If 2012 was the year of Solyndra, then 2013 was the year of Tesla, whose initial success has encapsulated the potential of clean energy. The electric automaker received a loan from the same overarching program as Solyndra, the bankrupt solar company that became the target of political attacks, but it turned a profit and became the poster child for clean energy subsidies. This confounded conservative media, who alternated between praising Tesla while denying or ignoring its federal loan, and putting it down just days later.
In addition to the more traditional targets -- electric cars like Tesla's, solar (allegedly "tanking the economy") and wind energy (supposedly causing "devastating" health effects) -- this year conservative media reached so far right as to go after energy efficiency and bike-share programs. We collected some of the worst attacks from conservative media against clean energy technology during 2013.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto refused to listen to the facts about the nation's desperate need for more infrastructure spending, instead repeatedly shouting that prior funding must have been "stolen" because some infrastructure "still sucks."
This week Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is expected to introduce a bill raising the federal gas tax, which supports the Highway Trust Fund used to build transportation infrastructure, by $0.15 per gallon. On December 3, Blumenauer appeared on Fox's Your World with Neil Cavuto to explain his proposal. But rather than allowing a discussion on the reasoning behind the bill, Cavuto shouted over the congressman for more than nine minutes.
Over and over again, Cavuto demanded to know why additional revenue is needed for transit infrastructure, repeatedly interrupting Blumenauer to ask, "what's happened to all the money we've already allocated?" Cavuto indicated that additional spending would be wasteful, because, according to him, the nation's "infrastructure still sucks" despite present funds.
Cavuto even pushed the conspiracy theory that funds previously allocated for transit infrastructure were "stolen," as revenues from the gas tax would be. He shouted:
CAVUTO: Congressman, do you honestly believe -- working with the folks that you do -- that the money that you might get from this gas tax is going to be used exclusively and only for repairing roads and bridges and fixing our highways? Do you think that's really going to be the case? Does the history with the people you work with indicate that that will ever be the case? Really?
BLUMENAUER: Why do you say that? Where do you think it's gone? How did the --
CAVUTO: I don't know. Because our roads and bridges are for crap and this is after we've committed tens of millions of dollars each and every year through a variety of sources and they're still falling apart. So you're saying, maybe the difference - maybe the answer is more money, but the fact of the matter is, the money we've already spent we can't account for
BLUMENAUER: Where do you get that, you can't account for it? That's goofy --
CAVUTO: Can you account for $42 billion? Can you spell out for me, congressman, where that $42 billion has gone?
CAVUTO: If the goal was to fix roads and bridges and they're still -- accurately, to your point, falling apart -- methinks someone has stolen it, someone has taken it.
Fox News uncritically aired attacks on the approval of an environmental science textbook by the Texas Education Agency, saying its passage will "push particular viewpoints" as a result of "socialized education." But the textbook's passage had nothing to do with the Common Core Standards, and simply contains scientifically accurate information about hydraulic fracturing and climate change.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) approved a textbook titled Environmental Science to be on its list of recommended science textbooks last week, despite testimony from oil and gas advocate Becky Berger who claimed that the book is full of inaccuracies and "very one-sided." On November 25, Fox and Friends co-host Steve Doocy interviewed Cynthia Dunbar formerly of the Texas State Board of Education, who fears that the passage of the scientifically accurate textbook is evidence that Common Core standards will beget "indoctrination through our textbooks."
Berger complained in the hearing that Environmental Science was full of "misleading, inaccurate and partial explanations" on the subjects of climate change, wind power, ozone layer depletion, and hydraulic fracturing risks. Berger, an oil and gas geologist who grew up deeply involved in the energy industry, claimed that the textbook in question misleads on the risks of hydraulic fracturing to water supplies. She reportedly spent two hours evaluating the book and provided "no actual written documentation to back up her claims," contrasting the months-long evaluation process from the state's official review teams, which did not find any substantive factual errors in the textbook. The review panel "identified three minor errors, but none of them having to do with the substance of the textbook," the Texas Tribune reported. However, this did not stop Doocy from suggesting that Berger's testimony was "disqualified" solely because she is currently "running for office as a Republican" to be Texas railroad commissioner.
Meanwhile, Common Core Standards have not been enacted in the state of Texas, something that Dunbar even pointed out during her interview with Doocy; the hearing was held by a state agency to approve new science textbooks in Texas public schools. However, Dunbar then advised citizens to be concerned about "socialized education," as textbook publishing companies "gear towards" the Common Core standards. In fact, Common Core currently doesn't have any specified regulations for textbooks; its website explains that the standards are designed simply to "enable collaboration between states on a range of tools and policies, including [...] the development of textbooks, digital media and other teaching materials aligned to the standards."
