The New Face of Climate Denial

Dog whistle tactics, solutions skepticism, and the continued efforts to undermine climate action



Denying climate change is becoming increasingly unacceptable as scientific consensus on the matter is largely no longer debatable (thankfully). However, what has replaced it is a solutions-denial approach that permeates the rhetoric to belittle and undermine all the potential solutions for this crisis. In effect, this is just as bad as denying there is a problem to solve in the first place. 

This is exactly what we saw from the Boston Herald this week, and the Mass Fiscal Alliance and the Beacon Hill Institute the week before that. 

The Herald published two articles in opposition to carbon pollution pricing in the state, for which they only had a big polluter backed “study” to support. We personally sent them both our own economic analysis report, which shows net economic benefits for households in the state; as well as a study published by the State of Massachusetts already proves that carbon pricing provides net positive impacts on jobs. All of which countered the “findings” from Mass Fiscal, which was all the paper used to back their opinions on the policy. 

The Herald chose to intentionally ignore and make no mention of  the existence of this counter-argument. When we further engaged them on this, they refused to even give us the space to respond after they misquoted our own mission statement and took our quote out of context. Even after reaching back out to them following their first reporting on the matter, and asking them to include our findings and other sources, they refused to do so, and said their initial article would be the extent of their coverage on the issue. Instead of following sound journalistic and investigative practices, the reporter and the editorial board took the data and information we sent them and decided to publish an incomplete quote and further misrepresent the findings of the report in their most recent editorial. Even then they had the audacity to say we are the ones who “could not be bothered by the facts.” 

We understand that this is an Editorial Opinion piece and not portrayed as anything other than that. While the tabloid’s editors are entitled to their opinion, we feel that we must speak out when that opinion is based on false information provided by an industry front group and played to old tropes of progressive policies. Their actions are just another chapter to the story that has chased them around for the past five years: the Herald is out of touch, antiquated, losing ground fast. 

Rather than review our analysis and engage with our critique of the Mass Fiscal report, the Editorial Board decided to perpetuate their misinformation. This is not journalism, and the Herald should be doing better than that. Our analysis was conducted in an open manner, is reviewed by experts nationally, and is a resource for any who seek guidance on this matter. We are open to criticism, embrace healthy debate, and encourage our work to be challenged. This is not what is happening here.

Is this really the standard we are holding for those performing one of the most critical jobs of a fully functioning democracy? We rely on sound journalism as a vehicle for public information, holding power to account, and importantly, for powering the public discourse that moves decisions forward in this Commonwealth and the country at large. Journalism therefore needs to be held to higher standards, with the ultimate goal of pursuing truth. That pursuit is what the Herald disregarded when they refused to even read the myriad of studies and unbiased data we sent them, which directly counteracted the polluter funded “facts” they reported on. By continuing to cite a flawed study, after the inaccuracies were brought to their attention, the Herald chose to chase their narrative and scare tactics rather than objectively covering a climate solution. 

Thoughtful and engaging education is a critical part of this effort to address the climate crisis. Accurately communicating global science, the challenges we face, and the solutions at our fingertips is paramount. We have devoted significant time and effort into advancing these best practices, and understanding how and why communicators’ jobs are so important today and is something we believe is worth fighting for. Over the past year, we ourselves have engaged with practitioners and communicators from across different fields and backgrounds, in pursuit of how best to take on the role of conveying information to the public in a way that incites action and moves us all collectively forward. 

Unfortunately, many are unable or unwilling to acknowledge and embrace their responsibilities in this matter, and instead choose to amplify biased claims that aim to muddy the waters and increase opaqueness rather than transparency in the facts about the choices we need to make. These choices also carry with them massive opportunities.  

The clean energy sector continues to grow in our state, with employment growing almost 84%, or about 50,500 jobs, since 2010, according to MassCEC. Massachusetts added over 1,500 clean energy jobs, and the industry contributes almost $13.2 billion to the Gross State Product. We should be investing in the sector and getting back on track as leaders in the nation in both climate policy and green and clean technologies. So why in the world are we still reading in papers things like, “failed green energy businesses and initiatives will litter the land until the next green think tank presents our lawmakers with another feel-good project.” 

Don’t let the Herald’s dog whistle tactics distract us from the goals at hand. The presentation of the article, from the picture of AOC and Senator Markey announcing the Green New Deal to their connection of local carbon pricing efforts to the resolution, used dog whistle language and tactics blatantly. Using coded language and making false equivalencies in order to target a specific subgroup through resonance is a historical tactic employed by politicians and the media. The favorite new villain that the right, aided by Fox News and now apparently the Boston Herald, is NY Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and her Green New Deal resolution. The outrage and obsession with covering both of them is bordering on weird. Perhaps they know this is a fight they can’t win and they are latching on for dear life onto whatever they can find. 

Don’t get us wrong, we adore AOC, and any association with her is welcome, but carbon pollution pricing efforts in Massachusetts long predate her and the Green New Deal. The policy being pursued on Beacon Hill has in fact, nothing to do with either. It follows a trend of state-led bipartisan actions across the country to reduce carbon emissions and take a lead on ambitious climate policy. 

The truth is, opponents of climate action will call us what they will, but in the end, it is our collective responsibility to advance these conversations and importantly, to show that we are not blindly supporting one policy solution over the others. We have spent the past six years developing unbiased and legitimate research on the impacts a carbon tax would have in our state, and they are overwhelmingly positive. While facts and data guide our work, we continue to engage in thoughtful debate and explore the suite of options in our hands to deal with this crisis, we will likely need all of them in order to have a chance at a livable planet.