Citizens Are Still Left Divided Over Citizens United: Journalism 319 Curation Project

By: Marshall Kesterson

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a 2010 Supreme Court Case in which Citizens United sought an injunction against the FEC in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) from applying to its film titled Hillary: The Movie.

The movie served as an attack on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s bid for the Presidency. The BCRA puts restrictions on “electioneering communications”. More specifically, section 203 of the BCRA prevents corporations of labor unions from funding election communications using their general treasuries, and sections 201 and 311 require disclosure of donors and a disclaimer when the communication hasn’t been authorized by the candidate it supports.

These sections were challenged by Citizens United, and they argued that section 203 violates the First Amendment when applied to their movie and that sections 201 and 203 were unconstitutional when applied to the circumstances.

The United States District Court denied the injunction, citing Supreme Court decision McConnell v. FEC which had already reached a determination. They said that Citizen United’s movie was the functional equivalent of expressing advocacy for a political campaign and was therefore subject to the BCRA. The decision was appealed and sent to SCOTUS.

SCOTUS’ final ruling reversed the United States District Court’s decision in a 5-4 vote on January 21, 2010. The opinion was written by Justice Kennedy with Justice Stevens dissenting along with Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.

The decision was widely protested:

Then-President Barack Obama quickly criticized the decision during his 2010 State of the Union address.

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said. He continued with his address and urged Democrats and Republicans in Congress to pass a bill that would correct the law.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito shook his head and mouthed “not true” after President Obama’s remarks; the action was unprecedented from a Supreme Court justice, who are supposed to remain impartial during the State of the Union.

This incident recently came back into the spotlight following Supreme Court Justice John Roberts criticizing President Donald Trump over Trump’s description of a judge who ruled against his migrant asylum policy as an “Obama judge”.

President Trump took to Twitter to fire back at Justice Robert’s comments:

Some protests over the decision have happened as recently as 2015 when activists arrived at the Supreme Court on the anniversary of the landmark decision.

A demonstrator outside of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Credit: NPR

99Rise, a group founded in 2012 that focuses on removing money from politics, took credit for the 2015 protest in which eight protestors were arrested and charged.

The EPA Resides In An Orwellian Limbo

The Trump Administration released a climate report last Friday, November 23, that warned against the damage being done across the country as a result of increasing temperatures.

The authors of the report said they are confident that climate change poses a severe threat to American’s health, economy, infrastructure and natural resources. The report sounded alarms about the future of the United States, but it was quickly downplayed by the lack of policy changes being made by President Trump and his administration.

Environmental Protection Agency HQ Credit: Washington Business Journal

When asked outside the White House about the climate report’s findings, President Trump responded: “I don’t believe it.”

However, the world’s leading scientists all agree that climate change is human-induced and is becoming worse with human activity, casting a shadow over the Trump administration’s dismissal of the report.

Following the release of the report, CNN had prominent climate denier Rick Santorum on their AC360 show. He proceeded to suggest, with no evidence, that the scientists behind the report were driven by money.

This comment was quickly and widely criticized on social media, and people were outraged at CNN.

It was recently reported by The Daily Beast that a co-author of the U.S. National Climate Assessment was supposed to have a pre-taped appearance be released on AC360, but it was replaced by Santorum after the show went live.

On November 28 it was reported that Trump’s EPA head, Andrew Wheeler, wanted to distance himself from the National Climate Assessment that involved 13 federal agencies and hundreds of scientists.

The EPA released a “fact-check” that cited the conservative American news and opinion website The Daily Caller.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Andrew Wheeler should be more involved in preparing the next version of the National Climate Assessment.

Wheeler stated that there was “no political review” by the Trump administration done for this report.

On November 27, The Daily Beast reported that the morning show Fox & Friends fed interview scripts to former EPA Chief Scott Pruitt. This led Fox News to discipline the staffers involved in feeding the scripts.

Scott Pruitt was allowed to approve show scripts and dictate interview questions, an action reminiscent of state-owned media.

Natural Climate Solutions Are Great, But Some Could Pose Unforeseen Consequences

A recent study published in the Journal of Science Advances identified a number of promising natural strategies to mitigate human influences on climate change. These strategies included things such as replanting trees on degraded lands and sequestering more carbon in farmland soils through agricultural techniques.

Trees lining a city road provide shade. Credit: mentatdgt via Pexels

Joseph E. Fargione, a scientist at the Nature Conservancy and lead author of the study, told the New York Times, “We’re not saying these strategies are a substitute for getting to zero-carbon energy; we still need to do that too.”

