Published on May 12th, 2018 |
by Zachary Shahan
May 12th, 2018 by Zachary Shahan
The Daily Caller isn’t exactly known for winning Pulitzer Prizes. I’ve read enough incorrect or misleading information on the site that I strive to stay away from it in order to protect my sanity, keep my head from exploding, and not accidentally absorb misinformation. However, one recent piece was suggested for our Reality Check series and I was compelled to respond.
It appears that many of the sentences in the first half of the article are either misleading or 100% opposed to the facts. One underlying problem is that the article is based on a “report” by The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). If you don’t follow the world of global warming science and politics super closely, you may assume from the name that GWPF is a legit, science-based organization. Not so much. GWPF is a UK-based “charity” heavily soaked in global warming denial that is often at odds with science. The problem with the article in The Daily Caller is that it goes along with the illogical claims coming out of the GWPF “report” and passes them off as true.
With that little bit of background out of the way, let’s dive into the first 8 sentences in the piece from The Daily Caller:
» “The grim irony of the pursuit of ‘green’ energy is that it may be placing millions of people in poor countries at risk of living much shorter, unhealthier lives due to air pollution, according to a report from The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).”
First of all, this opening line makes no sense, and the “report” it references is so counter to the facts that it seems more appropriate that The Onion cover it than an actual news site. I’ll get into the underlying assumptions that lead to such an absurd conclusion further down, but the first yellow flag should be this counterintuitive concept that a shift toward greener energy somehow harms and potentially shortens millions of lives. Would you trust an article or report that started out with the claim that eating fruits and vegetables is actually bad for your health?
» “Climate change has become an international issue, and environmental activists have painted the situation as increasingly dire.”
Of course, this second sentence is true. However, it still manages to be a bit misleading. It says that “environmental activists have painted the situation as increasingly dire.” Yes, indeed, they have, but so have thousands of scientists, including the scientists who understand the matter best — climate scientists. Referencing scientists would sound more authoritative than referencing environmental activists, but Tim Pearce and The Daily Caller decided for some reason to just mention simple activists. Furthermore, the article’s phrasing “painted the situation” makes it sound as if the scientific findings are all a fabrication.
The situation is increasingly dire. This message comes from scientists. And, unfortunately, you can’t wash away the problem simply by washing off some paint. But it seems The Daily Caller would like you to believe otherwise on all three counts.
» “In order to escape the world-changing effects of climate change and avert catastrophe, humanity must break its dependence on fossil fuels. ‘To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to keep the world’s remaining fossil fuels in the ground,’ Greenpeace’s website explains about the group’s ‘Keep It In The Ground’ campaign. ‘That means moving away from coal, oil, and natural gas, and towards a renewable energy future.’”
Hey, look at that — we’ve got a few sentences that make sense and don’t mislead the reader! They are largely quotes from Greenpeace, but I’ll take what I can get.
» “The aim, unfeasible as it is, would actually cause more deaths from pollution as countries in the beginning stages of development are left stuck, unable to progress through the stages of the ‘energy ladder’ that lead to less carbon emissions and a higher standard of living, according to the GWPF report released Friday.”
Wait, what? This makes no actual sense and it’s the core thesis of the article and the underlying “report.” You may be hugely confused at this point, so before proceeding to debunk the claim and explain that blue is not orange, here’s they quick summary of this “energy ladder” concept:
» “The energy ladder refers to a series of steps and evolutions that countries have to go through in order to reach high stages of development. The ladder starts with burning the worst polluting substances and moves to increasingly cleaner energy types such as natural gas and electricity.”
Got it now? The report and the unquestioning Daily Caller article about it presume that there’s a very defined energy ladder that people must climb to go from a stage of very low development to high, modern development. It includes the assumption that you start with the dirtiest form of energy, move to slightly less dirty energy, move to even less dirty energy, and then finally land on truly clean energy after decades of transition.
You can probably poke 5 holes in that thesis just giving it a few minutes of thought. I’d like to tease out a couple of the biggest errors in logic.
Images via Off Grid Electric
First of all, the report seems to presume that societal energy transitions of today will mimic societal energy transitions of 100 years ago. That is like presuming that people in less developed countries would go from no phones to landlines to cell phones. Of course, to the contrary, many people in less developed countries leapfrogged landlines, going from no phones to cell phones. Or it’s like presuming that they will have to build movie theaters and Blockbusters before getting Netflix. Is the absurdity sinking in yet? Who actually thinks that people in less developed countries need to go from super dirty energy to dirty energy to slightly dirty energy before finally switching to clean energy?
Related to that, the report appears to make a massively incorrect assumption that is at the core of its conclusions. I can’t find it made explicitly, but I can’t figure out how the author thinks this energy ladder idea makes sense without such an assumption. The assumption I’m referring to is the incorrect assumption that there are dirty energy sources that are cheaper than clean energy.
Solar and wind power are now the cheapest options for new electricity generations in all regions all across the world. Why should developing countries put resources into a transition to more expensive fossil energy options when they can jump straight to cheaper, cleaner renewable energy options? Why would they need to step on the kerosene rung of the energy “ladder” when they can go straight to the much higher solar electricity rung?
This idea that people would be stuck using crop waste, dung, wood, or charcoal instead of transitioning to coal, kerosene, or natural gas because of an environmental activist focus on clean, renewable electricity is a massive breakdown in logic. Who could fall for such a bizarre explanation dressed up in “report” format? Well, apparently, The Daily Caller could.
I think that’s as far as anyone needs to go in addressing the poor piece of “journalistic” work The Daily Caller published. But I have to admit that I think the outlet did a good job on one thing. It chose to not use this quote from the report’s author, a quote included in the press release that announced the paper:
“Indoor air pollution from domestic fires kills millions every year. But instead of helping poor people to climb the energy ladder and clean the air in their communities, the poorest people are being given gimmicks like cookstoves, which make little difference to air quality, and solar panels, which are little more than a joke.”
Gimmicks? Little more than a joke? Apparently, even a “media outlet” co-founded by Tucker Carlson decided it couldn’t or shouldn’t go there.
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