The sweeping Green New Deal effort to combat climate change choked in Washington this spring, dying in the U.S. Senate before most Midwest news consumers had a chance to consider its merits–or failings. That’s because fact-based journalism on the Green New Deal was rare and spotty in regional news outlets.
The majority of Midwestern media used wire from national news outlets to inform their audience about creation of the Green New Deal, a nonbinding resolution set to push an economical, agricultural, and energy transformation in the upcoming decade in response to climate change.
The lack of Midwest reporting on the political debate leaves questions unanswered on how the Green New Deal would affect Middle America. Even though the resolution failed, pieces of it are likely to emerge as campaign issues in 2020. Considering the importance of agriculture and industry that contribute to climate change in the Midwest, the story will eventually have to move from the policy-making chambers to the fields and factories of Middle America. But that will require an investment from regional news outlets to cover the story, and so far, that has not happened.
Pam Dempsey, the executive director of the Midwest Center of Investigative Reporting, said the missing independent and local reporting of the legislation is not necessarily a lack of reporting but a consequence of local and rural news having strained resources and tight deadlines.
To have local and independent news coverage of legislation like the Green New Deal, news editors are having to make the decision to send a reporter to a city council meeting or to Washington D.C. for three weeks, Dempsey said.
“Where are you going to spend that reporter’s time?” she said.
Unlike local news which runs on a commercial journalism model, the Midwest Center of Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit organization that can expend the resources and time to reporting on the environment and agribusiness, Dempsey said. Recent stories have included a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention calling for more research on health risks from weed killer and a roundup of news called “Ag Alerts” covering the Bomb cyclone and the Trump administration’s plans to bring 5G technology to rural America.
“The center is trying to fill that gap,” she said.
An exception was an article published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in which the paper’s Washington correspondent Chuck Raasch analyzed the Midwest political response to the proposal. Raasch took notice of the shift in positions of the two political parties since 2008 when the Republican Party acknowledged human activity as a primary contributor to climate change.
The Chicago Sun-Times used AP wire–and not its Washington correspondent–to cover Congress’s response to the deal.
A little over a decade later some leading progressive Democrats are proposing the quasi-socialist solution of the Green New Deal, and “the GOP caucuses in Congress are sprinkled with climate change skeptics.”
“Coastal residents, who are exposed to the threat of rising seas, are more likely than Middle America residents to blame human activity for rising temperatures and to be more amenable to significant government action to combat it,” Raasch wrote.
The polarization makes the political field tricky for Democratic lawmakers in states that support the controversial Green New Deal resolution such as Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay, Raasch writes.
The Green New Deal, championed by freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, charged the U.S. to reach a “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions in a decade through a “fair and just transition” for all communities and workers and to secure clean air and water, healthy food, climate and community resiliency, access to nature and a sustainable environment.
The legislation is comprehensive as it pays attention to not only the energy-related challenges of moving the country’s energy dependence from fossil fuels to clean energy, but also to the populations left behind in deindustrialized communities, rural and depopulated communities who struggle with the remnants of a past industry that has since contaminated their air, water, and soil.
It also sets out to train Americans to work in a green energy and manufacturing economy and working collaboratively with farmers to create green farming practices and supporting family farms.
Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley acknowledges climate change existence but argued the Green New Deal is a transfer of wealth from the interior of the country to the coasts, Raesch reported for the Post-Dispatch.
An argument from Green New Deal opponent Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner, a Republican, is that climate change should be addressed in the private sector rather than by government. In the 2020 presidential elections how the country adapts to climate change will be a big issue; one that divides Democrats and one Republicans have not introduced private or public solutions.
Unlike newspapers in urban hubs of the midwest, Missouri’s state capital’s paper, St. Joseph News-Press did have their senior reporter Ken Newton publish an article outlining Rep. Sam Graves’ and Sen. Roy Blunt’s opposition to the Green New Deal. Graves said the resolution is unrealistic and Blunt opposes the cost of the resolution.
As Raasch reports, the potential price tag of the Green New Deal is massive.
According to FactCheck.org, the $90 trillion price tag that has been headlined by the national media comes from a right-wing think tank and the actual estimate can’t be properly accounted for due to the vague nature of the resolution.
Small Midwest farms taking the lead, according to commentaries
Despite the lack of fact-based reporting, guest commentaries and opinion articles have made a significant appearance in Missouri and Iowa media.
A guest commentary published in the Kansas City Star advocated for a local approach while still supporting the Green New Deal.
The authors, Robert Leonard and Matt Russell provide hope that an honest and apolitical perspective on climate change can be brought into the discussion. Their article advocates for small farms in the Midwest to be leaders in “healing” the environment.
The authors are both from Iowa. Leonard is an anthropologist, host and special news editor for Knoxville radio and journalist.
Russell is co-owner of a farm and the executive director of an interfaith power and light company. According to his company’s biography, he spent 11 years in ministry before working on environmental and economic sustainability.
He’s worked on agricultural and justice issues including retail agriculture, land tenure, conservation, climate change, farmer veterans, rural development, state food policy and federal farm policy. He is also a fifth-generation farmer and operates a farm with his husband.
Leonard and Russell’s article rings the alarm of the drastic effects of climate change including potential food shortages and price instability if something isn’t done on a large and systematic level. Further, it differentiates small farms and complex management farms and how national farm policies affect the two.
The writers advocate for farmers to prioritize environmental services along with commodity and livestock production. One solution the article pushes for is carbon farming, which is when carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere through the biological process and stored in the soil.
“Most commodity farmers haven’t been managing their farms to capture carbon. They have instead, as might be expected, been managing to maximize yields,” the authors write.
In contrast to a commentary supporting the Green New Deal and green farming measures, a guest commentary published in the Columbia Daily Tribune argued the Green New Deal will bankrupt Missouri farmers.
The article’s authors were Andrew Wilson, a resident fellow and senior writer for the Show-Me Institute, and James Seeser, a retired physics professor.
In their commentary, they suggest the Green New Deal goals of using green, renewable energy won’t supply the energy farmers need to grow and harvest crops.
“First of all, there are no Tesla-like, battery-powered farm vehicles on the market today that could begin to replace today’s machines in doing the heavy-duty, energy-intensive work of ploughing, seeding, weed control, and harvesting,” the authors write. “Electric-powered substitutes for today’s diesel-power machines do not exist — and even if they did, other problems would prevent instant and widespread use.”
Amelia Blakely reported from Carbondale, Illinois, where she is a student at Southern Illinois University. You can find her on Twitter @AmeilaBlakely