It is long past time for a presidential debate in which the candidates thoroughly address the most pressing science-related topics, says the non-profit group ScienceDebate.org. And now the organization has a new video featuring a group of children who agree that it's critically important for the presidential candidates to debate science.
Science Debate, which is backed by Nobel Laureates and hundreds of other leaders in science, academics, business, government, and media, is running a campaign calling for at least one presidential debate that is exclusively focused on science, health, tech, and environmental issues. The group points to a recent Zogby Analytics poll that Science Debate commissioned with the health research-focused non-profit Research!America, which found that 86 percent of U.S. adults think the presidential candidates "should participate in a debate to discuss key science-based challenges facing the United States."
Thus far, the media figures moderating the presidential debates have rarely asked the candidates about one of the most pressing science-related topics: climate change. In a press release announcing its new video, Science Debate noted that neither CNN nor ABC moderators asked "a single question about climate change" during the Republican and Democratic debates that took place "in the days immediately following the historic Paris climate change summit, where 195 countries reached an agreement to begin shifting the world economy off carbon."
A new Media Matters analysis provides further evidence that presidential debate moderators are short-changing climate change. Our review of the first eight presidential primary debates found that the moderators have thus far asked the candidates more than ten times as many questions about the political horserace and other non-substantive issues as they have asked about climate change.
Reached for comment, Science Debate chair Shawn Otto expressed concern over the Media Matters study's findings, saying that "it's the science issues--from climate change to the Internet, from the war on drugs to a sustainable economy--that are driving most of today's major policy challenges, and the American people deserve answers."
The full statement by Shawn Otto, chair of Science Debate, as provided in an email to Media Matters:
Out of all the questions Media Matters analyzed from the debates so far, just 9 were about climate change. Ninety-four questions, or over ten times as many, were about non-substantive issues. Yet it's the science issues--from climate change to the Internet, from the war on drugs to a sustainable economy--that are driving most of today's major policy challenges, and the American people deserve answers. We have presidential debates dedicated to economics and to foreign policy. It's time we had a presidential debate dedicated to science, health, tech and the environment.
From Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change, to the establishment of the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, to a landmark international climate agreement, 2015 has been full of major landmarks in national and global efforts to address global warming. Yet you wouldn't know it if you inhabited the parallel universe of the conservative media, where media figures went to ridiculous and outrageous lengths to dismiss or deny climate science, attack the pope, scientists, and anyone else concerned with climate change, and defend polluting fossil fuel companies. Here are the 15 most ridiculous things conservative media said about climate change in 2015.
New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait criticized right-wing media outlets for claiming the Paris climate agreement is toothless after previously denying the reality of man-made climate change.
Conservative media personalities criticized the Paris conference leading to a landmark December 12 climate change agreement to limit global emissions. Right-wing media outlets and figures, such as Fox News' Stuart Varney and The Daily Caller, claimed any agreement would have "little... impact" and argued that lowering global temperatures by a "minuscule amount" would cost America "an enormous amount of money." Fox News in particular demonstrated its hypocrisy over the issue by falsely implying that those at the Paris agreement were hypocrites for having a supposed large carbon footprint the Paris summit and dismissing the "hoopla" over the event due to any agreement being non-binding, while at the same time pointing to record level Alaska snowfall to dispute climate change. A Fox host also falsely claimed global temperatures have "stabilized or gone down a little bit," and Fox's Laura Ingraham claimed that the summit is about "bringing America's economy down."
In a December 20 article, Chait pointed out how conservative media were moving the goalposts on the issue, writing they had "shifted their emphasis from denying the science to denying the possibility that policy can change it." Noting that conservative media previously "objected to previous climate deals precisely because their 'mandatory' character presented an unacceptably onerous burden," conservative media were claiming "the absence of that unacceptable feature makes the new agreement worthless." Chait also called out outlets like National Review, Fox News, and The Daily Caller for misrepresenting a MIT climate study to downplay the agreement's impact:
Most conservative energy on climate change over the last quarter-century has gone into questioning the validity of climate science. Conservative intellectuals have invested enough of their reputations into this form of scientific kookery that it cannot be easily abandoned. Instead, as the evidence for anthropogenic global warming grows ever more certain, and the political costs for Republican presidential candidates of openly questioning science rise, conservatives have shifted their emphasis from denying the science to denying the possibility that policy can change it. A National Review editorial last year dismissed the notion of an international agreement to limit climate change as a metaphysical impossibility, on the grounds that reducing coal usage in one place would axiomatically increase it elsewhere. As The Wall Street Journal editorial page asserts, "If climate change really does imperil the Earth, and we doubt it does, nothing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it." Having begun with their conclusion, conservative are now reasoning backward through their premises.
