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Given its standing in the national media landscape, we should all be distraught that the Wall Street Journal has failed at giving man-made climate change the acknowledgment that the scientific community says it deserves. (Photo: via CECE)

A Climate Change Op-Ed the Wall Street Journal Simply Doesn't Need

Truth to power: Why youth are demanding fair climate reporting

Brian McDermott

CD editor's note: The following op-ed was submitted to the Wall Street Journal editorial department for publication but was politely rejected because it did not meet the "present needs" of the newspaper. It did, however, meet ours. And hopefully yours.

I bet not many high schoolers read the Wall Street Journal. And, as a recent graduate, I can tell you confidently it’s because we’re too busy with other things. And I don’t mean busy playing Pokémon Go. I guess I’d consider myself an outlier as an unusually high consumer of news and opinion, particularly from the Wall Street Journal. Either way, as a young person that will feel the worst effects of climate change as I get older, it’s extremely important to me that the issue receives the attention it deserves from mainstream media.

The Wall Street Journal hasn’t exactly been at the forefront when it comes to leading fair and unbiased commentary on climate change, especially on its editorial page. That’s why I was truly shocked by the full page ad series about man-made climate change currently running. I saw the first ad that ran back on June 14 and those that have run every few days since. The shock came partly just because the ad existed, but the fact that it was actually slamming the Wall Street Journal for its overt climate denial was almost unbelievable. I dug deeper and learned through a piece by the Washington Post that only for a fee higher than it normally charges for ad space was the Journal willing to place the ads… not exactly equitable. Does the WSJ charge Big Oil more to run their ads?

It’s true, when I think of reputable and in-depth journalism, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal is among the first to come to mind. That’s why we should all be distraught that the Wall Street Journal has failed at giving man-made climate change the acknowledgment that the scientific community says it deserves.

"When a debate is over, we all have to acknowledge that it’s done and move on to the next big debate: the solution."

According to numerous studies, including one from the organization responsible for the ad series, the Wall Street Journal has failed to give adequate attention to the current state of climate science. Instead it offers a disproportionate quantity of attention to the small minority of deniers whose opinions have already been overwhelmingly discredited. In fact, a total of zero WSJ editorials since 1997 have acknowledged the contribution of fossil fuels to climate change. What explanation does the Wall Street Journal have for this? The American public and readers all over the world deserve to know why.

This wouldn’t be an issue if there were still a spirited scientific debate occurring on the reality and cause of climate change, but there’s not. 97% of scientists who study climate change say that it is real and that it is caused by humans burning fossil fuels. The only debate is how catastrophic the effects will be. Besides an overwhelming number of scientists, 195 nations gathered together last December in Paris and signed a document not only saying that climate change is real and human-caused, but that we must take immediate and dramatic action to limit the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Hundreds of scientific academies and organizations worldwide, including the US Department of Defense, have published studies saying that human-caused climate change is real and dangerous.  

Here’s an easy analogy. Do you believe that smoking causes lung cancer? Of course you do, because it’s been scientifically proven. Did you also know that the same respective percentage of climate scientists agree that humans cause climate change? The evidence is all around us. It’s visible. Sea level has increased 8 inches since 1880. 2015 was the hottest year on record and 2016 is on track to be hotter. My guess is the Wall Street Journal already understands all of this. Climate change is a lot like death. We all understand it’s inevitable, but few of us truly accept it.

The debate is over and the Wall Street Journal must start using its power and influence to ensure the public is informed and empowered to act.

I’m 18 years old and starting college in the fall, and other than a vague idea that I want to study politics and policy, I really have no clue where my life is going. I’m a bit young to be pushing a secret agenda or seeking supreme power. Instead, I’m speaking out on this issue because I’m nothing short of horrified of how it will impact my generation.  

A short ride from my home is the city of Boston, which researchers just concluded could be 30% underwater at the end of the century and suffer temperatures of 90 degrees or above for most of the summer. Researchers recently published a study claiming that climate change will cause the worst public health crisis of the 21st century, especially for people of color.  Other scientists say that in 2100, some places in the world will be life-threatening to simply be outside in for more than a few hours.

If these scenarios do play out, it will be during my own lifetime and that of millions of kids alive today. It will be in part thanks to the misinformed debate that the Wall Street Journal has helped to foster.

Let me be clear: It’s okay that the Wall Street Journal is posing questions. As someone who spends a significant amount of my spare time fighting climate change, I’m constantly challenging the status quo. I have respect for dissent. But we have to understand that with an issue as urgent as climate change, it’s wrong to keep pretending that there’s still a debate when there’s not. It’s over. When a debate is over, we all have to acknowledge that it’s done and move on to the next big debate: the solution.

We need creative solutions to tackle climate change on a domestic and international scale. There are many solutions set forth by liberals, but there are conservative ones too that empower the private sector to solve the problem, like geoengineering or a revenue-neutral carbon tax. With an audience of movers and shakers from the top of the public and private sectors, the Wall Street Journal can boldly help lead the search for the best solutions to climate change.

After years of misleading the public debate on climate change, the Wall Street Journal at least owes us the real, intellectual, and enlightening discussion that we deserve. My generation is depending on it. That’s why I launched a youth petition with the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), demanding that the Wall Street Journal publicly tell the truth about climate change. It already has more than 1,100 signatures. We’ll be launching it in communities across the country through ACE’s network of more than 415,000 young people next month. Though, based on your track record, you probably won’t publish this letter anyway.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Brian McDermott

Brian McDermott is a student living in Massachusetts and an Action Fellow with the Alliance for Climate Education, teaming with other Boston-area high school students to fight for climate justice.

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