Environmental Offenders and Their Corporate Media Megaphone

The inaccurate and incomplete media coverage of climate change results from the mutually beneficial relationship between the corporations that contribute to climate change and corporate media.
CNN Sign
Photo by DieselDemon via Flickr

Student Researcher and Writer: Hanna Begnell

Faculty Evaluator: Nolan Higdon

California State University, Maritime Academy

The incomplete and inaccurate media coverage of climate change results from the mutually beneficial relationship between the corporations that contribute to climate change and corporate media. Ninety seven percent of active researchers with published papers conclude that humans are the cause of global warming. Yet the environmental offenders are shielded from having to respond to this research by a corporate media that favors the industries and lifestyles that negatively impact the environment. Investors of corporate media use their editorial power to marginalize stories of climate change.  Recent examples include the deforestation in Canada to the warnings of the effects of methane gas, and the growing and ever present drought in California.

Climate change refers to the change of global or regional climate patterns that became apparent in the mid to late 20th century. Throughout the history of the earth, there have been climate changes due to the slight variations in earth orbital pattern which in turn causes the amount of solar energy reaching earth to fluctuate. Those climate changes are significantly different than the modern day patterns of climate change. Data collected and published by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) demonstrates that the human induced climate change is changing global and regional patterns at a rate not witnessed in 1,300 years (‘NASA’, n.d.).  From the information that various studies and satellites show, the warming of the earth is due to the heat trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases being released into the atmosphere daily (‘NASA’, n.d.).  The massive use of fossil fuels from the auto industry, along with global industrialization resulted in and continues to put in increased levels of carbon dioxide in to the atmosphere changing its composition.

The corporate media ignores human beings contribution to climate change because addressing it properly would mean questioning the American Dream. The American Dream is predicated on suburban life: home ownership, car, job, and vacation. Researchers at the University of Berkeley found that compared to the cities, the carbon foot print of suburban neighborhoods can be up to four times greater (Diep, 2015). A suburban lifestyle was designed to have individuals commute to work and buy consumer goods that have been driven and shipped to their town from great distances. The documentary End of Suburbia explains that the car industry was created by destroying the cable car system in order to make Americans, in towns out skirting cities, car dependent. That led to a dependency on the profitable industry of oil, which is required for the existence of giant supermarkets like Walmart and Costco to supply the suburban family. The need for food hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away creates a market for ConAgra foods.

Altering the American Dream to be environmentally sustainable would come at the expense of the corporations who provide advertising revenue to the corporate media. Fair and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) found that when given the change the corporate media ignores discussions about climate change. For example in 2014 rather than discuss the 300,000 people marching in New York City for meaningful climate change policy, MSNBC had a segment about how the midterm elections were about Chic-Filet and Starbucks.  The corporate media cannot attack those responsible for climate change because they fund the media outlets. Many of Fox, CNN and ABC’s investors are rooted in the auto industries, superstores, and colossal farm monopolies. All industries that rely heavily on oil and poor environmental policy. Investors from Fox news include Dodge, BMW, Jeep, Lexus, Lincoln, Mercedes, Target, and Walmart among various other corporation (‘List of Fox News Sponsors’). Investors from CNN include Subaru, Dodge, Hyundai, Cisco, and American Coalition for Clean Coal, among other corporations (‘CNN sponsor list’, 2008). ABC’s include Ford Motors, General Motors, Walmart, and ConAgra among others (‘ABC world news sponsors’, 2009). In all three cases, although there were other companies investing, the majority were all major polluters and oil dependent.

The moral hazard between corporate media and its sponsors means that events serious to climate change go unreported. For example, deforestation is believed to be a major human induced contributor to climate change. Deforestation refers to the clearing of forests to attain natural resources and land. Dr. Andy lee Roth and Chinasa T. Okolo writing for Project Censored found that Canada accounts for 21% of all of the world’s deforestation. Yet, it only receives spotty coverage in Canada and is ignored by the media in the US. In fact, as of October 14, 2015 there was no corporate media coverage that discusses Canada’s deforestation or its possible environmental impact.

Corporate media not only blatantly ignores stories involving climate change, but also undermines and marginalizes those looking for solutions to climate change. Corporate media outlets such as ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX have all increased their coverage of climate change in 2014 according to Media Matters. However, the type and amount of coverage varies significantly well as from station to station depending on investors. Corporate media sources such as ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX in a six year average dedicate about 108 minutes of their yearly broadcasts to climate change. This is just slightly under the average amount of time it takes to watch a movie. California’s severe drought is an example of how the corporate media undermines climate change stories. California Governor Brown officially declared a State of Emergency regarding California’s water issues in January of 2014. Brown’s announcement was covered by the corporate press, but the impact of the drought is not. For example, Folsom Lake, a northern California reservoir with normal lake levels of 466 feet elevation to 426 feet is now holding just barely 14% capacity (Parks & California, n.d.). If Folsom Lake dries up there will be a lack of drinking water in Folsom, Roseville and Granit Bay. Though this poses a serious issue for many residences and sheds light on the larger issue of climate change. However, the corporate media undermined the Folsom Lake Story to focus on Kentucky’s Kim Davis. Kim Davis made headlines in almost every corporate media station for her refusal to issue gay marriage licenses because it was against her religious beliefs. This was made headline news while the continued drought, and water crisis in California was bluntly ignored.

