Framing Climate Change politics — Truthiness reigns at the Post

On the front page, above the fold, of The Washington Post this morning:

 Climate Is a Risky Issue for Democrats:  Candidates Back Costly Proposals

A misleading title to a misleading article that frames the entire discussion in a misleading light, fostering a truthiness that has impeded real movement forward in the battle to turn the tide on Global Warming’s rising seas.

In short, this title and this article is predicated on Economy versus the Environment,  that to save the environment we must somehow destroy (damage) the economy.  There is another, more fruitful, more honest way to discuss this, to frame the issues:  Economy AND the Environment. To save the economy, we must save the environment, and that saving the environment creates huge economic opportunities.

Well, the author might argue, the economic opportunities make it into the article, look at the first paragraph … 

All of the leading Democratic contenders for the presidency are committed to a set of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that would change the way Americans light their homes, fuel their automobiles and do their jobs, costing billions of dollars in the short term but potentially, the candidates say, saving even more in the decades to follow.

See, it has “saving even more”, that is “the candidates say” …  There is a quote from Hillary’s speech yesterday,

I believe America is ready to take action, ready to break the bonds of the old energy economy and ready to prove that the climate crisis is also one of the greatest economic opportunities in the history of our country. . . . It will be a new beginning for the 21st century.”

See, the article is fair and balanced, isn’t it?  … Isn’t it?

When one reads through the article, these are te two mentions of positive impacts, one pointing to candidates’s claims (e.g., undercutting credibility as source) and quoting a candidate. 

When it comes to costs, however, “experts” are cited, like Tracy Terry, the technical director of the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, that “by 2015 Americans could be paying 30 percent more for natural gas in their homes and even more for electricity. At the same time, the cost of coal could quadruple and crude oil prices could rise by an additional $24 a barrel.”

Edward Parson, identified as a professort and someone who worked in the Clinton Administration, reportedly commented that to reach an 80% by 2050 target, ‘Americans would have to capture and sore carbon emissions from every power plant in the country’ (NOTE: This is simply NOT factually true — perhaps desired, perhaps appropriate, but not required, depending on what else is happening.) is quoted:

“A world that gets to that big a reduction [80% by 2050] in greenhouse gases is a world where you’re paying more for energy …”

Where is the discussion of avoided cost through reducing the impact of catastrophic climate change?  Where is the discussion of avoided cost through reduced health impact from, for example, coal fly ash and mercury emissions?  Where is the discussion of the positive impacts, economically, of green jobs created for energy efficiency?  Where is the discussion of how Californians pay more per individual kilowatt hour but have seen less growth in their energy costs, due to lower usage levels, than citizens of other states? (Great discussion at Pacific ViewsA Tale of Two States: Texas vs California.) 

What is frustrating is the evident short term memory of the author, Juliet Eilperin, herself. who seems to have two beats right now: environmental/green/science and presidential politics.  Just several weeks ago, she authored Warming’s Costs to Top Its Benefits, which highlighted fiscal impacts on the American economy due to global warming.

Global warming will strain public budgets and raise the costs of cooling American homes …

That piece, of course, was a short little item on page A3 rather than front page news. And, well, it doesn’t seem to have informed even its author’s views.

The comments section to today’s article is rich, filled with right-wing card-carrying members of the skeptic’s branch of the Flat Earth SocietyFVaquer explains that

Discussions of climate change should consider both its potentially negative and positive consequences. The massive hydrocarbon deposits that exist today were created millions of years ago when earth’s atmosphere had carbon dioxide levels hundreds of times higher than those predicted to exist in one hundred years. Earth was heavily green in the Eocine. Considering our fossil record as to what really was rather than considering only catastrophic predictions as to what might be leads me to conclude that the likely positive benefits of global warming outweigh the likely negative consequences.

Ah, now I see, Global Warming is to be commended because it will create the conditions for oil consumers millions of years from now, when the renewable resource of fossil fuels will be replenished due to the lush growth of the coming tropical weather patterns in the Artic regions.

Killerm lets us know that this “is being driven by Zionist” and ronjaboy explains

As soon as everyone starts focussing on the costs of doing this the consensus will break down. People are all rah-rah now but when their electric bill doubles, gas goes up and they finally realize what their cost is, they will not be so sanguine. It’s real easy when you think everyone else is going to pay. The Dems are pulling smoke and mirrors out of their a$$’s.

But, that brings us back to the start. 

The Washington Post has contributed to the truthiness that places the economy in conflict with the environment.  This front page piece, suggesting that Democratic Party presidential candidates are at risk in an arena where they are at advantage, where they are speaking of fact and necessity and opportunity, rather than pandering to Flat Earth Society charter members who want to deny reality.

Now, there are those who comment who highlight this. Such as FergusonFoont who pointed out that the cost increases re energy are inevitable, “here’s a clue for the clueless… By 2015 we’re CERTAINLY going to be paying this increase (or most likely far more) anyway if we don’t change our wasteful ways.”  And, pointed out that

This issue is only risky because of the willingness of Republican candidates, who try to preserve the disastrous status quo, to prevaricate and try to exploit the fears that their prevarications engender. This kind if “risk” pales in comparison to the risks we face if we do not take rapid and drastic action on our energy waste and the air pollution that contributes to climate change.

Nurse Tabby comments that

Yep, it’s always “risky” for the Democrats when they hold a position that most of America agrees with. And of course it’s never, ever risky when Republicans hang on to dear life with discredited and unpopular beliefs.

And, for one last quote, JHHerring writes something worth quoting in totality:

Fascinating that this article managed to avoid adding the point, even in one senence, that many studies have shown that the environmental regulations which have been applied in the last 30 years or so have actually resulted in economic growth- not in catastrophe, as was predicted. We have seen entire industries in areas such as pollution control equipment become large- they in fact are a significant source of revenue as their products are sold globally.

This article, and others like it, would do well to note that the gloom and doom prophesies were also made when the US finally tackled other environmental issues with the clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and so on.

Of course any limitations on carbon emissions, of whatever form, will distort the market. Affecting the world is the purpose of all legislation- if it does not force changes, why bother with the legislation? That is as true of tax cuts for the wealthy as limits on credit card rates or environmental controls. So arguing that proposed legislation will affect people’s behavior is pointless. The real calculation involves both the toal cost and benefits and the distribution of those costs and benefits. How about some reporting which recognizes that?

And, again, we are back to the beginning.  It is the Economy AND the Environment.  Addressing environmental challenges / issues in sound and serious way have positive benefits (even to the economy) and not addressing them has had and will have devastating impacts.

But, today, on the front page of The Washington Post, truthiness reigned to the detriment of their readers, the body politic, and the potential for moving the nation down the path toward a prosperous, climate friendly society.


One response to “Framing Climate Change politics — Truthiness reigns at the Post

  1. Pingback: Truthiness to truth … a matter of a few words? « Energy Smart

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