One Thing John Kerry Is Sure to Fight Against: Disinformation

Plus #Greentrolling memes, "advocacy journalism," update on media's climate commitments, & more
One Thing John Kerry Is Sure to Fight Against: Disinformation

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One Thing John Kerry Is Sure to Fight Against: Disinformation

By Amy Westervelt

Back in January, on my first and last reporting trip of the year, I interviewed media whiz Jay Rosen about disinformation, fake news, and propaganda. When I asked him what he thought patient zero was for today’s fake news explosion, I expected him to hesitate a bit, weigh the many options. But he answered immediately: The John Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth thing.

I, of course, asked what about climate, which I believe has been a trial balloon for all the disinformation chaos of the modern century, and he said “Yes, definitely, but that Kerry swift boat thing was the first time that political reporters pointing out that something was false seemed to have no effect whatsoever.”

If you’re younger than 35 you may not remember this moment in U.S. politics. Back in 2004, before he was Obama’s secretary of state or Biden’s climate czar, John Kerry was a Democratic senator running for president. He was campaigning against George W. Bush who was a couple years into the U.S. response to 9/11, so it was important to highlight his military career. At the end of July, Kerry was ahead of Bush in the polls. And then a group called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth unleashed their media campaign. In various op-eds, a best-selling book, and a now-famous ad, this shadowy group of men who claimed to have served with Kerry in Vietnam said he was lying about his military service and was unfit to lead the country.

“In previous election cycles, that would be the kind of thing where early reporters to the campaign would check it out because they'd want to know if it was going to be an issue,” Rosen said. “And then when they discovered that there wasn't much to it, they would just say, well, that's not a factor. Because the campaign discourse was limited enough at that time where if the reporter said it's not an issue, then it’s not an issue.”

That didn’t happen this time, and it opened the floodgates for more of the same, changing campaign coverage forever. “The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth proved that they could smuggle their charge into a campaign. And it could start to wound him. And it would spread on its own, even if the press was saying there's nothing there.”

It was at that point that Rosen thinks people who were aiming to misinform suddenly gained more power. “It changed the calculus for journalists. So it's not a matter now of just vetting information. That's part of your job. But then you have this other job of ‘wait a minute, misinformation is taking over. Propaganda is taking over.’ Are you just covering that or are you opposing that? And how do you correct it and how should you stand toward it now? Those are really hard questions.”

I’m telling you this story because while it is true that John Kerry is probably not the radical future liberals want, there is almost no one in the country more passionately opposed to disinformation. And having someone who wants to tear down the disinformation apparatus in a position to actually do so could be a real asset in the fight for climate action. In 2020, we finally regained all the ground lost to disinformation in the 90s, in terms of the number of people who get that climate change is a problem and that we need to do something about it. We can’t afford another backslide.

More Memes, Please

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

Nothing has made me happier this week than to see so many people getting in on the #greentrolling train. In particular, Exxon found itself on the wrong side of a magnificent Twitter ratio, trolled by the likes of the great Ilhan Omar. I hope you’re all finding it as useful and as cathartic as we do.

Subscribe to keep reading! And if you have meme-making skills, I implore you to take this on. Tweet them at us. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

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On “Advocacy Journalism”

By Amy Westervelt

Last week, one of the Axios newsletters described me as an “advocacy journalist” and frankly, it ticked me off. The term “advocacy journalist” is mostly used to discredit the journalist in question. It implies bias, an agenda, perhaps some sort of formal attachment to a campaign, cause, or organization.

…It’s annoying to me that the label gets thrown at journalists who write about some topics—climate, race, the justice system—and not, say, business reporters who advocate various theories about capitalism and markets. It plays out in who gets quoted in the media too, with most reporters seeing CEOs as, somehow, neutral, while advocates are biased.

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Close, but No Cigar

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

Back in October, when the world was completely different, we cautiously celebrated the uptick in climate coverage. We’d seen a steady rise in coverage since August and September when the West Coast fires demanded the country’s attention, even as we turned away from the most active and devastating hurricane season in history. But October seemed to bring forth a renewal of commitment on behalf of media outlets to finally, no-for-real-this-time cover the climate crisis as the story of our era.