This is not the first time Fox has fretted over environmental education in public schools; when the Environmental Protection Agency hosted lesson plans on climate change, Fox Business cried "propaganda."
Climate change discussions in the aftermath of a record-shattering deadly typhoon serve as "an excuse" to avoid helping people living in the storm's path, according Fox host Dana Perino, who argued that instead of taking action on climate change, we should provide developing nations with "more fossil fuels." Perino's concern for affordable electricity starkly contrasts with the network's usually dismissive attitude toward those living in poverty and ignores the fact that fighting climate change and keeping energy prices in check for low-income families are attainable and confluent goals.
Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the island nation of the Philippines last week. The storm may be the most powerful typhoon in recorded history, and the death toll left in its wake is still rising, estimated to be between 2,300 and 10,000.
On the November 14 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Dana Perino attacked environmentalists who express concern that manmade global warming could impact the strength of major storms like the super typhoon that devastated the Philippines. Perino argued that discussing global warming "is the perfect excuse not to do anything for people living in the Third World." Perino later doubled down, saying, "it's an excuse to not help people in poverty."
Instead of focusing on global warming, Perino's solution to help those vulnerable to the impacts of climate change would be to "help provide affordable electricity to people that are living there, so that they could've had more information so that they could've gotten out of harm's way. With more affordable electricity that is steady, you have better education, you have better health care, you have better well-being and you have the possibility of trade, which will actually help everybody." Perino concluded, "What we should be doing is providing them with more fossil fuels."
CNN aired the pro-nuclear power film "Pandora's Promise" on November 7, which propagated three common myths about nuclear power: it suggested the environmental movement's "scare tactics" are what has inhibited nuclear power, claimed nuclear power is cheaper than renewables, and downplayed complications from nuclear waste. This led to a generally one-sided story, which has led to criticism from many reviewers.
Here's how the film "Pandora's Promise" propagated nuclear power myths:
1. Claimed Nuclear Energy Is Cheaper Than Renewable Energy
The enormous cost of building nuclear power plants is a key inhibiting factor for the energy source. Despite receiving immensely greater subsidies than renewable energy from the beginning of its development, nuclear energy is still not competitive with fossil fuels in the United States, and new wind energy is estimated to be less expensive than new nuclear generation. Yet the Breakthrough Institute's Michael Shellenberger asserted that nuclear power is "a much more economical alternative to very expensive solar panels or very expensive wind turbines that require backup power." He also dismissed renewable energy and energy efficiency, one of the cheapest ways to address climate change, as a "religion."
Renewable energy prices have actually been dropping while the costs of nuclear are on the rise -- as nuclear power has scaled up in France and the U.S., so have the costs of power plant construction. Meanwhile, solar prices have dropped 99 percent in the last quarter century, and solar and wind energies are predicted to be cost-competitive with fossil fuels -- without the use of subsidies -- by 2025.
Media coverage of nuclear power often suggests that environmentalists are illogically blocking the expansion of a relatively safe, low-carbon energy source. However, in reality, economic barriers to nuclear power -- even after decades of subsidies -- have prevented the expansion of nuclear power. While nuclear power does provide meaningful climate benefits over fossil fuels, economic factors and the need for strict safety regulations have led many environmentalists to focus instead on putting a price on carbon, which would benefit all low-carbon energy sources including nuclear.
Fox News is calling mileage-based user fees that several states are considering "Orwellian," implying the government would be able to track your vehicle without permission and perhaps even "shut your car off." But the network's segment left out that such proposals generally include devices that cannot track your location and certainly cannot turn off your car, satisfying both the American Civil Liberties Union and several conservative organizations.
In a segment featuring no voices in defense of mileage-based user fees (MBUF), Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum declared such proposals the "most Orwellian thing I've ever heard." MacCallum hosted Berkeley Varitronics Systems President Scott Schober, who suggested the government may be able to "shut your car off" if you do not pay the fees. MacCallum added that if "somebody is stalking you and they want to know where you're going, they could very well hack right into this system and follow you." The segment was so conspiratorial that fellow Fox News anchor Jon Scott joked that "I see the black helicopters over your studio right now":
Ryan Morrison, Founder and CEO of True Mileage, Inc. -- a company that designs devices that could be used for MBUF -- said this "definitely sounds like misinformation." In a phone conversation with Media Matters, Morrison said "no company or departments of transportation are looking into devices that could shut off a car." He added that "certainly no one would be able to do anything like that with our devices, and the only time that I've heard of something like that is with a LoJack" for stolen vehicles.
In addition, according to Morrison, most proposals are suggesting allowing citizens to choose whether to install devices without GPS-tracking -- such as his company's -- or to install ones that do have GPS-tracking -- in order to save money when they travel out of state or on less congested roads. For instance, Oregon, which has moved forward with a pilot program for a MBUF (also known as a "vehicle-miles traveled" (VMT) fee), would allow participants to choose devices that do not have GPS tracking and delete personal data after 30 days. The American Civil Liberties Union is reportedly "satisfied with the privacy protections" in Oregon's program.
Fox Nation is claiming that "Wind Turbines [are] Making Cape Codders Sick" based on an ABCNews.com article. But the story of a resident in that article illustrates that there is no demonstrated impact of wind turbines on health, while substantial evidence suggests that reported health effects are psychological rather than physical in origin.
ABC News' article began with the story of a resident of Falmouth, Massachusetts, who lived near a wind turbine: "Sue Hobart, a bridal florist from Massachusetts, couldn't understand why she suddenly developed headaches, ringing in her ears, insomnia and dizziness to the point of falling 'flat on my face' in the driveway." However, in an online interview with an anti-wind activist, Hobart admitted that she had suffered from ringing in her ears for "quite a while," but claimed it had gotten worse "since the turbines." Hobart, who has compared living near a wind turbine to being in the "line of fire" in a "war zone," attributed various other symptoms to "wind turbine syndrome" in that interview, saying she had "no appetite" in her home and was experiencing "just unrest -- just not being able to settle down -- not really feeling relaxed."
ABC News claimed that based on these self-reported symptoms, "a doctor at Harvard Medical School diagnosed Hobart with wind turbine syndrome, which is not recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." However, in an email to Media Matters, the doctor in question, Dr. Steven Rauch, clarified that there is "no way I can make a definite diagnosis of WTS [Wind Turbine Syndrome]":
Her symptoms were consistent with a diagnosis of WTS but there are no standard diagnostic criteria nor objective tests to confirm the diagnosis. There is no way I can make a definite diagnosis of WTS nor is there any way I can definitely exclude the diagnosis.
A 2011 literature review published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Health Journal stated that "[g]iven that annoyance appears to be more strongly related to visual cues and attitude than to noise itself, self reported health effects of people living near wind turbines are more likely attributed to physical manifestation from an annoyed state than from infrasound." That review also noted that infrasound is "ubiquitous" in the world, emitted from, among other things, air-conditioning units, cars, and even ocean waves.
A New York Magazine report explained there is significant evidence that "wind turbine syndrome" may be psychological in origin, even if, as with a placebo effect, residents experience real physical impacts:
Large-scale population surveys conducted by scientists in Sweden and the Netherlands have found that stress and sleep disturbances were more likely if the turbines were visible and less likely if the individuals benefitted economically from them. Other studies found that having a bad attitude about the turbines and subjective sensitivity to noise were more likely to lead to annoyance and negative health effects than actual exposure to audible sound or infrasound. (Back in 2007, three years before the Falmouth turbines were even built, a handful of residents expressed concern about the potential for illness after reading about symptoms online, and those health effects were even written up in the local newspaper.) And in recent lab tests, subjects who were told to expect side effects from infrasound ahead of time felt some of those symptoms even when they were exposed to sham infrasound.
Hobart is not alone in reporting health effects from the wind turbines. Other Falmouth residents have testified that "wind turbine syndrome" may be behind a wide variety of symptoms, including "eye discharge," "high blood pressure," "drinking," and "anger." But these residents are a minority. New York Magazine reported that "[o]f the nearly 200 or so households located within a half-mile of a turbine in Falmouth, only about 24 complain of symptoms."
Why would some residents complain of symptoms while many others do not if the origin is physical rather than related to a predisposition against the turbines? And why would those that have installed wind turbines on their property have lower rates of "wind turbine syndrome" than those farther away if it is not related to the revenue they're receiving?
In an online post Hobart said, "I am OVER with the peer review double-blind scientific bullshitometer they all hide behind." However, without double-blind studies, biases such as these can be introduced to studies on "wind turbine syndrome," severely undermining their findings.
For instance, it may be more than a coincidence that the pediatrician who coined the term "wind turbine syndrome" and promoted the stories of people such as Hobart, Dr. Nina Pierpont, is married to an anti-wind activist who compared the fight against the "wind bastards" to the Civil Rights movement:
As Rosa Parks did, when she sparked the Civil Rights movement: you need to refuse to give up your seat to the wind bastard on the bus.
