated on Twitter that he "gave successes they didn't air" and told 60 Minutes "the future is solar power." In 2012, renewable energy was the largest source of new electric capacity, led by wind power. These charts from the Department of Energy highlighted by Think Progress show that as the costs of solar and wind power have decreased, installations have jumped:
3. In Addition To These Strides, Cleantech Jobs Were Created. Stahl claimed that "Everything I've read there were not that many jobs created." However, she never mentioned any actual figures for viewers to assess. The loan program office estimates that its investments have created or saved approximately 55,000 direct jobs.
4. Climate Change Necessitates Cleantech Investments. As energy reporter Dana Hull pointed out, 60 Minutes did not even make a passing mention of climate change. Instead, the program touted the rise of natural gas saying that it was "relatively clean." However, experts from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Council on Foreign Relations have noted that without significant investment to scale up renewables, climate change will continue apace.
UPDATE (1/6/14): Energy expert Robert Rapier told Think Progress that the 60 Minutes report selectively aired his comments, leaving out his response to Stahl's first question that highlighted the successes of solar and wind power and emphasized that Stahl's question, "Clean tech is dead. What killed it?" was based on a false premise. From Rapier's interview with Think Progress:
The first question Lesley Stahl asked me - "Clean Tech is dead. What killed it?"
I immediately said, "Clean tech is not dead." There are many parts of clean tech that are doing very well - solar power is growing by leaps and bounds, prices are plummeting, wind power is growing exponentially.