Senators: No climate news is bad news

January 16, 2014

Nine US Senators have sent a letter to the heads of four broadcast networks expressing “deep concern” about their failure to cover the climate crisis.  Darkness is the essential host condition in the ecosystem of denial, and broadcast news organizations have been furnishing plenty of it.Denial habitat

Media Matters did great work documenting the non-news.  The Senators’ letter gets to the real issue:

“We are more than aware that major fossil fuel companies spend significant amounts of moneadvertising on your networks. We hope that this is not influencing your decision about the subjects discussed or the guests who appear on your network programming.”

Could the tyranny of fossil fuel money in politics also explain why just 9 US Senators signed on to a letter that asks only for a little daylight on humanity’s most urgent challenge?

Here’s the whole text:

Dear Mr. Ailes, Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Sherwood, and Ms. Turness:

We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of attention to climate change on such Sunday news shows as ABC’s “This Week,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” and “Fox News Sunday.”

According to the scientific community, climate change is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet. The scientists who have studied this issue are virtually unanimous in the view that climate change is occurring, that it poses a huge threat to our nation and the global community, and that it is caused by human activity. In fact, 97% of researchers actively publishing in this field agree with these conclusions.

The scientific community and governmental leaders around the world rightly worry about the horrific dangers we face if we do not address climate change. Sea level rise will take its toll on coastal states. Communities will be increasingly at risk of billions of dollars in damages from more extreme weather. And farmers may see crops and livestock destroyed as worsening drought sets in. Yet, despite these warnings, there has been shockingly little discussion on the Sunday morning news shows about this critically important issue. This is disturbing not only because the millions of viewers who watch these shows deserve to hear that discussion, but because the Sunday shows often have an impact on news coverage in other media throughout the week.  

A study published today by Media Matters for America reported that Sunday news shows devoted 27 minutes of air time in 2013 to climate change coverage.

Although it is a modest improvement over the eight minutes of coverage in 2012, given the widely recognized challenge that climate change poses to the nation and the world, this is an absurdly short amount of time for a subject of such importance.

We are more than aware that major fossil fuel companies spend significant amounts of money advertising on your networks. We hope that this is not influencing your decision about the subjects discussed or the guests who appear on your network programming.

Thank you very much for your interest in this matter. We urge you to take action in the near term to correct this oversight and provide your viewers, the American public, with greater discussion of this important issue that impacts everyone on the planet. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.


Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT)

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT)

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI)

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

Senate to Europe: Get your laws off our carbon

August 1, 2012

In a memorable TV ad saluting the hard work of Olympic athletes, swimmer Ryan Lochte reveals how he made it to the Games in London:  “I swam here.”

That would be one way to avoid the modest cost of carbon pollution permits required for aviation under the EU’s Emission Trading System.

Senator John Thune has a less strenuous approach:  ban U.S. airlines from participating in the system. His European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act (S. 1956), passed by the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday, would authorize the Secretary of Transportation to do just that.

Now, it’s one thing to stand on the sidelines of the global campaign for climate solutions with your arms folded, as our federal government has mostly done for the last 15 years.  It’s another thing to throw tomatoes at the players.  That’s pretty much what S. 1956 is about.

The EU wisely decided to include aviation – one of the fastest growing carbon emission sources – in its ETS.  The system limits dangerous carbon pollution and requires large emitters to have permits for the amount they produce.  The number of permits declines over time – as carbon emissions must.  Air travel is conspicuous carbon consumption; exempting it would be a bit like allowing Ferraris to ignore speed limits.

The cost of these permits would amount to about $6 for a round-trip flight from Washington D.C. to Copenhagen.  The ticket for that same flight on United this last April would have included a “fuel surcharge” of $496, according to testimony submitted by Annie Petsonk of the Environmental Defense Fund in answer to questions posed by Senator Maria Cantwell.    (Annie’s testimony is here.)

Since the emission limits incentivize cost-effective efficiency improvements in aviation, they reduce the risk of these large fuel surcharges.  But increasing Americans’ exposure to the growing costs of oil dependence is apparently not too high a price to pay for the Senate to flip the bird at Europe’s climate policy.  This is particularly ironic/obnoxious, since the premier U.S. commercial airplane manufacturer, Boeing, is committed to leading the industry in efficient aviation technology and lower carbon fuels.

Senators Kerry and Boxer salvaged a little something out of this exercise in international nose-thumbing, adding an amendment that would require U.S. negotiators to achieve a global approach to reducing airline emissions through the International Civil Aviation Organization.

As Senator Kerry put it, S. 1956 amounts to “authorizing through legislation the ability for U.S. companies to break the law of another country.”   Not content to make America an international scofflaw and climate heckler, the bill would direct the Secretary of Transportation to hold U.S. airlines harmless for any penalties associated with their non-compliance.  The airlines, of course, wouldn’t have it any other way.  That could put U.S. taxpayers on the hook for about $22 billion by 2020, according to EDF.   (You’d think that for that kind of money, someone would have offered an amendment requiring the airlines to offer some decent food and a little legroom.)

So rather than pay $6 for emission permits on a round-trip flight to Europe – under a program that would promote efficiency and reduce fuel costs – U.S. taxpayers would just pay airline companies’ fines for failure to comply.

Hey, at least that would spread the costs more equally, right?  This way, even if you swim to London, or just stay home and watch the Olympics on TV, you’ll still have to pay.


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