Media Messages about Fossil Fuels Don’t Tell the Whole Story

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

People sometimes declare that the world has always had periods of warming and cooling. So — how do we really be certain that today’s warming is primarily caused by humans? How do we know that putting too much carbon into the atmosphere (CO2) when we burn coal, oil, and gas or cut down forests is really the cause of current global warming trends? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, we know human activities are driving the increase in CO2 concentrations because atmospheric CO2 contains information about its source.

Carbon from fossil fuels has a distinct “signature” — its composition of heavier and lighter atoms of carbon. The smaller the ratio of heavier to lighter carbon atoms, the higher the proportion of carbon from fossil fuels. Over the years, the ratio of heavy to light carbon atoms has decreased as the overall amount of CO2 has increased. This information tells scientists that fossil fuel emissions are the largest contributor of atmospheric CO2 concentrations since the pre-industrial era.

fossil fuel primer

The US Environmental Protection Agency states that current levels of the greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — in our atmosphere are higher than at any point over the past 800,000 years, and their ability to trap heat is changing our climate in multiple ways. Climate change encompasses not only rising average temperatures but also extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, rising seas, and a range of other impacts. All of these changes are emerging as humans continue to add heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Renewable Energy Technology Will Make Fossil Fuels Obsolete

Look around your neighborhood. Why are we starting to see wind turbines, solar panels, or electric vehicles nearly everyday in our regular travels? That’s because these and other renewable energy devices are getting cheaper and more abundant by the day. Technology and cost of production for renewables are coalescing in favor of the consumer. And the result is that the demand for coal, oil, and natural gas is falling.

What will happen as the demand for fossil fuels diminishes?

The price for fossil fuels will fall, and fall, and fall, to the point where it won’t be profitable any longer for companies to mine for coal or dig oil wells. They won’t be able to obtain a profit by extracting that fuel. The fossil fuel companies will fail before 2035, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Renewable energy sources will become common in every home in the US well before fossil fuel prices fall precipitously. By taking over a small, but significant share of the market, renewables will force producers to slash costs to stay competitive. There will be a delicate dance in which fossil fuels will become really inexpensive while renewable technologies become commonplace. Why?

Fossil fuel companies will want to sell any coal, oil, or natural gas they own before these become worthless — known as stranded assets. Investors are moving away from fossil fuels as it becomes increasingly evident that continued expansion of oil, coal, and gas is exacerbating global conflicts and prompting corruption. The processes involved in fossil fuel production, distribution, and burning threaten biodiversity, clean water, and air. They infringe on the rights of indigenous peoples and vulnerable countries and communities.

As more and more individuals buy electric vehicles, fewer gasoline stations will be needed. When people find how warm, efficient, and convenient electric heat pumps are, they’ll turn away from natural gas to heat their homes. Electricity that is available from solar panels and home batteries will be so affordable and reliable that people won’t want to buy power from a coal- or gas-fired power plants.

fossil fuel primer

The Media and Climate Change Responsibility

As recently as 2018, there were a number of significant developments on climate change.

If climate change was so in-our-face in 2018, why did the media do such a lackluster job in reporting it? Okay, you’ll say, the media did better in 2018 than 2017 in covering the topics on the list above. Maybe so, but it wasn’t enough.

Public Citizen wanted to know which media coverage of topics relevant to climate change garnered significant attention in 2018 — like extreme weather events — and the extent to which media outlets explicitly connected them to climate change. In 2018, only 8% of newspaper articles, 5% of television transcripts, and 16% of online news articles mentioned solutions or mitigation in pieces discussing climate change. Public Citizendetermined that news media have a major role to play in providing key information about the crisis and solutions to inform those actions. One way to report on the subject, they say, is simply to connect everyday coverage to climate where relevant. Another is to cover the climate crisis directly, including by discussing how we can mitigate it.

But a larger question looms — Why do so few media outlets thoroughly cover climate change, which we know is directly related to putting too much carbon into the atmosphere (CO2) when we burn coal, oil, and gas or cut down forests?

fossil fuel primer

Why Do We Need Transparency from the Media?

“The tragedy in the lives of most of us is that we go through life walking down a high-walled lane with people of our own kind, the same economic situation, the same national background and education and religious outlook. And beyond those walls, all humanity lies, unknown and unseen, and untouched by our restricted and impoverished lives.”

—Florence Luscomb, architect and suffragist (6 Feb 1887-1985)

When we are debating the future of energy, it’s important to know the sources of the information that we use to make our decisions, who’s authoring the information, and what their opinion and bias might be. In that way, we can form our own opinions about what we think the future of the energy system should be. It’s not enough to say, ‘My friends have always trusted it. That’s good enough for me.’

Media celebrities, partisan think tanks, and special interest groups funded by fossil fuel and related industries raise false doubts about the truth of global warming.

They minimize the significance of climate change. They insist that the US economy depends of the production of fossil fuels. They lobby for policies that limit liability from mining and burning pollution. They attempt to weaken existing pollution standards.

Constant media misinformation misleads and confuses the public about the growing consequences of global warming — and makes it more difficult to implement the solutions we need to effectively reduce the human-made emissions that cause global warming.

At a time when we need sound climate science and evidence to set the record straight, including resources to help each of communicate the real facts about global warming, the media is all-too-often mute.

Why is that?

fossil fuel primer

Ask Yourself: What is the Real Source of My Fossil Fuel Information?

Way back in 2012, the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out some research that said the press routinely quotes think tanks that bash clean energy policies and technologies. The article also noted that these media outlets also fail to mention that they receive significant funding from fossil fuel interests.

Do you think that the following statistics have changed in the last couple of years, or not? Conduct a little informal sleuthing yourself: how often do you hear media mouthpieces questioning climate science without disclosing their funders? Let us know in the comments section at the bottom what trends you think are happening in 2019 about media transparency, climate change, and fossil fuel interests.

When was the Columbia Journalism Review study? 2007-2011

How many media outlets did they study? 10 organizations, including the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute

How much $$ was spent on the media by fossil fuel industries? Around $16.3 million

Which fossil fuel companies/ foundations were responsible? ExxonMobil and 3 foundations

How many times were they mentioned in articles about energy issues? 1,010 times in 58 daily newspapers, the Associated Press, and Politico

How many times did the media describe their financial ties to the fossil fuels industry? Only 6% of the time.

How frequently did the news outlets use only an organization’s name? 53%

How often would they describe an organization’s ideology?

  • “Conservative:” 17%
  • “Libertarian:” 6%
  • By its location: 3%
  • Function, like “think tank” or “nonpartisan” group: 3%

Which outlets disclosed a group’s industry ties most frequently?

  • The New York Times: 10%
  • The Washington Post: 12%
  • Houston Chronicle: 15%

Why is it important for disclosure of media sources when fossil fuels are discussed? The power of think tanks to move pro-fossil fuels industry messaging is much more effective when they appear to be unbiased or neutral institutes. When media aren’t transparent about their funding, they dilute trust in authenticity and accuracy in climate science information. This really seems like planned deception, doesn’t it?

What sources are reliable for information about the fossil fuel industry — and why? The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was cited by Columbia Journalism Review as an independent institute —  a federally funded research laboratory. Its mission is to make sure the public and other parts of government know the facts about the research and development behind the clean energy industry.

Public Citizen, which conducted the more recent 2018 study of the media and climate change reporting, suggests that producers, editors, or reporters who want to know whether or how to discuss climate change in the context of extreme weather could look to Climate Central, in particular its Climate Matters program, and Climate Nexus, including its Climate Signals project.

And you can call out your favorite media outlet every time you perceive that they’re not fully transparent about their funding sources. It’s an important climate action that you can and should take.

Images copyright free via Pixabay.


Let’s Uncover the Language Used to Discredit Tesla — #MediaAnalysis

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

As I was researching an article about Tesla’s participation in the new EV Drive Coalitionabout a week ago, I came across a source from The Daily Caller on the subject. As I skimmed, this online newspaper’s right wing ideology was quite evident — not my worldview, granted, but didn’t Sun Tzu say in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles?” So I read on … and was amazed at how this newspaper, in the guise of reporting on new electric vehicle advocacy, offered its readers some targeted messaging, completely neglected to include many important facts, and chose language specifically intended to discredit Tesla without foundation.

Let’s do a little discourse analysis to uncover the meanings, methods, and messages within the article. It’s really fascinating! And it speaks to how much the fossil fuel industry has to lose by Tesla’s ascendancy in the automotive and energy markets through its model of a sustainable tomorrow for the planet.

The Daily Caller offers the following “About Us” information on its website:

“Founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson, a 20-year veteran journalist, and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Cheney, The Daily Caller is one of America’s largest and fastest-growing news publications. … From exposing shocking mismanagement of Republican National Committee funds to exclusively revealing the FBI’s interview with Hillary Clinton, The Daily Caller’s reporting has been thorough and tough on members of both political parties. … The Daily Caller’s reporting is distributed worldwide to over 20 million unique readers each month through our highly-visited homepage, wildly popular newsletters and apps, countless citations from the world’s other top news sites, and our vast social media following.”

discredit Tesla

Courtesy of Media Bias/ Fact Check

From the people (“Tucker Carlson,” “Neil Patel,” “Vice President Cheney,” “Hillary Clinton”), to its topics of interest (“Republican National Committee funds,” “FBI’s interview,” “both political parties”), to its audience (“unique readers”), and its self-congratulatory adjectives (“largest,” “fastest-growing,” “shocking,” “exclusively,” “thorough,” “tough,” “highly-visited,” “wildly popular,” “countless,” “vast”), The Daily Caller self-defines in terms of strongly right-biased story selection and self-aggrandizing exclamations. Noted for conservative media opinion writers and deep-thinking essayists rather than journalists who do original reporting, the news and opinion website has been labeled by Media Bias/ Fact Check as “mixed” for its numerous failed fact checks.

discredit Tesla

Framing the Status of EVs Today in Order to Discredit Tesla

Media texts represent aspects of the world that contribute to establishing, maintaining, and changing social relations of power, domination, and exploitation, according to social linguist Norman Fairclough. In today’s Trumpian world in which immigrants are enemies, the Supreme Court is partisan, health care certainty is tenuous, free trade is under fire, and tax reforms preference corporations and the über wealthy, it makes sense that Tesla would be a target of right-wing conservative attacks.

Let’s look at The Daily Caller article, “Tesla Joins Forces with GM and Others Seeking to Save Electric Car Subsidies.” The title is fairly innocuous, right? “Joins forces” has a sense of strength, and GM is certainly a stalwart Big 3 US automaker. “Save” is accurate to the intentions of the EV Drive Coalition, which says, “Without a modification to the policy, consumer demand will suffer and so will the future of EVs in the US.” And “seeking,” “save,” and “subsidies” are alliterative (repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words), so the article starts out blandly enough to draw in a wide audience of readers.

