After new U.N. IPCC climate report comes out, only 22 of the top 50 U.S. newspapers' homepages made note of it
A United Nations scientific panel released a major new climate change report on the night of October 7, warning of dire consequences if world governments don’t take unprecedented and dramatic steps in the next decade to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. The next morning, the majority of top U.S. newspapers failed to mention the report on their homepages.
At 9 p.m. EDT on October 7, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its long-awaited special report about what will happen if the average global temperature rises more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and what would be required to prevent such a rise. The average temperature has already risen 1 degree C worldwide, and we will see dramatic and deadly impacts if it rises 2 degrees or more, which is now considered extremely likely. The IPCC report was requested by world leaders as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The report emphasizes the need for unprecedented action in the coming years to prevent the worst effects of climate change, and warns of the dire impacts if humanity fails to take that action.
Between 9 a.m. and noon EDT on October 8, Media Matters analyzed the homepages of the top 50 U.S. newspapers as ranked by average Sunday circulation. Twenty-eight of the papers did not mention the report on their homepages at all:
Of the above newspapers, 10 serve cities that are listed among the "25 U.S. Cities Most Affected by Climate Change" in a 2015 weather.com report: Baltimore, Buffalo, Columbus, Denver, Louisville, Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, and St. Paul.
Other major newspapers in cities heavily affected by climate change also failed to highlight the IPCC report. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in Nevada, did not note the report on its homepage. Las Vegas is ranked third in the weather.com list. The Miami Herald also did not mention the IPCC report on its homepage, though it did link to an article about how the risk of sea-level rise threatens real estate prices. Miami will be particularly affected by sea-level rise; a study published last year in the journal Nature concluded that rising seas as a result of climate change could cause more than 2.5 million Miami residents to flee the city.
These are the papers that linked from their homepages to articles about the IPCC report:
A few of the newspapers featured the IPCC report prominently on their homepages, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but most of homepage mentions of the report were just headlines. Here's how the Star Tribune featured the report:
Methodology: Media Matters searched for the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” “IPCC,” “report,” and “scientist” on the homepages of the top 50 highest-circulation U.S. newspapers between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. EST on October 8. The list of newspapers was taken from the recent Pew Research Center report State of the News Media.
Right-wing media are calling it a "win" for the First Amendment
On June 26, the Supreme Court decided National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra in favor of a network of fake health clinics. Right-wing media and anti-abortion organizations framed the decision as a “win” for the First Amendment, but those outlets (and even some more mainstream ones) ignored that these clinics are harmful and actively deceive people seeking abortions.
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has a long list of sexual misconduct allegations against him, wants to raise his public profile as a climate activist. He made headlines last week when, during an interview with Politico, he threatened to sue oil companies “for knowingly killing people all over the world” by selling a product that contributes to climate change. What didn’t make headlines, though, was that Politico also asked Schwarzenegger about past behavior that "some women" had "called offensive," a reference to charges of groping, sexual humiliation, and harassment made against Schwarzenegger in previous years.
The accusations against Schwarzenegger, many of which were aired during his 2003 gubernatorial campaign, are similar to accusations that have come out against other high-profile men in the #MeToo era, including charges of nonconsensual groping and verbal harassment. Schwarzenegger also reportedly benefited from a "catch-and-kill" nondisclosure agreement drawn up by the publisher of the National Enquirer, the same kind of agreement that helped Donald Trump avoid the exposure of an alleged extramarital affair.
Here's an overview of Schwarzenegger's history of alleged sexual misconduct and harassment:
On October 2, 2003 -- five days before the recall election in which Californians elected Schwarzenegger as governor -- the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy investigative article that detailed sexual harassment allegations against Schwarzenegger:
Six women who came into contact with Arnold Schwarzenegger on movie sets, in studio offices and in other settings over the last three decades say he touched them in a sexual manner without their consent.
In interviews with The Times, three of the women described their surprise and discomfort when Schwarzenegger grabbed their breasts. A fourth said he reached under her skirt and gripped her buttocks.
A fifth woman said Schwarzenegger groped her and tried to remove her bathing suit in a hotel elevator. A sixth said Schwarzenegger pulled her onto his lap and asked whether a certain sexual act had ever been performed on her.
According to the women's accounts, one of the incidents occurred in the 1970s, two in the 1980s, two in the 1990s and one in 2000.
"Did he rape me? No," said one woman, who described a 1980 encounter in which she said Schwarzenegger touched her breast. "Did he humiliate me? You bet he did."
The LA Times story also cited a 2001 article published in Premiere magazine in which another woman accused Schwarzenegger of inappropriately touching her breast and other people recalled incidents of groping and harassment.
Schwarzenegger's campaign spokesperson told the LA Times that the candidate had not engaged in improper conduct toward women.
On the day the LA Times article came out, Schwarzenegger himself told a crowd of supporters that "a lot" of what was reported was "not true," but admitted that he had "behaved badly sometimes" and apologized:
I know that the people of California can see through these trash politics. Yes. And let me tell you something -- a lot of those, what you see in the stories is not true. But at the same time, I have to tell you, I always say that wherever there is smoke, there is fire. That is true. So I want to say to you, yes, I have behaved badly sometimes. Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful. But now I recognize that I have offended people. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize, because this is not what I tried to do.
In the days after the initial LA Times story was published, more women spoke out, making for a total of 16 women coming forward before the election with allegations that they had been groped or sexually humiliated by Schwarzenegger.