Accordingly, a new data point has taken hold on the right and quickly blossomed. One study by MIT finds that the Paris agreement would reduce the global temperature increase by a mere 0.2 degrees by 2100. The entire right-wing media has eagerly circulated the finding. "Current analysis by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- not exactly a nest of fossil-fuel conservatism -- suggests that the emissions cuts being agreed to in Paris would reduce that estimated warming by as little as 0.0°C or by as much as 0.2°C," announces a National Review editorial, thrilled to have an empirical basis for the conclusion it previously asserted as an a priori truth. The same study has been recirculated by places like the Daily Caller, Fox News, and elsewhere. Rich Lowry, writing in the New York Post, reports, "The best estimates are that, accepting the premises of the consensus, the deal will reduce warming 0.0 to 0.2 degrees Celsius."
In fact, this study is just one estimate, not estimates plural. There are many other studies, and while Lowry's column does not reveal what process he used to deem the MIT study "the best," we can probably guess that it has something to do with MIT being the one that supports his preferred conclusion. In fact, the MIT study does not produce the conclusion its gloating conservative publicists claim on its behalf.
So MIT's conclusion of emissions levels over the next 15 years is right in line with other estimates that assume Paris will do a great deal to limit climate change.
It is also certainly possible that global willpower to reduce emissions will weaken, or collapse entirely. Future events cannot be proven. Only rigid dogma like American conservatism (or, for that matter, Marxism) gives its adherents a mortal certainty about the fate of government policy that a liberal cannot match, and should not want to.
In his latest column repeating his clients' attacks on climate change policies, lobbyist and Washington Post writer Ed Rogers finally disclosed to readers that his lobbying firm "represents interests in the fossil fuel [industry]." Rogers is the chairman of BGR Group, a top lobbying firm that has received more than $700,000 from the energy industry in 2015. Rogers has personally lobbied this year for Southern Company, one of the largest electric utility companies in the U.S. -- and one of the biggest opponents of the most significant U.S. policy to combat climate change.
Rogers' disclosure, which was placed in a parenthetical in the middle of his December 17 column, could help Post readers recognize that they should take his opinions on the United Nations' historic Paris climate agreement with a grain of salt (he says it's a "sham"). And it marks a stark contrast from Rogers' past columns, in which the Post allowed him to dismiss the scientific consensus on climate change and echo his client's attacks on climate policies without disclosing his firm's fossil fuel ties.
The Post's past failure to require Rogers to disclose his lobbying firm's clients -- both fossil fuel and otherwise -- drew criticism from media ethicists. Among them was Ed Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, who said it's clear that "someone else is paying" Rogers to write his columns and urged the Post to provide "specific disclosure" of Rogers' clients rather than a "blanket description of him as a lobbyist," in order to make plain that he "has a horse to back" in his columns.
From Rogers' December 17 column for The Washington Post's PostPartisan blog (emphasis added):
The [Conference of Parties] 21 conference in Paris was the most predictable event of 2015. Of course an agreement was going to be reached, and of course that agreement is a sham, but it all fits perfectly with what the climate issue has become. The topic of climate change has become manna for exhausted liberals who have nothing much to say and policy failures on almost every front. (Disclosure: My firm represents interests in the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries.) And let's face it, global warming is an issue that perfectly suits Obama as he warms up for retirement. He doesn't really have to do anything, there is never any day of reckoning and it lends itself to sanctimonious moralizing and generally lecturing everybody about how they should live.
ABC News' moderators did not ask the candidates about climate change or anti-choice domestic terrorism during the December 19 presidential debate, but did find time to inquire about whether the role of the presidential spouse should change.
On November 27 a gunman killed three at a Planned Parenthood clinic. He subsequently said he was trying to ensure there were "no more baby parts" and described himself as a "warrior for the babies" in court. The attack started a debate over the link between violent rhetoric directed against women's health providers and terrorist attacks on those clinics.
On December 12, leaders from every country in the world struck a historic climate change agreement in Paris to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
Moderators David Muir and Martha Raddatz did not raise either of these topics during the debate, but did find time to ask all three candidates about the role their spouses would have if they were elected. CNN's moderators previously ignored both the Planned Parenthood attack and the climate agreement during the December 15 Republican primary debate.
Industry-funded climate denial organizations hosted events during the United Nations' climate change negotiations in Paris in an attempt to inject false balance and misinformation into media coverage of the event. But unlike coverage of the Vatican climate summit earlier this year, mainstream media outlets did not take the bait this time around, instead noting these groups' diminished influence and accurately portraying them as outliers that are out of step with mainstream climate science.