An independent report has all but destroyed one of the right's most cherished Obama administration "scandals," a fever dream that featured former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson intentionally shirking transparency laws with the help of a secret email account under the name "Richard Windsor." Fox News mentioned the saga in at least 40 different segments in the last year -- yet despite the network's fascination with the story, it has not covered the recent development, which undermines most of its previous coverage.
The EPA's Inspector General (IG) recently found "no evidence" that the department has "used, promoted, or encouraged the use of private email accounts to circumvent records management responsibilities." The IG was similarly unable to turn up proof of any senior agency officials trying to dodge federal recordkeeping, and the report noted that the EPA has taken various actions to improve its electronic content management in the last four years.
That inquiry came in response to claims that Jackson and others were using such accounts to elude Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Congressional Republicans who pushed for the review had cited a Daily Caller article that reported Jackson used the name "Richard Windsor" for her "secret" secondary account. The Daily Caller got its information from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a partly industry-funded free-market think tank obsessed with the idea that some elusive, unguarded conversation would expose the Obama administration's (effectively imaginary) "War on Coal." (Later, when CEI actually got to read some FOIAed emails, it declared the lack of suspicious content somewhat suspicious).
But Jackson has explained that she regularly told people to "make sure" they searched for the Richard Windsor account when they made FOIA requests. Furthermore, EPA officials (and the IG) have noted that the use of a primary, staff-managed public account as well as a secondary account is common in both the public and private sectors in order to stem the flow of emails and get work done. Two former EPA administrators under George W. Bush reportedly used secondary (sub. required) email addresses as well.
However, the ordinariness of the practice didn't stop conservatives from feeding the "scandal" oxygen. Right-wing media couldn't get enough of Richard Windsor. They speculated that unseen emails contained information on an "expected" carbon tax (even though the administration has repeatedly stated that it is not pursuing a carbon tax). They bizarrely insinuated that the digital nom de plume was related to a "fetishistic" website (it was actually in honor of Jackson's family dog and hometown). They claimed the administrator was fleeing from the issue when she stepped down after a little over four years at the helm (neglecting to mention that she'd held the post longer than all but one past EPA chief). And in order to keep the "scandal" relevant once she resigned, they connected the allegations to Jackson's nominated replacement, Gina McCarthy (even though McCarthy told a Senate committee that she did not conduct business with a secondary account).
Fox News played a leading role in making Richard Windsor a story. A search of Nexis and internal video archives indicates that the network has mentioned the ordeal in more than 40 different segments in the last year, hosting the putative architect of the "scandal," CEI's Christopher Horner, ten times to promote it. In all, about 86 percent of guests discussing the issue voiced anti-EPA sentiment (7 percent defended the EPA and 7 percent were neutral). Over 90 percent of segments did not mention the mitigating factor that previous administrations had also used secondary email accounts:
From the October 3 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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Fox News misleadingly suggested that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz declared bankrupt solar company Solyndra a "success" in recent remarks. In fact, he was praising the broader clean energy loan program that supported it, noting that its loan recipients, such as Tesla Motors, are mostly still in business.
The new attack came after Moniz defended the Department of Energy's (DOE) green loan initiative in an interview with C-SPAN. He explained that despite the hype surrounding Solyndra, the portfolio has been a "terrific success," as evidenced by the fact that losses represent only a little over 2 percent of the $34.4 billion in loan guarantees, and under 10 percent of the reserve fund that Congress set aside to cover any defaults, knowing that not every company would succeed. Indeed, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis, the amount set aside by Congress for defaults will be more than enough even if every high-risk project fails. This is indicative of the caution that undergirded the program, which mostly apportioned funds to inherently low-risk power generation projects.
But Wednesday's edition of Fox & Friends suggested that Moniz was championing one of the program's rare failures, running a clip from Moniz's interview with a chyron reading "CELEBRATING SOLYNDRA. Energy Official: Failed Solar Co. A 'Success.'"
Watch what Moniz said and how Fox News reported it:
Fox has repeatedly seized on individual companies' troubles to declare the entire solar industry either on the "brink of collapse" or "tanking our economy." Media at-large have not been much better, relentlessly promoting Solyndra as the face of the green loan program and, at times, of clean energy itself, even as they ignored other, more promising developments. However, contrary to this narrative, clean energy sources including solar, are on the rise:
In the weeks leading up to the release of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report summarizing climate science on Monday, conservative media have spread a variety of myths about the process, credibility and findings of the group. Contrary to misinformation, the report reflects that scientists are more convinced than ever that manmade climate change is real and dangerous.
A recent incident in which 7,500 songbirds died after flying over a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant has been ignored by the same conservative media outlets that often exaggerate the danger posed to birds by wind turbines, including hyping an incident in which a single bird was killed in Scotland.
The birds killed by the LNG facility, which may have included some endangered species, were headed south for the winter when a routine "flare" release at the Canaport LNG facility in Canada, used to burn off excess natural gas, drew them in. Though company officials apologized for the episode and said they are modifying equipment to reduce flaring, one manager at the plant admitted "At the moment there's not a whole lot I can do to resolve it in the short term." The dead reportedly included "a large number of red-eyed vireos" (see photo above).
Three months prior, another migrating bird, the white-throated needletail, died after flying into a wind turbine off Scotland. The needletail is not endangered or threatened, but it is sighted only rarely in the United Kingdom.
Can you guess how conservative media covered these two cases?
Searches of Nexis, Google and an internal video database indicate that the thousands of birds that died after flying into a Canadian gas flare have not been mentioned by any U.S. conservative outlet to date (or any major U.S. outlet other than the environmental sites Treehugger and National Geographic).
Conversely, the single bird that flew into a wind turbine became a big story in the conservative media bubble. Right-wing outlets used the episode to smear green energy, sometimes betraying sheer glee, as when National Review Online blogger Greg Pollowitz wrote "Your [sic] laughing as you read this, aren't you?" or Rush Limbaugh remarked "[a] bunch of environmentalist whackos watched a precious windmill kill a rare bird."
Conservative media's fixation on a single bird death -- albeit regrettable -- while completely ignoring thousands more seems to let slip that feigning an interest in conservation is simply a convenient way for these outlets to attack wind power, which they have depicted as an agent of "mass slaughter " or an "open-ended aviary holocaust," while overlooking far more elementary, existential threats to wildlife, including climate change. Lest we forget, conservative media figures have regularly mocked those who are concerned about the impact that humans are having on animals -- one Fox News contributor declared "lots of species may be about to leave the planet, and I don't care" -- and attacked conservation efforts for endangered species from lizards to polar bears.
The Wall Street Journal debunked several of what it labeled "myths" about renewable energy on Monday. But the paper itself has promoted several of these myths in the past, obscuring the promising growth of renewable energy as prices rapidly decline.
According to Wall Street Journal reporter Keith Johnson, "[o]ld ideas die hard" when it comes to renewable energy. He went on to debunk "six myths about renewable energy" that he said stemmed from "outdated facts and assumptions." Three of these myths, as follows, have been pushed by the Wall Street Journal:
The Wall Street Journal has called the potential of wind and solar power "trivial" in an editorial and has published an op-ed by Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute that claimed "[p]hysical limitations will keep this energy source a niche provider of U.S. electricity needs."
But as Johnson reported, the scale of the U.S. electricity supply is so great that our current renewable energy mix, which has accounted for 14 percent of U.S. electricity production so far this year (mostly from hydropower), is greater than some countries' total electricity capacity -- far from trivial.
And as this Wall Street Journal chart shows, renewable sources are on a rapid upward trend, particularly from wind power:
False claims popularized by the media in recent weeks were used as fodder in a Republican hearing to cast doubt on global warming.
The House Energy and Power Subcommittee interrogated cabinet officials Gina McCarthy and Ernest Moniz on Wednesday in a hearing that Organizing for Action dubbed "DenierPalooza." Committee members have accepted over $12 million from the fossil fuel industry in 2013 alone, and a majority are known to deny the science demonstrating manmade global warming. During the hearing, several false claims about climate change that originated in the media were repeated as fact.
An egregious claim advanced by British tabloid The Mail On Sunday was recited by Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) in an effort to claim that global warming isn't happening, asserting "Arctic ice has actually grown 60 percent." Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) also cited the Mail, stating "I recently read an article that stated that the Arctic ice had nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at this time of year."
However, these claims were based on a typographic error from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), later corrected. The NSIDC found the Arctic sea ice increase was actually half of what the Mail reported: about 500,000 square miles of ice were added to the Arctic from the previous year (not one million), an increase of 29 percent.
Regardless of this error, it is misleading to use these figures to argue that we are experiencing "global cooling" (as did the Mail On Sunday), as 2012 was a record low for Arctic ice, and some increase in ice extent was expected. Even with the increase, the August 2013 average sea ice extent was about 70 percent less than the 30-year average -- the Arctic is still experiencing rapid sea ice decline in the long-term, mostly due to global warming. Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment concluded that the article was "deliberately misleading."
As misinformation from British tabloids about climate change has been magnified by American conservative media in the past several weeks, it was only a matter of time before inaccuracies permeated Congress and entered the political debate.