Children of the green revolution

  • Date: 20/06/17
  • Andrew Montford

There has a bit a bit of a rumpus over a paper in PNAS over the last couple of days, which is rather depressing in its way. The paper, by  a large group of scientists, is a rebuttal of an earlier paper by one Mark Jacobson, professor of “environmental engineering” at Stanford (why is it always Stanford?). Jacobson had claimed, with a straight face, that US energy needs could be met entirely by renewables – wind, solar and hydro – and it was going to be cheap too. In later work he has argued that the rest of the world can take the same approach too.

This was absurd of course, but bonkers environmentalist claims are of course food and drink to much of the mainstream media, and Jacobsen’s work has received the normal unquestioning coverage from all the usual suspects. Take Scientific American,  for example, who let him write an article about his work, sticking it on the front cover, going on to publish a fawning interview and later giving him even more obsequious coverage:

The engineering detail in all these papers and plans is staggering. The document released for the 139 countries provides an itemized mix of technologies and costs for every nation, as well as how much land and rooftop area would be required. Since 2009 the two researchers, working with many others, have honed the numbers again and again. Now what is needed most, Jacobson says, is exposure.

The rebuttal, published in PNAS, notes that Jacobsen’s work  “used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions”. It’s sharply worded, and hopefully will put an end to Jacobsen’s nonsense. However, Professor Jacobsen is not taking the response lying down. In fact he seems to have taken a leaf straight out of the Michael Mann playbook, issuing a response to his critics that could have come straight from the great man himself:

They’re either nuclear advocates or carbon sequestration advocates or fossil-fuels advocates,” Jacobson says. “They don’t like the fact that we’re getting a lot of attention, so they’re trying to diminish our work.”

It’s all so sad. One day, environmentalists in the academy will start to behave like adults. But unfortunately, that day is not today.

Update:

Take a look at this Twitter exchange with Jacobsen. Unhinged is the word.

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