Quantcast
Climate

NY Times Gets It Wrong With Attacks on Tom Steyer and Fossil Fuel Divestment

Word came recently that both the Philadelphia Quakers and the Unitarian General Assembly have decided to divest from fossil fuels. It followed by a few weeks the news that the Roman Catholic University of Dayton and Union Theological Seminary, the home of many a great thinker, had done likewise.

In each case I felt a kind of surge of joy, that these historic institutions were helping transform the political and moral landscape, redefining for our time what's right and wrong. Destroying the climate, they were saying, is incompatible with our evolving ethical sense. We used to think investing in fossil fuel was okay, but the new science has convinced us, and we don't think that way any longer.

We used to think investing in fossil fuel was okay, but we don't think that way any longer. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

I could, I guess, have felt anger that they waited so long—that for years their investment portfolios had helped drive the expansion of coal and gas and oil, in turn driving up the temperature of the planet for decades to come. But that didn't occur to me. It was joy only.

It did, however, occur to the New York Times, which for a while last Friday had at the very top of its website a strange story excoriating an investor named Tom Steyer, who more than a year ago divested his holdings in fossil fuel companies, and when he couldn't and when he knew he couldn't square his new personal beliefs with the investment mandate of the firm he'd founded, he quit his job.

Even so, the Times noted, "the coal-related projects his firm bankrolled will generate tens of millions of tons of carbon pollution for years, if not decades, to come." Which is both true and obvious: How could it be any different? Tom Steyer's decision to divest couldn't shut down the coal mines he'd helped build; it could only help insure no new ones would be constructed. None of us have the power to travel back in time.

The Times story was a transparent hit job. It drew on the work of a partisan connected to the Koch brothers and writing for the rightwing blog Powerline, which had been insisting for months that Steyer—who not only divested but went on to devote a sizeable portion of his fortune to fighting for climate action—was a "hypocrite," in fact an "epic hypocrite." One of the two reporters on the story—Coral Davenport—has in her brief tenure at the Times regularly disdained the grassroots climate movement for action against projects like the Keystone pipeline. (My confident prediction is that when we march in record numbers for climate action in New York City on Sept. 21 she'll figure out some way to make it all seem small and silly.) The piece on Steyer, that she co-wrote with Michael Barbaro, was not a skeptical but a cynical piece of work: It built a strawman, bent him into an impossible position, and proceeded to light him on fire.

Read page 1

But if the Times should never have run it, the piece does nonetheless allow all of us to think through this question of hypocrisy. Every one of us in the Western world has contributed to climate change. We drive, fly, cool, heat. Perhaps we went to (or, like me, work at) colleges whose endowments are invested in fossil fuels, or perhaps we draw pensions from funds that back Exxon and Shell. If we don't mine coal ourselves, we likely work for companies that belong to the Chamber of Commerce and hence are active in the fight against climate legislation. On and on it goes, since fossil fuel is knit into the fabric of our society. If, as the Times puts it, Steyer is "shadowed by coal," so are the rest of us.

That means that if we are going to make the transformative change away from fossil fuel, we need thousands of institutions and millions of individuals to make the same choice that Steyer and the World Council of Churches and the University of Dayton trustees made: to look at the emerging science and to understand that we can't go on as we did before. What used to be okay no longer is. Hypocrisy is when you say one thing and do another at the same time. Growth is when you weigh new information and then change your thinking and behavior.

Not everyone will have Steyer's freedom to make climate action their life's work, though the scale of the crisis demands that we all do something to help change not just our lightbulbs but the system. And what's amazing is how many people are taking on this greatest of challenges with everything they've got, and discovering in the process that when we join together as movements we're big enough to stand up to the bad guys. The fossil fuel resistance is very real, and it doesn't depend on billionaires: consider the Pacific Islanders currently building canoes for the trip to Australia to block coal ports, or the doctors arrested outside those Aussie mine gates last month; the native Americans who just finished a Healing Walk across the tar sands country of Alberta and the college students arrested this spring at Harvard and Washington University demanding divestment; the environmental justice advocates who stick it out in one community after another blighted by refineries, and the entrepreneurs pioneering community-funded solar power, and the scientists who hunker down on the dwindling ice sheets trying to understand how much margin we still have. Together we're not yet winning, but together we're giving the fossil fuel industry a run for its money.

None of us, as I've said, are perfect. Actually, a few of us are. If you're looking for people who can never be accused of any hypocrisy, it's the Koch brothers that you want—if you deny science and disdain democracy, there's no way for anyone to hold you intellectually or morally accountable. While the Times was busy trying to shame Steyer for the crime of changing his mind, real journalists at the Toronto Star were completing an investigation into the extent of the Koch holdings in the far north. Piecing together all the scattered data, they found that they control an astonishing 1.1 million acres of the tar sands, and that they are huge contributors to all the "thinktanks" and campaigns trying to build Keystone and other pipelines. And there's nothing even remotely hypocritical about it—it's just disgusting.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Roderick Eime / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

New Evidence Suggests Ancient Egypt Was Brought Down By Volcanoes and Climate Change

Ancient Egypt is often described as an exotic place—pyramids, hieroglyphics, lavishly worshipped kings and queens.

