In today’s post, I’m going to discuss three articles on renewables by representatives of three green factions:
(1) Hansen’s comparison of belief in renewables to belief in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy and his comparison of such policies to forcing his grandchildren to drink kool-aid. Hansen placed part of the “intellectual” blame for widespread belief in such policies on Amory Lovins, a prominent American environmentalist who was the first proponent of soft renewables as a large footprint energy solution. It appears to me that there appears to be a direct lineage from Lovins’ fantasies criticized by Hansen to the IPCC Greenpeace scenario in the recent WG3 report on renewables.
(3) a self-serving editorial by WG3 chairman Ottmar Edenhofer in an IPCC trade journal (Nature), purporting tp defending their report on renewables, but, if anything, further demonstrating IPCC’s failure to address criticism.
Hansen on the Easter Bunny
Hansen likened the belief in renewables as a large footprint solution to climate and energy policy as akin to believing in the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy:
Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.
Hansen went on to criticize policies that are based on belief in soft renewables as “being worse than useless”, equating such polices to “drinking the kool-aid”. Green kool-aid, I guess. “Drinking the kool-aid” is a perhaps generational metaphor based on the mass homicide of cult followers and children at Jonestown (mentioned at CA here) that caused a sensation when Hansen and I were younger. Hansen:
Indeed, it [reliance on soft renewables] is much less than worthless. If you drink the kool-aid represented in the right part of Fig. 7 [Amory Lovins' soft renewables fantasy], you are a big part of the problem. The problem is that, by drinking the kool-aid, you are also pouring it down the throats of my dear grandchildren and yours. The tragedy in doing so is much greater than that of Jim Jones’ gullible followers, who forced their children to drink his kool-aid. All life will bear the consequences.
Although I haven’t used the technical terms Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy to describe policies on renewables at Climate Audit, I’ve used these terms from time to time in conversations with friends. (I was actually a little surprised that I hadn’t used these terms here.) However, in one of the few CA posts on policy here, I used a related metaphor: if climate is a “big” problem, then it seemed to me that the green prescription of soft renewables was comparable to prescribing laetrile for cancer (again, perhaps a generational metaphor: laetrile was a quack remedy that was notorious about 25 years ago.)
Surely one of the nettles that has to be grasped by the environmental movement in the U.S. and Europe is confronting the fact that prescribing feel-good remedies like wind power and tree-planting carbon credits as a solution for present energy and climate problems is no better than prescribing Laetrile for cancer. (They may not do any actual harm, but, to the extent that people are tricked into thinking that they might be a solution, they do do harm.)
Hansen’s sensible criticism of renewable fantasies is marred by self-indulgent baby pictures of his grandchildren. Scientists in their 30s don’t introduce their scientific lectures with baby pictures. Nor should grandfathers in their 1960s. On the latter, I speak as a grandfather of similar age as Hansen, who also dotes on grandchildren of almost precisely the same age. Indeed, I’ve even accompanied my grandchildren to important recent documentaries – who says that investigative journalism is dead – on topics directly addressed in Hansen’s article: on the Easter Bunny (Hop! starring Russell Brand here) and The Tooth Fairy (with Duane The Rock Johnson). Both are arguably as realistic as Amory Lovins’ projections that Hansen criticized or Ottmar Edenhofer’s WG3 reporting of their Greenpeace descendant.
Hansen places some of the “intellectual” blame for present-day belief in Easter Bunny policies on Amory Lovins, one of the most influential prophets of soft renewables.
Amory Lovins is the most popular person that I know and has received uncountable awards.
Hansen compared Lovins’ predictions from the 1970s for 2000-2025 to actual statistics, observing that, contrary to Lovins’ predictions, “soft renewables are still nearly invisible after 30 years”. Lovins’ popularity does not arise from the acumen of his forecasts.
Amory Lovins has not been previously discussed at this blog. He is almost exactly the same age as me (six days apart). It also turns out that we were both at Oxford in 1970-71. In 1971, Lovins joined Friends of the Earth, described here as the most radical of the major green organizations, originally as their UK representative, then returning to the US. Friends of the Earth had originated a couple of years earlier (in 1969) in San Francisco. Oddly, the institution giving rise to the original kool-aid metaphor (Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple) was also prominent in San Francisco’s hippy world of the 1970s.
Lovins’ “soft energy path” for the US (see left below) was articulated in a Foreign Affairs article in 1976. On the right on approximately the same scale is a corresponding graph derived from IPCC’s Greenpeace scenario for OECD North America (USA and Canada). The major features – other than the calendar years – are, in climate science terminology, “remarkably similar”.
Both Friends of the Earth in the 1970s and Greenpeace in 2011 project a dramatic ascendancy of soft renewables to provide almost 100% of U.S. energy in about 40-50 years.
Left – from Lovins 1976. Right – drawn from data in Greenpeace 2011.
As Hansen observed, 2011 has now arrived. Hansen compared Lovins’ predictions with reality, noting the obvious: soft renewables remain invisible on the energy horizon. Nearly all of the present-day green footprint results from “traditional” renewables: hydro and waste biomass. Curiously the Greenpeace scenario substantially retains Lovins’ original schedule for the phasing out of coal power, with most of the decrease taking place between 2010 and 2025 and large bites being taken by 2015.
Trainer’s Criticism of IPCC and its Greenpeace Scenario
As CA readers are aware, in June, I sharply criticized IPCC’s failure to fulfil the public’s expectation that it would assess the various scenarios of future energy supply collated in its Special Report on Renewables and, in particular, its unwise declaration that the “right enabling public policies” could achieve an Amory Lovins future:
Close to 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies a new report shows.
See here and here. This criticism has attracted favorable coverage from (on the surface) unlikely quarters e.g. Mark Lynas and Oliver Morton of the Economist. Judy Curry has recently drawn attention to an article by Ted Trainer, a radical environmentalist, that also criticized IPCC’s renewable reports (pdf).
Although Trainer’s radical environmentalism seems to anticipate a society based on Pol Pot-type ruralism, Trainer’s criticisms of Edenhofer’s WG3 are pretty similar to mine – that, above all, they failed to assess the scenarios, including the Greenpeace scenario, and by failing to assess the scenarios, they miserably failed in their duty to the public. In my original post on the topic, I had said:
The public and policy-makers are starving for independent and authoritative analysis of precisely how much weight can be placed on renewables in the energy future.
Trainer’s criticism is almost identical:
The IPCC does not evaluate these studies; we do not know how valid their conclusions are.
In the key Chapter 10 most attention is given to one study which concludes that by 2050 70% of world energy could come from renewables. This study, by Greenpeace, is highly challengeable. It does not establish its claims, and it fails to discuss a number of problems confronting renewable energy.
The document is puzzling. It does not do what it should have done, and is being taken to have done, i.e., critically examine as much of the evidence as possible on the potential and limits of renewable energy in order to derive demonstrably convincing conclusions which deal thoroughly with all the relevant difficulties. It does not advance the issue; it just summarises what some others have said, without assessing the validity of what they have said. Most difficult to understand is why it gives so much attention to one clearly problematic study, and allows its highly optimistic conclusions to be taken as those the IPCC has come to. It is likely that as the Report is examined it will damage the credibility of the IPCC.
All of which is pretty much along the lines of my CA posts. Trailer did not cite the Climate Audit series but referred to an edited reprint by Financial Post of my original post as follows:
As the title of Macintyre’s brief critical response says, the IPCC has in effect chosen simply to sing the song written by Greenpeace. (“Junk Science Week: The IPCC’s Greenpeace Karaoke”, Special to Financial Post June 16, 2011.)
Ottmar and the Green Kool-aid
In Hansen’s editorial, he observed:
Many well-meaning people proceed under the illusion that ‘soft’ renewable energies will replace fossil fuels if the government tries harder and provides more subsidies.
One of the reasons is, of course, statements like the following from IPCC WG3 (which Hansen conspicuously did not criticize):
The “illusion” that Hansen criticized so sharply was a central conclusion of the IPCC WG3 report. No wonder “well meaning” people succumb to the illusion. Although Hansen did not directly criticize IPCC WG3, it has been criticized at Climate Audit and elsewhere and, in a recent editorial in Nature (see here), Ottmar Edenhofer, Chairman of IPCC WG3, responded. (Also see Shub Niggurath’s commentary at Anthony’s here.) Edenhofer’s editorial conceded nothing, instead engaging in the hairsplitting, Gavinesque misdirection and wordsmithing that seems to be second nature in the climate “community”.
For example, my original criticism was that IPCC had not supported their claim that, borrowing Hansen’s words, “‘soft’ renewable energies will replace fossil fuels if the government tries harder and provides more subsidies.” Instead of confronting the actual criticism, Edenhofer (aided by his refusal to cite actual critics) twisted the criticism into whether IPCC had “endorsed” an 80% deployment rate, a claim that Edenhofer indignantly “rebutted”:
it was suggested that the IPCC endorses an 80% deployment rate of renewables — allegedly following a scenario carried out by Greenpeace.
Edenhofer then denied that IPCC had “endorsed” any deployment level:
the IPCC does not endorse a specific deployment level of renewables ….Neither the SPM nor the press release endorses any single scenario.
And rather than repeat the actual lead quoted above, a lead that obviously contributed to “well-meaning people” succumbing to the illusion criticized by Hansen that “‘soft’ renewable energies will replace fossil fuels if the government tries harder and provides more subsidies”, Edenhofer attempted to camouflage the untrue lead as follows:
Even though the press release starts with a statement about the upper end scenario of renewables deployment that could be achieved, it also puts the 80% figure into perspective:
Edenhofer’s attempted camouflage was a “trick” (TM – climate science.) The press release did not actually start with a “statement about the upper end scenario of renewables deployment that could be achieved” (as can be seen by examining the actual quotation). The opening lead had no such caveats. It was a categorical statement fostering the illusion criticized by Hansen: that the new IPCC report “shows” that 80% of all energy requirements could be met by renewables “if backed by the right enabling public policies”.
Edenhofer then went on with a legalistic defence that Greenpeace employee Sven Teske did not violate IPCC policies by participating either in the assessment of his own work or in the selection of the Greenpeace scenario as one of four lead scenarios highlighted in the key chapter 10 – completely tone deaf to why the public expects something better.
Edenhofer defended IPCC’s reporting of the Easter Bunny scenario on the basis that it had been published in the “peer reviewed” literature, but did not address criticisms of the failure of IPCC to assess the merit of the apparent fable.
Edenhofer at least avoided arguing, as some Greenpeace defenders had, that the Greenpeace scenario was not the most extreme, since the WWF’s scenario was the even more extreme claim that renewables could achieve 100% by 2050, not a trifling 80%. In the WG3 land of fables, I suppose that anything goes, but, to anyone outside the IPCC “community”, this seems a bit like defending belief in the Easter Bunny by arguing that some people believe in the even more improbable Tooth Fairy.
Hansen spent a little time in his article wondering why policy-makers pay homage to the scenarios that he characterized as Easter Bunny fables. Hansen appears to conclude that no policy maker could be so stupid as to actually believe such drivel and therefore is forced to postulate that they have ulterior and unscrupulous motives:
Because they [politicians] realize that renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future and they have no real plan.. They pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do in politics. They are reluctant to explain what is actually needed to phase out our need for fossil fuels.
I’m not sure why Hansen thinks that politicians are so much more insightful than IPCC WG3. It seems to me that many politicians have taken the soft renewables message at face value and have made investment decisions and policies in good faith on the basis that the soft renewables path is feasible.In Ontario, the government has made or encouraged large investments in soft renewables and, in my opinion, did so in good faith on advice from so-called specialists and scientists on the feasibility of soft renewables. Perhaps they should have seen through Amory Lovins and his descendants, and, like Hansen, realized that the soft renewables path advocated by Lovins, Greenpeace and IPCC was an Easter Bunny fable, a Tooth Fairy mirage.
But I don’t believe that they had any such realization. It’s too bad that Hansen didn’t speak out earlier.