Meet The Press Booking a Denier to Discuss Climate Change Is a Portrait of Our Dangerously Dumb Times
Rarely do you get news of an ongoing catastrophe and, within a couple of days, a perfect example of why we’ve done nothing about that exact problem. But Chuck Todd and Meet The Press were happy to oblige this Thanksgiving weekend. On Friday, the Trump administration attempted to bury a harrowing U.S. government climate-change report by releasing it on Black Friday, a notorious dumping ground for bad news. Normally, though, the bad news is just for the current administration—not the whole world.
On Sunday, Todd hosted Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute on his teevee show. Her performance—and it was a performance—was a shining example of how the ruling class has successfully hemmed and hawed for decades, with the full support of the feckless Beltway media, slowing any kind of action and safeguarding big-business profits while experts in the field have known full well that human civilization as we know it is in clear and escalating peril.
As Pletka so happily volunteered, she is not a scientist. So why was she invited on one of the nation’s Premier Political Talk Shows to spread disinformation about a scientific issue? That two years since 1980 have been cold does not have any bearing on the scientific consensus that climate change is real and man-made. This member of the conservative intelligentsia—the American Enterprise Institute, for which Pletka works, is a right-wing “think tank”—is actually just making the more polite version of President Good Brain’s argument on Wednesday.
This is not the first time Trump has disproved global warming on the basis he is cold today. (Elsewhere, he has simply called it a Chinese hoax.) Nobody put this crap to bed better than Stephen Colbert did all those years ago. Weather is not climate. The weather is affected by changing climate patterns, but warming global temperatures over the decades—an indisputable trend, even among denialist hacks like Pletka—does not mean every day of every year will be warmer than the previous. What it does very likely mean is more powerful storms that drop trillions of gallons of water on American cities, and bigger, more ferocious wildfires that turn the American West to ash.
Of course, Pletka probably knows this. She gave Our Beautiful Boy Chuck Todd that tried-and-true conservative line that’s rapidly going stale: that surely something is happening with the climate, but who can say whether humans are causing it? Well, after years of exhaustive study, scientists have found it is “extremely likely” (terms the scientific community does not choose lightly) that humans are significantly contributing to warming global temperatures. We also know that the Beautiful, Clean Coal that Pletka suggested the U.S. has switched to does not exist. “Clean coal” is a misleading term for the same coal that continues to be the dirtiest fossil fuel in existence.
Did Todd challenge her with the facts? No. But this is what the evidence says. It’s just Pletka isn’t concerned with gathering the evidence and coming to a conclusion—also known as the essence of the scientific method. Here is an (albeit anonymous) account from an Atlantic reader who claims to have worked for Pletka at the American Enterprise Institute:
A number of years ago I worked for Danielle Pletka for a summer as a researcher, and her piece today matches the “scholarship” she and AEI were producing in the early part of this decade. I was rarely if ever asked to perform background research on a subject but was more often asked to provide specific evidence to support ready made assertations. At the time AEI was mobilizing in support of military action against Iraq, and it was quite clear to me that the academic process was reversed – positions designed, research dug up to support the positions.
This seems like an opportune moment to mention that Pletka is widely known as a varsity-level cheerleader for the Iraq War. More recently, she demonstrated her intricate knowledge of the conflict by suggesting to the French ambassador on Twitter that France had joined the U.S. in the conflict. OK, so that was completely and laughably wrong (Remember the idiotic Freedom Fries charade?), but at least by 2013 she was…still defending the invasion. Yes, after it embroiled the region in sectarian conflict, and after all the reasons people like Pletka peddled for going in were proven to be baseless. Eventually, this genius foreign-policy move led to the rise of ISIS. This is just another example of how, if you work in the Beltway, there are absolutely zero consequences for being completely wrong about everything.
In fact, if you work at a think tank like AEI, it might just get you a raise—if you stick to the party line. All think tanks are, to some extent, mouthpieces for their donors, but that particularly goes for a right-wing gun-for-hire shop like the Institute. The Guardian uncovered how AEI works to undermine the science on climate change in 2007:
Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world’s largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.
Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered.
And what did that ExxonMobil funding look like?
The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI’s board of trustees.
