Climate

Memo To Media: Obama’s Clean Power Plan Is Not Primarily About Politics

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The most important benefits of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan do not involve either President Obama or his “legacy” — seriously, New York Times?

The Clean Power Plan is primarily about public health and preserving a livable climate by reducing carbon pollution from the dirtiest coal plants. It is directly aimed at improving the health of tens of thousands of Americans — and enabling a global treaty that might ultimately save most of the country from turning into a near-permanent Dust Bowl.

At one time, the New York Times was considered the pinnacle of “serious” journalism, the “paper of record.” But consider their Politico-style analysis of Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants — a plan that he was legally obligated to put forward, a plan that is objectively the bare minimum the United States can do in the global fight to prevent catastrophic climate change from ruining the lives of billions of people for decades and centuries to come.

The Times’ front-page headline in its big Sunday story with leaked details of the plan is “Obama to Unveil Tougher Environmental Plan With His Legacy in Mind.” That is the print headline, the web headline, and the URL — so apparently the editors were in complete agreement from the start that this dreadful headline captures the most important news about why the President unveiled this plan.

Significantly, the Times provides exactly ZERO named sources to justify this “view from nowhere” headline and story:

As the president came to see the fight against climate change as central to his legacy, as important as the Affordable Care Act, he moved to strengthen the energy proposals, advisers said. The health law became the dominant political issue of the 2010 congressional elections and faced dozens of legislative assaults before surviving two Supreme Court challenges largely intact.

It’s all about politics and legacy, according to the Times panjandrums … and those famous unnamed “advisers.” The Times further asserts (baselessly): “But over all, the final rule is even stronger than earlier drafts and can be seen as an effort by Mr. Obama to stake out an uncompromising position on the issue during his final months in office.”

“Uncompromising?” Really? The Times is aware that Team Obama tried the legislative route in its first term: “Mr. Obama tried but failed to push through a cap-and-trade bill in his first term….” I guess Obama failed to “push through” that bill — if that phrase means “making concession after concession to get any Republicans to actually vote for it.”

The Times never mentions the fact the president is legally obligated to put forward a plan. As I’ve explained, after Senate conservatives rejected any compromise over legislation that would have reduced carbon pollution from power plants, something from the EPA very much like the Clean Power Plan became legally inevitable.

At no time does the Times even entertain the notion that the president cares about the health and well-being of Americans — or the moral responsibility the country bears as the biggest cumulative polluter. This despite Obama holding a major “White House Public Health and Climate Change Summit” on June 23!

You have to read more than 900 words to even get to the scientific necessity of the matter:

Climate scientists warn that rising greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly moving the planet toward a global atmospheric temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the point past which the world will be locked into a future of rising sea levels, more devastating storms and droughts, and shortages of food and water. Mr. Obama’s new rules alone will not be enough to stave off that future. But experts say that if the rules are combined with similar action from the world’s other major economies, as well as additional action by the next American president, emissions could level off enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

That would have been great as a third or fourth paragraph, but as an 18th paragraph, it’s unlikely many people who see the headline will ever get that far.

Also, the statement in boldface is not scientifically accurate because of the phrase “emissions could level off enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.” Emissions leveling off will NOT cause carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to level off. In fact, they would continue rising and rising, which would guarantee the worst effects of climate change.

What the New York Times should have written was “global emissions could eventually drop fast enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.” We need a 50 percent drop in global emissions by mid-century. The public and policymakers and the media remain very confused on this point — and with stories like this it’s no wonder.

NOTE: I was originally going to criticize the AP for its Clean Power Plan story, “Who wins and loses under Obama’s stricter power plant limits” (viewable here). It had many of the same Politico-style flaws as the Times piece — especially an “inside the DC beltway” focus whereby the “winners” included environmentalists, but not actually public health or a livable climate.

But the AP appears to have replaced that with a vastly superior piece, “Obama heralds impact of power plant greenhouse gas limits,” which makes the key moral point that the most newsworthy beneficiaries are humanity: “Calling it a moral obligation, President Barack Obama unveiled the final version of his plan to dramatically cut emissions from U.S. power plants, as he warned anew that climate change will threaten future generations if left unchecked.”

Kudos to the AP for this fix.