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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)

jamesg, Prof Jacobsen may well be numerate, but that doesn't prove he is correct. Nor does it prove he has done the calculations of energy return on energy invested properly, even if he has done them at all as we would both hope and expect.

Many climate scientists are also highly numerate, yet still cling to their models when they are failing. Failing so badly that a senior undergraduate would be spanked for trying to argue that they met reasonable standards. Why do they do this? I think the answer to that question is not one expressed numerically.

Dec 17, 2015 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Did you see the paper she did with Lewandowsky, where they commissioned economists to declare 'the pause' a 'fraudulent' claim.

Could you replicate this with upside-down Mann?

Dec 17, 2015 at 4:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeN

Michael Hart That is the thing that has always puzzled me, how people as numerate as William Connolley, Gavin Schmidt and Myles Allen can share a bandwagon with the likes of Mann, Cook, Oreskes and Lewandowsky. If you excuse the double negative, they can't not know that things like the Hockey Stick and conspiracy ideation are complete BS.

Dec 17, 2015 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

Prof Michael Mann is clearly a clever mathematician. Some might even say a maths wizard, with the magical way he can conjure up numbers to prove what he wants. So was Ken Lay of ENRON.

Blinding the public with science, maths, law, economics etc is easy for experts in their field. The level of maths and physics in the Hookey Schtick blinded me, I admit it. If such trickery has been used to 'prove' a belief, why should I trust anyone trying to persuade me to the same belief? Particularly as I have some working knowledge of other fields and the con tricks used by others.

Dec 17, 2015 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

M Courtney Dec 17, 2015 at 1:01 PM

I'm not sure that it's even an arts degree issue. I am an historian by training ( I couldn't do physics because I failed the maths ) and I tell people as an historian that CAGW is bunkum (i.e. warmer in the past, Little Ice Age etc etc ).

It is a question of critical thinking, because even "scientists" and "mathematicians " ( hello Simon Singh) defer to CAGW as being true, despite the argument not being able to survive any sort of cursory analysis.

If someone cannot give you an explanation of CAGW apart from "it's CO2 innit?" and "97%" then one can probably discount everything else they say and think.

Dec 17, 2015 at 4:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterottokring

Tol, depends on what you mean by nuclear.
So long as a country has coal or gas, even gen 3 nuclear makes little sense. Safer than gen 2, but still the radwaste and fueling issues. Best not built unless unavoidable.
But there are a number of gen 4 fission reactor concepts that solve the remaining issues rather completely. Then go nuclear when 'new' nuclear is ready. Travelling wave (TerraPower, backed by Gates), various molten salt comcepts. All inherently passive safe breeders producing fissile material from fertile material, and consuming most of the radwaste along the way. Essay Going Nuclear covers that waterfront. What is needed is a concerted research program to sort out the best approaches and solve the remaining engineering issues. One very readible detailed examination of uranium cycle molten salt is the white paper from MIT spinout Transatomic Power. Available on their website, for those interested in details.

Dec 17, 2015 at 4:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRud Istvan

Here in Ontario, Canada, we can peek into our province's energy use here:

From Dec 16 and to be fair to solar, something from 1PM:

Efficiency (i.e, capability/output)

GAS 14.6%
HYDRO 70.3%
WIND 35.9%
SOLAR 30.4%

% of power generated:

GAS 6.5%
HYDRO 29.0%
WIND 6.3%
SOLAR 0.2%

So, yeah, math is hard for some folks...

Dec 17, 2015 at 5:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaligula Jones

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.

The minute somebody does a good investigation into renewables and whether or not they can power a modern economy, the result shows that is can't.
Take this study for instance.

Much better than all the previous research (usually wind industry funded) because it actually considers the important fact that power generated must ALWAYS match power consumed.
The paper shows that the North Eastern US could run for 99,9% on renewables (providing 72GW supply by installing about 260 GW renewables capacity + an enormous chemical battery backup system, LOL), but still needs approximately half of the existing fossil fuel capacity (approx 30 GW) to stay standby in tip top condition to provide backup 4-5 times every four years to prevent one of those crippling, killing, bankrupting all out black outs.
See figure 3 in the paper clearly showing this unconvenient fact.

The summary of the paper cleverly hides this fact though and thus this study is used by the greenies to "proove" that 100% fossil-free is possible, easy and at same cost.

All the other "studies" simply ignore this crippling fact to cheer on renewables and the rare ones that do look at it conclude that it is true, but go on to hide that fact in the "executive summary"

Dec 17, 2015 at 5:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterWijnand

Oreskes is more and more removed from not only civil discourse but rational thought as well.

Dec 17, 2015 at 6:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Oreskes and Hansen comments amongst others recently, seems similar to what happened during the French Revolution. A liberal political movement intended to change society eventually devoured its own creation.

Dec 17, 2015 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered Commentermikegeo

When you see the numbers for trying to move to majority renewables by 2030 you find they are absolutely astronomical. Greenpeace, targeting 85% power from renewables by 2030, needs the UK to add 32,000 wind turbines in the next 15 years, plus full on tidal and hydro widespread retrofitting of heat pumps to UK homes and still there will be restrictions on energy use - Does that make Greenpeace deniers too?

The US is even bigger - also 85% renewals by 2030 according to Jacobsen 500,000 more wind turbines, 46,000 more solar power plants and 57% of US households with solar panels. - basically adding the current total accumulated stock of renewables in a single year and then to repeat this feat every year from now to 2050. Not surprisingly it's very easy to make an estimate of costs of this scale of investment including switching out transport to electricity, and home heating to heat pumps, that run at 5% or even 10%+ of GDP per year. And with a substantial gamble that predicted technologies like mass energy storage can be found.

Even if you think renewables are the future and energy storage technologies (or fusion or whatever) will be developed in the next 10-15 years a short term burst of investment in nuclear will add a solid backbone to reducing CO2 generating sources of energy while the new technologies are proven and then scaled and rolled out.

This doesn't even address the additional energy requirements from a developing world slowly leaving states of absolute poverty. The Greens have no concept of the scale involved. Dainty little local solutions simply can't deliver at the scale of 9 billion people each demanding heat, food and a basic standard of living.

Dec 17, 2015 at 6:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterthelonggrass

I like Richard Tol's acceptance of no longer being a denier, having been replaced by Hansen who now is.

Dec 17, 2015 at 7:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith

James G's view that it is possible to go 100% renewables if money is no object is critiqued by Leo Smith on energy cost of acquiring energy. However for all ground transport, would that imply electrical, and for air transport biodiesel type solutions? Or does the 100% vision imply reductions in these modes of transport? In the case of the latter mode of transport, it would not only be an energy equation issue, but competition between growing fuel and growing food.

Dec 17, 2015 at 7:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith

Dec 17, 2015 at 6:49 PM | thelonggrass

Indeed. And the fact that nobody seems to have a handle on how much of the existing solar and wind production will need to be replaced before 2030 is another red flag.

BTW, see my post above. Ontario, Canada's solar collection produces less than 1% of our energy, and is only 30% efficient at that.

I don't know why the warmunists don't understand that "peak solar" and "peak wind" can be a thing. And unlike "peak oil", its closer to reality.

Dec 17, 2015 at 7:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaligula Jones

Haven't ploughed through the whole thread but it's clear Oreskes is trying to re-setting the energy debate to discredit and side-line those who have the temerity to disagree with her august views on energy generation. All this comes on the back of endless climate rubbish with Lewandowski et al. She really is a vile piece of work.

Dec 17, 2015 at 7:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterCheshireRed

Dainty little local solutions simply can't deliver at the scale of 9 billion people each demanding heat, food and a basic standard of living.

Dec 17, 2015 at 6:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterthelonggrass

Agreed. And the rest of your comment.

In the UK at least, we seem to have a policy-setting clique whose understanding of energy generation and consumption is the equal of people who sell home made candles at the Glastonbury Festival.

Dec 17, 2015 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Mikegeo is reminded of the French revolution by participants in cagw turning on each other. I was thinking Lenin / Trotsky.

Dec 17, 2015 at 8:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith

The hard word from JC (who appears now to have decided that time is moving on, so why continue to suffer fools gladly):

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


Dec 17, 2015 at 8:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerryM

There was a time when groundbreaking thinkers raised to save humanity from itself, Buddha, LaoZi, Zarathustra, Homer. That time is called the Axial Age.

We are now in the midst of a new Axial Age. Larger-than-life heroes like Oreskes, Mann, and Lewandowsky are the new Jesus, the new Messiahs. They are our only hope in these dark, so dark times.

