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Tips for Responding to Climate Change Denial and Anti-Clean Energy Attacks in the Media

It is becoming more and more obvious that powerful economic interests associated with the harmful fossil fuel industry often spread anti-scientific, anti-factual misinformation relating to climate change and clean energy in the mainstream media. This post will explore some recent examples while providing you with a few simple methods for countering what is essentially a PR industry of lies for profit.

(Day after day we can see The Madhouse Effect in action in the form of major media sources providing a platform for the agents of the fossil fuel industry to cast doubt and aspersions on both science and clean energy.)

Typically, it would fall to a responsible government to reign in bad media actors that spread such fraudulent reports in the press. Reports by paid industry agents that masquerade as news and fact, but are just the opposite. Daily we are inundated with false and misleading attacks on clean energy leaders like Tesla even as major sources baldly spread the anti-factual claims of climate change denialists.

But despite a broad assault against basic reason enabled by some of the most powerful media outlets in the land, the tools are there for us regular folks to counter such attempts to spread doubt, uncertainty, and fear (FUD). We just require the will and the wherewithal to use them. Today, I’m going to pull two blatantly false reports — one from the Wall Street Journal, and one from Politico — to provide examples of the variety of crud we are subjected to every single day.

But before I do, I’m going to share with you my simple little method for dealing with the nonsense. In short — QUADS is a good basic rule of thumb:

  1. Question strange claims.
  2. Ask a scientist who works in the field.
  3. Do the research.
  4. Speak out.

The Wall Street Journal Makes the Ridiculous Statement that Sea Level Rise isn’t Caused by Global Warming

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published this ludicrous article written by known climate change denier S. Fred Singer. The article, entitled ‘The Sea Level is Rising, But Not Because of Climate Change’ is quite frankly not worth the paper or the electrons used to bring it to our eyes. Simply put, Singer baselessly casts doubt on long established scientific facts related to sea level rise caused by climate change. Then he makes the equally baseless claim that we can’t do anything about it but build dikes (Fred has long attacked policies promoting carbon emissions reductions — like those that advance the needed transition to renewable energy).

These are indeed strange claims worthy of questioning. And if we were to ask an actual climate scientist, we would find this to be the response:

Doing a little research we find that NASA states:

Sea level rise is caused primarily by two factors related to global warming: the added water from melting ice sheets and glaciers and the expansion of seawater as it warms.

A statement of fact that is validated again and again and again across the field of climate science by such luminaries as the World Meteorological Organization, the Met Office, the IPCC, NOAA, JAXA and ever other major climate science body known to man.

Facts that put Mann’s rebuke to Singer in the context of yes, this guy just basically said the climate science equivalent of ‘objects are falling, but not because of gravity.’ Making Singer here more than just a bit of a voice in the wilderness. Which begs the question — why would the Wall Street Journal give him such a large platform from which to project his nonsense statements?

Turning our ‘do the research’ focus back to Singer we find that he’s a big name among the usual suspects of climate change denial nonsense. According to Desmogblog:

Singer founded the Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) in 1990, a 501(c)(3) “educational group” focusing on global warming denial….Leaked documents obtained by DeSmog revealed that Fred Singer has also been receiving $5,000 a month from the Heartland Institute(emphasis added).”

For those who don’t follow climate deniers, the Heartland Institute is an organization that feeds off the money of fossil fuel donors (like Exxon) and then turns around to publish numerous anti-scientific and anti-factual reports that attempt to fog the issue of climate change. This serves the simple polluting industry purpose of delaying or denying helpful government policy, business and social action meant to address climate change. Which is the main reason for the existence of Fred Singer as a media figure and for the endless repetition of his quack-quackish statements.

Politico Says Electrical Vehicles Increase Air Pollution — Which is a Complete and Utter Bullshit Claim

In a similar vein, but along a different tac, on the same day the major media source — Politico — published an equally ridiculous report by the appropriately named Jonathan Lesser falsely stating that electrical vehicles increase air pollution. Our response to Lesser and Politico calls them out for what amounts to publishing a gigantic stinking heap of nonsense:

Digging into actual research and looking at what actual scientists at The Union of Concerned Scientists have to say we find that:

Electric cars and trucks are powered by electricity, which as an energy source is cleaner and cheaper than oil. Even when the electricity comes from the dirtiest coal-dominated grid, electric vehicles (EVs) still produce less global warming pollution than their conventional counterparts, and with fewer tailpipe emissions (or none at all).

Such widely varied and notable institutions like the Department of Energy  and NRDC agree.

So how did Jonathan Lesser produce his claim? In short he double counted the impact of electricity based emissions, assumed all electricity comes from coal (just 30 percent and falling comes from coal in the U.S.), ignored the fact that EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions, overlooked the massive efficiency gains that come from EVs, and ignored the fact that EVs mated with wind and solar produced zero emissions in use. Further, Lesser seems to have fiddled with material lifetime emissions results to generate the most pessimistic view imaginable. One that has no basis in actual fact or reality.

(According to this report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, EVs keep getting cleaner and cleaner at a pace that is impossible to match by their fossil fuel based counter parts. See comparison tool here.)

To be clear, if EVs were only plugged in to coal power plants on net, then it is likely that we would see some specific instances of particulate pollution rise (which Lesser appears to be cherry picking). And when more EVs are used, electrical power demand increases. But not all power generation comes from coal. In fact, coal plants are being shut down all over the world due to an inability to compete with renewables and natural gas. And as cleaner sources of energy keep getting added at higher rates, total life cycle emissions from EVs, which are already lower than ICEs keep falling.

On a net basis, the Union of Concerned Scientists is correct. Due to the simple fact that an electrical motor is x2 to x3 more efficient than an ICE, simply switching the motor results in considerable emissions reductions. However, add in the battery and you have a vehicle that is capable of zero emissions in use when mated to wind and solar.

Moving on, we find that Johnathan Lesser happens to be a rather biased source of information. According to both Politico and Desmogblog, Lesser is a writer for the Manhattan Institute. According to Desmogblog:

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, originally known as the International Center for Economic Policy Studies, was founded in 1978 by Anthony Fisher and William Casey and in recent years has promoted climate science contrarianism while defending policies supporting the development of fossil fuels (emphasis added).

The Institute notably receives most of its funding from fossil fuel related interests. Including 1.7 million from the Mercer Foundation, 1 million from Exxon Mobile, and 2.7 million from the Koch Brothers. So reading Lesser’s article is like getting a direct shot of fossil fuel industry PR messaging. In other words — not an honest report devoid of serious conflict of interest related issues.

Speaking Out is Necessary to Expose Bad Actors

It’s understandable that individuals may feel powerless in the face of vast media empires like Politico and the Wall Street Journal who brazenly publish the slanted and unscientific views of fossil fuel industry shills without even providing responsible warning or qualification. However, each of us has a voice with its own degree of power as well. A power that is lost if we stand silent. But one that is enabled if we lift our voices and speak out. The truth itself is a powerful tool. And if we first learn what is true and then communicate that truth, we can have a shot at overcoming the harmful interests who’ve generated such a vastly damaging, short-sighted, and self-serving fire-hose spume of misinformation.

 

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