Arizona Republic columnist Doug MacEachern clearly didn't like former Arizona Corporation Commission chair Kris Mayes' April 7 op-ed, which alerted the Republic's readers to the Koch brothers' deceptive multi-state campaign against the EPA's Clean Power Plan. But MacEachern's complaints, as detailed in an April 8 column, don't stand up to basic scrutiny.
In her op-ed, Mayes addressed a March 22 Republic op-ed by Tom Jenney, the Arizona state director of Americans for Prosperity and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Mayes pointed out that Jenney was peddling "baseless" attacks on the EPA's plan to address climate change by reducing carbon pollution from power plants, and that Jenney cited an industry-funded study that has been "thoroughly debunked."
MacEachern began his response by smearing Mayes as an "EPA propagandist." With that out of the way, MacEachern proceeded to admit to his ignorance about the fossil fuel interests behind Jenney's op-ed, writing:
I don't know this for a fact, but I am going to go ahead and guess that in one way or another Jenney's organization, Americans for Prosperity, gets some money from the Koch brothers. Whether it's true or not, what the heck. Let's just put that on the table.
MacEachern may not know that Americans for Prosperity has been funded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers, but it's an easily verifiable fact. He could even have learned it from David Koch himself, who once boasted that "my brother Charles and I provided the funds to start the Americans for Prosperity." More to the point, the Koch brothers not only funded but co-founded the organization that later became the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, as David Koch alluded to, and it's been well-documented in the media that AFP is, in Politico's words, "the Koch brothers' main political arm."
Conservative media are attributing California's devastating drought to a "man-made" factor -- but not the one that is actually worsening it.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently recycled many of the same claims it made in a 2009 editorial titled, "California's Man-Made Drought." Right-wing website Hot Air dubbed the drought "California's 'man-made' environmental disaster." And when potential 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina described the drought as "a man-made disaster" during an appearance on Glenn Beck's radio show, Beck demanded to know why "we don't hear that story on the news at all," while Rush Limbaugh declared that "there is a man-made lack of water in California," and "[Fiorina is] right."
No, these media figures haven't suddenly seen the light on climate change. Instead, they're using the historic drought as an opportunity to baselessly attack environmental policies.
This strategy is nothing new. For years, Republican Congressmen, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop have been repeating this same talking point on California's "man-made drought" to promote legislation that would redirect water to California's Central Valley at the expense of water currently dedicated to fish, wildlife, and habitat restoration under the Endangered Species Act. As my former employer the League of Conservation Voters put it, this legislation "uses California's current low water supplies as an excuse to weaken federal and state environmental laws." The Los Angeles Times called it "a tired political tactic barely, and laughably, disguised as a remedy for the lack of rainfall."
From the April 3 edition of ESPN's Pardon the Interuption:
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Conservative media are grossly distorting a recent study on aerosols' climate impact as a "death blow to global warming hysteria." But the study's author himself stated in response that his research does not contradict the scientific consensus on global warming.
A recent study provided new estimates for the rate at which aerosols -- tiny particles of matter suspended in the atmosphere -- deflect the sun's rays, measuring what is known as aerosol "radiative forcing." The study from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, which analyzed data from 1850 to 1950, found that the level of radiative forcing from aerosols is "less negative" than commonly believed, suggesting that aerosols do not cool the atmosphere as much as previously thought.
According to right-wing media, the study represents a "death blow to global warming hysteria." The reasoning behind the claim, which originated in a Cato Institute blog post, is that climate models rely on aerosols to offset much of the projected greenhouse gas effect from carbon dioxide. So if aerosols offset less warming than commonly believed, Cato claims "the amount of greenhouse gas-induced warming must also be less" and "we should expect less warming from future greenhouse gas emissions than climate models are projecting." The Cato blog post was picked up by the Daily Caller, American Thinker, Alex Jones' Infowars, Investors' Business Daily, and Rush Limbaugh. Daily Caller even claimed that the recent study directly disputes the scientific findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, writing: "Basically, the IPCC says aerosols deflect a lot of warming -- the opposite of the Max Planck study's finding."
But the study does nothing to dispute the scientific consensus on global warming, according to the study's author himself. In response to media outlets using his study to make inference's about the climate's sensitivity to carbon dioxide, climate scientist Bjorn Stevens published a statement on the Max Planck Institute's website, debunking the notion that human-induced climate change is "called into question" by his study. He also wrote that his estimates of aerosol radiative forcing are "within the range" of the IPCC's previous findings (which he actually co-authored), and that "I continue to believe that warming of Earth's surface temperatures from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases carries risks that society must take seriously." From Stevens' statement:
From the April 2 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Right-wing media have been mocking a recent resolution to address the disproportionate impacts that women will face from climate change, laughing at the possibility that "climate change will turn women into prostitutes." But the grim reality is that climate change will affect women in ways that should not be laughed at or ignored.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation on March 25 to "recogniz[e] the disparate impact of climate change on women and the efforts of women globally to address climate change." When an identical resolution was introduced in 2013, PolicyMic reported that it would oblige Congress to "acknowledge the disparate effects that climate change will have on women, build gender into a framework for combating climate-related issues, and take steps to reverse this disparity."
