On April 29, Media Matters detailed how some mainstream media outlets were helping advance a misinformation campaign against Pope Francis that is being orchestrated by the fossil fuel-funded Heartland Institute. That prompted a quick response by Heartland Institute President and CEO Joseph Bast, who vigorously sought to defend the honor of climate science deniers everywhere -- or as he calls them, "global warming realists."
The crux of Bast's argument is that the Heartland Institute and its allies "do not deny climate change." But he sure has a funny way of proving it -- by reiterating claims about the causes and impacts of climate change that directly contradict the nearly unanimous findings of scientists who study the climate for a living.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of what Heartland says about climate science juxtaposed with statements from some of the world's leading scientific bodies (emphasis added):
Who is more likely to be influenced by money: The vast majority of climate scientists who agree with the scientific consensus that human activities are driving global warming, or the small pool of climate change deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry? The answer probably seems obvious, but some deniers are doing their best to play the "conflict of interest" card against respected climate scientists.
Right-wing media are promoting the myth that scientists who agree with the consensus of human-caused climate change have been "corrupt[ed]" by "massive amounts of money." Most recently, National Review published an op-ed from the Cato Institute's science director, Patrick Michaels, who wrote that the U.S. government disburses "tens of billions of dollars" to climate scientists "who would not have received those funds had their research shown climate change to be beneficial or even modest in its effects."
Here's the bizarre thing: After arguing that money "corrupts" science that supports the consensus on man-made climate change, Michaels then tried to defend the industry funding behind the research that's used to deny climate change. Michaels wrote: "Are the very, very few climate scientists whose research is supported by [the fossil fuel] industry somehow less virtuous?"
It should come as no surprise that Michaels himself works for an organization funded by the fossil fuel industry. The Cato Institute was co-founded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers and has received millions from the Koch family, while also receiving funding from ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute.
Does the pope's support for action on climate change contradict Catholic principles? Climate science deniers want you to think so -- and conservative media are running with their myths. Here are the facts:
On the five-year anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, television reporters detailed the devastating environmental and economic impacts still facing the Gulf Coast region today, and directly rebutted BP's misleading spin. But they should not lose sight of another equally-important part of the story: how increasingly risky and expansive offshore drilling practices, along with insufficient oversight, could lead to another major spill.
BP is trying very hard to convince the world that the Gulf of Mexico has recovered from the oil well explosion that killed 11 workers and devastated the region's ecosystem and economy -- but television reporters spent the five-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster picking apart BP's claims. MSNBC's Chris Hayes asserted: "As much as BP wants you to think it's all better, it's really not." NBC's Kerry Sanders called out BP's misleading advertisements on Today, rebutting BP's claim that "seafood catches are back to pre-spill levels" by reporting that Louisiana oyster harvest levels have actually decreased by nearly 25 percent. Fox News' Shepard Smith lambasted BP's public relations campaign -- recalling his past criticism of BP, which stood in stark contrast to the rest of the network's BP-friendly coverage in the aftermath of the spill. Smith teased a segment on his show by asking rhetorically: "Five years later you see the BP commercials, everything is great. Right?" He then answered his own question, detailing the tourism and wildlife damages that still exist, and concluding: "Five years later, this ain't over."
It's encouraging to see media figures debunk BP's misleading public relations campaign, which comes as the company seeks to reduce the up to $13.7 billion in Clean Water Act fines it faces if a federal judge r efuses to reconsider a ruling that BP was "grossly negligent" in its handling of the disaster.
But the media should continue to explore the many reasons that offshore drilling still poses immense, inherent risks.
Syndicated columnist George Will claimed that fossil fuel divestment is an ineffective exercise in "right-mindedness" that will only serve to harm universities' endowments, returning to arguments he made almost 30 years ago to dismiss divestment from apartheid South Africa. But many financial analysts have determined that divesting from fossil fuels has a negligible or even positive impact on institutions' investment portfolios, and the track record of past divestment campaigns -- including in South Africa -- suggests that the current movement can be successful by stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry.
The Wall Street Journal is calling on states to "revolt" against the EPA's Clean Power Plan, claiming that "virtually everyone who understands the electric grid" is warning that the plan will threaten grid reliability and could lead to rolling blackouts. In reality, nonpartisan energy experts say the EPA's proposal will not affect Americans' access to electricity.
