Lee Raymond, former ExxonMobil CEO, will resign from the JPMorgan board of directors at the end of the year.
Raymond was elected earlier this year to continue serving as the board's independent director through May 2021, a role he has held for the past seven years on a board on which he sat for one-third of a century. His early departure comes as JPMorgan faces increasing pressure from climate groups, shareholders, and the BankFwd campaign over the bank's financing of fossil fuel projects.
Raymond was the target of a major vote-out campaign by environmental groups earlier this year. At ExxonMobil, Raymond aggressively rejected the scientific reality of climate change and Exxon funneled millions of dollars to groups undermining climate science and denying climate change. JPMorgan remains the world's largest financier of fossil fuels.
For a deeper dive:
The attorney general for Washington, DC filed a lawsuit on Thursday against four of the largest energy companies, claiming that the companies have spent millions upon millions of dollars to deceive customers in about the calamitous effect fossil fuel extraction and emissions is having on the climate crisis, according to The Washington Post.
The suit names ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Chevron as the defendants, and argues that the companies "systematically and intentionally misled consumers in Washington, DC ... about the central role their products play in causing climate change," according to The Hill.
Karl A. Racine, the DC attorney general, said in a news conference on Thursday that the four companies painted a false picture of what effect their products had and therefore violated consumer protection laws.
"For decades, these oil and gas companies spent millions to mislead consumers and discredit climate science in pursuit of profits," Racine said in a statement, as The Washington Post reported. "OAG filed this suit to end these disinformation campaigns and to hold these companies accountable for their deceptive practices."
New York and Massachusetts have both sued ExxonMobil for fraud related to the climate crisis, though New York lost its case against the energy giant. California and Baltimore have filed similar suits. On Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a complaint in state court accusing ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Flint Hills Resources and the American Petroleum Institute of consumer fraud, failure to warn, deceptive trade practices, and fraud and false advertising, as Courthouse News reported.
Ellison's complaint said that Minnesota was already feeling the effects from the climate crisis as droughts, flooding and crop failures have damaged the state's economy. That has all happened while the companies named in the suit invested in public relations campaigns that denied the climate crisis and even promoted increased CO2 as a solution to world hunger, according to Courthouse News.
"Impacts from climate change hurt our low-income residents and communities of color first and worst. The impacts on farmers in our agricultural state are widespread as well," Ellison said in a statement. "Holding these companies accountable for the climate deception they've spread and continue to spread is essential to helping families to afford their lives and live with dignity and respect."
The two suits drew praise from environmental activists and the science community.
In a statement Thursday, Greenpeace USA climate campaign director Janet Redman said, "Climate denial is not a victimless crime. Now, one by one states and local governments are stepping up to hold the perpetrators accountable," as Common Dreams reported. "Just yesterday it was Minnesota Attorney General Ellison standing up to big oil, today it's D.C. Attorney General Racine."
The Union of Concerned Scientists also issued a statement noting that the fossil fuel industry long knew about the devastating impacts of burning fossil fuels, but followed the Big Tobacco playbook and waged a disinformation campaign.
"When scientists, including some employed by ExxonMobil, warned that burning fossil fuels could catastrophically alter the climate, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell funded decades-long disinformation campaigns designed to undermine climate science, while simultaneously unleashing an army of lobbyists to block state and federal policies that sought to limit global warming emissions to protect communities across the country," said Rachel Licker, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in a statement.
"As a result, the nation's capital and communities across the country and world now have to battle worsening floods, heat waves, wildfires and many other avoidable climate impacts," she added.
In the DC suit, Racine specifically mentioned the fossil fuel companies' strategy lifted from Big Tobacco. "The companies not only employed the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition — a fake grassroots citizen group created by Big Tobacco as part of the industry's misinformation campaign — they also funded and promoted some of the same scientists hired by tobacco companies," he said in a statement.
The lawsuit also alleges that the companies have recently exaggerated their investments and commitments to renewable energy.
"Defendants have shifted their advertising strategies to mislead DC consumers into believing that buying Defendants' products supports companies committed to reducing and reversing the effects of climate change," the lawsuit asserts, as The Washington Post reported. "In fact, the opposite is true."
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
President Trump's claim that the U.S. has the cleanest air and water in the world has been widely refuted by statistics showing harmful levels of pollution. Now, a new biannual ranking released by researchers at Yale and Columbia finds that the U.S. is nowhere near the top in environmental performance, according to The Guardian.
Not only is the U.S. not in the top 10, it's not in the top 20. It ranks 24th in the 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which was released on Thursday. The top ranked country, Denmark, has made commitments to a carbon-free future, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. By contrast, the U.S., during the Trump administration, has worked at breakneck speed to rollback environmental regulations, expand fossil fuel development, and ditch international treaties protecting the environment. He has even questioned climate science and ridiculed its findings.
"If you look at Denmark, they're doing great but they're a tiny fraction of overall carbon emissions or greenhouse gas emissions broadly," said Zach Wenderling, lead researcher on the index, as The Guardian reported. "The U.S. is one of the top five players in every greenhouse gas, so we need to do better than just OK if we're going to generate the best practices."
Many signatories to the Paris agreement have ramped up their commitments to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, especially in Europe. European countries performed the best in the new index. After Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom rounded out the top four, according to The Guardian.
Researchers at Yale and Columbia universities produce the global report, which is released every two years. It ranks 180 of the world's nations on 24 key indicators in 10 categories related to environmental health and ecosystem vitality.
The data-driven and empirical approach to environmental protection makes it easier to spot problems, track trends, highlight policy successes and failures, identify best practices, and optimize the benefits of investing in environmental protection, said Daniel Esty, a professor of environmental law and policy at Yale, in a university press release.
"[T]he EPI provides a clear and compelling way to see which countries are leading issue by issue, who is lagging, and what the best policy practices look like across a range of critical environmental challenges," said Esty, in the university press release.
Since the EPI was created in the year 2000, the U.S has never reached the top of the rankings.
"Countries that make an effort do better than those that don't don't and the U.S. right now is not making an effort. That shows up in a stagnation in the rankings where others are really seeing some significant improvements," said Esty, as The Guardian reported.
The U.S., which is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions after China, is near the bottom of the rankings for advanced industrial countries. China, which suffers from poor air quality, has made significant investments in solar energy and reducing its dependence on coal, and climbed the rankings to 120th place. China is still a big polluter but has made "much more dramatic progress than other countries," Esty said, as The Guardian reported.
China's ranking as the world's worst contributor to the climate crisis is only recent. Over time, the U.S. has put more heat trapping gases into the air than any other country. India, which also sees its cities choking under polluted air quality, ranked 168th.
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By Andrea Germanos
Author and climate activist Bill McKibben welcomed Friday evening what he called "a milestone moment in the history of climate action" after JPMorgan Chase announced it was ousting former Exxon Mobil CEO Lee Raymond from his longtime leadership position on the bank's board of directors.
"A truly huge win today," McKibben said in an earlier tweet. "Power is starting to shift."
BREAKING! #LeeRaymond DEMOTED but not DUMPED - take action now to get him OFF #JPMorgan #Chase's board:… https://t.co/pssU0dISJ0— Stop the Money Pipeline (@Stop the Money Pipeline)1588433194.0
The change was revealed in new SEC filing documents in which JPMorgan touts its "focus on refreshment" that includes having a new lead independent director by the end of this summer.
Raymond, who's earned the monikers "the Darth Vader of global warming wars" and "America's #1 climate denier," was a target of the Stop the Money Pipeline climate coalition, which urged the bank's biggest shareholders to vote Raymond off the board entirely when they meet later this month.
Their demand was buoyed by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.
"On Earth Day last week, we launched a campaign urging JPMorgan Chase & Co shareholders to vote against the re-election of Lee Raymond to the board, based on his role as lead 'independent' director, long tenure on the board, and ties to fossil fuels," Stringer said in a statement Friday.
Raymond's removal as independent leader of the board marks "a tremendous victory for shareholders and for the planet," Stringer said, adding that it stands to "ensure improved oversight of the board and the company's long-term strategy when it comes to transitioning to a low carbon economy."
"But our work does not stop here," he continued. "JPMorgan has been the largest global lender and underwriter to the fossil fuel sector, providing $269 billion in financing to fossil fuel expansion from 2016 to 2019. The company needs to move away from financing the dirty fossil fuels of the past and toward the big, strategic clean energy investments of the future. There must be no place for a climate change denier and former Exxon CEO on JPMorgan's board."
Send an email directly to #BlackRock, #StateStreet & #Vanguard -- tell them to vote #LeeRaymond off #JPMorgan… https://t.co/JsCqTTIZHC— Stop the Money Pipeline (@Stop the Money Pipeline)1588433424.0
Eli Kasargod-Staub, executive director of shareholder advocacy organization Majority Action, concurred.
"Shareholders have demanded that JPMorgan Chase be held accountable for its failure to address the systemic risks presented by climate change, and the announcement to remove Raymond from the lead independent director position is a clear victory for long-term shareholder value and the mitigation of climate risk," said Kasargod-Staub.
But, he stressed, "JPMorgan Chase shareholders will be best served when Raymond is removed from the board entirely."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
By Andy Rowell
Five years ago, the leading climate denial organization in the UK, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), published a pamphlet entitled: Carbon Dioxide, the good news.
The paper reiterated many of the climate deniers' favorite, but long discredited, arguments. In many ways, the GWPF's claims on climate science would be laughable if the ramifications were not so serious. They boil down to two main arguments: firstly, that there has been no warming and secondly, even if there has been warming, carbon dioxide is good for you.
The paper was written by Indur Goklany, described as "an independent scholar and author."
He stated that the "benefits of increasing carbon dioxide have been under-estimated" and that "the risks from increasing carbon dioxide have been overestimated."
Goklany continued: "there is little or no empirical evidence that the warming that has occurred — or any changes it may have caused — since the end of the last ice age or since the putative start of manmade warming around 1950is actually causing net harm or diminishing human or environmental wellbeing."
And also that: "the direct effects of higher carbon dioxide levels may benefit mankind and the natural world."
How anyone can describe tens of thousands of peer-reviewed research papers, along with numerous reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, along with hundreds if not thousands of other scientific assessments by Governmental panels or scientific bodies, plus thousands of credible reports by NGOs all describing our increasing climate crisis and the role that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide have had, as "no empirical evidence" — is beyond me. It is just plain stupid.
The deniers have long argued that CO2 is good for plant growth, and I had heard it in the early nineties at an OPEC conference, spoken by Dr. Richard Lindzen. At the time, the OPEC delegates lapped it up as a simplistic and fundamentally flawed argument that would allow them to carry on drilling with a so-called clean conscience.
Goklany has also written papers for other denier organizations such as the Cato Institute and the Heartland Institute. Over a decade ago, he appeared in a film entitled Policy Peril: Why Global Warming Policies are More Dangerous than Global Warming Itself.
But for years, Goklany's day job has been an official at the U.S. Interior Department. You can understand why someone like Goklany, with his die-hard denial views, would flourish well under Trump. And so when Trump was elected, he was promoted to the Office of the Deputy Secretary, with responsibility for reviewing the agency's climate policies.
Therefore, today's New York Times story is on the one hand not surprising, but at the same time, deeply worrying.
The paper notes that Goklany "embarked on a campaign that has inserted misleading language about climate change — including debunked claims that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is beneficial — into the agency's scientific reports."
According to the Times, the misleading language appears in at least nine reports, and became so embedded in documents that it was colloquially known as "Goks uncertainty language." The Times outlined how in Interior Department emails to scientists, Goklany pushed "misleading interpretations of climate science" reminiscent of his GWPF briefing:
"Firstly, that we "may be overestimating the rate of global warming, for whatever reason," and secondly that rising CO2 was beneficial because it "may increase plant water use efficiency" and "lengthen the agricultural growing season."
As the Times points out: "Both assertions misrepresent the scientific consensus that overall, climate change will result in severe disruptions to global agriculture and significant reductions in crop yields."
Samuel Myers, a research scientist at Harvard University's Center for the Environment told the Times that the language "takes very specific and isolated pieces of science, and tries to expand it in an extraordinarily misleading fashion."
But that is what the climate deniers do: set out to mislead and confuse. The reviewers for Goklany's GWPF paper, included known climate skeptics Craig Idso and Will Happer. Both men authored a petition sent to Trump in 2017, asking him to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Trump, Goklany, Lindzen, Idso, and Happer exist in a denial echo chamber. They will continue to deny the evidence as the earth warms and burns around them. We must resist this — with a new energy and vigor. In this new decade, we must ensure that the deniers' day is finally done. As Greta Thunberg and the millions of young climate activists demand every week: it is time to listen to the science.
Reposted with permission from Oil Change International.
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By Risa Palm and Toby W. Bolsen
Advertisers understand that providing consumers with the facts will not sell products. To get people to stop and pay attention, successful advertising delivers information simply and with an emotional hook so that consumers notice and, hopefully, make a purchase.
Climate communication scientists use these same principles of messaging – visual, local and dramatic – to provide facts that will get the public's attention. Such messaging is intended to help people understand risk as it relates to them, and perhaps, change their behavior as a result.
As social scientists studying the effectiveness of climate change communication strategies, we became curious about a particular message we found online. Some houses advertised for sale in South Florida were accompanied by banner ads with messages such as "Flooding hurts home value. Know more before you buy. Find out for free now." The ads were sponsored by the First Street Foundation through their website FloodIQ.com. The nonprofit foundation provides detailed aerial photos of present and future flooding as a consequence of rising sea level.
My colleague and I decided to survey residents of coastal South Florida to better understand how information affected their attitudes and opinions. Did these messages developed by a nonprofit organization change the perceptions of coastal residents who live in low-lying areas about the threat of coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise?
Defining the Danger to Property by ZIP
Maps can be a way to see potential flood risk. www.FloodiQ.com, author provided
Many studies of climate change communication and response have been based on national surveys or more local reviews of counties and states susceptible to a range of coastal flooding. We focused our survey on a single region and a population at greatest risk: those who live in ZIP codes along the South Florida coast where the probability of flooding in local neighborhoods is extremely high.
With permission of the First Street Foundation to reproduce their maps that represent what flooding in the future might look like, we developed a survey to understand the effectiveness of tailored messages. How would this messaging impact residents' beliefs about climate change and sea level rise? We also asked if residents believed their communities and homes were at risk.
We surveyed more than 1,000 residents living in 166 ZIP codes in South Florida between October and December of 2018. All those surveyed were at risk from either the direct or indirect effects of flooding to their homes, including a decrease in property values as coastal property is perceived as a less desirable destination.
We sampled residents of seven metropolitan areas including Tampa-Saint Petersburg-Clearwater, Fort Myers, Key West, Miami-Dade County, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, and Vero Beach. Half the sample received a map of their own city, rendered at a scale so that their city block was visible. The maps illustrated what could happen just 15 years from now at the present rate of sea level rise if there were a Category 3 hurricane accompanied by storm surge flooding.
Does Visual Information Make a Difference?
The study was intended to assess how residents might perceive the vulnerability of their property and their communities to severe storms. We asked residents about their political affiliation and their support for policies such as zoning laws, gasoline taxes and other measures to address climate change.
Surprisingly, we found that those who had viewed the maps were, on average, less likely to say they believed that climate change was taking place than those who had not seen the maps.
Further, those who saw the maps were less likely than those survey respondents who had not seen the maps to believe that climate change was responsible for the increased intensity of storms. Respondents who classified themselves as Republicans had the strongest negative responses to the maps.
Those who saw the maps were no more likely to believe that climate change exists, that climate change increases the severity of storms or that sea level is rising and related to climate change. Even more dramatically, exposure to the scientific map did not influence beliefs that their own homes were susceptible to flooding or that sea level rise would reduce local property values.
Consistent with national surveys, party identification was the strongest predictor of general perceptions of climate change and sea-level rise. However, the majority of homeowners denied that there was risk to their property values, regardless of political affiliation.
What Does It Take to Change Minds?
We believe that the motivation of our respondents, their underlying beliefs when forming an opinion, is important when reflecting on these survey results. Specifically, people often process information or learn in a way that protects their existing beliefs or their partisan leanings.
In the case of our respondents' general beliefs about climate change and its connection to sea-level rise, those who belonged to the Republican Party may have dismissed the maps either because they challenged their party's stance on the issue or because they did not view the information as credible given their prior views. In the case of our respondents' views about the future effects of sea-level rise on property values, all of the homeowners we surveyed, regardless of their partisanship, may have been motivated by their personal financial interests to reject the notion that sea-level rise would reduce their own property values.
It is important to emphasize that targeted information about climate change may lead to unintended effects. While accurate and easily absorbed information is important, it will take a much more nuanced approach to change the way people understand information. As advertisers well know, it takes more than facts to sell any product.
Risa Palm is a professor of urban studies and public health at Georgia State University.
Toby W. Bolsen is an associate professor of American politics and political science at Georgia State University.
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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You don't have to look far to find misinformation about climate science continuing to spread online through prominent social media channels like YouTube. That's despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are driving the climate crisis.
A new report by the global activist NGO Avaaz reveals that, despite YouTube's pledge to combat misinformation, the popular video site owned by Google has failed to crack down on this problem when it comes to climate change. Videos containing false or misleading information on climate change continue to reach millions of users through YouTube's recommendation algorithm. Furthermore, ads — including those from major brands and environmental groups — displayed on these videos provide a monetary incentive, not only to YouTube, but to the videos' creators to keep promoting fringe theories contrary to scientific reality.
Avaaz asked @YouTube to extract such videos from its recommendation algorithms and include climate misinformation i… https://t.co/NzWjYntEMW— Avaaz (@Avaaz)1579172170.0
"We found that YouTube is driving millions of people to watch climate misinformation videos every day," Avaaz writes in its report, titled Why is YouTube Broadcasting Climate Misinformation to Millions? "YouTube's recommendation algorithm is giving these videos free promotion and showing misinformation to millions who wouldn't have been exposed to it otherwise."
Examples of videos identified as containing climate misinformation include titles such as "ACTUAL SCIENTIST: Climate Change is a Hoax" and "CIA Whistleblower Speaks Out About Climate Engineering Vaccination Dangers and 911." Other videos feature interviews with climate science deniers, such as Patrick Moore, and promote false claims that there is no evidence that CO2 emissions are the dominant cause of climate change (there is and they are).
Not all of the channels promoting misinformation are owned by pseudonymous individuals with fringe ideas. Some come from established media organizations such as Fox News and the conservative media nonprofit PragerU.
Avaaz uncovered these examples by reviewing over 5,000 videos using the search terms "global warming," "climate change," and "climate manipulation." The NGO found a number of videos containing misleading or false information for each search term.
"For the search term 'global warming,' 16 percent of the top 100 related videos included under the up-next feature had misinformation about climate change," the report states. The percentage of top 100 related videos with climate misinformation, promoted through YouTube's recommendation algorithm, dropped to 8 percent when the search term "climate change" was used. When the researchers typed in "climate manipulation," however, that percentage rose to 21 percent. According to Avaaz, the climate misinformation videos it reviewed had 21.1 million views collectively.
If you search for terms such as “global warming” on @YouTube, you might end up watching #misinformation about… https://t.co/hOlAWVCRuN— Avaaz (@Avaaz)1579172161.0
Avaaz researchers also found that some of these climate misinformation videos had accompanying advertisements, indicating that YouTube is incentivizing climate misinformation through its monetization program. As the report points out, 55 percent of the fee that advertisers pay goes to the video creator, while 45 percent goes to YouTube.
Avaaz identified ads from over 100 brands appearing alongside the climate misinformation videos that it reviewed. These included major consumer brands such as Samsung and L'Oréal, ethical or green brands such as Ecosia and Nikin, and environmental groups such as WWF and Greenpeace.
"We from NIKIN want to join Avaaz in calling on YouTube to change their algorithm that disinformation doesn't get spread around the world and it should especially not be monetized," a company spokesperson for the Swiss sustainable fashion company said in response to the Avaaz report. "We from NIKIN are a sustainable brand that used YouTube as an advertising platform, but our videos got shown before videos that call climate change a hoax. This is completely against what we want and the responsibility lies in YouTube's hand to change that."
Avaaz Recommends Further Action, Youtube Defends Its Policies
Avaaz acknowledged steps that YouTube and Google have taken to update the video platform's Community Guidelines policy and fight disinformation. In 2015 YouTube initiated a campaign to help "change the way people discuss climate change," and climate-related videos now include a Wikipedia link to basic, definitive information on the term "global warming."
In February 2019 Google issued a white paper on fighting disinformation, stating: "We set out to prevent our systems from serving up content that could misinform users in a harmful way, particularly in domains that rely on veracity, such as science, medicine, news, or historical events." Google said it introduced a "higher bar" for the promotion of YouTube videos. YouTube has also updated its policies on the kind of content it prohibits and has taken steps to protect its users from exposure to misinformation on vaccine safety and conspiracy theories.
The relative number and views of the top 100 videos found searching for "global warming" on YouTube and identifying those featuring climate misinformation. DeSmogBlog / Avaaz
But Avaaz says these actions are not enough.
"Climate misinformation threatens the health and safety of our societies and our planet. YouTube has taken notable strides to act against disinformation, but our research proves that more is needed," said Julie Deruy, senior campaigner at Avaaz. "YouTube can and should immediately move to include climate misinformation in the company's borderline content policy and allow advertisers to exclude their ads from videos with climate misinformation." (Borderline content refers to videos that walk the line of violating YouTube's terms of service and has been the subject of much scrutiny).
The Avaaz report outlines several recommendations, based on consultation with industry experts, advertisers, and legislators around the world. These recommendations, quoted here from the report, suggest the video platform:
- Detox the YouTube Recommendation Algorithms: The company must end its free promotion of misinformation and disinformation videos by extracting such videos from its algorithms, starting immediately by including climate misinformation in its borderline content policy.
- Demonetize Disinformation: Add disinformation and misinformation to YouTube's relevant monetization policies, ensuring such content does not include advertising and is not financially incentivized. YouTube should start immediately with the option for advertisers to exclude their ads from videos with climate misinformation.
- Correct the Record: Work with independent fact-checkers to inform users who have seen or interacted with verifiably false or misleading information, and issue corrections alongside these videos.
- Transparency: Although YouTube promises to work openly with researchers, the company maintains an opaque process around its recommendation algorithms and on how effective its policies are in dealing with misinformation. YouTube should immediately release data showing the amount of views on misinformation content that were driven by its recommendation algorithms. YouTube must also work with researchers to ensure access to its recommendation algorithms to study misinformation.
DeSmog reached out to one researcher who has studied YouTube's promotion of videos containing conspiracy theories or false information on climate change. Dr. Joachim Allgaier, senior researcher at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, authored a study published last summer finding that YouTube's video recommendation algorithm boosted videos that misrepresented the scientific consensus on climate. Of the 200 videos he reviewed, more than half presented views contrary to mainstream climate science. Allgaier's findings are consistent with those of Avaaz, and he said he supports the recommendations in its new report.
"I hope [YouTube] will be more transparent on how science-related videos get recommended or not and what exactly they are doing against the promotion of misinformation/disinformation," Allgaier said via email. "And they obviously need to stop the monetization of disinformation videos! To be more transparent and respond to requests and questions from researchers and NGOs would be a prerequisite for being a reliable source of information. From this point of view there still is a lot of room for improvement."
Avaaz mock up of what effective misinformation corrections could look like on YouTube videos. DeSmogBlog / Avaaz
DeSmog also reached out to Google, parent company of YouTube, and a company spokesperson defended YouTube's policies, saying that false information does not necessarily violate the site's community guidelines. YouTube indicated that it is not inclined to adopt the recommendations in the Avaaz report, due to concerns on limiting free speech.
"We can't speak to Avaaz's methodology or results, and our recommendations systems are not designed to filter or demote videos or channels based on specific perspectives. YouTube has strict ad policies that govern where ads are allowed to appear and we give advertisers tools to opt out of content that doesn't align with their brand," a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement responding to the report.
"We've also significantly invested in reducing recommendations of borderline content and harmful misinformation, and raising up authoritative voices on YouTube," the spokesperson continued. "In 2019 alone, the consumption on authoritative news publishers' channels grew by 60 percent. As our systems appear to have done in the majority of cases in this report, we prioritize authoritative voices for millions of news and information queries, and surface information panels on topics prone to misinformation — including climate change — to provide users with context alongside their content. We continue to expand these efforts to more topics and countries."
Avaaz said it stands by its findings, and criticized YouTube for knowingly promoting false information on climate change.
"YouTube is the largest broadcasting channel in the world, and it is driving millions of people to climate misinformation videos," said Avaaz's Deruy. "This is not about free speech, this is about the free advertising YouTube is giving to factually inaccurate videos that risk confusing people about one of the biggest crises of our time. The bottom line is that YouTube should not feature, suggest, promote, advertise, or lead users to misinformation."
Reposted with permission from DeSmogBlog.
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James is the younger son of the Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch who owns News Corp, and the younger brother of Lachlan Murdoch who runs Fox News.
"Kathryn and James' views on climate are well established and their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage of the topic is also well known," a spokesperson for the couple told the Daily Beast. "They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary."
James Murdoch is CEO of Lupa Systems — a private investment firm he founded — but sits on the board of his father's companies. Recently, he has distanced himself from his father's businesses and political positions, according to CNN.
News Corp Australia dominates the media landscape across the continent. It publishes more than 140 newspapers and employs more than 3,000 journalists in print, broadcast and online, according to the Daily Beast.