Right-wing media coverage of this bill, on the other hand, has been exclusively focused on sex -- by ridiculing the notion that climate change could force women into prostitution.
Conservative news sites published scandalizing headlines such as Breitbart's "Congresswoman Claims Climate Change Will Turn Women Into Prostitutes," WorldNetDaily's "Lefty Lawmaker Warns: Climate Change Makes Women Prostitutes," Powerline's "Will Global Warming Cause Prostitution?" and Daily Caller's "Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): Global Warming Will Turn Women Into Prostitutes For Food." A blog post on the American Spectator wrote that climate change "is going to be great for dudes, who apparently don't have to worry about any negative effects of the transactional sex they engage in as a result of the warming climate." An editorial at Tennessee's Kingsport Times-News quoted the movie Forrest Gump to attack the proposal, writing: "Forrest Gump said that 'stupid is as stupid does.' Witness Rep. Barbara Lee, Democrat of California ... [who says] that global warming will force women into prostitution." Fox News' late night show Red Eye devoted several minutes to mocking the idea that climate change harms women more than men. And Rush Limbaugh asked on the March 27 edition of his show, "which came first, prostitution or climate?"
They are all are referring to a single line in the bill's text: "[F]ood insecure women with limited socioeconomic resources may be vulnerable to situations such as sex work, transactional sex, and early marriage that put them at risk for HIV, STIs, unplanned pregnancy, and poor reproductive health."
The harmful impacts of climate change on women, which Rep. Lee's resolution hopes to address, are no laughing matter. A United Nations analysis detailed how women are often more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than men, particularly in developing countries, and that it is therefore "important to identify gender-sensitive strategies to respond to the environmental and humanitarian crises caused by climate change." U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres noted further in a CNN.com op-ed that "women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt":
Fox hosts falsely attacked the Obama administration for pledging to reduce its carbon emissions, claiming that the U.S. is the only country doing so and that the move will prove unpopular. But 32 other countries -- which account for 58 percent of global emissions -- have already committed to reducing carbon pollution in advance of international climate change negotiations that will occur in December, and both the Obama administration's plan for reducing emissions and its intention to sign a global climate agreement are supported by more than two-thirds of Americans.
From the March 25 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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At least 16 U.S. newspapers have recently published op-eds by state officials of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch brothers' political advocacy group, urging state legislatures to oppose the EPA's plan to address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants. These newspapers have consistently failed to disclose the authors' oil industry ties, and the op-eds themselves "misleadingly" cite statistics on electricity prices from an industry-funded study, as a media fact-checker has explained.
Conservative media are alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is attempting to "punish" governors who do not acknowledge climate change by "holding disaster funds hostage." In reality, FEMA is simply updating its requirements for state disaster mitigation plans to ensure that they include consideration of climate change impacts, which is essential to reduce risk from hazards that states will face as the climate continues to change.
A Daily Caller article made a sweeping generalization to claim that global warming did not harm the South Pacific Islands when a deadly cyclone recently struck. But scientists quoted within the article itself explained definitively that climate change-induced sea level rise actually did worsen the cyclone's devastating impacts.
Cyclone Pam tore through the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu last weekend, killing 24 people and displacing tens of thousands of others. In response, President Baldwin Lonsdale of Vanuatu made an impassioned appeal to world leaders to act on global warming, stating that "climate change is contributing" to the nation's intense cyclones.
The conservative news site Daily Caller was quick to find fault with Lonsdale's remarks. In a March 18 article headlined: "Report: Global Warming Did Not Devastate South Pacific Islands," writer Michael Bastasch claimed that "scientists are hesitant to blame rising carbon dioxide levels for wreaking havoc on Vanuatu."
What some of the scientists had to say, however, actually agreed with the idea that climate change increased the storm's impacts -- specifically, that global warming-driven sea level rise made the effects of the cyclone far worse.
In fact, Bastasch himself ultimately noted in the article that the scientists unwilling to directly attribute Cyclone Pam to global warming were (emphasis added): "instead pointing out that sea level rises caused by global warming, not the cycles themselves, are causing more damage."