One of the women named in the Premiere story and the initial LA Times story, Anna Richardson, filed a libel suit against Schwarzenegger and two of his aides in 2004. After Richardson alleged that Schwarzenegger groped her, Schwarzenegger's staff told the LA Times that she had encouraged the behavior, a claim that Richardson said damaged her reputation. The suit was settled out of court in 2006.
The LA Times reported that American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, promised to pay $20,000 in 2003 to a woman who allegedly had a seven-year affair with Schwarzenegger in exchange for the woman signing a confidentiality agreement that blocked her from talking about it to any other media outlets. The National Enquirer had published a story about the affair two years earlier, in 2001, in which it claimed that the woman was 16 years old when the affair began. But after the confidentiality agreement was signed, American Media never followed up with the woman or gave her the opportunity to tell her story.
The confidentiality agreement was signed two days after Schwarzenegger announced his intention to run for governor, during a period when Schwarzenegger and American Media were negotiating a multimillion-dollar consulting deal that would have Schwarzenegger serve as executive editor for bodybuilding and fitness magazines owned by the company.
This is the same kind of "catch-and-kill" arrangement -- in which a company buys a story so as to prevent its release -- that American Media used to silence a woman who had an affair with Trump, as The New Yorker reported in February 2018. The New Yorker story named Schwarzenegger as another person involved in American Media's catch-and-kill arrangements.
LA Times columnist Steve Lopez summed up the paper's story about Schwarzenegger and American Media in an August 12, 2005, piece:
My colleagues Peter Nicholas and Carla Hall report that while Schwarzenegger was running for governor and negotiating a multimillion-dollar contract to shill for muscle magazines owned by the company that publishes the National Enquirer, the same outfit was paying Arnold's alleged former "masseuse" $20,000 not to go running her mouth.
On October 8, 2016, the day The Washington Post revealed that Donald Trump had been caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women, Schwarzenegger posted a statement on Twitter announcing that he would not be voting for the Republican candidate and calling on fellow Republicans to "choose your country over your party."
As proud as I am to label myself a Republican, there is one label that I hold above all else - American. My full statement: pic.twitter.com/biRvY8S3aZ
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) October 8, 2016
But Schwarzenegger still went forward with plans to replace Trump on NBC's reality show Celebrity Apprentice, and he defended Trump for retaining an executive producer title on the show after he became president.
The good-government nonprofit Common Cause had planned to honor Schwarzenegger on December 1, 2017, with an award for work he did as governor to combat gerrymandering. But activists started a MoveOn.org petition demanding that the group not give the award to a "serial harasser," arguing, "By honoring Arnold Common Cause is enabling harassers and silencing victims."
Common Cause then reversed course and announced that it would not give an award to the former governor.
On March 11, 2018, Schwarzenegger sat down for a live, hour-long interview at the SXSW Conference in Austin, TX, with Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere. Five minutes of the interview were about sexual misconduct allegations against Schwarzenegger and about the #MeToo movement. Here's a transcript of those five minutes:
EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE: I want to ask you about maybe a little bit less of a comfortable topic. We've been talking about your time as governor. When you were running initially in 2003 -- this was 15 years ago, right -- towards the end of the campaign there were some women who spoke out about behavior of yours that they called offensive. You apologized for it and said you didn't mean to offend. But obviously, not only is it 15 years ago but it's the last six months have really changed the conversation that we're having about what's going on. What is the difference between that moment and now?
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think that first of all the movement, if you're talking about the #MeToo movement, it is about time. I think it's fantastic. I think that women have been used and abused and treated horribly for too long. And I think that now all of the elements came together to create this movement and that now finally puts the spotlight on this issue and I hope that a lot of people learn from that. And I remember that when I -- for instance, when this happened to me, just before the election, with the groping charges, I realized you know, even though you say this was very politically motivated, it was just the day before, two days before the election and all this stuff. But the fact of the matter is you got to take these things seriously because you got to look at it and say, OK, I made mistakes, and I have to apologize. And this is why the first thing that I did when I became governor was that we had a sexual harassment class. Because I said to myself, this is extremely important of an issue, and now we’re representing the people of California, so no one should get into this kind of trouble, no one. And so we had these people come in as experts. And it was really the most unbelievable education. And I recommend for anyone that is confused about this issue, after all of these complaints that women have, and the outcry of women, I would suggest to everyone, if you're still confused about it, that women are treated the right way, to go in to take one of those classes. Because when we took this class and the guy walked in -- it was two women and two guys that were holding this class -- and they said, let me just open up and just say very simply, if a woman comes through this door, and you, governor, say to her, "I love your beautiful red dress," she can take this as sexual harassment.
DOVERE: Has it made you rethink your own--
SCHWARZENEGGER: And so here's the important thing. Then he said, but, if you go at the same breath and say to the man, "I like your green tie," he says then it wouldn't be. So there were so many subtle kind of things that you needed to know that you would make mistakes. And the entire time that we were in office we never had one single problem because we had those sexual harassment classes on an ongoing basis. And just educate everyone.
DOVERE: Has it made you rethink your own things that you did, even in the last couple months?
SCHWARZENEGGER: No. I just think that we make mistakes, we don't take it seriously, but then when you then really think about it, you say to yourself, yeah, maybe there was I went too far. You know if you do sex scenes in a movie, you know scenes in bed, if you're in the gymnasium and you teach someone how to train and you maybe touch them in an inappropriate way -- whatever it is, you realize you've got to be very sensitive about it and you've got to think the way women feel, and if they feel uncomfortable, then you did not do the right thing and you've got to be sensitive about that. And so--
DOVERE: Is the problem--
SCHWARZENEGGER: It just made me think totally differently. And then when the whole spotlight came about, and the spotlight was put on this issue, you know, I could, I said to myself, you know, finally, because I think it is really good that now the spotlight is on it. And it is no different than the spotlight was on it like on equality in America, you know in the '60s, or if it is about the environmental issues, where you talk and talk and talk about it but then finally it clicks and people realize. I mean, for how long have I thrown things out of the window when I was a kid and then eventually the spotlight was put on it and it made you feel bad that you're doing the wrong thing and now you start thinking about it and you never do it again. So I think this is going to put the spotlight on it to such an extent that guys are going to think twice about it to make those mistakes. And I think that everyone should take a sexual harassment class because we've got to go and not ever do those kind of things.
DOVERE: Is the problem worse in politics or in Hollywood?
SCHWARZENEGGER: I think it is across the board. I think it is nothing with Hollywood, it is nothing with politics. It can be somebody in the factory, it can be in the military. It can be anywhere, this abuse and this kind of where guys flex their muscles and use their power in order to get certain things. And I just don't think it is right, and I think this is why it's good that women are letting their voice be heard.
The Supreme Court "held that part of California's crisis pregnancy center disclosure law is unconstitutional and that another part is likely unconstitutional."
On June 26, the Supreme Court decided NIFLA v. Becerra, a case involving a California law that curtails the deceptive practices of anti-abortion fake health clinics. The Court ruled against the California law regulating fake health clinics. The court "held that part of California's crisis pregnancy center disclosure law is unconstitutional and that another part is likely unconstitutional." Some outlets have recently published essential pieces about the tactics and negative impacts of these fake health clinics, which manipulate and mislead people seeking abortions in hopes that they will carry their pregnancies to term.
President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year.
Two new studies highlight different troubling trends in climate change reporting. First, a disproportionate amount of climate journalism in 2017 was focused on the Trump administration's actions and statements, meaning that other climate stories got less coverage than they warranted. Second, media last year consistently failed to explain how events such as extreme weather are connected to climate change.
A research group at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the International Collective on Environment, Culture and Politics (ICE CaPs), produced the findings that illustrate how much climate coverage has been driven by President Donald Trump. It examined coverage last year in five major American newspapers: The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. In the 4,117 stories in those papers that mentioned "climate change" or "global warming," the word “Trump” appeared 19,184 times -- an average of nearly 4.7 times per article.
The researchers argued that Trump-centric coverage can crowd out other reporting on climate change: “Media attention that would have focused on other climate-related events and issues instead was placed on Trump-related actions, leaving many other stories untold.”
Public Citizen, a non-profit organization that advocates for consumer rights, took a different approach in examining climate coverage in 2017. It searched a wide array of U.S. newspapers and TV and radio news programs for stories on extreme weather and pest-borne illness and then checked whether those stories mentioned climate change. The vast majority did not. At the high end, 33 percent of pieces on record heat included the words "climate change" or "global warming." At the low end, just 4 percent of pieces discussing Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, or Nate mentioned climate change. Or, in other words, 96 percent of stories about 2017’s historic hurricane season did not note the role of climate change in making hurricanes more damaging.
Public Citizen's findings align with studies done by Media Matters last year that found TV news outlets repeatedly failed to report on how climate change is linked to more intense hurricanes, heat waves, and wildfires.
These two new alarming reports bolster the argument that we need better reporting on climate change. It is natural that Trump’s statements and actions as president will drive some climate journalism, particularly because his administration is unraveling a wide variety of climate protections. But too often the focus is on Trump himself instead of the ways his administration's moves will affect millions of Americans and others around the world. And the inordinate attention given to even Trump's minor utterances and tweets displaces national discourse around important aspects of climate change, such as its impact on extreme weather.
No matter what latest Trump scandal plays out on cable news or the front pages of newspapers, climate reporters still need to focus on how climate change is happening in the real world and how climate policy affects real people. In 2017, there were too many underreported or unreported climate stories. Will 2018 be any better?
From hurricanes to heat waves to wildfires and beyond, 2017 has been a terrifying year of disasters in the U.S. And too many media outlets have missed a key part of the story: These aren't just natural disasters; in many cases, they're climate disasters.
The Los Angeles Times did a good job of explaining the climate-wildfire link in a December 6 editorial titled "While Southern California battles its wildfires, we have to start preparing for our hotter, drier future." Fires have long been a part of California ecosystems, and many factors have played a role in making the Thomas Fire and other December blazes so destructive, the editorial board noted, but underlying all of that is the brutal fact of global warming: "What should make Southern California fearful is that climate change could mean a future of more frequent and more intense wildfires."
Indeed, a number of scientific studies have linked climate change to increased wildfire risk in California. PBS's NewsHour aired a segment on December 13 that featured climate scientists explaining some of these links. "I think the science is pretty solid to indicate that wildfire risk is likely to increase in the future due to climate change," said scientist Radley Horton, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "I think exhibit A has to be the increase in temperature that we have observed. In California, we have seen about a 1.5-degree increase in temperature over the last century."
Unfortunately, many media outlets have not been connecting the dots between climate change and wildfires the way the L.A. Times and PBS did.
When huge fires raged through Montana and the Pacific Northwest this summer, and when fires tore through Northern California wine country in October, the major broadcast TV news programs and Sunday morning talk shows did not air a single segment discussing climate change in the context of those fires, Media Matters found. This despite the fact that scientists have determined that climate change is a major factor in forest fires in the western U.S.
Beyond fires, many mainstream media outlets missed critical opportunities this year to discuss how other kinds of disasters are made worse by climate change.
In June, parts of the southwestern U.S. baked in a record heat wave that brought temperatures up to 119 degrees in Phoenix, so hot that certain types of small planes couldn't get off the ground. The record temperatures coincided with publication of a comprehensive peer-reviewed study that found deadly heat waves are on the rise thanks to climate change. But major television network affiliates in Phoenix and Las Vegas completely failed to discuss how climate change exacerbates heat waves like the one the region was experiencing, according to a Media Matters analysis.
News coverage of the impact of climate change on hurricanes has been sorely lacking this year, too. Even the unprecedented one-two-three punch of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wasn't enough to spur some key mainstream outlets to tell an increasingly obvious story.
ABC and NBC both completely failed to bring up climate change during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, Media Matters found. So did the New York Post, one of the highest-circulation newspapers in the country, according to a report by Public Citizen. The Weather Channel, where many Americans turn when weather disasters loom, also failed to address the climate-hurricane connection during Harvey. Worse still, both Fox News and The Wall Street Journal ran more pieces that disputed a climate-hurricane link than pieces that acknowledged it. These findings by Media Matters and others inspired climate activists to launch a Twitter campaign calling on media to end the #climatesilence.
TV news showed modest improvement at connecting the dots between climate change and hurricanes during Hurricane Irma, but still came up short. And when Maria hit, much of the mainstream media didn't even give adequate coverage to the storm itself or its aftermath, let alone the climate angle, as both Media Matters and MIT Media Lab researchers found.
Climate change cannot be blamed for wholly causing any one individual weather disaster, but it effectively loads the dice in favor of abnormal and extreme weather, as climate scientist James Hansen and his colleagues have explained.
And after a weather event has occurred, scientists can analyze the extent to which climate change was a contributing factor. A new set of papers published this month found that human-caused climate change was a “significant driver” for 21 of 27 extreme weather events in 2016, including the year's record-breaking global heat. Some scientists have already done these kinds of attribution studies for 2017's hurricanes and found that climate change increased rainfall from Hurricane Harvey by between 15 and 38 percent.
We all lost big in the climate-rigged dice game this year. There were so many record-setting extreme weather incidents and disasters in 2017 that it's hard to remember them all. Consider a few you might have forgotten:
As USA Today recently put it, "From record flooding to disastrous wildfires, 2017 will go down as one of the USA's most catastrophic years ever for extreme, violent weather that disrupted the lives of millions of Americans."
But that USA Today piece neglected to note the role climate change played in juicing up 2017's count of big disasters.
Some news organizations consistently do a better job of reporting on climate change. The New York Times and The Washington Post have published strong reporting and good editorials and opinion pieces on the impact of climate change on disasters. CNN and MSNBC outperformed other TV news outlets in discussing how hurricanes Harvey and Irma were affected by climate change. In one recent segment, CNN invited climate scientist Michael Mann to explain the connection between climate change and hurricane intensity, offering a great model for other outlets:
But those kinds of segments are all too rare. Many of the most influential mainstream media outlets need to do better at reporting on the connections scientists are finding between climate change and extreme weather. When a disaster hits, that's a prime opportunity to report on climate change, a topic that at other times might not seem newsy. When a long string of unprecedented disasters hit, as happened this year, that's even more of a call for media to tell the story of global warming.
Good journalism is needed not just to help Americans understand the reality of climate change, but to inspire them to fight the problem by pushing for a rapid shift to cleaner energy, transport, and agriculture systems.
Let's hope to see more climate-focused, science-driven journalism in 2018.
Methodology: To search for broadcast television and Sunday show coverage of the Northwest and Northern California wildfires and climate change, Media Matters searched Nexis using the term (fire! OR wildfire!) w/30 (climate change OR global warming OR changing climate OR climate warm! OR warm! climate OR warm! planet OR warm! globe OR global temperatures OR rising temperatures OR hotter temperatures).
When hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit the U.S. earlier this year, conservatives including Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt and Fox News personalities argued that it wasn’t the right time to talk about climate change. But a number of local leaders and journalists in the storm-hit states of Texas and Florida disagreed. They called for attention to the fact that climate change is making disasters worse, even as they worked to address and report on the immediate needs of their affected communities.
Now many political leaders and newspapers in California are following the lead of those in Texas and Florida -- demanding that we recognize the threat of climate change and how it’s exacerbating weather events like the wildfires that have been blazing through parts of Northern California for the last week and a half, the most deadly and destructive fires in the state’s history.
Many scientists have pointed to climate change as a significant factor that’s intensifying fires like those in California. Columbia University bioclimatologist Park Williams, who co-authored a study last year that found climate change was markedly worsening wildfires in the American West, talked to McClatchy about the California fires last week: “The fingerprint is definitely there,” Williams said. “The connection between temperatures and fire is one we see again and again in the correlation analyses we do.”
California Gov. Jerry Brown emphasized the connection last week: “With a warming climate, dry weather and reducing moisture, these kinds of catastrophes have happened and will continue to happen,” he said.
And five of California’s biggest papers have published editorials clearly connecting the dots between this year’s out-of-control wildfire season and climate change.
The Los Angeles Times, the largest newspaper in California, published an editorial on October 12 explaining how the fires fit into a broader pattern of weather disasters that scientists have been telling us to expect as the world warms:
When this is over, it may well be the state’s worst fire catastrophe in recorded history by any measure.