Fargione also alluded to how forest thinning practices could have lead to an increased risk to the wildfires that are currently raging in California. The risk could be decreased with restoration projects that bring back vegetation to the forests.

It has also been proposed that city centers reintroduce vegetation throughout their city. Some cities, like Louisville, Kentucky, have already started programs to plant trees throughout their city.

Not only does this process reduce carbon emissions, but it has also reduced heat within the city by providing shade throughout the city. Louisville has successfully planted nearly 100 thousand saplings since 2011.

However, the introduction of trees into Louisville hasn’t been as successful as once thought. William Fountain, a University of Kentucky professor of arboriculture, observed a number of empty tree wells throughout the city.

“Empty trees wells are the mark of a failed arboriculture program. We don’t know what was once planted here,” Fountain said about one of them, “but the weeds are doing fairly well.”

Introducing vegetation into cities that haven’t been designed to nurture them causes a substantial amount of issues when trying to grow and develop trees.

One other means of curbing climate change has been to trap carbon dioxide in the soil. In 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted an assessment that found 36 regions across the country to have the proper conditions for storing between 2,400 to 3,700 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide underground.

Shovel stuck in the dirt. Credit: Lukas via Pexels

This process, known as geologic carbon sequestration, could successfully reduce the carbon air pollution that is one of the driving factors of climate change. The idea also provides a very effective untapped resource for reducing human-lead climate change. The Obama administration even included it in their climate change plan.

Geologic carbon sequestration has come back into the public eye with the introduction of a new study published in Nature that observed bacteria and fungi n the soil has become more active with increasing global temperatures. These microbes feeding on dead plants and leaves are releasing carbon dioxide that has been trapped in the soil.

Jerry Melillo of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts said that the uncontrolled microbes are speeding up climate change.

Carbon derived from microbes has been found by researchers to have significantly increased since the 1990s. This puts the long-term effectiveness of geologic carbon sequestration in doubt.

Simplistic Visual Media Is The Best Way To Show Climate Change Data (To Non-scientists)

For the average citizen, understanding the intricacies climate change can be difficult. Especially when media outlets fail to construct articles with them in mind.

For example, the Washington Post released an article in April in which they did very little to simplify the science behind climate change. The article, titled “Global temperatures have dropped since 2016. Here’s why that’s normal.”, is very well constructed, and as accurate as it can be, but uses visuals right out of scientific articles to draw its points across.

confus graph
This plot of high and low-pressure systems using data from the NOAA is one of many used in the Washinton Post’s article, and people unfamiliar with science, or even those not well versed in graphic representation might be confused by what this represents. Credit: NOAA

This isn’t to say that the Washington Post is “bad” at creating articles with simple graphics, they have plenty of articles that prove otherwise, as shown specifically by this one. However, it does point out an inconsistency in the way journalists report climate change, presumably because they’re trying to reach different audiences. This inconsistency can cause confusion among a large group of readers.

In contrast, the New York Times released a tool that allows readers to see how much hotter their hometown has gotten since they were born because of climate change. The tool is very effective at showing individuals the change in the climate they are most familiar with.

This use of media is effective at showing an audience the way in which climate change has affected them directly, even if they hadn’t noticed it. It also uses a scientific model to show how much the climate will have changed by the time the user is 80 years old, which can be terrifying to some people.


nyt tool
A representation of Parkersburg, WV climate since 1997. The database includes data from a wide variety of United States towns with birth years as far back as 1920. Credit: New York Times

These personalized tools are simple to use and effective at representing scientific data. Linear graphs are also a great way to show the rate at which temperatures are rising.

Other examples of effective graphics include heat maps and statistical maps. The New York Times has used both of these in the past to convey messages.

An effective heat map can be seen in this article by Kendra Pierre-Louis of the NYT:

The graphic used in Pierre-Louis’ article is in the form of a gif image in which ocean temperature can be seen getting hotter over time. Videos and gifs like this are fantastic for representing time-lapses.

An effective statistical map can be seen in this article by Nadja Popovich of the NYT:

Statistical maps provide a quick glimpse into the data being represented. It is most effective when discussing social differences or surveyable data, and the colors used make for a quick understanding of the data.

Although journalism that represents the raw scientific data is necessary, especially for the scientific community, it might be beneficial to label the articles with the audience they are supposed to resonate with. This would reduce confusion among average citizens and help scientists select the data they want to be shown.

Washington Could Be The First State To Implement A State Tax On Carbon Pollution… If The Oil Industry Allows It

The state of Washington is introducing a ballot measure to be the first state to impose a state tax on carbon pollution.

Initiative 1631 has attracted a lot of attention from big corporations and donors, as the fight for, or against, the implementation of the bill carries on. This has garnered a nationwide conversation about the need for carbon taxes in each state.

Factory against a blue sky. Credit: Pixabay

The anti-initiative campaign hit a spending record of $25.87 million, with many of the donors being major oil companies. Supporters of the initiative raised nearly $12 million, with some of the biggest donors being Microsoft and the American Lung Association.

BP owns some of the major oil refineries in the state and has spent a whopping $12 million in an attempt to stop the initiative. However, this move goes directly against a move made by BP in which they supported a carbon tax.

Although we can see that the oil industry is investing massive amounts of money into the fight against Initiative 1631, there are also small groups in Washington that oppose it. Local ironworkers at the Local 86 office in Tukwila, Wa. are worried about the slow industrial investment that the carbon tax might create.

“We’re concerned that less developers will move into the area, and that means less future jobs will be available for our members,” said Chris McClain, the Local 86 union’s business manager.

However, supporters of the initiative disagree with this analysis citing that 70 percent of the revenue raised in the first five fiscal years would be spent invested in clean energy infrastructure. This has been estimated to be nearly $2.3 billion.

It’s unclear how the citizens of Washington will vote on Initiative 1631, but a lot of groups are banking on the vote going their way.

The Turning Tide Against Climate Change Denial Is Getting Larger

New York has filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil, claiming that they purposefully downplayed the risks climate regulations would have on its business. The company deceived its investors, and the general public, on the matter by concealing the financial risk that the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions presented. This lawsuit has brought fossil fuel companies’ role in climate denial to the forefront of the news, again.

An offshore oil platform Credit: Zukiman Mohamad

Investigative reporting done by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times showed that Exxon knew the science of global warming and spent millions to promote misinformation. The evidence prompted the attorney generals in New York and Massachusetts to subpoena the oil giant.

It’s no secret that fossil fuel corporations, and big donors like the Koch Brothers, have used their money to promote organizations like The Heartland Institute, CFACT, and Americans for Prosperity, in order to block government policies aimed at curbing climate change. Legislators, such as James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, have received millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry in political contributions.

However, recent strides have been made to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their role in denying climate change. 2017 and 2018 have been big years for climate change accountability.

Oil filling station Credit: Markus Spiske

On 17 July 2017, San Mateo County, Marin County, and the City of Imperial Beach in California all filed a lawsuit against 37 fossil fuel companies. This move stoked many other waterfront cities and states to contemplate going to court with the fossil fuel industry.

In 2018, Rhode Island became the first state to sue oil companies over the effects of climate change, and the city of Baltimore sued 26 fossil fuel companies to hold them to account for rising tides. Baltimore invested billions of dollars into its waterfront over the past half-century and is preparing for the worst.

These companies being sued, which includes BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Shell and Statoil, have made many moves in an attempt to dodge, or slow, potential legal troubles. They have even asked that the matters be transferred to federal courts, but a US District Court denied this request, a big win for state governments.

These lawsuits will continue to progress as more fossil fuel corporations are put under the spotlight. The developments discovered in the courts will likely lead to even more cities and states suing the companies for damages.

People Care More About Beer Than Climate Change, And Scientists Are Using It To Their Advantage

Many media outlets seized on an opportunity to persuade people into caring about climate change… by relating it to beer.

News dropped that a study by researchers from UC Irvine and other institutions claimed that beer prices could double because of the price of a malted barley. The study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Plants, showed that barley yields would decrease by an average of 17 percent due to climate change. One of the scientists even posted the results to Twitter:

Of course, caring more about beer than the impact of climate change is a bad thing, but it is plainly obvious that people love beer so much that they’re worried about a price increase.

There was a wide variety of support for beer, paired with rage against climate change, ranging from political talking points to joking calls to ban all fossil fuels:

The subject was even covered by The Daily Show, in which Trevor Noah said, “If you tell American’s in 10 years the Marshall Islands will be underwater, no one cares, but tell them Corona will cost more? Now they’re marching in the streets.”—america-s-projected–1-trillion-deficit

The use of beer as a talking point on climate change has given the research more attention than it normally would have gotten. Steven J. Davis noted this fact:

Google analytics show that “beer” is a more common search term used in Google’s search engine than “climate change”. This could be a potential reason for the increased viewership.



beer v climate change
Search term interest over time comparison between ‘beer’ (in blue) and ‘climate change’ (in red). Credit: Google Trends

This opens up an abundance of new positions of attack scientists can use to get the general public to care about climate change, but there will always be skeptics: