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  • Myths and facts to know ahead of Rick Perry's study on the electrical grid and renewable energy

    There are lots of reasons to be skeptical of the forthcoming study from the Department of Energy

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ordered his department to produce a study on whether the ongoing shift toward renewable energy is affecting the reliability of the electrical grid. A number of experts, clean-energy advocates, and politicians on both sides of the aisle believe the study is intended to be biased in favor of the coal and nuclear industries, which have been struggling in recent years.

    As journalists prepare to report on the study, which is expected to be released this month, there are some critical factors to consider:

    • The study leader worked for Koch-funded groups and has demonstrated bias against renewable energy;

    • wind and solar power are not major factors leading to the shuttering of coal and nuclear plants, according to energy experts and reports; and

    • numerous studies and grid experts have concluded that the electrical grid can incorporate increasing amounts of renewable energy and become more secure as a result, not less.

    Perry orders grid study that's widely viewed as intended to bolster the coal industry

    On April 14, Perry put out a memo calling for the Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct a 60-day study "to explore critical issues central to protecting the long-term reliability of the electric grid." The study is intended to assess "how certain policies are affecting, and potentially putting at risk, energy security and reliability," according to the memo. Though Perry’s memo didn't mention wind, solar, or renewable energy by name, it was widely understood to be referring to policies that have supported the development of renewable energy.

    Here's how Bloomberg explained it:

    U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is ordering a study of the U.S. electric grid, with an eye to examining whether policies that favor wind and solar energy are accelerating the retirement of coal and nuclear plants critical to ensuring steady, reliable power supplies.

    [...]

    Perry highlights concerns about the “erosion” of resources providing “baseload power” -- consistent, reliable electricity generated even when the sun isn’t shining and the winds aren’t blowing.

    [...]

    Perry’s effort suggests that the administration may be looking for other ways to keep coal plants online.

    As Jacques Leslie, a contributing opinion writer at the Los Angeles Times, put it in April, "Perry has already decided what the study should find: Its purpose is to buttress the Trump administration’s pro-fossil fuel policies."

    Chris Tomlinson, a business columnist for the Houston Chronicle, recently described the forthcoming study as "clearly a fait accompli," writing that "Perry ordered his own review of the grid to reach conclusions that suit the administration." Tomlinson explained: "Perry is looking for an excuse to override competitive electricity markets and force utilities to buy power from coal and nuclear plants."

    In late June, Perry gave his critics more ammunition with remarks he made at the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual conference, The Hill reported. While discussing the study, he said that "politically driven policies, driven primarily by a hostility to coal,” threaten “the reliability and the stability of the greatest electricity grid in the world." The Hill further reported that Perry told the conference he “doesn’t intend to give preference to renewable power, something he accused the Obama administration of doing.” Perry said, “I recognize the markets have had a role in the evolution of our energy mix. But no reasonable person can deny the thumb, or even the whole hand, if you will, has been put on the scale in favor of certain political outcomes.”

    In addition to a long record of fossil-fuel boosterism, Perry has a history of denying that climate change is caused by humans burning fossil fuels, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus. Perry reiterated this denial during a June 19 appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box, blaming climate change primarily on "the ocean waters and this environment that we live in” instead of carbon dioxide emitted through human activity.

    Study leader worked for Koch-funded groups and has demonstrated bias against renewable energy

    Perry selected Travis Fisher to lead the study, a political appointee who serves as a senior advisor in the DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. Fisher has a record of skepticism toward clean energy and favoritism toward fossil fuels, as documented by the Energy and Policy Institute, a nonprofit watchdog.

    Before joining the Trump administration, Fisher worked as an economist at the Institute for Energy Research and the American Energy Alliance, groups that are run by a former Koch Industries lobbyist and that received $3 million in donations from Koch-funded organizations in 2015. The Institute for Energy Research also received $50,000 from coal company Peabody Energy in 2015 and has been funded by ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute.

    While working at the Institute for Energy Research in 2015, Fisher wrote a report that argued wind and solar power threaten the reliability of the grid:

    The single greatest emerging threat to reliable electricity in the U.S. does not come from natural disturbances or human attacks. Rather, the host of bad policies now coming from the federal government—and, unfortunately, from many state governments—is creating far greater and more predictable problems with grid reliability.

    [...]

    Subsidies and mandates that force increased amounts of unreliable sources of electricity on the grid, such as wind and solar power, and undermine the normal operation of reliable power plants [...] create a much less reliable grid and increase the chances of a major blackout.

    Despite issuing these warnings, Fisher's 2015 report did not cite any examples of clean energy policies leading to blackouts.

    Fisher also wrote an op-ed in 2014 that argued wind and solar are "unreliable sources of power" and policies that promote them "undermine our electric system."

    Fisher isn't the only person involved with the study who has a biased background. Perry's memo calling for the study was addressed to his chief of staff, Brian McCormack, who until recently worked for the Edison Electric Institute, the primary trade group for the electric utility industry and an opponent of net-metering policies that encourage rooftop solar power. While at EEI, McCormack played a key role in fighting policies that promote renewable energy.

    Republican and Democratic politicians warn that the study is likely to be biased and lack credibility

    • Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, whose home state of Iowa has a robust wind power industry, sent a letter to Perry in May expressing serious doubts about the study. “I’m concerned that a hastily developed study, which appears to pre-determine that variable, renewable sources such as wind have undermined grid reliability, will not be viewed as credible, relevant or worthy of valuable taxpayer resources," he wrote. "In fact, at least one similar study has already been conducted by the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It's my understanding that study took two years to complete."

    • Seven Democratic members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sent a letter to Perry in May saying, “This Study appears to be a thinly-disguised attempt to promote less economic electric generation technologies, such as coal and nuclear, at the expense of cost-competitive wind and solar power. … The Study, as you have framed it, appears to be intended to blame wind and solar power for the financial difficulties facing coal and nuclear electric generators and to suggest that renewable energy resources threaten the reliability of the grid."

    Coal groups support the review; clean energy industry groups are skeptical

    Industry trade groups appear to believe the study is likely to lean in favor of coal, as reflected in the coal lobby’s support for the inquiry and clean energy groups’ questions about how it's being conducted.  

    • A top coal lobbying group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, met twice with DOE officials to discuss the study "and came away hopeful about its results," The Hill reported in late June. “What DOE is doing is long overdue, and we’re very pleased with this right now,” said Paul Bailey, the group's president and CEO. “It looks like it will support the need for having a fleet of coal plants in the U.S.”

    • Luke Popovich, vice president for external relations at the National Association of Mining, wrote an op-ed for USA Today in May titled "Energy Department is right to study impact of U.S. power grid regulations." He praised Perry's call for the study, writing, "This is sensible policy."

    • Clean energy industry trade groups are worried that their perspectives will be left out of the study. In an April letter sent to Perry, three trade groups -- Advanced Energy Economy, the American Wind Energy Association, and the Solar Energy Industries Association -- pointed out that "solar and wind power, energy efficiency, energy storage, and advanced grid technologies ... have already been integrated smoothly into the electric power system in large and increasing amounts, as demonstrated in countless studies."

      The groups asked that the study be conducted through an inclusive, public process: "In light of the importance of this inquiry, we encourage you to follow standard practice and conduct the study in an open and transparent manner. When agencies prepare reports with policy recommendations that could affect entire industries and the millions of employees that work in them, such as the proposed one, it is customary for them to seek comments on a draft prior to the study being finalized."

    • The American Petroleum Institute, which represents producers of natural gas as well as oil, is also skeptical of the forthcoming study because it appears likely to promote coal and nuclear plants at the expense of gas. "Baseload is kind of a historical term. It's not really relevant to how electricity is produced today," Erica Bowman, chief economist at API, told the Houston Chronicle. "What you need is dispatchability ... and [coal and nuclear] are far slower when you compare them to a lot of the technology natural gas plants have."