A Media Matters analysis found that four of the ten largest-circulation newspapers in the country published op-eds, editorials, or columns that denied climate science while criticizing the international climate change negotiations in Paris, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Post, and The Orange County Register. Altogether, 17 percent of the 52 opinion pieces that the ten largest newspapers published about the Paris conference included some form of climate science denial, and many of them repeated other myths about the climate negotiations as well.
Three days before CNN hosted the fifth Republican presidential debate, leaders from every country in the world struck a historic climate change agreement in Paris to reduce fossil fuel emissions and face up to one of the greatest threats facing our country and our planet. The Paris agreement was a front page story in newspapers throughout the U.S. and around the globe. So considering that the Pentagon says climate change "could impact national security" and experts have identified a relationship between global warming and the rise of ISIS, the issue clearly belonged in the December 15 CNN debate, which co-moderator Wolf Blitzer described as a "discussion about the security of this nation."
CNN's own Michael Smerconish pointed to the significance of the Paris climate agreement in the cable outlet's debate preview coverage the night beforehand, yet CNN failed to ask a single question about the agreement or climate change more broadly during the debate itself. While GOP candidates may have their own political reasons for avoiding the issue -- and a couple of them dismissively brought climate change up on their own -- CNN is a news organization with a responsibility to press the candidates for our nation's highest office on the most important issues facing the country and the world, particularly when there are major new developments to address.
CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment on why the network did not deem the Paris climate agreement worthy of a question (or three) during the debate. So for now, we're only left to wonder how such an inexcusable omission could occur.
During CNN coverage previewing the network's December 15 Republican debate, CNN's Michael Smerconish contrasted the fact that all 195 nations in the world reached an historic agreement to tackle climate change with a recent poll showing that 57 percent of likely Republican caucusgoers in Iowa say that "climate change is a hoax." Smerconish asked Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer if he is concerned about "brand damage harming [GOP candidates] down ballot," and whether issues like climate change and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's plan to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. could "catch up with the GOP come the fall." Later, Smerconish noted that when it comes to climate change, "there's a huge disconnect between what's going on in the nation and what's going on with this incarnation of the Republican Party."
Indeed, unlike GOP caucusgoers in Iowa and GOP presidential candidates themselves, most Americans support both an international climate agreement requiring emission cuts and the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, the cornerstone of America's commitment to addressing climate change. CNN debate moderators Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash should take this opportunity to follow Smerconish's lead and press the candidates on how they plan to appeal to general election voters who strongly disagree with them on climate change.
From CNN's GOP debate preview coverage, which aired during the December 14 editions of Anderson Cooper 360 and CNN Tonight:
From the December 14 edition of Late Night with Seth Meyers:
From the December 14 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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A professor who was caught agreeing to hide the oil funding behind a climate denial research paper named Breitbart News as a media outlet that could "likely help" publicize the research, according to emails unearthed as part of an undercover investigation by Greenpeace. Indeed, Breitbart News has frequently cited Princeton Emeritus Professor William Happer to promote the supposed "benefits" of climate-warming carbon pollution and argue against a "war on CO2" -- including just days before the Greenpeace investigation was released. And now that Greenpeace has exposed Happer's ethically dubious actions, Breitbart News is defending Happer's behavior as "morally and scientifically unimpeachable."
On December 8, Greenpeace released the results of its investigation, in which Greenpeace UK reporters claiming to represent oil and coal companies asked two university professors to write industry-friendly research papers, and the professors agreed to do so without disclosing the fossil fuel funding behind them. According to Greenpeace, the investigation details "how fossil fuel companies can secretly pay academics at leading American universities to write research that sows doubt about climate science and promotes the companies' commercial interests."
As part of its report about the investigation, titled "Exposed: Academics-for-hire agree not to disclose fossil fuel funding," Greenpeace released a series of emails between its undercover staffers and the two academics, William Happer and Penn State Emeritus Professor Frank Clemente. In an email exchange in early November, a Greenpeace employee who was posing as an oil company consultant based in Beirut asked Happer if he could write a briefing paper "examin[ing] the benefits of fossil fuels to developing economies," and if there were any "US outlets or contacts you may have" that could help "get this research out far and wide." The Greenpeace employee also mentioned a London Times column praising carbon emissions by Matt Ridley, who Happer said was in "close touch" with a pro-carbon group called the CO2 Coalition that Happer helped organize. The Greenpeace employee then asked Happer if Ridley -- a Times columnist who also frequently writes op-eds published by The Wall Street Journal -- "would help to disseminate our research." Happer replied: "I am sure Matt Ridley will be interested in whatever you produce. The Breitbart news organization would also likely help, as would various blogs, syndicated columnists, etc."
