Al Jazeera Criticizes Oklahoma Companies for Investing in Kids

by Aaron Johnson, Vice President of Public Affairs on September 25, 2017 - 12:04pm

AJ+ media teamed up with the Center for Public Integrity for a video targeting the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board’s (OERB) campaign to teach school kids about how oil and natural gas are produced. The misleading story suggests educational materials from OERB are unacceptable and crowd out education on climate change. Yet the story actually backfires by showing just how much the industry supports teachers and kids at a time of otherwise constrained school budgets.

AJ+ media is the latest spinoff of Al Jazeera, the news network funded by the government of Qatar. Oil and natural gas make up 70% of total government revenue in the Middle Eastern nation, making it a competitor of producers in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the United States. Based in San Francisco, AJ+ pushes a progressive agenda with videos covering issues like climate change, the Paris Accord and wage equality for millennials.

OERB’s core mission is cleaning up orphaned wells in Oklahoma. Funded by contributions from oil and natural gas producers and royalty owners, OERB also educates the public about oil and natural gas in the state. The video series Labtime with Leo that’s criticized in the AJ+ video is designed to walk students through oil and natural gas production, and features products kids use daily that are derived from petrochemicals.

Look beyond the condescending tone, flippant statements, and oversimplified analysis, the central premise of AJ+’s story is that curriculum on the oil and natural gas industry somehow dwarfs the vast amount of classroom material on climate change available from other sources. The video claims that informing kids about the raw materials that go into computer tablets, clothing, medicine, and toothbrushes is not neutral but politically polarizing.

The story laments that instruction on global warming is left behind. Of course, AJ+ fails to mention the vast resources available through other private organizations and government agencies. For example, teachers and school administrators looking to cover renewable energy can find ample material through the U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory  and National Energy Education Development, and groups like the National Center for Science Education push for more climate change education. Just because one organization, OERB, chooses to focus on the energy sources that meet the majority of America’s energy demands doesn’t mean teachers are prevented from teaching on those other topics.

AJ+ media also criticizes the oil and natural gas industry of misleading the public on climate change, but conveniently overlooks the fact that increased use of natural gas in electricity generation is the number one reason the United States has reduced greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country. Facts that don’t fit AJ+’s progressive agenda are summarily assumed to be wrong, with the featured speaker laughably asserting well-known facts are wrong without any support for her denial.

In its attempt to take down industry, AJ+ actually highlights some very positive contributions from industry. For instance, the story states that Labtime videos have been used by 11,000 teachers, which shows the popularity of the series. AJ+ mentions the tremendous economic contributions from industry in Oklahoma, including $5 billion in employee wages and $10 billion in direct economic activity and untold indirect economic impact annually. Only someone with an anti-capitalist bias would find something wrong with an industry providing huge economic benefits to a state like Oklahoma.

AJ+ tries to blame the oil and natural gas industry for the state’s $30 million shortfall in education funding last year, but conveniently omits the fact that industry provides $330 million, nearly one-tenth of the education budget, from severance taxes alone. In addition, industry has contributed $40 million in Oklahoma over the past 20 years on school supplies, after-school programs, and other educational resources. AJ+ finds this fact dreadful, yet features a teacher extoling the value of school supplies provided by OERB.

Anybody with kids in school or related to a teacher knows how grateful educators are for support they get from the community—a point completely lost on AJ+. What these teachers don’t need is judgement from people in San Francisco or a Qatari media outlet interested in suppressing American energy production. After all, it doesn’t take much imagination to guess why Qatar would try to sow doubt about its American competitors.

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