The Climate Story Isn’t About Old White Men
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
To glance at the latest climate news over the past couple of weeks, you could come away thinking it’s all about the bureaucratic battles in Washington and the heatwaves in Europe. Either a fumbled political football, or a warning of what’s to come. But what gets lost in this kind of coverage is the true stakes of the climate crisis. What about the people for whom the climate crisis has BEEN a reality for decades, the people who stopped hearing “warnings” years ago? What about the people who have already been burned by the fires and soaked by the floods?
For the last two episodes of Hot Take, we decided to turn our attention to those communities. For “Resistance Over Resilience,” I was joined by Southerly disaster reporter Amal Ahmed and Scalawag magazine’s managing editor Ko Bragg to talk about the myth of “resilience,” the dearth of disaster management, and the limits of personal responsibility. We focused heavily on the Gulf Coast, where climate change is as tangible as the humidity, but residents’ perspective is generally lacking in national media. In “Manchin vs. the World,” Boston Globe reporter Dharna Noor joined to look at climate news in the Global South, where you can really see the stakes of the crisis in stark terms.
When you look at it that way, all this talk about Europe’s heatwave as a “warning” becomes sinister. The Global South has been suffering from climate change for decades. Why weren’t their cries for help a warning sign? When you look at the true stakes of the climate crisis, it becomes difficult to entertain any politician who bemoans the bureaucratic tape or political costs of taking the starkest, most immediate action they can. When you realize the suffering that’s happening—at this very instant—because of runaway fossil fuel consumption, you realize this isn’t about two Angry Old Men in Washington.
The United States is too rich and too powerful, too vulnerable and too guilty to shirk its responsibility in the climate crisis. Anyone who thinks it’s politically smart—or even personally advantageous—to kick it to the next election cycle clearly doesn’t understand the scale of devastation already here today. Personally, I don’t know what they’re looking at.
NYT <3 BP
By Amy Westervelt
A lot of folks have been (accurately) pinpointed as major blockers of climate action—fossil fuel executives, corrupt politicians, propagandists. But they all rely on another industry to make it all work: without the complicity of corporate and legacy media, none of the fossil fuel industry's propaganda would fly. Outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post have been real allies of the fossil fuel industry for decades, not only running their ads but in recent years helping to create them, not just interviewing their executives as objective, unbiased sources, but allowing them to set the agenda on climate.
In referencing his work creating the advertorial with The New York Times in the 1970s, Mobil's PR guy Herb Schmertz once noted that the reason to work with such outlets was to "influence the influencers." Never-before-published archival documents reveal that part of the original legal push for corporate personhood in the U.S. stems from those early campaigns of Mobil's. The company invented what they called "issue advertising" in the late 1960s and early 1970s to deal with an image problem not dissimilar to the one they're dealing with today—gas prices were high, profits were even higher, and they had just dumped a large amount of oil on the beaches of Santa Barbara, California. Outlets like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, PBS, and more worked with Mobil to create and disseminate content that helped the company establish its “personality” and ideas. That went a long way toward generating better PR, which was necessary to blocking environmental regulations.
Then something unusual happened. In 1972, Mobil's PR department created TV versions of its print advertorials and two commercial stations—CBS and ABC— declined to run them. They said the spots were propaganda and running them would be unethical, and might even violate FCC regulations. Mobil execs saw this as the potential end to a strategy that was not only helping them win over the public, but also journalists and policymakers. They launched a major offensive, penning op-eds in all the big papers and going on every TV and radio show to squawk about the need to constitutionally protect corporate rights. They helped support the precursor to Citizens United (First National Bank v Bellotti), and fought hard for their right to continue using the media as their personal corporate PR machine. They won, and oil companies today are making the same corporate free speech arguments to defend their rights to mislead the public on climate change.
But while there's some momentum toward accountability for the oil companies now, not one outlet that aided and abetted them along the way has published a mea culpa for any of their many misdeeds, from taking the bait on false equivalence to creating effective ad campaigns for the industry. Of course not, because for the most part they're all still doing it. The Washington Post is still running pay-for-play op-eds from the American Petroleum Institute, for example, which API spokespeople and their proxies amplify as though they're real pieces in WaPo not just ads by another name. BP announced just this week that it has a whole new 6-part podcast on the push for “lower carbon energy” (a meaningless term they came up with to greenwash), produced by none other than The New York Times’ T Brand Studio.