This is not just bad luck. Coming on the heels of other large-scale natural disasters — Houston inundated by a slow-moving tropical storm, swaths of Florida and the Caribbean ripped to shreds by a monster hurricane, much of Puerto Rico leveled by an equally powerful hurricane, a handful of Western states swept by massive fires that burned up millions of acres — one can’t help but see a disturbing pattern emerge. Those superstorms that scientists warned would result from climate change? They are here. The day of reckoning isn’t in the future. It is now.
The Sacramento Bee made similar points in a strong October 10 editorial and put the heat on President Trump for ignoring climate change:
Puerto Rico is in ruins. Thousands are displaced in Houston. The Gulf Coast is bracing for a fresh round of hurricanes.
Now, epic wildfires are incinerating California.
Climate change is doing what scientists predicted — amplifying storms and lengthening wildfire seasons. … If it wasn’t clear last year — or the year before, or the year before that — it is obvious now that a new normal is at hand.
Given that, it’s ironic, if not delusional, that the Trump administration would pick this, of all weeks, to move to repeal Obama-era limits on greenhouse gases, which drive global warming.
The San Francisco Chronicle, The Mercury News (San Jose), and The San Diego Union-Tribune all published editorials arguing that governments need to be better prepared to fight wildfires, in part because climate change is making fires more of a danger.
Of the six largest-circulation California newspapers that publish editorials, only The Orange County Register -- whose editorial board has a record of climate denial -- failed to make mention of climate change in its editorial about the ongoing fires.
Editorial boards beyond California are picking up the thread as well. The Miami Herald, a major paper in a state recently hit by Hurricane Irma, made note of wildfires in an editorial last week that criticized President Trump’s reversal of the Clean Power Plan, a key Obama-era policy to fight climate change: “Ironically, the repeal is being announced at a time when the impact of climate change is too powerful to deny — in hurricanes of unprecedented frequency and power, in increasing droughts, in expanded wildfires.” The Washington Post and The New York Times ran editorials last week making similar points.
Papers in disaster-afflicted areas are right to explain the connections between climate change and extreme weather. They have a responsibility not just to report on-the-ground happenings, but to put critical events in context -- especially in their editorials.
Newspapers and networks with national audiences should do the same, following the lead of The Washington Post and The New York Times. The U.S. has suffered through a stunning string of disasters in recent months, exactly the kinds of extreme weather events that scientists have said we'll see more of as the climate continues to heat up. Media outlets have a duty to explain that climate change is driving some of the damage and will drive far more in the future if we don't curb our greenhouse gas emissions and better prepare our communities for disasters.
This job is all the more important given that we have a president who not only denies basic climate science, but fails to take many disasters seriously. Trump has shown callous disregard for hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico, and he has almost entirely ignored the California wildfires. He hadn't even tweeted about the fires until today, 10 days after they started. Major media outlets need to step in and help fill that void.
This post was updated to reflect the fact that President Trump tweeted about the wildfires on October 18.
Moore has called homosexuality “the same thing” as having sex with a cow, repeatedly asserted that “homosexual conduct should be illegal,” and was kicked off Alabama’s Supreme Court for discriminating against same-sex couples
On September 26, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who has compared homosexuality to having sex with a cow and insists that “homosexual conduct should be illegal,” won his state’s Republican primary for its open Senate seat. Many media outlets failed to contextualize his extreme anti-LGBTQ views -- though most noted his infamous removal from Alabama’s Supreme Court for refusing to accept the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex marriage -- and instead whitewashed him as simply a “firebrand.”
Fox News and other right-wing media outlets overhyped the threat of looting during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey last week. Some conservative blogs ran stories warning about looting that featured tweets from fake accounts, which have since been deleted. This coverage often had a racist element, either subtly or overtly accusing African-Americans of rampant criminal behavior.
In fact, looting has not been a widespread problem, according to law enforcement officials. Experts say the threat of looting is often exaggerated during disasters, and that appears to be the case with Harvey. "The Houston Police Department says very little looting occurred during the first week of flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey," Snopes reported on September 1. A spokesperson for the department told Snopes, "Looting is almost non existent in Houston. People have been cooperative not just with each other, but also with Houston PD. The weather is at its worst but Houstonians are at their best." Los Angeles Times correspondent Matt Pearce, who drove around Houston to report on Harvey, called claims of widespread looting "bullshit."
When news outlets overhype the risks of looting and violence, it can have dire consequences, one expert told WNYC's On the Media. "The media has a responsibility here to be very nuanced in the way it talks about crime in the midst of a disaster, which is that if people are overly concerned about that, they may not evacuate," said Scott Gabriel Knowles of Drexel University, a historian and author of the book The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America.
On August 30, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced that his officers had arrested 14 people for looting. But in a metropolitan area with 6.6 million residents, that's not a large number.
Nonetheless, President Donald Trump's favorite program Fox & Friends played the arrests up on August 30 and scaremongered about looters, with correspondent Griff Jenkins describing them as "criminals that have unleashed the worst that humanity has to offer."
Fox News' Tucker Carlson and his guest, former police officer and GOP congressional candidate Dan Bongino, also used over-the-top rhetoric on August 30 while discussing a tweet from ABC's Tom Llamas that described looting at a supermarket in Houston. Bongino said, "What kind of like certifiable savage man-beast do you need to be to walk into a small business [and loot]?"
Other Fox News programs inflated the looting danger too, like America's Newsroom, which featured this chyron on September 1:
Conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones, a Trump friend and ally, displayed blatant bigotry when he blamed looting on black people on his August 29 show, citing tweets he claimed to have seen. "It's got the racist black gangs are there saying, 'Look at what we looted, look at what we got.' They're putting it on Twitter, 'We're robbing the white folks, they deserve it.' And then of course there's black folks helping white folks and white folks helping black folks. It's a very small minority of scum that's doing this. But can you imagine if there were white people robbing black neighborhoods right now? And you know, I'm sure I bet some of that actually goes on."
Other conservative outlets pushed the same false narrative, in some cases basing their stories on tweets from fake accounts. Snopes investigated a "proliferation of dozens of tweets hashtagged #HarveyLootCrew threatening widespread looting and purporting to prove that a great deal of looting had already taken place," and found that the tweets were entirely bogus:
A series of tweets from the accounts (since deleted) of “Jamaal Williams” (@RUthlessFCB) and “Jayrome Williams” (@BrotherTooTurnt), for example, spoke of looting white neighborhoods and “racist Trump supporters”
The tweets were taken at face value by some mainstream media outlets (including Click2Houston), as well as by several right-leaning blogs such as Pacific Pundit, DC Clothesline, and Think Americana, with the latter using them as the basis for a report stating that “far leftists promote looting of homes and businesses of only Trump supporters”.
What we found when we looked at the tweets carefully, however, was that all of them were fake, originating from troll accounts set up under assumed identities. None of the photos depict anything that actually took place in Houston, much less in 2017.
It isn’t difficult to discern the motivation behind these fake tweets, which were obviously created to sow fear and racial hatred in a time of crisis.
Other, more responsible media outlets have pointed out that the frequency of looting during disasters is often greatly exaggerated. "Looting and violence are the exception, not the rule," Brooke Gladstone, co-host of WNYC's On the Media, said while introducing a segment on the topic. "Disasters usually bring out the best in people."
Knowles told On the Media, "Fifty years of social science research indicates that widespread looting is really pretty much a myth. … There's pretty good evidence, looking at Hurricane Sandy for example, that crime can actually go down in the midst of a disaster."
The Washington Post cited other experts who made similar points:
In the wake of massive disasters, fears about crime and other forms of disorder almost always rise, experts say. But while some people do take advantage of the collective distraction, the fear of crime — particularly looting — typically outstrips the reality, said experts who study storms and recoveries.
There were about 63 people charged with storm-related crimes including burglary and theft from Aug. 26, the day after Harvey made landfall, to this past Thursday, according to the Harris County district attorney’s office. Harris County has a population of nearly 5 million people, including the city of Houston.
“Fears of looting are common in disasters and maybe even more common than actual looting itself,” said Andy Horowitz, an assistant professor of history at Tulane University who focuses on disasters.
“There’s no doubt that on any given day, there are people who are going to steal other people’s stuff,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, who helped oversee the military response to Hurricane Katrina. “But what we see after these storms is a greatly overexaggerated concern.”
In the days and weeks after Katrina made landfall, major news outlets relayed reports of rape and murder inside emergency shelters — many of which were later found to be false and may have delayed aid to evacuees.
Knowles and Honore both pointed out that claims about looting often have racial and socioeconomic overtones, playing into negative stereotypes about poor, non-white people engaging in criminal behavior.
“There’s a bias at play," Honore told the Post. "People think that if you’re poor or black you’re always trying to steal something. These warnings about looting validate the stereotypes that people hold about poor people.”
As Knowles told On the Media, "Looting gets to the media's responsibility to be very careful in the way it portrays neighborhoods that have low socioeconomic status or neighborhoods that are diverse."
These stereotypes were put front and center in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as the Los Angeles Times reminded people last week. Two much-discussed wire-service photographs from that period showed people wading through chest-deep water with groceries: One photo that depicted an African-American had a caption describing him as "A young man … after looting a grocery store"; another photo that showed a white couple had a caption describing them as "Two residents … after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store."
Boston Globe reporter Astead W. Herndon summed up the contrast in a tweet: "The difference between 'looting' and 'finding' is often black and white."
Black communities tend to get hurt the most by hurricanes in the U.S. "During any natural disaster such as a hurricane, low-income and under-served communities are usually the hardest hit," according to a 2010 study by researchers at Florida A&M University. It assessed "the socio-economic vulnerability of African Americans to hurricanes at the county level in the Gulf Coast region," and found that in nearly half of the counties, "African Americans are in a high vulnerable condition against hurricanes and natural disaster."
The disproportionate impact on African-Americans was highly visible during Hurricane Katrina. “Katrina was not an equal opportunity storm,” wrote Gary Rivlin, investigative journalist and author of a book on the hurricane, last year for TalkPoverty.org, a project of the Center for American Progress. “A black homeowner in New Orleans was more than three times as likely to have been flooded as a white homeowner. That wasn’t due to bad luck; because of racially discriminatory housing practices, the high-ground was taken by the time banks started loaning money to African Americans who wanted to buy a home.”
After Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, the story was similar. "Studies show that low-income and communities of color in the New York-New Jersey area were among the hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy," wrote Pamela Worth of the Union of Concerned Scientists. These same dynamics have been playing out in Houston. And as climate change worsens and leads to more extreme disasters, experts say people of color will continue to bear the brunt.
But instead of reporting on the struggles of black hurricane victims and the ways that disasters disproportionately hurt non-white communities, some right-wing media outlets have been blaming blacks for fictional crime rampages.