      Writes the Chronicle, "That position places the oil and gas lobbying giants firmly on the side of the renewable energy industry, which has expressed concern Perry's study is nothing more than an attempt to prop up the coal sector.

    Renewable energy is not to blame for driving coal and nuclear plants out of business, according to reports and experts

    Perry called for the study to look into whether renewable energy threatens so-called "baseload" power plants. Wind and solar power are intermittent or variable, flowing into the grid when the wind blows and the sun shines, not 24/7. Perry expressed concern that government policies that encourage the development of renewable energy are leading to the closure of baseload plants that produce power around the clock, most of which are powered by coal and nuclear. Perry wrote in his memo that "federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others ... create acute and chronic problems for maintaining adequate baseload generation," implying that subsidies for wind and solar are hurting the coal and nuclear industries.

    But in fact, cheap natural gas is the main factor pushing coal and nuclear plants toward closure, not solar and wind, as many experts have noted.

    • A new report by Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm, reiterates that point. "Analysis Group finds it is market forces – primarily low-cost natural gas and flat demand for electricity – that are causing some coal and nuclear power plants to retire, and not state and federal policies supporting renewable energy development," says a press release from Advanced Energy Economy and the American Wind Energy Association. The two trade associations commissioned the report "in order to independently answer questions asked by Energy Secretary Rick Perry about the reliability and market rules of the U.S. electric power grid."

    • A recent report by the free-market think tank R Street refutes the idea that coal and nuclear are needed to maintain a reliable grid. “Concern over baseload retirements often masks an underlying preference for certain fuel types, namely coal and nuclear. Criticism of baseload retirements often ignores that nonbaseload resources can meet baseload demand reliably … and that new dependable resources have replaced retiring generators,” the report concludes.

    • Ben Fowke, president and CEO of large utility company Xcel Energy, told The Wall Street Journal in July that wind and solar are not responsible for the closure of coal and nuclear plants.

    Utility and grid experts say the grid can incorporate more renewables and be more secure as a result

    • For a period on February 12 of this year, wind provided a record 52.1 percent of the electricity to the grid in the Southwest Power Pool's service region, which spans 14 states. Bruce Rew, vice president of operations for the Southwest Power Pool, said, "Ten years ago, we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability. Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent wind penetration. It's not even our ceiling."

    • Colette Honorable, an outgoing commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said in late June that large amounts of renewable energy have been successfully integrated into regional grids around the U.S. and have “absolutely not” harmed grid reliability. “I have seen no problems with reliability,” she said during remarks at the the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual conference. “Bring on more renewables.”

    • Ed Smeloff -- managing director at the nonprofit Vote Solar, who previously worked at SunPower Corp., the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District -- wrote an op-ed for The Hill in June arguing that renewable energy and clean technology "can make the electric grid more resilient and reliable," not less. "DOE studies have already shown that much more renewable energy can reliably be added to the grid. If the federal government calls for policies that protect 'baseload' resources from market forces, the results will be higher electric bills, slower domestic economic growth and, critically, a less secure electric power system," he wrote.

    • Don Furman, director of the Fix the Grid Coalition and a former executive at the utility PacifiCorp, told Media Matters by email, “A reliable, carbon-free grid based on renewable energy is not only possible, it is economically feasible. It will take time for an orderly transition, and we will need policies to help people impacted by the move away from coal. But we absolutely can do it, starting now.”

    • According to Axios, Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy, said on May 24 at the annual conference of the American Wind Energy Association, "I don't think 5 or 10 years ago I'd be comfortable telling you we could not sacrifice reliability when we're going to have 35% of our energy come from wind. I'm telling you, I'm very comfortable with that today."

    • David Hochschild, a commissioner with the California Energy Commission, the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency, and David Olsen, a member of the California Independent System Operator Board of Governors, which runs the state’s electric grid, argued in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle that clean energy makes the grid more stable:

    In California, which has installed more clean energy than any other state, there have been no threats to the reliability of the electric grid caused by renewables. Instead, the three biggest threats to our grid over the last 20 years came from market manipulation (Enron et al, during the 2001 energy crisis), a nuclear plant failure (San Onofre, 2012) and the largest natural gas leak in history (Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, 2015). Rather than create these emergencies, renewable energy was part of the solution and continued to operate reliably and prevented these events from becoming worse.

    […]

    In August 2011, when a heat wave in Texas shut down 20 natural gas plants, it was wind power that kept the electric grid operator from having to black out areas of the state. In Iowa, wind power now provides 37 percent of the state’s electricity with no reduction in reliability.

    Numerous studies, including ones from DOE, have found that the grid can incorporate more clean energy and improve reliability in the process

    In 2016, renewable energy sources provided 15 percent of U.S. electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration. Nearly 6 percent came from wind energy and about 1 percent came from solar energy. Many studies have concluded that the grid can handle considerably higher percentages.

    In fact, a leaked early draft of the very study Perry has commissioned reached the conclusion that the electrical grid is now more reliable than it was in the past even though it is handling more wind and solar power. According to Bloomberg, a draft written by career staff at the Department of Energy concluded, "The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards." But the draft report is currently being reviewed by department leaders and is expected to read somewhat differently by the time it is officially released. "Those statements as written are not in the current draft," a DOE spokesperson told Bloomberg.

    Previous studies reached conclusions similar to those of DOE career staff:

    • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is funded and overseen by the Department of Energy, found that the grid could handle 80 percent renewable power by 2050. The lab assessed the question of grid reliability in a four-volume 2012 study: "The central conclusion of the analysis is that renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the United States." This study, whose authors described it as "the most comprehensive analysis of high-penetration renewable electricity of the continental United States to date," is the one Grassley said had taken two years to complete.

    • Other studies from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory also found that the grid can accommodate much more renewable energy than it does now. The Solar Energy Industries Association summarized them in a recent briefing paper:

    Multiple studies from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have shown that the existing grid can handle high penetrations of renewable energy without compromising reliability and performance. In their Western Wind and Solar Integration Study and Eastern Renewable Generation Integration Study NREL finds that both the existing western and eastern electric grids can accommodate upwards of 30% of solar and wind power without requiring extensive infrastructure investments.
    [...]
    Phase three of the [western grid] study demonstrated that reliability of the western grid can be maintained at high renewable penetration rates in the face of large system disturbance (such as the loss of a fossil plant).
    • A 2016 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that “widespread distribution of renewables would help address the intermittency problem by covering a wider swath of land and taking advantage of weather conditions over a larger area,” as Climate Nexus explained.

    • The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a not-for-profit regulatory authority, released a report last month that found the U.S. power grid has been successfully incorporating renewable energy. Midwest Energy News summarized the report: "NERC’s own findings suggest that — for now, at least — the nation’s power system has been largely successful in adapting to new technologies, shifting policies and fickle market forces."

    • Studies by grid operators have found that reliability can be maintained with higher proportions of renewables. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, "The authorities responsible for operating the nation’s power grid — regional transmission organizations and independent system operators — have all published or participated in studies evaluating how increased renewable energy supplies would affect the electricity system. These studies have overwhelmingly shown that higher levels of renewable energy can be achieved regionally without affecting the reliability of electricity supplies."