Another way the corporate media undermines and marginalizes stories associated with climate change is by ignoring how corporatization contributes to climate change. For example, in October 2015 while Project Censored was covering the deforestation in Canada, the corporate media covered the “Energy Department Smashes Pumpkins for Causing Climate Change.” According to the United States Energy department 1.3 Billion pumpkins are produced each year inside the United States, with the passing of Halloween more than 254 million tons of municipal solid waste is created.  Although discomposure of pumpkins and can be put in to compost boxes, the Energy Department warns that the methane gases that are created by the decomposed  pumpkins has a climate warming  effect 20 times that of carbon dioxide. Choosing to cover the pumpkin story instead of a story about corporate industry’s contribution to climate change is a carefully constructed version of news abuse. The corporate media ignores the fact that mega corporations disproportionately contribute to climate change to instead put the focus on the ubiquitous use of pumpkins. However, the lack of serious coverage by corporate media is related to the fact that the possible uses and solutions to this problem could even reduce the amount of pollution put into the air by fossil fuel and oil use. The Energy Departments Bioenergy Technologies office is working with companies and industry to create bio refiners that will take plant and food waste and convert it into affordable biofuel that could generate cars and other machinery that is currently dependent on oil. The Energy Department predicts 50 % of US solid waste could generate over 7.6 billion gallons of biofuel. However, such coverage would be a threat to the fossil fuel industries that fund media and contribute to the world’s environmental problems.

The false narratives about climate change perpetuated by the corporate media results from the relationship between media and their advertisers. Major media investors in corporate media have large capital ties with major polluters and contributors to climate change in the auto industry, superstores and  farm monopolies. Those economic ties lead to the under-,, incomplete, and incorrect coverage of stories covering climate change.

Hanna Begnell is a freshman at California State University Maritime Academy where she studies International Business and Logistics and Environmental Studies. 

Reference List

ABC world news sponsors. (2009, July 2). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.nationalcenter.org/ABCNewsSponsors.html

Association of California’s Water Agencies. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.acwa.com/content/delta/californias-water-sacramento-san-joaquin-river-delta-0

CNN sponsor list. (2008, July 11). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/2128336/posts

California WaterBlog. (2014, March 24). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://californiawaterblog.com/2014/03/23/where-did-all-that-water-go-some-dry-numbers-on-todays-drought/

Diep, F. (2015). Suburbia’s Carbon Footprint. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.popsci.com/article/science/suburbias-carbon-footprint-four-times-size-urban-residents-study-finds

Energy Department. (2015, October 27). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://energy.gov/articles/turn-your-halloween-pumpkins-power

List of Fox News Sponsors. (2029, December). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.ronpaulforums.com/showthread.php?67765-List-Of-Fox-News-Sponsors

Media Coverage of Climate Science. (2015, April 12). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.desmogblog.com/2015/04/12/media-coverage-climate-science-stunting-climate-action-especially-us

Media Matters. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://mediamatters.org/research/2014/01/16/study-how-broadcast-news-covered-climate-change/197612

NASA. Retrieved December 15, 2015, from http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

Parks, C. S., & California, S. of. Folsom Dam. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=882

Parks, C. S., & California, S. of. Folsom Dam. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=882

Pompi, J., & Times, T. W. (2015). Pumpkins Cause Climate Change. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/oct/28/pumpkins-cause-climate-change-energy-department/

Sacramento Bee. (2015, June 23). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article25373272.html

Sacramento Bee. (2015, November 14). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article44927409.html

The 97% consensus on global warming. (2008, April 21). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from https://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus-intermediate.htm

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

ABC world news sponsors. (2009, July 2). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.nationalcenter.org/ABCNewsSponsors.html

(‘ABC world news sponsors’, 2009)

Association of California’s Water Agencies. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.acwa.com/content/delta/californias-water-sacramento-san-joaquin-river-delta-0

(‘Association of California’s Water Agencies’, n.d.)

CNN sponsor list. (2008, July 11). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/2128336/posts

(‘CNN sponsor list’, 2008)

California WaterBlog. (2014, March 24). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://californiawaterblog.com/2014/03/23/where-did-all-that-water-go-some-dry-numbers-on-todays-drought/

(‘California WaterBlog’, 2014)

Diep, F. (2015). Suburbia’s Carbon Footprint. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.popsci.com/article/science/suburbias-carbon-footprint-four-times-size-urban-residents-study-finds

(Diep, 2015)

Energy Department. (2015, October 27). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://energy.gov/articles/turn-your-halloween-pumpkins-power

(‘Energy Department’, 2015)

List of Fox News Sponsors. (2029, December). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.ronpaulforums.com/showthread.php?67765-List-Of-Fox-News-Sponsors

(‘List of Fox News Sponsors’, 2029)

Media Coverage of Climate Science. (2015, April 12). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.desmogblog.com/2015/04/12/media-coverage-climate-science-stunting-climate-action-especially-us

(‘Media Coverage of Climate Science’, 2015)

Media Matters. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://mediamatters.org/research/2014/01/16/study-how-broadcast-news-covered-climate-change/197612

(‘Media Matters’, n.d.)

Parks, C. S., & California, S. of. Folsom Dam. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=882

(Parks & California, n.d.)

Pompi, J., & Times, T. W. (2015). Pumpkins Cause Climate Change. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/oct/28/pumpkins-cause-climate-change-energy-department/

(Pompi & Times, 2015)

Sacramento Bee. (2015, June 23). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article25373272.html

(‘Sacramento Bee’, 2015)

Sacramento Bee. (2015, November 14). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article44927409.html

(‘Sacramento Bee’, 2015)

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