Tuesday, June 01, 2004

AND NOW, THE REST OF THE STORY. The Boston Globe recently announced that it will begin accepting ads on the op-ed page. A column today that attempts to debunk concerns about global warming, by one James M. Taylor, would appear to fall into that category. Unfortunately, the Globe presents it not as a paid ad but, rather, as an earnest opinion piece by someone who is identified only by the respectable-sounding title of "managing editor of Environment & Climate News."

More about that in a moment. First, though, a few words about Taylor's wacky column, written ostensibly to make fun of the movie The Day After Tomorrow, a global-warming nightmare thriller. At first I figured Taylor would simply point out that the various global-warming scenarios are more complicated and less spectacular than Hollywood would have it. Within a few paragraphs, though, Taylor was espousing the most extreme views held by industry and its right-wing supporters. To wit: that if there is any global warming taking place at all, it is slight, and in any case will take place at night, while you're sleeping; and that the concomitant rise in carbon-dioxide levels is good for you. Taylor writes:

Most recent and unbiased scientific research indicates that temperature change caused by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases will be moderate, perhaps 1 degree Celsius in the next century; most of the warming will occur at night and during the winter; and higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (which plant life needs to thrive and survive) will lead to a greening of the planet that will enhance global food production.

Now, in fact, the case for human-caused global warming is a bit more complicated than environmentalists would have you believe, which I discovered when I dipped my toe into this turbulent water nearly three years ago. But the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion is definitely not on Taylor's side. The simple-minded virulence of Taylor's screed should have set off alarm bells when it arrived at the Globe. It certainly set off Media Log's alarms. And it took me no more than a few minutes on Google to learn that Taylor's piece never should have seen the light of day - except in one of those new op-ads.

Environment & Climate News, as it turns out, is a publication of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a right-wing organization founded in 1984 that is "devoted to turning ideas into social movements that empower people." How nice. Scroll down its home page, and you will see that it promotes relatively benign, conservative-oriented causes such as school choice - and some truly out-there ideas, such as the notion that genetically modified crops are necessary to preserve water resources, that new air-pollution standards "will do significant economic harm but little environmental good," that the government should do nothing about the obesity epidemic, and that second-hand cigarette smoke is harmless.

It gets better. According to Disinfopedia.com, the Heartland Institute's directors include current and retired officials of ExxonMobil, Amaco, General Motors, and Philip Morris. Its funding comes from ExxonMobil and a number of right-wing foundations, including the notorious John M. Olin Foundation and the Scaife Foundations. (As in Richard Melon Scaife, who reportedly once told a journalist attempting to ask him a question, "You fucking communist cunt, get out of here.") In addition, Heartland co-founder David Padden is a right-wing activist long involved in such organizations as the Cato Institute and the Center for Libertarian Studies.

According to Bill Berkowitz, writing for WorkingForChange.com, "The Heartland Institute ... is one of the foremost right-wing purveyors of the carbon dioxide is good for you theory."

Op-ed pages are where newspapers publish opinion pieces, and by their very nature the authors of those pieces are not expected to be as disinterested as, say, reporters who cover political campaigns, homicides, or the stock market. On the other hand, neither are op-ed editors supposed to publish discredited propaganda that's been bought and paid for by corporate and right-wing interests, especially when those interests are not disclosed.

The Globe has been apologizing a lot lately, even when it shouldn't have. Well, Taylor's ridiculous piece is something that's definitely worth an apology.

Meanwhile, the Globe's advertising salespeople must be wondering how they'll ever manage to sell an op-ad when the editorial side is giving them away.

No comments: