3bl logo

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Top Business Journalists Agree on Climate Science

Tina Casey headshotWords by Tina Casey
Leadership & Transparency

Some of the nation's most widely read and experienced business journalists have gone on record affirming that climate change is settled science, and that climate change is already having a significant impact on the businesses they cover. As far as these journalists are concerned, "teaching the controversy" over climate science has no place in serious business reporting today, because of the simple fact that there is no meaningful controversy to teach about.

The consensus emerged in a Media Matters article last week, and it indicates that as a group, established journalists have positioned themselves above the climate change denial fray. However, the fray still exists, and it still exerts a powerful influence on public policy.  If established business journalists really want to get serious about covering climate change issues in the business sector, they need to take it to the next level. That means moving beyond reporting about the effects of climate change on businesses, and beginning to shed some light on the businesses interests that have been aggressively thwarting climate action.

A consensus on climate science

In last week's article, Joe Strupp of Media Matters asked business journalists about their take on coverage of climate change by CNBC, which has become notorious for relentlessly continuing to pitch the climate change denial point of view.

Much of the consensus pivots around the role of the insurance industry as a bellwether. Paul Barrett of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, for example, notes that the insurance industry is "a key barometer of these things," and it as far as climate change goes the industry has concluded that "the corporate establishment absolutely must recognize these risks."

Kevin Hall, who covers national economics for McClatchy and is president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, sums up the consensus among business journalists that the climate change "controversy" is fundamentally a political issue, and not a science based position at all:

"I don't see a lot of evidence that deniers get a lot of ink. I think it is in the broader political debate. The insurance industry hasn't waited to see if this is going to be correct or not, they are making certain assumptions, they are acting accordingly, they are not doubting it, their livelihood depends on it."

Beyond business journalism and climate science

It's all well and good that the journalists interviewed by Strupp agree that "the battle's over" in terms of climate science, but that still leaves an 800-pound gorilla in the room, namely, how and why the climate denial movement continues to operate so effectively in the face of an overwhelming consensus by scientists and key business sectors.

Strupp does begin to tease out a hint from Keith Johnson of The Wall Street Journal, who notes that (emphasis added) "other than some oil companies that are probably less convinced...pretty much everyone I talk to is on the same page."

Following up on that hint, take a look at that aforementioned Media Matters article on CNBC and climate change deniers (here's that link again). In that regard, the key element to note is that CNBC has also been promoting the corporate-funded Tea Party movement at least as aggressively as it has been promoting climate change denial, ever since the beginning of President Obama's first term in 2009.

One common thread between all of this can be found in the Koch Brothers, whose fossil fuel interests include oil, natural gas and petcoke, a byproduct of tar sands oil refineries. The Koch brothers have been supporting a well funded climate change misinformation campaign while also funding a public relations campaign aimed at thwarting climate legislation.

Among other CNBC figures that have adopted that public relations campaign is Rick Santelli, who also launched the corporate Tea Party movement with a well-publicized rant on air back in 2009, apparently in coordination with FreedomWorks, which in turn collaborated with Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.

Koch brothers continue to influence climate policy

Just last week, Steve Benen of The Maddow Blog at MSNBC provided an update on the Americans for Prosperity  "No Climate Tax Pledge," initially reported in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer.

The pledge dates back to 2008, when the Supreme Court ruled that EPA's regulatory authority extended to greenhouse gas emissions.

Benen describes the pledge as "a component of a remarkably successful campaign" to thwart public policy aimed at managing climate change, with hundreds of signatories including the entire Republican leadership in the House of Representatives along with one-third of the House itself and about 25 percent of U.S. senators.

The pledge commits each signatory to "oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue." That essentially handcuffs policymakers into cutting taxes to offset any taxes, fines or other compliance costs linked to new climate legislation, or simply not bothering to pass any new climate legislation at all.

So far, it looks like not bothering has proved to be the path of least resistance, and until business journalists do their part to connect the dots between fossil fuel business interests and the ongoing climate policy limbo, that state of affairs will most likely continue.

[Image: Wildfire sign by kyle simourd]

Follow me on Google+ and Twitter.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

Read more stories by Tina Casey

More stories from Leadership & Transparency