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Introduction And Overview
For more than 20 years, environmentalists, scientists and philanthropists have worked together to mobilize action in the United States on climate change and to implement policies that address the undeniable, human causes of the problem. With Republicans controlling the U.S. House of Representatives, environmental groups have given up hope for comprehensive climate legislation until at least 2013. Instead, more modest ambitions focus on passing a federal clean energy standard, increasing fuel efficiency for cars, and defending the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse emissions.
Arguments For Deeper Consideration
Environmental sociologists argue that climate change is the leading risk posed by modern industrialization, a global transformation made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Yet as Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap explain, meaningfully dealing with climate change—even accepting the issue as a major threat—generates great resistance, since doing so requires us to fundamentally question basic principles of societal organization, cultural meaning and identity.
Other scholars offer a different set of critiques and solutions. According to climate scientist Mike Hulme and policy expert Roger Pielke Jr., climate change remains misdiagnosed as a conventional pollution problem akin to ozone depletion or acid rain – environmental threats that were limited in scope and therefore solvable. In these cases technological alternatives were already available and the economic benefits of action more certain — both conditions that allowed policymakers to move forward even in the absence of strong scientific consensus.
Hulme and others argue that climate change is representative of a “wicked” problem rather than a conventional environmental threat. Like public health or poverty, climate change is a perpetual challenge that can only be managed and coped with, rather than solved. Climate change is so complex in scale, they explain, that a single omnibus solution such as cap and trade or an international emissions treaty is unlikely to be either politically viable or effective.
Geographer Max Boykoff and colleagues additionally critique the definition of policy action in terms of the “stabilization” of atmospheric concentration levels, a metaphor linked to the assumption that activities pose the risk of “dangerous interference.” Yet, the actual threshold where we reach dangerous interference is inherently uncertain and political, they argue, premised on a mix of complex scientific projections and value judgments as to the nature of acceptable risks, impacts, costs and trade-offs.
Boykoff and others also argue that a focus on century-distant, global targets reinforces the notion that climate change is predominantly a physical manifestation that requires science and economics to understand and technocratic approaches to solve. This emphasis tends to lend primacy to climate modelers and economists as the main authorities on the problem, excluding other relevant experts from advisory processes such as the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Notably, in a series of books, white papers and reports, several scholars and policy thinkers argue for flipping the frame of reference, defining climate change not in terms of pollution that requires regulation and sacrifice to end, but in terms of developing new energy sources and technologies that make the United States more competitive, prosperous and secure. They argue that there needs to be more intensive investment in understanding how innovation happens and the role of government as catalyst.
Research And Analysis To Informed Decision Making
Funded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the analysis is based on five months of intensive research that involved the collection and analysis of data across five dimensions of the climate change debate. Assisted in my research by a team of American University graduate students, I examined:
- he financial resources and spending of environmental groups and their opponents;
- the planning efforts and investment strategies of major foundations;
- the patterns in news attention and media portrayals of climate change;
- the factors shaping the recent decline in public concern and belief in climate change;
- the factors influencing how scientists and environmentalists interpret and make sense of climate change politics.
Climate Change Advocacy:Revenues, Spending And Activities
In Chapter 1, to better understand the influence of money and spending in the debate over cap and trade legislation, I reviewed the nature, composition and funding sources of the major national environmental groups working on climate change and compared these factors with the opposing coalition of conservative think tanks, advocacy groups and industry associations. Then, analyzing data compiled from tax returns, annual reports and other sources, I systematically compared the revenue and forms of spending by both sides in the climate change debate.
Overall, in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, the major conservative think tanks, advocacy groups and industry associations took in a total of $907 million in revenue, spent $787 million on all program-related activities, and spent an estimated $259 million on climate change and energy-specific activities. In comparison, the national environmental groups took in $1.7 billion in revenue, spent $1.4 billion on program activities, and spent an estimated $394 million on climate change and energy-specific activities.
Yet despite these sizable advantages in spending for environmental groups, only 19 percent of the spending by environmental groups specific to climate change and energy was unrestricted as part of a 501(c)(4) organization. In comparison, because of the 501(c)(6) tax status of the industry associations, approximately two-thirds of spending by the coalition of advocacy groups opposed to climate action was free to be applied in unlimited amounts to lobbying and direct grassroots mobilization.
To maximize the impact of their spending, however, environmental groups coordinated their activities in support of climate action through such formal partnerships as Clean Energy Works. This initiative included 50 allied environmental, religious, labor, national security, clean energy and minority rights groups, employed more than 200 field organizers across congressional districts, and was guided by the lead pollster and field director for the 2008 Obama campaign. Efforts at communication were also boosted by the activities of such allied groups as the Center for American Progress, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Media Matters for America, research by message experts such as Frank Luntz and, most notably, through the efforts of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection.
When launched in 2008, Gore announced that the Alliance would spend $300 million over the next three years on a “mass persuasion” campaign to rival oil companies. Yet in 2009, despite great expectations, the Alliance spent $34 million on advertising, short of the widely publicized $100 million-a-year goal. In total, for 2008 and 2009, the Alliance generated $115 million in revenue and spent $115 million on all activities. (Figures for 2010 are not available.)
The lower-than-expected spending by the Alliance is significant when compared with the advertising expenditures of opponents. Groups such as the Coalition for Clean Coal used the presumed $100 million spending by Gore to rally additional financial support from its members and to boost the Coalition’s advertising budget to $31 million in 2009.
In sum, propelled by an ultra wealthy donor base and key alliances with corporations and other organizations, the environmental movement appears to have narrowed the financial gap with its opponents among conservative groups and industry associations. Indeed, the effort to pass cap and trade legislation may have been the best-financed political cause in American history. The effort also demonstrates not only the vast revenue base and organizational capacity of the environmental movement, but also the movement’s enhanced ability to coordinate activities among its constituent members and to build partnerships.
Design To Win Engineering Social Change
In Chapter 2, I examine the conventional belief that conservative philanthropists like the Koch brothers are more effective than their centrist counterparts because they funnel their funding into a coordinated set of causes, think tanks and groups aimed at achieving specific policy ends. Yet as I review, far from being passive supporters, over the past decade, foundations supporting action on climate change have strongly shaped—if not defined—the environmental movement’s agenda, engaging in many of the same policy-focused strategies as conservatives.
In 2006, several of the country’s wealthiest foundations hired a consulting firm to comprehensively survey the available scientific literature and to consult more than 150 leading climate change and energy experts. The result of this intensive undertaking was the 2007 report Design to Win: Philanthropy’s Role in the Fight Against Global Warming.
Leading the report was the recommendation that “tempering climate change” required a strong cap and trade policy in the United States and the European Union, and a binding international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. The report predicted that passage of cap and trade legislation would “prompt a sea change that washes over the entire global economy.” The report included little to no discussion of the role of government in directly sponsoring the creation of new energy technologies. The report is additionally notable for the absence of any meaningful discussion of social, political or cultural dimensions of the challenge.
Approximately $368 million was distributed across the 1,246 individual grants. However, given that not all foundation records are publicly available for this period, the total of $368 million likely underestimates the actual amount distributed between 2008 and 2010. If an amount based on a foundation’s previous year giving is used as a stand-in for missing years, these nine foundations would have distributed more than $560 million between 2008 and 2010.
Much like their conservative counterparts, the funding provided by these nine foundations reflects a pattern of support focused on achieving a clear set of policy objectives. Funding included $39 million associated with activities in support of cap and trade policies; $32 million associated with efforts at reaching an international agreement or influencing the policies of a specific country; and $18.7 million associated with efforts at limiting or opposing coal-fired power plants.
The analysis of the Design to Win alliance shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, these nine foundations have been as strategic in targeting specific policy outcomes as even the Koch brothers, applying more than 10 times the amount of money in pursuit of their goals. Yet focus and strategy are only as effective as the premises upon which they are based. As described in the chapter, the Design to Win report appeared to define climate change in conventional terms, as an environmental problem that required only the mobilization of market incentives and public will. With this definition, comparatively limited funding focused on the role of government in promoting new technology and innovation. Nor was there equivalent investment in important human dimensions of the issue, such as adaptation, health, equity, justice or economic development.
Climate Change Advocacy: Revenues, Spending And Advocacy
After the failure of the Senate cap and trade bill in August 2010, many commentators blamed the bill’s demise on the massive spending by fossil fuel companies, industry associations and their conservative allies. Others, however, noted that environmental groups—joined by dozens of leading companies and organizations—had devoted record amounts of financial resources in an effort to pass the bill. As an unnamed Obama administration official said about environmental groups, “They spent like $100 million and they weren’t able to get a single Republican convert on the bill.
Though most environmental groups are limited in how much money they can devote to direct lobbying, in the debate over cap and trade, they were able to spend heavily on efforts to educate the public and policymakers on the need for a mandatory emissions cap, hiring the country’s top political consultants. They also invested in partnerships with corporations and other organizations in a strategy aimed at counter-balancing the amount spent on lobbying by opposing industry associations and companies.
As the analysis indicates, the environmental movement has made sizable gains in closing the spending gap with their conservative and industry opponents. Indeed, the effort to pass cap and trade legislation may have been the best-financed political cause in American history. The effort also demonstrates not only the vast revenue base and organizational capacity of the environmental movement, but also the movement’s enhanced ability to coordinate activities among its constituent members and to build alliances.
Financial Reports And Spending Limit
As previous studies have described, perhaps no other social movement in U.S. history matches the size, diversity and financial resources of the environmental movement. In one analysis, sociologist Robert Brulle estimated that as of 2003, there were more than 6,500 national and 20,000 local environmental organizations in the United States, with an estimated 20-30 million members and more than $5 billion in annual revenue.4 In his book Environment Inc., political scientist Christopher Bosso examined the 31 largest U.S. national environmental organizations and estimated their 2002 annual revenue at $2.1 billion, with these organizations employing more than 7,000 staff. As he writes, groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are perhaps unique among Beltway advocacy organizations in their more than three-decade linear growth in financial resources and in their capacity to work on multiple issues across state, national and international levels.
For many organizations, the significant proportion of contributions are from ultra-wealthy donors. In his book The Climate War, journalist Eric Pooley reported that hedge fund trader Julian Robertson, who has a net worth of $2.2 billion, gave the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) more than $40 million between 2005 and 2009 to support the group’s efforts on climate change, accounting for almost one-third of the $144 million that EDF spent on the issue during the period. In 2009, according to its annual report, EDF received an additional $48.5 million multiyear gift from an unnamed source. In another example, Bloomberg Businessweek estimates that hedge fund billionaire Robert W. Wilson gave more than $500 million to environmental organizations between 2004 and 2008. Clean energy entrepreneur David Gelbaum, according to The New York Times, has given $200 million to the Sierra Club during his lifetime, and between 2004 and 2008 gave $48 million to the organization.