      The Solar Energy Industries Association summarized some of these studies:

    The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages the largest amount of solar resources in the country, finds that the state will have no issues in maintaining reliability in hitting its 33% renewables target by 2020. PJM, which operates much of the eastern grid in the U.S., found in a 2014 study that they would not encounter reliability issues with 30% of their energy coming from solar and wind.
    In a separate study, CAISO found that solar photovoltaic power plants, when equipped with commercially available inverter technology, can offer “electric reliability services similar, or in some cases superior to, conventional power plants." Likewise, Concentrating Solar Power plants (CSP), which produce electricity by using the sun to heat boilers and push turbines, are easily paired with thermal energy storage and provide a host of grid benefits that allow them to function similar to any fossil fuel plant.
    • Studies by independent groups have also found that much more renewable energy can be accommodated on the grid. A new study by The Brattle Group, an economic consulting firm, found that “no single technology or fuel type is needed to keep the lights on” around the clock. According to a press release from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which commissioned the study, "The nation’s electricity grid operators are increasingly turning to more flexible resources and low-cost renewable energy options like wind and solar, rendering outdated the notion that 'baseload' generating plants are required to reliably power America’s homes and businesses."

      The Brattle study also reviewed "a number of other studies of grid operations and planning across the country," the Natural Resources Defense Council noted. "These studies uniformly highlight the increasing value of system flexibility. For example, an analysis of the California electricity system from Astrape Consulting found that as flexibility increases, reliability improves and both production costs and emissions decrease. An analysis of New Mexico grid operations reached a similar conclusion, finding that future blackouts are more likely to be driven by a lack of system operational flexibility."

      An earlier study by The Brattle Group, published in 2015, presented case studies on Colorado and Texas and determined that "integrating variable renewable energy at penetration levels of 10-20% on average and at times above 50% — i.e., high relative to the current levels in most of the United States — is possible. … While infrastructure changes will likely be necessary in the longer term, the shorter-term integration challenges in many cases can be addressed with modest operational changes." The study was commissioned by the Advanced Energy Economy Institute, the educational affiliate of the trade group Advanced Energy Economy.

      A 2014 study by the International Energy Agency found, in the words of the Solar Energy Industries Association, that "most countries can achieve high grid reliability at renewable penetration rates of 25 – 40%."

    Climate Nexus has rounded up additional studies with similar findings.

    Grid operators have the technology and know-how to improve reliability while incorporating more renewables

    Experts point to many strategies and technologies that can be used to handle an increasing proportion of clean energy on the grid.

    The Washington Post noted a couple of them:

    Perry’s memo did not mention energy storage, which as it proliferates, is expected to help integrate more renewable energy onto the grid. For instance, batteries could store some of the energy generated by large solar arrays during the day, deploying that energy at night, effectively making solar into something a lot more like a "baseload" power source.

    [...]

    More and more, electricity markets are purchasing the lack of electricity use as a commodity, as “demand response” options, in which companies lower their energy use at times of peak demand to reduce burdens on the grid, proliferate.

    Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, listed more approaches grid operators could use in a blog post: "Coordination of demand response, electric vehicle charging, and simple upgrades such as thermostats and efficient lighting reduce the stress on the grid, directly and immediately improving reliability. The utility industry has great potential to improve this sort of interaction with consumers, as well as the game-changing possibilities of battery energy storage."

    The nonprofit group Climate Nexus outlined a number of additional strategies:

    Grid operators have an array of tools to deal with variability. Among these tools are accurate weather forecasting, sophisticated controls for renewable generators, flexible balancing of other resources like natural gas, utility-scale energy storage, and transmission lines to move power to areas of high demand. Changes in the wholesale market that allow for better scheduling of power plants and sharing of reserve margins across wide geographical areas could also reduce curtailment.

    Climate Nexus also noted, "The challenges renewables pose to the national power grid are minor compared to the larger systemic problems of aging infrastructure, susceptibility to weather-related outages and an overreliance on fossil fuels."

    And the group pointed out that incorporating more renewable energy into the U.S. electrical system provides numerous other benefits as well, including human health protections, job growth, electricity cost savings, and a more stable climate.

  • Yahoo News aggregates a right-wing fake news website

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Yahoo News aggregated a highly misleading article with fake news, raising the question of how the company ended up treating a fake news purveyor as a legitimate news source.

    On July 5, Yahoo News aggregated an article on its website from Conservative Daily Post (CDP) headlined “U.N. Chief Makes Stunning Paris Agreement Admission: ‘President Trump Was Right.’” The Yahoo News page linked to CDP for the full article, which does not include a mention of United Nations Secretary General António Guterres saying the phrase quoted in the headline. In fact, it appears that Guterres has never said “President Trump was right” at all; on the contrary, in May he stated, “We believe it would be important for the US not to leave the Paris agreement.”

    The CDP article aggregated by Yahoo News also claimed that people opposed to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement "are going to go to any lengths to convince you, even lie to you on CNN” because they “are losing a lot of money.” Additionally, the article pushed climate denial, falsely claiming that the agreement “aims at guilt tripping and deceiving people into believing that human CO2 is responsible for rising temperatures on Earth” and that “there is a very strong case that the sun is mostly responsible for rising CO2 levels, not human beings.”

    CDP is a serial fake news purveyor. During the 2016 presidential campaign, it falsely claimed that the FBI was looking into “at least 6 members of Congress and several leaders from federal agencies that partake in" a "pedophile ring, which they say was run directly with the Clinton Foundation as a front,” citing the “alt-right”-affiliated and conspiracy-driven 4chan forum /pol/. Later that month, the website falsely claimed that Trump would seek to criminally charge those who burn the American flag. Last August, it reported a satirical article claiming then-President Barack Obama would move to Canada if Trump won the presidential election as fact. And last July, it appeared to make up a story about an undocumented immigrant being fired from McDonald’s for telling police officers, “We don't serve pigs." The website recently also pushed a dubious claim from “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec that then-FBI Director James Comey dropped an investigation into former national security advisor Susan Rice for allegedly “requesting the ‘unmasking’ of ... identities” of “US individuals” who were connected to Trump and had been caught in surveillance. And it used photographer Laura Hunter’s name and photo as a byline for some of its articles, turning Hunter, who leans “a bit more to the liberal side,” into a “fake far-right blogger.” In response, Hunter sued the website.

    Yahoo News is a regular aggregator of other news sources, including The Associated Press and Reuters, but it would be a highly alarming and unfortunate editorial choice for Yahoo to aggregate fake news. As other platforms such as Google and Facebook continue to struggle in their fight against fake news, it is critical for major websites like Yahoo to not drive traffic and give credibility to websites that push fake news and misinformation.

  • During record heat wave, major TV stations in Phoenix and Las Vegas completely ignored the impact of climate change

    The stations did not mention a new study connecting global warming to extreme heat, but found time to discuss climate change’s impact on coffee

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Major television network affiliates in metropolitan areas most affected by a record-breaking heat wave in June failed to discuss how climate change exacerbates such heat waves or mention that it will make them more frequent in the future, and major national TV networks neglected to report on the connection too. Over eight days in late June, major TV affiliates in Phoenix and Las Vegas aired a combined 433 broadcasts that included a segment or weathercast about the heat wave, but only one of those mentioned climate change -- and that one downplayed its impact. The local affiliates also ignored a new study that found one-third of the global population already faces deadly heat waves for at least 20 days a year due to climate change, yet they aired segments focused on how climate change could affect the flavor of coffee.

    Phoenix and Las Vegas affiliates ignored alarming study about climate change’s impact on extreme heat, despite experiencing a record heat wave

    For more than a week in late June, much of the Southwest was hit by a brutal heat wave. In Phoenix, temperatures were 10 to 15 degrees above average and new temperature records were set for three days in a row from June 19 to 21, reaching as high as 119 degrees. Dozens of flights had to be canceled after higher temperatures made it harder for certain types of small planes to take off. Las Vegas saw similar record-breaking daily temperatures and tied its all-time high temperature record of 117 degrees on June 20.