UPDATE (4/21): Newsweek added an editor's note at the top of Simmons' op-ed, which reads: "Editor's note: The author of this piece, Randy Simmons, is the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State University. He's also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center. These ties to the oil industry weren't originally disclosed in this piece."
Newsweek also published an op-ed in response by the Environmental Defense Fund's Jim Marston, and issued the following correction to Simmons' op-ed: "Correction: This article has been updated with a corrected figure for wind power's current share of US electricity generation. It also clarifies the range of cost estimates from Lazard."
Newsweek missed by a mile when it promised to provide readers with "full disclosure" concerning the author of a deeply flawed opinion piece it published attacking wind energy.
Newsweek stated that the April 11 column's primary author, Randy Simmons, is a "professor of political economy at Utah State University" and added: "Full disclosure: Randy Simmons receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (grant has been completed and there is no current funding) and Strata, a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization."
But Simmons isn't just any professor of political economy; he is the former Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State's business school.* He's also a senior fellow at the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded Property and Environment Research Center.
If Newsweek was serious about disclosing any pertinent information about Simmons' possible motives for arguing against wind energy, the obvious place to start would be with his ties to the Koch brothers, who have a vested interest in opposing sources of energy like wind that would reduce America's dependence on carbon-based energy sources. Instead, Newsweek considered it "full disclosure" to simply note that Simmons has received grants from the U.S. government and a non-profit organization.
A deceptive op-ed campaign to undermine action on climate change is underway in states across the country. Infamous corporate lobbyist Richard Berman is funding sham "studies" attacking the EPA's Clean Power Plan that are produced by the Beacon Hill Institute and distributed by the State Policy Network -- two organizations with financial ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers. The Beacon Hill Institute studies, which will appear in 16 states this year, dramatically inflate the Clean Power Plan's projected costs and admittedly don't even analyze the EPA's actual proposal -- so newspapers owe it to their readers to avoid promoting these studies or publishing op-eds that do.
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."
The multimedia financial services company The Motley Fool criticized ethanol for allegedly relying on government subsidies -- despite the fact that subsidies for corn ethanol, which comprises the vast majority of ethanol used in the country, ended years ago.
In an April 5 Motley Fool post that was posted on USAToday.com, two of their "energy experts" discussed the viability of ethanol -- which currently comprises about 10 percent of the nation's gasoline supply - as an energy source and concluded that ethanol is overly reliant on government subsidies. Travis Hoium wrote that ethanol "requires government subsidies to exist," and Jason Hall agreed that ethanol is "not cost-competitive without government subsidies."
The Motley Fool may have conflated subsidies with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which does not provide a monetary tax break but does require refiners to blend increasing amounts of renewable fuels into the nation's motor fuel supply. However, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), "[fuel] suppliers would probably find it cost-effective to use a roughly 10 percent blend of corn ethanol in gasoline in 2017 even in the absence of the RFS." So even if you (wrongly) considered the RFS to be a "subsidy," The Motley Fool's claim that ethanol needs subsidies to exist simply doesn't hold water.
Meanwhile, immense subsidies are still being handed out to the polluting oil and gas industries -- a fact that was conveniently overlooked by The Motley Fool. President Obama has repeatedly proposed eliminating $4 billion in annual oil and gas handouts from the federal budget - only to have these proposals die in Congress.
A Wall Street Journal editorial contradicted the Journal's own news reporting by falsely claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) never considered costs when setting regulations on mercury and other toxic air pollution. The Journal editorial also deceptively downplayed the public health benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and baselessly dismissed the dangers of mercury pollution.
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.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto and the Heartland Institute's Jay Lehr denied that hydraulic fracturing has ever been "proven" to pollute water supplies, despite the hundreds of documented cases of leaky fracking wells causing groundwater contamination. Cavuto also dismissed the Bush administration's role in creating the so-called "Halliburton loophole," which exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act's restrictions on injecting toxic chemicals into the ground.
The Houston Chronicle and Reuters are helping the Advanced Biofuels Association (ABFA) overstate its membership and downplay its connections to the oil industry, facilitating its advocacy to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). In fact, major developers of advanced biofuels continue to support the standards and are not members of the association - which is largely run by executives with deep roots in the oil industry.
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.