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  • Don’t believe right-wing media when they say the Green New Deal would cost $93 trillion

    Politico calls the analysis "bogus," PolitiFact calls it "false," and even its lead author won't defend it

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media outlets have repeatedly asserted that the Green New Deal would come with the absurd price tag of "$93 trillion" or "$94 trillion," uncritically repeating claims from a back-of-the-envelope, deeply flawed analysis produced by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. Politico recently determined that the $93 trillion figure was "bogus," and quoted the lead author of the AAF analysis, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, admitting that he had no idea how much it would cost to implement the Green New Deal.

    American Action Forum has ties to the fossil fuel industry

    The American Action Forum, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and its 501(c)(4) “sister organization,” the American Action Network (AAN), have been funded by a who’s who of the polluter syndicate.

    AAN has received at least $250,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association for the oil industry that has donated to groups in the Koch network. And AAN has received at least $35,000 from the American Natural Gas Alliance, a pro-fracking gas industry trade group. Dow Chemical has given at least $250,000. AAN has also been funded by other Koch-connected groups such as Americans for Job Security, Donors Trust, and the Wellspring Committee. It's gotten money from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS too. AAN has in turn donated millions to AAF.

    Though some information about its funding has been made public, AAN has generally refused to disclose its donors. In 2014, MSNBC called AAN a "dark money power player," noting that it had been running numerous attack ads against Democratic candidates. FactCheck.org noted that same year that AAN has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates. In 2018, a watchdog group filed suit against AAN for violating campaign finance laws and abusing its nonprofit status.

    AAF's Green New Deal cost analysis is problematic from top to bottom

    Considering the think tank’s connections to the fossil fuel industry, it’s not surprising that the American Action Forum’s report found the Green New Deal untenable. What is surprising is how flippant Holtz-Eakin, president of AAF and former head of the Congressional Budget Office, was about the rigor of the analysis he co-authored. When challenged about the accuracy of the report’s claim that the Green New Deal would cost some $93 trillion over 10 years, Holtz-Eakin told Politico, “Is it billions or trillions? Any precision past that is illusory.”

    The Green New Deal resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) on February 7 is just a broad, 14-page outline of goals with no policy specifics, so determining a price tag was a fanciful exercise. AAF's claims of a $92.9 trillion total cost, or $653,000 per household, have no basis in reality. As Politico reporter Zack Colman put it:

    When they set out to put a price tag on the Green New Deal last month, Holtz-Eakin and his associates had no real policy or plan to evaluate, so they made one up to perform back-of-the-envelope calculations.

    And the AAF study does not distinguish between government and private-sector spending, nor does it attempt to quantify the benefits of reducing pollution or other policies. For example, Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Jacobson estimated that eliminating the electricity sector’s carbon emissions would avoid $265 billion in annual U.S. damages beginning in 2050.

    Colman also pointed out that more than $80 trillion of the alleged $93 trillion total cost would come from implementing a jobs guarantee and universal health care -- policy ideas that have no direct relation to greening the economy, even though they are in the Green New Deal resolution.

    Politico declared that the $93 trillion figure is "bogus" -- or, in an earlier version of the article published behind a firewall, "essentially vapor."

    The fact-checking project PolitiFact also found the $93 trillion figure to be untrustworthy, calling it "only about as strong as a clothespin in high wind." It noted that "the [AAF] report itself is full of assumptions, qualifiers and caveats," and when a fact-checker reached out to Holtz-Eakin, the AAF president "made it clear to us that the report aims to provide very rough estimates on a plan that’s only partially developed." PolitiFact rated as "false" this claim from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA): "At $93 trillion, the Green New Deal would cost more than the entire recorded spending of the U.S. since the Constitution went into effect in 1789."

    Other journalists have also pointed out major problems with the AAF analysis. Paul Blest at Splinter noted that AAF used cost estimates for a universal jobs program ("$6.8 trillion to $44.6 trillion") and universal health care ("$36 trillion") that are vastly higher than estimates produced by other think tanks. AAF also failed to account for how much money programs like universal health care could save. According to Blest:

    [AAF's] ballpark estimate on a federal jobs guarantee has a range of $38 trillion. The centrist Brookings Institution’s estimate last year, by the way, put the high end on a job guarantee at $543 billion a year, or $5.4 trillion over 10 years.

    On Medicare for All, too, the AAF’s number is substantially higher than previous estimates. The libertarian Mercatus Center’s estimate set out to prove last year that Medicare for All would bankrupt the country, and inadvertently found that Medicare for All would eventually save about $2 trillion in national health expenditures. Even Mercatus, however, put the cost of Medicare for All at $32.6 trillion over 10 years.

    The ClimateDenierRoundup column at Daily Kos pointed out another problem with AAF's jobs-program estimates:

    The jobs price tag is wrong because it’s double counting: many of those jobs would be created by the other parts of the GND. Improving energy efficiency and building a clean energy economy will create a lot of jobs, which are counted in the GND’s green policy price tag tally. But then AAF simply counts those jobs again in the jobs guarantee portion, as though none of those promised jobs would be used to put the green in the Green New Deal.

    Green New Deal sponsor Markey called out major flaws in the report too, starting with the basic premise: "Putting a price on a resolution of principles, not policies, is just Big Oil misinformation." Markey pointed out that AAF calculated the cost of "policies that aren't even in the resolution," such as eliminating air travel:

    Markey also noted that AAF did not provide any support for its cost estimate for a low-carbon electricity grid.

    As The New York Times recently put it, "For now it’s impossible to pin down dollar figures on the plan." FactCheck.org agreed, writing that "the experts we spoke to said it’s not possible to put a specific price tag on the Green New Deal."

    Perhaps most egregiously, AAF’s analysis of the Green New Deal completely ignored the enormous cost of not fighting climate change. Just last year, climate disasters and extreme weather events cost the U.S. an estimated $91 billion. According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 1.5 C rise in the global average temperature would cost $54 trillion. Things only get more expensive (and catastrophic) from there. According to Axios:

    • You think $54 trillion is a lot? That number comes from research that also says that a 2.0°C increase will cause $69 trillion of damage, and a 3.7°C increase will cause a stunning $551 trillion in damage.
    • $551 trillion is more than all the wealth currently existing in the world, which gives an indication of just how much richer humanity could become if we don't first destroy our planet.

    Current policies in place around the world have us on track for about 3.3 C of warming by 2100 if we don't dramatically change course.

    AAF's analysis also ignored the significant economic benefits that would come from taking addressing climate change. "Bold climate action could deliver at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030, compared with business-as-usual," according to a recent report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

    Fox News and other right-wing outlets have been hyping the $93 trillion figure

    Right-wing media have been heavily citing the AAF report since its release on February 25 -- and they have often used the $93 trillion figure without noting that it's at the top end of a range AAF provided. Fox News has been particularly eager to amplify the huge estimate. Hosts and guests have cited price tags between $91 trillion and $94 trillion on Fox News shows including Fox & Friends, The Greg Gutfeld Show, and Watters’ World, and on Fox Business Network shows including Varney & Co., Trish Regan Primetime, Making Money with Charles Payne, and Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo. Sean Hannity has cited the AAF report at least three times on his Fox News show. He typified Fox's incurious reporting on AAF’s analysis during the March 5 episode of Hannity:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): They are going to eliminate fossil fuels, gas, and oil. They're going to destroy the lifeblood of our economy. They're going to get rid of planes, mandate you rebuild your home. Who's paying for that? The estimates now are as high as $94 trillion in 10 years --that's their proposal.

    Many other right-wing media outlets have also uncritically amplified AAF's enormous estimate, including The Daily Caller, The Daily Wire, and the Washington Free Beacon

    Some Republican politicians such as Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso have also latched onto the $93 trillion estimate and publicized it through mainstream and right-wing media. Barrasso issued a press release with the figure, wrote an opinion piece about it for USA Today, and made an appearance on Fox News to promote it. During Barrasso’s interview on Fox's America's Newsroom, co-host Sandra Smith falsely claimed that “the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office” was behind the $93 trillion figure and Barrasso failed to correct her error. (Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt also falsely credited the report to the CBO.) From the February 28 episode of America’s Newsroom:

    SANDRA SMITH (HOST): The Green New Deal, all the rage on the left. But a new study finds that it comes with a staggering price tag: the plan estimated to cost is as much as $93 trillion. That breaks down to $600,000 per household. Those are some big numbers. Joining us now, Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming who chairs the Committee on the Environment and Public Works. Been hearing you talk a lot about this, sir, and this price tag. It is a lofty one. This is the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that did a study on this and came up with those numbers: $93 trillion, $600,000 per household. What do you think?

    SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, this Green New Deal is a big green bomb that will blow a hole in our strong economy. It will destroy the energy independence we now have from foreign countries. It will destroy what we’ve been doing to actually lower emissions. The cost to families -- electricity alone would go up by about $3,600 per family, per year. This is something, Sandra, that we cannot as a nation afford. The economy can't afford it. Our nation can’t survive it.

    Some Fox News personalities and Republican politicians, including President Donald Trump, have cited an even larger unsubstantiated figure for Green New Deal costs: $100 trillion. As Dave Anderson recently reported for the Energy and Policy Institute, that number originated from a flippant Twitter thread by a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. The Manhattan Institute has been funded by ExxonMobil, and the chair of its board is also the CEO of a hedge fund that is the top shareholder in Peabody Energy, a major coal company. The $100 trillion figure was mentioned by Fox host Charles Payne during an interview with EPA chief Andrew Wheeler on March 4 on Your World with Neil Cavuto, and it was also cited on other Fox programs and right-wing sites like Townhall.

