How the Koch Network's ‘Social Change' Strategy Is Built to Kill the Electric Car
By Ben Jervey
If it feels like the oil industry's attacks on the burgeoning electric car market are well coordinated, that's because they are. The industry is following a blueprint laid out decades ago, and refined ever since, by Koch network insiders.
In a revelatory article, published in Philanthropy Magazine in 1996, an executive vice president of Koch Industries named Richard Fink laid out a three-tiered integrated strategy for promoting libertarian ideals and free-market principles, and, in doing so, protecting the Kochs' sprawling petrochemical refining and shipping businesses.
Fink, who also led the Charles Koch Foundation, described the strategy for investing the Kochs' fortunes through grants and financial support to organizations and individuals at different stages of policy development and implementation, from universities to think tanks to advocacy groups, all of which, in Fink's words, "present competing claims for being the best place to invest resources." Rather than prioritize grantmaking to one of these levels, the Koch network has invested heavily in all three.
Charles Koch, April 2019. Credit: Gavin Peters, CC BY-SA 3.0
Describing this "Structure of Social Change," Fink writes:
"At the higher stages we have the investment in the intellectual raw materials, that is, the exploration and production of abstract concepts and theories. These still come primarily (though not exclusively) from the research done by scholars at our universities …
In the middle stages, ideas are applied to a relevant context and molded into needed solutions for real-world problems. This is the work of the think tanks and policy institutions …
But while the think tanks excel at developing new policy and articulating its benefits, they are less able to implement change. Citizen activist or implementation groups are needed in the final stage to take the policy ideas from the think tanks and translate them into proposals that citizens can understand and act upon."
Today, as the federal and state governments consider their roles in accelerating adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), particularly in light of the climate crisis, we can see the effectiveness of these investments play out in the public policy debates.
Whether through highly-coordinated attacks on the federal EV tax credit or interventions in arcane proceedings in state public utility commissions (PUC) — and through public and covert efforts to spread disinformation — the beneficiaries of the Kochs' strategic funding are working to slow the transition to zero-emission, plug-in vehicles, effectively preserving the market demand for the refined petroleum products the Koch empire is selling.
Academia: The 'Intellectual Raw Materials' for the EV Fight
The Koch network has spent decades investing in colleges and universities, oftentimes funding faculty positions or free market centers and programs and staffing them with ideologically aligned academics. In recent years, this funding has come under considerable scrutiny, and much has been reported on the strings attached to funding of programs like the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University and the Department of Economics at Florida State University.
By design, this is an "investment in the intellectual raw materials," as Fink wrote, "that is, the exploration and production of abstract concepts and theories."
The abstract nature of such academic exploration makes it a little harder to see the impact of the Koch network's investments in universities on a single policy issue as discreet as transportation electrification. But not impossible.
Tossback Tuesday to NY Times coverage of our work at GMU. https://t.co/z360fHt0HV— UnKoch My Campus (@UnKochCampus) June 25, 2019
Indeed, some of the Kochs' chosen academics and Koch-funded centers have spoken publicly to the issue.
One of the most visible academic figures arguing against the federal EV tax credit is Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center. Last fall, as Congress considered a couple of opposing bills — a bipartisan proposal to extend the tax credit and another to cancel it — de Rugy railed against the tax credit in an op-ed.
It's worth noting that the bill to eliminate the credit was introduced by Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third largest recipient of Koch Industries donations in the Senate, and that Koch Industries formally lobbied for Barrasso's bill. De Rugy wrote that "Barrasso's proposal makes the tax code simpler and less distortionary, making it the most economically sound."
Earlier this year, de Rugy wrote another op-ed bashing the bipartisan support for the federal EV tax credit, and describing the consumer tax incentive as a "corporate handout."
Another Mercatus Center economist, Matthew Mitchell, publishes frequently on the subjects of government favoritism and privilege, making the popular free-market argument that the government shouldn't support private industries through fiscal policies like tax preferences, loan guarantees and direct subsidization.
Curiously, Mitchell never writes of the massive subsidies enjoyed by the mature oil and gas industries, which the U.S. treasury has calculated out to $4.7 billion per year. Nor does he take issue with the more than $500 million that Koch Industries itself — the second largest private company in the U.S. — has benefited from over the past two decades, according to the Subsidy Tracker built by Good Jobs First. Mitchell does, however, use Tesla as a "beautiful illustration of the problem of favoritism and crony capitalism" in a video he narrates for the Federalist Society, and in a number of related articles.
It's more common for Koch-funded academics to influence the EV policy discussion indirectly, through the "abstract concepts and theories" that Fink described or through other related issues.
The gasoline tax provides a good example. The Koch network opposes any increase to federal or state gas taxes, for obvious reasons — the taxes would make Koch Industries' refined petroleum products more expensive (and make alternatives like mass transit and electric cars more attractive). However, gas taxes typically fund roads, and gas tax revenues are dwindling as they haven't kept pace with inflation and cars have gotten far more fuel efficient.
Koch Student Commons, on the ground floor of the University of Kansas' business school. Credit: Frank Morris / KCUR, public domain
The Koch network is actively pushing the argument that electric vehicles, which don't pay a gas tax, are to blame for highway funding shortfalls, despite vast evidence to the contrary. Some states have enacted special EV fees to bolster highway funds, and Senator Barrasso is spearheading an effort to create a new fee at the federal level. This despite a recent report by Consumer Reports which found that the majority of these fees are punitive in that they charge plug-in drivers more than the equivalent that gas-powered cars would generate in gas taxes annually.
Even so, some Koch-funded academics have argued recently against raising gas taxes, while taking shots at electric cars. Writing in the Orange County Register last year, a professor and research fellow from Utah State University's Koch-funded program claim that "The decline in gas-tax revenue caused by the shift away from internal-combustion engines is stressing the highway trust funds in many states," adding that some states now "charge special fees for electric-car owners to compensate for the lost revenue."
Similarly, in a recent op-ed in Forbes, Adam Milsap, the associate director of the Koch-funded L. Charles Hilton Jr. Center for the Study of Economic Prosperity and Individual Opportunity at Florida State University, writes that "the gas tax is not the long-term funding answer" for road funds. While Milsap doesn't promote a fee for EVs, he does portray them as a growing part of the problem. Milsap is, to borrow Mitchell's phrase, "a perfect illustration" of the Koch-funded higher ed ecosystem.
In a 2014 panel on "Leveraging Science and the Universities" at the Koch Freedom Partners donor summit session, Milsap described how Koch-funded programs — like George Mason University's Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies — trained him to cultivate a "new talent pipeline" for all levels of the Koch network. He also described how academics should use all "viable mediums," including "major Republican blogs, op-eds and policy briefs" to spread ideas to a broader, more popular audience, as he regularly does on Forbes and in other outlets.
Think Tanks: Translating Free Market Ideas to EV Antagonism
Fink described the role of think tanks as translating ideas into actual solutions and policy proposals. Here, at this stage, "ideas are applied to a relevant context and molded into needed solutions for real-world problems."
The role that think tanks and policy institutions play in fighting against EV-friendly policies cannot be overstated, as they develop and push deceptive talking points about electric cars into the public policy debates, and even produce reports and "studies" that cherry-pick data to promote a burn-more-gas agenda.
Support for free market principles was strong at CPAC 2018. Credit: Zach D. Roberts for DeSmog
As Elliot Negin of the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote, "these think tanks and advocacy groups essentially function as public relations arms for their benefactors, representing their interests under the guise of being neutral, albeit conservative, policy shops."
Negin references a September 2018 letter, which DeSmog also reported extensively on, that reveals the breadth of the Koch think tank influence in the debate over the federal EV tax credit. The letter, signed by 30 self-described "conservative free-market organizations" — the majority of which have clear ties to Charles Koch and Koch Industries through their funding or leadership — called for Congress to halt the expansion of the EV tax credit, or to eliminate it entirely.
If there is a central hub of the Koch network's think tank efforts, it appears to be the American Energy Alliance (AEA), which organized the letter to Congress.
The AEA is the advocacy wing of the Institute for Energy Research, both of which receive Koch funding. Both groups are lead by Tom Pyle, who has a long history of working with and for the Koch brothers and Koch Industries. He was the top lobbyist at Koch Industries, and then later as a private lobbyist, he lobbied on behalf of Koch Industries and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (now the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers), of which Koch Industries is a core and influential member.
The AEA has been consistently vocal in its opposition to the electric vehicle tax credit, and in June released a now-annual deceptive push poll that relied on demonstrably false data and leading questions to allege that Americans don't support the tax credit.
Col. William Knight holds a battery-charging device for a plug-in electric vehicle at Joint Base Andrews, which is replacing its entire passenger vehicle fleet with electric models. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo / Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen, public domain
Joining Pyle in signing the letter were representatives of another 29 organizations, at least 17 of which have clear, demonstrable ties to the Koch network.
There's the "Action" arm of the Koch-funded corporate bill mill the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative advocacy group dedicated to "economic freedom" that has received funding from ExxonMobil, Texaco and the family foundations of both Koch brothers.
