Who's Driving Climate Denial? Big Companies and Conservative Media
A new study from professors at Oklahoma State University has found that Republicans and Democrats have never been so far apart on climate issues.
Fox News' Megyn Kelly interviews The Weather Channel co-founder John ColemanMedia Matters for America
"What was once a modest tendency for Congressional Republicans to be less pro-environmental than their Democratic counterparts has become a chasm—with Republicans taking near-unanimous anti-environmental stances on relevant legislation in recent years, especially 2015," the study said.
This distance between the parties was further exacerbated by the rise of the Koch-funded Tea Party, which took the hard line of fully dismissing the climate change threat, often making climate change a lightning rod for voters who were outraged at Washington.
As they stoked fears about the U.S. government attempting to pass legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Tea Party normalized climate denial throughout the Republican Party, according to Oklahoma State University's Prof. Riley E. Dunlap and Jerrod H. Yarosh, and Michigan State Associate Professor Aaron M. McCright.
Global warming views by party controlling for education and era. Illustration: Dunlap et al. (2016)The Gallup Organization
Another study, cited by The Guardian Tuesday, concludes that the growth of conservative media has cemented this gap.
Conservative newspaper The Wall Street Journal was found to publish inaccurate information on the topic, according to a report by Media Matters for America.
"Out of 93 climate-related opinion pieces published in the Journal during the time period examined, 31 featured climate science denial or other scientifically inaccurate claims about climate change (33 percent)," Media Matters for America said.
A 2013 study found that those Americans who consumed news from conservative news sources such as Fox had a higher distrust of science and scientists, than did those who read or watched non-conservative media.
Breaking through to those who fiercely deny the existence of climate change is no easy task, the Oklahoma State University researchers concluded.
The countermovement includes "fossil fuel corporations and business allies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, conservative think tanks and their funders, conservative media, and a large supporting cast of front groups, bloggers and contrarian scientists," the Oklahoma State University study said.
"Does any persuasive framing strategy hold special promise for penetrating Republicans' partisan/ideological identities? The evidence so far gives us little basis for optimism."
Since Republicans have spent so long telling their constituents that climate change is not a serious threat, they are in no position to do anything about it in government.
This leaves the Democrats with the responsibility to pass as much legislation to lessen the impact of climate change and deal with its consequences. Since Republicans insist on vetoing nearly all legislation concerning the threat, it is likely that if Hillary Clinton is elected, she will have to follow Obama's footsteps and implement policy through executive actions.
Conservative media and politicians may not be the only reasons why Americans are so divided about the climate: Corporate groups are also hedging their bets and throwing investment behind both sides, an investigation by Reuters found.
Some of the country's most vocal corporate supporters of Obama's environmental programs have been found to be funding some of the most ardent anti-climate change politicians in Washington. Among these companies are PepsiCo, Dupont and Google, Reuters said on Tuesday.
Though companies often split their campaign donations to both parties, arguing for both sides of a particular issue may be a problem, the head of the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute Jon Kukomnik told Reuters.
"There really needs to be a process that looks at these issues … at C-suite and board levels on a periodic basis," he said.
Of the 35 biggest U.S. companies which signed on to Obama's American Business Act on Climate Change Pledge last year, 25 of these companies are supporting Congressional climate deniers by helping to fund their campaigns.
These climate deniers include North Dakota Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer, who once argued the Earth was getting cooler and not warmer, and Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, who once held up a snowball in the Senate to prove that global warming is not occurring.
Other companies which signed the environmental pact and then gave political donations to climate deniers are Mondelez, Google, AT&T, Verizon and GE.
Only GE responded to Reuters' requests for comment, saying it supports "elected officials based on a wide range of issues." The company insists it has been "outspoken about the need to address climate change."
Sen. Inhofe said businesses might have signed the environmental pact because it appeared politically expedient to do so at that moment.
"These are competitive companies, and the board might have said, 'Look, right now it might be a popular thing to join this, and there's no downside since we're not really committing to anything,'" he said.
However, investors may want companies to be more committed to environmental sustainability, Lauren Compere of Boston Common Asset Management said.
"No company wants to be perceived as espousing progressive climate policies on the one hand, while funding climate deniers on the other," she said.
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Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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