Fighting renewable energy disinformation

If you spend much time on social media, you may have seen some of the following incredible claims:

• Solar panels never make enough power to offset the energy needed to make them (Not true!)
• Mining the materials necessary for renewable energy is worse for the environment than continuing to use fossil fuels (Wrong.)
• Your home battery will almost certainly catch fire (Nope!)
• Wind turbine noise causes cancer OR nearby wind turbine structures will decimate your home property values (Shaking our heads …)
• High quantities of wind and solar energy will destabilize the grid and cause blackouts (It’s actually the other way around!)
• And many, many more. (INSERT EYEROLL EMOJI HERE)

At this point in the U.S., approximately 61% of our electricity comes from carbon-based fuels. We also know that climate change is already wreaking havoc on populations around the globe (wildfires, famine, floods, superstorms and deadly heat waves, oh my!) and that truly catastrophic impacts are almost certainly unavoidable, and not so far in the future, if we can’t rapidly and significantly reduce our fossil fuel consumption.

The problem with misinformation (incorrect or misleading information) and disinformation (incorrect or misleading information that is intentionally, maliciously deceptive) is that there are real-world impacts. Inaccurate information can greatly influence public perception surrounding critical issues. When public officials – the vast majority of whom are NOT energy experts – are the ones making decisions about energy policy, having bad information can significantly hinder progress on the renewable front and hobble us in the fight against climate change.

More than half a century ago, scientists working at fossil fuel companies had already become convinced of and concerned about the link between fossil fuels and global warming. “Corporate decision makers didn’t listen. Instead, they chose to downplay and distort the evidence of climate change, engaging in a decades-long campaign against climate action. Their tactics included everything from counterfeit science, to the harassment of scientists, to manufactured uncertainty with no scientific basis.” (Union of Concerned Scientists, “Climate Disinformation”.)

And these efforts continue today. Anyone remember FPL’s efforts last year to kill net metering, via (FPL-authored) HB 741, based on the lie that residential users were paying extra to subsidize the solar consumers’ connection to the grid? And now this story is coming to light as well. Ugh.

In an NPR article from March, the writer asserts, “Researchers say that in many groups, misinformation is raising doubts about renewable energy and slowing or derailing projects.”

If there is a concerted effort to share and perpetuate mis/disinformation, then you can almost guarantee that there are people and funding streams involved. Self-interest – accompanied by a desire to affirm one’s value systems, even when the information seems to be well beyond the realm of reality – frequently seem to eclipse the greater good these days. Studies have shown that there are many forces at play that cause people not only to believe lies but to double down when others show proof that what they believe is factually wrong. (Read this and/or this if you’re interested in the psychology behind this phenomenon.)

When it comes to preserving their control over energy distribution, in the name of profits, it seems that the utilities will do almost anything to push their agenda and keep our country reliant on grid power. Those heavily invested in utilities and fossil fuels want to protect their riches. Thus, when you read about “scientific studies” that make outrageous claims about why renewable energy isn’t a reliable path forward, you can almost always trace the money back to those who benefit most by keeping the status quo.

Our purpose in writing this blog isn’t to preach, or to make fun of those with genuine concerns about the safety, effectiveness, or the true potential for renewable energy. Our hope is that anyone engaged in conversations – in real life or online – about renewable energy will find trusted sources, follow the money, and push back when something they hear or see doesn’t pass the “smell test.”

It’s important to remember that there is basic human programming that causes people to hold onto false beliefs. One strategy for correcting bad information is not to insist someone is wrong but, instead, to respectfully tell them what is true (and visuals can be immensely helpful). It is also important to find some way to validate a person’s worldview in some way so that they won’t be immediately on the defensive when you’re attempting to correct misinformation. Focusing on shared areas of concern – such as provable, widespread health impacts related to higher temperatures, flooding, or air or water pollution; damage to valued ecosystems; or ever-increasing energy costs – is far more effective than resorting to buzzwords (such as “climate change” or “Big Sugar”) that will almost surely and immediately raise partisan ire. (Here is a more scholarly report on correcting misinformation, if you’re interested.)

Something we can all do is to commit to only sharing accurate, verifiable information. And it’s extremely important to make your voice heard when public officials are making critical decisions about energy policy based on self-interest and/or partisan politics, rather than facts.

It’s not an exaggeration – or, dare we say, misinformation – to say that the future of our planet depends on it.

Related articles:

Busting the myths and misinformation around renewable energy
Renewables in the Grid: Dispelling the Myths

Sources we trust:

ARS Technica
BBC Science
The Guardian
NPR Science
Scientific American

For information about the solar industry and energy policy:

International Solar Energy Society
Solar Energy Industries Association

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