Green World

Phelim McAleer made the rounds in DC this week to promote his documentary FrackNation – which airs next Tuesday on AXS television.  The North Ireland native noted several times that what was intended to be a documentary showing the truth about natural gas extraction methods ended up being as much a commentary on the media.

An exchange during one of McAleer’s presentations especially stood out.  A conservative blogger noted that the New York Times closed its green desk, and asked if that counted as a victory against media bias.  “Did we win this debate?”  McAleer countered that what can best be termed environmentalist ideology permeates reporting.

“Everything is green,”  he said.  “Why do you need a green desk?”

Strong point.  Just as getting labeled “the conservative version of _____” (or “the liberal version of _____”) promises failure, having a desk specifically designated for covering a certain issue or movement sequesters that coverage.  Given the Times’s political leanings, having a green desk was probably a waste of a desk in the first place.

And while documentaries tend to be dry, the teasers suggest that if you’re into this type of thing, it might be fun to watch.  When talking about political documentaries, this is usually the point where I play the wet blanket and say that explicitly fictional stories can be more effective long term in shaping opinions.  But since that hasn’t worked so well for the other side of the fracking debate, perhaps I ought to shut up…

Weather or not it’s proof of climate change…

It’s cooled down a bit lately, but the last few weeks have seen the worst of what Summer offers in and around the Beltway.  A massive windstorm knocked out power in Alexandria, and heat indexes made mowing the lawn such and incredibly dangerous activity that it was to be avoided at all costs. (That’s the story we’ll go with.)

What does it all mean?  For some it’s unequivocal evidence of man-made climate change:

During their recent coverage of winter storms, Fox News has repeatedly mocked former Vice President Al Gore and cited the cold and snowy weather to attempt to discredit global warming. Fox News and other right-wing media routinely use snow to cast doubt on global warming, and internal emails from Fox News’ Washington bureau show that in the past Fox employees have been instructed to question climate science.

Wait, wait, no, I’m sorry, that’s an old Media Matters story, back when the eighteen feet of snow dumped on the Eastern seaboard was just “weather.”  There’s a difference, you see, between weather and climate, so a cold winter doesn’t mean anything for those looking to disprove global warming.

Yet this week, the anti-Keystone XL organization sent an email to their subscriber list highlighting the recent heat wave as evidence that radical environmental change is afoot.  Their leader, Bill McKibben, sarcastically needled global warming skeptics in the Daily Beast:

Please don’t sweat the 2,132 new high temperature marks in June—remember, climate change is a hoax…  On Friday, for instance, Washington set all-time heat records (one observer described it as like “being in a giant wet mouth, except six degrees warmer”), and then shortly after dinner a storm for the ages blew through—first there was five minutes of high wind, blowing dust and debris (and tumbleweeds? surely some tumbleweeds), followed by an explosive display of thunder and lightning that left millions without power.

That’s, whose big idea was to fund a giant ice sculpture on the steps of the U.S. Capitol spelling out the word “HOAX.”  You see, they were going to disprove climate skeptics by melting ice in July.  That was before they slammed on the brakes – ostensibly because they would appear insensitive to people suffering the heat wave, but more likely because it was just a really silly idea.

You can’t spend the winter preaching that weather and climate are different things, then using the summer heat to support the need for environmental action.  That’s not a scientific argument, that’s political hackery – though, come to think of there’s probably more money in simple hackery.

The GOP Primary Presents: “Answering For Santino” Week

The three front runners for the Republican nomination each have baggage, and since last week we’ve seen their strategies for dealing with it.  Tim Pawlenty is very sorry about signing a cap-and-trade bill while he governed Minnesota; Mitt Romney has some ‘splainin’ to do to get people to quit using the word “Romneycare”; and Newt Gingrich… well, Newt’s got kind of a Cee Lo Green thing going on with his previous support for aggressive environmental action:

“I’d do a commercial with Al Gore,” Gingrich said last May in an interview with the website Human Events. “My point is conservatives ought to be prepared to stand on the same stage and offer a conservative solution.”

Pawlenty’s strategy is probably the best for now (pending Romney’s speech).  It is, appropriately enough, safe and genuine, but Gingrich is at least sort of right, too.  This line of messaging does help to further the idea that he is the Thinking Republican’s Candidate to a degree.  But the audience shouldn’t be conservatives (at least, not quite so obviously).

The past five years are absolutely full of examples of grassroots activists demonstrating that they don’t like to be lectured to.  There was Marco Rubio besting Charlie Crist in Republican primary polls (and eventually the general election), Joe Miller over Lisa Murkowski, and Rand Paul over Trey Grayson in Kentucky’s Senate race.  If you feel like going back farther and crossing the aisle, ask Joe Lieberman how rank and file Democrats felt about him in 2006.

You don’t like being lectured to.  Do you hear me?  You don’t like it.  (You do, however, appreciate irony, I hope.)

The point is, that instead of scolding conservatives that they should be stewards of the environment, Gingrich should be more inclusive.  Consider how his second sentence above would sound with a slightly different perspective:

“My point is that we can stand on the same stage and offer better, more creative solutions that will protect our environment without putting people out of work.”

Wouldn’t that make you feel a little bit better about being on the same side as Gingrich – as if you’re both part of the same winning team?

The era of the Citizen-[INSERT PROFESSION HERE]

First, came the citizen-journalists – the bloggers in their pajamas whose reporting overturned Walter Cronkite’s old chair and dumped out Dan Rather.

Then came the citizen-politicos – the self-organizing crusaders who organized largely online but made a difference in the real world, giving alternating advantages to the left in 2006 and 2008 and the right in 2010.

And now come… the citizen scientists.  An English gas worker has discovered four new planets by analyzing public data at his home computer.  No telescope, no university observatory, no office – just a proficiency for math and the love of the game.  It’s legit, too, as the University of California has given the discovery a seal of approval.

This may explain why people have been slow to support environmental regulations with drastic economic impacts.  The previous argument – “Trust us!  We’re SCIENTISTS!” – can’t carry weight.


Responding to BP’s response

After yesterday’s crisis management advice for BP, it seems fair to look at what the world’s current least-favorite oil company has been up to online in its response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP devoted a section their company website as a central repository of information about their cleanup efforts.  The pages are very fact-heavy, along with two video responses from BP officials and several pages of pictures.  Essentially, BP’s branded response to the crisis is an online press kit.  While the breadth of information is impressive, this is an exclusively one-way channel.

There are, however, other venues.  BP is one of the driving forces behind, plus an associated Facebook page and Twitter feed. As one might expect, the Facebook page is the best of the group; Deep Water Horizon officials respond to comments with measured, polite answers to legitimate questions; and harsh critics are not censored. It helps that the initiative is not branded as coming solely from BP, thus diffusing some strong emotions folks likely feel toward the company.

It would be nice to see more from the efforts on the ground beyond a few pictures on all of BP’s online properties, something that could evolve as the campaign matures.  It’s a decent enough first step for BP, but it will only work if it’s the first step of many.

Big Oil’s worst nightmare is, ironically, big oil

Questions may fly about who will pay how much to clean up the latest catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, but the answers affect more than British Petroleum’s cash reserves.  The accident which claimed the lives of rig workers and threatens the coastal environment’s short term health comes just months after President Obama made a big show of opening up new areas to offshore energy exploration.  From a business angle, at risk is the future of offshore oil drilling for BP and any other company that relies on the United States government for exploration rights.  In the coming weeks, the drumbeat to cap the wells and bring the oil derricks back to terra firma will only grow louder, unless BP and their colleagues take the right actions now.

The Action

Eventually, there will probably be a rational explanation of why BP wasn’t entirely responsible for all the economic damage, but as the current debate over financial reform legislation demonstrates, rational explanations will do little to convince populist politicians. In addition to directly funding clean-up efforts, BP would be wise to work through local governments to administer small business development programs to help industries affected by the spill get back on their feet – and possibly even exceed their previous production.

Working through local and state governments is especially key.  Criticisms of BP are most likely to come from those voices, but if they are satisfied with relief efforts, they could be powerful allies.

Incidentally, BP should not act alone in this.  Energy companies have been asking to drill for resources in the waters off the U.S. shoreline for a long time, and the most compelling argument against them has come to realization.  While BP’s visibility and leadership is vital, other companies have a dog in this fight, too.

Messages and Messengers

There are two important themes BP and the industry must advance.  First, they must highlight what they are doing to rebuild – the programs they put in place as well as the results.  The second (which involves the whole industry, is to re-affirm the value of offshore drilling.  In both cases, the people delivering the messages matter as much as the messages themselves.

Toyota’s handling of the safety issues which plagued them earlier this year offers some good advice to follow.  Toyota recognized that not only was the perception of their cars damaged, but leaked emails and memos damaged the credibility of their top executives.  Americans don’t trust CEOs, so  Toyota turned to the two groups that could offer credible, positive messages: the engineers and assembly line workers who make the cars, and consumers.

This is where online communication – and especially online video – will be important.  A video channel featuring commentary from government officials and environmental workers will offer a transparent and compelling chronicle of the relief efforts. And oil industry workers – from those on the rigs to those in the refineries – offer an important insight as well.  For them, offshore drilling is as much about putting food on the table as it is about lowering gas prices, and they are now the best spokespersons for the industry.

The reality is that we live in a time where often, government picks winners and losers in the business world – a proposition that puts BP and their colleagues at risk.  Further, since they are hoping to tap reserves in areas controlled by the federal government, The oil industry will not soon shed their image as a huge, greedy, quasi-government entity.  Americans are traditionally suspect of power.  The best thing they could do is admit some level of responsibility, work to rebuild, and – most important – invite the American people and media in to see the details.

Going green

Check this out:

This commercial, which appeared on Good Morning America today, sends two interesting messages about the environmental movement here on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

First, if you do not live green, a barrage of tiny fists will rain down justice upon you unless your socks and underwear are earth-friendly. Be afraid.

Second, ecological awareness can lead to economical success.  The New York Times reports that environmentalism is now a business practice for many big companies.  Some activists are nonplussed:

To many pioneers of the environmental movement, eco-consumerism, creeping for decades, is intensely frustrating and detracts from Earth Day’s original purpose.

“This ridiculous perverted marketing has cheapened the concept of what is really green,” said Denis Hayes, who was national coordinator of the first Earth Day and is returning to organize this year’s activities in Washington. “It is tragic.”

Those that frown on corporate participation miss an important aspect of American business: left to their own devices, companies are reflections of culture.  If Hanes is push eco-socks and 20th Century Fox is adjusting normal schedules to release the highest-grossing movie in history on Earth Day, it’s because environmentalism is recognized as an important social value.  What isn’t recognized as an important social value is government regulation, which is why environmental consciousness has not always translated into support for the environmental political movement.

What might a more middle-of-the-road environmental movement look like?  Organizations which promote ecologically sound personal activity and issue report cards on corporate green initiatives should be the centerpiece.  Individuals are already interested in becoming more environmentally friendly and can vote with their own behaviors and their own wallets if properly informed.

No one wants to be beaten up by a gang of toddlers in a shopping mall, right?

Write all the white papers you want

When environmental debates are waged, the option of nuclear energy is rarely mentioned as a potential solution despite compelling benefits.  Professor Bill Irwin at King’s College in good old Wilkes-Barre, Pa. blames television’s most famous nuclear family:

The editor of the book The Simpsons and Philosophy says television and movies about nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have also added to negative publicity surrounding nuclear power.

With such shows as The Simpsons poking fun at the nuclear industry and movies that focus on disasters, Irwin says it’s somewhat disappointing there are so many negative stereotypes in the media about nuclear power.

The pro-nuclear energy side has their advocates, of course.  The Nuclear Energy Institute is a quality group, and they make a strong case:

Nuclear energy is America’s largest source of clean-air, carbon-free electricity, producing no greenhouse gases or air pollutants. The industry’s commitment to the environment extends to protecting wildlife and their habitats.

Unfortunately, the American public is more familiar with Blinky the Fish – who makes a more direct point in a joke than NEI could in a ten-page paper: