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It's been a big week for secretive lobbying group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), although not the kind of big week they'd probably prefer.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
This week, Google, followed by Facebook and Yelp!, announced that they were dropping out of the organization, which signs up corporations, nonprofits and legislators to support "model legislation" intended to benefit big business above all. And Google CEO Eric Schmidt specifically took a shot at ALEC's climate change policies saying it was "just literally lying."
ALEC CEO Lisa B. Nelson shot back with an indignant statement that said, “It is unfortunate to learn Google has ended its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council as a result of public pressure from left-leaning individuals and organizations who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial. In the case of energy generation, ALEC believes renewable energy should expand based on consumer demand, not as a result of a government mandate. Google’s renewable energy commitment—as well as those found throughout private industry—is completely consistent with ALEC policy because the companies in question chose renewables absent a mandate."
But in fact, ALEC promotes many policies, programs and pieces of legislation contingent on denying climate science. Environmental advocacy group Forecast the Facts, which has organized campaigns to pressure companies like Google to drop ALEC, and the Center for Media and Democracy, which monitors p.r. spin, helpfully provided five ways ALEC does this.
1. ALEC invites climate deniers to its annual meetings to provide legislators with misinformation. At its most recent meeting, groups like far-right thing tank the Heartland institute and nonprofit Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which promotes unregulated development, armed with talking points, including that there is no need to reduce carbon emissions and that in fact they are healthy, that there is no scientific consensus about human-caused climate change, and that the likely benefits of man-made global warming (which doesn't exist) exceed the likely costs.
2. ALEC's "model legislation" on climate says that while human activity has led to climate change and global warming, this could be beneficial. It suggests establishing a commission to do more research, even though the research has been done and confirmed, thus delaying action indefinitely.
3. ALEC's "model legislation" on science education promotes the "teach both sides" approach favored by anti-evolution types when there is no scientific debate on climate change. Its so-called "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" requires that a range of perspectives be offered and that students be encouraged to explore even erroneous contentions to form their own opinions. Tennessee, Texas, South Dakota and Louisiana have all passed nearly identically worded bills, crafted by ALEC, opening the door to bringing climate denial into science classrooms.
4. Prominent ALEC leaders are climate deniers. Its incoming national chair, state rep. Phil King (R-TX) has said,"I think the global warming theory is bad science" and has accused President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency of pushing "unproven" technologies intended not for the "stated objective of combating climate change" but to crush the coal industry. Its current chair, state rep. John Piscopo (R-CT), claims, "There are ice ages and periods of warming throughout Earth’s history. We could be in a period between ice ages. It’s not human-induced, not catastrophic. It’s nothing to panic over. I think it’s a move by government to take over and tax our energy system." And Ohio state senator Bill Seitz, an ALEC board member, was the prime mover behind Ohio's recent move to freeze its renewable energy standards, the first state in the U.S. to do so. He has referred to the standards as "some Stalinist government mandating" and is pushing for permanent total repeal.
5. ALEC has a long history of denying climate science, including a 2005 report called "Top 1o Myths about Global Warming," which appeared on its website for many years. Among the "myths" it purported to debunk: that human activity causes global warming, that extreme weather events are caused by global warming, that there's been any significant warming at all in the last century and that what it calls "carbon reduction schemes" will be relatively inexpensive.
Ultimately, it's not about whether ALEC really believes that climate change is happening or that it's human-caused. It's about promoting legislation embodying "free market principles" that benefit its members, which include many major polluters such as Peabody Energy, ExxonMobile, Chevron and TransCanada, impacts be damned.
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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