Conservative Spin Still Shaping Coverage of Global Warming

Bill Scher

As the Senate considers the Lieberman-Warner global warming bill this week, we’re finally seeing some media coverage of the policy debate. Sadly, but predictably, we’re still seeing conservative spin infect the coverage.

in particular, news outlets are playing up distortions about what the cost of action would be to consumers.

A report on NPR today produced a Fox-style “fair and balanced” report, pairing arguments from competing organizations like the environmental Natural Resources Defense Council and the anti-environment right-wing front group the National Association of Manufacturers.

But NPR offered, as an seemingly objective “environmental analyst,” a representative from American Enterprise Institute, without identifying the organization as a conservative group. The AEI spokesperson proceeds to offer some ludicrous fuzzy math, unchallenged by NPR:

It’s not very hard math to say, one trillion dollars divided by 300 million Americans is this many dollars per American.

And once those numbers start being generated and start being publicized, the public is not going to be amused. Every poll suggests that people do not want to pay more for greenhouse gas reductions. They don’t want to pay more in gas taxes. They don’t want to pay higher energy rates. They just don’t want to pay.

Of course, nothing in the pending Lieberman-Warner bill, or any other proposal to cap carbon emissions, would impose such a cost on every single American.

In these “cap-and-trade” proposals, it’s the polluting companies that have to pay for the privilege to pollute our public sky, after getting to pollute for free over the last century. (And Lieberman-Warner falls short of making companies pay for all pollution permits, a point of contention among environmental advocates.)

The “trillions” in cost being talked about are costs over the course of decades, not in a single year. (AEI simply left out a timeline in their fuzzy math.)

And those costs would not be easily shifted onto the backs of consumers, so long as we use the revenue to launch an Apollo project, creating 3 million sustainable jobs generating clean energy alternatives and energy-efficiencies. Also, some revenue from the polluters would be given back to consumers to mitigate any short-term price increases as we transition to a clean energy economy.

Let’s not forget that today, most consumers don’t have much choice but to use huge amounts of increasingly expensive oil. Whereas the strategy of doing nothing on global warming and clean energy has dramatically increased our gasoline costs. This year, the average household will spend over $2300 more on gasoline than in 2001.

That’s more money out of our pockets being spent on making the global warming problem worse, instead of public investment making clean energy affordable and accessible.

Furthermore, contrary to AEI’s claim, polls show Americans are fine with paying more in taxes for clean energy and energy-efficiency. And as new Environment Defense Fund report finds, the actual cost to consumers to cut carbon emissions is literally “pennies a day.”

The New York Times joins NPR in advancing conservative spin, claiming “many senators in both parties see the legislation as an expensive long-term plan that would do little to solve today’s energy supply and price problems,” giving a false impression that even bill supporters think fighting global warming is bad for consumers. In fact, the article doesn’t cite a single Senator supportive of action on global warming who believes that.

The Times also characterizes the bill’s approach in conservative terms: “The sale of the permits would raise more than $5 trillion for the government in the coming decades, money that the bill proposes to distribute to affected industries, consumers and local governments in one of the biggest programs of redistribution of American wealth in history.”

But this approach is not a crude “redistribution of wealth.” This is making responsible companies pay for the environmental and economic costs they have put on the planet for decades, investing in new supply of clean energy, reducing the demand for energy through efficiencies, and making sure that consumers don’t suffer an unfair burden in the process.

in fairness, at least the Times recognizes that a comprehensive global warming strategy does two things: puts pollution limits on companies, and invests in a bold new clean energy policy — “The bill’s proponents say the money would help pay for a technological leap that would create millions of new jobs while cleaning the atmosphere.”

Talking about the costs without talking about the related investment and the resulting benefits simply short-changes the debate.

Conservatives will continue to be alarmists about the costs, conveniently ignoring that their do-nothing strategy has dramatically increased energy costs without any benefits at all.

But even though their credibility is shot, they still manage to spin the so-called liberal media.

UPDATE: The Wonk Room has more on the New York Times article, observing that it adopts the frame established by global warming denier Sen. James Inhofe. (Earlier, The Wonk Room profiled NPR’s preferred “environmental expert” AEI’s Kenneth Green.)

And Grist’s David Roberts deems the NYT piece “lamentable,” and counsels: “advocates for action on climate change have lost the framing battle. If they don’t want to lose the war for America’s future, they need to step back, coalesce around a simple message, and get it out to voters in a disciplined way.”

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