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« Criminal records for Friends of the Earth, Sandbag | Main | The best laid plans of Westminster mice »

The vacuity of Naomi Oreskes

You turn your back for a few hours and suddenly Naomi Oreskes does something even more foolish and generally loathsome than normal. Her op-ed in the Guardian yesterday looked at the subject of nuclear energy, and using her normal considered approach to people with whom she has minor political differences she decided to unleash the 'd' word.

There is also a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs.

Oddly, some of these voices include climate scientists, who insist that we must now turn to wholesale expansion of nuclear power. Just this past week, as negotiators were closing in on the Paris agreement, four climate scientists held an off-site session insisting that the only way we can solve the coupled climate/energy problem is with a massive and immediate expansion of nuclear power. More than that, they are blaming environmentalists, suggesting that the opposition to nuclear power stands between all of us and a two-degree world.

Of course nobody with an IQ in double figures takes anything Oreskes says seriously, but we have to welcome this intervention because it does give us the opportunity to laugh at all the people who are quite happy to use the 'd' word about those on the opposite side of the climate debate now venting their spleen over the use of the term in the energy debate.




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Reader Comments (92)

the climate scientists she was referring to, that suffer the strange new denial are... wait for it


the headline, tells people, that you have to LOOK out for this

Dec 17, 2015 at 8:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

As a historian, Naomi Oreskes is presumably "not qualified to comment on climate science", as is routinely said of Bjørn Lomborg.

Dec 17, 2015 at 8:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterJust Saying

Surely the point of using the term "Denier" is two-fold:

1) It implies the person so designated has no coherent arguments and so can be ignored.
2) It insinuates that the person so designated is as morally bankrupt as a Holocaust denier and so and be shunned.

As such Oreskes is using term correctly. It is only a rhetorical trick to avoid having to engage with original ideas.

Welcoming Nuclear Power is an original idea for Greens (who have opposed nuclear in the past).
Therefore the idea must be avoided.

Remember - Freedom of thought leads to disobedience.
That must be avoided.

Dec 17, 2015 at 8:54 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

That's what you get when you join forces with the hysterical and kick dirt in the faces of the practical. To Hansen etc all I can say is 'ha, ha!'

Dec 17, 2015 at 8:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

'Of course nobody with an IQ in double figures takes anything Oreskes says seriously'

I know you meant it as an exageration, but actually, I suspect the literal truth is that 'Only people with an IQ in double figures take anything Oreskes says seriously'.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan E

Well some serious heresy within the CAGW camp, i.e. two competing sub-narratives which are both based more on emotive positions than upon practicality, may be no bad thing. Might help fracture the monolith and let some sense through the cracks.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

I first imagined that Lynas et al would suddenly realise how incredibly witless all use of the "denier" moniker actually is. Then I remembered, it's Lynas et al.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:22 AM | Registered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

A way to drive Oreskes and her ilk nuts would be for the oil companies to corner the market in wind turbines and solar panels, that would also inflict much pain on the BBC, who have been wailing recently about job losses in the solar industry.

Anti-nuclear = anti-capitalism

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

M.Courtney @ 8.54: Quite right. Consider David Robert's tweet. How can you (further) "cheapen" the word denier? And doesn't he admit that its use is necessary in order to support "climate science"? It can't be long before they adopt the concept of "thoughtcrime" - my bad, they already have.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:33 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenese2

Perhaps the word 'denier' is 'so last century' (to coin a phrase beloved of those with single figure IQs).

I'm sure they can think up another word . . . just put Oreskes on the case.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

> There is also a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs.

Another term for this type of denialism is "people who can do maths"

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterSean OConnor

Judith Curry has a post on this too The new climate deniers. I'm surprised WUWT hasn't picked up on it yet.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:42 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews


"A way to drive Oreskes and her ilk nuts would be for the oil companies to corner the market in wind turbines and solar panels"

That's how it all began, however they withdrew from the market.