Given Breitbart News' past coverage of Happer, it should come as no surprise that he mentioned Breitbart when asked to name media outlets that would promote his industry-funded, climate-denying research. For instance:
On December 4, several weeks after Happer mentioned Breitbart News in his email to Greenpeace (and just days before Greenpeace released the results of its investigation), Breitbart News published yet another article touting Happer, this one titled "Carbon Dioxide Is Not Our Enemy." In it, Breitbart's John Hayward wrote a highly sympathetic profile of Happer's climate science denial, asserting that a white paper Happer co-authored was "meant to be a conversation-starter" and took "a non-confrontational approach with copious footnotes and supporting sources, inviting readers to perform their own research and gain a fuller understanding of CO2 and its benefits." Hayward also stated that Happer "lamented the vicious treatment given to scientists who showed even modest skepticism toward the link between CO2 and climate change."
After Greenpeace released its investigation, Breitbart News' James Delingpole rushed to Happer's defense with a December 8 article, in which he wrote: "What's clear is that [at] every stage Happer's behaviour was morally and scientifically unimpeachable." Delingpole alleged that Happer was not at fault because he made clear he "would only say in his paper what he believed anyway" and indicated that he did not "wish to benefit personally from the fee, but preferred that the money should go to a tax-exempt educational charity, which pays only his travel expenses."
It's true that Happer has a long track record of advocating for the purported "benefits" of carbon pollution, and it's also true that he requested in his emails to the undercover Greenpeace employee that "whatever fee would have come to me would go directly to the CO2 Coalition" -- the group Happer helped organized earlier this year. But Delingpole tellingly did not provide Happer's answer to two other questions Delingpole noted that Greenpeace had raised: "Would the CO2 Coalition be happy to take a direct donation on condition the donor remained anonymous?" and "Might Happer be able to get his paper peer-reviewed by sympathetic authors?"
This is where Happer's conduct is far from "unimpeachable," as Breitbart News claimed.
The Greenpeace staffer posing as a representative of the Middle Eastern oil company told Happer over email that "we are happy to make a direct donation to the CO2 Coalition, providing it is anonymous," and asked Happer whether "the CO2 Coalition voluntarily discloses its funders." Happer replied that he believed the CO2 Coalition isn't "required to make public any donors, although it is required to disclose them to the Internal Revenue Service." He also forwarded the question to William O'Keefe, another member of the Board of Directors of the CO2 Coalition and former Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the American Petroleum Institute. O'Keefe replied by suggesting that the oil company funnel the funds through the Donors Trust, which has been dubbed the "dark-money ATM" of the conservative movement:
We are under no obligation to identify donors, except to the IRS but I think that is just organizations. When people ask the IRS or a firms 990 [sic], the donor list is redacted. If the person participates in the Donors Trust, he/she can make the donation through that and have complete confidentiality.
Happer then forwarded O'Keefe's response to the undercover Greenpeace employee. As Greenpeace noted, in his emails "Happer also disclosed that [coal giant] Peabody Energy paid $8,000 in return for his testimony in a crucial Minnesota state hearing on the impacts of carbon dioxide. This fee was also paid to the CO2 Coalition."
The exchange between Happer and the undercover Greenpeace staffer exemplifies how the fossil fuel industry's funding of shoddy science can be hidden from public view, and how this strategy can apply not just to the research papers themselves but also to op-eds and other media coverage about them. Indeed, the other university professor that Greenpeace approached, Penn State's Frank Clemente, listed over email a series of op-eds he had written that had been published in newspapers across the United States, and then observed: "Note that in none of these cases is the sponsor identified. All my work is published as an independent scholar."
The other serious issue raised in Happer's emails relates to peer review, the process by which scholarly work is checked by a group of experts in the same field prior to publication. As Greenpeace documented, in his emails Happer "laid out details of an unofficial peer review process run by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a UK climate sceptic think tank, and said he could ask to put an oil-funded report through a similar review process, after admitting that it would struggle to be published in an academic journal." Specifically, Happer wrote that if he submitted the research paper to a peer-reviewed journal, it might "no longer make the case that CO2 is a benefit, not a pollutant, as strongly as I would like, and presumably as strongly your client would also like." Instead, Happer proposed a review process that would not be anonymous and would be conducted by the climate-denying Global Warming Policy Foundation, writing that although "purists might object that the process did not qualify as a peer review ... I think it would be fine to call it a peer review."
The Global Warming Policy Foundation recently conducted a similar review of another pro-carbon pollution paper, with Ridley -- who used to be a regular columnist for The Wall Street Journal -- deceptively alleging in the London Times that the paper had been "thoroughly peer reviewed."
From the December 14 edition of CNN's New Day:
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