The Oklahoman

Newspaper Windmills

Windmill, Jalubí, Czech Republic on Flickr The Commons

No amount of sarcasm about “garden-variety” environmentalists from the editorial board of The Oklahoman will diminish the basic fact that global warming is real and that the planet is heading toward a catastrophe because of it.

The newspaper recently published an editorial that made fun of people concerned about the environment while celebrating the use of natural gas to produce electricity. The snarky piece begins like this:

Pity the plight of the garden-variety environmentalist. He loathes coal because it’s dirty. He’s uncomfortable with nuclear power even though it’s far cleaner than coal. And he can barely tolerate natural gas because, well, it’s a fossil fuel.

Oh, a faux pity party. I want to go. Can I bring a friend? I’m unsure how exactly “garden-variety” is supposed to be read here. Of course, it means commonplace, but I guess it’s also meant to be pejorative in some way. Still, it’s confusing. Note the gender bias as well as in “he loathes” and “he’s uncomfortable.” I guess women don’t care about the environment or the editorial writer needs some training when it comes to gender issues in writing. The overall generalization in the paragraph screams out the writing here is sophomoric and not to be trusted.

Maybe this is too much nitpicking for another goofy editorial in The Oklahoman, but the commentary was published right before it was announced that a new scientific paper shows global warming accelerated by carbon emissions is leading to a catastrophic rise in sea levels. The contrast between the two could not be greater. One mocks people and the science in which they believe. The other is a scientific approach to one of the most important issues of our time.

The paper, which was written by prominent climatologist Dr. James Hansen and several co-authors, argues that a temperature rise of 2 degree Celsius over the next 50 years could lead to sea levels ten-feet higher than they now exist because the added heat will melt ice sheets on the planet.

The paper seems unnecessarily alarmist to some people, according to media reports, but the fact remains that carbon emissions have led to a rise in greenhouse gases. This melts ice sheets on the planet and leads to rising sea levels. If the planet’s inhabitants don’t take any corrective action, the outcome could be devastating.

According to a media report about the paper, Hansen and his coauthors write, "We conclude that continued high [carbon] emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating." Imagine entire coastal communities wiped out.

Meanwhile, The Oklahoman is cheering on the fossil fuel industry. It’s one dying industry cheering on another dying industry.

Developing renewal energy sources, such as solar and wind power, with a limited environmental impact is the primary solution to the planet’s crisis. Obviously, fossil fuels, including natural gas used in power plants, are still vital and will remain so for decades, but in the larger picture they need to be replaced.

The hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom in Oklahoma and in other areas of the country has also brought with it a host of environmental problems, such as water contamination and earthquakes. Oklahoma, in particular, has been shaken relentlessly over the last few years by earthquakes scientists claim are caused by wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process. The state now leads the contiguous United States in the number of earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or above.

The 5.6-magnitude 2011 earthquake near Prague caused significant damage, and many property owners are concerned about the impact on their homes and buildings from the almost daily earthquakes the state now experiences. On Monday, 4.4-magnitude and 4.0 magnitude quakes rattled north-central Oklahoma near Cherokee. The Stillwater City Council has even passed new regulations about setbacks and noise levels of fracking operations in its jurisdiction.

While all this is going on, The Oklahoman chooses the snarky road while lauding the energy industry. It should be noted Philip Anschutz, the Colorado billionaire who made his money in the drilling business, currently owns the paper. But the newspaper business is in serious decline. How long before he sells it or the newspaper stops publishing a hard copy, another waste of the planet’s resources? Obviously, the newspaper intentionally alienates many potential “garden-variety” readers.

After outlining the ways in which natural gas is leading to a decline in coal use, the editorial ends with a reference to the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes:

Most of these aren’t on the agenda of our garden-variety environmentalist. Let him tilt at his windmills. We’ll celebrate the gas milestone.

