The polar ice cap is melting. Temperatures are rising above 90 degrees in many cities. Birds are dying. Droughts are causing many farms to close. But where can a person obtain well researched information on climate change, natural disasters, changing weather patterns, and whether the earth can survive another generation?
The web site Counterspill (www.counterspill.org) provides news articles that are not influenced by advertising or large oil companies. Its mission statement is: “Time after time energy industries control the stories of their own disasters. We need to take control of the story.”
The site is organized into: Home, Disasters, Articles, Take Action, and About. Counterspill was launched by Chris Paine, who directed the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car, and John Quigley, an activist who also works with the Global Campaign for Climate Action.
Clearly, Counterspill is not neutral and takes a strong point of view that climate change has arrived, the environment is facing rapid extinction, and as its Take Action section suggests, something must be done quickly to correct the course.
Counterspill, which won a Webby Award for best environmental site in 2012, keeps readers informed of the latest climate change and environmental news. When the Fukushima nuclear plant closed after the 2011 earthquake in Japan, it returned to tell readers what had happened to the plant the next year. When the news on the Santa Barbara oil spill faded, Counterspill posted an analysis of its long-term effect.
Frequent contributor Carly Gillis updates Counterspill readers on environmental news. For example, her story “Renewables 100 Policy Institute” described how this institute promotes energy projects that replace carbon and polluting energy sources with 100% renewable ones. Renewable 100 Policy Institute considers reducing energy targets with 15%, 35%, or 40% renewables as unacceptable and not sufficient to prevent the earth’s carbon level from rising. It contends that 100% renewable energy is doable and viable and that politics prevents it from occurring.
Another Gillis article described the documentary The Sky Is Pink by filmmaker Josh Fox, whose previous documentary Gasland was extremely influential. The Sky Is Pink describes the effects of New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo’s permitting fracking or excavating of natural gas using chemicals in several upstate locations to boost jobs and the economy. Several fracking incidents in Pennsylvania led to contamination of local water supplies, which caused illnesses. The article includes a segment from the documentary and demonstrates how the natural gas industry uses the media to provide its positive view of fracking, playing down its negative effects.
Most revealing about the effects of industry on the environment is the site’s Disaster section. Articles on the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the BP oil spill, the Greenpoint oil spill, the Chevron versus Ecuador controversy, and the Chernobyl disaster detail how industry accidents and oversight have destroyed oceans, lakes, waters and towns.
Despite all the bad news, some good news occasionally emerges on Counterspill. In February 2012, Gillis noted that the utility Midwest Generation was closing two high-polluting coal plants in Chicago several years faster than was anticipated. One will be closed at the end of 2012 and the other in 2014. Retrofitting and remodeling the plants was too expensive and so the utility decided to deactivate them. The Environmental Law and Policy Center said that the plants had caused $750 million damage to public health. The city will have four extra years of cleaner air.
But Counterspill doesn’t just report the news. It also serves as an activist. In April 2011 it started a campaign to reduce the world’s dependence on non-renewable energy. Counterspill started an intervention to encourage countries to rely more on solar, wind, and other more natural alternatives to carbon dioxide-emitting fuel.
Unlike some of the web sites funded by oil and natural gas companies, Counterspill is a low-budget affair. It updates articles occasionally, not daily. Many of its articles are concise and compact. It clearly doesn’t have the budget to finance long, well-researched articles on the effects industry is having on the environment.
Counterspill is a reaction to the “He said/She said” approach of most traditional media. Most mainstream media show how fracking can damage the environment and then interview a spokesperson from the American Gas Association, which counters the facts and leaves the readers unsure of fracking’s potential devastating effects.
While there are always divergent viewpoints, the balanced approach often obscures issues more than elucidates them. Counterspil challenges the traditional approach, lets readers know exactly where it stands, and yet presents facts on how climate change is destroying the environment.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.