"BP and Chevron, two of the corporations that are doing the most to toast the climate, bleat at us in costly advertisements about their meager efforts to harness renewable energy. But now even their modest renewables programs are being quietly dismantled.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:45 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

The future of UK energy supply will be nuclear, something that was strongly signaled by Gordon Broon. Solar and wind are really window dressing as they don't work that well as we know.

I think the Chinese involvement came about because EDF hedged their bets and brought in a Chinese partner at Sizewell C and Hinckley C.

"EDF and CGN sign a Strategic Investment Agreement for joint investment for two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point C "

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Re: Just Saying

> Naomi Oreskes is presumably "not qualified to comment on climate science"

I often wonder what it is about climate scientists that make them qualified to comment on energy production, energy distribution, economics, transportation, manufacturing, food production, nutrition and lifestyle.

MSM seems quite happy to use them as experts in all these (and many more) areas.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

@ Sean OConnor at 9:40 AM

Another term for this type of denialism is "people who can do maths"

Heck, someone could create a Blog "And Then There's Maths" to further the cause.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Judith Curry has also commented on Oreskes' op-ed:

JC reflections

Well, to play Oreskes’ denial game, Oreskes et al. are engineering ‘deniers.’

If you accept the premise that human caused climate change is dangerous and that we need to rapidly stop burning fossil fuels, then I don’t see a near term alternative to nuclear. The innovations that Gates is looking for most likely won’t be major factors in energy generation for several decades.

There is no good solution massively reducing our emissions from fossil fuels on the time scale of a decade. If the nuclear solution is unpalatable, then reconsider whether the proposed cure is worse than the hypothesized disease.

Now that political victory on climate change has been declared, its time to look at the engineering (not to mention economical) challenges.

Naomi Oreskes and her ilk that are playing politics with science, and now engineering, need to get out of the way.

I also liked the comments by jacobress:

jacobress | December 16, 2015 at 5:19 pm | Reply

“There is no good solution massively reducing our emissions from fossil fuels on the time scale of a decade.”

Neither is nuclear feasible on time scales of 2, 3, or 4 decades. Nuclear helps reduce emissions, but building 1000 reactors (+political debate+licensing) will take several decades, at least. So no nuclear in time to save the planet (reductions within a decade).
And there’s the problem with transportation fuels…

Renewables will never reduce emissions in relevant amounts, not even in several centuries. Their capabilities are limited.

Climate science might be complicated, with many unknowns and unknowables, but engineering is simple. There can be no debate about it.

Greenies are totally ignorant of physics and engineering. In their Utopian universe they only need to decree that there be “green” energy, and voila! the engineers will produce it. There isn’t anything engineers can’t do (the greenies believe), they (the engineers) are only too dumb to understand by themselves what needs to be done, but once Oreskes decrees it, they will produce it.

That also explains their enthusiasm about the meaningless Paris decision: the decision is important as a sign of political will. Technical details about how the goals are to be achieved don’t matter to them.

jacobress | December 16, 2015 at 5:28 pm | Reply

Technical details don’t matter because they are blind to the problem. They don’t grasp the existence of the practical side of things, they only understand feelings and symbols, and politics.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:57 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

As a historian, Naomi Oreskes is presumably "not qualified to comment on climate science", as is routinely said of Bjørn Lomborg.

She isn't an engineer so she isn't qualified to talk about power generation either. In fact she is unqualified to talk about most things she talks about. It is a mystery to me that her opinions on such a wide range of topics are so widely reported. Why do people care what she thinks? Does anybody know? She reminds me of the Kardashians; famous for being famous.

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan H

I'm with Oreskes on nuclear, so I guess that I am no longer a denier while Jim Hansen is.

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Presumably Naomi Oreskes would be happy to see herself described as a denier of the obvious truth that wind and solar are expensive and largely ineffective. Good to see that even in the Guardian some of the comments are scathing.

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterKestrel27

It will be interesting to see if any of the Democrat Presidential candidates endorse the NonScience of Oreskes. Clinton and Oreskes on the same platform, would be a dream ticket/target for Republicans. A sort of '2 for 1' bargain.

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Hansen hit out at John Kerry and Obama during Paris, calling the whole thing a fraud:

“We all foolishly had such high hopes for Obama, to articulate things, to be like Roosevelt and have fireside chats to explain to the public why we need to have a rising fee on carbon in order to move to clean energy,” he says. “But he’s not particularly good at that. He didn’t make it a priority and now it’s too late for him.”

Paris has the fingerprints of Obama (and Kerry) over it. It is their baby, including the signature delusion that people can be forced to do something they don't want to through a intricate series of backroom deals and bullying.

Hansen calls Paris a fraud so it is open season on Hansen.

Incidentally, Mark Jacobson's renewable energy studies (he calls them WWS) are in the same category as Greenpeace's. They start with the rhetorical assumption: if we were to phase out 100% of fossil fuels by x year, what would fill the energy gap? The answer: renewables! It may be hard to believe but these things are taken seriously.

Look at his 50-state plan paper, for eg:

See Table 2.

Land set aside for wind power to increase by over 35,000 fold. (in total percent terms).

As a skeptic, that nuclear is needed to save the world from CO2 is a fraud, and that wind power can do it instead is another fraud

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:32 AM | Registered Commentershub

Of course we don't need Nuclear - if you believe what R4 TODAY tell us.

This morning we had an unchallenged statement from Jonathan Selwyn, managing director of Lark Energy Commercial.(solar) that the UK had 100GW of solar generation this year. (gasp!) Now, either he is illiterate and hadn't thought to express it as GWh or he is illiterate and merely claimed the nameplate capacity of installed panels. A balanced report would have had someone who could challenge such a fatuous number but all they had was Harrabin.

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Richard Tol

Yes but you do realise that the denier accusation will change with the weather climate!

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:43 AM | Registered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

She reminds me of the Kardashians …..

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan H

Hmmm……. only in a very narrow sense :-)

Dec 17, 2015 at 11:02 AM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

When you are asked how can you know the size of the CAGW bandwagon , one answer you can give is that given the massive size of the egos of those who have jumped on it , such has Oreskes, it must be truly epic in scale to have enough room for them all.

And in case you are worried , Oreskes has never in their live worried about the need to be factual correct , to them all that matters is strength of belief. We could perhaps express a slight regret that this is does not extend to their belief in being able to fly .

Dec 17, 2015 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered Commenterknr

That must make the French deniers. 83% of my electricity comes from nuclear. 9% from hydro. 3% from oil and the rest euphemistically deemed to be other sources.

That has not stopped Segolene Royal from trying to destroy the system and replace it with wind turbines. Luckily there is a lot of inertia in French politics so she has not destroyed much so far. Roll on 2017

Dec 17, 2015 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

Harry - I also heard the exchange on R4 and immediately knew something was wrong because the units quoted made no sense. After a few seconds deliberation I decided he was probably referring to the nameplate capacity, which after all is the big happy number fans of renewables love to quote.

The sad thing is that even the otherwise highly educated and intelligent Today presenters are too ignorant to pick this sort of thing up. What the hell is the point of an arts or media education if you remain utterly ignorant of how the world around you really works? It's very basic stuff to understand the difference between units of energy and power. It's as if they invite me on to talk about Shakespeare, but don't notice when I start raving about how much I love his limericks.

Dec 17, 2015 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Abbott

Oreskes is unequivocally a deranged busybody harridan who's aware of the limits that others of her ilk like the astoundingly gruesome Helen Caldicott bulldoze out of the way. She presumes to tell people what to do but will never, ever take any responsibility - at all.

The Guardian giving a platform to her is par for the course - one wonders if she's paid for?

Dec 17, 2015 at 11:30 AM | Registered Commentertomo

BBC Presenters giving Global Warming spin to Unreliable power production should be paid only 10% of their quoted salary, and see how long it takes any of them to notice.

