The last few months have not exactly been kind to climate change deniers. In May, a U.S. television show with one of the fastest growing audiences around took aim at news programs that invite a climate change expert and a climate change denier to appear on air together, and call the ensuing discussion “a debate.” The segment on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight comically skewered attempts by news outlets to present a “balanced” view of climate change.
But the issue is actually getting serious attention.
In July, the BBC announced it would significantly cut back the air time it gives to people who insist there is no man-made climate change. The move was particularly noteworthy because the BBC has a strict neutrality rule to ensure that its journalism avoids any accusation of bias. To that end, it even prevents employees from publicly disclosing their political views.
For years, the scientific community has decried the attention that mainstream news outlets have given to climate change deniers. The BBC’s decision was therefore hailed by scientists and public institutions, but the broadcaster’s stance didn’t meet with unanimous approval. Before the broadcaster’s policy change, The Spectator had published a scathing editorial calling arguments in support of climate change that had aired on BBC programming “cherishably stupid, rude, fatuous, crabby, bigoted, ignorant, petulant, feeble, fallacious, dishonest and misleading.”
Attacks like this have failed to make much of a dent, however; other major broadcasters are coming under pressure to follow the BBC’s example.
Such an over-the-top defensive stance has become commonplace from a right-wing fringe that is clearly feeling increasingly outnumbered. And it’s far easier to attack broadcasters than it is to take on private companies and their investment decisions.
In today’s world, the likes of Google and Facebook have more sway over the public’s news diet than any individual media outlets do. This is why people paid attention when Google Chairman Eric Schmidt went on NPR recently to explain that Google made a mistake by helping to fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and would stop doing so, because ALEC was “literally lying” with its position that man-made climate change is not happening. Schmidt went on to say, “The facts of climate change are not in question any more… Everyone understands climate change is occurring, and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place."
In the days since his interview aired, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Yelp have also pulled their support for ALEC. Since the organization is also funded by the likes of ExxonMobil, it is uncertain how much these announcements will hurt its bottom line, but the group is already experiencing a PR disaster.
Another huge blow was delivered to deniers last week when the Rockefeller Brothers Fund – the heirs of Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller -- announced it would be divesting its portfolio of all investments in fossil fuels and reinvesting the money in clean energy projects.
The spin machine was quick to downplay the importance of the move, pointing out that the fund was small fry, only accounting for $860 million in investments, as opposed to the $4.65 trillion fossil fuel sector worldwide. But much like Google and Facebook stopping their funding for ALEC, this is about far more than just money. Virtually every major news outlet covered the Rockefeller Brothers Fund decision. The matter was even discussed on the sidelines of the Green Expo in Mexico City. This is because of the resonance the Rockefeller name carries in the finance and oil sectors, as well as among the general population. It is doubtful any fund with a less distinct name making the same decision would have got anywhere near the same coverage.
All this happened the same week as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which has seen governments pour billions into a fund that was virtually empty a few weeks ago.
Climate change deniers -- whether the Koch Brothers, or big oil companies, or the conservative and influential American Enterprise Institute -- have spent heavily on lobbying efforts in the U.S. Congress to convince lawmakers not to vote for new legislation addressing climate change. Their campaign has succeeded equally at halting real action and further damaging the Earth’s environment.
But when the BBC, the Rockefellers, Google and world governments are among the forces arrayed against you, it might be time to reexamine your position.
By Chris Dalby of Oilprice.com
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