We’re a little more than a month out from those commitments and, I gotta tell ya, I’m disappointed. For example, The Atlantic made quite a big deal out of their new Atlantic Planet section. I was so crunk about it, I bought a subscription, especially since in lieu of COVID, climate coverage at The Atlantic had come to a screeching halt. I thought they were about to fix that, but since the day of the announcement—when the magazine had a big splash of climate stories—the section has puttered out and become little more than a hub for a weekly newsletter. Clearly, I’ve got nothing against a weekly newsletter, but that’s not what I thought I was paying for. I thought I was subscribing to a magazine with an expansive, well-crafted climate content strategy. So far, that’s not what I’ve gotten.

The Guardian is even more perplexing. They dusted off their commitment from last year, without even acknowledging that they’d allowed their climate coverage to slip in the COVID era. Instead, they just brought it front and center again and slightly updated their Environment page, which includes a section called “This Land is Your Land” and “Keystone XL.” If you’ve been paying attention to the climate conversation since 2019, you’d recognize those two headings as pretty archaic by now.

Although the overall stats for climate coverage have gone up in November 2020, there’s clearly a lot of work left to be done, especially as we gear up for what has no choice but to become the Climate Presidency.


Rising Temperatures, Rising Seas

Serving on the frontlines of climate change, by Maryellen Kennedy Duckett for National Geographic

Brazil Amazon Deforestation Hits 12-Year High Under Bolsonaro,by Reuters in the New York Times

Hurricane Season Ends—With the Potential for Another Storm, by Brian Kahn for Gizmodo

Exxon Continues Unprecedented Tumble, Writes Down $20 Billion, by Brian Kahn for Gizmodo

Climate crisis to triple flooding threat for low-income US homes by 2050, by Oliver Millman for the Guardian

How restoring flood plains can help protect the climate, by Jeremy Plester for the Guardian

Australia endures hottest spring ever, with average temperatures more than 2C above average, by Adam Mortan for the Guardian

If Aridification Choked the Southwest for Thousands of Years, What Does The Future Hold? By Judy Fahys for InsideClimate News

In Georgia, 16 Superfund Sites Are Threatened by Extreme Weather Linked to Climate Change, by David Hasemyer for InsideClimate News

Climate crisis to boost weather event linked to locust swarms and bushfires, by Daisy Dunne for the Independent

How climate change could spark the next home mortgage disaster, by Zach Colman for Politico

Sea Angels and Sea Butterflies Reveal Climate Change Consequences, by Doris Elin Urrutia for Scientific American

Climate change: Earthbag building emerges as the climate crisis worsens, by Coral Murphy for USA Today

How the climate crisis could soon flood low-income homes, by Joseph Guzman for the Hill

Hotter Planet Already Poses Fatal Risks, Health Experts Warn, by Somini Sengupta for the New York Times

From Alaska to California, the climate is off-kilter in the West, by Jonathan Thompson for Grist

'The planet is broken,' UN chief says, by Shannon Osaka for Grist

The Climate Presidency

Want to improve climate policy in the Biden era? Here’s where to donate.By Sigal Samuel for Vox

Learning how to talk: What climate activists must do in the Biden era, by Bill McKibben for Grist

2020 Election Results Show Why A Climate Bill Is Unlikely To Pass In 2021, by Patrick Gleason for Forbes

APPROPRIATIONS: Climate a priority in race for House spending gavel, by George Cahlink for E&E News

Joe Biden's inaugural committee will accept corporate donations up to $1 million, but bar lobbyists and fossil fuels, by Christina Wilkie for CNBC

What a Joe Biden Cabinet Pick Might Mean for Native Americans—and Democrats, by Julian Brave Noisecat for Politico Magazine

Interior finalized a key step in its effort to weaken limits on killing birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, by Juliet Eilperin and Sarah Kaplan for the Washington Post

These climate bills could get past Mitch McConnell, two senators say, by Nathanael Johnson for Grist

Could Biden's Climate Plan Close the Fossil Fuel Production Gap? By Brian Kahn for Gizmodo

Meet Biden's Energy and Climate Cabinet Contenders, by Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman for the New York Times

How Joe Biden Can Ensure Federal Agencies Fight Climate Change, by Brian Kahn and Dharna Noor for Gizmodo