Then there's American Commitment, run by Phil Kerpen, a former vice president of Americans for Prosperity (founded and funded by the Kochs). And don't forget Less Government, an "organization dedicated to reducing the power of government and protecting the First Amendment from governmental assault," founded and run by Seton Motley, staunch Koch defender, who is also a policy adviser to the climate science-denying Heartland Institute, which has received millions in grants from Koch family network foundations.
And there's Frontiers of Freedom, run by George Landrith, a group which has received significant funding from Koch network foundations and dark money organizations like DonorsTrust, and which launched an offshoot called the Energy Equality Coalition to battle against the federal electric vehicle tax credit.
Besides collaborating on the occasional letter to Congress, representatives from these groups regularly reach out into the public sphere to influence public opinion and bend political will.
Gas cars facing off against electric cars. Credit: Electrek
When the Energy Equality Coalition launched, one of the group's board members, George Landrith, told The Weekly Standard, "Working-class people are paying taxes to subsidize luxury goods for the richest among us … We believe there should be energy equality, not special treatment for the wealthy." Landrith's comment anticipated a talking point that would become a favorite of the Koch network, one that has been repeated dozens, if not hundreds, of times in op-eds and commentaries penned by Koch reps.
Over a two-month span after Senator Barrasso introduced his bill to eliminate the EV tax credit last fall, a flurry of such pieces hit the presses. In December 2018, Jonathan Lesser of the Manhattan Institute (which has received more than $2.6 million from Koch foundations) tried to paint the EV tax credit as "inequitable" in Investors Business Daily.
A couple days later, Landrith argued the same in The Daily Caller. Then came Ross Marchand of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (at least $1.1 million from Koch groups), bashing the "EV tax credit gravy train," and Drew Johnson of the National Center for Public Policy Research (at least $1 million from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund) asking readers of the Austin American Statesmen to "Imagine taxing middle-class families to help rich folks buy luxury cars."
This echo chamber has proven effective. In February 2019, Senator Barrasso himself wrote in a FoxNews op-ed that "Every time one of these cars sells, the U.S. taxpayer must help pay for it," and also stated inaccurately that "Eight out of 10 electric-car tax credits go to households earning at least $100,000 — buyers who don't need a subsidy." Speaking in the Senate, Barrasso repeated that the EV program "disproportionately subsidizes wealthy buyers" and that "hard-working Wyoming taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidize wealthy California luxury-car buyers."
It's worth noting that this particular talking point is intentionally misleading — leaving out the huge contribution of electric car leases — and is easily debunked. (See our explanation on Koch vs. Clean here, and check out the rest of our EV Facts while you're there.)
Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, DC. Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0
So, where does it come from? That brings us to the other main purpose of the Kochs' investments in think tanks: producing the raw materials for the disinformation that gets pumped through the conservative echo chamber.
The "eight of out 10" statistic that has been repeated ad nauseum is typically attributed to a report by Wayne Winegarden of the Pacific Research Institute (which has received $1.7 million from Koch foundations). It has been roundly debunked for cherrypicking outdated statistics and ignoring leased vehicles, which play a significant role in the EV market.
Yet the study has been cited in countless articles and op-eds, including those described above and others published in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, the National Review and more, as well as in letters to Congressional leaders, including the one described above. Clearly, the Koch network's investments in the Pacific Research Institute are paying off.
The institute's product is one of a handful of reports and studies that Koch network commentators will regularly cite in their attacks on electric cars. Another comes from the Manhattan Institute, supporting the obviously misleading claims that widespread adoption of electric cars would increase air pollution and have a negligible impact on the global climate. Another, by NERA Economic Consulting, was commissioned by a subsidiary of Koch Industries and is often referenced to support macroeconomic arguments against lifting the EV tax credit's cap.
To review: The Koch network's massive investment in think tanks and policy institutions not only funds the production of deceptive talking points, but also the voices from seemingly reputable organizations who pump the disinformation through the echo chamber and influence public opinion and shape political will.
The Ground Game: Citizen Activist Organizations and Front Groups
In his magazine article, "Structure of Social Change," Fink wrote that "Citizen activist or implementation groups are needed in the final stage to take the policy ideas from the think tanks and translate them into proposals that citizens can understand and act upon."
To this end, the Kochs' sprawling 501(c)4 advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is a massively influential player, with more than 2.3 million members and operations in 35 states. The national AFP team operates publicly much like the think tanks described above — see, for instance, this op-ed on why "Tesla drivers don't need taxpayer handouts" by an AFP policy analyst, or the chief government affairs officer's signature on the EV tax credit letter.
Senator Marco Rubio at an Americans for Prosperity "Road to Reform" event in Manchester, New Hampshire in 2015. Credit: Michael Vadon, CC BY-SA 2.0
But at the state level and local level, AFP chapters work more directly to rally voters and pressure elected and appointed policymakers.
As a number of states consider policies and regulations concerning electric vehicles, AFP's influence is growing. They are even intervening in arcane electric utility regulatory proceedings. As POLITICO recently reported, AFP's state chapters have mobilized against utility investments in EV charging infrastructure in Arizona, Illinois and Iowa.
Various AFP state chapters have also pushed legislators to pass annual EV registration fees, many inspired by a model resolution discussed for years at the Koch-funded and -controlled ALEC meetings. The model resolution that passed at last fall's ALEC meeting was written and promoted by none other than Tom Pyle of the American Energy Alliance, as revealed in emails obtained by the corporate watchdog Documented, providing yet another example of how the policy influence flows through this multi-tiered Koch network.
In Colorado in 2017, AFP's state chapter lobbied aggresively for a bill that would end the state's tax incentive for the purchase of a new electric car. The effort paid off, as the state legislature canceled the tax credit. (Though the victory was short-lived, as the Democrats swept the statewide offices in the 2018 elections and quickly introduced a new tax incentive.)
Colorado, a recent hotbed of EV policy action, hosts more Koch-tied ground game groups than just AFP.
Earlier this year, a group called the Freedom to Drive Coalition launched, using the Koch's disinformation playbook to oppose efforts by the governor's office to introduce cleaner air standards and adopt low- and zero-emission vehicle mandates.
As DeSmog reported this summer, the coalition portrays itself as the voice of the Colorado driver, but is run by a handful of Colorado-based public affairs professionals. One of them is Sean Paige, a former director of Americans for Prosperity's Colorado chapter. The coalition itself includes car dealers and auto groups, some agricultural associations and the Colorado Petroleum Association.
Notably, the only national member is the American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers (AFPM), a national trade association representing 98 percent of oil refining capacity in the United States, in which Koch Industries is an influential member. (James Mahoney served as AFPM chairman while he was an executive vice president at Koch Industries, and there has been a perpetual revolving door between the leadership and staff at AFPM, Koch Industries, ALEC and the Institute for Energy Research.)
Similar efforts are evident on the ground in states across the country, wherever policymakers are considering proposals to help accelerate the transition to electric cars. Other efforts are less evident, but almost certainly underway.
The Pine Bend oil refinery in Rosemount, Minnesota, run by Flint Hills Resources, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Credit: Tony Webster, CC BY 2.0
The Koch ground game often runs campaigns through front groups that mask the Big Oil money and present a facade of public and consumer support. (Recall that Americans for Prosperity was once itself a little known political advocacy group masquerading as a decentralized grassroots libertarian movement that helped juice the early Tea Party upwelling.)
The Koch network and Marathon Petroleum were already revealed in a New York Times investigation to be behind a covert effort to bundle public comments in support of a rollback of President Obama's clean car standards, which the Trump administration is on the verge of formalizing. If that rollback survives certain legal challenges — which most legal experts doubt — it would force American drivers to burn an extra 500,000 barrels of gasoline every day, and would disincentivize automakers from producing and selling all-electric models that are currently in development.
While the Koch network's fingerprints on that effort were exposed, there are almost certainly more front groups that haven't yet been tied to Koch funding or coordination.
All told, the Koch network's investments throughout their "structure of social change" give politicians plenty of cover, through disinformation and the veneer of public support, to promote policies that put the brakes on the market for electric vehicles.
Then factor in the considerable cash invested directly in political campaigns by Koch Industries and its subsidiaries, and the dark money that flows from Koch-affiliated PACs, and the campaign-caliber ground game provided before elections by Americans for Prosperity, and the startling volume of voter data they've compiled in their i360 voter files.
That's how you get policymakers to spurn electric cars, instead supporting policies that only benefit the oil industry, at the expense of public health, the climate and the personal finances of American drivers.
This story originally appeared in DeSmogBlog. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
- Fees on Electric Cars, Influenced by Koch Network, Unfairly ... ›
- Koch Industries Lobbies Against Electric Vehicle Tax Credit ... ›
- Will Koch Pull the Plug on Electric Cars? - EcoWatch ›
Japan will release radioactive wastewater from the failed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, the government announced on Tuesday.
The water will be treated before release, and the International Atomic Energy Agency said the country's plans were in keeping with international practice, The New York Times reported. But the plan is opposed by the local fishing community, environmental groups and neighboring countries. Within hours of the announcement, protesters had gathered outside government offices in Tokyo and Fukushima, according to NPR.
"The Japanese government has once again failed the people of Fukushima," Greenpeace Japan Climate and Energy Campaigner Kazue Suzuki said in a statement. "The government has taken the wholly unjustified decision to deliberately contaminate the Pacific Ocean with radioactive wastes."
The dilemma of how to dispose of the water is one ten years in the making. In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan killed more than 19,000 people and caused three of six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to melt down, The New York Times explained. This resulted in the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and the cleanup efforts persist more than a decade later.
To keep the damaged reactors from melting down, cool water is flushed through them and then filtered to remove all radioactive material except for tritium. Up until now, the wastewater has been stored on site, but the government says the facility will run out of storage room next year. Water builds up at 170 tons per day, and there are now around 1.25 million tons stored in more than 1,000 tanks.
The government now plans to begin releasing the water into the ocean in two years time, according to a decision approved by cabinet ministers Tuesday. The process is expected to take decades.
"On the premise of strict compliance with regulatory standards that have been established, we select oceanic release," the government said in a statement reported by NPR.
Opposition to the move partly involves a lack of trust around what is actually in the water, as NPR reported. Both the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, say that the water only contains tritium, which cannot be separated from hydrogen and is only dangerous to humans in large amounts.
"But it turned out that the water contains more radioactive materials. But they didn't disclose that information before," Friends of the Earth Japan campaigner Ayumi Fukakusa told NPR. "That kind of attitude is not honest to people. They are making distrust by themselves."
In February, for example, a rockfish shipment was stopped when a sample caught near Fukushima tested positive for unsafe levels of cesium.
This incident also illustrates why local fishing communities oppose the release. Fish catches are already only 17.5 percent of what they were before the disaster, and the community worries the release of the water will make it impossible for them to sell what they do catch. They also feel the government went against its promises by deciding to release the water.
"They told us that they wouldn't release the water into the sea without the support of fishermen," fishery cooperative leader Kanji Tachiya told national broadcaster NHK, as CBS News reported. "We can't back this move to break that promise and release the water into the sea unilaterally."
Japan's neighbors also questioned the move. China called it "extremely irresponsible," and South Korea asked for a meeting with the Japanese ambassador in Seoul in response.
The U.S. State Department, however, said that it trusted Japan's judgement.
"In this unique and challenging situation, Japan has weighed the options and effects, has been transparent about its decision, and appears to have adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards," the department said in a statement reported by The New York Times.
But environmentalists argue that the government could have found a way to continue storing waste.
"Rather than using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by storing and processing the water over the long term, they have opted for the cheapest option, dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean," Greenpeace's Suzuki said.
- Japan's New Environmental Minister Calls for Closing Down All ... ›
- Radiation Along Fukushima Rivers Up to 200 Times Higher Than ... ›
Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier is referred to as the doomsday glacier because every year it contributes four percent to global sea level rise and acts as a stopper for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If the glacier were to collapse and take the sheet with it, that would raise global sea levels by around 10 feet. Now, a study published in Science Advances on April 9 warns that there is more warm water circling below the glacier than previously believed, making that collapse more likely.
"Our observations show warm water impinging from all sides on pinning points critical to ice-shelf stability, a scenario that may lead to unpinning and retreat," the study authors wrote. Pinning points are areas where the ice connects with the bedrock that provides stability, Earther explained.
The new paper is based on a 2019 expedition where an autonomous submarine named Ran explored the area beneath the glacier in order to measure the strength, salinity, oxygen content and temperature of the ocean currents that move beneath it, the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration explained in a press release.
"These were the first measurements ever performed beneath the ice front of Thwaites glacier," Anna Wåhlin, lead author and University of Gothenburg oceanography professor, explained in the press release. "Global sea level is affected by how much ice there is on land, and the biggest uncertainty in the forecasts is the future evolution of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet."
This isn't the first instance revealing the presence of warm water beneath the glacier. In January 2020, researchers drilled a bore hole through the glacier and recorded temperature readings of more than two degrees Celsius above freezing, EcoWatch reported at the time.
However, Ran's measurements were taken earlier and allow scientists to understand the warmer water's movement in more detail. Scientists now know that water as warm as 1.05 degrees Celsius is circulating around the glacier's vulnerable pinning points.
"The worry is that this water is coming into direct contact with the underside of the ice shelf at the point where the ice tongue and shallow seafloor meet," Alastair Graham, study co-author and University of Southern Florida associate professor of geological oceanography, told Earther. "This is the last stronghold for Thwaites and once it unpins from the sea bed at its very front, there is nothing else for the ice shelf to hold onto. That warm water is also likely mixing in and around the grounding line, deep into the cavity, and that means the glacier is also being attacked at its feet where it is resting on solid rock."