To make it more fun and realistic, they could be paid more some months, and less in others, without any prior warning at all. To top up any short term cash flows, they could be forced to borrow from Wonga, at huge punitive interest rates.

Dec 17, 2015 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Oreskes, is entitled to her opinion and that's fine.

What irks is that, she is listened to by the Berkeley 'Hunts'..DECC responsible for energy policy and I do use that term generously and of course those clowns who pretend to run the country, not least David Cameron and his Orrrxford chummie George Osborne...

Big problem - heap biggie problemmy - the loonies are running the asylum and tuning in to the green space cadets for advice.

Dec 17, 2015 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

It isn't nameplate capacity since 100GW is far to high.

1kW requires at least 1m2 which mean 100GW requires SQRT(100GW/1000) = 10km2

Looking at various adverts for solar its appear you need about 6m2 per kW nameplate which would make the area 60km2

On the other hand if you assume 100GWh produced in a year this makes it an average of 11MW each hour and since solar is only produces 10% of nameplate it would make the nameplate installation 110MW.

Dec 17, 2015 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Someone should market an Oreskes doll that says "Math is hard!"

Dec 17, 2015 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames

nuclear is the way to go.
the whole climate discussion wouldnt exist if leftists would have agreed on expanding nuclear dramatically.

For starters a reduction by a factor 1000 of radiation health standards is in good order.

Yes : nuclear is dangerous..just like Water and Fire.

If we had invested half the money spent on windmills on nuclear, 20y ago we would have new nukes possible far (99%) more efficient with no waste..see TWR fission reactors..thorium..

the whole drama is an effect of clueless lefties trying to further leech on things they do not understand.

Dec 17, 2015 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenusCold

VenusCold, Why do you equate a lack of technical understanding with the political left?

Yes, there are many arty types on the left who don't do numbers.
But there are many lawyers and PR men on the right who are technically incompetent too.

Our current Prime Minister is a Conservative spin doctor. He can't do science any more than the BBC Today programme.

Technical expertise is not a Left / Right issue.
It may be an arts degree issue.

Dec 17, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Mark Jacobson of Stanford Uni, linked to by Oreskes, who is promoting this 100% renewables credo via cannot be dismissed out of hand as someone who doesn't understand numbers. He has degrees in civil engineering, environmental engineering, economics and atmospheric science. As a developer of fast solvers and numerical models, numbers are actually his strongpoint. And of course it is clearly possible to go 100% renewable if money is no object. Ah but there's the rub. I cannot yet see a breakdown of costs for this grand vision. I'll be bold and ask. I snuck a look at his vision for the UK which is for 65% offshore wind and 20% onshore wind so it seems to me he needs to brush up on the economics teachings. Not that nuclear power is cheap of course but offshore wind is....well a wee bit problematic.

Dec 17, 2015 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Not quite 15 denier material is she?

Dec 17, 2015 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Wiind turbines would be more efficient if mounted horizontally in the up draft from power station cooling towers.

The Greens haven't thought of this, as they concentrate on Lunar power from photovoltaics, as some of them have now noticed that solar panels don't work at night.

Dec 17, 2015 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

After the failure of massive government subsidies and mandates for wind and solar power, it is clear that these energy sources will not provide significant amounts of electricity to consumers. In addition, they despoil the landscape, destroy natural habitats, slaughter birds and bats, and leach cancer-causing chemicals into the environment. They should be abandoned until researchers are able to improve their reliability, safety and efficiency by at least an order of magnitude.

Dec 17, 2015 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeW

Asda Tescos Sainsburiys Morrissons 99p for a litre of unleaded.

How big oil Sabotaged the Paris Climate Conferance, ISIS and the nuclear industry

They flooded the world with cheap oil and gas

Dec 17, 2015 at 1:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

"Of course nobody with an IQ in double figures takes anything Oreskes says seriously"
I genuinely find it worrying that, by definition, an IQ of 100 is average. It explains a lot though, and not only about ecomentalists.