Yet despite the significant donor base of the environmental movement, when comparing the assets and spending of the coalitions aligned in support and against cap and trade legislation, several considerations are important to note. First, most national environmental organizations are 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. Under this IRS classification, donations to the organizations are tax deductible, creating sizable revenue streams. Yet this classification also restricts spending by national environmental groups in most cases to $1 million annually on direct lobbying and $250,000 on grassroots mobilization of the public specific to legislation.
Most conservative think tanks also are 501(c)(3) organizations, devoting resources to policy analysis and communication through reports, op-eds, media appearances and other strategies. In his 2004 book, Andrew Rich estimated that roughly 100 out of the 165 ideologically identifiable think tanks in the United States were conservative. In a separate 2008 study, Peter Jacques and colleagues identified 44 national and regional conservative think tanks that had engaged in activities specific to environmental issues.
Still, however, there are far fewer conservative think tanks than environmental groups in the United States, and as will be reviewed, even the largest of these think tanks have smaller budgets than many of the national environmental organizations. These think tanks also focus on a broad range of issues from foreign policy to health care to taxes to financial regulation. Yet, across issues, their efforts are fairly cost-effective and efficient, involving a narrow set of activities mostly aimed at shaping decision-maker and elite opinion through op-eds, books, white papers, conferences, blogs and media relations.
The work of think tanks is also often directly complemented by unrestricted spending on grassroots mobilization and communication efforts by 501(c)(4) conservative organizations such as Freedom Works and the Club for Growth. Moreover, in this grassroots mobilization, cap and trade legislation has been efficiently folded into a larger meta-narrative opposing big government, taxes, “socialism” and “Obamacare.”
Convergence On Cap And Trade
Despite historically differing policy agendas, preferred strategies and ideologies, the major environmental organizations do coordinate their policy activities through convening organizations such as The Partnership Project and The Green Group. As Eric Pooley recounts, in 2007, when the two dozen leaders of the Green Group members arrived in Washington, D.C., they presented Congress for the first time with a unified policy agenda, urging lawmakers to pass an aggressive, mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Within this network, over the subsequent years, several key players and initiatives emerged.
Efforts to pass cap and trade were pursued most intensively by a smaller subset of five environmental organizations that launched the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) in 2007. USCAP played a lead role in the formulation and promotion of the House and Senate bills, with their members lobbying and advocating on behalf of the legislation. By 2009, USCAP included the environmental groups EDF, NRDC, WRI, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the Nature Conservancy and NWF and corporate members AES, Alcoa, Alstom, Boston Scientific Corp., British Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, Caterpillar, Chrysler, Deere & Co., Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, DuPont, Exelon Corp., Ford Motor Co., General Electric, Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson, NextEra Energy, NRG Energy, PepsiCo, PG&E Corp., PNM, Rio Tinto, Shell, Siemens, and Weyerhauser.
Through USCAP, participating environmental groups as 501(c)(3) organizations attempted to dramatically expand their lobbying influence—albeit indirectly—by concentrating their resources on building formal partnerships with corporations. The members of USCAP commissioned the Meridian Institute, a non-profit specializing in mediation, to lead a series of ongoing and intensive negotiations that enabled the participating environmental groups and corporations to agree on a set of policy proposals, announcements and activities in support of cap and trade legislation.
A second major group leading the effort in support of a mandatory cap on emissions was Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection. Unveiled in 2008 by Gore in a 60 Minutes interview, the Alliance announced that it would embark on a three-year, $300 million advertising campaign “to recruit 10 million advocates to seek laws and policies that can cut greenhouse gases.” The Alliance was established as a 501(c)(3) and later added the 501(c)(4) Climate Protection Action Fund.
Environmental Groups: Revenue And Spending
Reviewing annual reports and publicly available tax documents, I compiled similar data on the national environmental organizations that mobilized in support of climate action with almost all of these organizations advocating on behalf of cap and trade legislation. For these organizations as well, I include what they reported spending specifically on climate and energy-related program activities. Compared to the conservative think tanks, advocacy groups and industry associations, many of the environmental organizations provide details on spending specific to climate change and energy. For groups where this information is not available, I rely on conservative estimates with details on sources and estimates included in the end notes to this chapter.
In Table 1.4, I summarize revenues and spending for the environmental groups that are members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. These groups, for which cap and trade was their top policy priority, took in more than $925 million in total revenue in 2009, spent more than $649 million on all program activities, and spent an estimated $161 million on climate change and energy-specific activities.
EDF, as the lead architect of cap and trade legislation and USCAP, spent $33.3 million in restricted funds and $11.7 million in unrestricted funds on “climate stabilization” in 2009. As mentioned earlier, EDF is estimated to have spent $140 million on the issue between 2005 and 2009. In 2009, NRDC is estimated to have spent $28 million on climate and energy-related activities and NWF $32 million. (NWF left USCAP in 2009, but continued to work in support of cap and trade legislation.)