You may remember that Exxon was also exposed as having discovered, through the work of its own scientists, that climate change was real as early as 1977. Instead of accepting this reality and beginning the work of responding to the burgeoning climate crisis, Exxon chose to fund disinformation on the topic for decades, protecting their profits in the shorter term. They’re not alone among oil-and-gas outfits, many of which simultaneously started building their rigs to accommodate sea-level rise that would result from the climate change that, in public, they steadfastly disputed was happening.
One way to fund disinformation is to pay a think tank like AEI to spread it for you. And that’s what Pletka was still doing, on Sunday, after just the latest report dropped detailing the catastrophic consequences of our inaction on the climate crisis. The U.S. report focused on the fact that the crisis will melt 10 percent of the American economy and send it crashing into the ocean by 2100. Farmers in the midwest will lose 75 percent of the crop yield on their corn. Rising sea levels will put trillions of dollars in coastal real estate in jeopardy. But last month’s report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—compiled by 91 leading scientists from 40 different countries based on more than 6,000 scientific studies conducted by still more scientists—was even more apocalyptic. It found that human civilization as we know it will be in severe peril by 2040, and that we have 12 years to dramatically change course to avoid that scenario.
Amid all that, news programs like Chuck Todd’s Meet The Press—offerings that putatively exist to inform the public about the world around them—are still playing host to people who are paid to spread false information about the world. Todd is not alone: CNN hosted Rick Santorum on Sunday. Like NBC News, which employs Pletka as a contributor, they pay Rick directly to spread nonsense.
This festering boil on the body politic highlights another in-vogue conservative argument: that the scientists who’ve devoted their lives to studying the climate are really just in it for those juicy government grants to continue studying it. It’s all about the money! As usual in this era, this is a case of accusing the opposition of something you’re already up to.
Santorum is applying the incentive structure that exists for massive multinational oil and gas corporations and those they employ—seeking out certain findings because you have a vested financial interest in a certain outcome—to climate scientists. In reality, the kind of conspiracy that right-wingers like Santorum are alleging here would be perhaps unprecedented in scale. If this is all a big con, thousands of climate scientists spread across dozens of countries would need to all be getting their kickbacks, and have a way to secretly stay on-message. It’s absurdly unlikely, and it belies the aforementioned way that the scientific community vets a scientific report’s findings.
Oh, and the money in government grants ain’t actually that good. That’s why some “scientists” might take, say, $10,000 from AEI to dispute the scientific consensus. It’s all bullshit, folks, and it’s bad for ya.
All this is to say that the nation’s major television news stations routinely play host to propagandists who are paid, directly or indirectly, to spread disinformation and muddy the waters to protect the interests of massive energy corporations, all at the expense of the future of human civilization.
When Pletka said emissions are down since President Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accords—making the U.S. the only nation in the world that refuses to participate—that was just true enough: they are down in 2018, though the rate of emissions reductions slowed from the previous two years and will likely continue to slow as the Trump administration attempts to roll back our efforts to combat the crisis. The crown jewel in that regard is the Clean Power Plan, our main vehicle for meeting our obligations under the Paris agreement, which Trump has sought to repeal. At the very least, Todd is obligated to challenge this crap if he’s going to host a dishonest broker—or host someone who can. According to John Whitehouse of MediaMatters, none of the Sunday Shows hosted a single scientist while covering the climate in 2016 and 2017.
The Meet The Press chief will certainly defend his decision to host a climate-change “skeptic” on the basis of “intellectual diversity” and Hearing From Both Sides, as if what his viewers need is to hear both the truth and utter nonsense. Both Sides are not operating in good faith here. One side accepts the scientific consensus. On the other, the Republican Party is the only major political party in the industrialized world that disputes it. Both Sides Journalism, which falsely equates the truth about the world we’ve determined through the scientific method with self-serving crap dished out by the instruments of oil interests, has made it politically palatable to do nothing, for decades, about an existential threat to humanity. Friday’s report further underlined the crisis facing humankind. Two days later, Meet The Press showcased part of how we’ve allowed things to get to this point.
But since we’re on the topic of intellectual diversity, here’s a suggestion: If Chuck Todd wants to talk about a scientific topic, how about having a fucking scientist on?