While Australia has seen an estimated 15.6 million acres burn in the recent brushfires, nearly 1 billion animals have perished, and residents have choked on the hazy air, the Murdoch's newspapers continue to deny the climate crisis as the cause of the fires, as TIME reported. While scientists attribute Australia's unforgiving drought and heat to a changing climate, News Corp Australia has called such claims "silly" and "hysterical."
Some commentators and hosts on Fox News have tried to blame the fires on arsonists.
In last May's elections, most of Murdoch's papers in Australia endorsed Prime Minister Scott Morrison who has also shown skepticism about the fires' connection to the climate crisis, as CNN reported.
The Daily Beast highlighted a few egregious examples of Murdoch's papers giving voice to climate deniers in its papers.
In late November, while the fires were burning, News Corp columnist Chris Kenny wrote in The Australian, "Hysterical efforts to blame the fires on climate change continue, even though we have always faced this threat and always will."
A day later, News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt wrote in The Herald Sun: "Let's assume you're silly enough to think global warming is causing worse bushfires around the world. (In fact a recent NASA study found that the area burned by fire has dropped 24 percent over 18 years.) … True, the world has warmed slightly as it rebounds from the little ice age that stretched from 1300 to around 1870, but can we cool it on this panic? In that time of warming, life expectancy has shot up, world grain crops have set new records, and the death rate from extreme weather has been slashed by 99 percent."
And last week, on Fox News, contributor Raymond Arroyo — speaking on The Ingraham Angle about Golden Globes winners warning about climate following the Australian fires — said, "They just arrested 12 people in Australia for those fires and they were blaming it on climate change. Wrong again!" Then a couple of days later, Arroyo said, "Though Australia has had the highest temperatures on record — the driest season ever — it's not correct to say climate change caused these wildfires."
James Murdoch's outspoken statement could embolden shareholder activists to attack management and put pressure on News Corp to respond to the climate crisis, according to The Guardian.
"The pressure's mounting on them on climate change, so let's see," said Brynn O'Brien, who heads the Australasian Center for Corporate Responsibility, which has no holding in News Corp, to The Guardian. "It's a very unusual situation where you have a board member on the record, through a spokesperson, attacking the governance and operations of the company."
By Andy Rowell
After weeks of inaction and ineptitude as his country burns, as a billion animals die, with entire species potentially wiped out, and with dozens of people dead and communities and lives ripped apart, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has finally slumbered into action.
Over the weekend, Morrison tweeted, "We're putting more Defense Force boots on the ground, more planes in the sky, more ships to sea, and more trucks to roll in to support the bushfire fighting effort and recovery as part of our co-ordinated response to these terrible #bushfires."
We’re putting more Defence Force boots on the ground, more planes in the sky, more ships to sea, and more trucks to roll in to support the bushfire fighting effort and recovery as part of our co-ordinated response to these terrible #bushfires pic.twitter.com/UiOeYB2jnv— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 4, 2020
Morrison also issued what has been described as a "misleading and deceptive" advertisement, praising his government's response to what critics have labeled a national and international emergency, likening it to climate suicide and the apocalypse.
But Morrison's actions continue to be extensively criticized, no matter what he says or does. The ad was widely condemned, with one commentator from Griffith University, professor AJ Brown, saying it raises "serious integrity issues" and was misleading.
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also launched a scathing attack on Morrison. In an op-ed in The Guardian, he wrote, "The uncomfortable truth is the government's response just doesn't pass the pub test. It's been evasive, tepid, tone-deaf and, above all, too late."
Jennifer Mills, the author of "Dyschronia" and a volunteer firefighter in rural South Australia, writing in The Washington Post has also weighed in on Morrison: "Like many volunteer firefighters, I am furious. Six months before the fires, and then again in September, Morrison declined to meet with a group of former fire chiefs who wanted to warn him that an emergency like this was on the horizon."
She continued: "Volunteer firefighters like me watched this season approach – the deadly combination of intense heat and Australia's worst drought in decades – with dread. Where were the extra resources we needed? And why was Australia still refusing to act on the climate emergency?"
She adds that beyond the immediate catastrophe, where 23 people have died, "The severe health impacts from this smoke-filled summer will be harder to quantify."
Indeed, this is not a crisis that is going to abate anytime soon. As of today, there are still over 135 bushfires burning across NSW, including almost 70 which remain uncontained.
Although there has been a small reprieve in some areas with welcome light rain, experts are warning that the health impacts of breathing the toxic air from the fires will not be known for some considerable time.
University of NSW professor Bin Jalaludin, a chief investigator with the Center for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Policy Research, told the Sydney Morning Herald, "I've been working in air pollution research since the early 1990s and we've not had any fires so prolonged or so extreme."
"For individual people," added Jalaludin "the impacts could be low, but if there is pre-existing heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, air pollution might just tip you over into having a heart attack".
One fundamental reason for Morrison's inactivity is his well known and widely ridiculed climate denial and his government's long-term support for fossil fuels, including the fact that his government is the largest exporter of coal. But now, Morrison has been belatedly trying to deny he is a climate denier.
PM says he wants to set the record straight - that his Govt has always made the connection between climate change and extreme weather conditions pic.twitter.com/d5odZRzdzJ— Emma Alberici (@albericie) January 5, 2020
Morrison has also finally and tardily announced an AUS $2 billion National Bushfire Recovery Fund, which will be paid out over the next two years, promising to "meet every cost that needs to be met."