While this sounds grim, the fact that researchers were able to obtain the data is crucial for understanding and predicting the impacts of the climate crisis.
"The good news is that we are now, for the first time, collecting data that will enable us to model the dynamics of Thwaite's glacier. This data will help us better calculate ice melting in the future. With the help of new technology, we can improve the models and reduce the great uncertainty that now prevails around global sea level variations," Wåhlin said in the press release.
- Scientists Identify Tipping Points for Antarctica Glacier - EcoWatch ›
- Record Warm Water Measured Beneath Antarctica's 'Doomsday ... ›
- Antarctica's 'Doomsday Glacier' Is Starting to Crack - EcoWatch ›
By Jessica Corbett
Lead partners of a global consortium of news outlets that aims to improve reporting on the climate emergency released a statement on Monday urging journalists everywhere to treat their coverage of the rapidly heating planet with the same same level of urgency and intensity as they have the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since Covering Climate Now (CCNow) was co-founded in 2019 by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation in association with The Guardian and WNYC, over 460 media outlets — including Common Dreams — with a combined reach of two billion people have become partner organizations.
CCNow and eight of those partners are now inviting media outlets to sign on to the Climate Emergency Statement, which begins: "It's time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here. This is a statement of science, not politics."
The statement notes that a growing number of scientists are warning of the "climate emergency," from James Hansen, formerly of NASA, to the nearly 14,000 scientists from over 150 countries who have endorsed an emergency declaration.
"Why 'emergency'? Because words matter," the CCNow statement explains. "To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately. Failure to slash the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make the extraordinary heat, storms, wildfires, and ice melt of 2020 routine and could 'render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable,' warned a recent Scientific American article."
CCNow's initiative comes after U.S. government scientists said last week that "carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at anytime in the past 3.6 million years," with 2020 featuring a global surface average for CO2 of 412.5 parts per million (PPM) — which very likely would have been higher if not for the pandemic.
As Common Dreams reported last week, amid rising atmospheric carbon and inadequate emissions reduction plans, an international coalition of 70 health professional and civil society groups called on world leaders to learn from the pandemic and "make health a central focus of national climate policies."
"The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that health must be part and parcel of every government policy — and as recovery plans are drawn up this must apply to climate policy," said Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance.
CCNow also points to the public health crisis as a learning opportunity, describing the media's handling of it as "a useful model," considering that "guided by science, journalists have described the pandemic as an emergency, chronicled its devastating impacts, called out disinformation, and told audiences how to protect themselves (with masks, for example)."
"We need the same commitment to the climate story," the statement emphasizes.
Journalism should reflect what science says. https://t.co/MCbSRQMFch— The Nation (@The Nation)1618240621.0
CCNow executive director Mark Hertsgaard echoed that message Monday in The Nation, for which he serves as environment correspondent. He also addressed reservations that some reporters may have about supporting such a statement:
As journalists ourselves, we understand why some of our colleagues are cautious about initiatives like this Climate Emergency Statement, but we ask that they hear us out. Journalists rightly treasure our editorial independence, regarding it as essential to our credibility. To some of us, the term "climate emergency" may sound like advocacy or even activism — as if we're taking sides in a public dispute rather than simply reporting on it.
But the only side we're taking here is the side of science. As journalists, we must ground our coverage in facts. We must describe reality as accurately as we can, undeterred by how our reporting may appear to partisans of any stripe and unintimidated by efforts to deny science or otherwise spin facts.
According to Hertsgaard, "Signing the Climate Emergency Statement is a way for journalists and news outlets to alert their audiences that they will do justice to that story."
"But whether a given news outlet makes a public declaration by signing the statement," he added, "is less important than whether the outlet's coverage treats climate change like the emergency that scientists say it is."
Editor's Note: Common Dreams has signed on to the Climate Emergency Statement, which can be read in full below:
COVERING CLIMATE NOW STATEMENT ON THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY:
Journalism should reflect what the science says: the climate emergency is here.It's time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here.
This is a statement of science, not politics.
Thousands of scientists — including James Hansen, the NASA scientist who put the problem on the public agenda in 1988, and David King and Hans Schellnhuber, former science advisers to the British and German governments, respectively — have said humanity faces a "climate emergency."
Why "emergency"? Because words matter. To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately. Failure to slash the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make the extraordinary heat, storms, wildfires, and ice melt of 2020 routine and could "render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable," warned a recent Scientific American article.
