Clean Energy Advocate Gives a “How to” Clinic on Rebutting Fossil Energy Disinformation

Thu, 2011-05-26 11:48Mike Casey
Mike Casey's picture

Clean Energy Advocate Gives a “How to” Clinic on Rebutting Fossil Energy Disinformation

Cross posted from The Great Energy Challenge

Anaheim, CA – Over the past few months, I’ve made the case that the dirty energy lobby plays a full contact game against clean energy, using lobbying and disinformation as business weapons to drive the idea that clean energy is “expensive, unreliable and not ready.” Cleantech, I’ve said, needs to step up its advocacy game dramatically, including driving an honest debate about who is really “expensive.”

At the WINDPOWER International trade show this week, I spoke on a panel that fielded a number of questions about how to do that. It’s hard to find a better place to start than by highlighting the clinic put on by Kate Gordon of the Center for American Progress at a recent “debate” that was hosted by the fossil energy-funded front group, the Cato Institute.

Gordon faced off against a rising star in the dirty energy experts-for-rent stable, Andrew Morris, whose disinformation platform is the Koch-funded (and Koch-founded) “Mercatus Center.”

Gordon faced Morris on his home turf, a forum completely stacked against her and the clean energy side. Cato named the debate, “The false promise of green energy,” (I’m not making this up) and it was moderated by anti-cleantech Cato Institute “Senior Fellow” Jerry Taylor (typical quote: “if wind energy were a sensible economic investment, it would not need the lavish federal and state subsidies already in place”).

There’s got to be an operations manual used by fossil fuel front groups to do this sort of thing: function like a propaganda machine while sporting a neutral-sounding name. Position yourself as intellectually honest people who just happen to come down on the side of the dirty energy interests that fund you. Invite clean energy advocate who can be counted on to bring a bunch of numbers, armload of facts and a strong belief in intellectual honesty and a reasonableness. Frame the conversation against clean energy advocate, put in well-trained mouthpiece, and rout clean energy advocate. Claim victory and spread around the proof point.

Except, it was Gordon who did the routing, putting on a clinic of not just how to stand up to dirty energy “experts,” but that you have to stand up to them in the first place.

Morris didn’t lose this debate because he proved to be some drooling idiot. He lost it because Gordon didn’t follow the dirty energy playbook by being fact-driven, tentative, strictly responsive, and trying to stay “above the fray.” Instead she framed a compelling vision, then smartly and effectively took Morris into the deep waters of government handouts to highly profitable fossil fuel corporations. Watching the video, you can see pretty quickly that Morris can’t swim in those waters with the anchor of reality around his neck because Gordon had placed it there. She didn’t rely on the idea that facts speak for themselves, because they rarely do. If they did, we’d already be on a clean energy footing in this country and Rex Tillerson would be applying for a summer internship at Planet Forward right about now.  

The “debate” started predictably, with Morris (of course) going first and laying out the familiar, disciplined propaganda lines against clean energy:

  • It needs “massive” federal subsidies; imposes large unfunded mandates on state and local governments; and drives policies that will “radically transform our economy.”
  • If cleantech innovation energy were so great, it wouldn’t need government spending money and issuing a lot of rules to force people to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.
  • What green energy proponents are actually proposing is to borrow money from our children and our grandchildren, then to take that money and turn it over to politically well-connected corporations like GE and ADM.
  • Wind and solar energy someday might provide significant energy, but they don’t now because they are expensive compared to alternatives, which is why they need subsidies, and they require unacceptable infringements on the rights of others.
  • We need to get government out of the business of picking winners and losers, because government always makes the wrong decisions when it comes to energy.

I don’t need to bore you with the rest, but you get the idea.

Gordon listened patiently, then used her turn to meet the cost argument head on, on her own terms. She did that by laying out the positive vision that is a key to cleantech’s strength:

  • Clean energy advocates see the opportunity for a larger economic transformation, leading towards a more efficient system in which energy costs actually end up lower than they currently are with fossil fuels.

