It’s Outrageous That Media Organizations Are Still Taking Fossil Fuel Money

The New York Times ignores the UN’s plea to reject funding from the corporations destroying the planet.

Multiple U.S. cities have recently broken temperature records as a heat wave bakes parts of the country, in an “ominous prelude to summer.” The world recently hit 12 months of record-high temperatures, but the scary thing is that as global warming continues, this is going to be “remembered as comparatively cold.” The heat is killing people. At a Trump rally in Phoenix, where people gathered to hear a former president who thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax, nearly a dozen people were hospitalized with heat exhaustion. Heat-related deaths in Phoenix, for instance, have increased tenfold in the last decade. Naturally, the suffering is worst for the least well-off, those who live on the streets or who work outside or who can’t afford air conditioning. Seniors and Black adults are predicted to be particularly vulnerable to heat-related heart deaths. Of course, direct heat-related deaths are just one of the catastrophic consequences of climate change.


Source: Politico


We know why this is happening and how to begin addressing it. As the AP writes, “Climate scientists are steadfast that fossil fuel use must be phased out to stave off the worst consequences of climate change.” The burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor to global warming—which, as a reminder, is making the earth increasingly inhospitable to human life—and so we’ve got to stop burning them. The fossil fuel industry has long tried to deflect public attention from the fact that their product is destroying the world. But the facts are clear: they are killing people, and they need to be stopped before this becomes apocalyptic. 

The U.N. Secretary-General, António Guterres, has been admirably clear about the risks to the world from the climate crisis and at pointing to the culprits. He has called the fossil fuel companies “the godfathers of climate chaos” and recently called for a ban on fossil fuel ads. This is an important step, because advertisements are propaganda, and it should be obvious that no society that wants to survive should permit companies to try to trick the public into participating in its own suicide. 

Yet strangely enough, despite the obvious self-interest that everyone has in survival, the response to the call for a ban on fossil fuel ads has been almost complete silence. As The Verge reported, “Google, Facebook, and Instagram rake in tens of millions of dollars each year from fossil fuel advertising” and “The New York Times and Reuters topped a ranking of media companies enabling fossil fuel ad campaigns by climate reporting groups Drilled and DeSmog last year.” The Verge reported that they “reached out to Meta, Google, Reuters, and The New York Times for responses to Guterres’ remarks” and “only Google replied on the record but didn’t answer our question about how much it earns from fossil fuel companies’ advertising.” The Guardian, similarly, “contacted 11 major news organizations and tech firms who run fossil-fuel ads in some form” and was met with almost complete silence.

This magazine has previously been highly critical of the New York Times in particular for not only running fossil fuel ads, but even making ads for fossil fuel companies through its in-house advertising production studio. In covering Guterres’s call for a ban on fossil fuel ads, the Times included a pathetic attempt at justifying its own policy

The New York Times accepts ads from oil and gas companies with some restrictions, including prohibiting sponsorship of its climate newsletter and climate events, a company spokesman said. The Times also doesn’t allow fossil fuel companies to buy all of the ad spots on individual episodes of its podcast “The Daily.”

They don’t let fossil fuel companies sponsor the climate newsletter! Which is a bit like saying that while you accept gun industry ads, you don’t let them advertise next to articles about school shootings. One senses that the policy is intended only to make the sponsorship less obvious, since an Exxon ad on a climate newsletter might look ridiculous and cause the public to complain. Oh, but don’t worry, they’re also not allowed to buy all of the ad spots on any given episode of The Daily. (Never mind that it’s in completely poor judgment that the Times allows the industry to buy any of the ads at all!)

The Times editors must know they’re making a deal with the devil. Even some ad agencies aren’t willing to sell their souls like this. But fossil fuel companies are rich, and I’m sure they pay the Times a lot of money. In return, they get things like this paid post by Shell on the New York Times website. What they get in the long run is improvement of their public image. Advertising money isn’t an attempt at altruism. The companies are attempting to win public favor and to obscure the fact that they are responsible for the worst calamity in human history. Newspapers have a duty to report that calamity clearly, but they’re terrible at it. Most news articles on global warming barely even mention the fossil fuel industry, if they do at all. You can still read articles on the latest extreme heat that don’t discuss the causes at all. 


This is an emergency. We know it’s an emergency. We can see heat deaths rising. We can see temperature records being shattered. We know it’s going to get worse and worse every year. We know what’s causing it, and we know what to do about it. What we lack is the necessary public demand and activism that will create adequate political pressure to rapidly reduce emissions.We need more climate activists, right now

Some of those who worry about climate change as a problem still don’t grasp the crucial role of climate activism. Jonathan Chait of New York magazine, for instance, recently wrote an attack on the Sunrise Movement, claiming that the climate action group is ineffective. Chait notes that Sunrise has repeatedly gone after Joe Biden. In 2020, “Sunrise gave Biden’s climate plan an F- grade,” and “after Biden won, Sunrise targeted the White House with protests and hunger strikes.” It has “generated an enormous amount of press coverage of its stunts” but Chait thinks “the degree to which these stories have translated into policy change is at best debatable.” He notes that “the Biden administration succeeded in passing climate legislation where the Obama administration had a mixed record.” The implication here is that while pragmatic legislators like Biden are doing what is politically feasible, Sunrise are demanding the impossible and generating nothing but noise. But this gets the story entirely wrong. Joe Biden revised his climate plan in response to Sunrise's criticism. Wholly inadequate climate legislation got through not because Joe Biden is a deeply committed environmentalist (his self-contradictory climate policy makes no sense), but because activists kept up the pressure on an issue that legislators in both parties are largely indifferent to or uncomfortable doing much about. Have you heard any elected official talk about keeping fossil fuels in the ground? I haven’t.

We don’t need to be “doomers” on climate—in fact, resignation only helps those who are destroying the planet. It’s a serious crisis, it can be addressed, but it can only be addressed if the public makes dealing with this calamity a top priority. Media outlets have a responsibility to lay out the facts and educate the public on what is happening, to counter the effect of industry propaganda. The most basic commitment of all should be refusing to publish that propaganda, yet even liberal outlets that recognize the existence of a climate crisis are still profiting off it by taking fossil fuel cash. This is unconscionable.

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Sadly, too many news outlets that serve a public function are run for profit, which means they are incentivized to take those “devil’s bargains” with the institutions destroying our future. Independent outlets like this one, which don’t take any advertising dollars and are therefore uncompromised by corporate interests, struggle to survive. We’re able to be completely honest about what is being done and who the villains are. (Please consider donating or subscribing to help us keep doing that!) Unless more outlets are willing to tell the truth, to reject corporate money, and to give the climate catastrophe the priority in coverage that it necessitates, this critical issue is going to remain at the margins of public discourse even as the suffering escalates year by year. Anyone who wants to have a livable future should be demanding that media organizations better fulfill their basic responsibilities. 

I still believe that the 2021 movie Don't Look Up was one of the most profoundly accurate depictions of the social dynamics of the climate crisis. In the movie, an asteroid is heading toward Earth, but scientists cannot convince people to take their warnings seriously. In fact, the closer the asteroid gets, the more the denial escalates, and once it finally appears in the sky and its existence is undeniable, denialists simply turn “Don’t Look Up” into a chant. I feel something very similar is going on when I open my Wall Street Journal each morning and read the editorial page editors gleefully encouraging the courts to stop any attempt at mitigating the catastrophe, or Joe Biden trying to put a stop to the importing of cheap Chinese electric vehicles and solar panels because they’re made in China. Or when I see fossil fuel lobbyists swarming the very conference that is meant to address the problem those companies have created. I sometimes share climate scientist Peter Kalmus’s sense of despair. He told this magazine: “They are taking us into 10 million years of a degraded planet. They’re basically selling the entire future of humanity for a little bit more money. They already have more money than they know what to do with… What is wrong with them? It’s like a mental illness.” 

We are living at one of the most critical moments in our species’ history, and it is up to everyone who sees the situation clearly to do what they can to protect the future from those hell bent on destroying it. 

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