James MurdochJames Murdoch, conservative climate hawkPhoto: Hubert Burda MediaJames Murdoch showed backbone in shutting down News of the World in order to eradicate the tabloid’s degenerate, phone-hack-happy culture. Might we hope that he’ll display similar mettle in shutting down the climate skepticism that’s rampant in other parts of the Murdoch media empire?

Perhaps now more than ever, James, 38, looks to be heir apparent to the News Corp. conglomerate built up by his father Rupert, 80. In addition to its media properties in Europe and Asia, which James now oversees, News Corp. owns Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, the most influential disseminators of climate skepticism in the U.S.

James “converted” his dad to the climate cause a few years ago, Rupert told Grist in 2007. Papa Murdoch then launched a company-wide climate plan in 2007, aiming to cut News Corp.’s emissions and spread climate messages through its programming and publishing. Earlier this year, the company announced that it had achieved its goal of carbon neutrality by upping energy efficiency and buying carbon offsets, but the editorial component of the climate plan seems to have gotten lost along the way. Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page continue to spew out pernicious bombast designed to stop all climate action — to such an extent that Rolling Stone this year made Rupert No. 1 on its list of 12 Politicians and Execs Blocking Progress on Global Warming.

If James becomes the big boss, will he keep tolerating it? 

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James gets the scale of the climate crisis: “This is crunch time right now. All of the climate prediction models suggest we’re on the worst-case trajectory, and some cases worse than the worst case,” he told The Observer in 2009. That same year, he talked up the benefits of “a gradually declining cap on carbon pollution” in a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Clean energy is a conservative cause.” His wife, Kathryn Hufschmid Murdoch, is a climate hawk too. She has worked and served as an advisory board member at the Clinton Climate Initiative, and she’s on the board of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Climate change is the most urgent global issue facing humankind,” she wrote in 2007. James “holds dinners that bring together environmental advocates, academics and executives,” according to The New York Times, including one in 2008 that included EDF head Fred Krupp, London Mayor Boris Johnson, and then-BP CEO Tony Hayward. 

But in his 2009 Observer interview, James sounded hesitant to interfere with the editorial side of the Murdoch media properties: “How we deal with climate-change deniers depends on who they are. If they run energy policy for large governments, then they’re a problem. If it’s a random columnist, ignore them for a while. If they’re in my paper? Well, I don’t tell people what to write.”

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Still, that perspective could shift, especially as worries about climate change mount and efforts to fight it falter. In a New York Times profile published earlier this year, reporter Tim Arango wrote, “James Murdoch’s views [on environmental issues] raise the question of whether he would interfere with Fox News’s coverage if he were running the News Corporation.” After all, Fox executives have no qualms about interfering with their editors and reporters.

Hacking into the phones of a missing girl and family members of fallen soldiers is despicable, but blocking action on climate change in the most powerful nation on earth is a far greater sin. James, bring some of that righteous indignation over to this side of the pond.