But in many ways, it has a lot of parallels to modern life. It was an economically diverse, culturally vibrant and unequal place.

The millenniums-old society also struggled with a phenomenon that people today know all too well: climate change. And it may have ultimately led to the civilization's demise, according to a new paper by a team of researchers at Yale University.

The team of researchers studied the tail-end of ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic dynasty between 305-30 BCE.

Keep reading... Show less
Portuguese youth plaintiffs, from left to right: Simão and Leonor; Cláudia, Martim and Mariana; André and Sofia. Global Legal Action Network

Kids Harmed by Portugal Fires Reach Key Crowdfunding Goal for Climate Lawsuit

As Portugal reels from its worst wildfires on record, seven Portuguese children have met an important crowdfunding goal for their major climate lawsuit against 47 European nations.

More than £20,000 ($26,400) was pledged by 589 people, allowing the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)—the nonprofit coordinating the lawsuit—to identify and compile evidence to present to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. GLAN now has a new stretch target of £100,000.

Keep reading... Show less
Flying insects such as bees are important pollinators. Flickr / M I T C H Ǝ L L

German Nature Reserves Have Lost More Than 75% of Flying Insects

A new study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE adds more evidence that insect populations around the globe are in perilous decline.

For the study, researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands, alongside their German and English colleagues, measured the biomass of trapped flying insects at 63 nature preserves in Germany since 1989. They were shocked to discover that the total biomass decreased dramatically over the 27 years of the study, with a seasonal decline of 76 percent and mid-summer decline of 82 percent, when insect numbers tend to peak.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics

Pushing Toxic Chemicals and Climate Denial: The Dark Money-Funded Independent Women’s Forum

By Stacy Malkan

The Independent Women's Forum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has taken money from tobacco and oil companies, partners with Monsanto, defends toxic chemicals in food and consumer products, denies climate science and argues against laws that would curb the power of corporations.

IWF began in 1991 as an effort to defend now Supreme Court Justice (and former Monsanto attorney) Clarence Thomas as he faced sexual harassment charges. The group now says it seeks to "improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Mladen Kostic / iStock

Toxic Toys? After Nine Years, a Ban on Harmful Chemicals Becomes Official

Phthalates are a particularly harmful type of chemical, used, among a range of other ways, to soften plastic in children's toys and products like pacifiers and teething rings. In response to mounting concern about the serious health impacts of phthalates—most notably, interference with hormone production and reproductive development in young children—Congress voted overwhelmingly in 2008 to outlaw the use of a few phthalates in these products and ordered the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to assess the use of other types of the chemical in these products. After much delay, the CPSC voted 3–2 Wednesday to ban five additional types of phthalates in kids' toys and childcare products.

Keep reading... Show less
Wikipedia

Oil Spills Pose Dire Threats to Marine Life

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says oil pipelines have no place in BC's Great Bear Rainforest. Opponents of the approved Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion to the West Coast and the cancelled Energy East pipeline to the East Coast argue pipelines and tankers don't belong in any coastal areas. Research led by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation confirms the threat to marine mammals in BC waters from a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic is considerable.

After examining potential impacts of a 15,000-cubic-meter oil spill in BC waters on 21 marine mammals, researchers concluded most individuals would be at risk and a few local populations wouldn't survive. Baleen whales, for example, are highly susceptible to ingesting oil because they breathe through blowholes, filter and eat food from the ocean surface and rely on invertebrate prey. Oil residue can stick to the baleen, restricting the amount of food they consume.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Shutterstock

September 2017: Earth's 4th Warmest September on Record

By Dr. Jeff Masters

September 2017 was the planet's fourth warmest September since record keeping began in 1880, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and NASA this week. The only warmer Septembers came during 2015, 2016 and 2014. Minor differences can occur between the NASA and NOAA rankings because of their different techniques for analyzing data-sparse regions such as the Arctic.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals

Shocking Photo of Dehorned Black Rhino Wins Top Award

Africa loses an average of three rhinos a day to the ongoing poaching crisis and the illegal rhino horn trade. In 2016 alone, 1,054 rhinos were reported killed in South Africa, representing a loss in rhinos of approximately six percent. That's close to the birth rate, meaning the population remains perilously close to the tipping point.

This year, the Natural History Museum in London awarded photographer Brent Stirton the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year grand title for his grisly image of a black rhino with its two horns hacked off in South Africa's Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox