Even mainstream news outlets are causing fake pizza panic
It's not just right-wing outlets spreading the false claim that NYC wants to regulate the carbon emissions of pizza ovens.
On Tuesday, Arielle and I published a newsletter seeking to correct the viral claim that New York City is proposing carbon regulations for pizza ovens. Because they are not.
The proposed regulations, which cover commercial wood- and coal-fired ovens built before 2016, never even mention the words “carbon,” “carbon emissions,” or “climate.” The regulations seek to limit emissions of harmful particulate pollution—aka, smog, smoke, and soot—and seek to limit them for the benefit of local populations surrounding restaurants with old wood- and coal-fired ovens. (Many of which happen to be pizzerias).
There is a legitimate argument for regulations on particle pollution from commercial ovens. According to the New York City Community Air Survey, the highest concentrations of fine particle pollution, nitrogen dioxide pollution, nitric oxide pollution, and black carbon pollution in the city are found in neighborhoods “with higher density of commercial cooking grills and charbroilers.” These types of particle pollution can have serious, sometimes deadly consequences—which is why we felt it was so important to make sure news outlets were correctly describing what the rule is actually trying to do.
So we’re happy to report that our debunking has started to receive a bit of attention. Yesterday, Media Matters used our reporting to start tracking the many examples of false claims by conservative media about the pizza oven regulations. The media watchdog non-profit found that Fox News devoted nearly an hour of combined airtime to the fake climate pizza controversy on Tuesday—more than double the amount of time than the network gave to the day’s other big news story.
We were also given the opportunity to debunk the pizza claim directly to large conservative audiences in the U.K. and Australia. Yesterday, I was invited on Piers Morgan’s show, where I explained what the regulations were actually about, and argued that conversations about policy should be based in fact. Morgan ended the segment by saying, “I think you’re kind of right, actually”—which was certainly not what I expected. Though I’m sure most of Morgan's viewers remain unmoved—especially considering the packaging of the video—I am glad to have potentially reached some of the folks most vulnerable to this misinformation.
Since our article, the Guardian and Snopes have also published similar pieces debunking the claim that the regulation is about climate change; the Guardian’s in particular is well-reported and worth a read.
But in our mind, this story hasn’t yet reached nearly enough people. Because it’s no longer just right-wing or conservative media making the false claim that New York’s pollution rule for ovens is about climate change. Mainstream news publications, and even a few environment-focused publications, are also getting the story wrong.
I started putting together a spreadsheet of every news article I saw about the pizza oven rule yesterday, to check whether or not the articles were accurate.
It’s nowhere near exhaustive, but out of 38 news articles I tracked, 32 falsely claimed the proposed rules seek to reduce carbon emissions by 75 percent. This wasn’t just Fox News and The New York Post: It was Newsweek, CBS News, ABC7, and NY1. Even seemingly climate-focused publications like One Green Planet and Green Matters made the error.
I can’t emphasize the importance of this seemingly small mix-up enough. By characterizing an air pollution rule as a carbon rule, news outlets are misinforming the public about what climate policy is, about what it is actually trying to achieve. But even worse: they are fueling a politically-motivated, anti-climate outrage campaign against a fairly small air pollution rule intended to protect the lungs and hearts of children and the elderly.
The main reason the U.S. lacks mass public buy-in for transformative climate action is because of misinformation. Two types of climate misinformation fuel this inaction: misinformation about the problem, and misinformation about the solutions. This pizza oven rule error falls into the category of misinformation about climate solutions—and if it remains uncorrected, it will become yet another page in the ever-growing history book of how the mainstream press failed the planet.
So if anyone bothers to make a correction, let me know.
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Bonus Catch of the Day: What’s a bonus newsletter without a bonus catch? Here’s Fish and me back when we lived together in 2021. There’s no place he loves more than a lap.
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