But she then continued to drive an honest conversation about cost by rebutting Morris’s nonsense with these points:

  • Energy efficiency and clean energy are less expensive than fossil fuels, because dirty energy costs include pollution externalities, long-term impact on climate disruption.
  • The costs of fossil fuel externalities are real and they are enormous, on the order of $200-$500 billion a year in the United States due to dirty energy’s health impacts on air and water quality alone. If internalized, health costs alone would have coal costing 37 cents per KWh, compared to 5-11 cents per KWh for wind.
  • It is not now, and has not been for decades (if ever, a “level playing field” for green energy. To the contrary, fossil fuels are artificially cheap, the result of having been heavily subsidized for more than century. At the same time, there’s been no consistent policy or commitment to clean energy technologies.

You knew Morris had been bested because he faltered, then reverted back to his original lines. Despite the media training he has almost certainly gotten by dirty energy interests, there were no practiced responses, no new things to say.

But Gordon didn’t stop to admire her work. She continued to press her frame, by further presented the positive, compelling, exciting vision for the future energy economy that cleantech offers the country. That vision includes a more stable and more diversified energy system, part of a stronger and more equitable economy that doesn’t have “the poorest Americans … stuck with the dirtiest air and water.”  In addition, Gordon pointed out that clean energy will be a multi-trillion-dollar market by 2020, whether America plays or not. The investment dollars can come or stay here, or they can go to China.

Here’s what I think is valuable to the people I met at WINDPOWER. Ms. Gordon is a clean energy advocate from a non-profit platform. Her message, what she can say and her entire job focus are appreciably different than that of chief marketing officer or corporate communications vice president at a cleantech company. But the takeaway for private-sector, cleantech communicators is that the cost argument will be used against us unless we proactively and aggressively make it honest – both through a positive vision and not giving an inch in rebuttal. Most of all, Ms. Gordon showed up to do that (though I would have wanted a fairer setting for her), instead of ignoring the challenge or hoping dirty energy propaganda would go away. She didn’t wish it into irrelevance. She decisively defeated it.

Bravo, Kate Gordon.

Previous Comments

Good going Kate Gordon! I would like to see the video.

I notice that the CATO institute is another Libertarian think tank created by the Koch’s for the purpose of…themselves.

They whip up frenzy amongst the disenfranchised, the unemployed, the down trodden & make them believe their problems are all the fault of the government & if there were fewer rules & regulations….mainly for corporations….well fossil fuel corporations mainly, then everything would be better!

I’ve seen CATO appear on Fox regularly & it’s a real trend to have these right wing institutions have their say, when the wider public don’t know who they are. They just see this innocent enough & important sounding name & think these guys have an independent point of view. Here in Australia the “institute of public affairs” gets a regular say about things in the media….when in fact they are a right wing think tank & would would never say anything other than right wing talk points.

Cato to this day still represents & lobbies for the tobacco industry. For anyone who follows their tactics & other fossil fuel lobbyists, the tactics being used by denier lobbyists against AGW today are no different than the tactics they have been using for the smoking lobby for the past 40 years.

This sound familiar?

“The crusade against the tobacco industry began with a kernel of truth – that cigarettes are a high risk factor for lung cancer – that has exploded into a war driven by greed and bad science”

The parallels don’t even register with our Libertarian friends on this site. The dupe is complete. If these lobbyists were so successful in convincing the wider public that something so obvious like smoking was harmless for so many years, then no wonder they are having such success with their propaganda attacking AGW.

People are just all to easily conned by slick industry propaganda & marketing.

“scary foreign countries like China”…

“Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming,” by Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway provides an excellent introduction to the PR techniques used to undermine public support for science based public policies.

Frederick Seitz, former president of the NAS, has been at the forefront of the attacks on the EPA. He has worked behind the scenes for many years to weaken the agency and to undermine political support for laws to curb global warming. According to Oreskes and Conway, Seitz is an anti-Communist cold warrior who sees environmentalists as out to institute central planning and seize control of the government, a la Soviet Union. He has abused his status as a former president of NAS for years.

The building I work in has a windmill and a solar pannel.
They are new.
They both have life expectancies of 20 years.
The windmill will break even on its cost in 147 years.
The solar panel will breakeven in 567 years.

Neither will last more than 20 years.

SUCH a great way to despose pesky dollars that would otherwise be wasted on usless crap like salaries.

Go Green….

The people who run the building you work in should have installed the windmill and solar “pannel” OUTSIDE.

With faberge eggs for the motor gearing?

Solar will pay back in less than 7 years. Wind maybe as little as half that.

OR you’re just full of crap.

Hey, I’m being too closed-minded. It could be both.

“The building I work in has a windmill and a solar pannel.
They are new.
They both have life expectancies of 20 years.
The windmill will break even on its cost in 147 years.
The solar panel will breakeven in 567 years.”

What the? Who do you expect to believe that crap? I have solar panels on my house. I will break even on the cost in about 4 years.

Either you have been conned, or your maths is atrocious. Sounds like someone left their solar powered pocket calculator on the roof of your building.

Those are accurate numbers.
Wind and solar simpley are a waste of money.
Maybe in 20 years someone will develop equipment that is at least worth considering but for now they are nothing more than Green-wash.

On the upside. the windmill does not seem to be killing too many birds.

They are completely numbers. We’ll give you that.

But they are completely false representation of life.

Your statement is rather like:

You: I can run at 120mph!
World: Rubbish!
You: Those are completely accurate numbers!
World: Still bollocks.

Payback time is vastly lower unless as pointed out before:

a) you used diamond blades with gold plating
b) put them inside
c) have been using them to slice bread and stop the rain falling on your head

But you should be able to provide evidence of your “accurate numbers” by posting where this installation is, who installed it, what it cost and what you’re doing with it to get those numbers.

If windmills and solar panels magically pay for themselves as fast as you say, and then produce a profit – then why don’t you see them on every single bank, donut shop, and shoe store? Did we miss all those steel mills powered by solar panels?

The simple fact is, windmills and solar panels are the sack of magic beans environmentalists want to trade us for our family cow.

The data is in from many large public installations in Denmark, Germany, Scotland, and Spain: Windmills are an utter waste of money, and an incredibly ineffective way to produce energy. They turned out to be nothing more than a very, very expensive feelgood government boondoggle.


Simple fact is that the renewable infrastructure is better decentralised. This means that you can’t get any really big players who can exert monopoly rents (see another poster talking about “record profits” (in an economic downturn!) and think then of the “invisible hand” that is supposed to result in a product cost at the bare minimum profit level). This decentralisation and loss of market leverage is feared rightly by the current incubents who are desperate in their attempts to slam renewables with unfounded fear and unbalanced claims.

And the randian loyalists follow sheep-like in repeating the falsehoods.

The only way wind and solar pay for themselves in a fairly short amount of time is when there is a Feed-In-Tariff system in place. Like in Ontario Canada where they pay .45 cent per KWh for solar power and sell it to the public for .10 cents. That’s right, they buy it for .45 cents then sell it for 10 cents. This is considered green business.

Forewarned is forearmed. Cheers

“Like in Ontario Canada where they pay .45 cent per KWh for solar power and sell it to the public for .10 cents. That’s right, they buy it for .45 cents then sell it for 10 cents. This is considered green business. ”

Feed in tariffs are in most countries that are starting to adopt solar. You can only whinge about solar subsidies if you also take into account oil subsidies.

Im happy to remove the few million in solar subsidies if you are willing to remove the few billion in oil subsidies. Ween them both off the public purse & lets see who wins.

That just about sums up solar and wind.

I know a guy who spent gazillions of dollars on his new home so it could be off the grid. He has solar panels, wind turbines , geothermal and who knows what else. He has openly admitted that he will not live long enough to see any of it pay for itself, and the property is such a confusion of equipemnt and contraptions that when he sells it, it will sell at a huge loss. He says perhaps the next owner will benefit from all of the green crap on it, but not he. I’ll bet when the time comes to sell it, he dumps all of the ugly green crap and sells it for what it is really worth. Time will tell. Cheers

“I know a guy who spent gazillions of dollars on his new home so it could be off the grid. He has solar panels, wind turbines , geothermal and who knows what else”

Klem, you could have said solar & wind your fictional story might have been 1 believable, but geothermal?…yeah ok mate, nice try.

LOL….. No I am not going to tell you where I work.

I simply do not trust you.
I have seen how your guys try to destroy prople who dont buy your propaganda.

Nice try though.

The figures are total cost of installation devided by total yearly savings on Power costs.
Pretty simple and not my numbers. They were generated by the Energy department and put on placks in the energy efficiency demonstration center.
the Payback figure they publish is 20+ years because they are so embarrassed by the actual number.

Why so scared about saying where you work?

You know where Michael Mann works, right?

“The figures are total cost of installation devided by total yearly savings on Power costs.”

No, they’re completely made up costs divided by completely made up savings.

The nice thing about imaginary numbers is that you can make them say whatever you want.

Isn’t that right, denier?

And how can a 20+year lifetime projection change the time taken to payback the original outlay? Does the electric fairy turn up and change how much it cost only if you run your stuff for 20 years?

If so, how does the electric fairy travel back in time??!?!

Environmental extremists have a consistent track record of violence and intimidation.

Ok, that’s fair enough not wanting to provide your work address. Then can you supply evidence of another solar installation on a similar building or even a similar installation environment so we can examine the facts & not your opinion. Sorry, but we know deniers are not fond of facts, they live by opinion & hearsay.

Because really, that’s all we have to work with at the moment…your opinion. The facts don’t stack up to your statement. Please find a link from ANY solar site that will say payback in 567 years. You know you are lying & we are calling your bluff.

I’ve had a solar hot water unit put in & it will be paid off in another 4 years, 5 years total. I also had a 3Kw PV solution installed, which with subsidies, will be paid off in 5 years. Without subsidies, probably 8 years. Do you think I would purchase something that will not benefit me NOW or at least in my lifetime or my kids? I would be paying for something that probably wouldn’t exist in 100 years, let alone 567 years.

I could not imagine a business that would have PV installed with a 567 year payback period. Not only is it a lie, but its an unfathomable totally exaggerated lie.

Provide a shred of evidence.

LOL…. Nope…

the figures are accurate despite your disbelief.

I know you really really wish that Green crap actually worked but….. well sometimes reality bites…

You could easily prove those statements, but I am supposed to take it ON FAITH that they are true?

Is that how you define skepticism? It would explain a lot.

To be honest, I dont actually care.

People will do their own calculations when they consider Green-Washing their homes or offices and will find similar realities anyway.

I was simply reporting what our experience was.

You sure scream loudly about it.

Let me guess: you don’t care as long as you get your way.

“I was simply reporting what our experience was.”

Nope, you were simply saying what you want everyone to believe.

And take it on faith it’s your experience. Just like that person who reported seeing the face of jesus on a piece of toast.

Your story is not even as believable as that.

Actually, he’s not obligated to provide you with any evidence.

Enviro-kooks have continuously asserted that windmills and solar panels are an economically viable method producing energy.

Therefore, the burden of proof is on you. The burden does not lie with anyone else to *disprove* your claims.

Thus far, every real world example of large scale wind installations have shown them to be black hole for public subsidies.

If you have any evidence to contradict this, then now would be the time to present it. You won’t, of course.

Considering innovation of solar & wind energy have only taken off in the past decade or so & R&D grants the last couple of decades, as well as subsidies for only the past couple of years it’s doing good. In contrast to over 100 years of R&D for fossil fuels, 100 years of subsidies & continued billions of subsidies to this day that far outstrip clean energy subsidies & even after all this time, we actually pay more for our power now not less through fossil fuels, plus it’s a finite resource, with costs on the other side of the equation like waste & pollution that are not taken into account with it’s price.

You really didn’t think this through did you?

What “subsidies” does the oil and gas industry receive?

Last time we checked, that industry creates a net profit for the public treasury through corporate taxation, royalties, government leasing fees, and personal income tax paid by the hundreds of thousands of people employed directly and indirectly.

Are you seriously claiming the oil and gas industry operates at a net loss to taxpayers? What planet do you live on?!

And, no, you don’t pay more for your power now. Adjusted for inflation, and as a percentage of disposible income, you pay incredibly less than ever in recorded history.

Yes, oil and gas are “finite” – but then, so is everything in the universe. Is that supposed to be a reason not to use something? Your argument is quite weak. And even if oil and gas are “finite” – we currently have proven reserves to last a few hundred years.

And please tell us what the “cost of pollution” is, that’s not being taken into account? In practise, the “cost” (whatever you imagine it is) is actually quite negligible, or at least isn’t a sufficient deterent. Maybe that’s why it’s not “taken into account”, as you claim.

You really didn’t think this through did you?

1) Iraq War.
2) Iraq War 2.
3) WW1.
4) For the USA alone,:

Nuclear subsidies in the USA alone total over $7Bn.

LOL! No, you really did’t think this through.

“What “subsidies” does the oil and gas industry receive? ”

Glad you asked James, although you could have spent 30 seconds on google & stepped outside of your snow dome for a sec.

Also, who pays for the rail & ports that the various fossil fuel companies use?

“And please tell us what the “cost of pollution” is, that’s not being taken into account? In practise, the “cost” (whatever you imagine it is) is actually quite negligible,”

So the gulf oil spill was negligable? Thats just ONE.

Of course, to the AGW Denial Faithful, there’s no need for proof.

“Therefore, the burden of proof is on you.”

The proof is in the production of the renewable resource exploitation. Wind costs now the same per kWh as coal does (before CCS, which increases costs markedly) and the coal left is less effective and efficient, driving costs up. Oil and gas are much more expensive.

Meanwhile nuclear, despite over 50 years of subsidy and expolitation, still gets a $7Bn handout just in the USA alone, whilst 10x that is the possible extent of fossil fuel subsidy. This proves that all energy installations are merely a black hole for public subsidies.

Not including the cost of cleanup, which is capped at a few score million: hopelessly inadequate.

See also the cost of the BP spill compared to what BP have paid (and then look at the Valdeze case still to pay out, despite the public having to pay for the cleanup:

“Wind costs now the same per kWh as coal does”

Ya when the wind is blowing. What does it cost when there is no wind?

And when the wind does blow and the turbine is generating power, there are plenty of times when there are no customers to buy the power. It’s night, folks are all asleep. Can’t sell it to residential customers, can’t sell it to commercial customers, can’t give it away to other power companies. They end up throwing it away. What does it cost then?

Wind. Gad.

Actually Phil, many have thought it through quite completely.
That is precisely why the early adopters are now backing away from these technologies.
They are not ready for prime time.
Some day I am sure they will be.
But until then, we have lots of cheap oil and gas.

And since they are perfectly natural resources that are efficient, we can easily afford to wait for the other technologies to mature.
The is no need to rush into them and definately no need to blow billions of dollars in subsidies on them. That money could go toward solving actual problems.

Oh and just for argument sake. There isnt enough fossil fuels available to raise global temps enough to cause any problems. Even though we have nearly 200 years supply still in the ground.

Or maybe they’re just adding new technology like higher yield/cheaper solar PV panels, larger more efficient turbines, etc.

They are ready for prime time.

(see, I can say that just as easily as you can deny it. Got any proof?)

“And since they are perfectly natural resources that are efficient”

Cyanide is perfectly natural. Go eat some.

“There isnt enough fossil fuels available to raise global temps enough to cause any problems.”

Really? How do you know this? Have you burned that amount of CO2 on another earth to see?

Or are you just talking bollocks? Given the volume of BS in the rest of your post, I guess it’s the Bollocks one.


The future of energy development in New Mexico’s Four Corners region is at a crossroads. The San Juan Generating Plant is slated to shut down half of its coal-burning capacity in 2017 and a new energy replacement plan must be decided upon.

The Four Corners, where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah intersect, was dubbed a national energy sacrifice zone in a report by the National Academy of Sciences during the Nixon Administration. The area has been mined for coal...

read more