Part I: How the Media Help the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil Spread Climate Doubt
[Editor's note: Elliott Negin, director of news and commentary at the Union of Concerned Scientists, shows how the U.S. news media routinely fail to inform the public about the fossil fuel industry funders behind climate change contrarian think tanks. Negin provides recommendations for how journalists can better serve the public interest. This is the first in a six-part series.]
A Glaring Lapse in Climate and Energy Coverage
One of my morning rituals is half-listening to National Public Radio's (NPR) Morning Edition while I'm getting ready for work. But on Jan. 3, when a story came on about the fate of the wind industry's production tax credit, I snapped to attention. It was good news. Congress's eleventh hour "fiscal cliff" agreement had left the tax credit in place for at least one more year.
The NPR story featured a spokesman for a small Iowa wind project who explained how the tax credit benefits rural communities. For balance, it also included a naysayer: Thomas Pyle from the American Energy Alliance (AEA), who wanted Congress to kill the subsidy.
"It's not that the subsidies for the wind industry in and of themselves are bad, but it is part-and-parcel of a larger problem, and that is, is that the federal government is notoriously bad at energy policy," Pyle said. "They have been for decades, and we think it's time for them to step aside."
But who is Thomas Pyle and what is the AEA? The story didn't say.
It turns out that the AEA is a front organization for the oil and gas industry. Pyle, AEA's president, is a former lobbyist for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and Koch Industries, the Wichita, Kansas-based coal, oil and gas conglomerate owned by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch (pronounced "coke"). Koch Industries is the second largest privately held company in the country.
Digging a little deeper, I learned that AEA is the political arm of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), where Pyle also serves as president. From 2006 to 2010, IRE received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry's trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, a philanthropy controlled by Charles Koch.
Okay, but didn't Pyle say the federal government should stop subsidizing all energy? That sounds pretty evenhanded, right? In fact, as aggressive as Pyle and his benefactors are about undermining their competition, they are even more vehement about protecting themselves—and they know full well their friends in Congress wouldn't dare touch oil and gas subsidies. Indeed, legislation introduced last May to pull the plug on the billions in annual tax breaks and subsidies the oil, gas and coal industries enjoy died a quick death.
Obviously there wasn't enough time to explain all that in a four-minute news segment. But at the very least the reporter should have identified Pyle as an oil and gas industry spokesman. I emailed the reporter later that day to point that out. I got no response.
Why Don't Reporters Follow the Money?
Twenty-five years after National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist James Hansen testified at a Senate hearing that scientists know with a 99 percent certainty that burning fossil fuels—not natural climate variations—is warming the planet, there are many reasons why Congress has yet to take significant steps to curb U.S. carbon emissions. The hundreds of millions of dollars oil, coal, auto and manufacturing industries have donated to federal candidates is certainly a factor. So are the hundreds of millions of dollars they've spent to lobby them once they're elected.
But the news media are also to blame. Too often they have provided a platform for fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks and advocacy groups to make spurious claims about global warming and renewable energy and allowed them to pass themselves off as independent, disinterested parties promoting free markets and limited government.
Over the years, journalists have consistently relied on these groups to provide the "other side" in climate and energy stories when, in fact, there is no other side—at least not on the science or the fact that we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels to avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change. All too often, however, the news media have presented these two sides as equivalent, despite the fact that one rests its argument on peer-reviewed climate science while the other promotes the distortions of industry-funded contrarians, most of whom are not climate scientists—or even scientists at all.
NPR's ombudsman addressed this deficiency two years ago. "NPR often does a lousy job of identifying the background of think tanks or other groups when quoting their experts," Alicia C. Shepard wrote in an essay posted on the network's website in April 2011, just a month before her three-year tenure ended. "NPR also rarely explains why listeners should pay attention to the experts it chooses to quote. This matters."
Shepard was right. It does matter. But her solution of just tacking on "libertarian," "conservative" or "liberal" labels doesn't sufficiently inform the public whose interests these think tanks are serving. In any case, her message apparently fell on deaf ears. The glaring omission in the Jan. 3 story is still more the rule than the exception at NPR, and the network is not alone. Most, if not all, mainstream news organizations are guilty of the same transgression.
To gauge just how widespread this failure is, I recently looked to see if elite news organizations reported funding sources for eight prominent climate contrarian groups in climate and energy stories that ran from January 2011 through December 2012. The groups—which I have dubbed the "Oil Eight"—are the American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Cato Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation, Institute for Energy Research (and its political arm, American Energy Alliance) and Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. When it comes to climate, the Oil Eight share the same goals as their corporate underwriters: sow doubt about the reality or seriousness of global warming, stifle government efforts to curb carbon emissions and hinder the growth of renewable energy technologies.
Who are their corporate underwriters? From 2001 through 2011, the Oil Eight collectively received more than $23 million from one or more of the following interested parties: the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, General Motors and three Koch family foundations: the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation (now the Charles Koch Foundation), David H. Koch Charitable Foundation and Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, according to data I gleaned from federal tax filings, the Foundation Center and the Bridge Project's Conservative Transparency database.
In addition, another Charles Koch philanthropy, the relatively unknown Knowledge and Progress Fund, contributed nearly $8 million from 2005 to 2011 to a secretive, pass-through foundation called Donors Trust. From 2001 through 2011, Donors Trust and its affiliate Donors Capital Fund laundered more than $54 million of largely untraceable contributions to the Oil Eight, far outpacing ExxonMobil and the three main Koch family foundations.
Using the Nexis database and the news organizations' archives, I tracked coverage by the Associated Press, NPR, the political trade journal Politico and six leading newspapers: the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. I confined my search to stories on climate and energy, so I excluded pieces that focused on industry funding without mentioning either topic.
After poring over more than 1,000 stories, editorials, opinion columns and interviews, I narrowed my sample to 376 relevant pieces. Here's what I found: These top news organizations provided information about the Oil Eight's fossil fuel industry funding in only 32 percent of the climate and energy stories they published or aired over the two-year period.
When I was in school, 32 percent was an F.
The eight news organizations did the best job identifying the fact that the Koch brothers underwrite Americans for Prosperity, citing the Kochs as the group's funders 69 percent of the time. They were not nearly as attentive with the other groups, however. They disclosed the funders behind the Institute for Energy Research and its political arm, American Energy Alliance, in 43 percent of the stories that mentioned them in 2011 and 2012, and then their attention really faded. They mentioned the Heartland Institute's benefactors only 20 percent of the time, the Cato Institute's funders only 10 percent of the time and the supporters of the remaining four groups—the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute, Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute—less than 10 percent of the time. (See the table at the top of this blog for my complete survey results.)
Politico ran the most climate and energy stories citing the Oil Eight during the two year period—86—and named their funders in 44 percent of its stories, tying it with the Los Angeles Times for the best record. The Los Angeles Times—which the Koch brothers would like to buy—ran 25 stories citing one or more of the Oil Eight, mentioning funders in 11 of them.
The news organizations that did the worst job identifying fossil fuel industry funders were USA Today, which cited them in only 18 percent of its 28 stories and op-eds, and the Wall Street Journal, which named them in only 11 percent of its 46 stories, columns and op-eds. That's very discouraging, given the two papers have the largest circulations in the country.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
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Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.
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By Jessica Corbett
A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.
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<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
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