By Peter Dykstra
After batting over .500 in his 2013 predictions, Peter takes a swing at 2014. One sure bet: Climate change will continue to make headlines as a political, economic and human-interest story.
My understanding of high-grade punditry is that you lay out some bold predictions, then pray that no one notices how wrong you were a year later. Give me credit for at least batting over .500 in 2013.A year ago, I forecastthat climate coverage would bounce back (it did), that some Congressional climate deniers would flip (they didn’t), that TV meteorologists would turn the corner (they did, a little), that climate denial would fade (it did, a little), that pop culture would still shy away from climate (it did), and that the Red Sox would finish dead last (couldn’t be happier to be dead wrong).
That kind of track record is dangerous, because it leads to bolder punditry. Here’s my best prognostication of key climate developments in 2014:
Broadcasters will begin to take a little heat for a troubling appearance of conflict. Climate change is still nearly absent from national news broadcasts. But you can’t swing a dead cat in a newscast without hitting ads extolling the safe, bulb-lighting, job-producing virtues of the fossil fuel industry. There’s no smoking gun linking the fossil ad revenue to the absence of reporting on their least-favorite topic. But it’s time to ask some questions.
Climate journalism transforms
Nothing can morph reporting on a topic like big changes to the bottom line. Extreme weather events are hitting home financially in industries from farming to tourism to real estate and insurance.
Those tree-hugging sybarites in the shipping industry are locked in to sending goods through the melting Arctic on a permanent basis. The prospects of climate refugees and territorial conflicts at the poles are making climate tacticians out of generals and admirals, with a special military focus on renewable energy. There’s an off-the-grid Walgreens drug store in suburban Chicago, for goodness sake, and if Wal-Mart were a U.S. state, it would rank thirteenth in solar energy capacity.
These are climate stories. Few of them are being written by dedicated climate or environmental reporters. It’s further sign that 2014 will be the year the climate beat will meld from its niche into more general reporting.
EPA gets its Benghazi moment
The United States’ environmental rulemakers have been a target for years, either as a regulatory “Gestapo” (Tom DeLay) or more recently as job killers.
But the only real Environmental Protection Agency scandal was under President Reagan 30 years ago, when director Anne Gorsuch resigned amid cries of mismanagement in a $1.6 billion program to clean up hazardous waste dumps.
That’s about to change.
Consultant John Beale was a cross between Walter Mitty and Milton Waddams from Office Space, cashing checks for a senior no-show job while claiming to be a high level CIA spy. Beale’s comic fraud exposed a fiscal management void at EPA, and attacking the agency suddenly has a much greater potential scope than routine browbeating.
This time, House Republicans can play Beale into a scandal, putting it in the hands of Rep. Darrell Issa’s House Oversight Committee, among others. And in an election year, no less.
The mechanics of a House inquiry has some of the same potential as the special prosecutor in the Whitewater scandal of the Clinton era, which started as a simple investigation of a shady land deal and ended up impeaching a president over oral sex.
Issa, a California Republican, and his fellow Congressional inquisitors haven’t launched an investigation into this, having just had one quick hearing on the matter.
But any number of Congressional committees could investigate. They won’t even get to second base, and they’ll spend far more than Beale’s $900,000 price-tag on the inquiry. But don’t think they won’t try.
I’d also counsel the FDA and OSHA to watch their backs in 2014: After the DOE’s Solyndra, the IRS Tea Party affair, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearm’s “Fast and Furious,” and State’s Benghazi “cover-up,” the EPA uproar has Fox News one inflated scandal away from an anti-government Yahtzee.
Congress, coal and cash
Fear of the Tea Party will be a durable-enough factor to make climate denial an election staple as the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate faces re-election in November. And the money will roll in in ungodly fashion as the “war on coal” becomes the central theme in races like Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s in Kentucky. Democrats will jump on the climate bandwagon, but selectively and timidly.
The War on Wind and Solar will also fare well, but growth in both industries will continue as they cope with issues ranging from transmission lines to wildlife impacts.
Some talented researchers and reporters will connect more dots on the “dark money” enabling climate denial. Drexel University researcher Bob Brulle kicked the door in with his report last month on the topic. It’s time to shed some light on the money trail.
Get-rich-quick: Study paleoclimatology
The accusation that climate scientists are grant-grubbing fat cats only in it for the money has been fodder for right-leaning political campaigns since at least 2008.
This is the year someone will finally notice that many of those operatives are paid far better than most climate scientists. (Your assignment: Go to page 7 of this IRS document to see Marc Morano’s base salary.)
The low-hanging fruit of climate punditry would be to predict that Congress won’t budge in 2014. It won’t.
But let’s be bold and predict that the Supreme Court will hem the EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. And the Obama Administration will continue to circumvent Congress (and perhaps five of nine Supreme Court justices) with its rulemaking on plant emissions, vehicle mileage and arcane tidbits like microwave oven efficiencies.
The Keystone XL pipeline? Not gonna touch it: Too cloudy to tell.
But worldwide, Canada, Japan and Australia will show no signs of reversing their newfound climate recidivism while Europe will continue to flounder, its leadership role on climate policy stuck in neutral.
The people lead
At last a little good news: After bottoming out following the 2008 financial meltdown, public interest in climate issues will continue to grow as the science rolls on and the in-your-face evidence mounts.
Let’s play two
Finally, just to pad my score a bit, I predict the Chicago Cubs will fail to win the World Series this year, just as they have every year since the Roosevelt Administration. That’s Theodore Roosevelt.
Peter Dykstra is a baseball fan first and publisher of the Daily Climate and its sister publication, EHN.org, second. During a 17-year career at CNN, he was executive producer for science, environment, weather and technology coverage.You can contact or follow him on Twitter at @pdykstra. Peter has a Bachelor of Science degree in communication from Boston University and lives in Conyers, Georgia. He and his wife Meryl have three grown children. His fuller bio is here.