Half-truths, Lies & Climate Change
It is no secret that there is much misinformation bandied about regarding climate change and the related subject of green energy. Half-truths and lies are spread by advocates on both sides of the debate, most often via the Internet. Recently, climate alarmists trumpeted a report claiming that 23% of the world's energy was now being supplied by renewable sources, clearly an attempt to bolster the claims of the wind and solar industry. At the same time, a report appeared that powering a car via electricity is 10 times less efficient than via fossil fuel. These are only two of the bogus, misleading reports to surface recently, promoted by both warmists and skeptics. Sadly, the public is caught in the middle without the scientific or technical background to judge the truth of such pronouncements.
The 23% clean energy meme was picked up from a number of sources and widely circulated. The initial source was a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report, the “2012 Renewable Energy Data Book.” The report has a plethora of graphs and tables; the 23% number was cherry-picked off of page 41. The implication of this is that clean energy can do it, we can power the world on renewables! Of course that isn't exactly the case. You see the biggest part of that 23% belongs to hydro power—in the US more than half of it. On a global basis hydro's share is not as great but the difference is made up by biomass, in many poor countries the burning of wood and dung.
This is an example of a common occurrence in all fields related to environmental or green causes—a willingness to mislead the public by overstating or taking figures out of context. Note that hydro power is not considered all that green by many conservationists. A dam destroys habitat, both up stream and downstream of the structure. It can disrupt fish migration, alter water tables, cause landslides and even earthquakes. In some countries there is a trend toward decommissioning and tearing down old hydro plants that have been in service for many years.
I'm not saying that hydro is bad, certainly not as bad as its detractors, but that no source of electricity comes without an ecological cost. It has been widely documented how wind farms slaughter birds and bats. More recently, revelations of fiery aerial immolation of birds at industrial solar plants have caused a public backlash.
“Birds [are] bursting into flames, having their feathers singed, by the intense heat generated at that solar plant,” Garrison Frost of Audubon California is reported to have claimed regarding the BrightSource Energy plant. Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair. Ah, that clean solar power.
But deception is not limited to the pro climate calamity side. Sometimes those on the skeptical side stretch the boundaries of truth a bit. For instance, consider the illustration below. The implication is clear: despite having a Cap & Trade carbon tax, California is beset with drought and high temperatures; conversely, the mid-west, where fracking abounds, has been having wetter than normal weather.
The trouble is, California having a carbon tax has no impact on climate and it can certainly not be linked to current drought conditions vexing the state. Likewise, the fact that states like Montana and North Dakota are increasing natural gas production using fracking has nothing to do with wetter than normal conditions in the mid-west. In short, the image is misleading. I am willing to pass it off as someone expressing the irony of the situation, not a causal relationship, but not everyone will take it that way. But such charity is not always possible.
Writing on a website that pushes stock investments, a former investment analyst and amateur science writer recently penned an incredibly misleading article titled “Is There Really a Future for Electric Cars?” In it, Andreas Spiro askes “It's time to settle the issue: are electric cars more efficient than gasoline powered cars?” What follows is an exercise in specious argumentation done either out of happy ignorance or intentional malice. Here is a quote from the article:
When considering this question, there are several key factors to take into account. First, there is the fact that you typically lose 90% of the energy when converting fossil fuel, in whatever form, to electricity. This means that powering a car by electricity produced by fossil fuel is about 10 times less efficient than powering a car directly by fossil fuel, all other things being equal.
This is a total red herring that establishes the mindset for the rest of the article. Compared to gasoline vehicles, electric vehicles generally show significant reductions in overall well-wheel global carbon emissions due to carbon intensive production in mining, pumping, refining, transportation and the efficiencies obtained with gasoline. The author does not concentrate on emissions and even admits farther on in the article that electrics have an efficiency edge where the wheels meet the road:
So while converting fossil fuel to electricity is 10 times less efficient than using fossil fuel directly, all other things being equal, the efficiency of an electric engine over internal combustion may yet compensate for that.
It is well established that the efficiency of electric motors is far superior to internal combustion engines in the engineering and scientific sense. Numbers vary but the US Department of Energy states: “Electric vehicles convert about 59–62% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels—conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 17–21% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels.”
Mr. Spiro goes on to add more sources of inefficiency in the use of electrics, totally ignoring similar factors regarding the production of fossil fuels. It is like gas and diesel fuel miraculously spring into existence at the pump, ready for use. He finishes with some specious calculations that show the total cost of converting energy to electricity reverses any electric advantage. He claims that 82% of US electrical generation is fossil fuel based. While this is accurate enough, 49% comes from coal and 20% from natural gas, two fuels that are not widely used in powering automobiles or trucks. Another 19.4% comes from nuclear, and 9.4% from renewables. In other words, 97.8% of the power generated in the US is not from gasoline or diesel fuel, rendering Mr. Spiro's comparison moot—he is comparing apples to oranges.
What this boils down to is that an electric car can be powered by any source of electricity: coal, natural gas, geothermal, hydro, wind, solar and even nuclear. The biggest draws back to electric cars are energy storage density and recharge time. If a battery can be invented that will give an electric car a 500 km range and a 10 minute recharge time electrics will be competitive with fossil fuel powered cars in performance. Then it will come down to price. You would think that Spiro would trust the market in such matters.
At this point you might ask, what does this have to do with climate change? The answer is practically nothing. Hating the idea of electric cars seems to be part of the bundle of beliefs that comes with climate change denial. Notice I said “denial” and not skepticism. The sad fact is that a large number of people reject human caused climate change for political or philosophical reasons. This is just as wrong headed as the eco-religious belief in impending climate disaster found among the climate alarmist faithful. Belief plays no part in science or at least it's not supposed to. Moreover, not only is the 10x argument bogus, it is off topic—a distraction from the real issues. It is the equivalent of vegetarians climbing on the climate change bandwagon.
The public is about evenly split on the subject of climate change and there is a lot at stake. A new Rasmussen poll tells us, when it comes to the causes of global warming, voters are now evenly split: 42 percent think it is caused primarily by long-term planetary trends, while 41 percent now blame human activity. This is the first time the number citing planetary trends has surpassed those blaming human activity since April 2012. But the difference is only one point and hearts & minds are in the balance on climate change, as are trillions in tax money around the world.
The bottom line on this, and the reason for this column, is that there are lies and half-truths coming from both sides in the AGW debate. Many are off topic, meaningless arguments issued by people with agendas of their own. The Internet is rife with this intellectual garbage, particularly Twitter, the most fertile ground for stupidity ever invented. The examples above all came from Twitter, and had all been re-tweeted numerous times. Evidently, no one stopped to consider if the statements were true. Naturally, people on the opposing side of the arguments fell upon these factual faux pas with glee.
The fight against bogus climate science is not enhanced by bogus arguments. Indeed, when someone makes a false argument against anthropogenic global warming, the case against AGW is weakened by association. If you do not have the scientific or technical wherewithal to judge the veracity of a claim do not repeat it! You will only make yourself and the rest of us look like idiots and buffoons. There are plenty of erroneous arguments being made by the climate alarmists to pick on and solid facts to refute them with, we do not need the help of bullshit artists, even the well intentioned ones. Skeptics should fight the good fight, with facts and reason, and leave the lies to the climate alarmists.
Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical