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In a video interview posted on The Wall Street Journal’s website, Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel told viewers that if they are “confused about the science surrounding climate change,” they should “trust” Rod Nichols, chairman of a climate science-denying fossil fuel front group known as the CO2 Coalition. During the interview, Nichols denied that human activities such as burning oil and coal are responsible for recent global warming, claiming that “[c]limate change has been going on for hundreds of millions of years,” that “[t]here is not going to be any catastrophic climate change,” and that “CO2 will be good for the world.” Kissel asked Nichols, “why don't we hear more viewpoints like the ones that your coalition represents,” and concluded that the CO2 Coalition’s research papers are “terrific.”
Here's the August 17 video:
MARY KISSEL (Wall Street Journal editorial board member): Are you confused about the science surrounding climate change? Don't know who to trust? Well, we have help for you! Rod Nichols is chairman of the CO2 Coalition ... Rod, I want to start with the CO2 Coalition. What exactly is it, and who's involved?
RODNEY NICHOLS (CO2 Coalition chairman): We formed about a year ago -- a group of scientists, mostly physicists, a few chemists, engineers, economists -- who are convinced that the public is being misled about carbon dioxide. CO2. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is not a pollutant. But if you read the editorial pages and the news pages of most papers the word "pollutant" is always used with CO2.
KISSEL: So does that mean that your group doesn't believe in climate change? Or doesn't believe in something called "catastrophic climate change"?
NICHOLS: Climate change has been going on for hundreds of millions of years. Everybody should recognize that there is climate change. There is not going to be any catastrophic climate change. CO2 will be good for the world. CO2 enhances agriculture. Crops tend to grow on the average of 15 percent more per year given more CO2. And even more important, crops don't need as much water when they're growing if they have more CO2. You can see this at the edges of deserts where struggling little green plants -- you couldn't see them 35 years ago. Thirty-five years later the satellite photos clearly show that these little green plants -- with more CO2 and needing less water at the edge of deserts -- they're fluorishing!
KISSEL: So this is a completely opposite viewpoint than what is represented in, as you say, most of the media, most of our college classrooms. How did they get to this point, Rod? Why don't we hear more viewpoints like the ones that your coalition represents?
NICHOLS: Well, that's a really good question that I don't have a completely satisfactory answer to. I shy away from conspiracy theories, I don't think -- but it's true in the scientific literature, you can find "skeptics" as we are sometimes called who are arguing against what appears to be a consensus but their views are not covered. Their views are not debated. If nothing else, the CO2 Coalition wants to open up a real debate. Science thrives with discovery and debate. And the subtitle of our first report, about six months ago, was called "See For Yourself."
KISSEL: So where do viewers go to find out more information about what you're doing and to get educated on science about climate change?
NICHOLS: Good questions. CO2Coalition.org is a storehouse of very reliable data. We've surveyed data over decades published in our reports. One is called White Paper 1, and White Paper 2. You can get these, we'd be glad to send them to you.
KISSEL: And you don't need to be a scientist to understand these papers?
NICHOLS: They're prepared to be readable by any intelligent citizen. Even my daughter found them readable and she's not an environmentalist, she's not an alarmist, she's an art history major. She loved them.
KISSEL: Maybe even I will find it readable. In fact, it is readable. I have read these papers. They're terrific. CO2Coalition.org, go check it out, Rod Nichols is the chairman, thanks for joining us.
UPDATE (8/18/16): After this piece was published, PBS NewsHour aired an August 17 segment with Louisiana state climatologist Barry Keim and Columbia University professor Adam Sobel that discussed how the Louisiana flooding and Blue Cut wildfire in California are “related to climate change.”
The major U.S. broadcast news networks have all ignored climate change in their nightly news coverage of Louisiana's recent record-breaking rainfall and flooding. The New York Times and The Washington Post, by contrast, have explained how the extreme weather and flooding in Louisiana are in line with the predicted impacts of a warming planet.
The disaster in Louisiana killed at least 11 people and displaced thousands more. The American Red Cross described the state’s flooding as “the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy,” and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association classified the record rainfall as a once-in-every-500-years event -- the eighth such event to take place in the U.S. since May 2015.
Climate Nexus’ Climate Signals, a tool designed to “[e]xplore how climate change affects your world by searching events, impacts, and related climate signals,” explained how Louisiana’s increased atmospheric moisture and unusually heavy rainfall were “classic signals of climate change”:
At least nine people have died in what the American Red Cross is calling the "worst disaster since Superstorm Sandy." On August 11, a measure of atmospheric moisture, precipitable water, was in historic territory at 2.78 inches, a measurement higher than during some past hurricanes in the region. Increased moisture in the air and unusually heavy rainfall are classic signals of climate change. As the world warms, storms are able to feed on warmer ocean waters, and the air is able to hold and dump more water. These trends have led to a pronounced increase in intense rainfall events and an increase in flooding risk. In the Southeastern US, extreme precipitation has increased 27 percent from 1958 to 2012.
The storm in the Southeastern US was supercharged by running over a warmer ocean and through an atmosphere made wetter by global warming.
Climate change is now responsible for 17 percent of moderate extreme rainfall events, i.e. one-in-a-thousand day events. The more extreme the event, the more likely climate change was responsible, as climate change affects the frequency of the extreme events the most.
However, the major broadcast networks’ nightly newscasts have ignored climate change in their otherwise extensive coverage of the floods. NBC Nightly News aired five segments on the floods without mentioning climate change, while ABC’s World News Tonight and CBS Evening News each aired three such segments and PBS NewsHour aired two.
By contrast, two major newspapers have noted how Louisiana’s deadly floods are in line with expectations for a warming planet. In an August 15 Washington Post article, Chris Mooney wrote that climate researchers were affirming that the heavy rainfall Louisiana experienced is “precisely the sort of event that you’d expect to see more of on a warming planet,” and quoted climate researcher Katharine Hayhoe explaining, “Louisiana is always at risk of floods, naturally, but climate change is exacerbating that risk, weighting the dice against us.” Moreover, an August 16 article in The New York Times quoted Texas’ state climatologist stating, “There’s definitely an increase in heavy rainfall due to climate change.” And another August 16 Times article -- headlined “Flooding in the South Looks a Lot Like Climate Change” -- quoted David Easterling, a director at the National Centers for Environmental Information, stating that Louisiana's heavy rainfall and flooding “is consistent with what we expect to see in the future if you look at climate models.”
Media Matters’ annual study of how the major networks cover climate change found that PBS, CBS, and NBC frequently addressed the link between climate change and extreme weather in their nightly newscasts in 2015. However, the broadcast networks appear to have regressed in their extreme weather coverage this year, with every major TV network ignoring the role of human-induced climate change in their coverage of Texas’ record rainfall and flooding throughout April and May, despite both NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News explaining the climate connection in their coverage of similarly drastic Texas floods the year before. The nightly newscasts’ omission of climate change in their coverage of Louisiana’s horrific flooding marks a continuation of that discouraging trend.
In a rare move, Scientific American’s editorial board has taken a stand against GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s “antiscience” views, including his denial of man-made climate change and pledge to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump “has repeatedly and resoundingly demonstrated a disregard, if not outright contempt, for science,” wrote the Scientific American editors in an editorial that will be published in the September 1 edition of the magazine. The editorial noted that Scientific American is “not in the business of endorsing political candidates,” but is taking a stand for science this year because the current presidential race “takes antiscience to a previously unexplored terrain.” Scientific American concluded that it will support ScienceDebate.org’s efforts to persuade moderators to address science in the presidential debates and “encourage the nation's political leaders to demonstrate a respect for scientific truths in word and deed.”
The Scientific American editorial follows a July 22 Washington Post editorial that came out against Trump as “a unique threat to American democracy.” The Post editorial board stated that while it would typically wait to weigh in on the candidates until much later in the campaign, it “cannot salute the Republican nominee or pretend that we might endorse him this fall” because a “Trump presidency would be dangerous for the nation and the world.”
From Scientific American’s editorial titled, "Donald Trump’s Lack of Respect for Science Is Alarming”:
Scientific American is not in the business of endorsing political candidates. But we do take a stand for science—the most reliable path to objective knowledge the world has seen—and the Enlightenment values that gave rise to it. For more than 170 years we have documented, for better and for worse, the rise of science and technology and their impact on the nation and the world. We have strived to assert in our reporting, writing and editing the principle that decision making in the sphere of public policy should accept the conclusions that evidence, gathered in the spirit and with the methods of science, tells us to be true.
It won't come as a surprise to anyone who pays even superficial attention to politics that over the past few decades facts have become an undervalued commodity. Many politicians are hostile to science, on both sides of the political aisle. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has a routine practice of meddling in petty science-funding matters to score political points. Science has not played nearly as prominent a role as it should in informing debates over the labeling of genetically modified foods, end of life care and energy policy, among many issues.
The current presidential race, however, is something special. It takes antiscience to previously unexplored terrain. When the major Republican candidate for president has tweeted that global warming is a Chinese plot, threatens to dismantle a climate agreement 20 years in the making and to eliminate an agency that enforces clean air and water regulations, and speaks passionately about a link between vaccines and autism that was utterly discredited years ago, we can only hope that there is nowhere to go but up.
In October, as we did four years previously, we will assemble answers from the campaigns of the Democratic and Republican nominees on the public policy questions that touch on science, technology and public health and then publish them online. We will support ScienceDebate.org's efforts to persuade moderators to ask important science-related questions during the presidential debates. We encourage the nation's political leaders to demonstrate a respect for scientific truths in word and deed. And we urge the people who vote to hold them to that standard.
In New Video, Formerly “Skeptical” Meteorologists Describe How They Came To Recognize The Truth About Global Warming
From an August 15 video produced as part of Yale Climate Connections' "This is Not Cool" video series:
ProPublica's Faturechi: Media Should "Ask Harder Questions" Before Quoting Or Publishing Corporate-Backed Research
ProPublica reporter Robert Faturechi is calling for journalists to “be more skeptical” and “ask harder questions” about the corporate funding and influence behind pundits and research organizations passing themselves off as independent.
In an August 10 post published on The New York Times’ Room for Debate blog, Faturechi proclaimed: “It’s our job as journalists to make sure that lawmakers and the public aren’t making major policy decisions based on compromised studies." He added that journalists should "ask harder questions" about think tank researchers' corporate backing "[b]efore we quote them or their studies, or publish their op-eds." His post comes days after the Times published an investigative series about how think tank scholars offering themselves as independent arbiters “have become part of the corporate influence machine” affecting policy in Washington. One article examined 75 think tanks and found that many researchers “had simultaneously worked as registered lobbyists, members of corporate boards or outside consultants in litigation and regulatory disputes, with only intermittent disclosure of their dual roles.” Another explained that think tanks scholars are “pushing agendas important to corporate donors," which “blur[s] the line between researchers and lobbyists," and they're often doing it without disclosing their connections.
Several Media Matters analyses have found that fossil fuel-funded pundits passing themselves off as independent experts often publish op-eds or are quoted in the news without disclosing their industry ties, and a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that oil-funded organizations are “more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." Media Matters has also outlined how for-profit education companies and other corporations have backed a broad network of think tanks to influence education policy in their favor.
From Faturechi’s Room for Debate post:
It’s our job as journalists to make sure that lawmakers and the public aren’t making major policy decisions based on compromised studies. Big name universities and prestigious think tanks provide researchers with an imprimatur of independence. But as The New York Times and other outlets have shown, their work is often funded, and sometimes shaped, by special interests with a rooting interest in particular findings. Reporters and editors need to be more skeptical of experts, and the false sense of security that their name brand affiliations provide. Before we quote them or their studies, or publish their op-eds, we have to ask harder questions about their funding and their outside employment.
Oftentimes simply asking won’t be enough. When the research is being done at a public university, we have an easier time digging up undisclosed conflicts. Emails between professors and their funders are typically subject to public records requests. Those communications can be revelatory, but they’re harder to come by when the researchers are working for private think tanks. In those cases, we have to rely on less straightforward entry points, like think tank researchers happening to communicate with government officials who are subject to FOIA. Or we have to hope for leaks. Neither method is particularly reliable.
Research that is funded by a corporation, or any other special interest for that matter, isn’t necessarily flawed. And researchers who are moonlighting for outside groups aren’t necessarily untrustworthy. But lawmakers and the public deserve more visibility into the research that is shaping policy in Washington and in statehouses across the country. Investigative reporting is one remedy. Another would be stricter transparency rules.
A coalition of U.S. nonpartisan organizations representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers is calling on journalists to press the presidential candidates about major science policy issues in the lead-up to the election.
The nonprofit ScienceDebate.org has been running a campaign calling for at least one presidential debate exclusively focused on science, health, tech, and environmental issues. It teamed up with several prominent science-focused organizations -- including the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Union of Concerned Scientists; and more -- to crowdsource the best science-related questions for the candidates. Now, the coalition of 56 organizations has released its list of 20 questions for journalists to ask the presidential candidates. In a press release, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that a president’s “attitude toward and decisions about science and research affect the public wellbeing, from the growth of our economy, to education, to public health.” The coalition’s list of 20 suggested questions for candidates contains topics ranging from space exploration to vaccination to technological innovations, and three of the questions focus on addressing global changes in the climate:
Such questions would fill a glaring gap in the debates thus far. A Media Matters analysis found that only 1.5 percent of the questions posed to candidates during the first 20 presidential primary debates were about climate change. Instead, the debate moderators gave outsized attention to the political horse race and other non-substantive issues. And, of the few climate-related questions that were asked during the primary debates, zero were directed to Donald Trump.
Now the case for pressing Trump on the issue is even greater, given recent comments he has made. This week, Trump announced he would “cancel” the Paris climate agreement and “rescind” the Climate Action Plan. He has also repeatedly called global warming a “hoax” and recently told The Washington Post’s editorial board that he is “not a great believer in man-made climate change.”
In his book The War on Science, ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto wrote that in 2008, media figures dismissed his concerns that science policy issues were being overlooked in the presidential race. News directors and editors told Otto that they “thought it was a niche topic, and the public wasn’t interested.” But a 2015 national poll commissioned by ScienceDebate.org and Research!America shows that a large majority of Americans “say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues.” And a more recent Gallup poll found that nearly two-thirds of Americans worry about global warming, leading Gallup to conclude that “Americans are now expressing record- or near-record-high belief that global warming is happening, as well as concern about the issue.”
The New York Times and The Washington Post both explained how GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump flipped the script on energy and electricity in his August 8 speech on economic policy. Despite Trump’s fearmongering over the Obama administration’s energy policies and his claim of rising costs of electricity, the U.S. has seen stable electricity prices and a boon in clean energy over the past eight years.
In his August 8 speech at the Detroit Economic Club, Trump asserted that the “Obama-Clinton Administration has blocked and destroyed millions of jobs through their anti-energy regulations, while raising the price of electricity for both families and businesses.”
But as The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney pointed out, home electricity prices increased greatly under the Bush administration -- from about 8 cents per kilowatt hour to 12 cents, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) -- and “there hasn’t been as much growth since then.” The New York Times’ editorial board noted that the EIA projects a decrease in electricity prices this year, from 12.82 cents per kilowatt hour to 12.64 cents.
Trump also completely overlooked the renewable energy and natural gas sectors, which have spurred an increase of energy-related jobs, when he claimed that “millions of jobs” have been “blocked and destroyed” during Obama’s administration. The Post cited a recent study from the Solar Foundation that found the solar industry added 115,000 jobs over the past six years and another Duke University study that found coal job losses between 2008 and 2012 were far outpaced by job gains in wind and solar and natural gas, resulting in a net increase of about 125,000 jobs over these sectors. The Times pointed out the irony of calling for an “energy revolution” that makes “no mention of carbon-free renewable energy sources.”
Multiple outlets also pointed out that Trump’s pledge to put coal miners “back to work” is an unachievable promise based on a false premise. Vox’s Brad Plumer explained that the coal industry is “collapsing” and is “not coming back,” and CNBC’s Tom DiChristopher cited the EIA saying the demise of coal has been "mainly a market-driven response to lower natural gas prices that have made natural gas generation more economically attractive.”
Many of the false claims Trump made about energy have been debunked before, which allowed journalists at The Washington Post to fact-check his speech while it was happening. The Post’s Glenn Kessler tweeted a fact check of the bunk study Trump cited on the cost of federal regulations, and Michelle Ye Lee Hee pointed to another fact check explaining how conservatives distorted Clinton’s speech discussing her plan to provide aid to struggling coal communities.
The Post’s Mooney summarized Trump’s speech:
In the end, Trump’s negative picture of the energy sector is similar to his dire picture of the economy, which has been criticized for being inaccurately skewed towards the negative. U.S. energy is definitely undergoing major changes. Whether it’s in trouble — that’s a much tougher argument.
Photo at the top via Flickr user Greens MPs with a Creative Commons license.
Why is it so hard to create meaningful action on climate change? Discussion about global warming -- and many other critical issues -- has become “polluted” by toxic rhetoric, argues author and public relations specialist James Hoggan, which in turn “discourage[s] people from taking action.” In his new book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How To Clean it Up, Hoggan examines why and how the public sphere has become “polluted” by “polarized rhetoric, propaganda and miscommunication,” and offers advice on how to clean it up.
In discussions with dozens of scholars and thought leaders, from NASA scientists to the 14th Dalai Lama, Hoggan details several factors that have degraded rhetoric around important political issues. Here are four ways that conservative media have played a key role:
Because science is not on the side of those who oppose acting on climate change, it is much easier for climate science deniers to vilify their opponents than to address the actual issue. Sociology professor Alex Himelfarb pointed out to Hoggan that there is an “increasing and effective use of a classic rhetorical ploy called ad hominem -- where attacks are aimed at a person’s character, not their line of reasoning,” a ploy that is frequently used against climate advocates.
Media Matters has documented this tactic countless times on Fox News and other right-wing media, where pundits have attempted to smear climate scientists as corrupted by money, falsely claimed the Paris climate conference had a large carbon footprint to paint its participants as hypocrites, and frequently mocked prominent climate activists Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore.
As Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley explained to Hoggan, deniers “attack and undermine [their] opponents’ integrity while making them appear to have a vested interest” simply because they “can’t rely on [their] own credibility” and “the facts aren’t on [their] side.”
Conceptual frameworks “permeate everything we think and say, so the people who control language and set its frames have an inordinate amount of power,” argues Hoggan. He spoke with linguistics professor George Lakoff, who noted that “if you do a bad job of framing your story, someone else will likely do it for you.” Hoggan also spoke with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who noted that he heard right-wing radio host Glenn Beck say, “Climate change is not about the environment; it’s about control.” In this case, Beck re-framed the discussion about climate change action to be about empowering “the nanny state,” according to Haidt, who added that Beck “very skillfully pushed certain moral buttons that sowed profound doubt.”
As a case study, Hoggan pointed to the manufactured “Climategate” controversy, an “international campaign to discredit scientists” before the landmark international climate change summit in Copenhagen, according to DeSmogBlog. Fox News had a heavy hand in amplifying the phony controversy, even after official investigations proved -- six times over -- that there was no wrongdoing.
Hoggan wrote that he was “astonished to see how a group of legitimate climate scientists, with stacks of peer-reviewed evidence on their side, could lose debates to a group of people who had none -- all because of a lens created by mischief-makers.” But he noted that the scientific facts in this controversy were complicated, and the public was not equipped to analyze them on their face. Thus, “Climategate was a battle of frames versus facts, and the frames won.”
According to Yale professor Stanley, who wrote the book How Propaganda Works, right-wing media are less interested in reporting “accurate, well-researched stories” and more interested in “broadcasting noise so that it becomes difficult to hear the truth.” Stanley called out Fox News in particular, stating that its “fair and balanced” slogan is not only false, but intentionally so:
Fox engages in a kind of silencing tactic when describing itself as “fair and balanced,” especially to an audience that is perfectly aware that it is neither. The effect is to suggest there is no possibility of balanced news, only propaganda; this results in a silencing of all news sources by suggesting everyone is grossly insincere.
The complex science behind global warming, and the huge scale of actions needed to address it, can defy easy description -- a fact that conservative media often exploit. Hoggan cited psychologist and author of State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind Bryant Welch, who noted that in response to confusion, an “authoritative person who takes command -- ‘think of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh’ -- and spews strong feelings with absolutely certainty is appealing to a beleaguered mind.”
Welch has written about “gaslighting” -- the process of manipulating someone into questioning their sense of reality -- and he explained to Hoggan that the tactic is commonplace on Fox News. When “people begin to doubt their own perceptions and observations,” they “become less rational, less capable of thinking for themselves,” and “more and more beholden to Fox News.”
The easiest way to inhibit progress on climate change is to make it seem impossible, argues Hoggan -- to promote the “do-nothing stance.” He explains that to take action “requires an anti-gravity position, which is so-called because it takes energy, hard work and a real sense of the common good.” He said deniers “don’t have to convince the public that climate change isn’t real,” but instead can “exaggerat[e] the hazards of solutions to make them seem unbelievably risky.”
This tactic is common among fossil fuel front groups, which have employed baseless fearmongering and false attacks to attack key climate actions over and over -- and too often, conservative media take the bait, as Media Matters has documented. Dozens of front groups have attacked the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, and many of these groups published bunk studies and reports falsely claiming that the landmark carbon pollution rule would hurt consumers or harm the economy (it won't). Conservative media also targeted a barrage of misleading attacks at the Paris climate agreement reached by 195 countries in December and recycled many of these attacks on Earth Day. This rhetoric has also made its way into mainstream media, with prominent Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson brazenly declaring that "we have no solution" for addressing climate change.
Hoggan argues that conversations about climate change should not focus solely on the negative, because doing so can lead to paralysis. Correspondingly, his book includes positive suggestions for the media to help improve public discourse and create “healthier dialogue” that moves people forward instead of exacerbating conflicts and creating divisions.
Here are some of his suggestions for media:
A Rutgers University study once found that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both frame climate action as ineffective more often than effective. Yet Hoggan argues that barraging people with facts about climate change that evoke feelings of fear and guilt is not going to inspire action. Instead, he writes, it is time to “build hope instead of fear, empathy instead of alienation, people’s sense of self-worth rather than their sense of inadequacy.” Harvard professor Marshall Ganz explained to Hoggan that stories that offer hope can become “an emotional dialogue that speaks about deeply held values, about an inspired future that is hopeful and steeped in those values.” Hoggan also explained:
Environmentalists must explain why every previous generation did what was necessary to secure the infrastructure and climate for people to succeed, and emphasize this generation’s obligation to do the same.
Studies have shown that while negative stories about climate change can turn readers into cynics, stories about successful political activism and individual actions can generate enthusiasm.
People need to know where most of the climate misinformation is coming from: fossil fuel corporations that want to protect their bottom line. As Hoggan pointed out, corporations are “furiously focused on creating shareholder value,” meaning “they can and must act in the interest of their shareholders.” And when something threatens their license to operate -- such as the knowledge that fossil fuels are disastrously changing the climate -- these big businesses are “motivated to become skilled at propaganda.”
That’s why it’s so important to disclose the fossil fuel funding behind front groups that claim to represent the best interest of citizens. It’s also why corporations work so hard to hide their support for these groups, through “astroturfing” -- creating fake grass-roots groups that Hoggan says “makes it almost impossible to distinguish between a legitimate groundswell and manufactured opinion.”
As a case in point, Hoggan details the “ethical oil” PR campaign, when oil companies used the front group EthicalOil.org to rebrand dirty tar sands oil in Canada as “ethical” and tar sands opponents as “foreign-funded radicals.” He also pointed out other industry-funded front groups, including Citizens for a Sound Economy, which pushed the myth of “clean coal.” In fact, there are dozens of fossil fuel industry front groups that are currently attacking environmental protections in the United States, but their industry ties often go unmentioned.
Media Matters analyses have shown that when discussing climate change, broadcast news networks have turned to politicians and media figures far more often than scientists. This may be why French scientist Bruno Latour argues that scientists should get more involved in the public debate about climate change -- “to stand up and fight, with full disclosure, full respect, scrupulous honesty, honoring of the democratic process.” As Hoggan explained:
We have long passed the point where we can talk about a fight between good, clean science and science that has been sullied and distorted by personal and public interests.
We need scientists to become more political because pure evidence -- facts, figures and flow charts -- cannot form an adequate basis for public debate. Why? Primarily because public is not equipped to get to the bottom of such a discussion or analyze all these facts.
There is much more to examine in the book, from pundits repeating false myths over and over to the Dalai Lama’s appeal for “warm-heartedness.” Improving public discourse begins with expanding knowledge, and reading I’m Right and You’re an Idiot is a good first step.
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MSNBC host Chris Hayes explained in a series of tweets how conservatives’ denial of the evidence of human-caused climate change exemplifies “the rot in the conservative movement” and the Republican Party.
USA Today reported on July 26 that according to the federal government’s Climate Prediction Center, “for the first time on record, every square inch of all 50 states is forecast to see above-average temperatures for the next three months.”
Hayes cited this report in explaining the GOP’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of human-caused climate change. Hayes went on to say the conservative movement’s climate change denial represents “breathtaking epistemic nihilism” and that the three-decade-long “conspiracy theory” that climate change is a hoax is the embodiment of “the Alex Jonesification of the GOP.” (Alex Jones is a notorious conspiracy theorist and 9/11 truther who received special guest credentials at the Republican National Convention):
As the world burns... https://t.co/yryf1u0JC0
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 26, 2016
1) I think climate change is key to understanding a big part of the rot in the conservative movement and GOP.
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 26, 2016
2) At one level resistance to climate science is perfectly natural for the right. They've seen (wrong) apocalyptic predictions before...
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 26, 2016
3) they suspect the science is a stalking horse for more state involvement, *and* it's a movement/party hugely backed by fossil fuels
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 26, 2016
4) So I get the instincts. But almost the entirety of the movement/GOP are 3 decades into clinging to a preposterous conspiracy theory
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 26, 2016
5) The theory that climate change is hoax requires such breathtaking epistemic nihilism at this point, any movement that adheres to it..
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 26, 2016
6) Is collectively declaring:we literally have no standards of evidence. Hence the Alex Jonesification of the GOP
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 26, 2016
Fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil have known for nearly three decades that fossil fuel emissions harm the climate, but have been working to “deceive the public,” according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). An earlier UCS report explained that MSNBC’s climate coverage has been overwhelmingly accurate, especially when compared to conservative cable news channel Fox News.
A few months ago, we documented that the American Petroleum Institute (API), the trade group for oil companies including industry giants ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, was blanketing CNN’s airwaves with ads persuading Americans to support the oil industry’s agenda. It’s a standard formula for the well-heeled industry to control the on-air narrative around climate and energy issues -- and one that in this case drowned out the cable network’s meager discussion of the ominous global warming records that were being set.
