‘Why I believe the media peddles eco myths’

Field of dreams? Germany leads the way in developing renewable energy © Getty Images
by Amory Lovins

An experimental physicist, Amory is a leading authority on energy. Chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, he is a renowned innovator in super-efficient buildings, factories and vehicles.

There’s a huge debate about energy right now. But why is so much of it about the wrong themes? Is there an anti-green bias in the media?

Some media around the world has a tendency to publish misinformed or, worse, systematically and falsely negative stories about renewable energy. This is energy which comes from resources that are continually replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat.

Sometimes this is innocent, due to careless reporting, sloppy fact checking, and perpetuation of old myths. But other coverage walks, or crosses, the dangerous line of a disinformation campaign – a persistent pattern meant to undermine the truth.

Press coverage is important because it can influence not only what people perceive and believe but also what politicians think the electorate believe.

UK opinion is probably the most anti-renewables of any major country. That’s largely due to a long-standing campaign by nuclear advocates fearing competition, especially from windpower, where Britain has an advantage over the rest of Europe. A study by public relations consultancy CCGroup examined five of the most-read newspapers in the UK during July 2012. Researchers found more than 51% of the articles featuring renewable energy were negative, 21% positive.

Charles Lane, a Washington Post opinion writer, proclaimed in October 2012 that ‘expensive electricity is bad for industry, as Germany is discovering. Fact is, subsidies for green energy do not so much create jobs as shift them around.’ Yet a recent study commissioned by Germany’s government found that the renewable energy sector provided around 382,000 jobs in 2011, up 4% in a year, and more than doubled in seven years.

A myth persists that countries lose more jobs than they gain when they switch over to renewables. This upside-down fantasy rests largely on a 2009 study from King Juan Carlos University in Spain, by an economist reportedly linked to ExxonMobil, the Heartland Institute, and the Koch brothers. His study asserted that, on average, every renewable energy job in Spain destroys 2.2 jobs in the broader economy. This story was picked up around the world and is still promoted by US anti-renewables groups. But its methodology and assumptions were promptly demolished by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Spanish government, among others.

The disinformation campaign about job creation is not limited to Europe. The American Cato Institute claimed that if people believe a commitment to renewables will fuel job growth ‘we’re in a lot of trouble.’ Yet in 2012 alone, more than 110,000 new jobs directly related to clean energy were created in the USi. And in 2010, the US had more jobs in the ‘clean economy’ than in the fossil-fuel industries. Had you heard that before? Why not?

The sad truth is that the debate on clean and renewable energy is unbalanced. The CCGroup’s study showed that only 10% of articles focusing on renewables even contained comment from a spokesperson from the renewable energy industry. This violates basic journalistic standards. Renewables must be a part of their own conversation, but much of what is reported is misinformed and misrepresented. And when bad news does happen, opponents of renewables are pushing it.

This fuels uncertainty and doubt about energy policy, reducing investment, security and industry development. Disinformation hurts renewables and retards its – and the world’s – progress.

As Germany has shown, investing in renewables can grow economies and create jobs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. We just have to get the facts right, and insist that our reporters and media tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

You Decide

  1. Is the current debate about energy prices missing the point? Should we be talking more about alternative sources of power?

Activities

  1. Write three 200-word encyclopedia entries explaining the meaning of (i) ‘renewable’ (ii) ‘sustainable’ and (iii) ‘green’ energy.

Word Watch

Geothermal heat
Thermal energy is created by radioactive decay at the core of the earth and temperatures may reach over 5,000°C. Heat conducts from the core to surrounding cooler rock. Geothermal resources are theoretically adequate to supply humanity’s energy needs but drilling and exploration for deep resources is very expensive.
Disinformation
False information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumours) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.
ExxonMobil
An American multinational oil and gas company based in Texas, it is the world’s third largest company (measured by revenue).
The Heartland Institute
A libertarian think tank based in Chicago which advocates free market policies and climate change scepticism.
The Koch brothers
Charles G. and David H. Koch control the second largest private company in the US and have donated more than $196 million to dozens of organisations which promote free-market policies, many of which deny climate change.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.