Now, as Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, which has large black and Latino communities, should we expect to see more of the same?
Don't believe the trend pieces. Just look at what's happening in California.
The Republicans-are-about-to-turn-a-corner-on-climate-change article is a perennial hot take. Its latest iteration comes to us courtesy of Politico. But like its many predecessors in the genre, it misses the real story: Republican politicians who do anything more than give lip service to the need for climate action will get pummelled by their fellow conservatives.
Politico's story, which ran on August 19, was titled "More GOP lawmakers bucking their party on climate change." It claimed that "an unlikely surge of Republican lawmakers has begun taking steps to distance themselves from the GOP’s hard line on climate change," and that the "willingness of some Republicans to buck their party on climate change could help burnish their moderate credentials ahead of the 2018 elections."
The article offers two main examples to support its argument: First, the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus "has more than tripled in size since January" and now includes 26 of the House's 240 Republicans. Second, 46 House Republicans voted in July against lifting a requirement that the Defense Department study climate change's impacts on the military.
But these House members are hardly going out on a limb. The climate caucus does not promote any specific legislation or policies. And military leaders, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, have long been concerned about climate change and have voiced no objections to studying it. Indeed, the Politico article notes, "If the Republican Party is undergoing a shift on climate, it is at its earliest, most incremental stage."
What the article missed was a timely and dramatic counterexample: In California, where a handful of GOP state legislators recently provided the decisive votes in favor of actual climate legislation, they have come under brutal fire from other Republicans.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a bill on July 25 to extend the state's cap-and-trade system until 2030. He had negotiated with a handful of Republican legislators and with business lobbies, among others, to craft a relatively corporate-friendly bill, not as strong as many environmental justice advocates and other progressives wanted. In the end, three Democrats in the Assembly voted against it, so it was passed only because seven of their Republican colleagues voted for it. One Republican in the state Senate also voted in favor of the bill.
The blowback against those Republicans was immediate and intense. GOP leaders throughout California are now pushing for the ouster of Republican Assembly Leader Chad Mayes, who played a key role in negotiating the bill and rounding up other Republican votes for it.
And the blowback has gone national: Powerful D.C.-based anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist declared open season on Mayes and the seven other Republicans who voted “yes,” co-authoring an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times last week that accused Mayes of "treachery" and argued that the California legislature is a "big fat target for taxpayers who wish to go after Republicans behaving badly."
So even in California -- the most environmentally progressive state, where 72 percent of adults support an ambitious climate law that was passed last year -- Republicans are getting slammed for voting in favor of climate legislation.
Never mind that they actually helped companies avoid tougher regulations. Never mind that the oil and gas industry participated in drafting the bill and ultimately supported it, as did the agriculture lobby, the California Chamber of Commerce, and other major business groups. Never mind that the law could help Republicans kill the state's high-speed rail project, which they have long opposed. Never mind that the Republican Party desperately needs to change if it wants to regain a foothold in California; only 25.9 percent of the state’s voters are registered as GOP and 7 percent of those voters have told pollsters they’re considering leaving the party over its stance on climate change. Mayes and his compatriots went against GOP orthodoxy, and that’s what their fellow party members care about.
If this kind of backlash happens in the Golden State, just imagine what would happen in D.C. if the House Climate Solutions Caucus did anything more than gently gesture at the possibility of climate action. Conservative groups in D.C. aren't even satisfied with an administration that's been aggressively rolling back environmental protections; they are pushing the EPA to debate and undermine basic climate science.
National media should be reporting on the drama unfolding in California when they write about Republicans and climate change. It's been covered by newspapers in the state but missed by virtually all outlets beyond California's borders.
Politico is far from alone in pushing the idea that Republicans might be nearing a tipping point on climate change. Reporters and columnists at national outlets keep publishing versions of this seemingly counterintuitive story and glossing over a key truth: The base and the establishment of the Republican Party will enact harsh retribution on elected officials who endorse policies designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Vice published a piece on August 17 titled "The Republicans Trying to Fight Climate Denial in Their Own Party," which focused on the Climate Leadership Council, a group of former Republican officials who are pushing a carbon tax. The key word there is former; no current Republican members of Congress or prominent officeholders have publicly endorsed such a policy. The story made no mention of the ongoing fight in California.
Going back a few months, Time ran an article in May headlined "Meet the Republicans Taking On Climate Change," which mentioned both the Climate Solutions Caucus and the Climate Leadership Council. The Guardian ran one in April under the headline "The Republicans who care about climate change: 'They are done with the denial.'" It claimed that "there are fresh shoots of hope that, as a party, Republicans’ climate intransigence is shifting," and it, too, cited the climate caucus.
Journalists have been writing these sorts of stories for years. I wrote one myself in 2015 for Grist: "Getting warmer: More Republicans are starting to take climate change seriously." It was no more prescient than the others. It began by noting that then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) had come out in support of President Obama's Clean Power Plan. But the next year, the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity announced that it didn't like Ayotte's embrace of "Obama’s far-left environmental agenda," so it pulled its support from her re-election campaign, and she went on to lose to her Democratic challenger.
Go all the way back to 2010 for a classic of the genre, a Thomas Friedman opinion column in The New York Times titled "How the G.O.P. Goes Green," which praised Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for "courageously" trying to craft a bipartisan climate bill. Less than four months later, Graham bailed from the whole enterprise and helped to ensure that no climate legislation would pass during the Obama presidency.
It's nice that a handful of congressional Republicans are taking baby steps toward acknowledging that climate change is a big problem that demands big solutions. But their moves are far from courageous, and the media adulation they get is all out of proportion to their clout. Norquist is more influential on this issue than all of the climate-concerned congressional Republicans combined, a fact most journalists are not acknowledging, and Norquist reiterated his die-hard opposition to a carbon tax just last week.
Many of the articles about Republicans turning over a new leaf on climate cite Bob Inglis or the group he runs, RepublicEN, which promotes conservative climate solutions. Inglis was a U.S. representative from South Carolina until he got primaried out in 2010, in part because he called for a carbon tax. Norquist's organization, Americans for Tax Reform, gave a boost to Inglis' primary challenger. In the years since, Inglis has been working doggedly to get other Republicans to take climate change seriously, but if they followed his advice at this point, they'd likely get booted out in a primary too.
Just like there's no Donald Trump pivot, there's no Republican climate pivot. We'll know we're seeing real change when more than a handful of GOP lawmakers take a risky vote for actual policy to reduce carbon emissions. Until then, journalists should avoid writing trend stories about this nonexistent trend.
There are lots of reasons to be skeptical of the forthcoming study from the Department of Energy
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.
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.
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 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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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:
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."
The Solar Energy Industries Association summarized some of these studies:
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.
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.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Americans will face greater hardship if Republicans in Congress succeed in reversing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) patient protections and expansion of Medicaid -- and this is especially true for people living with HIV -- yet, print and television news have almost completely ignored their stories.
LGBTQ Americans deal with higher rates of poverty, greater need for Medicaid, and higher rates of HIV infection than the general population. Republican plans to decimate Medicaid and roll back patient protections will create disproportionate impacts for LGBTQ Americans. Yet, according to new research from Media Matters, major print and television news outlets have been virtually silent on how GOP health care proposals may harm members of the LGBTQ community.
Media Matters reviewed major broadcast and cable news providers (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) available via Nexis from May 4 through July 13 and found only two significant segments discussing how the Republican health care rollback would affect LGBTQ people and only two other unrelated segments discussing how the rollback would affect Americans living with HIV. A Media Matters review during the same period of time of print newspapers available via Nexis and Factiva (Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal) found only three print articles that discussed how the GOP health care plan may affect the LGBTQ community and/or people living with HIV.
A July 12 analysis from Media Matters found a similar lack of reporting by major television and print news outlets on how communities of color may be affected by Republican health care proposals. Additional Media Matters research has found that television news missed an opportunity to report on the unprecedented nature of the Senate’s health care secrecy and that television coverage had drowned out reports on how the legislation would impact tens of millions of Americans in favor of airing stories focused on the bill’s political machinations. Previous Media Matters research revealed that newspapers kept reports on health care off the front page during crucial periods of debate and that broadcast and cable news coverage neglected to consider diversity when booking guests to discuss health care-related topics.
LGBTQ news outlets including The Advocate, NBC Out, and The Washington Blade have all covered how Republicans plans to roll back Medicaid would affect LGBTQ Americans as well as the more than 1 million people living with HIV. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), Medicaid is of significant importance for many LGBTQ Americans who face higher rates of poverty than the general population, and these higher rates of poverty correlate with fewer LGBTQ Americans having health insurance. On July 6, CAP reported that the ACA repeal legislation being considered by the Republican-led Senate -- the so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) -- may result in up to 560,000 LGBTQ Americans losing Medicaid coverage while restricting health care access for transgender Americans. From the report:
The BCRA slashes Medicaid by $772 billion over 10 years and would end Medicaid expansion over time:
- Medicaid covers at least 1.8 million LGBTQ adults, including 31 percent of LGBTQ adults living with a disability and 40 percent of LGBTQ adults with incomes under 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
- An estimated 560,000 LGBTQ adults will lose coverage if Medicaid expansion is ended.
- The BCRA prohibits federal Medicaid reimbursements for Planned Parenthood for one year; Planned Parenthood is one of the country’s largest providers of transgender-inclusive health care.
On February 14, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the ACA’s Medicaid expansion has lowered the uninsurance rates for people living with HIV from 22 percent to 15 percent from 2012 to 2014. The California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Centers found that in California alone, the Medicaid expansion covered an additional 11,500 people living with HIV. Coverage and care for those living with HIV is of significant concern for many in the LGBTQ community, as the Kaiser Foundation points out, because gay and bisexual men make up 56 percent of Americans living with HIV and 55 percent of all HIV-related deaths in the U.S. despite comprising just 2 percent of the American population.
If congressional Republicans are successful enacting their health care agenda, it could cause real harm to the nearly 69 million Americans enrolled in Medicaid, making it crucially important that news outlets tell their stories.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis and Factiva search of print editions of the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal from May 4 through July 13, 2017. Media Matters also conducted a Nexis search of available transcripts of broadcast and cable news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC over the same time period.
We identified and reviewed all broadcast and cable news segments and noneditorial articles that included any of the following keywords: gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual or LGBT or LGBTQ or queer or same-sex within 10 words of health care or healthcare or health reform or AHCA or Trumpcare or American Health Care Act or ACA or Obamacare or Affordable Care Act or CBO or BHCA or Medicaid.
Right-wing media figures are trying to curry favor for the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) by attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA), pushing lies about the BCRA, disparaging the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or distorting its analysis of the legislation, and muddying the truth about the health care system in general. Here is a guide to the myths right-wing media are employing to sell the Senate Republican health care bill.