The media's response to Covid-19 provides a useful model. Guided by science, journalists have described the pandemic as an emergency, chronicled its devastating impacts, called out disinformation, and told audiences how to protect themselves (with masks, for example).
We need the same commitment to the climate story.
We, the undersigned, invite journalists and news organizations everywhere to add your name to this Covering Climate Now statement on the climate emergency.
- Covering Climate Now
- Scientific American
- Columbia Journalism Review
- The Nation
- The Guardian
- Noticias Telemundo
- Al Jazeera English
- Asahi Shimbun
- La Repubblica
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- The Media's Climate Coverage Is Improving, but Time Is Very Short ›
- UN Releases Scientific Blueprint to Address Climate Emergencies ... ›
- 'Climate Emergency' Named Oxford Word of the Year - EcoWatch ›
- New Zealand Declares Climate Emergency - EcoWatch ›
- New Bill Says Biden Must Declare a National Climate Emergency ... ›
Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.
Plastic waste breaks down into smaller pieces until it becomes microscopic and gets swept up into the atmosphere, where it rides the jet stream and travels across continents, the Cornell Chronicle reported. Researchers discovered this has led to a global plastic cycle as microplastics permeate the environment, according to The Guardian.
"We found a lot of legacy plastic pollution everywhere we looked; it travels in the atmosphere and it deposits all over the world," Janice Brahney, lead author of the study and Utah State University assistant professor of natural resources, told the Cornell Chronicle. "This plastic is not new from this year. It's from what we've already dumped into the environment over several decades."
In the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers tested the most likely sources of more than 300 samples of airborne microplastics from 11 sites across the western U.S. To their surprise, the researchers found that almost none of the atmospheric microplastics came from plastic waste in cities and towns. "It just didn't work out that way," Professor Natalie Mahowald from Cornell University, who was part of the research team, told The Guardian.
It turns out that 84 percent of atmospheric microplastics came from roads, 11 percent from oceans and five percent from agricultural soil dust, the scientists wrote.
"We did the modeling to find out the sources, not knowing what the sources might be," Mahowald told the Cornell Chronicle. "It's amazing that this much plastic is in the atmosphere at that level, and unfortunately accumulating in the oceans and on land and just recirculating and moving everywhere, including remote places."
The scientists say the level of plastic pollution is expected to increase, raising "questions on the impact of accumulating plastics in the atmosphere on human health. The inhalation of particles can be irritating to lung tissue and lead to serious diseases," The Guardian reported.
The study coincides with other recent reports by researchers, who confirmed the existence of microplastics in New Zealand and Moscow, where airborne plastics are turning up in remote parts of snowy Siberia.
In the most recent study, scientists also learned that plastic particles were more likely to be blown from fields than roads in Africa and Asia, The Guardian reported.
As plastic production increases every year, the scientists stressed that there remains "large uncertainties in the transport, deposition, and source attribution of microplastics," and wrote that further research should be prioritized.
"What we're seeing right now is the accumulation of mismanaged plastics just going up. Some people think it's going to increase by tenfold [per decade]," Mahowald told The Guardian. "But maybe we could solve this before it becomes a huge problem, if we manage our plastics better, before they accumulate in the environment and swirl around everywhere."
- Microplastics Are Increasing in Our Lives, New Research Finds ... ›
- Microplastics Found in Human Organs for First Time - EcoWatch ›
- New Study: 15.5 Million Tons of Microplastics Litter Ocean Floor ... ›
By Michel Penke
More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.
Though made in large part of plastic, glass, ceramics, gold and copper, they also contain critical resources. The gallium used for LEDs and the camera flash, the tantalum in capacitors and indium that powers the display were all pulled from the ground — at a price for nature and people.
"Mining raw materials is always problematic, both with regard to human rights and ecology," said Melanie Müller, raw materials expert of the German think tank SWP. "Their production process is pretty toxic."
The gallium and indium in many phones comes from China or South Korea, the tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Rwanda. All in, such materials comprise less than ten grams of a phone's weight. But these grams finance an international mining industry that causes radioactive earth dumps, poisoned groundwater and Indigenous population displacement.
Environmental Damage: 'Nature Has Been Overexploited'
The problem is that modern technologies don't work without what are known as critical raw materials. Collectively, solar panels, drones, 3D printers and smartphone contain as many as 30 of these different elements sourced from around the globe. A prime example is lithium from Chile, which is essential in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.
"No one, not even within the industry, would deny that mining lithium causes enormous environmental damage," Müller explained, in reference to the artificial lakes companies create when flushing the metal out of underground brine reservoirs. "The process uses vast amounts of water, so you end up with these huge flooded areas where the lithium settles."
This means of extraction results in the destruction and contamination of the natural water system. Unique plants and animals lose access to groundwater and watering holes. There have also been reports of freshwater becoming salinated due to extensive acidic waste water during lithium mining.
But lithium is not the only raw material that causes damage. Securing just one ton of rare earth elements produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste, and has devastated large regions of China, said Günther Hilpert, head of the Asia Research Division of the German think tank SWP.
He says companies there have adopted a process of spraying acid over the mining areas in order to separate the rare earths from other ores, and that mined areas are often abandoned after excavation.
"They are no longer viable for agricultural use," Hilpert said. "Nature has been overexploited."
China is not the only country with low environmental mining standards and poor resource governance. In Madagascar, for example, a thriving illegal gem and metal mining sector has been linked to rainforest depletion and destruction of natural lemur habitats.
States like Madagascar, Rwanda and the DRC score poorly on the Environmental Performance Index that ranks 180 countries for their effort on factors including conservation, air quality, waste management and emissions. Environmentalists are therefore particularly concerned that these countries are mining highly toxic materials like beryllium, tantalum and cobalt.
But it is not only nature that suffers from the extraction of high-demand critical raw materials.
"It is a dirty, toxic, partly radioactive industry," Hilpert said. "China, for example, has never really cared about human rights when it comes to achieving production targets."
Dirty, Toxic, Radioactive: Working in the Mining Sector
One of the most extreme examples is Baotou, a Chinese city in Inner Mongolia, where rare earth mining poisoned surrounding farms and nearby villages, causing thousands of people to leave the area.
In 2012, The Guardian described a toxic lake created in conjunction with rare earth mining as "a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world."
Local residents reported health issues including aching legs, diabetes, osteoporosis and chest problems, The Guardian wrote.
South Africa has also been held up for turning a blind eye to the health impacts of mining.
"The platinum sector in South Africa has been criticized for performing very poorly on human rights — even within the raw materials sector," Müller said.
In 2012, security forces killed 34 miners who had been protesting poor working conditions and low wages at a mine owned by the British company Lonmin. What became known as the "Marikana massacre" triggered several spontaneous strikes across the country's mining sector.
Müller says miners can still face exposure to acid drainage — a frequent byproduct of platinum mining — that can cause chemical burns and severe lung damage. Though this can be prevented by a careful waste system.
Some progress was made in 2016 when the South African government announced plans to make mining companies pay $800 million (€679 million) for recycling acid mine water. But they didn't all comply. In 2020, activists sued Australian-owned mining company Mintails and the government to cover the cost of environmental cleanup.
Another massive issue around mining is water consumption. Since the extraction of critical raw materials is very water intensive, drought prone countries such as South Africa, have witnessed an increase in conflicts over supply.
For years, industry, government and the South African public debated – without a clear agreement – whether companies should get privileged access to water and how much the population may suffer from shortages.
Mining in Brazil: Replacing Nature, People, Land Rights
Beyond the direct health and environmental impact of mining toxic substances, quarrying critical raw materials destroys livelihoods, as developments in Brazil demonstrate.
"Brazil is the major worldwide niobium producer and reserves in [the state of] Minas Gerais would last more than 200 years [at the current rate of demand]," said Juliana Siqueira-Gay, environmental engineer and Ph.D. student at the University of São Paulo.
While the overall number of niobium mining requests is stagnating, the share of claims for Indigenous land has skyrocketed from 3 to 36 percent within one year. If granted, 23 percent of the Amazon forest and the homeland of 222 Indigenous groups could fall victim to deforestation in the name of mining, a study by Siqueira-Gay finds.
In early 2020, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a bill which would allow corporations to develop areas populated by Indigenous communities in the future. The law has not yet entered into force, but "this policy could have long-lasting negative effects on Brazil's socio-biodiversity," said Siqueira-Gay.
One example are the niobium reserves in Seis Lagos, in Brazil's northeast, which could be quarried to build electrolytic capacitors for smartphones.
"They overlap the Balaio Indigenous land and it would cause major impacts in Indigenous communities by clearing forests responsible for providing food, raw materials and regulating the local climate," Siqueira-Gay explained.
She says scientific good practice guidelines offer a blueprint for sustainable mining that adheres to human rights and protects forests. Quarries in South America — and especially Brazil — funded by multilaterial banks like the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group have to follow these guidelines, Siqueira-Gay said.
They force companies to develop sustainable water supply, minimize acid exposure and re-vegetate mined surfaces. "First, negative impacts must be avoided, then minimized and at last compensated — not the other way around."
Reposted with permission from DW.