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:
National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre relied on numerous falsehoods to claim that President Obama will move to ban sales of all firearm ammunition before he leaves office, thus making "the very real nightmare of every single gun owner in this country" a reality.
In the May issue of the NRA's magazine, America's 1st Freedom, LaPierre wrote, "President Barack Obama is setting the table to ban your ammunition -- all of it," and claimed that "the remaining two years of Obama's term pose the greatest threat ever to the Second Amendment and our freedom."
LaPierre imagined a ludicrous scheme where "two fatal turns of events" would lead the EPA to ban all lead ammunition and, subsequently, the Obama administration to ban all non-lead ammunition. According to LaPierre, "The president's bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are partnering with private enviro-radicals to ban lead projectiles -- including all hunting bullets -- as hazardous."
Despite the fact that the EPA has given no indication that it is preparing regulations on lead ammunition, LaPierre insisted that the agency is still seeking a ban.
The facts prove him wrong. In December 2014, FoxNews.com reported that "[i]n a decision favorable to gun enthusiasts," a federal court ruled against environmentalists who argued that the EPA has the authority to regulate lead ammunition. According to FoxNews.com, "The National Rifle Association and much of the pro-gun lobby intervened on the EPA's side in urging the federal appeals court to uphold the dismissal of a lawsuit by 101 environmentalist organizations." (The EPA does not believe it has authority to regulate lead ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act.)
Reports by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters and NPR uncritically relayed climate science deniers' criticism of the Vatican's climate change summit and Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical on climate change. By contrast, other media coverage -- including a different New York Times article -- noted that the organization behind these efforts has received funding from fossil fuel interests and their claim that humans are not responsible for global warming is firmly rejected by the vast majority of climate scientists.
During his speech at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner on April 25, President Obama invited comedian Keegan-Michael Key to reprise the Comedy Central bit in which Key plays Luther, Obama's "anger translator." What followed was highly amusing -- but also quite revealing of the President's frustration with how the media covers climate change.
As he spoke to an audience of thousands of journalists, media executives, politicians, and celebrities, Obama began the sketch by emphasizing that "we count on the press to shed light on the most important issues of the day." That line provided an opening for Luther to piercingly mock Fox News' fearmongering that "Sharia law is coming to Cleveland" and CNN's "wall-to-wall Ebola coverage." He even landed a few good one-liners about Ted Cruz and Hilary Clinton as they pursue contributions for their presidential campaigns.
But the skit took a noticeable turn when Obama told the media-heavy crowd that "we do need to stay focused on some big challenges, like climate change." After Luther joked that drought conditions have made California "look like a trailer for the new Mad Max movie up in there," it quickly became apparent that Obama needed no assistance from his anger translator to spell out how the media and climate change deniers in Congress are failing to take this threat seriously:
OBAMA: I mean, look at what's happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it's a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day and instead of doing anything about it, we have elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate.
LUTHER: Okay, Mr. President. Okay, I think they've got it, bro.
OBAMA: It is crazy! What about our kids! What kind of stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible, bull--
Luther cut Obama off before he engaged in any presidential profanity, but the President had already gotten his point across. As a less angry Obama put it in June 2014, "the media doesn't spend a lot of time covering climate change and letting average Americans know how it could impact our future."
Rush Limbaugh grossly distorted a new study from Duke University, claiming it shows that "there isn't any [global] warming going on." But one of its authors noted that the study actually confirms humans' role in driving global warming and said that Limbaugh's claim is "ridiculous."
On the April 22 edition of his show, Limbaugh touted the Duke University study as "[b]ad news for the climate change crowd" and claimed the Duke researchers are part of a "consensus" of people who think "there isn't any warming going on." He went on to assert that the study, which examines temperature records over the past 1,000 years, shows that "there's no evidence whatsoever to suggest that long-term warming over the next 100 years is going to be anything even noticeable, abnormal."
TV weather forecasters aren't always climate change experts. But they are often responsible for informing the public about climate change impacts in real time, so it's important that they accurately reflect the science.
Fortunately, a new survey from George Mason University provides some hope in that regard. It found that more than nine out of ten broadcast meteorologists acknowledge that climate change is happening, and about two-thirds say human activities play a significant role.
On the most recent editions of CBS' Face The Nation and Fusion's America With Jorge Ramos, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was asked about his past remark that "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate." But while Fusion's Jorge Ramos made clear that Rubio's claim runs counter to the findings of 97 percent of climate scientists, CBS' Bob Schieffer did not.
During the April 19 edition of Face The Nation, Schieffer asked Rubio if he has said that "humans are not responsible for climate change." Watch how Schieffer allowed Rubio to again deny the science of climate change with no pushback:
In contrast, when Rubio appeared in an interview that aired on the April 21 edition of Fusion's America with Jorge Ramos, Ramos emphasized that "97 percent of the studies on climate change say that you are wrong":
It's Earth Day, a day on which people around the world put "environmental concerns front and center" to help build "a clean, healthy, diverse world for generations to come." But for the right-wing media, Earth Day signifies something else entirely: The opportunity to engage in another round of conspiracy theories, anti-science claims, and unwarranted attacks. Here's how they are celebrating this year:
Rush Limbaugh celebrated Earth Day by inventing a new and extremely bizarre conspiracy theory: Earth Day has prompted the government to tell people to ignore food expiration dates, which will lead them to "ration" health care and eventually lead to "death panels."
On the April 22 edition of his show, Limbaugh berated the U.S. Department of Agriculture for trying to limit food waste by providing consumers with a tool educating them on the types of foods that have incorrect or overly cautious expiration dates. Limbaugh went on to claim that the government will eventually use expiration dates to ration medicine and health care, and that "there are going to be death panels." He concluded: "All of this has as its root, Earth Day."
Right-wing websites National Review and Townhall thought it was important to "remind" their audiences about the story of Ira Einhorn, who claimed that he was the co-founder of Earth Day and was convicted for murder several years later. Both outlets stated that Einhorn "composted" his girlfriend. Though Einhorm participated in the first Earth Day, leaders and organizers of the original 1970 Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia have made clear that Einhorn inappropriately disrupted the event and played no role in organizing it.
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.
Most of the largest newspapers in the Northeast corridor did not publish a single piece covering this winter's major snowstorms in the context of global warming, despite strong scientific evidence that climate change creates the conditions for heavier snowstorms. The major broadcast networks and cable news channels also provided scant mention of climate change in their discussions of the snowstorms, with the notable exception of MSNBC, which provided extensive coverage of the topic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox News, the Boston Herald and the Providence Journal featured content that used the snowstorms to deny climate science.