Issue 11 - Letter from the Editor

By Mark Spellun

WE HEAR BAD NEWS EVERY DAY. Average global temperatures are rising, polar ice caps are melting, and sea levels are getting higher. Signs of global warming are all around us. It’s hard to escape them unless you shut yourself off from the influx of information. In some ways, this pervasiveness is a good thing. Attention to environmental issues has always waxed and waned, depending on the health of the economy or the salience of other critical issues, like terrorism. But this current concern seems poised to change in the months and years ahead. Whether it is more intense hurricanes or high prices at the gas pump, there seem to be more and more reminders of our changing circumstances every day. And not surprisingly, media coverage about these issues has increased dramatically in recent months.

I actually think the national media does a fairly good job covering environmental issues. The New York Times, for instance, gives significant coverage to new scientific findings and recently ran a special green business section. Other mainstream publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, have reported extensively on the environment and global warming.

Perhaps because of this coverage (and because President Bush can come out for our hydrogen future only so often—otherwise people might expect him to do something about it), the power industry has rushed in to respond. Coinciding with the release of Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth (which addresses the dangers of global warming), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative think tank, released two television commercials in May that sought to combat some of the growing public nervousness over greenhouse-gas emissions. It’s hard to convey a lot of science in a 60-second commercial, so CEI came up with a memorable catch phrase: “They call it pollution. We call it life.” The phrase refers to carbon dioxide. Apparently, since we exhale it and plants use it, it doesn’t matter how much there is in the atmosphere.

These commercials (watch them online at might be funny if they weren’t part of a broader problem. The energy industry, through its support of right-wing think tanks (CEI has received over $1 million from ExxonMobil since 1998), “researchers,” and non-tree-hugging politicians, has skewed the discussion about global warming to make it seem like there is more scientific debate than there is.

There was a time when a film like An Inconvenient Truth might have been just ignored by big business. In 1989, for example, General Motors initially chose to ignore Michael Moore’s Roger & Me—it was just a documentary, and who was going to watch it? But not today, not when there are billions of dollars at stake. The worst nightmare of the energy industry is that An Inconvenient Truth or Who Killed the Electric Car? might become the environmental equivalents of Fahrenheit 9/11.

Issue 25

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