Now, as the Republican and Democratic parties are in the midst of hosting their national conventions, we are reminded of yet another tool at Big Oil’s disposable for influencing media coverage of key energy issues. Vote4Energy, the same API campaign featured in the ads on CNN, is sponsoring events held by Politico, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post at both conventions.
As reported by The Intercept's Alex Emmons, at the recently concluded GOP convention, The Atlantic hosted a forum on energy and the environment that featured two climate science-denying congressmen and an API lobbyist -- with no one present to address the scientific facts of climate change. The Intercept added that API also sponsored events held by The Washington Post and Politico “where API literature was distributed, API representatives gave opening remarks, and not one speaker was an environmentalist, climate expert, scientist, or Democrat.”
Both The Atlantic and the Post said that they tried but were unable to find speakers who could represent the other side of the energy debate. In any event, the end result was a forum for misinformation. For instance, all three events included at least one speaker who espoused some form of climate science denial, according to remarks included in The Intercept article:
At The Atlantic‘s event, [North Dakota Rep. Kevin] Cramer and [Ohio Rep. Bill] Johnson both downplayed concerns about climate science. “The 97 percent of the scientists who believe [it’s] real, don’t all believe the exact same level,” said Cramer. “Whose fault it is, what’s going to stop it … there’s a wide range in that spectrum.”
At the Washington Post’s discussion, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said that in the past 15 years the earth was, on average, “cooling down,” but stressed “the point is that it’s not a settled science.”
At Politico‘s API-sponsored event, the oil lobbying group’s CEO, Jack Gerard, opened the event by telling the audience that “the United States has become the superpower of energy in the world.”
Rep. Cramer, who was also a guest at the Politico event, joked with the audience that in his home state of North Dakota, “we’re for a warmer climate.”
The media figures hosting the events provided limited pushback, according to The Intercept, even though the media organizations insisted that the presence of their journalists was enough to hold the panelists accountable. The most direct rebuttal to outright denial came from Washington Post opinion writer Stephen Stromberg, who informed Rep. Blackburn that “I think there would be a vast bulk of climate scientists who would disagree” with her statements about climate change, but then allowed that “we don’t have to litigate the science of it this morning.” The Atlantic’s panel moderator, Steve Clemons, told The Intercept that “I had trust in my own ability to be the alternative, and I had trust that the audience would ask questions to provide balance,” but he also conceded that he “should have done more.”
The Atlantic, the Post, and Politico all have similar events lined up for the Democratic National Convention, which has spurred advocacy group Climate Hawks Vote to launch a petition calling on Democratic officials not to appear at the API-sponsored events. As Hill Heat noted, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) recently condemned API for its role in spreading climate science denial during his contribution to senators’ “web of denial” speeches on the Senate floor.
Beyond the conventions, another reminder of the oil industry’s multifaceted approach to co-opting media is taking place at the Los Angeles Times, where the Occidental Petroleum spinoff company California Resources Corp. (CRC) has teamed up with the Times’ “content solutions” team to dole out more industry propaganda on the Powering California website.
As we’ve explained, the Times’ branded content department, which the newspaper says is wholly independent from its reporting and editorial staff, produced a fearmongering video for CRC last fall suggesting that life as we know it would descend into chaos without the oil industry.
A year later, as the oil industry stands in the way of California passing critical legislation that would set the standard for other states to fight climate change, Powering California is out with a series of new videos praising oil and attacking clean energy sources. One of the videos baselessly asserts that “renewable energy can’t replace oil,” falsely claims wind energy is “expensive,” and bombastically declares that “oil and natural gas are woven into the fabric of America.” Another video features feel-good man-on-the-street interviews with paid actors touting California’s oil and gas industry.
Concerns about these types of arrangements between media and the fossil fuel industry have not subsided, despite media organizations’ assurances that the relationships would not affect their coverage. Pointing to the API-sponsored events and The Hill’s offer to “sell interviews” at the conventions, The Intercept’s Emmons concluded: “What were once blurred lines in the journalism business are becoming increasingly clear -- because they have been crossed.”