    The heat wave overlapped with the publication of an alarming new study on June 19 in the journal Nature Climate Change that found that, because of climate change, almost a third of the world’s population faces deadly heat waves at least 20 days a year -- and that more than twice that percentage could experience the same by 2100. In his article on the study’s findings, Seth Borenstein of The Associated Press connected the study to the heat wave in the Southwest:

    Deadly heat waves like the one now broiling the American West are bigger killers than previously thought and they are going to grow more frequent, according to a new comprehensive study of fatal heat conditions. Still, those stretches may be less lethal in the future, as people become accustomed to them.

    A team of researchers examined 1,949 deadly heat waves from around the world since 1980 to look for trends, define when heat is so severe it kills and forecast the future. They found that nearly one in three people now experience 20 days a year when the heat reaches deadly levels. But the study predicts that up to three in four people worldwide will endure that kind of heat by the end of the century, if global warming continues unabated.

    Yet despite having ample reason to take note, regional media ignored this dramatic study during the heat wave. Media Matters examined news coverage on the Phoenix and Las Vegas network affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX over an eight-day period that spanned the hottest days of the heat wave for those cities, from June 17 to June 24.

    We found that the network affiliates did not air a single mention of the study -- but many of them found time to air segments on a different study published on the same day that found that climate change could lower the quality of Ethiopian coffee. In Phoenix, ABC affiliate KNXV and CBS affiliate KPHO both aired a segment about the coffee study, and in Las Vegas, NBC affiliate KSNV and FOX affiliate KVVU both aired a segment on the coffee study, while ABC affiliate KTNV aired three segments devoted to it. This focus reinforced the mistaken idea that climate change directly affects faraway developing countries, like Ethiopia, but not the U.S.  

    In a June 27 post, Ron Meador of MinnPost’s Earth Journal expressed surprise that regional media coverage of the heat wave neglected to mention the Nature Climate Change study, writing (italics original):

    But it is questionable whether [the heat wave of 2017] will really be one for the history books, driven as it was by climate factors that continue to progress in ways that will likely make many a future hot spell considerably worse.

    This was not an aspect that came in for much discussion in regional media last week so far as I could tell. I was surprised, for example, to see no mention at all of last week’s marquee findings about the likely surge in deadly heat days over the rest of this century.

    Who knows why? Maybe it’s too controversial, still. Maybe it’s considered bad taste to mention this before the instant suffering subsides. Or maybe most people understand and accept this hard truth already, which would seem to be reasonable, wise and unlikely.

    Phoenix and Las Vegas affiliate stations also failed to mention global warming’s impact on heat waves generally -- and in one instance downplayed the connection 

    The heat wave afflicting the Southwest was the sort of previously rare extreme phenomenon that global warming is making more common. As Pacific Standard magazine explained:

    The atmospheric culprit for the heat is a very intense high pressure, which is itself setting records. Though the statistical databases show this high of high pressure to be an approximately one-in-200-year event, these events have been occurring more often lately—with the last one happening just last year. In short, the background signal of global warming makes the entire atmosphere thinner and less dense, supporting stronger high-pressure centers like the one camped out over Arizona this week, which then tend to get stuck in place—cranking up the thermostat over a multi-state region.

    And Arizona State University professor David Sailor explained in an interview with The New York Times that climate change amplifies and exacerbates heat waves and can create a vicious “feedback loop” between climate change and local heat thanks to increased energy consumption:

    A spike in temperature across the Southwest has left many in Arizona gasping for breath.

    [...]

    David Sailor, a professor at Arizona State University and the director of its Urban Climate Research Center, said that such heat waves were to be expected in the summer, but that climate change amplified such spikes in temperature.

    “The science is showing that the likelihood and the magnitude of these heat waves is likely to be exacerbated by climate change,” he said.

    He also emphasized the connection between what he called “global drivers of local weather” and the weather itself.

    “When you have these heat waves, the residents in the area of course are using more air-conditioning than they would otherwise,” he said. “So there’s a lot more waste heat being dumped into the environment from their attempts to keep their buildings cool. That creates a kind of positive feedback loop between local heat and global climate change.”

    Yet over the eight-day time period Media Matters examined, none of the network affiliates based in Phoenix or Las Vegas explained that climate change exacerbates heat waves.

    Las Vegas affiliates did not connect heat waves to climate change in any of their 241 broadcasts on the heat wave. KTNV (ABC), KLAS (CBS), KSNV (NBC), and KVVU (FOX) aired 65, 54, 65, and 57 broadcasts, respectively, that included a segment or weathercast about the heat wave. None of them discussed the relationship between climate change and worsening heat waves.

    Coverage on Arizona affiliates featured a single instance of a journalist connecting the heat waves to climate -- and that was to downplay climate change’s influence. KNXV (ABC), KPHO (CBS), KPNX (NBC), and KSAZ (FOX) aired 45, 53, 36, and 58 broadcasts, respectively, that included a segment or weathercast about the heat wave. Yet in all those broadcasts, climate change was brought up only once, in a June 21 broadcast on KPNX in which chief weather forecaster James Quiñones reported on record temperatures and then downplayed the impact of climate change and misled viewers by stating, “In June of 2017, we got 119 [degrees] and June of 2013 we also had 119 degrees, too, so we’re slowly warming up. And if anybody wonders, ‘Oh, is it global warming, climate change?’ Here’s the bottom line is: Ever since the last Ice Age ended about 40,000 years ago, we’ve been warming. Ever since then. So we’re continuing-- and the Earth goes through these cycles where we cool and we warm, and that’s what we are right now. We’re on a warming trend.”

    Among national nightly news shows, PBS NewsHour was the sole program to discuss the relationship between climate change and heat waves

    The major national networks’ nightly news programs also failed to provide context about climate change when they reported on the Southwest heat wave. There were a combined 13 segments or weather reports about the heat wave on ABC (6), CBS (5), and NBC (2), yet none made a reference to climate change.

    PBS NewsHour, in contrast, aired a June 21 segment about the heat wave that directly connected it to climate change, referenced the Nature Climate Change study, and featured an interview with climate scientist Radley Horton, who explained, “If we look at the last decade or two, we are seeing twice as many record-breaking extreme heat events.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched iQ media and SnapStream for local news broadcasts in Phoenix and Las Vegas -- the two largest television markets in the region affected by the Southwest heat wave -- that included a segment about the Southwest heat wave, as well as national news segments about the heat wave, using the search terms (heat OR "heat wave" OR "heat waves" OR heatwave OR heatwaves OR temperature OR temperatures OR hot). A second search adding the term AND (“climate change” OR “global warming”) was used to identify any segments on the heat wave that mentioned climate change. We did not count teasers or rebroadcasts. Our analysis covered the time period from June 17 to June 24.

    Gabby Miller contributed research to this report.

  • MSNBC's newest host, Hugh Hewitt, has a years-long history of climate denial

    ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    Conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, who recently began hosting a Saturday morning program on MSNBC, has long been a climate denier. Like many prominent conservatives, he does not dispute that some change is happening, but he does deny that there's a robust climate-science consensus that attributes the vast majority of warming to human activity and points to the need for serious action.

  • Four myths journalists should watch out for during Trump’s “Energy Week”

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The White House has declared this to be "Energy Week" and is pushing a theme of "energy dominance," with a particular emphasis on exports of natural gas. Three of President Trump's cabinet members are out in force this week trying to spread misleading or false messages about energy and exports through the media.

    "An energy-dominant America will export to markets around the world, increasing our global leadership and influence," Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt wrote in a joint op-ed published Monday in The Washington Times.