While money to rebuild homes, businesses and communities is so urgently needed, why should traumatized and affected communities ultimately pay for the bail-out fund via indirect or direct taxes? Instead, Scott Morrison should finally stand up to the fossil fuel lobby and force them to pay for the damage caused by climate change.
Just before Christmas, a new plan was hatched to make companies producing fossil fuels foot the bill for the escalating costs of natural disasters in Australia.
The apocalyptic scenes witnessed in Australia are entirely consistent with what climate scientists have been warning about for decades. As one of them, Bill Hare tweeted yesterday:
Catastrophic fire events projected for south-east Australia by 2020 already made in 2009. By 2014 the LNP government repealed carbon pricing system & related policies for reducing emissions, except the 2020 renewable energy target which they weakened but could not remove. https://t.co/hYaZ3D10iK— Bill Hare (@BillHareClimate) January 5, 2020
Since then, for ten years Australian politicians have carried on denying the problem. For ten years, Big Oil and Big Coal have carried on drilling and mining as if they were immune from the consequences of their actions. They knew the risks, but ignored them. Now they must pay.
If they were forced to pay, they might start reacting to climate change in a way that is commensurate to the emergency we are in. And if they were now forced to pay, it would set a precedent for other governments to follow in the climate disasters that are surely to follow.
We have a new decade now. The old ways must end. We need a new direction and new political leadership. Morrison can salvage something from the wreckage of the fires and make the polluters pay for the mess that we are in.
Reposted with permission from Oil Change International.
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By Timothy Graham, Tobias R. Keller
In the first week of 2020, hashtag #ArsonEmergency became the focal point of a new online narrative surrounding the bushfire crisis.
The message: the cause is arson, not climate change.
We studied about 300 Twitter accounts driving the #ArsonEmergency hashtag to identify inauthentic behavior. We found many accounts using #ArsonEmergency were behaving "suspiciously," compared to those using #AustraliaFire and #BushfireAustralia.
Accounts peddling #ArsonEmergency carried out activity similar to what we've witnessed in past disinformation campaigns, such as the coordinated behavior of Russian trolls during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Bots, Trolls and Trollbots
The most effective disinformation campaigns use bot and troll accounts to infiltrate genuine political discussion, and shift it towards a different "master narrative."
Bots and trolls have been a thorn in the side of fruitful political debate since Twitter's early days. They mimic genuine opinions, akin to what a concerned citizen might display, with a goal of persuading others and gaining attention.
Bots are usually automated (acting without constant human oversight) and perform simple functions, such as retweeting or repeatedly pushing one type of content.
Troll accounts are controlled by humans. They try to stir controversy, hinder healthy debate and simulate fake grassroots movements. They aim to persuade, deceive and cause conflict.
We've observed both troll and bot accounts spouting disinformation regarding the bushfires on Twitter. We were able to distinguish these accounts as being inauthentic for two reasons.
There are various definitions for the word "bot" or "troll." Bot Sentinel says:
Propaganda bots are pieces of code that utilize Twitter API to automatically follow, tweet, or retweet other accounts bolstering a political agenda. Propaganda bots are designed to be polarizing and often promote content intended to be deceptive… Trollbot is a classification we created to describe human controlled accounts who exhibit troll-like behavior.
Some of these accounts frequently retweet known propaganda and fake news accounts, and they engage in repetitive bot-like activity. Other trollbot accounts target and harass specific Twitter accounts as part of a coordinated harassment campaign. Ideology, political affiliation, religious beliefs, and geographic location are not factors when determining the classification of a Twitter account.
These machine learning tools compared the behavior of known bots and trolls with the accounts tweeting the hashtags #ArsonEmergency, #AustraliaFire, and #BushfireAustralia. From this, they provided a "score" for each account suggesting how likely it was to be a bot or troll account.
We also manually analysed the Twitter activity of suspicious accounts and the characteristics of their profiles, to validate the origins of #ArsonEmergency, as well as the potential motivations of the accounts spreading the hashtag.
Who to blame?
Unfortunately, we don't know who is behind these accounts, as we can only access trace data such as tweet text and basic account information.
This graph shows how many times #ArsonEmergency was tweeted between Dec. 31 last year and Jan. 8 this year:
On the vertical axis is the number of tweets over time which featured #ArsonEmergency. On Jan. 7, there were 4726 tweets. Author provided
The New York Times has also reported on perceptions that media magnate Rupert Murdoch is influencing Australia's bushfire debate.
Weeding-Out Inauthentic Behavior
In late November, some Twitter accounts began using #ArsonEmergency to counter evidence that climate change is linked to the severity of the bushfire crisis.
Below is one of the earliest examples of an attempt to replace #ClimateEmergency with #ArsonEmergency. The accounts tried to get #ArsonEmergency trending to drown out dialogue acknowledging the link between climate change and bushfires.
We suspect the origins of the #ArsonEmergency debacle can be traced back to a few accounts. Author provided
The hashtag was only tweeted a few times in 2019, but gained traction this year in a sustained effort by about 300 accounts.
A much larger portion of bot and troll-like accounts pushed #ArsonEmergency, than they did #AustraliaFire and #BushfireAustralia.
The narrative was then adopted by genuine accounts who furthered its spread.
On multiple occasions, we noticed suspicious accounts countering expert opinions while using the #ArsonEmergency hashtag.
The inauthentic accounts engaged with genuine users in an effort to persuade them. Author provided
Since media coverage has shone light on the disinformation campaign, #ArsonEmergency has gained even more prominence, but in a different light.
Some journalists are acknowledging the role of disinformation bushfire crisis — and countering narrative the Australia has an arson emergency. However, the campaign does indicate Australia has a climate denial problem.
What's clear to me is that Australia has been propelled into the global disinformation battlefield.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
It's difficult to debunk disinformation, as it often contains a grain of truth. In many cases, it leverages people's previously held beliefs and biases.
Humans are particularly vulnerable to disinformation in times of emergency, or when addressing contentious issues like climate change.
Online users, especially journalists, need to stay on their toes.
The accounts we come across on social media may not represent genuine citizens and their concerns. A trending hashtag may be trying to mislead the public.
Right now, it's more important than ever for us to prioritize factual news from reliable sources — and identify and combat disinformation. The Earth's future could depend on it.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
Signs added to Glacier National Park more than a decade ago predicting that the glaciers would be gone by 2020 are being taken down and replaced, as CNN reported.
The signs were first put up over a decade ago when climate models predicted the glaciers would melt. By 2017, the projections had been revised, but the National Parks budget was so tightly constrained that it made it impossible to change the signs, according to park spokeswoman Gina Kurzmen who spoke to CNN.
Kurzmen added that the most prominent sign was changed last year at the St. Mary's Visitor Center, but the park is still waiting for budget authorization to change two other signs, as CNN reported.
Kurzmen also told MTN News in Montana that the climate models still predict shrinking glaciers, but the patterns of glacier melting are nuanced and much more complex than was initially predicted, as KPAX in Missoula and Western Montana reported.
A number of right wing outlets including Breitbart, The Washington Times, and the white nationalist outlet The Daily Caller have reported on the inaccurate signs, using it as a clarion call for denying the climate crisis.
However, while the signs are outdated and the initial predictions were off-target, the loss of glaciers is conspicuous and troubling. A 2017 study by the U.S. Geological Survey and Portland State University found that some ice formations in Montana had lost 85 percent of their size and the average shrinkage was 39 percent, according to CNN.
Kurzmen told CNN that while the signs will be changed, the message will not change and will pin their loss on human activity. She said that the new signs will say: "When they will completely disappear depends on how and when we act. One thing is consistent: the glaciers in the park are shrinking."
It is a tough time for glaciers across the globe, even if the ones in Montana have survived into 2020, as the Deseret News reported. Iceland held a funeral for, Okjökull, a glacier lost in 2019. In the spring of 2019, researchers at the University of Zurich found that more than 9 trillion tons of ice have melted since 1961.
Scientists memorialized the Okjökull glacier with a plaque that read: "Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and know what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it."
The 2017 study found that Montana's glaciers have almost no chance of surviving to the end of the century.
"In several decades they will be mostly gone. They will grow so small that they will disappear. They will certainly be gone before the end of the century," Dan Fagre, the study's lead scientist, had said, as CNN reported.
Fagre added that humans are responsible.
"There are variations in the climate but it is humans that have made all those variations warmer. The glaciers have been here for 7,000 years and will be gone in decades. This is not part of the natural cycle."
"Honestly, I don't think I would have said anything. Because obviously he's not listening to scientists and experts, so why would he listen to me?" Thunberg said, as The Guardian reported. "So I probably wouldn't have said anything, I wouldn't have wasted my time."
While the activist and the president didn't speak at the summit, Thunberg was caught on camera glaring at Trump when he arrived at the UN, and the death stare went viral.
The next day, Trump seemed to mock Thunberg's emotional UN speech in which she accused world leaders of failing to act on the climate crisis.
"She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!" he tweeted.
She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see! https://t.co/1tQG6QcVKO— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1569296172.0
Thunberg then pushed back by changing her Twitter bio to read "A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future," The Guardian reported at the time.
Trump and Thunberg sparred again on the social media platform in December after Thunberg was named TIME Magazine's Person of the Year.
Trump tweeted that her win was "ridiculous" and that she "must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend!"
Thunberg once again changed her bio to read "a teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend," TIME reported.
In the interview Monday, Thunberg addressed the attacks she had weathered from world leaders.
"[T]hose attacks are just funny because they obviously don't mean anything," she said, according to The Guardian. "I guess of course it means something – they are terrified of young people bringing change which they don't want – but that is just proof that we are actually doing something and that they see us as some kind of threat."
Thunberg's remarks came as she guest-edited the radio station's Today program.
Also during the program, Thunberg had a chance to speak to renowned nature broadcaster David Attenborough for the first time.
What happened when... @GretaThunberg met David Attenborough for the first time? #r4today |… https://t.co/rsND6g7YSa— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBC Radio 4 Today)1577694726.0
The pair expressed their admiration for each other and their work. Thunberg said she had been inspired by Attenborough's documentaries, according to Reuters.
"You have aroused the world," Attenborough told Thunberg.
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