It is much easier to stress the unreliability of RE if you ignore the fact that wind and sun were never meant for baseload energy production, and that hydro, biomass, geothermal, etc. are continuous, storable and in fact easier to turn up/off than nuclear.


Steve Clemens

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
It is much easier to stress the unreliability of RE if you ignore the fact that wind and sun were never meant for baseload energy production, and that hydro, biomass, geothermal, etc. are continuous, storable and in fact easier to turn up/off than nuclear.
or how to inform people away from sustainable

Steve Clemens, Prof. Environmental Education at UBI, Brussels

While attending outer-worldly conference sessions for nuclear energy at this year’s PowerGen Europe 08 in Milan, I was struck with the logic being demonstrated by the panellists: ‘Information should form the basis of decision-making, not st**id people’. That last part was only said out loud. And when I saw that the print documentation was of the same vein, I thought there are a few lessons to be drawn... 

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If you want to inform people away from sustainable energy and business, feel free to use the following tactics 

  • Say that RE is wind and sun only, so you can demonstrate that RE is unreliable.  It is much easier to stress the unreliability of RE if you ignore the fact that wind and sun were never meant for baseload energy production, and that hydro, biomass, geothermal, etc. are continuous, storable and in fact easier to turn up/off than nuclear. If people think that RE = wind & sun only, you can scare people into thinking: no wind = lights out

  • Lobby governments to provide huge subsidies for one type of (inefficient) RE, like photovoltaics solar, which gets up to €500/MWh in many countries compared to a meager €30/MWh for biomass. If such excessive subsidies are adopted, you can claim that "RE is 10 times more expensive than fossil fuels."

  • Show that RE is insignificant in energy production by splitting RE into smaller units.  When showing a pie-chart you want big chunks for reliable power like coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, biomass, etc, and small chunks for the insignificant solar and wind. Many people will not add hydro and biomass to its rightful category of RE, thus RE remains marginal.

  • Use old date to show RE insignificance  
    When wind energy is growing by 50% per year it is better to take data from a few years back, so the pie-charts show the familiar dominance of coal, oil & gas. Never put up data for consecutive years as wind energy’s impressive growth would be harder to hide.

  • Choose unlikely scenarios when studying the need for RE.  When you compare national energy production portfolios, choose sensible multi-fuel-mix scenarios for the fossil scenario, and choose e.g. only PV and insulation for the RE scenario. The result will be a sensible fossil option and a very expensive RE option.

  • Sponsor conflicting or denialist information.  Ok, it is too late to credibly sponsor outright denial of climate change, like Exxon did with The Heartland Institute or Competitive Enterprise Institute.  But maybe you can fund research which will cast doubt on the scope and speed of climate change, like:
    • research that says there is a 2000-year cycle of climate change and we’re  300 years late on the heating-up period.
      Meaning: climate change is  natural, no reason to do anything about it.
    • research that says the polar ice is melting slower than predicted. Meaning: scientists don’t know what they’re saying anyway.
    • research that translates climate change into the loss of habitat of ice  bears.  
       Meaning: forget the multitude of global issues, the sweet & cuddly ice  bears are important, and we can save them at low cost (put in zoo)
    • research that says while arctic ice is thinning, antarctic ice is growing. 
       Meaning: environmentalists are lying.

  • Radicalize (ridicule) environmentalists. 
    If environmentalists are understood to be stupid, life-denying morons, people will give less credence to their information and suggestions, like 
    • Belgian Electrabel promoting efficiency on tv ads by showing non-showering geeks and air-guitar playing losers in the dark. Normal people  should not reduce energy use, merely measuring is enough.
    • more subtle Shell, in its tv ad showing its sustainable pipeline dig through the Snowdonia Natural Park, portraying a bunch of daft looking cows at the exact moment the voice-over says ‘some people would protest at the idea of destroying such natural beauty’.
  • Translate the problem from enviro crisis to energy crisis, like Shell and Chevron, in which selling more oil, gas, coal and nuclear are actually seen as a solution.

  • Fund the reporting of, with abundant pictures, how biofuels create famine and destroy local communities in third world countries, while oil-coal-gas-uranium extraction does not promote corruption, dictatorships, local unemployment, local environmental degradation, guerrilla wars and humanitarian disasters (like Sudanese Darfur today).

  • Concentrate all focus on local emissions, like hydrogen emitting only water as exhaust. Steer well away from the question how hydrogen is produced, maybe by blaming government for lack of vision and leadership, for not subsidising hydrogen production more, for not building hydrogen filling-stations, etc.

  • Scare people by reinforcing the dichotomy between environmental quality and well-being, like ‘do you want a healthy environment for some tribes in South-America or do you want to have a job?

  • Glorify jobs that are linked to fossil-fuel ways as traditional and valuable, like healthy coal mine workers (possibly whistling to work in Snowwhite-dwarfs-fashion), decent blue-collar auto workers. Even more powerful effects can be achieved by associating these trusty-old-world jobs with positive society values like feminism and diversity (women and african-americans as coalmine workers).

