Mainstream media miss real renewables story

sun-rock-time-cover1editors-blog-entry3As a journalist and a journalism professor, I’m a voracious consumer of news, especially of any news having to do with renewable energy and electric cars, and, more generally, having to do with the environment.

I’m also frequently frustrated by mainstream media coverage of a lot of things — not just of renewable energy and electric cars.

I wish mainstream media — by mainstream, I mean media outlets such USA Today, CBS News, local television news, New York Times, Time Magazine, Newsweek, etc — would finally admit what every media consumer with a little bit of sense already knows: They aren’t objective.

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To be fair, all media – and all people – are biased. There is no such thing as truly “objective” news coverage. In fact, this is how I start the Introduction to News Writing and Reporting class I teach at the University of Denver – by deconstructing “objectivity” with my beginning journalism students.

Mainstream and narrow minded
What mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, and Time do mostly – though not necessarily consciously – is reproduce mainstream ideology (ideology is just a fancy word for values and point of view).

Only trouble is, they rarely concede that what they’re doing is telling stories about the world from a limited – though, of course, also dominant – point of view. The fact that mainstream media purport to produce “objective” coverage when in fact what they do is pump out mainstream worldviews is why it’s so important that they get called out on their game. That’s what this entry is about.

Time Magazine’s recent cover story on natural gas is a perfect example of the single-mindedness, narrowness, one might even say blindness, of mainstream perspectives on energy.

While Time’s cover story does highlight some of the potential negatives of natural gas, most notably the potentially significant dangers that drilling for natural gas poses to drinking water, its primary thrust is clear: The U.S. needs to, and ultimately, will drill, drill, drill for natural gas no matter what the long-term environmental consequences. This because America allegedly has no other choice, at least not if Americans want to continue their sacred “way of life.”

lead-with-sun1Americans’ wasteful way of life
Of course, Time doesn’t actually challenge Americans’ “way of life” – in other words, it essentially ignores Americans’ wasteful energy use and consumption. That’s because deconstructing our way of life would be stepping outside the parameters of accepted mainstream American thinking.

Just as troubling – and just as predictable – Time treats renewable energy as a complete side note/footnote. In fact, in a story of more than 4,000 words, renewable energy gets just one real mention, and this comes in parentheses.

Here’s exactly what Time had to say about renewable energy, complete with parentheses:

(As important as renewable energy is, it will likely take years for green power to shoulder the electricity load.)

That’s it. Really.

‘The Truth’ about renewable energy
Now, you might be saying to yourself, ‘Well, that’s because that’s The Truth about renewable energy.’

If you are, you’re guilty of the same narrow-minded mainstream-ism Time pushes in its cover story on natural gas.

It’s simply not true that renewable energy can’t power the world. It can – many times over.

Multiple researchers and experts have reached this conclusion in a number of different analyses.

sun-rock-sci-amPerhaps the most well-known of these is a paper (‘A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables’) co-authored by Stanford University and University of California-Davis professors. It was published as the cover story of a late 2009 issue of one of the most well-respected and widely read science journals in the world, Scientific American.

Political will for renewables missing
“There are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources,” writes one of the authors, Stanford University Civil Engineer Mark Jacobsen.

I’m not going to review and summarize the article here. I’m pointing it out:

a) because there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it, especially if you get your news almost exclusively from mainstream news sources like Time (of course, if you’re reading SolarChargedDriving.Com, you’re getting your news from at least one non-mainstream source ;-);

b) because it’s a well-researched and well-argued piece that makes a persuasive case for renewable energy powering the world. This, of course, stands in direct contradiction to the sweeping and “objective” claim made by Time in its unfortunately much more widely read, but clearly not “objective”, cover story on natural gas.

Renewables are realistic
The real issue isn’t about whether renewable energy forms can power the world. It’s about the fact that so many people don’t want renewable energy to power the world.

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These folks don’t want mainstream Americans to believe that renewables are realistic and they’ll do anything they can to prevent mainstream folks from waking up to the potential of renewable energy.

One-sided, narrow-minded, mainstream media coverage of exactly the type we see in Time’s recent cover story on natural gas is a very, very big reason much of America, indeed, much of the world, continues to believe, incorrectly, that fossil fuels and nuclear energy are the only way to power the world – which is why this type of coverage about energy needs to be criticized, again and again and again.

Shame on Time and other major media outlets, including the flagship newspaper The New York Times (which, in the Fall of 2010, published an entire section on “Energy” and devoted just one of 10 pages to renewable energy), for claiming that renewables can’t do the job – and for essentially completely ignoring the voices, views, and research of those who would dare to undermine mainstream media’s corner on the market of “Truth” about the future of energy in America, and the world.


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