Energy and Race: The Media’s New Intersectionality – ‘Before Trump, Republicans were losing the energy war by not fighting it’
By Rupert Darwall
Energy divides the Left and Right, but not in the most obvious way. The Left sees energy as a means of controlling society and the “commanding heights” of the economy, to use a Leninist phrase. The Right tends to see energy as an important sector of the economy, but not an economic control knob – with one important exception.
The exception, of course, is Donald Trump. As he sees it, cheap energy powers blue-collar prosperity. It’s not surprising, then, that until the Trump presidency, the opponents of cheap energy had the upper hand. It’s why Trump’s zinger in the second presidential debate caught Joe Biden off guard. “Would you close down the oil industry?” Trump interjected. Biden allowed that he would “transition” out of oil usage. “Saying you want to phase out oil and gas hits differently on a debate stage than in a whitepaper,” progressive site Grist commented. “And it was the first time a major candidate for U.S. president has said anything of the sort on a national debate stage.”
Before Trump, Republicans were losing the energy war by not fighting it. “Our security, our prosperity, and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil,” President George W. Bush declared in January 2008. The transition from the Bush to the Obama presidency was well-nigh seamless in this regard. “We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy,” President Obama said in his first address to Congress.
In waging this war, progressives have been aided by an overwhelmingly partisan and one-sided media. Examples of bias abound, including “soft” documentaries. Netflix’s 2019 “Our Planet” documentary, narrated by climate icon Sir David Attenborough, carried a subtext of banning fossil fuels to save the natural world. One segment shows walruses falling off cliffs as they are pursued by polar bears, hungry allegedly because of a lack of sea ice due to global warming. Much of what the film asserted turned out to be fabrication or outright falsehood.
Then there’s Rolling Stone’s campaign against fracking. Fracking causes gas pipelines to explode, the magazine claimed last year, though pipelines are far and away the safest way to transport oil and gas. Five years ago, fracking – “a form of extraction dating back to the Civil War” – was supposedly killing babies and afflicting children with “cancers – leukemia, lymphoma – in places with no known clusters,” the magazine asserted in another story, claims that could have come straight out of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Childhood deaths from cancers were soaring and people were swimming in “a sea of carcinogens,” Carson wrote in her 1962 classic, although there was no scientific basis for either of these assertions.
The energy debate takes place in a sea of bias and misinformation. At various times, the nation’s two leading newspapers have reported that fracking causes low birth weights (Washington Post); more out-of-wedlock babies (WaPo); mouth ulcers (New York Times); and – inevitably – more cancers (WaPo again). In 2011, the Times ran a story based on anonymously sourced, redacted emails from the independent Energy Information Administration. It turned out that much of the material derived from emails between an intern and the anti-fracking Natural Resources Defense Council, earning a rebuke from the Times’s public editor.
One virtue of Twitter is seeing journalists’ unfiltered venting. “Every oil and gas call I’m on, I’m reminded how almost completely white and male this industry is,” the Times’s climate and energy reporter Hiroko Tabuchi tweeted in June. “Speaking on a just-ended call: three white men called Rob, Rob, and Ed.” (She later deleted the tweet.) Tabuchi’s Twitter followers comprise a rolodex of the sharp end of the climate-industrial complex. They include Josh Fox, director of the tendentious anti-fracking movie “Gasland;” hockey-stick climate scientist Michael Mann, a co-founder of 350.org; the executive directors of Greenpeace USA and the Sunrise Movement; and a former EPA regional administrator fired over comments about how he could “crucify” the oil and gas industry.
The alleged prejudice at play here: climate change is racist, and the industry responsible for it is run by white supremacists.
A far different viewpoint, however, rarely makes the news: that draconian climate policies disadvantage minority communities. Two weeks ago, The Two Hundred, a coalition of Latino civil rights leaders in California, wrote a blistering letter that begins, “We write again to object to the continued racist conduct of the California Air Resources Board.” Indeed, if one really wants to pursue the institutional racism theme, he can find much more of it in the pages of the Times and other papers that resolutely toe the official environmental line – while ignoring how regressive climate policies advocated by white billionaires in Silicon Valley and Wall Street disproportionately hurt Latinos, African-Americans, and those on low incomes. Perhaps Twitter should add a mirror function to help journalists like Hiroko Tabuchi.
Rupert Darwall is a Senior Fellow of the RealClear Foundation and author of Green Tyranny.