In Table 1.5, I summarize revenues and spending by Green Group and Partnership Project member organizations. All of these groups, with the exception of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, supported cap and trade legislation, though their level of activity and commitment to the House and Senate bills varied. These groups took in $239.8 million in revenues and spent $206 million on all program activities, with an estimated $84 million spent specific to climate change and energy.36 The lead organization among these groups—both in terms of its budget and 501(c)(4) flexibility—was the Sierra Club, which spent $75.9 million on all programs in 2009 and an estimated $30.9 million on climate change and energy programs.
In Table 1.6, I detail revenues and spending by the major conservation organizations other than the Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation. Some of these organizations, such as WWF, maintain programs outside of the United States. In total, these groups took in $370 million in revenue, spent $393 million on program activities, and spent an estimated $39 million on climate change and energy-related activities (based on a 10 percent estimate of total spending.)
In Table 1.7, I summarize revenue and spending by climate change and energy-specific organizations, a cluster that includes Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection. Of note, despite the group’s announced plans to spend $300 million over three years, the figures for 2009—provided through correspondence with the Alliance —appear to fall well short of this plan. The Alliance, a 501(c)(3), took in $15.9 million in revenue and spent nearly $41 million on all program activities (the difference was supported by 2008 revenue). The affiliated 501(c)(4) Climate Protection Action Fund took in $11.1 million and spent $7.2 million. In 2008, based on the 990 tax records for the Alliance, the group brought in $88.3 million and spent $66.8 million (the Action Fund spent $150,000.) In total, for 2008 and 2009, the Alliance for Climate Protection and affiliated Action Fund generated $115 million in revenue and spent $115 million.
Other major budget groups include ClimateWorks, a foundation that also engages in climate policy-related program activities, and Clean Tech Fund, an affiliate of the Energy Foundation that sponsors organizations working on climate and energy action. For more on these foundations, see Chapter 2. In total, for 2009, these climate change and energy-specific organizations took in $137.4 million in revenue and spent $109.8 million on program activities. Only three of these groups, as 501(c)(4) organizations, were unrestricted in what they could spend on lobbying.
Designs To Win: Engineering Social Change
In spring 2010, Greenpeace USA released the report “Koch Industries, Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine.” Analyzing publicly available tax documents, Greenpeace totaled contributions to conservative organizations from foundations established by the billionaires David and Charles Koch. The libertarian brothers own the oil and gas company Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the United States. According to the report, between 2005 and 2009, Koch-affiliated foundations gave $31.3 million to conservative organizations that challenged consensus views on climate change, and a total of $54.9 million since 1997. The Koch brothers, according to Greenpeace, were the new “conservative kingpins” of the “Climate Denial Machine,” exceeding the financial influence even of ExxonMobil.
The Greenpeace analysis was discussed by bloggers and referenced in several news reports, but the funding strategy of the Koch brothers did not gain widespread attention until an August cover story inThe New Yorker. Headlined “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging a War Against Obama,” investigative reporter Jane Mayer turned out 6,000 words detailing the Koch brothers’ biographies, libertarian world view and decades of support for conservative causes.
In highlighting the findings of the Greenpeace report, Mayer drew a direct connection for her readers between Koch-supported activities and recent poll findings indicating that “more Americans are convinced than at any time since 1997 that scientists have exaggerated the seriousness of global warming.” In another example of the Kochs’ covert influence, she quoted Center for American Progress blogger Joe Romm, who alleged that a David Koch-funded exhibition on human evolution at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, “whitewashes the modern climate issue,” a claim the museum strongly disputed.
Mayer’s article triggered considerable follow-up coverage and commentary. Among the examples are an extended interview with Terry Gross at NPR’s Fresh Air (titled “The Brothers Koch: Rich, Political, and Playing to Win”), a 10-minute interview on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (“The Gilded Age,”)6 and a Sunday column summarizing her article by The New York Times’ Frank Rich ( “The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party”).
In 2004, Mayer had written what she described in her interview with Terry Gross as “a very tough piece” on George Soros for The New Yorker. The tough piece was titled “The Money Man: Can George Soros’s millions insure the defeat of President Bush?”Mayer told Gross that it is a “choose your poison” scenario when it comes to “the role of these huge fortunes in flooding money into American politics.”
A Blueprint To Solve Climate Change
In 2006, several of the country’s wealthiest foundations hired the consulting firm California Environmental Associates to comprehensively survey the available scientific literature and to consult more than 150 leading climate change and energy experts. The result of this intensive undertaking was the 2007 report Design to Win: Philanthropy’s Role in the Fight Against Global Warming.
Echoing Gore’s dire message in An Inconvenient Truth, the report warned that the “battle” to avert “catastrophic climate change” could be “lost” in the next decade. The train was “leaving the station—and picking up steam,” warned the report.
The report did not recommend partisan activity, nor did it call for direct lobbying on specific legislation. However, playing well within the established rules of philanthropy, the call for a coordinated investment in a specific policy agenda was clear. Leading the report was the recommendation that “tempering climate change” required a strong cap and trade policy in the United States and the European Union, and a binding international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions that included China and India. Philanthropists, argued the report, were already supporting cap and trade initiatives, and were urged to do more.