Dec 17, 2015 at 2:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterGavin

>> There is also a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs.

>Another term for this type of denialism is "people who can do maths"

Thanks for the best laugh of the day, I always say 'people who can do sums'

Dec 17, 2015 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

Could someone market a thermal insulated Vacuity Flask for Naomi? It would be safer for everyone, if she was insulated and isolated to prevent environmental contamination from further meltdowns.

Dec 17, 2015 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Leo Smith, there are 3 different types of people. Those that can do sums, and those that can't.

Dec 17, 2015 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

And of course it is clearly possible to go 100% renewable if money is no object.

This is a statement that is worth deconstructing. Its false, but the reasons why its false are subtle, and have to do with subtle concepts like ERoEI - Energy Return over Energy Invested.

If for example it takes mire energy to build wind turbines, pumped storage installations, interconnects, battery storage systems and the whole paraphernalia needed to actually make renewable energy work, than you actually get out of it, it will. once fossil fuel runs out, crumble, because there is not enough energy coming from it to keep it running, let alone actually do any thing useful, or build anything new.

Of course we can run on simple renewable energy - we did it for thousands of years with sailing vessels, windmills and the horse - BUT during that time the population was broadly stable at about one tenth or less of what it is today.

The greatest danger facing te human race,. is that sentimental attachment to green technology might actually take us down a one way street we cant get out of, and the 'renewable' energy won't be enough to build a nuclear power station that does have such a massive EROEI that we can use it to bootstrap our way to an all nuclear age.
Anyway the point is that beyond a certain cost - energy cost - a n electrical grid is not just uneconomic, it is in fact unviable long term, because it doesn't generate enough to fix itself. Let alone anything else.

There are signs that alone wind and solar have very poor EROEI, but analysed holistically together with the stuff that needs to be bolted on to make them function the suspicion is they are negative EROEI, overall .

The other issue is the total amount of so called renewable energy reaching the earth, and what the impact would be of harvesting a significant percentage of it, rather then letting it do the natural thing.

A field covered in solar panels grows no crops. Wind turbines alter the local microclimate, and if enough of them are around, that will be the total climate.

Naturally these issues are never raised by greens..

Dec 17, 2015 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

Golf Charlie

It occurs to me that modern compassionate socialism has created an environment where the sort of 'wander around and grab it while it's there' behaviour of the palaeolithic hunter gatherer, is more conducive to survival than the sort of responsible intellectual Enlightenment thinking that characterised the people who actually built modern society.

WE have allowed generations to flourish who are not only incapable of understanding the true nature of the civilisation they were born into, but actually hate fear and despise it.

This cannot in the end be good for their survival.

Its not just sums they cant do..

Dec 17, 2015 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

These calls of "They can't do maths" irk me. Even though in many cases it is true.

The reason being that it's been used a lot at the Guardian Environment pages to try and shut me up. Even if you link to a graph and list the error bars - the cry goes up, "You don't do numbers!"

It's not true in my case, I think. But it works as a rhetorical device.
The Lurkers never bother checking the details and so they just discount the arguments of the allegedly innumerate.

Please, either show how the numbers are wrong or stick to debates about concepts but don't disparage the opponents ability to do the maths.
It doesn't attack the argument.

Dec 17, 2015 at 2:55 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

You never demonstrated that the statement was "false" - just that there are some reasons for scepticism about it. Not the same at all!

And by the way did you predict that the oil price would drop to $40/barrel? Thought not!

Dec 17, 2015 at 3:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

It irks me that folk say 'maths when they mean simple arithmetic - indicating that they really don't do maths either. In this case Prof Jacobsen is considerably more numerate than almost anyone writing blog comments here and he has a qualification in economics too so he is likely aware of something as relatively and astoundingly simple (compared to his day job) as Energy Return over Energy Invested.

Dec 17, 2015 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

With enemies like Oreskes, who needs friends?

Dec 17, 2015 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

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