Can we trust the reporting of environmental issues by the mainstream media?

January 14, 2013

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Image RemovedAmong the various lessons we learned in 2012 there is also whether or not the so-called “mainstream media” really can be trusted to tell the truth about environmental issues.  Or can it be trusted to do just the opposite,  and in various diverse and difficult to detect ways?

This additional “lesson to be learned” is in fact the subject of an entire excellent –and also recently published book by the title “Project Censored 2013”, which describes quite well many of the important issues which the mainstream media has mostly (or fully) censored,  or completely misled us about,  over this past year or so.  

The book is available on Amazon in both Kindle and hard copy versions. I recently purchased it and have been reading it. I thought the Foreword by Dr. Nafeez Mosssadeq Ahmed was particularly clear and convincing and nicely summed up the current situation with respect to mainstream media censorship of “inconvenient topics” and in particular those which are of interest and concern to Cassandra Legacy readers and that deal with the environment and its various aspects. And also with Al Gore’s extremely “inconvenient truth” which is becoming more and more inconvenient by the day to some, but much more convenient to the millions or even billions of people who think something should be done urgently about climate change.  Some have said that the ratio of persons on one side to those on the other is 1 to 99 (or 99 to 1) but I will leave that particular quantitative aspect aside for the time being.

The book –and this particular post which tries to give an idea of what the book is about – also offers an additional perspective or amicable warning to us all regarding the ubiquitous “mainstream media” –   is also a kind of logical follow-on to my own earlier post on Cassandra Legacy by the title “Limits to Growth” : An Alternative History

In that post I tried to argue that the old book Limits to Growth (first published in 1972) might have been  better received  -or at least less poorly received and less “demonized”- if it had taken into account in its World Model (or at least had done so qualitatively, separately) not only the variables which it did consider and model –namely a series of economic, industrial, resources, pollution, and demographic variables all in interaction within its dynamic systems model-,  but also selected variables of culture, identity, politics, political science, political economy, societal institutions,  and ideology.  

This second set of variables I believe were those that had caused the book to be “demonized” once its central message that there are limits to growth and that “economic growth forever” is not possible on a finite planet, clearly came up against them, in the so called real (social) world.  That is, “the real world” of business, politics, economics, religions, and their various academic disciplines and professions, and up against their many representatives and advocates.   And this also since to many who are active in those disciplines and professions apparently the “real world of physics, chemistry and biology” (and ecology) regrettably is either considered to be “pretty unreal” or is secondary,  or at least is not particularly worthy of much serious or top priority policy consideration.  And of course one very important player in that broad social context -and one which also significantly influences and affects all the rest- is the so-called mainstream (or corporate) media in all of its forms. That is, mainstream –and generally corporate-owned, newspapers, magazines, TV channels, radio, and etc. etc. including also some Internet media.

Did the mainstream media “inform” the wider public, or did it misinform, or “dis-inform and mislead” the public with respect to the book Limits to Growth?  And even more significant at this specific time, is it informing or dis-informing right now with respect to the ongoing and continuing significant range of serious environmental problems, topics and issues?  And in particular with respect to climate change, peak oil, limits to growth and other particularly important environmental topics and issues such as Arctic methane, ocean acidification, Arctic and Antarctic ice melt, diminishing or dwindling fish stocks, biodiversity and habitat loss, ongoing deforestation, advancing desertification, and several others.   The reader can make up her / his own mind about that, but I would like to offer the following for consideration:

First, below follows a list of the titles of the 15 chapters of the book Project Censored 2013 which provides a pretty good idea of what topics those who wrote or compiled the book –and there were many contributing chapter authors- think the mainstream media has either censored or lied to us (the wider public) about.  And, moreover, most often in quite clever and deceptive ways which are very difficult to detect, pick up and deconstruct. And for those who may be interested in reviewing some of the specific ways and techniques through which the mainstream media (in this specific instance Fox News Channel) (but they are by no means the only ones) lies to us and tries to deceive us, they can read the following very good article which summarizes their top 14 techniques: “Fourteen Propaganda Techniques Fox “News” Uses to Brainwash Americans

Some of the topics and book sections in “Project Censored 2013” deal with some of the main issues treated by Cassandra Legacy -namely climate change, peak oil and limits to growth- and some deal instead with other issues related to politics, democracy, and U.S. foreign and domestic policy, which often are equally censored or lied about.  And if one reads the book one might also consider quite apt an alternative possible title for the book that I came up with myself (only in “jest”) and namely:
“Project Dissembled, Denied, Distorted, Delayed, Deleted, Deflected and Deceived

About by the Mainstream Media”, or perhaps more succinctly and humorously simply “Mainstream Media Project-7D”.  In any case, here is the list of the book’s chapters:

1. “The top 25 Censored Stories from 2011-2012 and Censored News.   Clusters:
 i) The Police State and Civil Liberties
ii) From “Bankster Bailout” to “Blessed Unrest”:  News we can use to create a US economy for the 99 percent
iii) Environment and Health
iv) Human Costs of War and Violence
v) Women and Gender, Race and Ethnicity

2. Déjà vu:  What happened to previous censored stories?

3. American Idle:  Junk Food News, News Abuse, and the Voice of Freedumb

4. Media Democracy in Action

5. Ownership Backfires:  A Taxonomy of Concepts Related to Censorship

6. The Global 1 Percent Ruling Class Exposed

7. The Information War:  How Government is Seeking Total Information Awareness and What This Portends for Freedom and Democracy

8. GerM Warfare:  How to Reclaim the Education Debate from Corporate Occupation

9. Kent State:  Was it about Civil Rights or Murdering Student Protesters?

10. The Creative Tension of the Emerging Future:  Facing the Seven Challenges of Humanity

11. Guantanamospeak and the Manufacture of Consent

12. Framing Al-Awlaki:  How Government Officials and Corporate Media Legitimised a Targeted Killing

13. A Morally Disengaged America:  Sacrificing Iraqi Refugees to Terrorism Fears and Anti-Immigration

14. On the Road to Fukushima:  The Unreported Story Behind Japan’s Nuclear-Media-Industrial Complex

15. An Occupation of Truth:  Indian Administered Kashmir”

As a conclusion, below I add a quote containing several specific examples regarding the recent treatment by the mainstream media of peak oil and climate change –including also what Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed says about each- in his excellent foreword to the book.

At a time when the world faces tipping points in the escalation of multiple crises, the publication of this volume is of momentous significance.

As I write, a sampling of the latest “mainstream” corporate news illustrates the unprecedented nature of our current predicament as a civilization.  The bizarre and extreme weather of the early United States summer prompted one leading climate scientist to state boldly that we are “certainly seeing climate change in action,” as a window on a worsening future.  Record-shattering heat waves, wildfires, and freak storms are a taste of things to come – “This is just the beginning” said one meteorologist.

Simultaneously, the International Monetary Fund cut its growth forecast for the US economy, warning that the ongoing Eurozone crisis, along with the weak housing market, risks triggering a recession by 2013 while the jobless rate morphs into “higher structural unemployment”.

As the defunct neoliberal model of casino capitalism wreaks havoc at home, it is doing the same abroad.   Global food prices doubled between 2006 and 2008, and despite some fluctuation, remain largely at record levels.  One of the key causes has been speculation in derivatives –thirteen trillion dollars was invested in food commodities in 2006, then pulled out in 2008, and then reinvested again by 2011.  The rocketing food prices for the global poor have generated an unprecedented global food crisis across the developing world

But another driver of the food crisis is climate change, which has already led to crop failures in key food basket regions.  This is only going to get worse on a business-as-usual model, which could lead to a minimum 4 degrees Celsius rise by mid-century.  Even a 2-degree rise could lead to a minimum 4 degrees Celsius rise by mid-century.  Even a 2-degreee rise would lead to dramatic crop failures and soaring meat prices; at 4 degrees Celsius, rice crops could be reduced by about 30 percent, leading to global food shortages and hunger.

Amid this escalating frenzy of perfect storms, however, over the last year the corporate media has focused on one apparent light at the end of the tunnel: unconventional oil and gas.  “Has Oil Peaked?  Read one headline in the Wall Street Journal.  Across the pond, BBC News asked, “Shortages: Is ‘Peak Oil’ Idea Dead?”  Environmentalists have also jumped on the bandwagon.  Andrew C. Revkin in the New York Times took “A Fresh Look at Oil’s Long Goodbye, while George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian that “We Were Wrong on Peak Oil.  There’s Enough to Fry Us All”

The essence of this uniform message is that the new drilling methods – like hydraulic fracturing, i.e. “fracking” among others- have allowed the fossil fuel industry to exploit previously untapped reserves of tar sands, oil shale, and shale gas, bringing them to market at much cheaper prices than hitherto imaginable, and effectively turning the US from net oil importer into a leading exporter.

But it should come as no great surprise to Project Censored readers that,  once again, the corporate news media has obfuscated the facts.  The latest figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) confirm that the supposedly massive boost in unconventional oil production that is pitched to launch the world into a glorious future of petroleum abundance – capable of sustaining the wonders of capitalist economic growth ad infinitum – has had negligible impact on world oil production.  On the contrary, despite the US producing a “total oil supply” of ten million barrels per day – up by 2.1 million since January 2005 – world crude oil production remains on the largely flat, undulating plateau it has been on since it stopped rising around that very year.  As reported by oil markets journalist Gregor Macdonald, who has previously reported for the Financial Times and Harvard Business Review, among other publications: 

Since 2005, despite a phase transition in prices,  global oil production has been trapped below a ceiling of 74 mmbpd (million barrels per day).  New production from new fields and new discoveries comes on line, but it has not been at a rate fast enough to overcome declines from existing fields.  Overall, global decline has been estimated at a minimum of 4% per year and as high as 6+% pa year.  Given that new oil resources are developed and flow at much slower rates, the existing declines present a formidable challenge to the task of increasing supply I see no set of factors, in combination that would take global production of crude oil higher in 2012, or next year, or thereafter.

Yet this stark fact has not been reported in any mass media news outlet whatsoever, anywhere in the world. Indeed,  Macdonald points out that data from British Petroleum’s Statistical Review of World Energy shows that oil’s heyday is well and truly in decline.  In 1973, oil as a percentage of global energy use had peaked at around 48.5 percent.  Forty years later, “oil is barely hanging on as a the world’s primary energy source, with a much reduced role as a supplier of only 33.5% of all world energy consumption.” 

The disparity in reporting is instructive. In June 2012, the corporate media focus on the unconventional oil boom revolved around one study in particular by oil company executive Leonardo Maugeri – former executive vice president of Italian oil major ENI.  The report was not peer-reviewed but as published at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs by the Geopolitics of Energy Project, “which is supported in part by a general grant from the (same) oil major (i.e. ENI),” conceded the WSJ.  Hardly an impartial perspective, then. 

Meanwhile, a series of peer-reviewed reports by independent scientists published in highly reputable science journals from January through to June 2012 – Science, Nature, and Energy – have been blacked out in corporate news reporting.  In Energy Gail Tverberg documented that since 2005, “world oil supply has not increased”, that this was “a primary cause of the 2008-2009 recession,” and that the “expected impact of reduced oil supply” will mean the “financial crisis may eventually worsen.”  An even more damning analysis was published in Nature by James Murray and Sir David King, the latter being the British government’s former chief scientific adviser.  Murray and King’s analysis found that despite reported increases in oil reserves, tar sands production, and hydrofracturing-generated natural gas, depletion of the world’s existing fields is still running at 4.5 percent to 6.7 percent per year, and production at shale gas wells could drop by as much as 60 to 90 percent in the first year of operation

Curiously forgotten in the spate of reporting on the opportunities opened up by fracking is a New York Times investigation from 2011, which found that “the gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying, according to hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells.”  The e-mail revealed industry executives, lawyers, state geologists, and market analysts voicing “skepticism about lofty forecasts” and questioning “whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves.”  A year later, it seems, such revelations were merely destined for their memory hole”

Following the above opening section the Foreword to the book goes on to describe additional examples and also the role which a book such as “Project Censored 2013” can play in at least exposing the disinformation or the non-information so often “put out” or censored by the mainstream media.  Which is something it often does instead of putting forward real facts and truthful stories and their respective most plausible and most sensible overall descriptive or explanatory or prescriptive narratives,  which could help tie together and integrate i.e. “connect the dots” regarding the important evidence and facts,  and thereby also support and be able to provide significant help to those who are concerned and are trying to do something about the issues….through their various ongoing struggles.  And I say “ongoing” because the key issues and problems (already listed above) are certainly NOT going to go away in 2013.  So we had better be ready also for the long haul and will need all of the intellectual and other help we can get.  And having access to accurate, reliable and valid information is of course quintessential, just as it is quintessential for democracy itself to function properly.  

But I am not a “conspiracy theorist” and moreover nothing is black and white. Is all of the “mainstream media” and its countless writers and protagonists equally bad and misleading or is it always omitting important stories,  and is it bad and lying all of the time and in every instance?  And is everything which is reported in the “non-mainstream” media always factual, truthful and correct?  And although “exceptions often prove the rule” there remains always, and in any case, a key element of personal responsibility to  try to figure out what actually is true or false and what is just or fair or not, and  which narratives and story-lines make the most sense and which do not.  So it is probably also useful to try to consult multiple sources even if perhaps only one among the many later will be shown to have contained the facts and have been correct.   Also remembering of course that a lie or a deception repeated fifty times,  is still a lie.   But I think it can be of great “ex ante” “heuristic help” when navigating the information territory to know at least generally speaking who one’s friends are -and whether they are only “fair weather” friends and NOT also “fair climate” friends- and who instead are the self-serving liars and the promulgators of assorted exercises in deception, i.e.  “the spin starts here” sorts of people.  

Tags: Activism, Media & Communications, Politics