In a section titled “Defining the Win: 2 degrees and 450 ppm,” the report concluded that a cap and trade system, along with the sector-specific interventions, could eliminate 11 gigatons of CO2emissions by 2030, moving the world a third of the way toward the ultimate goal of keeping CO2 levels from rising above the target of 450 ppm and average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees. To do that, however, the report urged U.S. philanthropists to more than triple their current support for these strategies from $210 million in 2007 to more than $600 million annually over the next decade and beyond.
Environmental Associates had interviewed 150 experts as part of the project, yet the report is notable for the absence of any meaningful discussion of social, political or cultural dimensions of the climate change challenge. As portrayed, climate change was a physical threat that only required science and economics to solve, a technocratic view reflective of an expert advisory committee composed predominantly of scientists, engineers and economists.
Analyzing The Design To Win Strategy
In order to examine how the Design to Win strategy has guided the decision making of major foundations, with the help of four graduate students, I analyzed 1,246 grants from nine aligned foundations distributed between 2008 and 2010. These aligned foundations are among the wealthiest in the country and include several of the top funders of environment-related programs. The foundations analyzed were the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (#1 in environmental funding for 2009), the Sea Change Foundation (#4), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (#5), the Kresge Foundation (#13), the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (#24), the McKnight Foundation (#39), the Oak Foundation (#41), the Energy Foundation and ClimateWorks.
Several lines of evidence suggest that these nine foundations relied heavily on the Design to Win report’s definition of the problem and its specific recommendations to guide their investments. Duke, Hewlett, Energy, Packard and Oak funded the original Design to Win report and today are listed as “aligned funders” at the ClimateWorks website. As discussed later in this section, with the exception of Duke, each of these foundations contributed to the launch of ClimateWorks. At their websites, both Hewlett and Packard explicitly describe the Design to Win report as guiding their funding strategy. Sea Change and Kresge are also listed as aligned funders by ClimateWorks. As discussed later in this section, they have additionally been major contributors to the Energy Foundation.
There are similar close ties among foundation leaders and personnel. Harvey, the head of ClimateWorks, was formerly the environment program officer at Hewlett and served in that position as a member of the Design to Win report steering committee. Before joining Hewlett, he founded the Energy Foundation. Heather Thompson, vice president of programs at ClimateWorks, was formerly with the consulting firm California Environmental Associates, and led the Design to Win project. Jennifer Fox, director of strategic planning at ClimateWorks, was formerly with the environment program at Hewlett. In addition, the environment program officers at Packard, Duke, Energy and Oak were also members of the Design to Win report’s steering committee.
It is important to note, however, that a range of factors have shaped the funding decisions by leaders at these foundations, and each organization makes final funding decisions independent of the others. In addition, the original Design to Win report includes the disclaimer: “The views expressed in this document are those of the authors (i.e., California Environmental Associates), and not necessarily those of the scientific advisors or funders.”
The Death Of A Norm: Evaluating False Balance In News Coverage
In the 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth, one of the more memorable comparisons that Al Gore offers his audience is the supposed difference between the state of climate science and how it is portrayed in the news media. His comparison opens like this: “Isn’t there a disagreement among scientists about whether the problem is real or not?”
“Actually, not really,” answers Gore.
“There was a massive study of every scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal written on global warming in the last 10 years,” Gore continues, referring to a 2004 essay published in Science by historian Naomi Oreskes.1 “They took a big sample of 10 percent, 928 articles. And you know the number of those that disagreed with the scientific consensus that we’re causing global warming and that it is a serious problem out of the 928: Zero.” Gore then goes on to discuss an industry-linked memo that planned to “reposition global warming as a theory rather than fact.”
“But have they succeeded?” he then asks. “There was another study of all the articles in the popular press,” says Gore, referring to a 2004 study by social scientists Max and Jules Boykoff. “Over the last 14 years they looked at a sample of 636. More than half of them said, ‘Well, we are not sure. It could be a problem, may not be a problem.’ So no wonder people are confused.”
Gore repeated his comparison in his 2009 book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, citing again the Boykoff study. In a 2010 blog post, Gore repeated the critique, asserting: “Overall, the media’s coverage of the climate issue has been atrocious.”
Gore’s continued criticism of the news media, however, overlooks the findings of more recent research. In a 2007 paper titled “Flogging a Dead Norm,” Max Boykoff updated his study to examine coverage appearing between 2003 and 2006.6 His analysis found that by 2006, false balance in coverage had almost completely disappeared from major U.S. news outlets. More than 96 percent of coverage that year reflected the consensus view among researchers that climate change was real and humans were a cause.
Gore is the most prominent voice among a chorus of climate advocates who continue to blame societal inaction on news coverage. In fact, the assertion has become a well-worn ritual that animates discussion at conferences, blogs and popular writing. Yet like the presumed financial and strategic advantages of the conservative movement, the question of news media performance is far more complex than commonly discussed.
In this chapter, on the question of whether the mainstream media continue to falsely portray climate change, I analyze the coverage of five major U.S. news outlets. If false balance had virtually disappeared from national coverage as of 2006, did this same tendency hold in 2009 and 2010, as cap and trade legislation was debated, meetings on a binding international emissions treaty were held in Copenhagen, and groups strongly dismissive of climate science were presumed to have gone into high gear, their communication efforts fueled by a controversy over the surreptitiously released emails of climate scientists?
