Bullshit If you are sane and follow discussions around energy and climate policies, you have probably observed a troubling lack of epistemic virtues among many participants. This is probably caused by a toxic mixture of incompetence, ideological fundamentalism, social inertia, and greed. For future reference, here is a small list of dishonest tricks that I have encountered with some regularity. Focus is on those arguments that are used to counter the thinking of people like me. Namely people who are concerned of environment, climate change, social justice etc. while at the same conclude (based on pretty robust scientific research/analysis) that, for example, nuclear power will be a critical part of any attempt to address human needs while minimizing environmental damage. (I kind of suspect that writing stuff like this is not an optimal communications strategy with those who don’t get it, but I am doing it in any case. Lets take this as some kind of private therapy in an obscure corner of the internet…I am human as well and there is a limit on how much I can take.)

Is there some nonsense I have missed? I will update the list as new stupidities appear.

  1. Don’t do the actual comparison: This trick is very common. Claim that nuclear is very expensive or dangerous and suggest the opposite for your favored options without actually backing it up with anything else except rhetoric. tumblr_mgdfszcXfZ1qf1n0wo1_250This trick also appears in many “real” publications on mitigations scenarios. By simply excluding option with more nuclear power, you can proceed to suggest how it is not playing an important role in your scenarios. Leaving it out makes your life easier, since costs of your favored policy options can be conveniently hidden. This trick has also different shades of gray. Some people might allow the idea of nuclear power into their modelling, but then kill it by choosing appropriately crazy input paramaters (which they might fail to disclose clearly).
  2. Subtract subsidies from costs and then report the resulting number as a demonstration how cheap renewable energy sources are. Don’t ever highlight what you just did! This is so dishonest that I am always amazed that people still dare to use it. (Some examples here and here)
  3. Play fast and loose with discount rates: If you want to make stuff you don’t like appear more expensive, quietly use a higher discount rate for that. (Example here)
  4. Cherrypick: Pick the worst you can find for stuff you don’t like and best you can find for your favorites.  (For example, for wind use 40% capacity factors and 1000€/kW capital cost…)
  5. Draw the boundaries close: ignore system wide costs (extra capacity, grids etc.) Somebody else can pay those, no reason for you to internalize the external costs you cause. External costs are for others.
  6. Confuse costs, investments, profits etc. : If somebody says renewables are costly, counter this by saying investors find it very profitable. vladimir-putin-laughingIf the other side points out, that profits are due to subsidies and the transfer of risks to society at large, leave the scene quickly.
  7. If Wall Street bankers (Citi, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Lazard…) say something nice about renewables, treat this as especially credible message as opposed to usual nonsense riddled with conflicts of interest.
  8. Rely on gray literature: Reality has a clear pro-nuclear bias so instead of reading what actual experts say write your own stuff that says the opposite. Remember, actual education or training doesn’t matter. You become an expert by just repeating your opinion sufficiently many times on paper. In fact, if you disagree with conclusions experts draw, in just few minutes (without reading the paper) you can write a comment online that reveals the critical mistake some expert working on this for years apparently made. Then you can just move on as if nothing happened. Create a self-referential library of nonsense so that you can use the existence of previous nonsense to improve the “credibility” of your new reports.
  9. Call renewable industry lobby groups “independent research institutes”. (I have seen this happen. This sounds crazy, but is true.)
  10. Come up with fantastic external costs for stuff you don’t like: nuclear power externality of us consuming the uranium of future generations, GIF-disbelief-furrowed-brow-incredulous-Louie-CK-WTF-GIFmillions dying from radiation in a core melt reactor accident as opposed to none from Fukushima etc. etc. Here you can let your imagination fly! These are costs that nobody is “really” paying so how can you be called out for that? (If the scientific reports by eggheads don’t please you, balance those by quoting some random financial analyst in a TV program.  I kid you not. This is not Onion.)
  11. Ignore environmental and climate damage you cause: bioenergy..I am looking at you!
  12. Ignore the fact that your favored energy source was technically dependent on those dirty energy sources with high external costs.
  13. If current costs do not please you, come up with your own. If you wish to appear sophisticated, make an IAM (integrated assesment model) where future costs of stuff you like are really cheap and then use it to justify policies here and now. Nobody will be reading these things decades from now on…just do it! Of course if succesful it burdens the current generations with hidden costs, but do not ask what my favored energy source can do for you, but rather what you can do for my favored energy source!
  14. When called out for dishonesty and unable to defend, leave the scene. Lying_GIFRepeat the same claims elsewhere where hopefully audience is more gullible. Never learn and never acknowledge being wrong. That sends a wrong signal. 
  15. Doublespeak: appeal to populism, people, community, ordinary people, being against corporations, all the while promoting socially regressive income transfers for the wealthy.
  16. Climate change is a planetary emergency, we need to stop using fossil fuels. Nevertheless, cost your alternative by assuming small penetration of renewable energy sources. 
  17. Germany doesn’t pay subsidies for renewables (because there feed in tariffs are not included in the federal budget). There is no subsidy…rather “a surcharge in which energy consumers make a compulsory contribution towards transforming the energy system.” Again this is not from Onion, but from PV PR material from Fraunhofer institute in Germany.
  18. Science fiction: If your vision seems to make little sense based on technologies now available, come up with cheap future technologies that somebody else will invent to make it alright.
  19. Ignore tradeoffs: Society really can have no other use for resources except to satisfy your technology fetish.
  20. Move the goalposts so that energy revolution is just around the corner decade after decade after decade. This is really about commitment to faith and identity and not about what happens in the real world.
  21. Use popular or political will as an argument: Something must be done since politicians have set a “goal”. It is not that politicians could make dumb decisions or that people could be clueless or ill-informed.
  22. Ignore political risks: Of course your vision will not be undermined by let us say escalating costs undermining the political support. Politics is fixed and people do not adapt to changing circumstances.
  23. Call lower taxes for some uses of fossil fuels a subsidy even though fossil fuels in total are taxed heavily. Pretend that this is just the same as transfers to RES producers. tumblr_mhuxtaBFvE1rlpjl3o1_500Also, if state oil company effectively pays for lower oil prices for citizens in OPEC countries, this is clearly the same thing as citizens paying subsidies for RES producers in rich countries. Nuance is for losers! 
  24. Manufacture and cost your products relying on fossil fuel powered 24/7 power sources, but tell others this is not necessary. After all baseload is a myth!
  25. Focus on electricity! That is where your fetishes are and that is most important.
  26. In common sense economics prosperity is related to productivity. If little input (all inputs) is needed for a valuable output, productivity is high. lol_ricky_gervaisInstead of talking of this, talk beside the point. Focus on subsets…things like “energy productivity” and equate prosperity with those even if your policies lower the total productivity by requiring, for example, more labour, more materials, and reduced capacity utilization. Here is an earlier post (in finnish, sorry). Last column of the table gives primary energy produced (million kWh) per job for different energy sources. (For PV and wind estimates are 0.6 and 2 respectively.)
  27. Ignore resource limitations of your favored technologies. Biosphere is there for the taking, carbage has loads of useful energy, mineral requirements for solar and wind are irrelevant. Mining is damaging only when others are doing it.
  28. Claim somebody (small village or tropical island will do) is producing with XXX% of their energy with variable RES even though the region has precisely no one whose consumption pattern would fit the production pattern of variable RES (..and ignore the difference between energy and electricity, see point 25).waitwhat Argument clearly becomes invalid when applied to other energy sources. For example, city of Loviisa in Finland with two nuclear power plants produced more than 3000% of “its energy” with nuclear power. Comment like this is SO inappropriate trolling.
  29. Base your energy visions fundamentally on burning biomass, but in public talk mainly about solar and wind. They don’t feel quite so paleolithic.
  30. There is no reason to decarbonize right now with existing technologies since Elon Musk is building a battery gigafactory, Lockheed Martin soon has fusion reactors ready, solar electricity will soon be free, solar power in Sahara etc. etc. ad nauseam…and we cannot stay below 2 degrees warming in any case.
  31. If the energy vision of your own organization tells that bioenergy is not climate neutral and currently forests are used at unsustainable rates, don’t let it stop you from promoting substantially more biomass burning as a tool to combat climate change. (This is what, for example, Greenpeace Finland is doing.)
  32. Compare UK strike price for Hinkley point nuclear power plant with expected feed in tariffs for solar in Germany and claim this demonstrates how costly nuclear is. (Ignore the fact that strike prices for renewables were in fact higher and that rate of photovoltaics installations has collapsed in Germany with the reduced FiTs and that we are dealing with different countries.)
  33. Claim wind and solar reduce the wholesale prices of electricity so much that country actually saves more money than what it pays in subsidies.
  34. “Renewable energy and energy efficiency are the most efficient way to reduce emissions…”. If somebody points out to historical records that demonstrates this is not true,
    tumblr_m57t1xMTJn1rnvlqyrepeat “Renewable energy and energy efficiency are the most efficient way to reduce emissions…” LOUDER! “Renewable energy and energy efficiency are the most efficient way to reduce emissions…”. In fact, you should just ignore the history of human development. From now on everything is different and no useful insights can be gained from studying history. Other than corporate conspiracy there are no real reasons why we have the energy infrastructure we have.
  35. Something amazing will happen when solar power reaches “grid parity”. If somebody suggests that gas, coal, nuclear, biomass, hydro, wind… have all reached “grid parity” long time ago, just ignore. This is clearly irrelevant to the upcoming revolution. So is the absence of affordable storage and the dependence of PV owners on the usual grid electricity most of the year.
  36. Production from variable renewables looks kind of steady…when you average it over a week (… or a month).
  37. Nuclear power is unreliable too since its fuel must be changed.
  38. Talk of exponential reductions in RES prices and exponential increases in installation rates even when this is not true. To support this narrative, be silent whenever the data points fail to fit the storyline. (Facts to be ignored: wind power today costs about the same as 10 years ago and installations have been around 40GW globally since 2008. Exponential growth would have implied about 600GW capacity today when the real one is about 370GW.)
  39. Talk about installed capacity and not about actual generation. This trick allows you to make something with small capacity factor appear larger. (We can produce all the power for humanity with renewables in very short order. Build few of these and use explosives produced “renewably”. The trick is to make power last more than few microseconds.)
  40. Ignore lifetime difference between different technologies. You care about the future generations so it makes perfect sense to build infrastructure for your generation only. Lifetimes will affect economics as well as required installation rates if we are to reach some desired cumulative capacity. You can only lose if you try to be honest here since 60 year design lifetime of a nuclear power plant will always beat the lifetime of generators exposed to elements.
  41. “Too Cheap to Meter” – the phrase beloved by commentators for whom the present upfront cost of nuclear capacity is not excuse enough to reject it: they gleefully parade this apparent past claim by “the industry” as indicative of its inherent unviability. The underlying drivers of cost escalation have been described by actual experts, but it must be pointed out that “It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy electrical energy in their homes too cheap to meter”, uttered by Lewis Strauss in the 50s, referred to the potential of nuclear fusion, not the fission which is commonly derided.The ultimate irony is the regular claims by some commentators who believe current wind and solar technology are more than sufficient to enable a wide transition to clean energy systems barely stop short of asserting that the “free fuel” for these generators will make conventional metered, grid-supplied power redundant. (I thank actinideage for bringing this to my attention.
  42. Opposing argument is invalid because energy policy is about values and should therefore be decided by pop philosophers and bishops.
  43. MindBlownRES subsidies are not regressive income transfers, since all consumers pay them, electricity consumption can be reduced with efficient gadgets, and municipalities can hire poor people consultants to help them reduce their energy consumption. (This one again from Fraunhofer p25.)
  44. If somebody expresses concern, that single minded focus on climate change ignores and sometimes makes worse other environmental problems, attack them as bad human beings. At the same time cheer mitigation options with obviously disasterous environmental consequences. (Example from Joe Romm,an attack and confirmation that Franzen kind of had a point)
  45. Renewable energy surcharge (in Germany) is not really caused by renewable energy.
  46. Something is clearly realistic in a small country since much larger country has done it. Here is an example from Australia “The wind turbine installations will need to remain at 2,600 MW a year for the coming 15 years. This is equal to the development in the German wind power market between 1999 and 2014, a country smaller in area than New South Wales.” This was from a report lobbying for renewables by Sven Teske et al. (Teske has been writing these for Greenpeace as well.) Since New South Wales has less than 10th the population of Germany, might there not be other relevant constraints?
  47. Following Carbon Tracker, if wind and solar do not appear to be cheap enough today compared to fossil fuels, just change or “update” the assumptions for fossil fuel generators. Reduce load factors…presumably because China has built plenty of power plants in the assumption of rapid demand growth and these power plants are not fully utilized…yet. This is supposed to tell you something relevant in other countries as well. Also shorten the plant lifetime dramatically since emissions must be reduced. Do not acknowledge that large capital investments and well working generators make it hard to reduce emission and until now emissions reductions have never been a priority. Let me guess, in 2025 with emissions reductions nowhere to be seen, Carbon Tracker reduces coal plant lifetime to 10 years to get an even higher cost?
  48. Rooftop PV is free since “The cost of these systems is absorbed by the building owners, and does not directly affect calculated electricity costs under this model. “ Blakers et al.
  49. “Have you encountered ”survival of civilization hangs in the balance but you need to build them on time and budget” argument yet?”: @DeepShort7. This is a funny argument and used mainly by people who are instinctively anti-nuclear, but sufficiently clever to be embarrased by most anti-nuclear nonsense. This argument is only used for nuclear and not for the stuff they like. Doing otherwise would be immoral since “survival of the civilization…”
  50. Climate change requires urgent now! Discussion of energy policies beyond 4 year time span is a distraction. This absurdity seems to be recent arrival. Short termism is an ethical option since need for strong climate policies protecting future generations is urgent.

I think I will stop here for now. The list is getting longer than I thought. Sorry, for the misleading title.