A cursory glance at some headlines on either coast might have one wondering if there are any deniers left to round up.
“Where have all the climate change deniers gone?” asked Los Angeles Times letters editor Paul Thornton via headline Saturday, with a short letter of his own. Back in 2013, he “unintentionally touched off a journalistic controversy” by citing climate denial as an example of the “kind of factual inaccuracies [he tries] to keep off” the letters to the editor page. But now, the latest IPCC report response was quite muted by comparison. “Letters denying the science still trickle in,” he writes as a preface to some great climate letters from readers, “but this isn’t anything like 2013.”
There’s a similar vibe to a New York Times story published Friday by Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport— or at least, the headline: amid extreme weather, a shift among Republicans on climate change. Go beyond the headline to even just the subheadline and you find that, thankfully, Friedman and Davenport do recognize that it’s not 2013, and they repeatedly punctuate the GOP’s new language with reminders of Republicans' sustained opposition to reducing fossil fuel emissions. These reminders, that the GOP’s shift is merely one of words and rhetoric, is perhaps most amusingly presented by their contrasting Senator James Inhofe’s recent denial that he ever called climate change a “hoax,” with a parenthetical that Inhofe literally wrote a book about climate change called The Greatest Hoax.
Similarly, while over at the LA Times Thornton is hopefully correct about the volume of blatant climate denial content dropping over the years (perhaps thanks to efforts made to call it out, debunk and deplatform it) (you’re welcome), he wouldn’t need to go far to find out what sort of tricks the industry is up to now. In fact, he’d just need to look at the LA Times!
A collaborative investigation between Emily Holden’s Floodlight at The Guardian and Sammy Roth and Miranda Green at the Los Angeles Times discovered a scheme in which people who believed they were “standing up for sustainability” were actually being paid to lobby for natural gas-powered trucks over electric vehicles. Successfully.
While they couldn’t definitively prove the natural gas fueling station company, Clean Energy Fuels Corp., paid Method PR company to hire people and arm them with talking points and coach them to lobby for natural gas-powered trucks, the reporters did find that Method definitely did those things and had a contract with the company. And that tidbit is only public knowledge because the founder of Method, Brian VanRiper, is married to L.A. City Planning Commission member Samantha Millman, who had to file a financial disclosure showing at least a $10,000+ payment from Clean Energy Fuels to Method in 2017.
Clean Energy Fuels’ VP for sustainability, Greg Roche, did admit that they hired Method for “community outreach,” but apparently claimed to not know anything about them hiring people in the community to do outreach on the company’s behalf.
And they were paid a decent amount: $20 an hour, for what they believed were “environmental fellowships,” according to Method's online job posting.
Well, some of them were paid decently. Perhaps in response to some of the stats the investigation mentions about Latino and low-income neighborhoods having “some of the highest ‘pollution burdens’ in California,” the company also got Danielle Marquez, a Latina single mother of four, to play up the personal angle on how a port using natural gas trucks instead of electric would be good for her, as a concerned mom with children in tow at events.
But instead of a $20/hr fellowship others found online, they just “gave her $20 Visa gift cards when she attended events and spoke at public meetings. She called the gift cards a ‘perk’ that she put toward gasoline money.”
Which sure makes it sound like it didn’t even cover her full expenses, much less her time, which she apparently mostly volunteered because she “didn’t know until she was contacted for this article that she had worked on behalf of the natural gas industry.”
Not that she was surprised, though, saying aptly that companies “are running rampant and exploiting people [and] our communities and polluting the environment.”
Another unwitting employee was then-college student Ana Leon, and she also only learned about it when contacted years later. She didn’t “feel angry necessarily.” But did “feel disappointed.” (We would be angry and disappointed, for the record.)
“At the same time, in hindsight…” she continued with more honesty than the gas company and PR that paid her, “I know this sounds bad, but it’s like, at least I got paid.”
Which just goes to show: the industry’s ability to cut paychecks rather than emissions is why, 2013 or not, there’s still plenty of climate denial to be found.
Sometimes you just have to look a little harder for it.