McManufactured Controversy

NOTE: this is a sister post to IPCC Report on Renewable Energy, regarding the manufactured controversy associated with that report

Self-proclaimed climate auditor Steve McIntyre has managed to manufacture a controversy out of the recently-published IPCC Report on Renewable Energy (SRREN), based on the simple fact that one of the nine lead authors to its Chapter 10 (and 272 contributors to the report) works at Greenpeace, and was the lead author on the most aggressive renewable energy scenario referenced in the report (77% of global energy demand met by renewables in 2050).  McIntyre's criticism is the very definition of ad hominem - suggesting that the report is flawed because of who wrote it, rather than its contents.  In fact, McIntyre goes well beyond criticizing the report:

"Everyone in IPCC WG3 should be terminated and, if the institution is to continue, it should be re-structured from scratch."

While we're still trying to figure out what ad hominem attacks have to do with climate auditing, McIntyre jumps the shark and asserts that all of the hundreds of contributors to the WG3 reports should be terminated because one of the lead authors – an energy expert who has published peer-reviewed research on the subject – works for Greenpeace.  And unfortunately, a few other influential figures (i.e. Mark Lynas and Anthony Watts) have bought into McIntyre's glaring logical fallacy.

Fortunately some other popular climate bloggers have more accurately written about this non-controversy (i.e. Michael Tobis, Joe RommThe Carbon Brief, and The Policy Lass).  Ultimately what this boils down to is that the paper in dispute (Teske et al. 2011) had five other co-authors (all energy experts) and was published in a peer-reviewed journal.  Moreover, as discussed in the IPCC Report on Renewable Energy post, the conclusion (77% of global energy demand can be met with renewables by 2050) is not even the most aggressive published plan.  There have been a number of studies and reports concluding that meeting 100% of energy needs with renewable sources by 2050 is feasible on both a regional and global level, as we discussed in the Advanced rebuttal to "Renewables can't provide baseload power".

Now, it may be argued that the 77% goal is not politically realistic, but the IPCC report did not and cannot evaluate political feasibility.  It can only examine technological and economic feasibility, and high renewable energy penetration goals meet both of these criteria.  However, it should also be noted that while the report itself is technically sound, there are some valid criticisms of the associated press release, as summarized well by The Carbon Brief.

One final irony is worth pointing out: while one contributor to SRREN came from Greenpeace, three came from Chevron (though one from its geothermal research wing), one from Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, and one from a mining company.  In fact, one of Teske's co-authors on Chapter 10 of the report was Raymond Wright from Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica.  Somehow we haven't seen any complaints over his conflict of interest.  Apparently McIntyre et al. have something of a double standard on this issue.

Until the "skeptics" and "auditors" can come up with substantive scientific arguments rather than empty logical fallacies, it would behoove those of us who understand the magnitude of the climate problem and importance of addressing it (like Mark Lynas) to simply ignore these manufactured controversies rather than magnifying them.  Manufactured controversies can't change the laws of physics.  Reality remains unchanged; we need to begin taking major steps to reduce GHG emissions immediately, which will require major penetration of renewables into the energy production mix.

Posted by dana1981 on Wednesday, 22 June, 2011

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