In recent years right-wingers in this country, including the president, have scoffed at the idea of global warming and ignored those who expressed concern and called for action. But even among Republicans and conservatives, the need to act to reduce the risks of climate change is looking increasingly like the new conventional wisdom.
The obvious example is in California, where a Sep. 1 story in the Wall Street Journal [$] rightly predicted that a high-stakes deal between a Republican executive and a Democratic legislature "to cut emissions tied to global warming is likely to boost a resurgence in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s popularity." In fact the "halo effect" from this deal has remade Schwarzenegger’s image among independents and Democrats, which — baring an act of God — will easily carry him to victory on November 7.
But the California electorate has long supported environmental regulations for the sake of clean air, clean water, coastal protection, and parks and wild lands.
How is global warming seen in the right-wing media in this country?
In fact enthusiasm for action to curb global warming is coming from surprising quarters, and has been bubbling to the surface for some time. A year ago the creator of FOX News, Roger Ailes, saw the now-famous Al Gore slide show on the seriousness of global warming, was impressed, and — according to the LA Times — dropped his opposition to covering the issue.
FOX News soon ran a blunt documentary on global warming in the Arctic that began with this straight-no-chaser statement from reporter Rick Folbuam: "I’ve learned this simple fact: the earth is heating up."
This coverage came as a terrible shock to FOX News hack Steven Milloy, a denialist who runs the execrable Junk Science site, and as far as I know is unique for having taken substantial funds from not just Exxon (don’t all denialists?) but from tobacco maker Philip Morris as well.
"FOX Caves to the Global Warming Crowd!" ran a headline on his site at the time, quickly followed by the panicked "Worse, They’re Running This!" headline when FOX News covered a study published last year by scientists at the University of Delaware.
The study predicted that if the same sort of unprecedented heat wave that killed upwards of 25,000 people in Europe in 2003 were to hit the East Coast, it would cause major black-outs and lead to a huge surge in deaths, as many as 3,000 in New York alone. (Note that Milloy isn’t concerned about the disaster — only about the coverage.)
FOX News is part of the global media empire belonging to Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch began in Australian tabloids, and has long had a pulpy affection for eye-catching natural disasters. Another of Murdoch’s holdings is the movie studio 20th-Century Fox, which produced the disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, which Roger Ebert called "profoundly silly … [but] also very scary."
The audience I happened to see it with in an ordinary Southern California theater in 2004 had exactly the same reaction. They scoffed at the plight of the characters, virtually all of whom who were obviously destined to survive all crises, no matter how absurdly over-dramatized. Nonetheless, they were gripped by alarm at the scale of the global crisis. They even applauded the movie at the end!
Despite being savaged by the critics across the board, and despite a huge budget (at least $125,000,000), the movie was a massive success in both the U.S. and abroad, taking in well over half a billion dollars. (Note that the story is based on a novel co-written not by a leftist or an enviro, but by conspiracy-loving Art Bell, who for years shared a radio network with Rush Limbaugh, and by Whitley Streiber, a horror novelist.)
Rupert had to notice this huge hit.
Another one of Murdoch’s holdings is the right-wing political journal The Weekly Standard. It features a column by economist Irwin Seltzer unusual for its perspicacity and frankness. Early this year, in a column called "Petropower," Seltzer proposed a carbon tax, mostly to keep our economy from being held hostage by foreign powers. When I wrote to thank him for endorsing a tax that could help enormously to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he responded:
I remain uncertain as to whether there is a global warming phenomenon, but feel there is enough evidence to warrant prudential activity such as a carbon tax which, of course, has other advantages — namely encouraging the development of technological alternatives to imported oil.
A carbon or gas tax is now such conventional wisdom among thoughtful right-wing economists and pundits that Harvard professor Greg Mankiw (chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors from 2003-2005) has come up with a name for the group, the Pigou Club.
And earlier this month, a New Yorker story by John Cassidy revealed that Murdoch himself is moving away from the right-wing orthodoxy that has made him billions, toward where "the conversation is most interesting." That description comes from Irwin Seltzer — who to my surprise turns out to be a very good friend of Murdoch’s!
The story shows that Murdoch, who all but promoted Margaret Thatcher and then Tony Blair into power in the U.K., has been befriended by the indefatigable Bill Clinton. Impressed by Hillary Clinton’s work as a Senator in New York, the story hints that Murdoch (and FOX News) may back Hillary in her campaign in 2008.
Murdoch is keeping his cards close to his vest regarding candidates, but he does make his disdain for Bush and his father clear. And he’s shockingly forthright about global warming, telling Cassidy that he intends to make his News Corporation "carbon neutral," adding:
I’m still a bit more skeptical than most people, but if there is even a thirty-per-cent chance that the experts are right, we should do everything we can to insure against a bad outcome.
Sounds sensible, doesn’t it?
Further, Murdoch — who is not known for charitable giving — has put his money where his mouth is, putting $500,000 of News Corp. funds into the Clinton Climate Initiative.
Cassidy, who has known Murdoch as a journalist for many years, also points out that Murdoch has backed progressives in this country as well as in England, once lifting a little-known Democrat from Greenwich Village named Ed Koch to fame and power as mayor of New York.
Prediction: as FOX News turns, so does the Republican Party. The need to act on global warming will become conventional wisdom on the right well before the 2008 presidential campaign.