For someone who grew up in Newfoundland, Rex Murphy certainly seems to hate the wind. In his latest climate change-denying diatribe for the National Post, Murphy decided to use the unfolding crisis in Texas as an opportunity to suggest, yet again, that renewable energy is not worth our time or trouble.
In addition to recycling some of his favourite arguments (yes, there’s the obligatory mention of Al Gore) and pretending not to understand the difference between climate and weather (“I thought we were not to have winter anymore,” he writes), Murphy opined that “it will take events like the singular storm in Texas to finally awaken the critical spirit, to contest the ‘inevitability’ of planetary extinction brought on by global warming, and to put policy-makers on alert that hurling vast sums of public money on renewable energy is not only a folly, but dangerous.”
Never mind that Texas’s enormous boom in wind capacity is the result of markets and economics, that it was underwritten by policies enacted entirely by Republican governors and legislatures, or that its $7-billion investment in transmission and other infrastructure has been dwarfed many times over by the jobs and wealth created by the state’s wind industry.
Murphy’s central premise about its central role in the collapse of Texas’s power grid spread like wildfire on social media, even in the face of attempts to contain it with actual facts. As the Associated Press noted in a story that attempted to correct the record, of the 45,000 megawatts of power that were offline, the majority — nearly two-thirds — were supposedly reliable sources like gas, coal and nuclear. Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin’s Webber Energy Group, told AP, “it’s not like we were relying on (wind) to ride us through this event. Nor would it have been able to save us even if it were operating at 100 per cent capacity right now. We just don’t have enough of it.”
This irony — that supposedly reliable sources of energy like coal, nuclear and natural gas are far more to blame for Texas’s woes than wind — seems lost on Rex Murphy. So, too, most likely, is the fact that the state’s vaunted oil industry was also hit hard by the winter storm, with as much as three million barrels per day of production (or 27 per cent of total U.S. production) shut in because of frozen wellheads and pipelines.
The truth is, this crisis resulted from the confluence of bad weather and the state’s unwillingness to require companies to prepare for it. And because the vast majority of the electricity grid in Texas isn’t connected to those that power the rest of the United States, it’s unable to lean on the surplus capacity of others in times like this. These are wholly inconvenient truths for the climate change skeptics and fossil fuel propagandists who would prefer to use green energy as the scapegoat here, and it’s safe to assume they’ll continue to ignore them.
Texas will, in due course, recover from this tragedy, albeit at a substantial human cost. But while it’s easy enough to dunk on the obvious and provable stupidity of those who want to blame wind energy for it, that misses the real danger that they and their hurricane of misinformation pose. Although the days of people publicly denying the scientific reality of climate change may be mostly at our backs, the people who once openly traded in it haven’t given up the fight.
Instead, they’ve retrenched to the higher ground of whataboutism, where they sow confusion by downplaying the urgency of acting on climate change and disparaging the technologies that would help us do that. And make no mistake: that ground will be far harder to capture for those who are engaged in the fight against climate change.
Take the recent Forbes piece by former journalist Robert Bryce, which argues against increasing our reliance on wind and solar energy in favour of natural gas. Bryce, who once wrote that “we should be cheering the news that coal use is rising,” doesn’t deny the reality of climate change or the role that natural gas plays in feeding it. He makes a more nuanced argument, noting that he’s “pro-electricity and electrification,” but worries that natural gas bans are “a regressive tax on the poor and the middle class because they compel consumers to use electricity.”
He closes by invoking the spectre of Sept. 11 and hurricane Sandy in order to suggest that “a robust natural gas grid helps our resilience. Electrifying everything will do the opposite.” That earned a glowing retweet from TC Energy, which just happens to be in the business of selling natural gas.
It would be nice if we could have a conversation about climate change that stayed within the bounds of accepted fact and science. But while technology has changed almost everything about how and where we communicate, one key aspect remains very much the same. As Jonathan Swift wrote more than 300 years ago, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” And when it comes to the conversation about renewable energy and climate change, those falsehoods fly faster and farther than ever before.
When it comes to the conversation about renewable energy and climate change, the falsehoods fly faster and farther than ever before, @maxfawcett writes. #climatechange #climatedenial
At some point, publications like the National Post are going to have to decide if it’s worth the cost of carrying these sorts of easily disproven myths. But until it decides that the truth about our shared future is more important than Rex Murphy’s pageviews, those of us who care about climate change will have to keep fighting.