Soon into the article is the statement, “A coalition of electric vehicle companies led by Tesla is pushing and prodding the federal government to expand a tax credit set to expire that allows customers to undercut the auto market.” Ah, here’s that alliteration again (“pushing and prodding”) which, as a figure of speech, catches and holds the reader’s eye. The connotation is negative, as if a small child is pestering an adult who has more important, mature matters to handle. Then comes the first whammy (“allows customers to undercut the auto market”), which wags an admonishing finger at consumers who want to get more for less at the expense of the kindly, established US automakers. We’re led to believe that these automakers have spent decades establishing themselves through a meritocracy inherent within the American Dream. Forgotten/avoided is the US government’s $80.7 billion bailout of the auto industry that lasted from December 2008 to December 2014. Called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the program cost US taxpayers $10.2 billion.

Referring to the newly formed EV Drive Coalition as “so-called” is quite strange in a subsequent sentence. Usually, “so-called” means something that is alleging to be something you are not sure it is. That is the Coalition’s name, so the implication is that it’s really not a coalition in actual practice — it’s a convenience for press releases and governmental advocacy.

“Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously mentioned that the company can survive without government assistance” combines 2 notions — 1) survival and 2) federal cash injections to prop up a faltering business model. Now The Daily Caller has a rallying cry that the far right can grasp. Using long-debunked myths about renewable energy, the article echoes sentiments from the Heritage Foundation: “Conservatives believe in free markets, not central planning. They believe in fiscal responsibility, not waste.” EV companies and customers, by extension, that require tax credits as major purchasing factors of electric vehicles are wasting taxpayers’ money. So the right-wing website asserts.

discredit Tesla

Soon the article states that “the market for inexpensive electric vehicles will dry up without the extension.” Actually, that’s not what the EV Drive Coalition says on its website. Instead, it argues, “Without a modification to the policy, consumer demand will suffer and so will the future of EVs in the US.” Both use existential propositions, suggesting that such a concept is absolutely going to happen. Now, you and I who understand that the future must have zero-emissions transportation might have suggested slightly different wording to this Coalition sentence. Yes, losing the tax credit may hurt sales in the short term. But once more people learn that 59–62% of the electrical energy of an EV is converted into power to turn the wheels, as opposed to a gasoline engine, where only 17–21% of the chemical energy in the fuel is turned into useful work — and once they realize how that relates to their bank accounts — EVs will be more in demand. (Source: Designing Climate Solutions, Chapter 8.)

Then The Daily Caller article turns specifically to Tesla and its CEO, telling its audience that“Musk frequently assures people that Tesla does not require government help.” The article cites a 2015 interview with CNBC where Musk says of tax incentives, “None of them are necessary; they are all helpful.” Essentially, the claim that alternative energy entities like the Tesla network exist because of government subsidization is not really true. The reality also is that even without the existence of such programs, the companies in question could very well have remained viable simply by expanding more slowly than they have — the support programs are mostly a means of increasing the rate of development/growth. Governments provide help (“government subsidies,” “government loan,” “heavy government support”) in order to stimulate economic activity, maintain technological stature with other countries, and, in the case of Tesla, lower pollution levels. (If you want to learn more about Tesla and its government subsidies, check out this CleanTechnica article.)

Moving back — finally — to the title topic of EV Drive Coalition launch, the articles cites unnamed “analysts” who argue that Musk’s companies are “particularly sensitive to the whims of legislators.” If dialogue is rich communication between people as social agents and as personalities, then we absolutely need attribution to know to whom it is we are speaking when we refer to such “analysts,” presumably smart people who decry Tesla’s viability as “particularly sensitive.” How else could we ask them questions and learn more? How could we judge their expertise?

Moreover, by describing US representatives as conceding to “whims,” the article is lambasting both sides of an entrenched partisan Congress. Even the Koch brother-funded candidates are under attack here — stand your ground, you who vacillate with your conscience!

Noting that “Californians made up nearly 50 percent of Tesla’s customers” reminds rural audience members that those who buy EVs aren’t really in your tribe, anyway, so do you want to even consider purchasing an EV and being associated with those tree-hugging socialists?

Reinforcing its premise that “elimination of the tax credit could seriously hobble Tesla” (with “hobble” as an allusion to rugged individualists whose lives depend on mobility), the article says that Tesla still has an “inability to mass produce vehicles at the scale of its larger competitors.” Yes, that’s true in a literal sense. Tesla hasn’t sold the numbers that much older automakers have, and it’s still ramping up its robotic assembly lines for optimal manufacturing.

Then again, Tesla was incorporated in 2003 and now, 15 years later, sells the Model S, Model X, and Model 3 vehicles, Powerwall and Powerpack batteries, solar panels, solar roof tiles, and related products. But Tesla’s strategy is to change the automotive industry by fitting innovative pieces together in a “complex coordination” that’s really different in marketing, production, sales, and technology from its competitors. Perhaps that’s what’s more important right now than Tesla’s current scale — the possibilities for Tesla to reinvent what manufacturing looks like in the US at a time when disenfranchised voters have turned to an avowed racist to lead the country due to their ennui about a loss of US manufacturing.

Final Thoughts

Discursive strategies can be used in the media to produce particular effects and contribute to the construction of social realities. The narrative that The Daily Caller drew upon to question EVs, generally, and Tesla, specifically, supports biases or points of view that were transmitted by an informative discourse conveyed by conservative media.

Media exerts strong influence in several domains — social, political, economic, legal, and behavioral, and it operates from a symbolic perspective. Symbolism can lead us to consider the information transmitted as a “view” of the event, a construct, rather than as the clipping of a given reality. Anytime we can slow down our reading of the media and look at political discourse as the process of production and interpretation of a text in meaningful political, social and cultural contexts, we all benefit.

The Ticket To Ride: Elon’s Tweets + Participatory Culture

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

The recent US Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) censure of Tesla CEO Elon Musk due to his tweets points out how far removed many US major institutions are from the reality of effective contemporary communication.

Social media, with its potential for candid and fluid back-and-forth chats, can develop relationships in a more natural, organic, and influential way than corporate communications historically have.

It also promotes and reinforces knowledge and thoughtful discussion, sometimes hastening important social change.

Musk’s social media messaging is indicative of today’s participatory allure, in which consumers have a real chance of grabbing Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame and in which corporations can learn and improve.

Elon's tweets

Warhol’s epiphany into the post-modern individual anticipated that, as cameras shrank and screens multiplied, the barriers to everyday people’s fame would be reduced.

An individual like Elon Musk, who possesses power in the current moment as well as a keen vision of a sustainable world tomorrow, epitomizes social power asymmetries where the famous interact with the familiar.

Elon’s tweets, as far as we have seen after much research, have never come across as fraudulent statements nor misrepresentations of fiscal status.

Yet, the SEC has demanded that Tesla “put in place additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk’s communications.” Not only are many of us skeptical that Musk will adhere to the exact letters of the SEC deal, but it seems incredibly obvious that the SEC has missed out on the big picture of contemporary social media marketing and has attempted to stifle something it should be promoting — transparency and communication between companies and their shareholders and customers.

Interconnections between Tesla’s rise in the marketplace and Musk’s tweets have never been a secret, as the SEC acknowledged in its settlement press release (“despite notifying the market in 2013 that it intended to use Musk’s Twitter account as a means of announcing material information about Tesla and encouraging investors to review Musk’s tweets”). The specific argument that the SEC has made about one specific idea or possibility for the company (claiming that there were “false and misleading tweets about a potential transaction to take Tesla private”) seems contradictory to how Elon Musk uses Twitter and how his followers understand he uses it, which is to engage with consumers and shareholders and thus provide them with more of a voice on substantial company matters. Announcing the idea on Twitter was a way — the most logical way — to specifically ask all shareholders for their perspective on that idea. Musk used the term “considering” and said in the end that the decision to proceed or not was up to shareholders. What more could a shareholder want than to be involved in such a momentous decision?

A Market Playing Field that’s More Even with Musk and Twitter?

“The future of advertising is the internet.”
— Bill Gates

Tesla’s 2018 settlement with the SEC included an agreement that Musk would not tweet about the company without clearance from the company’s legal team. (“Tesla will establish a new committee of independent directors and put in place additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk’s communications.”) For anyone who spends at least a small time each day on one of the many and evolving social media platforms, we know that such an agreement — if it could actually be enacted — takes Musk’s voice and authenticity out of what has been long understood as Tesla’s primary method of marketing.

Tweeting is part of the Tesla marketing palette that includes YouTube as well but not traditional advertising or Facebook. The Tesla consumer base closely watches and clings to Musk’s tweets, not Tesla’s YouTube channel or even its corporate Twitter channel. The authenticity and substantive information provided by Musk on Twitter is partly why he is followed 23 million users on Twitter, while the Tesla account has attest to a mere fraction of that amount. Additionally, Musk is more playful and exposed when he Tweets. He inserts normal, human musings about the importance of innovation, particularly with regard to Tesla.

Should spur-of-the-moment comments be slowed and stifled by a panel of tweet reviewers?

Since its rise to public recognition, Tesla has insisted that traditional print advertising just isn’t the right fit for the clean energy and electric car company. The closest it got was a 2017 amateur video ad contest suggested by a 10-year-old, something Musk seemingly discovered via Twitter. Musk then announced the competition via Twitter and revealed the winner to his 11 million Twitter followers.

The tools and strategies for communicating with customers have changed significantly with the emergence of social media. Fluid internet-based messages have become a major factor in influencing various aspects of consumer behavior — consumer awareness, spread of information, opinion molding, purchase behavior, and post-purchase communication and evaluation.

Musk’s early understanding of social media’s potential as a hybrid promotional mix created the very mentor-to-consumer conversations which the SEC has designated as problematic. Honestly, though, Elon’s tweets are a signifier of the types of conversations that major corporations the world over are now incorporating to drive the marketplace. To stifle such a notable corporate user of Twitter is to suppress a shift to more fluid, open, public approach to communications.

Musk’s Tweets Translate into a Kind of Everyman Communication

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”
— Mark Twain

Wall Street Journal conducted an analysis of Musk’s tweets from 2018 and prior, and although that exposé predated the SEC debacle, it does offer us some fascinating good insights into Musk’s tweets. His ubiquitous presence in social media everyday life has largely been about persuading an audience to drink the Tesla Kool-Aid. That should not have come as a surprise to anyone, including the SEC.

However, he does so in a way that is highly atypical of large corporate CEOs — he replies a great deal of the time to fellow Tweeters. He is not only disseminating a message. There is clearly mutual reciprocity in this communication — a genuine back and forth. Many consumer ideas are incorporated into the products, and it appears Musk intends to engage shareholder ideas in a similar way.

Elon's tweets

Graphic via WSJ

It gets even more interesting.

Elon’s replies are not exclusively for big-named individuals with gigantic numbers of followers. Rather, they tend to be directed more to people who have fewer than 500 followers than those who have over 2000 followers. That makes Elon Musk a kind of Everyman — in a sense, he is just another social media user who shares experiences, interpretations, and perspectives.

Musk validates participants who use social media — people aiming to generate ideas about society’s sustainability problems and solutions, people aiming to improve Tesla’s products, and people simply looking for some connection with one of the most influential people in society, someone who inspires them. His insistence on behaving as an Everyman rather than an uberman gives others the confidence to aspire to the same level of success, realizing that he is just human as they are.

Social co-production, in which humans produce something together despite being miles apart, is the foundation of social media. The SEC agreement alienates communicative co-production across classes and geography.

Elon's tweets

Because Musk’s Twitter tone is casual, he seems more approachable and real than other corporate CEOs. As early as 2006, Henry Jenkins coined the term “participatory culture” to describe US teens who were becoming media creators. Web 2.0, as it has also been called, transformed information dissemination and formalized digital technologies’ role in social persuasion. It designates the involvement of users, audiences, consumers, and fans in the creation of culture and content.

Elon Musk’s tweets have become more than a give-and-take with followers and even contain the occasional self-deprecating humor. Indeed, Jenkins‘ description of participatory culture as having “relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices” is a keen explanation of Musk’s relationship to his Twitter followers. He is the experienced techno-geek participant who is sharing his physics background and sustainability vision to individuals who, in turn, decide if and what type of buy-in — whether financial or philosophical — they will offer.

Wired correlated Musk’s Twitter activity and Tesla’s tumultuous stock price, highlighting the moments where the market’s evaluation of the company’s worth rose or fell based on the CEO’s posts. Is this fraud or finesse? A dialectic or disingenuous digital marketing?

Elon's tweets

Elon's tweets

Final Thoughts

“Advertising is the art of convincing people to
spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.”
— Will Rogers

Elon Musk’s tweets as effective climate change infotainment and for-profit argumentation should be distinguished from out-and-out overt attempts to unfairly manipulate the capitalist system.

Musk is an object lesson for the rest of us about the profit and persuasion inherent within social media. As he is unlike corporate CEOs in many other ways, Elon’s tweets, too, are uniquely Elon. While most CEOs have an invisible infrastructure that designs media messages as carefully controlled speech, Musk is authentic, unpredictable, and representative of our society today. It is one of the things his followers absolutely love about him and Tesla.

Social media offers a melting pot communicative exchange, a disregard for traditional media measures, and an opportunity to make transparent participatory culture’s influence on social norms and markets. Let’s let Elon be Elon, shall we? We’ll benefit in the long run from his art and spontaneity.

Elon's tweets

Tesla Model 3 YouTube Teaches EV Gear Shifting

[Note: This post was originally featured on EVObsession.]

Image via Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

If you own an electric vehicle (EV) or have driven one frequently enough to be familiar with its basic functioning, then you don’t need to view this Tesla YouTube video, titled, “Model 3 Guide | Gear Selection.” Then again, you’re not the audience that Tesla intended for this video. It’s a virtual opportunity to learn how to shift a Model 3 for someone who has had little to no exposure to an EV.

The Model 3 is the closest Tesla equivalent at this time to the original Volkswagen Beetle (i.e., “the People’s Car”). People in the middle to upper middle class segment of the population who depend on vehicle reliability for commuting must feel like they understand an EV’s basic functions if they are to make a purchase. This Model 3 Guide to gears is a step toward creating that space of Model 3 consumer comfort.

EVs are becoming more common on our streets and in our neighborhoods. Most people understand that battery electric cars run entirely on battery power, produce zero tailpipe emissions, and are recharged from an electrical outlet. And while questions about range, charging options, torque, regenerative braking, one-pedal driving, silent motors, and battery life will become part of the EV learning curve, actually being able to get in the EV and shift it into gear is the first step. That’s where the Tesla YouTube video “Model 3 Guide | Gear Selection” comes in.

The Tesla Model 3 caught the imaginations of the public when it was first shown on March 31, 2016, and it has been commonly referred to as the car that could take electric vehicles mainstream. Starting at $35,000, it could be considered analogous to the Model T that came off Henry Ford’s mass production line — a people’s EV.

Model 3 Guide | Gear Selection: Engaging 4 Gears

With Tesla Model 3 sales dwarfing sales of competing small and mid-sized luxury cars, it is evident that more and more potential car buyers are looking closely at the most affordable car in the Tesla catalog. With what the company describes as “the car of the future—with 310 mile range, 0-60 mph acceleration in 3.5 seconds, and our most refined design and engineering ever,” the Model 3 is truly a very appealing vehicle.

The “Model 3 Guide | Gear Selection” YouTube video functions as a simple training guide for new EV drivers, specifically those who are interested in purchasing a Tesla Model 3. As a new Model 3 owner sits behind the steering wheel, the first impression is likely to be one of absence — there is no instrument panel, speedometer, tachometer, odometer, or fuel gauge. A streamlined dashboard sets off and points the driver to a 15-inch touchscreen display that sits in the center dash.

Yet, as drivers settle into the interior of a Model 3 for the first time, they will notice that the gear shifter is in the same place as it would be in an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. Unlike the gear shifter between the seats on a Chevrolet Bolt EV, the gear shifter of a Model 3 is on the steering wheel.

The scenes in the The “Model 3 Guide | Gear Selection” video capture, in step-by-step sequence, how to engage different gears for everyday driving.

Push to Reverse

A white Tesla Model 3 is parallel parked between two red Teslas with a tropical condo complex in the  background. Shot from the back seat, we see the enormous touchscreen to the right of the driver with the “P” or park symbol featured in the touchscreen’s upper left quadrant. The driver in long-sleeved blue shirt reaches to the shift stick, which is located on the right steering wheel section, and lifts up. The Model 3 touchscreen changes to “R,” and the driver — whom we can now see is a female — inches the car backward to the furthest possible place in the parking space.

Push down to Drive

The driver reaches again to the shifter, curls her hand around it, and pushes downward. She grabs the steering wheel and pulls it left in an assertive tug. The car glides forward, and the shot that returns to the touchscreen signifies that the driving gear is titled “1.” The white Model 3 curls around the Tesla ahead of it on the street and enters into the traffic lane.

Push in to Park

In an out-of-sequence shot, the Model 3 is stopped. The driver reaches to the shift stick, gently touches and pushes in the button at the end of the shift stick, and the car quiets into park mode.

Hold down 1–2 Seconds for Neutral

The driver removes her hand from the steering wheel. She holds and pushes down on the shift stick. Voila! The touchscreen changes to “P” in the upper left corner, and the car is safely stopped back in its parking place.

Final Thoughts

As ICE vehicle manufacturers, the fossil fuel industry, and governments around the globe are awakening to the power and possibility of vehicle electrification, Tesla has expanded its luxury car catalog to include the smaller, less expensive Model 3. The new option has created a relatively affordable electric car, the Model 3, that hundreds of thousands of people are lining up to buy. It has a much wider target audience than Tesla’s previous Models S and X. Tesla’s ability now to produce the Model 3 at a rate during the week of August 24, 2018, according to the Bloomberg Model 3 Tracker, of over 6000 units per week speaks to the company’s positioning in the EV field well ahead of other auto manufacturers.

The Model 3 guide offers a segue to potential buyers who want to join into the world of EVs and the more refined subgroup of Tesla owners. It explicitly contradicts naysayers who drone on with bad information about “how difficult electric vehicles are to use.” The YouTube video complements a series of other Tesla-produced YouTube videos, and this series orients potential and new Model 3 buyers to the small but important features that distinguish this Tesla EV from a traditional ICE vehicle.

With this new audience of EV owners, the social transportation transition to electrification has overcome another hurdle. No, the ICE isn’t quite obsolete yet, but its years of dominance on the world’s streets and highways are numbered, and the Tesla Model 3 is a significant step toward that goal.

Effective Climate Change Messaging: A Media Lit Primer

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

As climate change advocates, we know how important it is to connect with our audiences through effective messaging. Training and technical assistance for environmental decision-makers is typical, but many of these leaders crave communications management. They understand communication challenges and recognize the importance of the “mindset” in framing our climate change communications.

But what are the best approaches to designing constructive, persuasive messages about climate change? What works to convince resistant audiences? What do deliberate climate change communications look like? These are important questions that need answers, because by understanding climate interpretation, we can change the national discourse — especially from the media — and focus on meaningful solutions that bring divergent groups together toward collaborative solutions to climate change.

climate change communications

Climate Change Communications Must Target Mental & Cultural Models

Jennifer West, coastal training program coordinator at the Narragansett Bay Estuarine Research Reserve, spoke at the Land & Water Conservation Summit at the University of Rhode Island campus in Kingston on March 10, 2018. She started out by outlining what climate change advocates need to know prior to composing climate change communications.

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What does your audience know and think?
  • What would you like your audience to know, think, and do?

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How Media Literacy Can Help Us to Confront Fake News

As I collaborate with an excellent executive board for the upcoming 2018 Northeast Regional Media Literacy Conference, I can’t help but to engage in conversations around the important issue of fake news in today’s world. We’ve heard that fake news has been around for generations as a way to persuade citizens to believe and act in particular ways that support political agendas. I prefer to call this “disinformation,” and media literacy advocates and practitioners may never had a more powerful role in society than to help people who are admittedly confused about media messages to learn how to assess disinformation personally and practically.

Disinformation is sometimes considered part of a spectrum, with misinformation to the left and propaganda to the right. Regardless of degree, citizens’ ability to form evidence-based assessments of important social-based issues may be diluted through constant repetition of opinions that are presented as facts. Many of us are quite concerned about the vulnerability of democratic societies to disinformation and the normative effect disinformation may have on people everywhere.

Moreover, because social media platforms are a primary medium through which young people develop their political identities, disinformation distributed online with the intention of misleading voters or simply earning a profit has serious consequences for the future of informed citizenries everywhere. Young people absolutely need tools to help them navigate social media and to help them to assess what they hear and see around them as they’re growing up.


What can media literacy advocates and practitioners do to help others to be discerning consumers of media messages? Media literacy advocates and practitioners can…

  • Promote political news and information from reputable outlets;
  • Explicitly define elements of our global “post-truth” era, in which organizations provoke certain feelings, sensations, or reactions for a particular and sometimes disingenuous motive;
  • Unpack how persuasive techniques like celebrity impersonation, polarization, conspiracy theories, and trolling are used to mislead people;
  • Empower consumers to know when to trust content and at what point to be confident to share with others on social media platforms;
  • Bring together conservatives and progressives with the common goal to discuss disinformation in politics;
  • Develop multidisciplinary community-wide shared resources for investigating the presence and dissemination of media disinformation;
  • Provide opportunities for individuals to create or analyze their own “fake news,” a process which demystifies media messaging (like this free Dutch online game or a crowdsourced online site like Mind over Media);
  • Expose how social media tools amplify certain hashtags or messages to influence what’s trending, called computational propaganda;
  • Advocate for social media firms to design for democracy; and — most importantly —
  • Encourage people to vote.

It is imperative that media literacy advocates and practitioners help citizens to apply a critical eye to the information they consume. No, there’s no absolute solution to our current climate of disinformation. But we can increase social resistance against fake news as one step toward that goal.

If you’d like more information about offering a presentation at the 2018 Northeast Regional Media Literacy Conference, check out this Call for Presenters.

fake news

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Digital Media Literacy Opportunities Galore!

[Note: This post was originally featured on the Media Education Lab]

 The Consequences of Attending the URI Summer Institute in Digital Literacy

I peered across the dim expanse of the art space, AS220 as I participated in “speed dating.” In a whirlwind I met librarian, Brooke; media consultant, Jen; and English educator, Erica. We formed dyads, shared lots of laughter, and together experienced the first weeklong URI Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. Brooke and I collaborated on a Storify called “Upstanders, Arise!” that helped students to advocate against bullying, and I later incorporated the composition into a Sports and Popular Culture curriculum unit I had designed in my position as a secondary English teacher.

Could that fabulous Summer Institute really have happened five years ago? Padlet, Socratic, Kahoot!, Edmondo, and Animoto were the Cool Tools that year, but curricular cohesion and literacy learning were just beginning to merge with digital education then. So it was in that latter direction I ran, and so many proverbial doors opened for me as a result of the conceptual framework I obtained from participating in the 2013 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy.

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“I’d Like to Drive a Hybrid Car” Hyundai Commercial Debunks Stereotypes

[Note: This post was originally featured on Gas2]

Hybrid cars should have much higher sales in the U.S. They’re a compromise between the conscious knowledge that fossil fuel engines hurt the environment and the subconscious stress produced by range anxiety. So, why aren’t more people buying hybrid cars?

Maybe it’s because of misinformation campaigns from fossil fuel-funded news outlets like Breitbart, which states that, “Apart from being poky and tinny and smug and expensive and utterly useless for long distances, electric cars are also terrible for health and the environment.”


Whew! There is so much research out there to contradict these Breitbart fallacies. Here are some stories that demonstrate how foolish the Breitbart claims are. (Hang your cursor over the explanations.)

The popularity of hybrids is growing annually, and they have the potential to unseat gasoline as the fuel for our cars, which scares the bejesus out of oil companies.

Yet, let’s acknowledge a fact about consumerism: people tend to buy items that are highly marketed. Since U.S. automakers have devoted nearly nothing to advertise any type of electric vehicle, their appeal remains relatively low in the U.S.

That is, until now. The folks over at Hyundai have a new commercial out on the television airwaves right now that pitches the 2017 Ioniq, a hybrid vehicle. The commercial is an overt attempt to debunk stereotypes of a hybrid driver. Instead of hiding behind research data, Hyundai has created a marketing message that explicitly addresses the average U.S. person’s concerns about driving a hybrid car. It’s funny, self-deprecating, and very effective.

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Misinformation Site, Breitbart Offers Nod to Tesla’s Elon Musk; What Purposes Do Musk’s Tweets Serve?

[Note: This post was originally featured on Teslarati]

Breitbart News Network featured a story recently on its website called “Elon Musk’s Tesla Stock Up $2 Billion Since Joining Trump’s Team.” The story argues that, as a result of recent Tesla stock increases, Musk owes allegiance to Donald Trump. Attention from the far-right Breitbart website, which is the most viewed U.S. conservative news, opinion, and commentary source in the U.S., comes at a time in which Elon Musk’s reputation has been questioned by his once-loyal following.


Why is the Breitbart story such bad timing for Musk?

Breitbart is known as the most significant misinformation site on the Internet. Privileging one set of representations over another, discourses like those typical within the Breitbart publication tend to claim the status of truth. Their discourses, which work as truth statements, make it difficult for many readers to identify how reality is shaped. Breitbart’s executive chairman, Steve Bannon, aligned the site so specifically toward a Trump vision of the world during the 2016 Presidential election that employees began to raise concerns about it being little more than a “fan club” for Trump.

Moreover, the right-wing outlet has been accused by some as being a hate site.  Breitbart engages in coordinated plans to bring their particular brand of intolerance to the political realm in because their style of propaganda works well. Linked to relations of power, the Breitbart stories tend to be constructed and reinforced by those in professional positions like Bannon who hold a particular authority and, thus, create knowledge about certain subjects like climate change, health care, and trade.

In the article about Elon Musk this week, Breitbart referred to individuals who seek equality for all as “the left’s social justice warriors” and described Twitter reactions to Musk’s collaboration with Trump as “vicious colorful language that cannot be reported.” The implication here is that Musk followers are immoral, disreputable people whose language is so coarse that it is would clearly offend the enlightened Breitbart readership.

Yes, this was a week in which the Tesla Motors, Inc. CEO found himself defending his position on Trump’s executive order that limits immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Musk has become a target of malaise due to his role on Trump’s manufacturing council. Disgruntled fans tweeted about how Musk could design a Mars mission but fail to retract a “BS Muslim ban;” what ownership of the competitor’s Chevy Volt would be like; and, his position on AG Sally Yates’ dismissal over the immigration issue. Some tweets, on the other hand, also supported Musk and implored him “to make a positive impact.”

Breitbart recounted that Musk’s attendance on “an official White House committee” (i.e. the Strategic and Policy Forum) on January 27 generated controversy. Breitbart characterized the comments as “mournful,” which cast Musk as leader of a losing battle to limit anthropogenic climate change through decentralized energy, especially the remarkable Tesla electric vehicle line. Breitbart noted Musk’s reply,  which included, “It’s getting me down. I’m just trying to make a positive contribution & hope good comes of it.” Interestingly, the publication allowed Musk’s empathy and altruism to shine through the otherwise negative narrative.

Breitbart also added in the article that, “when it comes to U.S. employment and manufacturing, Musk’s companies are near or at the top as the fastest-growing players.” It seems clear from this statement that the Trump administration recognizes the power that Elon Musk has to create U.S. jobs and further the country’s emergence from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Breitbart’s care in recognizing Musk’s wherewithal suggests that the Trump administration is looking down the GNP road and wants to keep Musk close by, regardless of Musk’s opposite political beliefs and progressive values, just in case.

Musk’s use of Twitter to inform, educate, and empower

Twitter can be a site where democracy, messy as it can be, is at its best. Twitter’s multiple viewpoints allow for rich, if sometimes uncomfortable discourse. Musk understands this and engages in conversations with the public as a means of communication, education, and empowerment. For example, he wanted his followers to be intimately knowledgeable with the immigration order and to let him know “specific amendments,” which he would then bring to the advisory council to seek “consensus & present to President” Trump.

Indeed, Musk asked his followers to read “the source material” of the immigration ban; it is a way to infuse voices of reason and expertise rather than emotion and hyperbole into the conversation. That request, in turn, fostered a conversation about the importance of reading original documents and reports, rather than relying on tertiary sources for deconstruction and explanation. It was a lesson that many could have learned during the 2016 Presidential campaign, which was rife with fake news.

Rather than the “Trump / Musk charm offensive” that Breitbart suggests is the reason for Tesla’s rising stock prices, perhaps we should look to the Trump effect as just one of multiple reasons why Tesla is on the rise. The acquisition of Solar/City, the announcement of solar roof tiles, the 2017 production of the new Model 3, production at the Nevada Gigafactory, SpaceX series of successes… the list of recent accomplishments is quite long. Investors like to back a winner, and, even if Musk must hold his nose as he negotiates with Donald Trump and his advisers, the value of Tesla will continue to be robust.

It’s just not the White House that so many of us, Musk included, envisioned just a few months ago. And Breitbart’s entry to the field is scary enough for many of us to take notice. Be strong, Elon; you’re going to need tenacity to stay a step ahead. We know you’ll probably have to step up more than you originally anticipated when you agreed to serve. Thanks for taking on this huge responsibility on behalf of U.S. progressives.

Photo credit: Goat4421 via / CC BY-SA


Branding Opportunities around the Holidays: Tesla and Radio Flyer

A child looks up wide-eyed as the holiday tree twinkles. “Ooh! A Tesla! My own Tesla!” she cries out, a smile spread wide across her face.

It’s a scene that’s been played out, in one form or another, for generations. This year’s holiday dream-come-true is the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car. In another generation long ago, it was the No. 4 Liberty Coaster — the first in the long line of historic Radio Flyer wagons to come from an immigrant named Antonio Pasin.

There’s another immigrant whose skills, like Pasin, brought him to the United States. Elon Musk, too, sought the refuge of new beginnings. After being bullied as a school child in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk attended college in Canada before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S. Musk has been the driving force behind Tesla Motors, Inc., one of the most innovative technology companies of the 21st century, and has revolutionized how we think about transportation.


With a keen business sense, Musk knows that Tesla should be looking to the next generation of U.S. citizens in the same ways that other companies seek out branding opportunities. Branding, which is the marketing practice of creating a recognizable name that holds deeper symbolic meaning, identifies and differentiates a product from others in its line. And branding has the capacity to instill positive images of Tesla for generations to come through a sense of nostalgia.

Enter the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car.

Robert Pasin, a grandson of founder Antonio Pasin, is “chief wagon officer” for Radio Flyer and has run the company since 1997. He spoke about the connection between certain classic or nostalgic items from our childhoods and their associated branding. “People love them,” he admitted readily, while also acknowledging that a company is “always going to be innovating.” The idea of Tesla in the Radio Flyer business family also helped to solve some of the electric generating problems that the company had encountered.

“When we started looking at the category of battery-operated ride-ons, one of the main pain points consumers would talk about is whenever the kid wanted to ride the car, the battery was dead. Our team thought they could solve it with a lithium-ion battery, but it’s really expensive. So if we were going to do lithium-ion, we should partner with Tesla, because they have the hottest, coolest electric car on the planet. We pitched it to Tesla about three years ago.”

According to Tesla, “Every Tesla Model S for Kids is a battery powered ride on that comes equipped with high-end features to recreate the ultimate Tesla experience.” Like the Radio Flyer brand itself, the Tesla for Kids car has the potential to become an American icon.

For 98 years, Radio Flyer toys have sent children on countless voyages of fantasy. With beauty, simplicity, and standards of safety, Radio Flyer toys have encouraged adventure and discovery; they’ve helped to capture the wonders of youth. In the same way that the Radio Flyer is rediscovered with each new generation, so, too, can the Tesla become part of a nostalgia of the timeless symbol of childhood freedom.

Moreover, Tesla will be adding credibility from a parent’s point of view with the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car. Just like the full size Tesla, parents can choose the paint color, performance, accessories, and personalization. Pasin says of their pitch to Tesla, “They didn’t bat an eye at Radio Flyer, but it did take awhile to sign the deal and convince (Tesla) it was a good thing to do.”

Pasin thinks his grandfather would like the Tesla within their product line. “One of his nicknames was ‘Little Ford,’” Pasin remembers. “The idea was he did for wagons what Ford did for cars. He was really interested in the latest and greatest products; he was not a nostalgic person at all. Partnering with Tesla, he would have thought was just awesome.”

And so will lots of children this holiday season when they discover a Tesla under the tree.

[A different version of this article appeared on Teslarati.]

Photo credit: Tesla