The climate has a voting problem

How voter suppression prevents America's most climate-concerned citizens from participating in democracy.

Welcome to HEATED, an accountability newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis—written by me, Emily Atkin.

It’s the final issue of Indigenous Peoples Week. So far, we’ve explored:

Today, we’ll look at barriers to voting for Native Americans across America, and explore why voter suppression is an essential issue for the climate movement.

This is what independent climate accountability journalism does. It speaks truth to those with real power—media institutions, corporations, and governments—instead of shaming individuals.

If you’d like to support this work, sign up to receive free daily emails by clicking the button below. If you’re already signed up, forward this email to a friend.

Now let’s talk about voting!

The importance of indigenous voters

There’s a striking sentence buried six paragraphs deep in a Des Moines Register article from this past August. It reads:

An increase in Native American voters in key battleground states could overcome the margins of victory President Donald Trump earned in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina, native activists said.

Native activists, in other words, think their populations could decide whether Donald Trump gets re-elected in 2020. According to ABC News, the nonprofit Four Directions surveyed indigenous voting populations in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado, and found that “large Native populations … could actually sway the election one way or the other."

Activists aren’t the only ones who consider this a possibility. “The Native vote is absolutely going to matter,” said Richard Witmer, a political scientist from Creighton University who specializes in Native American politics, in recent comments to the Associated Press. “It’s going to matter a lot.”

If that’s right, then Native Americans could also help decide the fate of the climate. Trump’s re-election would almost certainly guarantee climate inaction at the federal level continues for the next four years. That would be a huge blow, considering scientists’ estimate that we only have 11 years left to halve carbon emissions in order to have a 50 percent chance at limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Indigenous activists are increasing their get-out-the vote campaign efforts for Native Americans this year, in part to prevent that outcome.

But those efforts could all be for naught because of barriers to indigenous voting. It won’t matter how many Native Americans show up to the polls if they are ultimately turned away.


What keeps Native people from voting

The United States has a long history of keeping Native Americans from the polls. It wasn’t until 1924 that Congress granted citizenship to indigenous peoples. Even after that, “many state-level discriminatory policies—such as banning people living on a reservation or enrolled in a tribe from voting, or instituting fees and ‘competency tests’—kept them from the polls for decades,” Business Insider reports.

Discriminatory policies still exist today, though they are less blatantly anti-Native than they once were.

The Washington Post published an in-depth article about some of the present barriers to indigenous voting last year. It starts by describing a problematic voter ID law in North Dakota, which requires citizens to have residential street addresses—not Post Office box numbers—as a condition to vote. “Many Native Americans living on rural reservations do not have traditional street addresses, and receive mail at P.O. boxes rather than at home,” the article reads.

Beyond the irony of requiring “the literal first peoples of North Dakota to prove their roots” in the state, Native activists note, there has been no documented problem with voter fraud to justify the law’s existence.

“We are being denied an inherent and moral right,” Judith LeBlanc, of the Caddo Nation and executive director of the Native Organizers Alliance told The Guardian. “This is our territory, this is our land, and for them to say that we need to have an address in order to vote is an insult at best.”

North Dakota, however, isn’t the only state where Native Americans have trouble exercising the right to vote. According to the Post:

Native Americans on reservations have long voted at very low rates, facing barriers to voting that include long travel distances to the polls, high poverty rates, and low high school graduation rates.

When native voters need to travel to reservation border towns to cast ballots, the well-documented and long-standing mistrust between Native American communities and non-native populations likely discourages voting in those areas.

Problems tend to manifest in the same states where Native turnout could make a real difference. In Nevada, for example, “some tribes have recently sued over lack of access to voter registration and polling places,” according to a report from Pacific Standard. “In Arizona, legislators moved to restrict mail-in ballots. Last year, advocates in Michigan charged that voting laws there were ‘restrictive’ on account of requiring matching addresses for voter registration and driver's licenses. In 2018, North Carolina enacted legislation requiring that voters present photo identification at the polls.”


What’s the solution?

Along with local efforts to get remote indigenous voters to the polls and make sure they have photo identification that complies with state laws, activists from all over the country are urging Congress to pass the Native American Voting Rights Act.

The legislation “would enact key measures, such as increasing Native access to voter registration sites and polling locations, and authorizing tribal ID cards for voting purposes,” reads a Senate press release about the bill.

“The bill would also bolster Native voter registration, education, and election participation efforts in tribal communities by authorizing a first of its kind Native American Voting Rights Task Force,” it continues. “Finally, the bill addresses the devastating effects of Shelby County v. Holder by prohibiting states from undertaking discriminatory actions without Department of Justice agreement and government-to-government consultation.”

The bill is, of course, sponsored only by Democrats—and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to bring it to the floor for a vote. In fact, McConnell opposes pretty much any proposal to expand voting rights in America.

Such proposals are not limited to Native Americans, because voter suppression does not solely affect Native Americans. Indeed, voter suppression affects nearly all racial minoritie—and racial minorities, including Native Americans, are the most likely groups of people to prioritize climate action at the polls. That’s in part because the climate crisis stands to be disproportionately damaging to their communities.

In a perfect world, climate activists would be able to focus solely on passing legislation to solve the climate crisis. But the world is burning in more ways than one—and climate activists won’t be successful unless they recognize that.

That’s all for this week—thanks for reading HEATED!

If you liked it, please forward it to a friend. If you’ve been forwarded this, you can sign up for daily emails by clicking the button below:

Questions or comments about today’s issue? E-mail me: emily@heated.world

Suggestions for hot action? E-mail them to: action@heated.world

What is CNN for?

Plus, how conservatives are marrying climate denial with denial of indigenous suffering.

“I know you think what I do for a living is nothing. But it really isn’t nothing. I just did it badly.”

-Meg Carter, The Absence of Malice.

Usually, when a presidential debate airs on television, I watch it at the bar down the street. Afterward, I usually come home and write something about it. Then I usually go to sleep.

But I couldn’t do the usual things after the fourth Democratic presidential debate, which aired on CNN last night. I was too angry.

I just kept thinking: How could the moderators not ask anything about the climate crisis?

What do these people think their job is even for?

Welcome to HEATED, a newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis.

In recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day, every issue this week is devoted to indigenous climate topics.

Monday’s edition featured a Native American journalist who spoke about the need for increased media coverage of tribal affairs. “If we want this planet to survive, we have to lean on the people who know the land best,” he said. “The people who have fostered the land for thousands of years.”

Tuesday’s edition explained the importance of Brazil’s indigenous peoples to protecting the Amazon rainforest; spelled out how Brazil’s far-right government is enabling the destruction of both for short-term economic gain; and listed some companies who are benefiting.

Today’s edition will explore how some American conservatives are reacting to the growing movement to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day—and how those reactions increasingly mix climate denial with denial of indigenous suffering.

But first, we’ve gotta talk quickly about that debate. WHICH WAS TOTALLY FINE, EVERYTHING IS FINE.


Everything is not fine

Remember when CNN did that seven-hour marathon-style Democratic presidential forum on climate change last month? Remember how hopeful it made some of us—myself included—that broadcast journalists were finally starting to give the climate crisis the attention and seriousness it deserves?

Right. So about that:

I am so tired of writing this story. By now, our journalistic institutions should have more than enough information to determine their duty to consistently and relentlessly press presidential candidates on an issue that stands to affect millions of the most vulnerable people in America and across the world. Their job is to balance what the public wants to know with what they need to know. The climate crisis tops both of those lists.

I don’t know what more I can add to that—which is why I couldn’t do my usual thing after I got home from the bar last night. I couldn’t figure out what to write.

But a sentence kept repeating itself in my head: “What Is Journalism For?” After awhile, I remembered it was the name of a chapter in Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s influential book, “The Elements of Journalism.” So I pulled the book off my shelf, and it reminded me:

“The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing.”

Then, a few pages later, it reminded me:

“We are seeing for the first time the rise of a market-based journalism increasingly divorced from the idea of civic responsibility.”

And I just thought I’d share those things with you, because I think the latter in particular might help explain the lack of persistent, intelligent climate policy coverage—not just at CNN, but across many media institutions in America.

It also may explain why we’re still seeing rampant climate denial spread on mainstream information platform run by profit-driven companies like Spotify, Apple, and Google.


Meanwhile, in conservative media…

CNN may have ignored climate change this week, but popular conservative podcasts didn’t.

Curious about how the right might be reacting to the rise of Indigenous Peoples Day over Columbus Day, I took a listen yesterday to a few daily news podcasts on the Westwood One Podcast Network, which broadcasts conservative political shows and is owned by Cumulus Media.

I found a lovely blend of climate science denial and denial of indigenous suffering. Here’s some of what I heard:

  • “What are [indigenous people] suffering?”

    On Monday’s episode of The Michael Knowles Show—one of the Daily Wire’s podcasts—Knowles played a clip of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking out about climate change. “I speak to you as a daughter and descendant of colonized peoples who are already beginning to suffer,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

    Knowles responded: “What is she suffering? Last I checked she’s getting $300 haircuts and living in a posh apartment in Washington, D.C. and going on television all the time. She said “I am suffering.” She said, “I am a member of an indigenous peoples group and we are suffering. What are you suffering? What are other people suffering?”

    Knowles continued: “There is no evidence that the world is going to end in 12 years. Not one little bit. That’s not scientific. ... The worst global warming prediction is that the earth will warm about 2 degrees over a century. There is no evidence that this will pose any problem for humans. Certainly won’t pose any problems for Americans.”

    Knowles then said that Christopher Columbus was “one of the greatest men to ever live” and that “Columbus is being wiped out of our history books for absolutely no reason.”

  • “You’re supposed to believe that these indigenous people lived a perfect green life…”

    On The Savage Nation podcast, Michael Savage claimed that Indigenous Peoples Day is a liberal-led scam to convince people that Native Americans were eco-friendly people, when in reality, they were obsessed with genital torture.

    “The leftist idiots want us to believe that the indigenous people … lived a perfect green life like a [Missoula, Montana] ad, that they were gentle on the earth, that they treated each other with dignity. … [But] what they did to each other makes what the Crips and the Bloods do to each other benign by comparison. 

    They tortured [each other] … rhe entire population including children had to watch. They cut them with knives, beat them with sticks, jabbed them a thousand times. Ripped out their fingernails. Captives were scalped alive and made to eat pieces of their own flesh. Genitalia of male captives—which should be of some issue to you—amongst these green people, were the focus of considerable attention, and culminated with a section of the genitals cut one section of the time.”

  • “We’re all sinners. Every historical figure has flaws.”

    On the Dan Bongino show, Bongino said Columbus should be excused for atrocities committed against indigenous peoples.

    “Columbus changed the world. So don’t buy into this nonsense about changing it to Indigenous Peoples Day. It’s Columbus Day, and it’s going to stay that way in this country. We should be very proud as Italian Americans of those accomplishments.”

You can find this wonderful content on these profit-driven mainstream media platforms.

EVERYTHING’S FINE.

OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED!

If you liked it, please forward it to a friend. If you’ve been forwarded this, you can sign up for daily emails by clicking the button below:

Questions or comments about today’s issue? E-mail me: emily@heated.world

Suggestions for hot action? E-mail them to: action@heated.world

Making a killing

As indigenous climate protectors die, businesses profit.

Welcome to HEATED, a newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis.

My parents were in town yesterday and I don’t see them very often, so today’s issue is relatively brief. But don’t worry—I made sure it’s still SUPER depressing.

You’re welcome.

They guard the climate. Then they die.

Indigenous peoples only make up about half a percent of Brazil’s population. But they are massively, disproportionately important to the fight against global climate crisis—because they help protect the Amazon rainforest.

Ninety-eight percent of Brazil’s legally protected indigenous lands lie within the Amazon, according to PBS News. So when farmers, loggers and miners have come knocking, attempting to pillage the land for profit, they’ve often been thwarted by government-backed indigenous resistance.

But Brazil’s new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro no longer wants to honor the country’s agreements with its native peoples. Instead, Bolsonaro wants to open up protected indigenous land for development.

And now, native people who defend the Amazon from development are turning up dead.

Illegal logging on Pirititi indigenous Amazon lands with a repository of round logs on May 8, 2018. (Felipe Werneck/Ibama via flickr via AP).

A “disturbing symptom” of far-right leadership

One of those people was Emyra Wajãpi.

In July, the 68-year-old chief of the Wajãpi people was found lifeless in a river in the remote Amapa region, which is almost entirely covered by the rainforest and officially protected for the tribe. The Wajãpi consider themselves protectors of the Amazon.

A witness told CNN that “a group of heavily armed wildcat [gold] miners and non-indigenous people” had infiltrated the region, and “violently stabbed Emyra all over his body, including his genitals.” The account was confirmed by multiple news outlets, including the New York Times.

Bolsonaro, however, has publicly denied that the incident was a murder, and renewed his call for increased mining in indigenous regions.

Still, the United Nations high commissioner for Human Rights called the murder “a disturbing symptom of the growing problem of encroachment on indigenous land—especially forests—by miners, loggers and farmers in Brazil.” She added that Bolsonaro’s plan to open the Amazon up to more development could lead to “incidents of violence, intimidation and killings.”

And indeed, the Brazilian advocacy group Indigenous Missionary Council estimates invasions of Indigenous lands by outsiders have increased 150 percent since Bolsonaro's election last year.

In addition, data released last week by Greenpeace’s investigative outlet Unearthed show that wildfires have doubled in indigenous areas of the Amazon this year. The data “strengthens fears that criminals, emboldened by the election of President Jair Bolsonaro, are deliberately targeting Indigenous and conservation zones as the agencies charged with protecting them are weakened and defunded,” the outlet reported.


Which companies are benefitting?

It’s possible, and perhaps even probable, that only rogue criminal groups are directly responsible for murdering Brazil’s indigenous peoples and decimating their land.

But these criminal groups have created the business environment that Bolsonaro always desired: A smaller, more frightened native population that is increasingly reluctant to fight back against development in the Amazon.

For Bolsonaro, indigenous bloodshed is an economic boon, and corporations from all over the world are taking advantage. Here are just a few of the companies doing business with a leader widely accused of enabling indigenous population—and thus climate—decimation:

  • Cargill. One of the top exporters of Brazilian soy and the largest private company in the U.S, Cargill has said it plans to invest at least $121 million in the country through the year, and said it will not meet its goals to reduce deforestation in the Amazon.

  • Capital Group, BlackRock, and Vanguard. The investment companies “collectively hold hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in Brazil’s major meatpackers,” the Washington Post reported in August. “Foreign investors have enormous influence over what happens in the Brazilian Amazon,” according to the report. “Big banks and large investment companies play a critical role, providing billions of dollars in lending, underwriting and equity investment to soy and cattle companies. This capital and financial security enables agribusiness to maintain and expand operations, causing further devastation to the Amazon.”

  • Shell. The oil company “is the largest foreign producer in Brazil, which has become a heartland for us," an executive recently said. The company’s CEO also said yesterday that it has “no choice” but to keep making long-term investments in oil and gas, despite the ongoing climate crisis. Shell plans to invest $12 billion in Brazil over the next six years.

It is precisely the point of Bolsonaro’s anti-indigenous platform to attract businesses to the country. Some businesses, however, aren’t taking the bait. As The New Republic reported last month:

Despite Bolsonaro’s pro-business platform, international outrage over the rainforest fires have left Brazilian agribusinesses in a tough spot. U.S.-based VF Corporation, which owns brands like Vans and Timberland, and Sweden’s H&M Group have said they will no longer buy Brazilian leather, after cattle ranchers were accused of contributing to the deforestation. 

The piece recommends taking consumer-based actions against companies that work with Bolsonaro. “Corporations in particular can transcend national boundaries, and are at least somewhat responsive to consumer pressure,” it reads. “They could yet provide a way around intransigent governments—an interesting turn of events for groups more accustomed to being environmental villains than champions.”

OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED!

If you liked it, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’ve been forwarded this, and would like to sign up to receive Monday through Thursday emails, you can sign up below.

Questions, comments, or story ideas? Email me: Emily@heated.world

Suggestions for actions people can take to combat the climate crisis? Send ‘em here: Action@heated.world

We still don't know sh*t about indigenous peoples

Indigenous journalist Nick Martin reflects on the media's lack of in-depth native coverage.

Welcome to HEATED, a newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis.

It’s officially Indigenous Peoples Day in Washington, D.C.—and I mean officially.

Mayor Muriel Bowser signed emergency legislation on Friday to rename Columbus Day in honor of Native Americans. So today, along with hundreds of other U.S. cities, my city will recognize the people Christopher Columbus helped enslave and decimate while “discovering” America, instead of Columbus himself.

Today’s newsletter will do the same.

Who’s telling native climate stories?

To kick off a week of indigenous climate coverage, I spoke with Nick Martin.

Martin is a member of the Sappony tribe of North Carolina, and a staff writer at my alma mater, The New Republic. I wanted to talk to him for two reasons.

  1. He tells native climate stories. So far, Martin’s reporting for TNR has shed light on several tribal-led battles to stave off oil pipeline projects across the country; the novel legal strategies tribes are using to protect natural places; and—my personal favorite—“America’s lengthy history of codifying and recodifying laws to steal and profit off Native land and the natural resources above and below it.”

  2. He’s one of the only mainstream journalists who regularly does that. There aren’t many reporters devoted solely to covering Native Americans—and even fewer with full-time positions at national news outlets. Martin’s job as a staff writer covering indigenous issues at a legacy magazine therefore makes him fairly unique.

With those reasons in mind, I asked Martin:

Are America’s journalism institutions doing right by the country’s 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives?

And what might that mean for the climate if they’re not?


Spoiler alert: we’re screwing up

“There are a lot of really good journalists out there who are doing great work and centering indigenous voices,” Martin said. “But the fact is, every national publication should have somebody covering tribal affairs: The New York Times; The Washington Post; The Wall Street Journal; The Atlantic.”

On the whole, Martin said, mainstream media institutions only devote significant resources to stories about indigenous issues when something crazy is happening—something like the protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline by the Standing Rock Sioux in 2016. When things like that happen, big publications will hire out freelancers to write lengthy feature stories about the crisis, and splatter those big stories across their front pages.

Those big front page stories are great, Martin said. But because they happen so infrequently, and contain so much information, they’re not adequate to create a public that is consistently informed about Native issues.

“I find that in so much of my writing, I have to explain very basic principles of Indian Country law—like how treaties work, and why they're still valid and a hundred and fifty years later,” he said. “And I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing, but man, we should be so far past this point.”

It also sucks that Native communities have to wait until something terrible happens to them before they receive front-page coverage, Martin said. (To be fair, I said “Doesn’t that suck?” And he said, “Yes”). Such reactive coverage makes justice and accountability a lot harder to achieve.

Finally, newsrooms that do cover indigenous issues rarely have actual indigenous people covering it, which Martin has argued has contributed to public ignorance and misunderstanding of Native culture and politics.


What does this have to do with climate?

Indian Country is on the front lines of the climate crisis currently unfolding in the United States, and has been for some time. Thus, if America’s most influential news institutions are not adequately informing their readers about what’s happening in Indian Country, they’re not adequately informing Americans about the climate crisis.

Beyond that, there are so many opportunities for solutions-focused stories in Native American communities, Martin noted.

”The United Nations recently put out a report reiterating that indigenous people—their understanding of land management, of protecting and nurturing the resources that everybody needs to survive—are crucial to the process of moving forward,” he said. “If we want this planet to survive, we have to lean on the people who know the land best. The people who have fostered the land for thousands of years.”

“That’s not to say anyone else can’t be part of the solution,” Martin continued. “It’s just to say we’ve not centered ourselves around indigenous perspectives of how land and natural resources should be used and taken care of. And I think as an American culture, it’s going to be important for us to adapt to more of that way of thinking.”


HOT ACTION: Follow some journalists!

Right before we got off the phone, I asked Martin if he could quickly suggest some journalists and/or media institutions to follow for quality coverage of indigenous climate issues. He recommended:

Got more suggestions? Send ‘em here: action@heated.world


HOT ACTION PT 2: If you have a moment…

If you’ve been following along, you know I was in Fort Collins, Colorado last week for the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference. It was a really great event, and I learned a lot. It’s crazy how there are so many fantastic reporters in this field, and yet still not nearly enough.

But also, ya’ll… some stuff went DOWN.

If you get a moment, I recommend reading this dispatch from HuffPost’s Chris D’Angelo and Alexander Kaufman. It contains potentially the greatest quote I have ever heard from a public official. Chase Woodruff made said quote the headline of his piece for Denver’s Westword, which was a good call, if you ask me.

Also, all three of those dudes are very good environmental reporters and you should follow them too! But I am biased, because we all went on a hike together, and did middle fingers to false balance, and it was fun.

Thank you all again for your Colorado suggestions, and I’ll see you tomorrow!

That’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED!

If you liked it, please forward it to a friend. If you’ve been forwarded this, you can sign up for daily emails by clicking the button below:

Questions or comments about today’s issue? E-mail me: emily@heated.world

Suggestions for hot action? E-mail them to: action@heated.world


Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Martin as a descendant of the Sappony tribe. He is a member, not a descendant.

They started lying the year I was born

Welcome to HEATED, a newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis.

It’s Thursday, which means it’s the last issue of the week.

This coming Monday is Indigenous People’s Day. To honor it, every issue of HEATED next week will center on indigenous climate stories. Have suggestions for people I should speak with, or topics I should cover? Email me: emily@heated.world.

Monday is also my 30th birthday. So today I would like to talk about the year I was born.

What scientists knew in 1989

I was born on October 14, 1989, at St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan, to my gorgeous and witty mother Gretchen and my wise-cracking father Tom. Here is the first photo even taken of me.

That same year, while I was growing in my mom’s belly, scientists and experts made some pretty alarming predictions about what was then widely known as “the greenhouse effect.”

Here are some of the more notable ones:

  • The California Energy Commission predicted climate change would cause water shortages; that heat and drought would stress forests; and that forests would “experience lower growth and higher susceptibility to fires, insects, and disease.”

    “The report also warned that climate change would raise sea level, increase electricity demand, worsen air quality, increase heat-related deaths and be a drain on the state’s economy,” the L.A. Times reported.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency released a sweeping, 400-page report to Congress on the potential effects of climate change. The amount of detail is striking. It says many of the same things scientists are saying today.

    The foreward to the report reads: “It is fair to say that climate change could lead to significant changes in many ecological and socioeconomic systems. The environmental impacts of a relatively rapid climate change may be particularly acute. Sea level rise could lead to the loss of many coastal wetlands, while a rapid warming could reduce the populations of many plants and animals and, in some cases, lead to extinction of species.”

  • George H.W. Bush’s deputy assistant secretary of state, Richard J. Smith, wrote: “If the climate change within the range of current predictions actually occurs, the consequences for every nation and every aspect of human activity will be profound.”


How Republicans reacted in 1989

Kevin Kirchner remembers 1988 and 1989 as busy years for governmental action on climate change—particularly with Republicans.

After NASA scientist Jim Hansen testified before the Senate that the greenhouse effect “is changing our climate now,” Kirchner said, “There were 5 bills introduced in Congress to regulate greenhouse gases. They were all bipartisan, and three of them had Republicans as co-sponsors.”

He remembers this because, at the time, Kirchner—now involved with climate liability lawsuits against fossil fuel companies—was working for New Jersey’s Republican governor Tom Kean. And he was helping Kean develop the first statewide plan to deal with climate change in the country, which was released in 1989. That same year, Kean co-hosted a big 3 day conference with climate scientists in New York City, Kirchner recalled.

When it came to climate policy, “Republicans were in the vanguard” in 1989, Kirchner said. That included the president of the United States. Through a 1989 presidential initiative, President George H.W. Bush established the U.S. Global Change Research Program—the sweeping intra-agency group that produces the National Climate Assessment.

It’s a far cry, to put it mildly, from where we are today.


What the fossil fuel industry did in 1989

As scientists sounded the alarm about the climate crisis, and Republicans and Democrats worked together to do something about it, and my parents prepared to welcome their second child into their home, the fossil fuel industry’s largest players were in the process of developing a misinformation campaign around climate science that would ultimately infiltrate Republican politics and prevent effective action from ever moving forward.

In 1989, the nation’s leading oil and automobile companies—led by ExxonMobil—created a group called the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), which was devoted to preventing regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

This group was created despite years of documentation by Exxon’s own scientists that the products they sold—fossil fuels—had the potential to cause catastrophic climate change. As InsideClimate News reported in its Pulitzer Prize-finalist series “Exxon: The Road Not Taken:”

Through much of the 1980s, Exxon researchers worked alongside university and government scientists to generate objective climate models that yielded papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Their work confirmed the emerging scientific consensus on global warming's risks.

Yet starting in 1989, Exxon leaders went down a different road. They repeatedly argued that the uncertainty inherent in computer models makes them useless for important policy decisions. Even as the models grew more powerful and reliable, Exxon publicly derided the type of work its own scientists had done. The company continued its involvement with climate research, but its reputation for objectivity began to erode as it campaigned internationally to cast doubt on the science.

Thus, for the next 13 years, the GCC “led an aggressive lobbying and advertising campaign .. sowing doubt about the integrity of the [international scientific community] and the scientific evidence that heat-trapping emissions from burning fossil fuels drive global warming," reads an article published in the journal Climatic Change.

The model they created is the one that the Republican Party continues to use to prevent climate action to this day.


What I’m doing 30 years later

As the anniversary of my birth approaches, I’m in Fort Collins, Colorado for the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference.

I flew here on an airplane. I felt guilty about it. I know I help cause climate change every time I fly. I help cause climate change every time I eat a hamburger, too, and every time I throw out a plastic bottle and then go out and by another one.

All individual humans help cause climate change. But our individual actions—our flights, our burgers, our plastic straws—did not cause the climate crisis.

The climate crisis—the one where where we only have a few years left to rapidly decarbonize society before we’re locked in to irreversible catastrophic warming—was caused by only a few rich and powerful humans: wire-pullers and profiteers who made the conscious decision to engage in a coordinated campaign of deceit instead of owning up to the inconvenient truths scientists were telling them.

They chose to lie then, and they continue to lie today. So now, instead of 41 years to halve society’s carbon emissions, we only have eleven.

So yeah, I flew to Colorado on a god damn airplane. Because I think the only way we solve a problem caused by widespread lying is by making the truth louder. I need to figure out how to do that more effectively, like the journalists at InsideClimate did. And I need to try and convince other climate journalists, to their faces, that this is the heart and soul of their job.

Then I need to fly back home and eat cake with Gretchen and Tom.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading HEATED!

If you liked it, please forward it to a friend. If you’ve been forwarded this, you can sign up for daily emails by clicking the button below:

Questions or comments about today’s issue? E-mail me: emily@heated.world

Suggestions for hot action? E-mail them to: action@heated.world

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