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Anti-wind or Anti-science?

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An article in the Guardian newspaper about a strategy memo from an anti-wind effort has sparked a flurry of responses and excited umbrage. It should—not just for what it says about tactics to discredit wind, but for what it suggests about where some people see science fitting in.

Disinformation = disservice

Some of what the memo lays out is consistent with smart campaign strategizing. And who can argue with moving to “encourage critical thinking from members and the public” or to “develop a list of experts for testimony to government agencies, etc”?

But other aspects should give readers pause about the intentions and modus operandi of the proponents of these types of efforts, or even what the memo means by the phrases above. Some choice morsels from the menu of goals, strategies, and tactics:

“Setup [sic] a dummy business that will go into communities considering wind development, proposing to build 400 foot billboards.”

One commenter has already pointed out the unfortunate reference to billboards, in the wake of last week’s tragicomical Heartland Institute billboard fiasco.

Photo by Wes Gibson (iStockphoto)

But it’s the “dummy business” stuff that gets my goat.  It’s way too consistent with the documented strategy and long history of anti-climate science folks funding organizations to sow confusion. UCS documented ExxonMobil’s efforts along those lines several years ago—in that case, pointing out how they had created “a vast ‘echo chamber’ that repeats the same disinformation about global warming but gives the appearance of widespread debate among experts.”  Many of the organizations mentioned in the recent memo as having “substantial commonality” with the proposed effort were ones named in the UCS report, or their intellectual heirs.  And more recent indications show that those of their ilk haven’t given up.

“Cause the targeted audience to change its opinion and action based on the messages.”

What got me about that piece was the last part.  I would think all of us should want any mind-changing to be based on free will plus an understanding of costs and benefits, of causes and consequences, of options and impacts.  To depend on an understanding of the science, not on the catchiness of the phraseology that Madison Avenue or pollsters cook up.

“Public opinion must begin to change in what should appear as a ‘groundswell’ among grass roots.”

Appear as a ‘groundswell’ ”? Shouldn’t successful grassroots movements actually be groundswells? “Appear” can mean different things, but in light of other pieces of the memo and tactics employed against renewable energy and climate science, this suggests the goal is a plausible parade of Potemkin people instead of genuine public reaction (see astroturf).

Which brings us back to the first phrases I mentioned.  What do all these pieces say about the truthiness that should underpin the critical thinking the memo professes to want to encourage, or the nature of the “experts” that this effort would have proposed to engage?

Science rules

The most (unintentionally) ironic piece of the memo may be the suggestion to “Provide alternative solutions for public consumption.” They’re talking about messages, but the phrase fits the energy context to a T.  Because that’s what renewable energy is about—meeting our electricity needs (public consumption) in a way that’s different from fossil fuels or nuclear power (alternative solutions). Different because those energy sources give us options that don’t alter our climate, and don’t pollute the water we depend on or the air we breathe. Different because renewables make use of resources that are inexhaustible or grow back. Different because of the control they give us over our energy destiny.

No technology—wind included—should be up on a high pedestal, unassailable by facts or logic.  Rational people can and do disagree about what should matter when it comes to our energy choices, about how to value the trade-offs.  But those discussions can and should be grounded in an understanding of the facts as best as they can be determined, not in some fantasy constructed by over-zealous opponents or proponents.

As the UCS website says,

Our energy choices have direct impacts on our health, environment, and economy. No energy technology is perfect, but science helps us assess the options and make smarter decisions.

Science rules… or should.

 

Posted in: Energy, Global Warming, Scientific Integrity, Uncategorized

About the author: John Rogers is a senior energy analyst with expertise in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and policies. He co-manages the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative (EW3) at UCS that looks at water demands of energy production in the context of climate change. He holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and a bachelor's degree from Princeton University. See John's full bio.

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  • Steven Steakley

    Having just returned from my first trip to Spain–I was impressed by the number of wind generators and solar arrays. The wind generation comprises 15% of their power output. They are not a blight and certainly seem to be the wave of the future. It was nice to see a country pay attention to their environment and infrastructure..

    • http://www.ucsusa.org/news/experts/john-rogers.html John Rogers

      Thank you very much for that comment, Steven. Beauty, being in the eye of the beholder, is one piece of the debate that is outside the realm of science. But I certainly agree with your impression of wind turbines. And you don’t have to go all the way to Spain to see them; wind development is happening all across this country, too.

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