Under Biden, NOAA’s profile is set to rise to rise as climate change takes center stage, by Andrew Freeman and Jason Samenow for the Washington Post

Climate Accountability

These oil and gas veterans are trying to clean up the industry's mess, one well at a time, by Emily Pontecorvo for Grist

Two Bezos-backed projects will track down missing emissions, by Emily Pontecorvo for Grist

NSW's clean energy plan means the federal government is even more isolated on fossil fuels, by Adam Morton for The Guardian

No 10 accused of 'cavalier attitude' to UK's climate summit duties, by Fiona Harvey for The Guardian

Every Major Bank Has Now Ruled Out Funding Arctic Drilling, by Dharna Noor for Grist

Fossil fuels in Japan's power mix should be less than half by 2030, lawmakers say, by Reuters

'Natural gas' or 'methane'? Americans see a big difference. By Kate Yoder for Grist

Climate Pledge Arena Sign Unveiled Same Day Amazon Features Big Oil Work, by Brian Kahn for Earther

Oil Refineries See Profit in Turning Kitchen Grease Into Diesel, by Clifford Krauss for The New York Times

World is ‘doubling down’ on fossil fuels despite climate crisis – UN report, by Damian Carrington for The Guardian

Sale of Arctic Refuge Oil and Gas Leases Is Set for Early January, by Henry Fountain for The New York Times

Trump Sets Up Sale Of Oil Drilling Rights In Arctic Wildlife Refuge, by Tegan Hanlon for NPR

European states ordered to respond to youth climate activists’ lawsuit, by Jonathan Watts for the Guardian

Glimmers of Hope

How New York is trying to build lots of renewables, fast, by Emily Pontecorvo for Grist

Planning for a Climate Crisis Helped a Small Indonesian Island Battle Covid-19, by Bob Berwyn for InsideClimate News

Denmark to end new oil and gas exploration in North Sea, by Jillian Ambrose for The Guardian

UK vows to outdo other economies with 68% emissions cuts by 2030, by Fiona Harvey for The Guardian

New Zealand Declares a Climate Emergency, by Phil Taylor for the Guardian

Climate change: Temperature analysis shows UN goals 'within reach,' by Matt McGrath for BBC

Justice Is Justice Is Justice

Opinion | Colombia’s indigenous children are the casualties of climate change, by Alia Sunderji and Hilary Rosenthal for the Washington Post

The UN canceled its 2020 climate summit. Youth held one anyway. By Joseph Winters for Grist

Young Americans Scared to Have Kids Because of Climate Change, by Dharna Noor for Grist

'Mock Cop26' activists vote on treaty ahead of 2021 climate summit, by Jessica Murray for The Guardian

How Mock COP26 Empowered Marginalized Climate Activists, by Abhishyant Kidangoor for Time

Environmental Justice Issues in a Biden Administration, by Kelly McGrath and Andrew Turner in the National Law Review

2 Hurricanes Devastated Central America. Will the Ruin Spur a Migration Wave? By Natalie Kitroeff for the New York Times

Climate in Culture

The Washington Post's Climate Quiz is a great way to test your knowledge, by Lyndsey Layton for The Washington Post

Teaching climate crisis in classrooms critical for children, top educators say, by Oliver Milman for the Guardian

Welcome to the New Era of Cops Driving Teslas, by Kate Aronoff for the New Republic

Doomscroll no more! These climate-concerned TikTok stars are here to inspire you, by Brianna Baker for Grist

And More…

UN Secretary General: Without the US in the Paris Agreement, Humanity Faces Climate ‘Suicide’, by Mark Hertsgaard for The Nation,

Privatizing Puerto Rico, by Ed Morales for the Nation

Tar Sands Are Giving Otters Limp Dick, Weakening Penis Bones, by Dharna Noor for Earther

There's a far more streamlined approach to the climate crisis than the Paris Agreement, by Ross Gelbspan for The Boston Globe

The Social Life of Forests, by Ferris Jabr for The New York Times

Ignored and Ridiculed, She Wages a Lonesome Climate Crusade, by Stephen Lee Meyers for The New York Times

What did the bear say when his friends asked to hang out?

“Not today, I need to spend some koalaty time with my family!”


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