    Watch out for these myths:

    Myth #1: Natural gas exports are good for ordinary Americans and the overall U.S. economy

    "American companies can and already have exported U.S. [liquefied natural gas] to our international trading partners in Europe and Asia," Perry said at a White House briefing on Tuesday. "Unleashing our full energy potential in this country will lead to robust job growth and expansion in every sector of our economy."

    A White House press release claimed that natural gas exports from 2016 to 2040 could "increase workers earnings by $110 billion," citing 2016 research from the American Action Forum, a group that describes itself as promoting "center-right" policy.

    But studies from the Department of Energy (DOE) and others have found that increased exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, would not help many Americans and in fact would hit most in the pocketbook by raising the prices they pay for natural gas, harming lower-income people especially. And higher natural gas prices could dampen domestic manufacturing.

    "In every case, greater LNG exports raise domestic prices and lower prices internationally," according to a 2015 report produced for the Department of Energy. DOE reports from 2014 and 2012 found the same thing.

    In 2014, a bipartisan group of 22 senators were concerned enough about gas exports hurting average Americans that they sent a letter to then-President Obama on the topic:

    Families and businesses depend on affordable and reliable supplies of natural gas. This winter many parts of the country faced tight supplies of propane and natural gas and families were left to face high energy bills.

    [...]

    Taking a longer-term view, the United States has benefited from rising supplies and lower prices for natural gas since 2008. Thanks in part to lower natural gas prices, America’s manufacturing sector has created more than 600,000 jobs since 2010. The Boston Consulting Group concluded that affordable natural gas prices could lead to 5 million more manufacturing jobs by the end of the decade. We must ensure that we do not squander what is clearly an American competitive advantage right now for American manufacturers and for the American economy.

    This week, a trade group of domestic manufacturers, the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, wrote a letter to Perry and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arguing that aggressive natural gas exportation “poses a significant long-term threat” to energy-intensive industries. The group asked the Department of Energy not to approve LNG exports to nations the U.S. does not have free-trade agreements with, The Washington Post reported.

    A 2012 report commissioned by the DOE projected that LNG exports would not increase the number of jobs in the country:

    LNG exports are not likely to affect the overall level of employment in the U.S. There will be some shifts in the number of workers across industries, with those industries associated with natural gas production and exports attracting workers away from other industries.

    That report also projected that gas companies would be the big winners from increased exports and wage earners, while people relying on government assistance would be among the losers:

    How increased LNG exports will affect different socioeconomic groups will depend on their income sources. Like other trade measures, LNG exports will cause shifts in industrial output and employment and in sources of income. Overall, both total labor compensation and income from investment are projected to decline, and income to owners of natural gas resources will increase. Different socioeconomic groups depend on different sources of income, though through retirement savings an increasingly large number of workers share in the benefits of higher income to natural resource companies whose shares they own. Nevertheless, impacts will not be positive for all groups in the economy. Households with income solely from wages or government transfers, in particular, might not participate in these benefits.

    Myth #2: Natural gas exports are good for the climate

    Even as Trump and members of his administration downplay and deny climate change, they also make the claim that natural gas is climate-friendly. Perry did so while talking to journalists on Monday, The Hill reported: "He said the fact that the U.S. has been a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions — mostly due to cheap natural gas replacing coal for electricity — shows that the country can cut emissions without Paris or similar policies."

    Fred H. Hutchison, executive director of two LNG advocacy groups, elaborated on that argument in an op-ed in The Hill on Monday that praised Trump's pro-export agenda: "Low-priced U.S. natural gas, spurred by the shale energy revolution, has led to massive domestic fuel-switching and thus big reductions in conventional air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. ... Through LNG exports, these benefits can accrue to other nations — such as China, India and Korea — all of which now rely heavily on coal for power and industrial uses."

    But there is substantial research indicating that natural gas is not better for the climate than coal when one takes into consideration leaks from gas drilling and transportation infrastructure. Last year, Joe Romm of ThinkProgress rounded up more than a dozen studies that "undermine the climate case for fracked gas," including groundbreaking research by scientist Robert Howarth and his colleagues at Cornell. As Howarth said last year, "Methane leaking throughout the natural gas industry makes use of gas for power generation a disastrous strategy for slowing climate change." And a 2014 analysis of the impact of a coal-to-gas transition in the U.S. electricity sector by nonprofit science group Climate Central found that “even with modest leak rates and a fairly aggressive transition, we could still end up with little or no climate benefits by 2030.”

    When natural gas is processed and shipped overseas, the climate impact is even bigger, as climate policy analyst James Bradbury of the World Resources Institute testified before Congress in 2013. Bradbury explained why in a blog post:

    In order to send natural gas overseas, you must liquefy it, transport it, and then re-gasify it. This is an extremely energy- and emissions-intensive process. According to the National Energy Technology Lab’s 2012 Natural Gas Technology Assessment, liquefaction, transport, and gasification would add roughly 15 percent to U.S. natural gas production’s life cycle GHG emissions ... These additional emissions more than double the total upstream GHG emissions from U.S. natural gas systems.

    A new report from Carbon Action Tracker, a consortium of scientific research organizations, finds that natural gas and LNG systems are not just bad for the climate, they're bad for companies and investors that should be planning ahead for doing business in a warming world. Even though the U.S. intends to drop out of the Paris climate agreement, all of the countries the U.S would ship gas to are still party to the agreement and are working to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions. Using more natural gas runs contrary to that goal and would delay the transition to a carbon-free power system.

    "Betting on growth of natural gas is an unwise move and will lead to a lock-in of expensive infrastructure that will need to be shut down early," said Bill Hare from Climate Analytics, one of the groups in the Carbon Action Tracker consortium.

    From the report:

    Massive investments in gas extraction, new pipelines and LNG ports—in addition to what is already existing and often underutilised—will divert financial resources from investments into a decarbonised power sector, and lead to the creation of stranded assets in the coming decades, constituting a major obstacle for the full decarbonisation of the electricity sector.

    Myth #3: Natural gas exports have been blocked until now

    In their Washington Times op-ed, Perry, Zinke, and Pruitt wrote, "Becoming energy dominant means that we are getting government out of the way so that we can share our energy wealth with developing nations. For years, Washington stood in the way of our energy dominance. That changes now."

    Perry reiterated this idea during a speech on Tuesday at the 2017 Energy Information Administration conference, according to Oil and Gas Investor:

    Perry said he watched during past eight years as policymaking was driven by political agendas.

    “Previous leaders have said they were for American energy independence,” he said.

    However, those leaders “didn’t want to drill for it, didn’t want to mine it, didn’t want to transport it and didn’t want to sell it.”

    But that's a false frame. The U.S. oil and gas sector has been thriving for years. As The Washington Post reported in February, "Since 2010, the United States has been in an oil-and-gas boom. In 2015, domestic production was at near-record levels, and we now produce more petroleum products than any other country in the world."

    LNG exports specifically have also been growing in recent years. As Amy Harder reported in Axios, "The Obama administration approved roughly two dozen natural-gas export applications to countries the U.S. doesn't have free-trade agreements with, according to Energy Department data. The Obama administration also rejiggered the federal review process in 2014 to make it go faster for most companies waiting for approval."

    The process was moving so fast that 16 environmental groups warned in 2014 about a "disastrous rush to export fracked gas," saying they were "disturbed" by government plans to "build liquefied natural gas export terminals along U.S. coastlines that would ship large amounts of fracked gas around the world."

    "Trump will try to approve applications faster," Harder reported, but "Trump's latest move doesn't make any concrete changes that would indicate the process will move any faster."

    Myth #4: The U.S. can achieve "energy dominance"

    Trump and his cabinet members keep repeating the phrase "energy dominance." In a speech on Wednesday, Trump said, “We’re becoming more and more energy dominant. I don’t want to be energy free; we want to be energy dominant in terms of the world.”