Global warming-driven sea level rise is indeed a primary factor for cyclone damage -- particularly in low-lying islands such as Vanuatu -- as it contributes to bouts of sudden extreme flooding known as storm surges. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that storm surges from hurricanes pose "the greatest threat to life and property" in coastal areas. During Cyclone Pam, the Vanuatu islands reportedly experienced storm surges as high as eight meters -- over 26 feet. Vice News reported that a 2014 NOAA study "found that changes in both ocean and atmospheric temperatures had combined to substantially increase the potential intensity of storms in the area where Pam hit."
The New York Times recently published an op-ed attacking renewable fuels from the Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce without disclosing his ties to the oil industry, despite a directive from its former public editor for the paper to fully disclose its op-ed contributors' financial conflicts of interest.
In a March 10 New York Times op-ed, Robert Bryce falsely characterized the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as an expensive "tax." The standard, which requires oil refiners, blenders, and gasoline and diesel importers to blend a set amount of renewable fuel into their gasoline supply, was dismissed by Bryce as a "boondoggle" and a "rip-off."
But the Times failed to disclose Bryce's financial incentive to attack the RFS, identifying him only as a "senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of a new report from the institute, 'The Hidden Corn-Ethanol Tax.'" The Manhattan Institute has, in fact, received millions from oil interests over the years, including $635,000 from ExxonMobil and $1.9 million from the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, where Charles Koch and his wife sit on the board of directors. Koch made his fortune from oil and currently has significant holdings in oil and gas operations.
Bryce is, in essence, acting as a spokesperson for the oil industry, which has much to gain from weakening or repealing the RFS. The renewable fuel requirement is set to increase over the next several years, potentially replacing up to 13.6 billion gallons of the conventional fuel supply by 2022.
A new documentary shows how a "professional class of deceivers" has been paid by the fossil fuel industry to cast doubt on the science of climate change, in an effort akin to that from the tobacco industry, which for decades used deceitful tactics to deny the scientific evidence that cigarettes are harmful to human health. The film, Merchants of Doubt, explores how many of the same people that once lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry are now employed in the climate denial game.
An infamous 1969 memo from a tobacco executive read: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy." Using similar tactics, a very small set of people have had immense influence in sowing doubt on the scientific consensus of manmade climate change in recent years.
Merchants of Doubt features five prominent climate science deniers who have been particularly influential in deceiving the public and blocking climate action. Their financial connections to the fossil fuel industry are not hard to uncover. Yet major U.S. television networks -- CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and PBS -- have given most of these deniers prominent exposure over the past several years.
Merchant of Doubt
Number of TV Appearances, 2009-2014
Now that these Merchants of Doubt have been exposed, the major cable and network news programs need to keep them off the airwaves, a sentiment echoed by Forecast the Facts, which recently launched a petition demanding that news directors do just that.
Fox News regular Marc Morano is worried that Google is going to start burying his climate change denial website, Climate Depot, which is full of toxic inaccuracies and could therefore be vulnerable to Google's plan to rank websites based on their truthfulness.
A Google research team has developed a system to more thoroughly judge the accuracy of a web page's information. The team's new research paper describing the metric states that a source would be considered "trustworthy" based on "the correctness of factual information provided by the source." Though the system and its algorithm are still in development, the researchers have claimed that it shows "promise in evaluating web source quality."
Morano's concern over the new search algorithm is understandable, given that his climate denial website, Climate Depot, would likely be buried in searches using the new accuracy-based system.
The recent documentary Merchants of Doubt highlighted how Morano has used his media appearances and his website -- which he is paid to run by a fossil fuel industry-funded organization -- to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change.
The March 6 edition of Fox News' Happening Now featured Morano expressing his concern over the new search metric:
The Republican party's deep divisions on climate change and the environment were on full display at the recently-concluded Conservative Political Aciton Committee (CPAC). How the GOP presidential contenders attempt to navigate these divisions is an important news story that deserves media attention in the weeks and months ahead.
Several weeks ahead of CPAC, a poll came out showing that 48% of Republicans would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports taking action on climate change, compared to just 24% who would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. The poll also showed that GOP supporters are inclined to oppose candidates who view climate change as a "hoax" by the same 2-to-1 ratio.
While many self-described Republicans support climate action, it seems unlikely that the same can be said of the conservative activists and donors who attended this year's CPAC.
CPAC attendees are far more engaged than rank-and-file Republicans, and the GOP presidential contenders know that winning support -- financial and otherwise -- from the CPAC base will be crucial if they hope to emerge from a crowded primary field and ultimately capture the presidency. But trying to appease the CPAC crowd's anti-environmental extremism without alienating most Americans -- and even many Republicans -- could prove to be an insurmountable task.