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Advocacy journalism? Globe “climate team” misses mark in story on natural gas bans
Yes, the Globe has a climate change team, with five reporters dedicated to the effort since it launched in January.
Here’s a taste of the mission statement, which sounds like it was taken off the website of an environmental advocacy group: Globe journalism will “shine light on obstacles to decisive action, illuminate paths toward solutions, and hold to account elected leaders responsible for guiding us to a better future.”
Maybe not so surprising, the climate team’s stories at times do have the feel of advocacy journalism, interested in more in crusading for a particular outcome than exploring the complexities of what will be a decades-long transition away from fossil fuels.
A case in point is this story on the debate over whether to allow a handful of upscale suburbs to impose bans on new natural gas hookups in commercial and residential buildings. Like others written by the Globe’s climate change team, the story appears under the banner “Into the Red: Climate and the fight of our lives.
The headline handily sums up what’s wrong with the story: “The legislature is closing in on a major climate bill. Will real estate developers stand in the way?”
More than just real estate developers are uneasy about a single provision in the state Senate’s sprawling climate change bill that would allow a collection of affluent suburbs like Brookline, Lexington and Concord, to start banning natural gas hookups in new buildings and homes.
Local trade unions, restaurant owners and utility companies have also expressed strong opposition, while there is real uneasiness as well about the impact such bans would have on the cost of building desperately needed apartments, as well as on the burgeoning life sciences and research sector, which depends heavily on natural gas.
The story also misses the divide inside the State House itself over the proposed natural gas bans.
Gone unmentioned is the opposition in the traditionally more cautious and pragmatic House to the proposed bans, which would allow 10 suburban communities to effectively conduct their own pilot programs.
No one is debating climate change here, but rather the wisdom of such feel-good, ad-hoc bans. There are real concerns that allowing upscale suburbs to engage in disruptive virtue signaling could have wide ranging, negative, and real world impacts.
Demise of downtown Boston harbor plan a victory, but for whom and what?
Certainly, it was a win for the Conservation Law Foundation, which helped convince the state’s highest court last week to strike down a plan that would have paved the way for a 600-foot tower on the harbor by the New England Aquarium.
But it was also a victory for the well-heeled condo owners at the neighboring Harbor Towers complex, who filed suit along with CLF to stop the proposed office and residential tower by developer Don Chiofaro.
Harbor Towers residents, whose views would take a hit if Chiofaro’s tower were to ever move forward, would like you to think that they are crusading for the environment as well.
And, unlike the typical abutter - NIMBY or otherwise - they have the deep pockets to foot the bill for years of legal representation as well as for a public relations rep.
“Now is a time for a renewed focus on climate change and public enjoyment of the waterfront,” the residents said in a statement to the Globe, after an initial ruling in the case last spring.
You don’t have to be terribly cynical to also question the self-interest here. Chiofaro’s tower would at least partially block some city skyline views of Harbor Towers owners.
And fancy new multimillion condos next door would pose some stiff price competition for sellers at the 1970s-era Harbor Towers.
Meanwhile, the only thing certain right now is that the ugly concrete bunker of a garage next to the aquarium is in no danger of being torn down anytime soon.
How that is a victory for public access – and enjoyment of the waterfront – remains a mystery.
Greater Boston ground zero in middle class affordability crisis
The surge in prices of everything from food to gas is bad enough. But as we have noted here, it’s even harder to take because of the broader affordability crisis afflicting the middle class.
The past few decades have seen the cost of homes, apartments, health care, college tuition, child care - you name it - soar, even as paychecks, adjusted for inflation, have stagnated.
And the Boston area, long at the epicenter of this crisis, now has company, with soaring real estate prices and rents now starting to expand beyond blue cities and states to the rest of the country.
How is it that the Democratic party, which professes to be the champion of the middle and working class, can’t find a way to draw upon these universal concerns to draft a message broad enough win a clear majority in Congress?
And yes, we all know about gerrymandering, but still …
That said, here’s a piece by Ezra Klein at The New York Times that gets right to the heart of the affordability crisis, detailing how, until recently, relatively cheap food and consumer goods helped ease the sting of the rising cost of just about everything else.
In the 1960s, you could graduate from college debt free, but certainly couldn’t buy a fancy flat screen TV, he notes.
Today it’s the reverse, and it’s hard to see how that was a great trade-off.
We thought Klein was particularly incisive here:
“The prices problem has been lurking for years, but it’s never been the core of our politics. Now it is. It’s on gas station signs and at the supermarket. It’s in rental contracts and tuition checks. …The political party that dominates this next era will be the one that shares the public’s fury and puts prices at the center of their agenda.”
Debate in the scientific community over Covid restrictions goes rabid, with personal attacks and reputational slander: “We need to bring civility back to science and the COVID debate” CommonWealth Magazine
For Biden, a no-win situation: “Cut Biden some slack. U.S. presidents have to deal with dictators.” Washington Post
We’ll believe it when hair-raising accidents are no longer happening every few weeks: “MBTA cites progress in dealing with FTA safety directives” CommonWealth Magazine
A tempest in a teapot, with Sen. Tom Cotton leading the charge: “Rachael Rollins blasted for ‘crazy’ appearance at Democratic fundraiser” Boston Herald
What is Contrarian Boston?
I have fielded emails over the past couple of months asking what Contrarian Boston is about.
Here’s a link to our mission statement – you can find it in the “about” section.
For a more prosaic, nuts-and-bolts description, read on.
An online newsletter, Contrarian Boston publishes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In Contrarian Boston you’ll find analysis of the day’s news, and original reporting as well.
Our focus is:
· Politics and all levels of governance, good and bad, with an emphasis on state and local, with some national mixed in;
· Economic growth and business, especially real estate, housing and new development projects;
· The media and why it does what it does;
· Education, from school board spats to the doings of multibillion-dollar university endowments;
· And whatever else catches our fancy.
Do environmentalists realize that 60% of commercially sold electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels? Electric companies are also for profit. Does anyone believe for a minute that elimination of oil and gas as viable home heating sources will prevent electric companies from increasing their prices and profits when the government eliminates their competition?