Conservative activist James O'Keefe suggested that in his new video he would show that "a lot" of environmental "propaganda" is funded by foreign oil interests. O'Keefe duped two small-time filmmakers into accepting funding from a man posing as an oil tycoon from the Middle East, but his attempts to broaden the scope of the sting to more prominent organizations and activists were based on deceptive edits.
O'Keefe hyped his latest YouTube video, titled "Expose: Hollywood's War On U.S. Energy," by suggesting in a fundraising email that it would expose "the darker side of how a lot of the feel-good environmentalist propaganda gets funded by international interests who jeopardize national security." In it, he convinces the filmmakers of FRACKED, an upcoming documentary about the risks of fracking, to accept funding from an actor posing as "Muhammed," an oil tycoon from the Middle East who is being represented by an ad executive. The filmmakers said in a statement that they agreed to this funding because "It was understood that the investor would have no control over the content of the film and that we, the directors, would have final cut. We thought to ourselves 'oh the irony! We'll use the funding from an oil company to make a film that promotes green energy!'" Encouraging reliance on green energy, rather than oil from domestic or foreign sources, is essential to national security and it's not clear how a real "Muhammed" would benefit from this.
The video suggested that not only would the filmmakers, Josh and Rachel Tickell, accept oil money but that larger environmental organizations may as well, by adding a false voiceover. The voiceover claimed that the Tickells named environmental groups "When asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off":
VOICEOVER: And when asked if environmental partners would be willing to be paid off...
"AD EXECUTIVE" REPRESENTING "MUHAMMED": Which ones? Which ones?
REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --
JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too?
REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film.
But the Tickells were actually stating that they could reach out to these groups to promote their film, not that these groups would accept oil funding - the parts in bold were in the unedited tape starting at 3:28:30 but not in the edited version:
JOSH TICKELL: What's our market reach? We essentially work with six verticals. And these are things that we have developed for the better part of two decades. Grassroots? We have a number of organizations that actively activate our grassroots base. [...] Universities -- as I said, we do a lot of work with universities. That builds credibility, it also allows you to do a back and forth when you're taking people from the university, putting them in the film, and then you're screening it. That university becomes part of your prestige of the film -- oh we have an MIT professor, oh we have this professor, we have that professor. NGOs --
REBECCA TICKELL (interrupting): Which these two organizations, their main focus is anti-fracking.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Which ones? Which ones?
REBECCA TICKELL: Environment California and CodeBlue.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Would that be something that --
JOSH TICKELL: And the NRDC.
"AD EXECUTIVE": Like they accept donations and things like that too? I want my client to --
REBECCA: Absolutely. They would work with us on this film. They would make sure that all of their members saw the film. They would speak at the screenings, they would send out email blasts.
Kate Kiely, a spokeswoman for The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement to Media Matters that "NRDC actually has very strict rules about donations. We have a hard and fast policy not to accept money from any fossil fuel industries. Nor do we accept money to advocate for projects. Our advocacy is always based on strong science, law and policy." When asked whether the organization had "ever accepted funding from foreign oil interests" or if they had any part in the upcoming film FRACKED, Kiely wrote that the answer to both was "a resounding 'NO.'"
Most environmental organizations and activists do not accept funding from special interests that contradict their values. As the Tickells stated during O'Keefe's video, public knowledge that they had agreed to accept Middle Eastern oil money would damage their credibility among environmentalists.
However, according to O'Keefe, his deceptive editing job has already convinced a Senate committee to investigate:
Marlo Lewis, senior fellow of the fossil fuel-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, argued that moving regions that will be affected by sea level rise is a better idea than taking efforts to mitigate climate change.
During the May 20 episode of NPR's On Point, Lewis was hosted alongside two climate experts to discuss the recent findings that the collapse of a West Antarctic ice sheet "appears unstoppable," and will cause global sea levels to rise of ten feet or higher in the next 200 to 1,000 years. Lewis dismissed taking action to reduce our carbon emissions, saying we could simply adapt to the effects of climate change.
Host Tom Ashbrook challenged him, saying, "So you're saying move New York, move Miami, move Southern Florida, move Boston?" Lewis responded, "Yeah." His reasoning: "The built environment from the studies I've seen, most building stock turns over in about 50 years. And so the markets adapt to this sort of phenomenon anyway."
Lewis' argument doesn't make much economic sense. The flood damages from just five U.S. cities will cost nearly $8 billion per year by 2050, according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change -- and this is before the 10 feet of sea level rise is expected. According to the study, taking adaptive action in coastal cities at risk could cost up to $50 billion per year globally -- much more expensive than simply preventing the worst damage from happening in the first place.
Lewis is listed as one of the National Journal's energy experts and contributes to FoxNews.com, National Review Online, and Forbes.com. Lewis has used his media platform to defend Fox News and the Wall Street Journal for their use of false balance in reporting on climate science.
These readers may be interested to know of Lewis' fossil fuel funding, as Ashbrook disclosed for NPR listeners:
ASHBROOK: What are your motivations here? We've got a lot of fossil fuel money in your organization. Does that mean you're speaking up to defend their interests? And how do we have confidence that you're not?
LEWIS: Well, Tom, I kind of make it a policy not to respond to ad hominem arguments.
ASHBROOK: Ad hominem? I mean I'm just looking at your funders. Isn't that fair?
LEWIS: I think, you know, if you can ever find an instance in which I've changed any position I've ever taken at any time in my professional life because of a contribution to an organization that I've worked for, I'll pay you a thousand dollars. So let's drop that subject.
ASHBROOK: I don't think it's ad hominem, Mr. Lewis, it's just an honest question. A tax on carbon would be tough for ExxonMobil and Texaco.
Listen to the entire 45-minute podcast below.
Image at the top from Flickr user stacyflower with a Creative Commons license.
From the May 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Just as some conservative media figures have cried censorship when their terrible movies aren't promoted in film festivals, they now think that if their error-laden, unoriginal papers pushing climate "skepticism" aren't published in top scientific journals, there is a "cover-up."
The Drudge Report, an influential conservative news website, devoted the top spot of their site on May 16 to hype an article that claims climate scientists "COVERED UP SCEPTIC'S 'DAMAGING' REVIEW" and even compared it to the faux "Climategate" scandal.
The article by The Times, a British newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, suggests that because a paper by the University of Reading's Lennart Bengtsson was not published in a prestigious scientific journal, politically motivated suppression is behind the "cover-up." Bengtsson recently resigned from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which criticizes almost any policy to address climate change and sometimes misleads on climate science. He claimed that he faced criticism from fellow academics for joining an organization, which he compared to the political witchhunts of Joseph McCarthy.
Nicola Gulley, the editorial director of IOP Publishing, which oversees the journal in question (Environmental Research Letters) stated that the draft paper was not published because it "contained errors" and "did not provide a significant advancement in the field." Top journals typically reject about nine out of ten papers submitted -- it is not a "cover-up" but a standard practice to accept only the papers that most advance the field.
The Times selectively quoted from one of the independent, anonymous peer-reviews of Bengtsson's submission, to suggest that the paper was rejected because it would help climate "skeptics," which would be "harmful." Gulley said that comments were "taken out of context" as the full quote from the reviewer was: "Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from [three scientific assessments], combined with the statement they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of 'errors' and worse from the climate sceptics media side." The reviewer outlined that the paper notes differences between the assessments but "does not make any significant attempt at explaining or understanding the differences" even though such explanations are readily available. He or she also noted that the "overall innovation of the manuscript is very low, as the calculations made to compare the three studies are already available within each of the sources."
