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As the U.S. Government Issues Dire Climate Warning, Richmond Times-Dispatch Ramps Up Climate Denialism on Its Editorial Page

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The Richmond Times Dispatch is the Commonwealth’s capital’s local rag. It is the rag perhaps most likely to be on the desk of government employees and politicians. As Virginia turns blue, from purple, and as the climate crisis worsens, the RTD has doubled (quadrupled down) on climate-science denialism and rabid right-wing conservatism by bringing on board yet another climate-science denier and fossil-fuel propagandist onto its already hard-right, pro-fossil-fuel, pro-Dominion-Energy editorial team.

The RTD has a long and often sordid history, embedded in Virginia’s climate of capitulation. That history includes consistently, even relentlessly, pushing Dominion Energy’s company line, and working to advance Dominion executives’ and shareholders’ short-term power and profit interests over the broader interests of Virginians.

Coincidentally, last week, the Trump Administration (in a Black Friday effort to dampen the news) released the 4th National Climate Assessment. The accumulated knowledge and analysis in this assessment provide a stark statement about the challenging reality of climate costs for the United States today, and the staggering costs and risks if aggressive action is not taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  Amid this report (in line with so much other work), the clarifying reality: Virginia is — perhaps solely after Florida — the state in the union at greatest risk from climate change.

Inside Climate News reporting earlier this month on sea level rise threats to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard provides a stark window on this.

Today, [the shipyard]’s an essential maintenance facility for the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers, and it’s facing a threat that could shut it down permanently.  

Rising seas will likely engulf the shipyard by century’s end, but the reckoning for Norfolk and nearby military installations could come much sooner.

“They’re going to disappear” unless the Pentagon acts quickly to protect them, said Ray Mabus, Navy secretary under President Barack Obama.

The shipyard, of course, isn’t an isolated case. Vast – also incredibly valuable and vibrant – portions of Virginia (Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News …) are at risk from sea-level rise (which, of course, is only one element of climate change risks and costs). Yet, in the face of this threat, and as even some conservatives are admitting they were wrong and are calling on the Republican Party to accept climate science/take action, the RTD has decided to double-down on its long (and sordid) history of climate-change denialism in its pages.

Earlier this week came an announcement that Jim Bacon (lead author/owner of Bacon’s Rebellion, a libertarian website) will become part of the RTD editorial page staff and will be writing both op-ed’s and newspaper editorials. Let’s be clear: Bacon’s Rebellion material is sometimes entertaining and, in some of the material, has a form of wonkiness that can be attractive/engaging for policy nerds. On its best days, it can provides valuable windows and thinking about policy interests with enough substance that can enable thoughtful engagement. That is more than tainted, however, by Bacon’s (now) long-ago descent into and feverish embrace/promotion of climate-science denialism.

An excellent example of Bacon’s shallow assault on science came with his bizarre discussion of sunspots and climate change, in which the opening paragraph contains the blatantly false – and utterly absurd – assertion that climate scientists seem to not know the sun exists. (By the way, as aside, see Skeptical Science for a list of basic climate science denialist false statements along with the scientific explanations of the situation. Several are “sun” oriented.) From Bacon’s opening paragraph.

“One of the reasons I call myself a climate change agnostic — I’m not yet persuaded that man-made influences on the climate are pushing temperatures calamitously higher — is that there are alternative explanations for what has been driving long-term temperature fluctuations on the planet.”

No, Jim, there are no “alternative explanations” that stand up to scrutiny other than human activity to explain why someone 38 years old has never experienced a month of average global temperatures below the long term record. There are no “alternative explanations” that stand up to scrutiny for why the hottest years on record are recent years. There are no “alternative explanations “that stand up to scrutiny for any of what climate scientists have been observing, analyzing, and documenting with ever-greater fidelity and certainty for decades now: human action (primarily emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly via combustion of fossil fuels) is driving dangerous global climate chaos that threatens ecosystems, human health and well-being around the world. And almost everyone – Democrats, Independents and Republicans – understands this fact.

Yet somehow, self-proclaimed “climate change agnostic” (more accurately described as a basic denier of science) Jim Bacon has now been hired as the newest member of the RTD editorial staff. And, to add insult on top of injury, the RTD has committed to linking to/promoting Bacon’s Rebellion which almost certainly will continue to be a breeding ground for outlandish paths to deny and confuse on issues related climate economics and science.

Bacon’s Rebellion has been funded by Dominion in its promotion of climate science denialism/confusion. The RTD has regularly published Dominion executives’ climate science denialism. The RTD’s editorials regular push climate science denial and confusion. And now, in the face of ever starker climate damages, ever clearer understanding of climate risks, of mounting climate dangers for Virginia, the RTD has decided to double down on its climate denialism by bringing Dominion-funded Bacon directly into its fold.

The Virginia Way truly does seem to be a climate of capitulation with what appears to be a Dominion-Energy-bought-and-paid-for media (e.g., RTD), along with bought-and-paid-for politicians (almost all Virginia General Assembly Republicans, along with too many Democratic Party politicians such as Senate Minority leader Dick $a$law) who are obstacles in moving forward toward a prosperous, climate-resilient, clean-energy-powered Virginia.

The 2019 Virginia election should be a referendum on whether the Commonwealth’s citizens embrace “The Virginia Way” of a “climate of capitulation” to those who put fossil-foolish interests and profiteering ahead of common wealth interests in a well-functioning democracy that is working toward a clean, prosperous future. With its latest hire, RTD has made quite explicit which side of this discussion it and its editorial team will be on.