    Right-wing echo chamber amplifies misinformation by design

    The spread of the $93 trillion figure is a textbook example of how the right-wing media sphere disseminates misinformation to stymie climate action (and the spread of the $100 trillion figure too, for that matter). Conservative media outlets have been freaking out about the Green New Deal since even before the resolution was unveiled. AAF rushed out a quickie estimate of its potential costs that even its lead author won't robustly defend. Surely the think tank knew that its ready-made, sky-high number would be quickly picked up and regurgitated by conservative commentators, writers, and politicians -- and it was. It is not likely to matter that AAF's report has been called out as “bogus” and poked full of holes. You can expect right-wing media to keep on promoting it.

  • How broadcast TV networks covered climate change in 2018

    ››› ››› TED MACDONALD & LISA HYMAS

    Broadcast TV news coverage of climate change plummeted 45 percent from 2017 to 2018, even as the climate crisis steadily worsened. The major news programs on the broadcast networks aired a combined total of just 142 minutes of climate coverage in 2018, or less than two and a half hours. Almost three-quarters of that coverage aired in just the last three months of the year. The networks did a particularly poor job of explaining how climate change exacerbates extreme weather; none of the networks' news reports on the major hurricanes of 2018 even mentioned climate change. The networks’ coverage was also lacking in diversity: Only 9 percent of the people featured in climate segments were people of color, and only 19 percent were women.

  • Sunday show coverage of climate change was up in February, thanks to the Green New Deal

    Unfortunately, much of the discussion was superficial, and some of it included climate deniers

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sunday morning political shows discussed climate change much more in February than they did in January. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who is calling on the programs to give climate change more attention, released a scorecard on the shows' February performance:

    It indicates a notable increase in climate coverage compared with the first month of the year, when none of the shows aired substantive segments on climate change and altogether they made just four passing mentions of the topic. 

    Most of the coverage in February focused on the Green New Deal resolution that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced on February 7. While it was encouraging to see more media attention on climate policy ideas, the discussions tended to be narrowly focused on the potential political ramifications for Democrats and Republicans instead of whether the Green New Deal contains worthy ideas for addressing climate change.

    On a more discouraging note, some of the Sunday show discussions about the Green New Deal included climate deniers -- most notably right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, who appeared on Fox News Sunday on February 17. During a wide-ranging conversation, Limbaugh called climate change a "hoax" after host Chris Wallace brought up the Green New Deal. Limbaugh went on, "There's no evidence for it. Climate change is nothing but a bunch of computer models that attempt to tell us what's going to happen in 50 years or 30." Wallace did not push back against Limbaugh's outright climate denial. This was the lowlight of February's climate coverage.

    Other people who have denied or downplayed the climate threat were also asked about the Green New Deal on the Sunday shows. On the February 10 edition of Fox News Sunday, Wallace raised the topic with National Review Editor Rich Lowry and with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. And on February 10 on ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos brought up the Green New Deal with former New Jersey governor and ABC contributor Chris Christie. None of them expressed climate denial in these conversations, but Lowry used the opportunity to criticize the Green New Deal as "socialist" and "radical" and Mulvaney expressed delight that the plan is dividing Democrats.

    More insightful climate coverage included a segment on the February 24 episode of CBS’ Face the Nation during which Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democratic presidential hopeful, called for action to fight the climate emergency. Additionally, a panel discussion on the February 10 episode of NBC’s Meet the Press included MSNBC host Katy Tur offering a vivid reminder that climate change could kill millions of people and cause billions of dollars in economic damages. (Actually, it could cause trillions in damages.)

    But the highlight of the month's climate coverage came from a panel discussion on NBC’s Meet the Press on February 24, when Heather McGhee, former president and current senior fellow at the liberal policy group Demos, injected a passionate call for climate action into what was otherwise shaping up to be a typical, insubstantial conversation about Green New Deal politics. The panel was discussing the tactics behind a viral video that showed Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) condescending to young activists from the Sunrise Movement who were pressing her to support the Green New Deal. McGhee reminded the others of the big picture and the urgent need for action:

    Dianne Feinstein has been great. And she has been in office and not had the urgency that is required. This is an emergency in this country. It's an emergency on this planet. There's no higher responsibility of anyone who has any kind of political power right now than to try to stop a global catastrophe that's not happening in three generations, it's happening now.

    McGhee came close to tears during her comments, as she noted afterward on Twitter:

    She then followed up by writing a piece invoking her infant son and explaining that “we need more emotion and more urgency in the fight for the future.”

    In 2018, the Sunday shows hardly covered climate change at all, and when they did, those discussions too often featured climate deniers. Now -- after the release late last year of landmark climate reports from the United Nations and the U.S. government and the introduction this year of the Green New Deal resolution -- the programs are addressing climate change more often, and at least some of the coverage is constructive. We hope to be seeing a lot more.