false balance fallacy debate

The New Face of the False Balance Fallacy

You’ve likely encountered the false balance fallacy. If you read or watch any kind of news, you’ll know it straightaway.  It often occurs in discussions of hot-button topics like climate change and GMOs. Here’s a classic scenario.

A news show (or story) wants to present both sides of an issue. They pick a vocal proponent of each side of the issue to debate the validity of each one’s argument. Seems legit? Absolutely not. The problem lies with the issue itself.

With a topic like climate change, there is no debate in the scientific community. The debate exists with the general public, many of whom don’t understand the science. Instead, it boils down to a matter of beliefs. The same is true of GMOs. GMOs are safe—and necessary.

By creating a “debate,” the media gives equal weight and voice to each viewpoint. Unfortunately, it elevates the wrong view and legitimizes it. This action creates doubt where none should exist. We end up wasting time arguing about an issue that is settled.

The New Face of Fallacy

Welcome the new spin on the false balance fallacy, renewable energy. Let me say outright that I haven’t any grudge against renewable energy. Based on the evidence I’ve read, I believe that several serious problems exist with implementing large-scale renewable wind or solar power plants.

All lives matter, especially birds and bats. We can’t forsake major pollinators and dispersal agents, to say nothing of biodiversity and ecological impacts.

The new false balance fallacy gives equal weight to renewable energy sources like wind and solar to put them on the same level as fossil fuels. As much as we hear about it, it sounds like the evil corporations of fossil fuels are refusing to let up their stranglehold on the Earth’s future. This scenario could not be further from the truth.

All sources of renewable energy provided 13 percent of our electricity in 2014. Fossil fuels supplied just over two-thirds, with nuclear contributing 19 percent. What about wind and solar, you ask? Wind power came in at 4 percent and solar with less than 1 percent.

Yet, if you listen to the debates about wind and solar, you’d think that they contributed much more. Just like the climate change skeptic, they are given an equal standing on the energy debate forum. It’s another misleading example of the false balance fallacy.

Fallacy Risks

In this case, the fallacy encourages hate against legitimate industry. It clouds our judgment about the serious impacts of wildlife loss on the environment.

It also engages in its own version of astroturfing or fronting. By putting out a message of being safe for the environment, it ignores the devastation needed to bring those power sources to market. All energy is dirty and environmentally destructive. It’s the price we pay to live our lives as we do.

By recognizing the misleading nature of the false balance fallacy, we can view the energy debate with a more informed understanding. The burden of electricity generation may even out. However, for today, the reality is fossil fuels.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: Great Debate, “Wah wah, wah wah, wah, waaah.” via photopin (license)

Compounding the Problems with Renewable Energy

No matter what form, energy production has costs. From a fire to a coal-burning power plant, bad accompanies the good. It’s a fact of life. The costs are unique to the form of energy. Renewable energy sources are no exception.

All Lives Matter

Unfortunately, wildlife is often the causality. I wrote about this earlier when I discussed the varying reports of bird losses associated with the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System and wind turbines overall.

The numbers are staggering. With the former, estimates put the losses at 28,000 birds—for one plant. The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that wind turbines take upward of 440,000 birds per year. These figures use present-day capacity.

Putting It in Perspective

According to the US Energy Information Administration, coal provided about 39 percent of the electricity in 2014. Natural gas came in next at 27 percent, followed by nuclear power at 20 percent. Renewable energy sources made up the balance at 13 percent.

Of that number, wind energy fueled 4 percent of the nation’s electricity needs. Solar power provided less than one percent. Despite what the popular media would have you believe, renewable energy lags well behind fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Many tout wind power as the renewable of choice, citing its potential. Let’s look at what that means for wildlife. First, let’s set aside solar energy effects for the moment. Second, let’s assume that fossil fuels and nuclear won’t go away forever. Finally, let’s consider the bold move of 75 percent of our electricity from wind turbines.

If you crunch the numbers, you’ll see that this figure is 18.75 times the wind energy we get now. Assuming present-day technology and its foibles, we’re talking upward of 8,250,000 birds killed per year by turbines. How long do you think bird populations will survive with those losses?

The Takeaway Message

My point is not to trash renewable energy sources. I, for one, think we should explore nuclear energy again. What I am suggesting is the red flags are there and waving furiously. We need to re-examine our current technology to examine these issues.

Remember, one of the ecological risks of climate change is a loss of biodiversity. Losing over 8 million birds a year would have an impact. To put it into further perspective, current annual bird losses from wind turbines are twice that of the Exxon-Valdez spill and the Deepwater Horizon disaster—combined. And that’s not the only consequence.

While bees have received much of the attention, birds are also major pollinators. They are important seed dispersal agents too. Bird losses, therefore, can have far-reaching effects. These impacts don’t even consider the consequences on bat populations. Before we get too excited about wind energy, let’s consider what’s on the line.

 http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: _MG_8631-16.jpg via photopin (license)

flooding

The Real Danger of Climate Change

floodingAfter reading Mark Lynas’ piece in The Guardian, I’m convinced. The real danger of climate change isn’t the predictions of rising oceans, wildfire, or extreme weather. It is the people and the politicizing of climate change. The so-called environmentalism has morphed into something that would make John Muir spin in his grave.

The Snark

A lot of snark gets in the way of what should be a straightforward discussion about limiting harm to the planet. Instead, eco-zealots (or the eco-Malthusian left as Lynas brilliantly observed) fire back with terms like deniers in an attempt to debase skeptics. Greenpeace adds to the vitriol by permanently damaging Peru’s Nazca Lines. To be fair, the conservatives fuel the fire too with the likes of the ridiculous Senator James Inhofe.

What we don’t have is a dialogue. And we also have an issue so mired in political ideologies and social issues that you have to even wonder if it’s about climate change and its consequences at all.

Acting Like Lemmings

Then, there is the short-sightedness of some people. If rising oceans and coastal flooding are in our future, why are we failing to plan for it? Instead, research by the University of Southampton suggest that over 600 million people will be affected by it by 2100. The researchers projected costs of $100,000 billion per year by then.

I’m reminded of of joke my husband told me. A man lived in a place that experienced a raging flood. He sought shelter on the top of his house. A helicopter flew by and asked him if he needed any help. He said, “No, God will take care of me.” A second helicopter came by, and again, the man declined. Finally, the flood waters swept him away and killed him. At the Pearly Gates, the man lamented to God, “I needed you, but you let me down. Why?” “Let you down?” God asked. “I sent two helicopters to save you.”

That’s how I see the situation where people rebuild in flood-prone areas like the Mississippi River Valley that flooded in 1993 or after Hurricane Katrina. You can also question the wisdom of rebuilding in areas prone to wildfires or going back to a mobile home after a tornado when you live in Tornado Alley. It’s like some got the memo, but ignore it. The popular media bombards us with stories and misinformation about extreme weather, yet so many don’t listen.

What Will the Future Bring?

Like Lynas warns, we need to drop the politics that are fueling political debate rather than solving problems. I would add social issues to the mix too because it’s misleading a lot of innocent people. Who pays when you implement a carbon tax? Who pays when regulate businesses who pass the costs to consumers? Who pays when substitute expensive and imperfect renewable energy sources for cheaper ones that may include nuclear?

The people who are hurt the most are the poor, the ones that the eco-zealots claim to look out for when the social issues get wrapped up with climate change. Until we all can have a mature, non-emotional discussion, we’ll just have to see which of the consequences comes true first and what harm it will bring to humankind. I remain skeptical about any consensus or solutions to forgo any of them.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR
photo credit: Bridge over the James at Maidens via photopin (license)