22 October 2020
False information about the pandemic is rampant, but seasoned defenders of climate science can offer tips for how to fight it.
The liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America tallied 142 minutes of climate news coverage on the nightly network newscasts and Sunday political talk shows in 2018.
That's two hours, 22 minutes for the entire calendar year, and an hour's worth of those minutes came in an all-climate Meet the Press show.
On Wednesday evening—CNN devoted 420 minutes (seven hours!) – to grilling the 10 leading Democratic presidential candidates on climate change.
In one night.
CNN anchors like Wolf Blitzer paired off to question each of the candidates for 20 minutes, with an ample supply of well-schooled questions from what was clearly a hand-picked audience of activists, scientists, teachers and more.
All kept the questions relevant and useful. As a result, we may never know what's on Amy Klobuchar's Spotify list.
Julián Castro opened the evening at 5pm Eastern with a focus on climate justice. Senator Kamala Harris said she'd end the Senate filibuster rule solely to prevent a Republican blockade of climate legislation should the Dems win control of the Senate.
Minnesota's Klobuchar emphasized climate impacts in the Midwest. Pete Buttigeig linked it to spirituality. Bernie Sanders went for the throats of Big Oil.
Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker came the closest to righteous anger.
Joe Biden stressed the importance of holding China's feet to the fire. "You can't very well preach to the choir if you can't sing," he said. Tell it, Brother Joe.
At times, the infothon took detours into non-climate-related environmental issues. Much was said about biodiversity, plastic pollution in the ocean, PFAS chemicals, lead in urban drinking water, and more. It was as if CNN wanted to burst out of its – and all news networks' – environmental omerta.
To be sure, there were rough spots. The normally self-assured Harris tried to BS her way through responses to two questions about the melting Arctic and global security. Biden seemed defensive when asked about a high dollar fossil fuel donor.
The candidates and CNN anchors both fell into insider jargon but didn't explain what, for example, the IPCC is, or why methane is a very bad thing for the climate. Kudos to Anderson Cooper for trying an explanation of Marcellus Shale. CNN's in-house climate expert, Bill Weir, could have been given a bigger role.
If you're speaking to the minority of viewers who are climate-woke, such things need no explanation. But the vast majority of viewers need to be welcomed in, not driven away by exclusionary language.
It's already asking a lot for the average viewer to connect the dots from cow belches to the Burger King drive-thru to disappearing glaciers to sunny-day floods in South Beach.
Seven hours. I worked for CNN on these issues for almost 18 years. I'm not sure we got seven hours' worth of climate stories in newscasts in all that time. But never mind. Sacrificing a full night's worth of prime time is a major step toward giving the proper respect to what a majority of the Dem candidates called an "existential" issue. One seven-hour step for a network…
What will be really interesting is how climate will play as an element in the debates between President Trump and the Democrats' nominee. The last time climate change came up in a debate between the nominees was 2008. Moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS bungled the question, referring to climate control —the plumbers' term for heating and air conditioning.
Here's more evidence that, if you'll pardon the expression, the ice has been broken: MSNBC has announced a candidates' "Climate Forum" on September 19 and 20.
Next year's moderators have a year to get it right. Wednesday's moderator conduct would be a good model. The differences between Trump and any of the 10 Dems on climate are vast.
Environmentalists have predicted for years that climate and environment would be crucial issues for voters for the White House and Congress. This time, they may finally be correct.
In the 10 years since I left CNN, there are many times I've felt embarrassed or angered by what the place has become: Obsessive coverage of soon-to-be-forgotten stories like the missing Malaysian airliner, or relentless parades of panels of Washington blowhards stating the obvious about Trump.
Wednesday night, for seven hours, every single person who appeared behaved like a grownup and shared ideas about solving the preeminent problem of our lives.
I've never been prouder of the place.
There are President Trump's children: Eric, Junior, Ivanka, and the rest. Then there are his symbolic spawn, taking root in governments around the globe like a rejected sci-fi movie pitch.
When Queen Elizabeth II formally made Boris Johnson the newest British Prime Minister on Wednesday, he joined a growing list of "populist" new leaders whose collective rise bodes ill for a healthy planet.
Scott Morrison in Australia may not play the tyrant card, but he represents a turn toward coal-burning, climate change denial. Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines loom as a return to cold-blooded tyranny; Duterte is halfway into his six-year term in the Philippines, and has earned comparisons as "the Filipino Trump."
He's less of a full-throated eco-disaster than his Brazilian counterpart, but let's turn back the clock a bit. In 2013, Yeb Saño turned that year's U.N. climate conference on its emotional ear.
The youthful Saño was the chief Filipino climate delegate under President Benigno Aquino III, and he turned a normally tedious conference into a genuine crying jag with a speech about his nation's agony at the mercy of Typhoon Haiyan. The unprecedentedly strong storm killed at least 6,000 and displaced four million.
Saño left government for NGO work on climate. While Duterte hasn't leapt headlong into climate denial, he's resisted calls to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and even chided diplomats for "accomplishing nothing."
Bolsonaro has similarly earned "Brazilian Trump" comparisons, but the environment is taking the main hit. Illegal Amazon deforestation – already a crisis – is accelerating, while the Bolsonaro government is moving apace to legalize even more destruction.
In May, Australia's Scott Morrison rose to Prime Minister in what was dubbed "the climate election." The climate lost, and Morrison is pumping more Aussie coal into Asian exports to growing economies like China and India.
Boris Johnson's new cabinet reflects their boss: They're all over the map, from Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers ("action on climate change is vital") to Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, who deploys denialist language like "climate alarmism." (Thanks to the sleuths Mat Hope and Richard Collett-White at DeSmogBlog UK for these.)
At a time when the world is in desperation for climate leadership, we're getting climate despots instead.
Before this week, President Donald Trump's most glaring enviro-delusion has been his imaginary effort to revive the domestic coal industry.
There have been a few others, but most of the mainstream glare has been reserved for other things, like coddling dictators, threatening the news media, and blaming Obama and Hillary for the extinction of the dinosaurs and the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby.
Then last Monday, possibly inspired by Republican pollsters who see Trump's environmental oblivion as a vulnerability with younger voters, Trump delivered a self-congratulatory speech on his environmental accomplishments.
Lewis Carroll ingesting six tabs of Timothy Leary while smoking a bagful of Stephen King, mainlining three Picassos and snorting a full reel of Quentin Tarantino could not have conjured a more bizarre image.
In his Monday remarks, Trump crowed about how his administration has pushed to perfect America's "crystal clear" water and air, despite a flurry of rules and budget cuts designed to undermine the half-century-old laws that have enabled our national cleanup.
Two dozen environmental NGO's, and nearly as many Democratic presidential candidates, responded. Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, Politico, New York Times, Washington Post, Mother Jones, CBS News, The New Yorker, and others set a record for fact-checking a speech that was utterly bereft of actual facts.
Fact-checking President Trump's speech on the US environment https://t.co/O0Np68NznD pic.twitter.com/Vp0E5aW35e
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 8, 2019
James Freeman, Assistant Editorial Page Editor for the Wall Street Journal, was a lonely, if not unsurprising, voice of dissent, leaving Trump's facts blissfully un-checked.
Here's another environmental accomplishment that POTUS was too modest to mention: Only days before his green victory lap, Trump filched a reported $2.5 million from National Park entry fee revenues to help pay for a military-themed July 4 hoedown. The Park Service, chronically underfunded and years behind on meeting its maintenance and infrastructure needs, falls that much farther back.
If I'd submitted Pres. Trump's outrageous speech on the environment to my high school English teacher, she would have spilled so much red ink marking it up it would have looked like a crime scene. And indeed it was a crime, against facts, science, and the health of our planet.
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) July 10, 2019
POTUS covered a lot of ground, but he could barely find the time to mention the single environmental issue that dominates global discussion, climate change. The Trump administration stands alone, having pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and rolled back Obama-era restriction on power plant emissions.
Donald Trump's speech will be filled with lies: He's done as much to help the environment as the Continental Army did to secure our airports. https://t.co/V4JhBpLosV
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) July 8, 2019
And last month, he rolled back fuel efficiency goals beyond what automakers were asking.
This isn't mere hypocrisy, nor is it just catering to friendly industries, nor blind anti-science spite. It's something deeper, and quite pathological.
Earth to Donald: WTF? This is serious. Earth to the Republicans: Your pollsters are warning that ignoring this issue could cost you the White House and the Senate next year. And it could cost us all far more dearly.
Only a few years ago, climate denial was on the run in world capitals.
In the U.S., the Obama Administration may have underachieved, but was still a welcome change from Vice President Dick Cheney's fossil fuel lovefest.
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's purge of government science was ousted in favor of a pale green Justin Trudeau.
Former boxer Tony Abbott was counted out in Australia. Even the Saudi's made noise about a future without oil.
But joining Donald Trump in a stunning reversal of fortune, Australia has swung back to climate denial, and once-vocal developing nation advocates for climate action like Brazil and the Philippines have backslid as well.
All of this is happening at a time when high-level unanimity on climate is essential.
Roiled by an economic crisis and high-level corruption allegations, Brazil's electorate made an abrupt turn last year, opting for right wing populist Jair Bolsonaro. His disdain for the Paris Climate Accord was front-and-center in his winning campaign.
Bolsonaro's supporting cast has tossed rhetorical bombs at climate science.
Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo parroted an early theme of Trump tweets, suggesting that climate scientists, environmental activists and fellow travelers were part of a plot by China to corner the world's energy markets.
Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina is nicknamed "The Muse of Poison" for her advocacy of intensive pesticide use. Cristina is also pushing to speed the conversion of Amazon rainforest to farmland, and has made not-too-subtle threats about undermining Brazil's already beleaguered Environment Ministry.
Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right). (Credit: G20Australia/flickr)
Australia's new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, rode a wave of support for the coal industry to victory as head of Australia's Liberal Party (in Australia, the "Liberal" Party is what Americans would call Conservative or Republican. I've never known how that happened.)
It was billed as "The Climate Change Election." Climate lost.
Coal is still a big deal in Australia, with huge export markets throughout Asia. Big enough, apparently, that Aussie voters saw fit to swap the imperiled Great Barrier Reef for 30 pieces of coal.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte accepts that climate change is real, citing on-the-ground impacts in his country.
But he threatened to reverse Filipino involvement in the Paris Climate Accord, calling the pact "unfair" to developing nations.
Friday's resignation of British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves another question mark. May will serve until her Conservative Party chooses a successor to lead a minority government already hogtied by the Brexit decision.
Foreign Minister Boris Johnson is widely considered the leading contender. The mercurial Johnson has uttered bipolar views on climate change, at times urging the U.S. to reconsider its climate denial, while at other times quoting leading U.K. climate denier Piers Corbyn.
Here in the Land of Trump, the President's embrace of "beautiful, clean coal" hasn't done much to revive the reeling industry's fortunes. On May 10, Cloud Peak Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, leaving its miners in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana uncertain about their future.
This week, 75 business leaders, including some from Fortune Fifty giants like PepsiCo and Microsoft, lobbied the U.S. Senate to urge a carbon pricing scheme. Not a single Republican Senator listened.
So, in a supreme and potentially tragic irony, Trump has gone from virtually standing alone as a climate-denying head of state to leading an apparent climate collusion.
Somewhere in the mix is Russian President Putin, whose authoritarian fortunes are pinned, among other things, to natural gas exports and access to the resources of a melting Arctic.
World leaders need to not only speak, but act, as one on climate. Such an imperative is growing more difficult, not easier, in the face of a clear and present danger.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the most sweeping environmental law on America's books.
It requires a thorough study of the environmental impact of any major federal construction project, law or regulation before it becomes the law of the land.
Thus, NEPA has become the bane of the existence of many a developer or "anti-environment" policymaker since that sly ol' treehugger, Richard Milhous Nixon, signed it into law nearly 50 years ago, on January 1, 1970.
The law also created the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the leading White House environmental advisors.
But a president who is most often compared to Nixon seems hell-bent on crippling or wiping out several Nixon-era creations, including NOAA, EPA, the Clean Air Act, NEPA, and the Clean Water Act (which Nixon actually vetoed as too costly, but an environmentally bipartisan Congress overrode the veto).
The push for NEPA is largely credited back then to Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a pro-Vietnam War Democratic Senator who exhibited pro-conservation tendencies from time to time. The law called for a process that often took three to five years to measure up, say, a roadbuilding project that might cross swords with an endangered species listing or prospective Clean Water Act violation. (Note: Trump has already found ways around NEPA – for example, exempting the habitat-destroying Border Wall from a multitude of enviro laws, including NEPA.)
A few years ago, the Natural Resources Defense Council defended NEPA's successes with an exhaustive rundown citing examples from all 50 states. But even NEPA's staunchest defenders concede that three to five years' delay on projects can be as burdensome as its requirement for public comment are helpful.
Power transmission line and pipeline projects, including the longstanding tussle over the Keystone XL Pipeline, are front and center lines of conflict in Congress, in court, and in a potentially "streamlined" NEPA process.
An environmental battle that's nearly as venerable as NEPA itself could be drawn into the mix next year. As the Trump Administration pushes for oil drilling in the the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, conservationists and Indigenous Alaskans are fighting the drilling in a portion of the sprawling refuge. The Interior Department has moved directly to leasing without a full environmental review, something experts say goes directly against NEPA.
For environmentalists, NEPA's requirements for public input could be a major loss. After all, their whimsical play on the NEPA acronym is "Never Eliminate Public Advice."
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