Climate of Doubt
In 2008, the presidential candidates agreed that climate change was a critical issue demanding urgent attention. But that national call to action has disappeared and in the past four years public opinion on the climate issue has cooled. This election cycle, the presidential candidates barely discuss climate change. And new studies find that only about half of Americans believe global warming is caused by human activity. What’s behind this dramatic reversal? In Climate of Doubt, FRONTLINE correspondent John Hockenberry of PRI’s The Takeaway explores the inner workings of the movement that changed the debate on climate change.
In numerous interviews that took him across the country, Hockenberry discovers how climate skeptics mobilized, built their argument, and undermined public acceptance of a global scientific consensus. Tim Phillips, President of Americans for Prosperity, explains how the movement was able to find a voice and gain momentum as the economy failed, “We got up a hot-air balloon, put a banner on the side of it that said, cap-and-trade means higher taxes, lost jobs, less freedom. And we went all over the country doing events and stirring up grassroots anger and frustration, concern.”
Climate of Doubt describes the individuals and groups behind an organized effort to attack science by undermining scientists, and to unseat politicians who say they believe there is current climate change caused by human activity. Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M, says, “I fully expect that after this program airs I’ll get another FOIA request for all of my emails with you. And you know, I’ll just deal with that. As a climate scientist, I think a lot about the future. It goes with the job. And I want to make sure that in 50 years or 100 years or 200 years, nobody could ever say we didn’t warn them.”
FRONTLINE also investigates the funding that powers the skeptic movement in the name of free market, anti-regulation, small government causes. Hockenberry finds that funding has shifted away from fossil fuel companies to more ideological, and less public, sources. According to Robert Brulle, a sociologist studying the funding patterns of these groups, “The major funders of the climate counter-movement are ideologically driven foundations that are very much concerned about conservative values and world views.”
Frontline: Climate of Doubt was nominated for the 2011 Emmy Award for Outstanding Coverage of a News Story.
Ten Trillion and Counting
All of the federal government’s efforts to stem the tide of the financial meltdown have added hundreds of billions of dollars to an already staggering national debt, a sum that is expected to double over the next 10 years to more than $23 trillion. Ten Trillion and Counting traces the politics behind this mounting debt and investigates what some say is a looming crisis that makes the current financial situation pale in comparison.
The journey begins as correspondent Forrest Sawyer takes viewers to a secret location: the Treasury’s debt auction room, where the U.S. government sells securities backed by the “full faith and credit of the United States.” On this day, the government is auctioning $67 billion of Treasury securities. The money borrowed will be used to fund services and programs that the government cannot pay for through tax revenues alone.
Observers warn that the United States’ reliance on borrowing to fund essential programs is a dangerous gamble. For the first time, investors are beginning to question the ability of federal government to meet its growing financial obligations, and fading confidence can have dire consequences.
“You might have a situation where there is one day when the government says we need to sell several billion dollars of bonds, and nobody shows,” says Economist reporter Greg Ip. “No money to pay the Social Security checks, no money to give to the states for their Medicaid programs. Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.”
Yet more borrowing is exactly what the Obama administration plans to do: hundreds of billions to bail out the banks and other financial institutions; tens of billions more for the auto industry; $275 billion for homeowners and mortgage lenders; and a giant $787 billion stimulus package to jump-start an economy spiraling downward. Just like the Bush administration before it, Obama and his team are going to borrow big.
“That’s the paradox of the situation that we’re in now,” observes Matt Miller, author of The Tyranny of Dead Ideas. “Government has got to run big deficits to stimulate the economy, deficits that would have been unthinkable … because government’s the only entity with the wherewithal to prop up a demand in the economy when businesses and consumers are all pulling back.”