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What the Primary Elections Mean for the Environment September 16, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Congress, Election, Politics.
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Check out my first post at Change.org on what the primary elections mean for the environment:

Despite a Democratic supermajority and a successful bill in the House of Representatives, this summer witnessed another climate failure in the Senate. Unfortunately, the situation is not improving. In our warming world, the term “glacial pace” is now a completely appropriate description for climate policy progress: Decades of frustratingly slow advance are now reversing into a rapid retreat.

Mike Castle is not the first moderate conservative to fall to an extremist challenger sure to be a solid ‘no’ for environmental protection. Last month, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) lost her primary to another climate-denying Tea Partier, Joe Miller.  It is sadly telling that even lame duck Murkowski—who is already back in Washington trying to gut EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions—is being mourned in some pragmatic environmental circles. Her bid to block EPA essentially involves replacing uncontroversial climate science with partisan political science—and she lost her primary for being too moderate?

As of now, I’ll be posting at Change.org on a weekly basis.

The Political Climate is now on Twitter!  Follow @PoliticalClimat for updates as well as daily tweets linking to important and under-reported environmental news.

Another Day on the Campaign Trail: GOP Lies = News August 17, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Congress, Election, Media, Politics.
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On Monday, a GOP senate candidate in Wisconsin made the following statement:

I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change.  It’s not proven by any stretch of the imagination.” –Ron Johnson, six-figure BP stockholder and oil spill apologist.

This “forgotten Tea Party candidate” went on to expound his misguided opinion in detail. He said some other stupid things, but I think my favorite was that a strong economy would keep the environment clean.  Isn’t that cute?

It always angers me to see such baseless denial, especially when excreted by a man who would seek to become among the most powerful decision-makers in our country.  But what really set me off was how this story was covered.

The national press will do what they always do, so for Congressional races, I prefer to take a look at how these stories are covered locally in order to better gauge what effect they will have on the people who can actually vote.  The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel has more than twice as many readers as the next biggest newspaper in Wisconsin.

This is the article they ran by Steve Schultze.  Suffice it to say that it did not calm me down.

In the ~800 word piece, the word “said” appears 25 times and makes up 3% of all the words used.  This “article” isn’t journalism, it’s stenography.  Worse, in letting Ron Johnson dictate to the newspaper, this reporter just spread blatant misinformation.

Yes, I know this guy was reporting an interview.  I am aware that Mr. Johnson is entitled to his opinion, even if it’s wrong, and that a reporter’s job is, in this case, to present that opinion to the electorate.  But journalists are supposed to pursue the truth, not just balance.

Let me offer a more specific example from the interview.  Johnson is 100% sure that humans aren’t warming the planet.  So how does he explain the rising temperatures?

“It’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity,” he says.

That’s Johnson’s opinion, that’s what Schultze reported.  Why is that poor journalism?  Because it is demonstrably false.

Solar output does vary, and that radiated energy does exert some influence on our climate systems.  So at first blush, sunspots do appear to be a valid hypothesis for global warming.  …That is, until you take even a glance at solar output data and discover that we are in a drastic solar minimum; the sun is currently cooler than it’s been in over a century.

Since 1975 the sun has been cooling while our planet warmed. That’s not how cause and effect work. Click for full size | Image credit: SkepticalScience.com

Fact: the sun is not causing our current climate change.  If anything, decreased solar output is masking what would otherwise be even more extreme warming!

After reading Schultze’s article, Wisconsinites know that Ron Johnson thinks the sun is causing global warming.  Don’t the voters deserve to know that he is unquestionably wrong?  Wouldn’t that help them make a more informed decision?  I think so.

In the hallowed name of fairness and balance, Mr. Schultze did offer a counterpoint to Johnson’s falsities:

[Democratic Sen. Russ] Feingold has taken a completely opposite position on global warming, saying that “most people think man had some role in it.”

And that was that.  A difference of opinion, nothing more.

In political news coverage, media outlets strive to maintain objectivity by offering both candidates equal coverage, without appearing to favor one or the other.  That 50-50 coverage, presenting both sides of the story in a “we report, you decide” paradigm, accomplishes objectivity when covering differences of opinion.

However, when the media provide 50-50 coverage to a situation where one party is clearly lying or wrong, that attempt at objectivity becomes what is called the “bias of balance,” about which I have blogged extensively and wrote my honors thesis.

This problem pollutes the debate about every major issue our country faces today.  Gutless, “balanced” media coverage enables conservative demagogues to successfully manipulate public opinion against effective and desperately needed legislative reforms.  And the situation is not improving.

Everyday, critical policy considerations are buried further and further beneath piles of manufactured yet diligently transcribed political drama.  THAT is why I am among the majority of people who think this country is on the wrong track.

And no, Mainstream Media, that is NOT bad news for Democrats – it’s bad news for America.  And it is in no small part your fault.

Case in point a la Jon Stewart and the NYC mosque ridiculousness (as usual, worth watching in its entirety, but most directly relevant starting at 4:00).

The Student Vote November 3, 2008

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Election.
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My fellow Young Americans: Please wake up.

As a kid, I had a friend who was epically bad at “hide and seek.” Employing some flawed, kindergarten-level logic, he concluded that when he closed his eyes, he became invisible (to other people too). As childish as that is, there is an analogous situation among some of our peers today. Our government’s decisions affect everyone who lives here, but many young people tune out as if ignorance could shield us from energy crises, potentially lost abortion rights, and… well, economic Armageddon. Compared to older age demographics, today’s college students are largely apathetic about politics.

It was not always this way.

During the 1960s, college campuses were bastions of political activism. Students followed politics closely and demonstrated when they felt the government had misbehaved. That generation was incited by the Vietnam War and united by the energy and experiences of the Civil Rights Movement. Today, we have a similarly unpopular war in Iraq and a government marred by frequent allegations of corruption, but our campuses are torpid in comparison.

So what has changed? The anti-war sentiment in the ’60s was strengthened by self-interest – some students protested because they didn’t want to be drafted. But our parents’ generation was motivated by idealism and indignation as well. The complacency among today’s youth is symptomatic of a greater problem.

We have grown up in an era of scandal. That in and of itself is not so remarkable; today’s politicians did not invent the abuse of power. Yet from George Tenet’s WMD controversy to the Abramoff lobbying fiasco and a long list of disgraced Congresspersons, we have seen our share of corruption. What separates the misdeeds of the last eight years is that they have gone largely unpunished. The Bush administration deceived the nation into a costly war, tortured detainees, and exercised illegal partisanship in its firing of federal prosecutors. But when the media break these stories, nothing happens. Congress has called high-level officials to testify, but even the Attorney General and Vice President have ignored subpoenas or claimed incredible memory loss under oath. With the exception of Scooter Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valarie Plame case, this administration has protected itself from repercussions (even before lame duck pardons).

As a result, we have become desensitized to corruption. Every American faces the same truth that an individual vote makes little difference. However, older voters have lived through different administrations and seen how votes can affect their lives. For today’s college students, many of whom were barely teenagers when George W. Bush was elected, the government appears to be a static entity. In 2000, likely the first election today’s young voters followed, Bush won without the popular vote by a Supreme Court decision. Then voting controversies plagued the 2004 election. That doesn’t inspire trust in democracy. College students are less likely to cast a ballot than their elders, but we have just as much at stake, if not more. Our generation needs to be more politically active.

I know we’re not all sitting around shirking our civic duty; many of us do care and work hard to better our communities. So why don’t we vote? According to CIRCLE (the acronym is annoying; I refuse to expand it out of spite), students don’t vote because politicians don’t target us. A researcher at Yale explains that campaigns don’t target youth voters because we historically do not donate much money. Others blame the decline in civics classes, and students themselves point to registration difficulties, convenience and the question of whether a single vote matters. In the face of these setbacks, youth voter turnout has been slowly rising since 2000, but it still barely broke 50 percent in 2004.

Lame slogan, but an important cause.  Young people need to vote.

Lame slogan, but an important cause. Young people need to vote.

According to the 2006 census, there are 29.5 million potential voters under 24, and nearly a quarter of the American electorate is under the age of 30 (which technically comprises the ‘youth vote’). But even college students alone could wield significant electoral influence. And it appears that this year our voices will be heard. A recent survey of students in four battleground states found that an astounding 94 percent were registered to vote. But it’s not official until your ballot is in the box.

Tomorrow is Nov. 4. If you haven’t voted yet, please head to the polls and show the country that we’re ready to take America in a new direction. It’s time to take our future back.

A version of this post ran in The Chronicle at Duke University.