Right Second

If Facts Don’t Matter, What Does?

This is an excerpt from DeSmog founder Jim Hoggan’s latest book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse, published by New Society Publishers.

I first began reading the works of linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff about 15 years ago and I was struck by the Berkeley professor’s now famous ideas about what he calls frames. In public relations our stock in trade is messaging, because our role is to create understanding by combining maximum clarity with supreme brevity. We work in the world of sound bites and elevator pitches that are designed to be short and pithy, and we rarely have the time or budget to delve into frames or deeply moving narratives.

When I started writing I’m Right and You’re an Idiot I wanted to better understand the difference between messages and frames, so I would know how frames work and be able to explain how to manage them. I wanted to better understand how they relate to the mechanics of public debate, and especially how frames impact facts and scientific evidence in public discourse, or when shaping opinion.

Renewable Energy Jobs Keep Growing While Fossil Fuel Jobs Keep Shrinking

More than 8.1 million people are now employed by the renewable energy industry worldwide, an increase of five percent over last year, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The number of renewable energy jobs worldwide went up in 2015 while jobs in the broader energy sector fell. In the United States, for example, renewable energy jobs increased six percent, but employment in oil and gas fell 18 percent.

That’s perhaps not surprising, as renewable energy continues to break records. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), utility-scale electrical generation from renewable sources like solar and wind hit an all-time high of 16.89 percent of the country’s total electricity generation in the first quarter of 2016. During the same time period in 2015, renewable energy's share of net generation was just 14 percent. Distributed solar photovoltaic and wind energy have also continue to grow quickly, the EIA found.

Duke Study Finds A "Legacy of Radioactivity," Contamination from Thousands of Fracking Wastewater Spills

Thousands of oil and gas industry wastewater spills in North Dakota have caused “widespread” contamination from radioactive materials, heavy metals and corrosive salts, putting the health of people and wildlife at risk, researchers from Duke University concluded in a newly released peer-reviewed study.

Some rivers and streams in North Dakota now carry levels of radioactive and toxic materials higher than federal drinking water standards as a result of wastewater spills, the scientists found after testing near spills. Many cities and towns draw their drinking water from rivers and streams, though federal law generally requires drinking water to be treated before it reaches peoples' homes, and the scientists did not test tap water as part of their research. 

High levels of lead — the same heavy metal that infamously contaminated water in Flint, Michigan — as well as the radioactive element radium, were discovered near spill sites. One substance, selenium, was found in the state's waters at levels as high as 35 times the federal thresholds set to protect fish, mussels, and other wildlife, including those that people eat.

Fracking Pollution Raising the Earth's Levels of Ethane, Bakken Oilfield Is Largely to Blame

The Bakken shale oilfield is single-handedly responsible for most of a mysterious global rise in atmospheric ethane — a pollutant that can harm human health and heat the atmosphere further — peer-reviewed research published last week reveals.

The Bakken, which stretches from North Dakota and Montana into Canada, has made headlines over the past decade for its sudden drilling boom (and an equally sudden job market bust as oil prices have plunged over the past year).

But while the drilling boom made North Dakota the nation's second largest oil-producing state, the amount of hydrocarbons leaking and being deliberately vented from the oil field may have been enough to alter the composition of the Earth's atmosphere slightly, reversing a long-running decline in ethane levels worldwide.

Hillary Clinton Suddenly Backs Off Her Strongest Environmental Proposal

The biggest criticism lobbed at President Obama from the environmental movement is that he speaks out of both sides of his mouth. While he has always accepted that climate change is real and needs to be addressed, his proposals have always been countered by some sort of gift to the fossil fuel industry — leasing new lands for offshore drilling, expanding coal leases, increasing domestic oil exploration, lifting the crude oil export ban, etc.
 
So last November, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that she would do away with the coal industry if elected president, environmentally conscious voters applauded her actions. Her proposal was broad, ambitious, and would have made a serious impact on the amount of carbon that the United States was producing while at the same time protecting both the economy and the environment.

Former Massey CEO Don Blankenship Sentenced to One Year in Prison For Conspiracy to Evade Mining Safety Rules

Disgraced coal baron Don Blankenship received the maximum possible sentence today for his misdemeanor conspiracy conviction, in a criminal case spurred by the Upper Big Branch disaster that killed 29 coal miners in West Virginia in 2009.

Mr. Blankenship was acquitted in December of three felony charges over his direct personal responsibility for those deaths. But he was convicted on conspiracy to violate federal mining safety standards. Today, a federal judge handed down a sentence of one year in prison, plus a year of probation and a fine of $250,000 for Mr. Blankenship's crimes.

Had he been convicted of all charges, Mr. Blankenship would have faced a maximum of over thirty years.

For over a quarter century, Mr. Blankenship ruled with an iron fist as the notoriously aggressive former head of Massey Energy, one of the nation's largest coal mining companies.

Fracking Becomes An Issue In Presidential Primaries

Republican front-runner Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made their positions on fracking clear last weekend. Trump is all for it. Clinton too, but only if a list of conditions met. Sanders is against it.
 
Trump brought up fracking on Friday at a New Orleans campaign rally. “New York has been let down, they didn’t allow them to frack,” Trump said.  “If they fracked in New York, New York would lower its taxes, would have no debt, would have made a fortune. Instead Pennsylvania took all their money.”
 
Praising Pennsylvania, Trump said, “They took those beautiful, beautiful natural resources. They took ‘em out.” He failed to mention hundreds of reports of water contaminated by the Pennsylvania fracking industry.
  

Following Sudden Death of Indicted Former Chesapeake Energy CEO, Justice Department Investigation into Collusion Continues

Last Tuesday, the Justice Department announced criminal charges against former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, stemming from an alleged lease bid-rigging conspiracy between McClendon and another unidentified oil and gas company. The felony count against McClendon carried up to a decade in prison and $1 million in fines.

Shortly after 9 AM the next day, McClendon crashed his SUV at over 50 mph into a concrete highway overpass and died instantly of blunt force trauma. Police are continuing to investigate McClendon's cause of death, awaiting toxicology results and other data, and have not ruled out the possibility that the car wreck may have been a suicide.

“He pretty much drove straight into the wall,” Oklahoma City Police Department Capt. Paco Balderrama told a local NBC affiliate. “There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct and get back on the roadway and that didn’t occur.”

The dramatic exit of one of the most flamboyant wildcatters in the shale rush stunned many observers — and his abrupt death may serve to pull attention away from the underlying crimes that McClendon was so recently accused of committing. The acts McClendon, age 56, stood accused of occurred at the height of the shale land rush and were committed in his role as then-CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the nation's second largest natural gas producer.

Before McClendon died, Forbes writer Chris Helman noticed something very interesting in the former CEO's response to his indictment: McClendon didn't deny the acts underlying the charges, he simply argued that others in oil and gas industry also engaged in the same conduct.

Florida Rooftop Solar Advocates Challenge Deceptive Anti-Solar Campaign In State Supreme Court

The Sunshine State didn’t get its name for nothing: Florida ranks third nationally in rooftop solar energy potential. But thanks to restrictive laws supported by the state’s powerful utility monopolies, the country’s third most populous state is only fourteenth in installed solar capacity.
 
Florida is one of only four states that bar third-party solar financing, when non-utility companies install solar panels on the roofs of homes and businesses at little or no upfront cost, sometimes selling the energy generated back to the customer.
 
A battle in Florida is well underway between Big Energy and clean-energy advocates. The current conflict began when a coalition called Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC) proposed a ballot measure to legalize third-party solar agreements. FSC is an unlikely alliance of Tea Party activists and environmentalists, Libertarians, Republicans, a Christian coalition, and business groups.

As Warming Accelerates, Talk Of Climate Change Dissipates

There is not a single person running for U.S. President as a Republican who believes that we should take action to fight climate change. Not one. To make matters worse, the top three contenders for the Republican nomination — Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio — refuse to even acknowledge that climate change is real. The remaining two GOP candidates — John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson — don’t believe climate scientists about the scope and severity of the problem.
 
One of these men will have a 50% chance of becoming the President of the United States this coming November. And depending on which polls you look at, the three frontrunners have a very real shot at actually winning the election.
 
Cruz and Rubio are the only two candidates who currently serve in office, both in the Senate, and while they are currently both trailing Trump in delegate count, the number of primaries left to be held indicate that either could take the lead and secure the nomination. And since they both hold office, we can check their records to see where they stand on environmental issues.
 
And things aren’t looking good.

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