Mainstream Media's 'Disinformation Campaign' On Renewables
According to Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, renewables are successful in Germany and not in the U.S. because Germany has “got a lot more sun than we do.” Sure, California might get sun now and then, Joshi conceded during her now-infamous flub, "but here on the East Coast, it's just not going to work." (She recanted the next day while adding new errors.)
Actually, Germany gets only about as much annual sun as Seattle or Alaska; its sunniest region gets less sun than almost anywhere in the lower 48 states. This underscores an important point: solar power works and competes not only in the sunniest places, but in some pretty cloudy places, too.
A Pervasive Pattern
The Fox Business example is not a singular incident. Some mainstream media around the world have a tendency to publish misinformed or, worse, systematically and falsely negative stories about renewable energy. Some of those stories’ misinformation looks innocent, due to careless reporting, sloppy fact checking and perpetuation of old myths.
But other coverage walks—or crosses—the dangerous line of a disinformation campaign: a persistent pattern of coverage meant to undermine renewables’ strong market reality. This has become common enough in mainstream media that some researchers have focused their attention on this balance of accurate/positive coverage vs. inaccurate/negative coverage.
Tim Holmes, researcher for the U.K.’s Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC), points out press coverage is important because it can influence not only “what people perceive and believe” but also “what politicians think they believe.”
PIRC’s 2011 study of renewable energy media coverage surveyed how four of the highest-circulation British daily newspapers reported on renewables during July 2009. A newspaper’s balance of positive and negative renewables coverage tended to align with its editorial ideology. The difference was astounding. In one instance, negative coverage of renewables was just 2.5 percent; in another, upwards of 75 percent.
A follow-up 2012 study by public relations consultancy CCGroup examined five of the most-read newspapers in the U.K. during July 2012. Researchers found more than 51 percent of the articles featuring renewables were negative, 21 percent positive.
In case that seems lopsided, the U.K.’s opinion climate is probably the most anti-renewables in any major country. That’s largely due to a longstanding campaign by nuclear advocates fearing competition, especially from windpower, whose British resources are the best in Europe. Sir Bernard Ingham, former Chief Press Secretary to Prime Minister Thatcher and later Britain’s leading spokesman for nuclear power, reportedly claimed to have personally stopped two-thirds of Britain’s windpower projects. At over 80, he’s still at it.
Such ideologically correlated bias, and a growing body of misinformed and dis-informational negative media coverage in other countries, prompted the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) in 2012 to launch an Energy Fact Check website for journalists, policymakers and the general public.
Discrediting Job Creation
Charles Lane, a Washington Post opinion writer, proclaimed in October 2012 that “expensive electricity is bad for industry, as Germany is discovering. Fact is, subsidies for green energy do not so much create jobs as shift them around.”
Yet a recent study commissioned by Germany’s Federal Environment Ministry found that the renewable energy sector provided around 382,000 jobs in 2011, up four percent in a year, and more than doubled in seven years. More jobs have been created than lost in Germany’s energy sector—plus any jobs gained as heavy industry moves to Germany for its competitive electricity.
Yet a myth persists that countries lose more jobs then they gain when they transition to renewables. This upside-down fantasy rests largely on a 2009 study from King Juan Carlos University in Spain, by an economist reportedly tied to ExxonMobil, the Heartland Institute and the Koch brothers. His study asserted that, on average, every renewable energy job in Spain destroys 2.2 jobs in the broader Spanish economy. This story was picked up by news media around the world and is still promoted by U.S. anti-renewables groups.
But its methodology and assumptions were promptly demolished by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Spanish government, among others. A 2012 report for the International Labour Organization (ILO) even cites Spain, which built a renewable export industry, as a counterexample: “The green economy presents a good opportunity to increase competitiveness, promote the creation of quality employment and reduce the economy’s environmental impact,” says Joaquín Nieto, who heads the ILO Office in Madrid, especially “when Spain needs to kick-start its economy.”
Sure enough, despite new electricity taxes and a halt to subsidies for new renewable projects, Spain’s latest solar projects continue to be built to compete without subsidy.
The disinformation campaign about job creation is not limited to Europe. A Cato Institute article claimed that if people believe a commitment to renewables will fuel job growth “we’re in a lot of trouble.” Yet in 2012 alone, more than 110,000 new U.S. clean-energy direct jobs were created, and in 2010, the U.S. had more jobs in the “clean economy” than in the fossil-fuel industries.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that direct employment in May 2012 totaled 181,580 for oil and gas extraction, 87,520 for coal mining, and 93,200 for iron and steel production. BLS doesn’t similarly classify solar or wind jobs, but reputable analysts have determined from bottom-up industry surveys that in September 2012, for example, the U.S. had 119,016 direct solar jobs (89 percent full-time, the rest at least half-time), up 27 percent in two years—more than in steel-making or coal-mining. Had you heard that before? Why not?
The Cost of Disinformation
The sad truth is that the debate on clean and renewable energy is unbalanced, and seldom by accident. The CCGroup’s study showed that only 10 percent of articles focusing on renewables even contained comment from a spokesperson from the renewable energy industry.
This violates basic journalistic standards—renewables must be a part of their own conversation. Much of the conversation on renewables is misinformed and misrepresented. And when bad news does happen, says ACORE president and retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, opponents of renewables are pushing it “as if it’s the only news. They are dominating the conversation through misrepresentation, exaggeration, distraction and millions of dollars in lobbying and advertising.”
This misleading coverage fuels policy uncertainty and doubt, reducing investment security and industry development. Disinformation hurts the industry and retards its—and our nation’s—progress. As Germany has shown, investing in renewables can grow economies and create jobs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions even in a climate as “sunny” as Seattle. We just have to get the facts right, and insist that our reporters and media tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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