Whenever I criticize this practice—and I’ve done so a lot over the past few years—outlets give me some form of the “but advertising is separate from editorial” argument. Here’s the thing, though: readers and listeners mostly don’t see or understand that line, and oil companies know this. It’s the entire reason they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on having the T Brand Studio do something instead of some other agency. I’m sure the creatives over there are talented, but that’s not what BP is paying for, it’s the cloak of credibility the New York Times brand provides them. Mobil used to track whether the overall paper’s coverage of key issues was shifting to be more in line with the company’s as a key part of how they measured the success of their advertorial campaigns. And of course the PR guys penning those reports often patted themselves on the backs for successfully shifting the NYT's coverage of things like offshore drilling or fossil fuel subsidies. Whether they actually influenced coverage or not is irrelevant, the larger point is that we know full well what the intention is here and I refuse to believe that anyone at The New York Times is too stupid to understand the implications.
The glaring disconnect between the “this is fine” messaging of fossil-fuel-funded advertorials and the snowballing news of actual climate disasters–fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, heatwaves, disappearing wildlife and catastrophic drought–is so extreme and so obvious now it’s seriously eroding the credibility of our most respected media institutions. Media must extend the lens of climate accountability to itself to have any hope of actually informing and guiding the public on this issue.
What About the Republican Moderates?
By Mary Annaïse Heglar
Ten days before Manchin yet again up-ended talks that might have led to the paltriest of climate action, Mitt Romny graced the pages of The Atlantic with an op-ed that had a few points, but little to no self awareness. On July 4, he wrote:
“As the ice caps melt and record temperatures make the evening news, we figure that buying a Prius and recycling the boxes from our daily Amazon deliveries will suffice.”
Back up. Is Mitt Romney sounding the alarm on climate change AND pointing out the futility of individual responsibility without industrial-scale solutions? Am I about to have a June 2020 moment where I legit didn’t know how to feel when Romney left his office and joined a Black Lives Matter protest? Is Romney returning to the version of himself that governed Massachusetts with a keen eye toward climate action—the one who had Gina McCarthy as part of his administration?
Well, not exactly. Just a few short paragraphs later, he says:
“The left thinks the right is at fault for ignoring climate change and the attacks on our political system. The right thinks the left is the problem for ignoring illegal immigration and the national debt. But wishful thinking happens across the political spectrum. More and more, we are a nation in denial.”
First of all, yes, we do blame the right for fueling the climate crisis and imploding our democracy. Because they did that shit. In broad daylight. Romney included! This man ditched the planet for his party’s nomination in 2012. It was just 10 years ago. Secondly, it is laughable that he would pit illegal immigration and national debt as equally existential to climate change and the fall of democracy. Lastly, exacerbating climate change IS exacerbating the debt and immigraiton. But I digress.
I bring all this up because when Manchin abandons climate action and the Left gets mad about it, especially at the centrists, we’re often scolded for “turning on our own” when we should be focused on the Republicans who make governing impossible. We’re told that we have to vote harder and get rid of Senators like Joe Manchin (though we’re also told that Manchin is the best we can hope for out of West Virginia, the Land the Democrats Forgot).
Now I don’t agree with that point at all, but I do wonder how much energy has gone toward pressuring Romney compared to silencing progressives? Centrists are supposed to believe in bipartisanship, right? Well, where is it? Same for Susan Collins, who was once considered a maverick on climate, but is now bringing in nearly $300k in fossil fuel donations and legislating accordingly. Where is the pressure for them? Where is the Lincoln Project and all those haughty Never Trumpers? Where’s that fabled Biden bipartisanship?
Progressives are so often accused of “eating our own,” but really it's the centrists who punch to the left and beg to the right. I refuse to believe that it is the job of progressives to try to sway folks like Romney. I think that would be better coming from his pals just across the aisle from him. If Romney believes we need to act on climate, call his bluff, make him do it. After all, he has no problem criticizing any Democrats. If bipartisanship isn’t dead, prove it.
Your weekly rundown of climate coverage, compiled by Georgia Wright and Jules Bradley of the Inherited podcast (new season coming in September!).
Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides
The Western Drought Is Getting Weird by Lauren Leffer for Earther
Flood, Evacuate, Rinse, Repeat: A Relentless Pattern Batters Australia - The New York Times, by Yan Zhuang for The New York Times
How Lyme Disease Became Unstoppable, by Jimmy Tobias for The Nation
War and Warming Upend Global Energy Supplies and Amplify Suffering, by Somini Sengupta and Melissa Eddy for the New York Times
The search for the source of plastic pollution | Grist, by Samantha Wohlfeil, InvestigateWest
Watch the Great Salt Lake Shrink by Molly Taft for Earther
When the Power Goes Out, Who Suffers? Climate Epidemiologists Are Now Trying to Figure That Out, by Laura Baisas for Inside Climate News
UK heat wave 2022: Europe’s roads are buckling, railways are on fire - Vox, by Neel Dhanesha and Benji Jones
Why the UK’s Trains Can’t Handle the Heat, by Aaron Gordon for Vice
Living Through Texas’ Hottest Summer - The New York Times by Ruth Graham for The New York Times
The Climate Presidency?
Biden Is Losing His Base on Climate Change, a New Pew Poll Finds. Six in 10 Democrats Don’t Feel He’s Doing Enough, by Marianne Lavelle for Inside Climate News
We've Had Other Climate Defeats. This One Is by Far the Weirdest, by Robinson Meyer for The Atlantic
Biden Concedes Defeat on Climate Bill as Manchin and Inflation Upend Agenda - The New York Times by Jim Tankersley, Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport for The New York Times
Experts to Congress: Restore EPA enforcement staffing and funding for environmental justice, by Julia Kane for Grist
Biden’s Troubling Response to “Dobbs” | The Nation, by Andrea Grimes
Google and Oracle Cloud Servers Struggle in Heatwave, by Kyle Barr for Earther
Biden’s steps on “climate emergency” after Congress fails to act - Vox, by Rebecca Leber
An American Climate Failure By Somini Sengupta for The New York Times
Republicans want climate solutions — just not from Biden, Pew poll finds | Grist by Kate Yoder for Grist
Corporate Carbon Offset Company Accidentally Starts Devastating Wildfire, by Edward Ongweso Jr and Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai for Vice
No Republican senator supported a climate plan – where is the party on the issue? By Joan E Greve for The Guardian
Joe Manchin Is the Ultimate Gaslighter by Molly Taft for Earther
A Federal Judge Wants More Information on Polluting Discharges from Baltimore’s Troubled Sewage Treatment Plants, by Aman Azhar for Inside Climate News
Four Things Nations Can Do to Conserve Energy - The New York Times, by Elena Shao for New York Times
Carbon removal trade group launches with ‘Hippocratic oath’ for the industry | Grist, by Emily Pontecorvo
Delay as the New Denial: The Latest Republican Tactic to Block Climate Action, by Lisa Friedman and Jonathan Weisman for The New York Times
Cryptomining uses a 'disturbing' amount of energy, lawmakers find, by Julia Kane for Grist
US emissions cost the world $1.9 trillion in economic damages | Grist by Diana Kruzman for Grist
Justice Is Justice Is Justice
Heatflation: How sizzling temperatures drive up food prices by Kate Yoder for Grist
The Red Hill Leak: How the U.S. Navy Has Poisoned Hawaii’s Waters for Decades | Teen Vogue, by Bronson “Kainoa” Azama with photography by Michaela Quan
First climate agreement to center Indigenous voices gains international support | Grist by Carina Dominguez for Grist
Australian environmental report finally recognizes Indigenous knowledge | Grist, by Joseph Lee for Grist
Glimmers of Hope
‘A big deal’: EPA announces $50 million for tribal projects, by Joseph Winters for Grist
Why natural disasters are getting worse but killing fewer people by Umair Irfan for Vox
How One Senator Doomed the Democrats' Climate Plan By Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman for the New York Times
Four Ways the United States Can Still Fight Climate Change - The New York Times, By Coral Davenport for The New York Times
In a Twist, Old Coal Plants Help Deliver Renewable Power. Here's How, by Elena Shao for The New York Times
This Solar Tower Generates Jet Fuel From Water and Light, by Edward Ongweso Jr for Vice
Inside Clean Energy: Did You Miss Me? A Giant Battery Storage Plant Is Back Online, Just in Time for Summer, by Dan Gearino for Inside Climate News
Climate in Culture
Kylie Jenner’s Private Jet Use Earns Her ‘Climate Criminal’ Label | Teen Vogue, by Teen Vogue Staff
Where Should the Climate Movement Go Next? | The Nation, by Thea Riofrancos
Worried About the Climate? Join the Club—Literally, by Emma Marris for The New Republic
Healing Body, Mind, and Earth Through Natural Hair by Britny Cordera for Atmos, with photographs by Destinee Condison
Last Century’s Approach to Journalism Is Useless in a Climate Crisis | The New Republic, by Eleanor Cummins for The New Republic
The Northeast is poised to become a ‘hydrogen hub’ | Grist, by Emily Pontecorvo
The Climate Message of Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope,’ by Ko Bragg for Atmos
50 Years of Incredible, Terrifying Photos of a Changing Earth Taken From Space, by Becky Ferriera for Vice
Warming Trends: A Possible Link Between Miscarriages and Heat, Trash-Eating Polar Bears and a More Hopeful Work of Speculative Climate Fiction, by Kaitlyn Weisbrod for Inside Climate News
Burning Out, by Willow Defebaugh for Atmos
Opinion | Climate Change Is Not Negotiable - The New York Times, by The Editorial Board
How Can Older Adults Stay Safe During a Heat Wave? - The New York Times, by Ilaria Parogni