This is what passes for reasoned, compensated written insight in Oklahoma these days. The newspaper’s executives want us to read this and think it’s wise and pertinent commentary and then subscribe to its dying, sometimes offensive and narrow-minded publication. The editorial is simply silly, although we could use more windmills (i.e., wind turbines) these days.

We actually don’t need The Oklahoman in its present form anymore. It’s counter productive for an informed local culture. We DO need to become better stewards of our planet and less worried about lining the pockets of rich oil and gas executives here. That’s not fighting imaginary enemies. It’s just common sense.

Editorial Apologia

Religion? By Ron Jansen on Flickr The Commons

I would be remiss if I didn’t dissect a recent sophomoric editorial in The Oklahoman lamenting the decline of Christians in the nation and the rise of people describing themselves as agnostic or atheist.

The editorial, titled “Declining Christian numbers in Oklahoma, elsewhere no cause for celebration,” referred to a recent Pew Research Center survey that shows the number of people who identify as Christian dropped by more than seven percentage points from 2007 to 2014. It also showed people who described themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” rose by six percentage points during those seven years.

The survey found that 70.6 percent of the U.S. population still identifies as Christian, a high number for sure, but the editorial really doesn’t stress this point. The commentary is just a reductionist apologia for Christianity rather than a fact-based and truthful historical analysis of the religion. The editorial omits important information and relies on cringing generalizations.

The overall gist of the editorial is fairly simple. The number of Christians in the U.S. is in decline and this is a bad thing overall.

Let me be clear before I go through three “points” made by the editorial that although I identify as “nothing in particular,” I do think there are ways to academically and intellectually defend Christianity. For example, I think of famous Christians, such as C.S. Lewis or Cardinal John Henry Newman, who held sophisticated Christian views that still resonate and provoke.

But The Oklahoman isn’t interested in an intellectual defense. Here’s one of the first big points the editorial makes:

. . . there’s no denying that people genuinely devoted to a religion emphasizing love for others, denial of self, and belief that one answers to a higher power have generated far more societal improvement than what’s been rendered by those pursuing a self-directed “do whatever makes you feel good” ethos.

Our nation is undoubtedly a better place when there are more of the former than the latter.

The idea that it’s mostly non-Christians who pursue a “do whatever makes you feel good” personal philosophy is simply a gross generalization. According to one writer looking into the issue only 0.7 percent of inmates in the federal prison system identify as atheist. This number has long been in dispute, especially by Christians, but it's at least worth exploring on an empirical basis if one is going to make a generalized argument about “self-directed” people.

In addition, the idea that our nation is better off because of Christianity is simply not provable. It can be compared to the colonization argument that countries that have been colonized by empires are better off than if they weren’t colonized. But here’s the point: We will never know. It’s pure speculation. Along these lines, I might add that Christianity on a historical basis has been used to help empires exploit people throughout the world under the term “missionary work” and to give a moral basis for slavery in the U.S. The Southern Baptist Church, for example, was founded based on its pro-slavery position.

I could go on and on along these lines, but my overall point is the editorial doesn’t engage in anything close to a dialogue about the issue.

Here’s another big point the editorial makes:

Critics will counter that Oklahoma typically ranks among the top states for church attendance, yet ranks worse on the aforementioned measures than states with lower levels of religious observance. This may suggest some people are hypocrites, but it doesn’t mean Oklahoma would be better off if fewer people adhered to a religion that advocates against murder, adultery and theft. A classroom full of pregnant teenage atheists would still be a sign of societal decay.

The editorial gets it exactly wrong, especially when it comes to teenage pregnancy. It’s backwards. Open-minded people in this state for years have advocated for comprehensive sex education in our schools. We have been thwarted by religious conservatives and fundamentalists who believe such education will lead to promiscuity. Thus, there’s been a long-held argument here—stretching over decades—that religious conservatism is responsible for the state’s high teenage pregnancy rate because many teenagers are not getting the information they need to either abstain from having sex or to use birth control.

But The Oklahoman is having none of that basic logic:

Oklahomans’ problems aren’t the product of Christianity. But the compassionate response of many Oklahomans, who even make dramatic personal sacrifices to aid struggling people, is often a product of their Christianity.

Yet polls through the years have shown that Oklahoma is especially Christian. A 2004 Gallup poll showed eight out of 10 people in Oklahoma identified as Christian. That number is dropping, according to the Pew survey, but the fact remains that a majority of people identify as Christian in Oklahoma and have done so for a very long time.

So who IS responsible for Oklahomans’ problems? If the majority of Oklahomans, including its politicians, are Christians, then it would only be logical to presume they are the ones responsible for the state’s social problems, such poor medical outcomes and childhood poverty. Undoubtedly, there are Christians who do great social work in the state as the editorial mentions, but when the state’s leaders—politicians like U.S. Rep. James Lankford, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, state Rep. Sally Kern, Gov. Mary Fallin, etc.—won’t do anything about our “problems” and instead exploit impoverished people to serve the wealthy, then one has to reach the conclusion that Christianity is exactly what ails this state.

Obama Melts Ice Cream Cone

Obama by La Criatura on Flickr The Commons

A recent ludicrous editorial in The Oklahoman basically arguing against providing health care to impoverished people through Medicaid used a report to make a point and then bashed the same report.

Believe this part of the report. Ignore this other part. That’s some stellar argumentation there. (Wait. If this part of the report is wrong then . . . oh never mind. It’s The Oklahoman.)

The Sunday editorial, using the “O” word, is titled “Obama tactics reveal Medicaid expansion danger,” and it’s a solid example of exactly why the newspaper’s commentary has no credibility just in terms of basic logic. That’s not even to mention its crass, suffocating right-wing ideology, which I believe is one of the reasons for the newspaper’s continuing financial demise.

So the seemingly big point of the editorial is that the federal government—i.e. “President Barack Obama”—has “threatened” to stop funding “uncompensated care pools” in some states for uninsured patients unless those states expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Those states being “threatened” personally by Obama don’t include Oklahoma so one has to wonder what the big point is anyway, but then the editorial makes its big move.

See, Oklahoma is one of those states that chose not to expand Medicaid under the ACA because, as the editorial claims, it would eventually cost the state $850 million, according to a Leavitt Partners report. The report by the Utah-based firm also argued the expansion would add $400 million to the economy, but all that’s nonsense to The Oklahoman.

Here’s the key paragraph:

Somehow citizens are supposed to believe that if government takes $1 from taxpayers and spends it, then it will have greater economic impact than if that $1 was spent by taxpayers. Obviously such claims are bogus, which is why the Leavitt report’s estimate of an $850 million state cost should be taken seriously while purported “savings” can be ignored as accounting fiction.

I hate to even use the clichéd term “cherry picking,” but then I’m writing about a clichéd newspaper that publishes clichéd editorials supported by a clichéd ideology that’s dying on the vine, on its last gasp, kaput, finito, going, going, gone. This editorial is the picking of cherries at its most exquisite.

Let me clear this up. Somehow citizens get two ice cream cones for $1 but then one of them melts. This isn’t right. Obama made that ice cream cone melt by shooting laser beams from his eyes while wearing his “O” cape. It’s an ice cream cone fiction. Believe that the lime sherbet ice cream cone melted but that the orange sherbet ice cream cone didn’t. Get it?

My point is that it doesn't matter where that $1 is coming from that's going into the economy in terms of basic mathematics. Also, shouldn't The Oklahoman be in favor of the federal government spending less money on health care? It contradicts itself.

The bottom line is that The Oklahoman editorial board, which is pretty much a local propaganda division for the Republican Party, could care less about poor people. The newspaper’s editorial writers apparently want to live in a world where fellow citizens suffer, and they will dispense with logic and morality to make sure that happens here.

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