Bias In News Attention To Climate Change
To be sure, there are multiple areas where fault can be found in news coverage of any subject, even more so for a complex, uncertain and politically-contentious issue such as climate change. As more than two decades of research in news sociology describes, journalists not only actively prioritize some issues or events to be covered, but they also frame these events and issues to emphasize certain dimensions over others. This process is influenced by societal context and culture; ownership structure and industry trends; the strategies of sources and advocates; organizational routines, pressures and professional norms; and the personal background of journalists, including educational training, experience, race, gender, class and ideology.
On climate change, one area where many have pointed to a clear divergence between objective conditions and their subjective portrayal is in the pattern of news media attention to climate change. With increasing evidence of climate change and its impacts, the reasoning goes, you would expect sustained—if not increasing—attention to the issue.
Yet as Max Boykoff has tracked, U.S. newspaper coverage has followed up-and-down swings in attention. Similar to other science-related issues, in the United States there has always tended to be a baseline of relatively low levels of attention to climate change among science journalists and environmental reporters, but when climate change has received its greatest media attention, as Boykoff describes, it has been around such dramatic political focusing events as the 1997 Kyoto meetings, the 2006 release of An Inconvenient Truth, the 2006 UK Stern report and the 2007 award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Gore and the IPCC scientists, instances that have triggered additional coverage from political reporters and commentators.
A number of other likely factors account for the upswings and then downturns in U.S. news attention. Perhaps the foremost factor in recent years has been the reduced capacity of news organizations to cover climate change, a reduced capacity that comes at a time when many other issues are also competing for news attention. Communication researchers Katherine McComas and James Shanahan have observed that journalists’ coverage of climate change is also driven by the need to tell dramatic stories and compelling narratives. Much of the drama in news reporting generally—and in science reporting as well—derives from visible political conflict, personality clashes and exaggerated claims over the certainty and risks of climate change, as well as the costs or benefits of action.
These dimensions, according to the researchers, serve as grist for the storytelling mill that allow journalists to construct a “news saga” they can cover for more than a single day or news cycle, but eventually move on to another issue that can be defined as possessing novel yet equally ephemeral dramatic qualities. For an issue of the complexity and magnitude of climate change, this pattern in news attention makes it that much more difficult to sustain societal focus on the problem. As New York Times journalist and Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin writes:
The problem is that the processes that winnow and shape the news have a hard time handling the global-warming issue in an effective way. The media seem either to overplay a sense of imminent calamity or to ignore the issue altogether because it is not black and white or on a time scale that feels like news. This approach leaves society like a ship at anchor swinging cyclically with the tide and not going anywhere.
Bias In The News Depictions Of Climate Change
Apart from news attention, a more complex set of considerations applies to judging how the media characterize the climate debate. As both Boykoff and Revkin have described, relative to the assertions that CO2 warms the planet or that humans contribute to climate change, there is overwhelming scientific agreement, and therefore a clear objective basis upon which to criticize the media if they fail to accurately convey this consensus. However, other dimensions that still hold higher degrees of scientific uncertainty – such as the linkages between climate change and hurricane intensity, or on matters of political disagreement, such as if cap and trade legislation is an effective solution – remain subjects where journalists justifiably should emphasize a greater diversity of views.
Consider also the example of the e-mails surreptitiously released from servers at the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University in 2009, an event now commonly called “Climategate.” Many scientists judge the coverage of Climategate as severely out of proportion to its significance. “I do think that many normally responsible journalists fell hook, line and sinker for a dishonest smear campaign here, and that is really unfortunate,” said Michael Mann, one of the scientists at the center of the e-mail exchanges. “I think it’s a real wake-up call for science journalism specifically, but for journalism more generally.”
Yet in contrast, journalists, policy experts and some leading scientists such as Georgia Tech’s Judith Curry have viewed Climategate as revealing newsworthy dimensions of the political debate. Careful to assert that the emails among scientists do nothing to challenge the basic findings of climate research, they argue that the event instead uncovers how a group of scientists coordinated activities that went beyond what have been considered the traditional norms of science, attempting to shape the peer-review process in a way that promoted their own views and discredited others, delaying access to data and downplaying areas of uncertainty.
In all, according to these critics, though the scientists eventually were exonerated of falsifying data, the e-mails do raise concerns over “tribalism” and the “siege mentality” of those involved. The episode, argue climate scientist Mike Hulme and philosopher Jerome Ravetz, points to the need to make climate science more open to “extended peer review” and to invite a broader range of professionals to provide input on scientific conclusions.
Analyzing Patterns In News Coverage
To assess the performance of the mainstream news media in 2009 and 2010, I examined coverage appearing across these years at The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com and Politico. As mentioned at the outset of this chapter, if false balance had virtually disappeared from national coverage as of 2006, did this same tendency hold in 2009 and 2010, as cap and trade legislation was debated, the Copenhagen meetings were held and as debate took place over Climategate? In addition, across months, how much news attention did the issue of climate change receive? Within this coverage, how much attention did Climategate receive?
The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal were chosen for the analysis because they remain the trend-setting news outlets of record in the United States and their selection also replicates the three most influential U.S. newspapers analyzed in the earlier Boykoff studies. Even in a world of blogs and fragmented audiences, the coverage appearing at these outlets strongly shapes the news decisions made at the broadcast and cable networks and informs the decisions of policymakers.18 These outlets are often the main targets of advocates on both sides of the debate, with a quote or op-ed at these papers symbolizing success.
In addition, the websites of these organizations—with their print editions still serving as the central content—are among the most heavily-visited news outlets. As tracked by Nielsen, The New York Times and The Washington Post rank No. 5 and No. 9 respectively among news sites in terms of traffic. The website of The Wall Street Journal is the top source for public affairs information among business leaders and professionals.
Similarly, CNN.com, which produces its own Associated Press-style syndicated coverage, is the No. 4 visited news site online, according to Nielsen. Politico has become the paper of record for members of Congress and is the paper “the White House wakes up to,” as memorably headlined in a profile at The New York Times. Politico also strongly shapes the agenda of news at the cable networks and blogosphere, setting the tone for political reporting and commentary.21 Moreover, despite their prominence, no other analysis to date has examined coverage at these two influential outlets.
Relevant climate change-related articles were identified by searching LexisNexis between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010, retrieving all articles that in the headline or lead paragraph included “climate change” or “global warming.” The returned articles were individually reviewed by a team of graduate students; duplicates and nonrelevant articles were discarded, resulting in a final population of 1,862 climate change-related articles from the five news organizations. These articles included news stories, style features, magazine stories, film and book reviews, columns, in-house editorials, op-eds and letters to the editor.
As Figure 3.1 indicates, similar to the patterns observed by Boykoff, news attention across the months of 2009 and 2010 was highly episodic. Attention across the five news outlets peaked in relation to major political events, particularly in the build-up to the meetings in Copenhagen to broker an international agreement on emissions, and to a lesser to degree in reaction to severe weather. In 2009, the five organizations published 1,190 news and opinion articles focused on climate change, with 498 articles—or 42 percent of this coverage—appearing in October, November and December. In 2010, news attention declined by 43 percent from 2009 levels to 672 total articles published for the year. Interviewing journalists at the end of 2010, Cristine Russell at Columbia Journalism Reviewnotes that for many, the decline in attention reflects the perceived loss in political viability both for cap and trade legislation and for a binding international agreement.
The spike in attention leading up to and during the Copenhagen meetings is not surprising, given that the summit was one of the major foreign policy events of the year and a leading focus of the White House for the month of December. Apart from these five major U.S. news organizations, Pew estimates that attention to climate change during the week of the summit constituted approximately 10 percent of all public affairs coverage appearing at major U.S. print, online, radio and TV news outlets. This was the greatest attention to the issue for any week since Pew started tracking coverage at the start of 2007.
In a 2010 Oxford University report, James Painter estimates 4,000 journalists from 119 countries attended the summit, with 330 journalists present from the United States, second only to the number from host country Denmark. The summit featured negotiations between President Obama and world leaders and the participation of thousands of government, industry and interest group representatives. U.S. universities and scientific societies sent typically one press officer from their organization. In comparison, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund combined to send 30. Given the high-level political negotiation, not surprisingly, Painter estimates that less than 10 percent of world coverage focused on climate science.
As Figure 3.2 shows, in December 2009, the five media organizations combined to publish 263 news and opinion articles focused on climate change. Approximately 21 percent—or 54 of the articles—mentioned the leaked/stolen e-mails (the story first was reported on Nov. 20). The Wall Street Journal published 14 articles mentioning the incident, and the other outlets mentioned the incident in a total of 40 articles.
In the months following, however, The Wall Street Journal continued to focus on the story while the other news organizations did not. Between January 2010 and August 2010, when the Senate bill was declared dead, 449 news and opinion articles across the five media organizations had focused on climate change. During this period, 81—or 1 out of every 5 —referenced the debate over the leaked e-mails. More than half of these articles appeared in The Wall Street Journal.
To understand how these national news organizations portrayed the reality and causes of climate change across this period, I randomly sampled within month one out of every four articles appearing at the five news organizations across the period Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2010, resulting in a representative sample of 413 news and opinion articles.
Specially-trained graduate students scored each article using a measure similar to that used in the Boykoff studies, recording whether the article conveyed the “consensus view” that climate change is real and that humans are a cause; the “falsely balanced view” that it is uncertain whether climate change is real and/or that humans are a cause; and the “dismissive view” that either climate change is not occurring or, if so, humans are not a cause. To ensure inter-subjectivity and consistency in coding, the three graduate students were first tested on a common, purposively chosen sample of 45 articles. The students agreed on coding decisions 72 percent of the time, with this test for reliability correcting for chance agreement (K-alpha =.72).
As Figure 3.3 shows, during the first nine months of 2009, at least 93 percent of all news and opinion articles published by the five news outlets reflected the consensus view that climate change is real and that humans are a cause. Between October 2009 and March 2010, as the Copenhagen meetings took place and debate over Climategate occurred, 75 percent of all articles reflected the consensus view. For the rest of 2010, as the Senate bill was debated and the mid-term elections took place, approximately 85 percent of coverage reflected scientific consensus.
The figure displays trends in combined coverage by the five news organizations. In order to more carefully understand possible differences between these outlets, I examined each news organization’s coverage from Jan. 1, 2009, and Nov. 30, 2009, (before Copenhagen) and then between Dec. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010 (during and after Copenhagen).
As Table 3.1 indicates, across the two periods, at The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.com, approximately nine out of 10 news and opinion articles reflected the consensus view on climate change. As Table 3.2 shows, at Politico during this period, at least seven out of 10 articles portrayed the consensus view. Only at The Wall Street Journal did this trend not hold up, yet even in this case, the difference in portrayal was confined largely to the opinion pages. Across the two-year period, at least eight out of 10 news articles at the paper reflected the consensus view, but at the opinion pages, less than half of articles asserted that climate change was real and that humans were a cause.
These findings specific to The Wall Street Journal are consistent with those from other recent studies. Analyzing coverage between 1997 and 2007, Australian communication researcher James McKnight notes the unique tendency by News Corporation-owned newspapers and TV outlets in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States to emphasize in their commentary the uncertainty of climate change. News Corp outlets such as Fox News tend to frame consensus views on climate science as colored by political correctness and a matter of orthodoxy. In contrast, contrarians are defined as courageous dissenters. 26 [For more on Fox News and other cable outlets see Chapter 4.]
Climate Change In 2019
Global emissions have reached record levels and show no sign of reducing any time soon. The last few years were the hottest temperatures recorded around the world and arctic temperatures have rised by 3 degrees since 1990. The Ice caps continue melting, the water levels keep rising, the forest keep burning and there seems to be no turning point anywhere in sight. The number of trees being cut has increased and the area of land used for infrastructure has increased.
“While July is usually the warmest month of the year for the globe, according to our data it also was the warmest month recorded globally, by a very small margin,” Jean-Noel Thepaut. It is likely that this record will be broken every year with the way we are handling global warming.
Andrew Steer, CEO Of WRI recently said “Agriculture, industry, and municipalities are drinking up 80 percent of available surface and groundwater in an average year” in the 17 worst affected countries, WRI said. “When demand rivals rupply, even small dry shocks – which are set to increase due to climate change- can produce dire conseqeunces, Water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking about. Its consequences are in plain sight in the form of food insecurity, conflict, migration, and financial instability.
Coping With Climate Change
Engineers and Machine developers have come up with machines that help the humans face the consequences of global warming. For example; we have air purifiers for air polluted areas, we have air conditioners to rely on, when we feel hot, We have water purifiers to help us drink clean and safe water.
Air Purifier: An air purifier or air cleaner is a device which removes contaminants from the air in a room to improve indoor air quality. These devices are commonly marketed as being beneficial to allergy sufferers and asthmatics, and at reducing or eliminating second-hand tobacco smoke. The commercially graded air purifiers are manufactured as either small stand-alone units or larger units that can be affixed to an air handler unit (AHU) or to an HVAC unit found in the medical, industrial, and commercial industries. Air purifiers may also be used in industry to remove impurities from air before processing. Filter Based air purifiers are best in filtering the air. While the trees and nature will always be the best air purifier, we can only depend on this product till we have fought off climate change and global warming. On that note here are the Top 10 Air Purifier you can use in large and small spaces.
Air Cooler: An Air cooler is a system or a machine that treats air in a defined, usually enclosed area via a refrigeration cycle in which warm air is removed and replaced with cooler air.
Water Purifier: Water purification is the process of removing undesirable chemicals, biological contaminants, suspended solids, and gases from water. The goal is to produce water fit for specific purposes. Most water is purified and disinfected for human consumption (drinking water), but water purification may also be carried out for a variety of other purposes, including medical, pharmacological, chemical, and industrial applications. The methods used include physical processes such as filtration, sedimentation, and distillation; biological processes such as slow sand filters or biologically active carbon; chemical processes such as flocculation and chlorination; and the use of electromagnetic radiation such as ultraviolet light.’
Water purification may reduce the concentration of particulate matter including suspended particles, parasites, bacteria, algae, viruses, and fungi as well as reduce the concentration of a range of dissolved and particulate matter.
In construction, a complete system of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning is referred to as HVAC. Whether in homes, offices or vehicles, its purpose is to provide comfort by altering the properties of the air, usually by cooling the air inside.The main function of air conditioner is to change adverse temperature
Fighting Climate Change In 2019
The UN Climate action summit was held recently in which all the world leaders met to discuss the issue of global warming. They came with a few action portfolios which are as follows:
Finance: mobilizing public and private sources of finance to drive decarbonization of all priority sectors and advance resilience;
Energy Transition: accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, as well as making significant gains in energy efficiency;
Industry Transition: transforming industries such as Oil and Gas, Steel, Cement, Chemicals and Information Technology;
Nature-Based Solutions: Reducing emissions, increasing sink capacity and enhancing resilience within and across forestry, agriculture, oceans and food systems, including through biodiversity conservation, leveraging supply chains and technology;
Cities and Local Action: Advancing mitigation and resilience at urban and local levels, with a focus on new commitments on low-emission buildings, mass transport and urban infrastructure; and resilience for the urban poor;
Resilience and Adaptation: advancing global efforts to address and manage the impacts and risks of climate change, particularly in those communities and nations most vulnerable.
In addition, there are three additional key areas:
Mitigation Strategy: to generate momentum for ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and long-term strategies to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Youth Engagement and Public Mobilization: To mobilize people worldwide to take action on climate change and ensure that young people are integrated and represented across all aspects of the Summit, including the six transformational areas.
Social and Political Drivers: to advance commitments in areas that affect people’s well-being, such as reducing air pollution, generating decent jobs, andstrengthening climate adaptation strategies and protect workers and vulnerable groups.