    But energy analysts are dubious. As E&E News reported earlier this month, "Academics and energy experts struggled to define what actualizing 'energy dominance' would look like and cautioned that such a brusque policy stance could destabilize America's position on the global stage."

    Energy policy researcher and analyst Daniel Raimi wrote a skeptical piece this week in The Conversation:

    When people use the word “dominant,” they might think of the 2017 NBA Golden State Warriors, or Roger Federer in his heyday at Wimbledon.

    “Dominance” suggests the United States could bend geopolitical adversaries to its will by wielding energy as some type of bargaining chip or weapon. But the buying and selling of oil, gas and other forms of U.S.-produced energy are directed by market forces, not government policy. For example, a large share of recently increased crude oil exports from the U.S. has effectively gone to Venezuela, hardly a close ally.

    [...]

    And even if it were desirable, “dominance” of global energy markets in today’s world is simply unrealistic. There is no Roger Federer of energy.

    Consider the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), maybe the closest thing to the Golden State Warriors of the energy world, which has struggled mightily in recent years to exert some control over consistently low oil prices. U.S. oil and natural gas producers, while reemergent as major players, do not have OPEC’s market power, let alone that of John D. Rockefeller in the late 1800s and early 1900s or the Texas Railroad Commission from the 1930s through the 1960s

    [....]

    And why is it unrealistic to expect U.S. producers to exert this type of power? The answer lies in the enormous scale of the global energy system, which is many times larger than in the heyday of Rockefeller or other effective market managers.

    Peter Shulman, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University and an energy historian, said it's not clear that being an energy exporter makes a country secure. E&E News summarized his view: "The negative connotation associated with 'dominance' could further alienate foreign allies, many of which are already reeling from the United States' shift away from climate action. It could also create tension with U.S. trading partners, he said."

    Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute, pointed out to The Washington Post that the phrase as it's being used leaves out something important: “Notably missing from most of this ‘energy dominance’ talk is renewable energy sources.”

    Maximilian Auffhammer, an environmental economist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, was particularly dismissive. "Frankly, I have to chuckle when I hear it, because it just doesn't make any sense," he told E&E News. "The word dominance is not generally used in a good context, and it always means there's a big person on the playground shoving around a smaller person."

  • Trump champion Hugh Hewitt gets his own show on MSNBC

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Conservative talk radio host and Trump supporter Hugh Hewitt will host his own show on MSNBC. Hewitt, who has called himself a “‘reluctant Trump’ voter," has a history of flip-flopping on Trump and his policies. He's been critical of Trump, even calling on him to be removed as the nominee twice during the presidential campaign, but has also defended him during his campaign, transition, and presidency. Hewitt's record suggests he will simply serve as a Republican shill on MSNBC and will continue spreading his right-wing punditry and misinformation.

  • How a scheme to discredit climate science spread from conservative media to the EPA chief

    Scott Pruitt has embraced the “red team/blue team” idea that got exposure from Daily Caller and WSJ

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is calling for a “red team/blue team” review of climate science that would attempt to cast doubt on well-established science and lend an outsize voice to fringe scientists. The idea spread from a climate-denying scientist to conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Wall Street Journal to Pruitt, and now more right-wing outlets are promoting it.

    How the “red team/blue team” idea spread

    John Christy, a fringe scientist and climate denier, proposed the creation of a “red team” in comments submitted to the EPA in 2014. His proposal was promoted by the denialist Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of organizations that “question global warming alarmism.” In his comments, Christy wrote:

    The EPA should constitute a “Red Team” of analysts, independent from the climate modeling industry, to judge the current state of knowledge, i.e. the current state of how much we know about the “why” of climate variations. Such an examination would provide transparency to the process and give confidence to the public that the agency values open examination of its methodology.

    In 2015, Christy again promoted the idea of the federal government funding a new “red team” that would review the climate science currently being produced by what he calls the “blue team.” The Daily Caller reported on Christy’s proposal in December 2015:

    Christy told the [Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness] he believes the attempt to study climate change objectively is thwarted by the federal funding process.

    Christy, a well-known climate change skeptic, suggests Congress can fix the problem by directly funding independent “red team” programs.

    And in March of this year, Christy promoted the idea during a hearing held in the House Science Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a noted climate denier. Judith Curry, another scientist who’s been skeptical of the mainstream consensus on climate change, also testified in favor of the idea. The Washington Post reported on Christy and Curry’s testimony and the “red team” idea:

    A main mission of red teams would be to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, including the work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports are widely considered the authority on climate science.

    On April 20, the idea got more exposure when it was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Steven Koonin, a theoretical physicist who has a history of climate denial and served as undersecretary at the Energy Department under President Barack Obama for two years before resigning. Koonin called on the Trump administration “to convene a ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ process for climate science, one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.” He continued:

    The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties. The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations.

    As justification for such an exercise, Koonin claimed that the “public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science.”

    Shortly after his op-ed was published, Koonin told Axios, “I can tell you that’s found some resonance within the administration. I’m just going to say people seem to be interested.”

    One of those people is Pruitt. In a radio interview on Breitbart News Daily on June 5, Pruitt expressed interest in the “red team/blue team” idea. From a Breitbart article about the interview:

    “What the American people deserve is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” [Pruitt] said. “There was a great article that was in the Wall Street Journal about a month or so ago called ‘Red Team, Blue Team’ by Steve Koonin, a scientist, I believe, at NYU. He talked about the importance of having a Red Team of scientists and a Blue Team of scientists, and those scientists get into a room and ask, ‘What do we know? What don’t we know? What risk does it pose to health in the United States and the world, with respect to this issue of [carbon dioxide]?’”

    In the days after that interview, right-wing outlets picked up on the idea again. The Daily Caller reported that it “could upset the supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming.” Breitbart said the proposal “has naturally caused massive upset among the ivory towers of climate science academe” where researchers “aren’t at all used to having their dodgy theories exposed to serious scrutiny.” The right-wing website Daily Signal, the conservative blog Power Line, and the climate-denial blog Watts Up With That also highlighted Pruitt's interview and the red team proposal.

    Why the “red team/blue team” idea is wrongheaded

    In advocating for a “red team” review of climate science, Pruitt, Koonin, and right-wing media are glossing over the fact that climate science already has a method for testing assumptions and analyses: the peer-review system. Climate science papers submitted to respected journals are reviewed by other scientists in the field to assess their soundness and validity.

    As Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post in June, creating a red team to review climate science would constitute an act of false equivalence and lend, as the Post wrote, “more prominence to alternative ideas than they have earned in the refereed journal process.” Earlier, in March, he told the Post, “The notion that we would need to create an entirely different new approach, in particular for the specific question around global warming is unfounded and ridiculous and simply intended to promote the notion of a lack of consensus about the core findings, which in fact is a false notion.”

    The Post also quoted Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia, who called Koonin’s proposal a “gimmick,” saying, “This just feels to me a like another way to skirt the tried and true scientific process that has worked for years in our field and many others.”

    Climate science has already been litigated ad nauseum in mainstream forums. Numerous studies have found that the vast majority of climate scientists agree that humans are the primary cause of global warming. And recent studies examining the robustness of that consensus have reaffirmed it; about 97 percent of publishing climate scientists concur.


    Via Skeptical Science

    Creating a “red team” could lead to scenarios like the one at a House science committee hearing in March, when climate scientist Michael Mann was outnumbered by fringe scientists and forced to be the sole representative of the scientific consensus on climate change. “We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream,” Mann said in his opening testimony.

    The impact of major newspapers’ opinion pages

    Though fringe, right-wing media have played a substantial role in spreading the “red team/blue team” proposal and other denialist ideas, mainstream newspapers also bear some responsibility. When Pruitt referenced Koonin’s op-ed, it was the second time in less than a week that he had lifted an argument from the opinion pages of a major newspaper to cast doubt on established climate science. On June 2, standing at the podium of the White House press briefing room, Pruitt cited an error-riddled, denialist New York Times column by Bret Stephens in order to downplay “exaggerated” concerns about climate change.

    As a Media Matters study conducted last year demonstrated, climate denial remains a significant problem in the major newspapers. The world has just endured the three hottest years on record, and newspapers are still allowing their opinion pages to be used to deny climate change. That trend is all the more alarming now that the Trump administration is quickly adopting those denialist arguments.

  • Minority voices largely excluded from Paris climate agreement discussion

    Research shows that black and Hispanic communities are most impacted by the effects of climate change

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    A Media Matters study found that cable news outlets mostly marginalized people of color from discussions about climate change and the Paris accord following President Donald Trump's June 1 announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. This trend is particularly problematic in discussions of climate change because studies show that climate change disproportionately affects black and Hispanic communities.

    A review of guests discussing climate change on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN between June 1 and June 2 found that out of 286 guests* who cable channels invited on to discuss the issue, only about 17 percent were people of color -- 9 percent were black, 3 percent were Hispanic, 4 percent were of Asian descent, and less than 1 percent were of Middle Eastern descent.

    The lack of representation is striking because studies show that climate change disproportionately affects minorities. In a June 2 article for Essence magazine, activist and political commentator Symone Sanders explained that leaving the Paris agreement will exacerbate some of the problems African-American communities face, including natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and environmentally related health problems including respiratory diseases and heart conditions. A 2015 report by the NAACP noted that the tendency of African-Americans to live in cities, in coastal areas, and near polluting facilities like coal-fired power plants poses specific health risks and makes them more vulnerable than others to the effects of climate change. A 2016 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) pointed out that Hispanic communities are disproportionately harmed by climate change in part because a majority of Latinos live in states prone to extreme heat, air pollution, and flooding. Additionally, climate-related health concerns are particularly dire for Latinos given that they are “heavily represented in crop and livestock production and construction,” which contributes to them being “three times more likely to die ... from excessive heat than non-Latinos.” They are also less likely to have health insurance coverage than non-Latinos.

    These factors may help explain why people of color are more likely than white voters to support the Paris agreement and to support regulation designed to combat climate change, and why lawmakers who belong to minority groups have “near-perfect” environmental voting records.

    Yet, despite the intersectionality, TV news outlets often fail to make the connection between climate change and racial justice -- perhaps, in part, because they don't include many minority voices in their coverage.

    Minority groups have condemned the dearth of minority voices in the media. Hispanic groups have called on the media to improve the visibility of Hispanics on air, noting that Hispanic voices are mostly restricted to discussing immigration, which creates the perception that they are a single-issue constituency. Other communities of color and low-income communities are also excluded from media coverage of climate change, as NAACP’s Jacqueline Patterson pointed out in an interview with The Nation in 2014: “The voice of frontline communities, the ones that are most impacted, usually don’t make it to the airwaves.”

    When minority voices do find a foothold in the climate change discussion, the intersectionality of the issues becomes more apparent. African-American journalist April Ryan, one of the few non-white guests invited to discuss the Paris decision on CNN, emphasized the real-life human consequences of climate change, including disasters like Katrina, floods, droughts, and mosquito-borne diseases.

    Additionally, in Spanish-language media’s coverage on Univision and Telemundo, reports on the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris accord explained the impact of climate change on Hispanics and provided a platform for Latinos to voice their opposition to the move. 

    Irissa Cisternino contributed research to this piece.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream and Nexis using the search terms "climate or Paris" on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News from June 1 through June 2 and reviewed the transcripts for segments about Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement that aired between between 5 a.m. EST and 11 p.m. EST. Segments where Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris accord was the stated topic of discussion or segments where there was significant discussion of Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris accord were counted. "Significant discussion" was defined as at least two speakers in the segment engaging on the topic with one another (e.g., the host asking a guest a question on Trump's decision). Segments where a guest mentioned the decision in passing -- where no other guest engaged with the comment -- were excluded. All guests were coded for race/ethnicity. In one case, the race/ethnicity of the guest was unclear, so that person was not counted.

    *For one guest who is both black and Hispanic, both backgrounds were counted. As a result, there are 288 race/ethnicities listed for the 286 guests. Because the study was focused on representation of minorities, guests who are both white and belonging to a minority group were coded only for the latter. 

  • Trump White House moves from lies to authoritarian-style propaganda

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Lying about public policy has become standard practice for the Trump White House, as well as leaders of the Republican Party. There seems to be no baseless claim this administration isn’t willing to make.

    That dark trend was on display last week in the White House Rose Garden when President Donald Trump announced he was beginning the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord. Trump’s supposed reasoning for abandoning the deal was built in part around widely disputed claims that the accord was a jobs killer for the United States.

    But there was one claim that seemed to occupy a separate category: It was a pure fabrication about a supposed “slush fund” that had been created around the Paris agreement -- a “slush fund” the United States was flushing billions of dollars into for other countries to spend. (Naturally, far-right sites and right-wing Twitter loved the “slush fund” claim.)

    On the White House website, the claim looked like this:

    And on Twitter, the White House announced:

    Just more everyday lies, right? But taking a step back, there seemed to be something odd about the White House using its Twitter feed days after the Paris announcement to push out a choreographed lie about the climate accord that could be, and would be, easily debunked. Actually, the tweet managed to include two separate lies within the confines of 140 characters.

    As ProPublica noted, “1)It is not a slush fund. 2)The fund was not created by the Paris Agreement.” (Here is the whole ProPublica Twitter thread detailing the White House’s casual mendacity regarding the historic climate agreement.)

    In a piece published by The Washington Post, Matthew J. Kotchen, Yale professor of economics – and former deputy assistant secretary of energy and the environment for the U.S. Treasury Department during the Obama administration -- called Trump “astonishingly misinformed” about the slush fund claim. “Nearly everything Trump said about the Green Climate Fund to justify his decision was wrong or misleading.”

    But I suspect the White House didn’t create a days-long “slush fund” campaign because the administration was “misinformed.” It did so seemingly because administration officials wanted to spread a lie and because they seem to be in the propaganda business (not the public debate business). Increasingly, this White House’s propaganda operation looks like an authoritarian one found in other countries, such as Russia.

    “Trump’s team is finding ways to shrewdly approximate [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s capacity to shape narratives and create alternative realities,” noted Mike Mariani in Vanity Fair in April. “Specious narratives, conspiracy theories, and indeed fake news have been part of Russia’s geopolitical playbook for more than half a century.”

    And how about this for creating an alternative reality built on specious narratives and fake news? On Monday, after the president announced plans to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system, he and Republican members of Congress then staged a faux bill-signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House. There, supportive politicians gathered around the seated president, who signed nothing more than a letter to Congress stating his support for the proposal. The whole event was just Kabuki theater.

    Also note that when Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia last month, the White House loudly trumpeted the news that it had brokered a $110 billion arms sale to the Middle East power, which the press covered as news.

    But the deal reportedly doesn’t actually exist. It’s “fake news,” according to Bruce Riedel at the Brookings Institution. “I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts.”

    Creating a days-long marketing campaign around a mythical “slush fund”? Staging a fake bill-signing ceremony? Concocting a multibillion-dollar arms deal?

    These instances go far beyond stagecraft and simply trying to create the best optics possible. Instead, this feels more like the latest shift by the Trump administration into permanent propaganda warfare. And that puts the Beltway media in the crosshairs of this White House’s unprecedented misinformation machinery.

    Government-sponsored propaganda isn’t supposed to work in a vibrant democracy where openness flourishes, mostly because a free press is positioned to deter and undercut those kinds of heavy-handed attempts. But Trump’s brand could work for two reasons.

    First, if the mainstream news media is too timid in calling out Trump’s endless deceits, that gives him room to operate. Overly concerned with not appearing to be biased, and routinely giving Republicans far too much space to operate dishonestly, the press in 2017 has shown too much deference to the administration’s radical brand of misinformation.

    “The tell-both-sides media attitude that generally works in the free world falls apart completely when dealing with a dictatorship that doesn’t operate in good faith, that lies and actively fabricates constantly,” Garry Kasparov recently told the Columbia Journalism Review. Kasparov is a former world chess champion who today serves as a Russian pro-democracy leader and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation.

    Second, like Russia’s president, Trump has a built-in media infrastructure that will obediently echo his lies and present them as news. For Putin, state-run outlets such as RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and Sputnik serve as a constant, unapologetic mouthpiece for the Kremlin.

    Obviously, the free press in the United States doesn’t serve at the pleasure of the president. But there is a branch of media that does.

    Meaning, if the Trump White House pushes out propaganda lies and orchestrated campaigns, and Fox News as well dozens of right-wing sites and established AM talk radio all treat it as factual information, that automatically gives the misinformation the sheen of legitimacy for some consumers. And that means Trump’s all-believing base will buy the claims no matter what, simply because they’re both coming from Trump and they’re presented as factual by Trump’s loyalist media.

    So yes, authoritarian propaganda can work in this country, especially if the White House’s nonstop efforts to discredit the legitimate press among its supporters succeed -- if Trump is successful in sowing the seeds of a chaos culture, or the “fog of unknowability,” as former Russian TV producer Peter Pomerantsev calls it in Mariani's Vanity Fair piece.

    “The Kremlin does this by flooding television and digital media with biased coverage and wanton spin,” wrote Mariani. “The Trump administration has discovered something equally effective: lying to reporters and publicly attacking critics are like tossing grenades into the media eco-system. The press is constantly scrambling to respond to a never-ending river of slime, and the system is gradually overwhelmed.”

    The Trump White House lies will continue indefinitely. Increasingly, they should be viewed as a crucial piece of the administration’s permanent propaganda campaign.

  • Four ways the NY Times has undermined its own climate coverage

    The paper gave ammunition to the Trump administration to deny climate science and defend dropping out of the Paris agreement

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    The New York Times has done some stellar reporting on climate change, and it’s poised to do more thanks to its recent creation of a dedicated climate team. See, for instance, its impressive ongoing series on how climate change is affecting major cities, and another recent multimedia series on the melting of Antarctica.

    But the paper has made serious missteps in recent days and weeks, some of which have bolstered the White House’s case for climate denial and for dropping out of the Paris climate agreement. Here are four problems that deserve to be called out:

    1. Letting Bret Stephens spread climate denial, which was seized on by Scott Pruitt

    The New York Times hired conservative climate denier Bret Stephens as an op-ed columnist in April, and his first column was a factually compromised and misleading attack on climate science. Its publication provoked widespread condemnation of the Times and Stephens in late April.

    Then the column got a new round of attention late last week, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. On June 2, the day after Trump’s announcement, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended the move from the podium in the White House briefing room, and cited Stephens' column to make the case that climate science is unsettled:

    I don’t know if you saw this article or not, but the “Climate of Complete Certainty” by Bret Stephens that was in The New York Times talked about -- and I’ll just read a quote, because I thought it was a very important quote from this article. “Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the IPCC knows that, while the modest 0.85 degrees Celsius warming of the earth that has occurred since 1880, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. Isn’t (sic) to acknowledge it honestly.”

    Pruitt actually misquoted the column, omitting Stephens’ acknowledgement that there has been “indisputable ... human influence” on the warming of the earth since 1880. But nonetheless, Pruitt left the impression that The New York Times supported his fringe views.

    As Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz put it, “It’s a disaster for a paper that sold itself to readers as a bulwark against the new president, then turned around and hired a prominent climate change skeptic.”

    2. Ignoring the fact that Pruitt seized on Stephens’ climate denial

    In an article about Trump’s views on climate change, New York Times reporter Peter Baker noted that Pruitt had questioned climate science during his remarks at the White House, but Baker neglected to mention that the EPA chief had used a New York Times column as a main piece of supporting evidence for his claims.

    3. Publishing a misleading story on small-business owners’ views on Paris, which was seized on by Pruitt

    On June 2, The New York Times published an article by Landon Thomas Jr. titled “Small Businesses Cheer ‘New Sheriff in Town’ After Climate Pact Exit.” Thomas claimed, “While multinational corporations such as Disney, Goldman Sachs and IBM have opposed the president’s decision to walk away from the international climate agreement, many small companies around the country were cheering him on, embracing the choice as a tough-minded business move that made good on Mr. Trump’s commitment to put America’s commercial interests first.”

    The article ignored the fact that hundreds of small businesses had publicly called for remaining in the Paris agreement, and it quoted no small-business owners who supported the deal. Small-business supporters weren’t that hard to find, even in red states. NPR's Morning Edition featured one, Fhebe Lane, who runs a store in a conservative Texas coal town. A Trump voter, Lane said she was concerned about the climate getting hotter and thought limiting emissions was a good idea.

    Thomas’ article also drew criticism for quoting some of the same pro-Trump voices he had cited in a previous piece, as Media Matters has noted. Boston Globe writer Michael Cohen pointed out that the article was “remarkably similar” to a piece Thomas wrote three months earlier; Cohen and others noted that the same two people “are quoted in both articles extolling Mr. Trump’s virtues” and “their positive words about Trump are used as evidence that small business owners are behind the president.”

    But Pruitt, for one, liked the article. He quoted it during an appearance on ABC’s This Week on June 4:

    Even The New York Times had an article, I think, within the last couple of days that talked about small business celebrating, euphoria, with respect to the president’s decision.

    4. Blaming the Democrats alongside the Koch brothers for GOP climate denial

    New York Times reporters Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton published a mostly well-reported article on widespread Republican refusal to accept climate science. But the story contained a ridiculous claim that “Democratic hubris” was partly to blame:

    The Republican Party’s fast journey from debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist is a story of big political money, Democratic hubris in the Obama years and a partisan chasm that grew over nine years like a crack in the Antarctic shelf, favoring extreme positions and uncompromising rhetoric over cooperation and conciliation.

    While the article laid out plenty of evidence that the Koch brothers had affected elected Republicans’ views, it did not make any kind of convincing case that Democrats had.

    Talking Points Memo Editor Josh Marshall characterized the “Democratic hubris” line as “half of what is imbecilic in contemporary political journalism”:

    As New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, who wrote a book on the Koch brothers, noted in a post on June 5, Republican climate denial and the rejection of the Paris agreement are clear and direct consequences of the Kochs and other rich fossil fuel barons pouring money into the political scene. “It is, perhaps, the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history,” she wrote.

    Democrats, hubristic or not, can’t claim credit for that.

    Whither the Times?

    “The paper has lost its way,” Think Progress’ Joe Romm wrote in a post criticizing the Davenport/Lipton article and other pieces published by the Times. “A shocking number of recent articles reveal a paper that’s begun to embrace false balance, giving equal time to both climate misinformers and actual climate experts, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus.”

    Still, many journalists at The New York Times are pulling in the right direction. Columnist David Leonhardt gently disputed the “Democratic hubris” argument in a piece on June 5. A number of Times journalists expressed their displeasure with Stephens’ first column. And the climate team keeps doing great work. Let’s hope their side wins the tug-of-war.