  • Make a link between destructive activities and inspirational ideology, like in a CCS promoter’s ads: ‘I believe in America, I believe in human ingenuity, I believe in clean coal’ (ACCCE)

  • Invent Monty Python-like stories about RE actually creating more pollution
    • wind turbines need to be transported by road to their wind farm, whereas coal plants and their massive continuous streams of coal are produced on-site, reducing transport pollution...
    • they had to build a new coal plant to be a backup to a wind farm in case there was no wind, so the wind turbine actually causes pollution
    • the stroboscopic light reflection can cause epileptic seizures in livestock and even people. Wind energy is harmful.
    • Wind turbines are very ugly, they visually pollute the skyline. If you are into mindgames, you might exaggerate the irony by choosing an ugly person as your spokesperson, and make such announcements in the vicinity of transmission lines & towers

  • Calculate energy payback for wind and solar PV.  
    Most people do not realize it takes a few years for PV to produce the energy that went into its manufacturing, i.e. its energy payback time. For wind it is a few months, so stick to PV. For coal, oil, gas and nuclear the energy payback is indefinite, into eternity, as fuel has to be bought continuously.

  • Copiously apply neologisms like clean coal, zero exhaust cars, safe nuclear, dolphin-friendly tuna, butterfly-friendly insecticides, recyclable paint, etc. Also,be liberal with the meaning of terms such as renewable, environmentally-safe, environment-friendly, carbon-neutral, zero-carbon, sustainable.

  • Adapt your vocabulary to generalize away from harm: say waste break-down when in fact you mean waste incineration, or say lighter emissions when you’re spewing helium. Moreover, stay as vague as possible in claims; recyclable instead of recycled, mostly recycled carton instead of 25% recycled.

  • Avoid using terms that paint a destructive picture, like that Hong Kong lawyer at PowerGen Europe ‘08 who had just listed an impressive number of countries planning to build more nuclear power capability (appropriately, North-Korea and Iran were not listed), summarizing it thus: ‘As you can see, nuclear power plants will be mushrooming all over the world soon.’ 
    Alternatively, the above example showcases excellent use of the ‘me too’ principle. 
    Everybody is building nuclear power plants so it can’t be bad. France is, so is Israel, Finland, etc. What, are you chicken?

  • Try to benefit from local situations: are you reducing activities at the Reading plant due to a drop in demand for their products? You are reducing emissions!

  • Invent a measure where your product is very performant, even if irrelevant, like radium-free paints, dolphin-friendly crabmeat, CFC-free heating, corn-free unleaded petrol, child-friendly SUV’s, GM-free car tyres, ethically sourced land-mines, mercury-free vaccines, Bisphenol-A-free baby formula, caffeine-free bottled water, Aspartame-free Coke, neurotoxins-free meals, acesulfame-K-free aspartame, etc. 
    Or even stronger: make unlikely connections like ‘this car is a vegetarian’ or ‘this coal was grown sustainably’, ‘this is organic paint’ (with plenty of Volatile Organic Compounds)

  • Invent some easy environmental standard, including eco-badge or award, and then boast about how many of your products meet & exceed it, hide how many of your products do not meet the (fake) standard. e.g.  
    • GM’s Chevrolet proudly states to have seven models with fuel economy of  30mpg (economy?), but sadly they have 51 models which do not. 
    • Renault car ads that term as ECO2 any Renault car emitting below  140g/km. Of course, almost all of them turn out to be ECO2.

  • Showcase not your current or past products, but some ideal future prototype, which will typically have very eco-friendly characteristics, like GM’s Volt or the coal industry’s CCS.

  • Lobbying costs are in the people’s interests: they’re not to hide from regulations, defend against impeding environmental restrictions, lobbying is not focussed on introducing loopholes or otherwise destroy environmental protective policy, but rather an attempt at providing information to the political community (GM)

  • Concentrate attention on parts of your activities which are not destructive to the environment, like ExxonMobil advertising a massive amount of pages and tv airtime talking about its polymer film which helps Lithium-Ion batteries, which can be used for EV’s. What proportion of their +$400B revenues come from that film-producing activity? It is probably less than the dollars they spent on advertising/boasting about it.

  • Graphical liberty. Depict flowers spouting out of oil refinery (Shell), casually use icons of planets, trees, dolphins, polar bears, pandas’, etc in documents. People know that they don’t mean anything but they still get influenced by them, on some (subliminal) level. And you certainly did not claim that your paint can safely be eaten by polar bears, so you’re not liable.

  • Show people fishing or hiking in pristine nature while you talk about your (nature-destroying) business. This will not only proove beneficial to your image, but people will develop a liking to fishing and hiking, for which they will have to travel further, earning you kudos from oil and car companies too.

  • Find categories in which your product excells, where your product turns out to be the best performing ‘in its class’, like ethical jewellery from Sierra Leone (blood-diamond-country) or accident-free-record 3rd generation nuclear technology (none are operational yet).

  • Create extensive FAQ sections with smart leading. Provide only ridiculous RE questions, and all sensible questions have only pro-fossil answers, like:
    • Q. Can wind turbines really produce energy even when there is no wind?
      A. No it cannot. If we overly rely on wind energy and there is no wind, the  lights will go out.  Environmentalists don’t seem to understand basic  physics.
    • Q. What source of energy won’t terrorize my wallet? 
      A. Coal. Coal is so cheap and abundant, in some cases it can be picked up from the floor, and there are reserves for centuries to come. Coal is nothing more than biomass that has been stored for a very long time.

  • Compare your harmful practices with seemingly harmless activities so yours come over as equally harmless or benign, like
    • living near a coal power plant is as healthy as smoking only 10 cigarettes  a day 
    • living nearby a nuclear power plant gives you the same chances of  contracting cancer than daily & excessive use of peanut butter 
    • our emissions are cleaner than your barbeque smoke 
    • this food additive is only half as toxic as your average insect repellent

  • Security of supply is more important than national security (for the moment). 
    Ignore the vulnerability to terrorism of nuclear proliferation, in favour of the independence it provides from oil-producing regimes (after you’ve also ignored the dependence of nuclear power on uranium-producing countries...

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