One year of HEATED
A look back on what we’ve done in our first year.
Every human contributes to climate change. But only a handful of humans are behind the climate crisis. That’s why the tweet at the top of this article went viral over the weekend, and it’s why I started this newsletter one year ago.
I launched HEATED on September 9, 2019, with a simple thesis: “It is not your fault that the planet is burning.” The goal was to expose and explain how society’s most powerful people and institutions routinely ignore and downplay climate change and those most hurt by it.
Here’s a look back on what we’ve accomplished in our first year together.
We held corporations and Big Oil accountable
The first year of HEATED featured extensive coverage of how corporations bolster climate denial and policy delay, even when they publicly claim to support climate action. It also featured extensive coverage of the sneaky ways the oil industry tries to influence public opinion and public policy, with the goal of delaying climate action.
Original reporting revealed:
Facebook’s fact-checking loophole for climate deniers. Two joint investigations with the newsletter Popular Information revealed how climate deniers skirt the fact-checking process on Facebook. The articles sparked national activism campaigns and got the attention of multiple U.S. Senators, including Elizabeth Warren.
Amazon and VistaPrint’s support of the Michael Knowles show, which regularly promotes climate denial. Following the article, VistaPrint said it would no longer advertise on Knowles’ show.
Microsoft’s bankrolling of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell is the biggest obstacle to climate action in Congress. Microsoft promotes itself as a leader in the fight against climate change.
How Big Oil uses advertising to make itself look green. Newspapers, television, radio, billboards, and social media—climate-related fossil fuel company advertising is everywhere. We made an Instagram account to track it, and regularly explained what different ads were created to do.
How Big Oil infiltrates public schools to control climate education. Back in March, we did a weeklong series about climate change and the education system, and how oil companies create pro-fossil fuel material for children.
The connection between Big Oil and Nazis. The same publicist shaped their communication strategies. I’m not even kidding.
We held Democrats, progressives and environmentalists accountable
My late mentor, the legendary investigative journalist Wayne Barrett, once wrote that journalists should be “equal-opportunity garbage collectors, as nonpartisan as the wrongdoing itself, never looking past the wrist of any hand in the public till.” That’s why HEATED’s first year focused not just on fossil fuel companies and Republicans, but on Democrats, progressives and self-proclaimed environmentalists.
Critical coverage included:
The DNC going backwards on fossil fuels. We covered the 2020 Democratic Party policy platform process from beginning to middle to late middle to its horrifying end. One of the DNC’s newest members told us that she thought DNC Chairman Tom Perez should “fuck off.”
Silent racism in the climate movement. We defined “Climate Chads,” and spoke with environmental justice activists who said silent racism is preventing the climate movement from standing in true solidarity with Black Americans and achieving climate justice.
A Congressman’s broken climate promise. Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan signed a promise not to take fossil fuel money before taking more than $10,000 from a fossil fuel company at the center of a huge corruption and bribery scandal. We reported on this three times before he eventually got kicked off.
Michael Moore setting the climate fight back years so he could … look edgy I guess? I may or may not believe in God, but I still pray daily that I never have to re-live the week I was forced to watch Michael Moore’s dumb-ass, error-ridden climate YouTube video “Planet of the Humans.” The alleged “documentary” spread an objectively false narrative that renewable energy was a sham and that environmentalists were corrupt. It would have been almost funny if climate denial groups weren’t paying to promote the film on Facebook—which we exposed was happening.
The fight over Pete Buttigieg’s climate advisor. A lot of you got really mad at this one. It was fun.
We held the media accountable, this newsletter included
The climate crisis is a failure of systems—and one of those systems is journalism. As a whole, mainstream news media has failed to treat the climate crisis like the existential threat it is. That’s one huge reason why the public has not mobilized around climate action.
Here are some ways we covered that problem this year:
Calling out news outlets for not connecting California’s wildfires and climate change. This was a recent article, and it got a lot of attention on Twitter and elsewhere. (I’m talking about it on *three* different public radio programs this week, can you believe?)
Analyzing the make-up of editorial boards. I found a concerning lack of climate expertise; a lack of representation from racial and gender groups most affected by climate change; and a history of sympathy for climate science denialism among the top editors of the New York Times and Washington Post editorial pages.
Making fun of shitty climate articles. My line-by-line response to the Washington Post’s climate attack on Bernie Sanders got a lot of attention this year, which was cool, because I had fun writing it. My diatribe on why Forbes is garbage also did pretty well.
Comparing the media’s coronavirus coverage to climate coverage. I noted how some mainstream news outlets were succumbing to the same mistakes they made with climate change in their coronavirus coverage. It evoked a response from CNN’s Brian Stelter, who I had called out specifically.
Holding myself accountable. I reflected on a mistake I made during a television segment on MSNBC, and why I felt bad about it. “The purpose of this job is to chronicle and explain the rapid escalation of an existential threat to human life so that humans have the tools they need to address the threat,” I said. “We only have so many opportunities to get it right before everything goes horribly wrong.”
We had fun, even when everything was burning
I can’t be serious all the time. It just isn’t my jam. I can’t imagine it’s yours, either—so hopefully you enjoyed the more light-hearted stuff we did this year.
Fun stuff included:
The article about how no one wants to date climate deniers anymore.
The article about how CrossFit loves racism *and* climate denial.
The article about those stupid freezer bags that come with Amazon deliveries from Whole Foods. (And how they heat the planet).
The article about how WAP is actually a climate story, not a rap song about genitalia.
We did some other stuff that didn’t fit the above categories
Here are some other notable accomplishments from HEATED’s first year:
We got Al Gore to tweet about George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. We know this because he told us. “Your newsletter called my attention to the fact that I had not put out a statement specifically on the horrendous murder of Mr. Floyd,” he said. “So I wasted no time in putting that out.”
We did an entire six-episode podcast series on the connections between coronavirus and climate change. It was a ton of work and I was so stressed the whole time that I barely remember doing it, but it got a lot of great press, including a feature article in the Guardian.
We reported on the scourge of birdwatching while Black. Written after a video of a white woman making racist threats against a black birdwatcher named Christian Cooper went viral, “As rare as hen’s teeth” was one of the year’s most popular newsletters, and a favorite among HEATED paid subscribers.
We hosted a conversation between noted GOP white guy John Kasich and youth climate activist Jamie Margolin, and it went hilariously badly.
We got a lot—and I mean a lot—of mainstream media praise. In its first year, HEATED was called "Impassioned” by New York Magazine; “Confrontational” by the The New York Times; “Emotive and in-depth” by The Guardian; “scathing” by Columbia Journalism Review; “Deeply reported” by The Washington Post; and “Excellent” by Vox and The New Yorker. Nieman Reports said HEATED was an example of climate journalism that “Engages audiences without overwhelming them.” MSNBC’s Ali Velshi called me “one of the foremost climate journalists in the U.S.” Yikes.
The reason I say “we” is because I can’t do this alone
It sometimes feels weird to write “we” in these sentences. I spend most of my time alone.
Especially during the coronavirus, I’ve worked in isolation. Sometimes my awesome research assistant Chris helps, as does the incredible climate journalist Amy Westervelt. But for the most part, HEATED can feel like a one-woman show. Just me and my computer and my existential dread.
But HEATED is not a one-woman show. This last year couldn’t have happened—wouldn’t have happened—without you on the other side of the screen. When I launched last September, I decided this would be a 100 percent people-powered publication: No grants, no sponsors, no ads, no bullshit. If you hadn’t come through to fund it, it wouldn’t have kept happening. The work I do depends on you.
That’s why, as long as this newsletter exists, I’ll always consider its accomplishments ours.
This birthday cake, however, is mine.
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Stay hydrated, eat plants, break a sweat, and have a great day!