As Professor Myles Allen of the University of Oxford explained to the Science Media Centre, "[w]hether there is a story here at all depends on" how you read "harmful," which could mean "harmful to our collective understanding of the climate system" rather than "harmful to the case for a particular climate policy." Dr. Simon Lewis added that the editor, not the reviewer, would have final say: "What counts are the reasons the editor gave for rejection. They were because the paper contained important errors and didn't add enough that was new to warrant publication. Indeed, looking at all the comments by the reviewer they suggested how the paper might be rewritten in the future to make it a solid contribution to science. That's not suppressing a dissenting view, it's what scientists call peer review."
Prof. Allen further noted that leaking a cherry-picked comment from a review for a politicized media story, as The Times did, is harmful to the progression of science:
The real tragedy here is that climate scientists are now expected to check their comments in an anonymous peer review to ask themselves how they might 'play' if repeated in the Times or the Mail. The progress of science since Galileo has depended on the principle that an anonymous graduate student can point out errors in a paper by a Nobel laureate confident that their comments will be used solely for the purposes of editorial judgement.
Even Bengtsson himself took issue with The Times article, saying he did not believe that there is "any systematic 'cover-up' of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics' work is being 'deliberately suppressed'"
I do not believe there is any systematic "cover up" of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics' work is being "deliberately suppressed", as The Times front page suggests. I am worried by a wider trend that science is being gradually being influenced by political views. Policy decisions need to be based on solid fact.
"I was concerned that the Environmental Research Letters reviewer's comments suggested his or her opinion was not objective or based on an unbiased assessment of the scientific evidence. Science relies on having a transparent and robust peer review system so I welcome the Institute of Physics publishing the reviewers' comments in full. I accept that Environmental Research Letters is entitled to its final decision not to publish this paper - that is part and parcel of academic life. The peer review process is imperfect but it is still the best way to assess academic work.
The Daily Caller's claim that "global warming is increasing biodiversity" is a "complete distortion" of a peer-reviewed study according to its lead author, who actually found that invasive species are changing local species compositions at an alarming rate, while the planet faces a period of mass species extinction.
Man-made global warming is having drastic impacts on biodiversity around the world, putting species at risk and driving mass extinction according to several studies. As climate changes, species are driven out of their primary habitats into different regions where they can't always adapt. As a result, the globe is currently experiencing the worst rate of species die-offs since the end of the dinosaur age, and studies show that climate change could further cause an extinction rate of up to one-third of the world's flora and fauna species.
The Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch published a May 15 article that contradicts this basic concept, titled "Global Warming Is Increasing Biodiversity Around The World." The article claims: "A new study published in the journal Science has astounded biologists: global warming is not harming biodiversity, but instead is increasing the range and diversity of species in various ecosystems."
The lead author of the study cited, Dr. Maria Dornelas from the Centre for Biological Diversity, responded in a statement to Media Matters that the Daily Caller article was "a complete distortion of what we say" and that there "is nothing in our paper to even suggest that climate change is beneficial for biodiversity":
No, our study shows nothing of the kind! It is a complete distortion of what we say, and I had no idea this story was running.
What we do show is that despite indisputable loss of biodiversity at the scale of the planet, in most places we detect a change in the species that live there, rather than loss of species everywhere. We suggest that part of this is caused by species migrating towards the poles in response to climate change, and part to invasive species replacing local species.
There is nothing in our paper to even suggest that climate change is beneficial for biodiversity.
An author of a corresponding perspective paper on the biodiversity study in Science, Dr. John Pandolfi, concurred in an email to Media Matters, saying that the Daily Caller's claim that global warming is "increasing" biodiversity is a "gross distortion" that "directly contradicts the main message of the paper."
The study actually finds that invasive species are moving to new regions -- in part due to climate change -- and subsequently are changing the species composition of local habitats at an alarming rate. As the Daily Caller buried in its article, the study found, for instance, that "coral reefs in many areas of the world are being replaced by a type of algae," replicating previous studies finding that coral reefs are being severely damaged by human activity.
Ohio may soon become the first state to freeze its clean energy mandates after a relentless effort from utilities. But the state's major newspapers continue to overlook that the legislators behind the bill are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council -- an organization that connects corporations, including fossil fuel interests, to legislators -- despite repeatedly quoting the organization's members.
Fox News has been deriding military investments in alternative fuels as a "wasteful" priority. Yet a new report from the Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board cites the need for low carbon fuels and other actions to mitigate manmade climate change as imperative to America's national security.
The network was outraged this week over the Defense Department's investment in biofuels for warships and fighter jets, following a Government Accountability Office report that noted the cost of the alternative jet fuel made from algae.
On the May 10 edition of Cashin' In, host Eric Bolling likened federal investment in low carbon jet fuel to "taxpayer money waste," saying "this is what happens when you force ... government into an industry they have no business being in, i.e. green energy." Bolling cherry-picked the most expensive fuel tested -- made from algae -- as the subject of his ire, as did Fox hosts Bret Baier and Neil Cavuto on May 8, decrying "green" programs like the federal investment as a waste of money.
And on the May 9 broadcast of Fox & Friends, host Steve Doocy wondered, "Why is the Department of Defense splurging on things like green fuel," featuring Sean Parnell, a retired U.S. Army Captain and Ranger, to claim that military investments in alternative fuels are "overall indicative of a Department of Defense that just does not have its priorities straight at all."
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review criticized the renewal of federal tax credits for wind energy, claiming the credits "would blatantly waste taxpayer dollars on a manifestly unsustainable industry that's wholly dependent on government subsidies." However, other energy industries also receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies and tax breaks to keep them competitive, which the editorial did not mention.
In a May 13 editorial the Tribune-Review noted that the Senate Finance Committee recently approved a two-year renewal for wind energy projects, slated to cost $13 billion over 10 years. It called the renewal a "waste" of taxpayer dollars and advocated for "more reliable coal and nuclear plants" to meet electricity demand:
The last renewal, for 2013, allowed tax credits for projects under construction. The credits previously applied only to finished projects. American Wind Energy Association figures show installations rose sharply as 2012 ended and spiked again in 2013's fourth quarter as the industry took advantage of that change. It all prompted Erika Johnsen to write for the website Hot Air: "Could the wind industry's utter dependence on ... taxpayer help ... be any more apparent?"
There are better uses for taxpayer dollars than subsidizing wind energy, which "undercuts" more reliable coal and nuclear plants that are critical for meeting electricity demand, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., writes in The Wall Street Journal.
The example provided in the editorial of the spiking number of wind installations shows an industry attempting to increase production in a climate of uncertainty, something the fossil fuel industry does not have to contend with. As DBL Investors pointed out in a 2011 paper on the differences in subsidies different energy sources receive, unlike many other energy incentives, specifically for the oil and gas industry, which are permanently in the tax code, wind energy support has been allowed to expire several times since the creation of wind's primary incentive in 1992:
Some energy incentives, like the depletion allowance for oil and gas, are permanent in the tax code. Wind energy's primary incentive, the PTC, has been allowed to expire multiple times since its creation in 1992, and has been consistently reinstated for only one or two year terms.
Due to the series of shorter-term, 1-to-2-year PTC extensions, growing demand for wind power has been compressed into tight and frenzied windows of development. This has led to boom and bust cycles in renewable energy development, under-investment in manufacturing capacity in the U.S., and variable in equipment and supply costs. Recent work at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab suggests that this boom-and-bust cycle has made the PTC less effective in stimulating low-cost wind development than might be the case if a longer term and more stable policy were established.
The news that an Antarctic ice sheet is disintegrating and could contribute to a dramatic rise in sea level was ignored on CNN, in contrast to other major television networks.
Two new studies found that a large section of the West Antarctica ice sheet is deteriorating due to warm ocean waters and that its loss appears to be unstoppable. Many news outlets recognized it was a rare moment in climate change reporting, with the story making the front page of The New York Times, the evening broadcasts for all the major networks and even The Weather Channel's coverage.*
On cable news, MSNBC covered the ice sheet's disintegration in six separate shows, Al Jazeera in two, and even Fox News covered it once, when anchor Shepard Smith declared that "climate change -- it is real, the science is true":
However, CNN U.S. failed to cover the story at all. Only CNN International covered the story in a segment that was simulcast on CNN U.S. at 3 a.m. on Tuesday. This is not the first time that CNN did not cover a major climate story, leading Jon Stewart to mock it for favoring sensationalist news over more important topics like climate change.
Meanwhile, the Daily Caller tried to distract from this harrowing news by pointing to Antarctic sea ice, which has grown slightly in recent decades despite warming in the Southern Ocean. The Daily Caller used this growth to claim that "[g]lobal [c]ooling" is taking place and that the "South Pole isn't melting." However, as NASA, which conducted one of the studies, explained in an online quiz, "sea ice loss in the Arctic dwarfs any gains in the Antarctic."
If the Antarctic sea ice were melting it would not measurably contribute to sea level rise -- just as if ice cubes in a glass melted, they would not raise the level of the water. By contrast, the melting Antarctic ice sheets mean that "a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries," according to The New York Times, but cutting our carbon emissions can slow the rise and avoid greater sea level rise.
A Washington Post columnist claimed that there is "no solution" to global warming in an op-ed that itself included -- and buried -- a possible solution to mitigate climate change. The damage done by advancing the defeatist claim that nothing can be done about climate change may make it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This year has brought one landmark climate report after another, each stating with more certainty than ever that the cost of inaction against climate change will be far greater than the cost of mitigating catastrophe. The National Climate Assessment found that unchecked global warming will affect every region of the country and cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars. The report also found that it's not too late to implement greenhouse gas reduction policies to avoid this scenario. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the findings that climate change is having "sweeping effects" on every continent, and made the case for "immediate mitigation" in a subsequent report, providing hundreds of different pathways for countries to take in order to avoid the worst effects. The American Association for the Advancement of Science published an explainer on the current state of climate science, stating that "The sooner we act [on climate change], the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do."
Yet in a May 12 op-ed, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson brazenly declared that "we have no solution" to climate disruption. He suggested for every report on global warming to come with a "disclaimer" that "we now lack the technologies to stop it," despite the fact that the reports he detailed in his op-ed actually found that these resources already exist.
The "reality" Samuelson provides, that global emissions are currently projected to increase nearly 50 percent by 2040, mostly from fossil fuels, should warrant an even stronger case for action. The longer the world waits to take action on climate change, the costlier it will be -- up to $1.9 trillion in the U.S. alone, according to an analysis by Tufts University. In other words, Samuelson's "solution" -- to do nothing -- would end up costing the economy more in the long-run.
Just because one U.S. policy may not be sufficient to negate global climate change does not make an action "futile." Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist and writer for The Guardian and Skeptical Science, analogized Samuelson's argument to "saying that somebody who's obese shouldn't stop eating deep fried Twinkies, because by itself that's not sufficient to lose 100 pounds" in an email to Media Matters. Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman has also spoken out against this logic in the New York Times:
What about the argument that unilateral U.S. action won't work, because China is the real problem? It's true that we're no longer No. 1 in greenhouse gases -- but we're still a strong No. 2. Furthermore, U.S. action on climate is a necessary first step toward a broader international agreement, which will surely include sanctions on countries that don't participate.
The most obvious idea is a carbon tax to help finance government and stimulate energy-saving technologies and new forms of non-carbon energy. If these technologies went global, the gap between rich and poor countries would narrow.
So why is Samuelson claiming that a "central truth for public policy" is that "we have no solution?" Solutions exist, as he himself admitted later in the column. But the longer they are delayed, the worse the problem will become, especially if global warming worsens past a potential tipping point. Providing solutions to global warming in the media is essential for closing the "science-action gap" and creating change. Without knowing the solutions, the Washington Post's readers are more likely to reject the threat of climate disruption. Framing climate change as a solution-less problem may create a scenario where that's true.
Photo at top via Flickr user Takver with a Creative Commons license.
Fox News aired a misleading graphic to cast doubt on the effects of climate change by purporting to show that Arctic sea ice is increasing -- but the graphic only highlighted two years out of context, 2012 and 2013, hiding the fact that 2012 was a record-breaking low for Arctic ice following decades of decline.
On the May 10 edition of Cashin' In, host Eric Bolling attempted to question the existence of global warming trends by airing a graphic of Arctic sea ice thickness while saying to one of his panelists, "it shows that the polar ice has increased between 2012 and 2013, Julie, by 50 percent. 50 full percent and they're calling that a full icecap recovery."
What Bolling and the graphic failed to mention was that 2012 was a record-breaking year for Arctic sea ice lows, reaching the lowest level measured since record keeping began in 1979. The increase in 2013 from such an anomaly was to be expected. Furthermore, the decades leading up to 2012 showed an extreme decline in Arctic ice. Had Fox aired an accurate graphic with full context, it would have looked more like this, which illustrates the fallacy of using a single year's data to discredit a long-term trend:
Fox's climate denial comes on the heels of the release of the third National Climate Assessment (NCA) report on May 6, which outlined how climate change has already hurt the United States, and explained the dire consequences to be expected if no action is taken to mitigate global warming. Fox gave little coverage to the report when it was released, using it mostly to promote more misinformation -- at one point even calling climate change a "superstition."
A Media Matters analysis of major cable news coverage of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) revealed that CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News devoted more than three hours of total coverage to the report on its release date, May 6, and the day after. Some reporting, however, gave false balance a national platform, and cable news outlets were more likely to interview politicians than scientists about the threat of global warming.
From the May 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the May 7 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends:
The Wall Street Journal downplayed a recent report that found the impacts of global warming are being felt in every region of the United States. The latest National Climate Assessment, which forecasted dire predictions for the nation's economy if global warming remains unchecked, was highlighted above the fold on the front page of every major U.S. newspaper except for the Journal.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program released its third National Climate Assessment (NCA) on the morning of May 6, focusing on how global warming will affect different regions of the United States and what can be done about it. The report received widespread attention, with most of the major newspapers devoting above the fold coverage to the NCA on May 7. But readers of the Wall Street Journal might have missed the story -- the paper devoted a mere factbox to the report on the lower half of the front page, under the "World-Wide" sidebar:
The WSJ instead chose to highlight on the front page: the conversion of office buildings into high-end apartments, the regulatory investigation into large banks' hiring practices in Asia, a Chinese internet company's plans to expand its share offerings to the U.S., early primary results that are favorable to the Republican Party, and the "chic" fashion of the current Afghan president whose "Fur Caps Set Standard." Though front page placement might be less relevant as newspapers are shifting to digital, it is still telling of the paper's judgment of which stories are important.
The Wall Street Journal article that did run fittingly highlighted the dire economic aspects of the National Climate Assessment: the report states that climate change is already costing our economy billions. But by burying it, far fewer people likely saw this warning.
Ever since Rupert Murdoch took over the Journal in 2007, there have been worries that the conservative tilt of the editorial page is spreading into its news division. Downplaying the NCA corresponds with how the Journal's editorial page has covered the issue in the past: as something that can be easily dismissed. In 2011, for instance, the Journal's U.S. print edition did not publish an op-ed by a former climate "skeptic" whose Koch family funded research re-confirmed rising global temperatures, choosing instead to run a highly misleading column disputing the temperature record. The Journal also printed the most climate-denying letters to the editor of the top newspapers in 2013, and has published op-eds with statements that run counter to science, including one that suggested that "humanitarians" should be "clamoring for more" carbon dioxide because it is a "boon to plant life." Furthermore, the paper's editorial board has been criticized by environmental journalists for misleading on climate science.
Here's how the top U.S. newspapers covered the story in their May 7 print editions (images retrieved via Newseum front pages):