Dec 17, 2015 at 8:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterAila

ottokring, you are right, of course.
It is critical thinking that is important.
My bias against arts degrees come because I have a science degree (ahem) and I've recently thought this (which I've posted on this blog before).

A) Most University Arts Courses were created or re-created in the 1950s to 1960s.
B) These courses taught how to handle complex concepts systematically and with a broad depth of supporting knowledge on their subject matter (and dialectical materialism).
C) The method used to teach was the essay which required wide reading, refinement of ideas and repeated re-writes (at least two) to hone the understanding.
D) In the 1990s word processors made re-writes easier. Instead of re-evaluating concepts and arguments on a re-write the ideas could be ‘cut and pasted’. Concepts and arguments became one-time Lego bricks. Thus handling complex information was taught less effectively.
E) In the 2000s the need for reading widely was reduced by Googling the subject and following the links form the Wikipedia page. The broad depth of knowledge was lost to the courses.
F) In the 2010s eBooks meant that keyword searches could automate finding the relevant passages and so a balanced reading was avoided.
G) The essays are pertinent and well-presented. They are better than the essays of 50 years ago. But the learning that created them is far worse. And nobody ever reads the; the essays exist for the writing only.
H) Thus Arts Courses now teach nothing of value. And employers know that their outside activities are the skills the students are selling. Leaving University Arts tutors as redundant. But required to provide funding for the expensive courses. Arts Professors are like the Corinthian Columns on the University Library – pretty but purely ornamental.
I) With no intellectual heirs or wider influence outside their institution, the Arts establishments within Universities need to be defensive. They only have their own fields in which to excel and in which to gain status and funding.
J) That means closing down debate and holding the barbarians out.

Remember the current Arts establishment graduated 25 years ago using Word processors.

Dec 17, 2015 at 8:31 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

…Oreskes, Mann, and Lewandowsky are the new Jesus, the new Messiahs.
You have to be pulling our chains, here, Aila! Now we know that you are just ’aving a larf!

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:10 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Radical Rodent, I agree, nobody can seriously see Curly, Moe and Larry as masseurs let alone Messiahs.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


Have you ever considered if there is enough reserves and production and processing capacity ( just as an example) for the Samarium ore required to make the Cobalt - Samarium alloys used in the wind turbine generator magnets for the sort of numbers of wind generators needed to fulfil your dreams of replacing fossil fuels?

And how about he mining and processing machinery- have you ever tried to run a smelter on an unreliable /unpredictable power source. Do you actually think this can be solved by using a smart metering system?

And what about the steel and concrete , copper and nickel and tungsten and molybdenum required to fabricate the machine tools and make the components and the oil products to transport them and make the windmill rotor blades.

Get real - only fossil fuels allow the manufacture of the present generation of "renewable" technology and if you get rid of it you will no longer be able to make , transport or maintain any "renewable" generators - or the grid to distribute the power"

You people live in cloud cuckoo land.

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaleoclimate Buff

Radical Rodent & TinyCO2

If they are the new messiahs, why do they need airplanes to cross the Atlantic, when walking would be so much better for the planet, and all it's inhabitants?

Dec 17, 2015 at 9:46 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I am guessing, based on previous experiences with these sheltered creatures....that Naomi Oreskes owns a car and her house is connected to the grid.

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrapetomania

From the Pope and Obama to the last drooling imbecile on TV, every one of them swears climate change is the most dangerous threat humanity has ever faced.

How can it not be the case that the utter most brilliant and accomplished scientists in the entire world are absolutely dedicate to save us all?

I rest my case.

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterAila

Aila's having fun again.

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerryM

Radical Rodent, you've finally worked out Alia's schtick.
I like her.
It's an original response to the craziness of the catastrophic climate cacophony.

Dec 17, 2015 at 10:47 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

“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 …”.
There isn’t a single wind generator factory that I can find that is powered solely by wind generators. The same applies to solar panel factories.
These technologies cannot even reproduce themselves.
Apart from their outrageous inefficiency and cost, there are also the enormous opportunity costs entailed by pursuing these dead-end technologies.

Dec 17, 2015 at 11:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Hanley

Christopher Hanley, do not view wind turbines as being useful, they are the engineering equivalent of an art student's 'Still Life'. You can walk around them and admire the graceful curves and lines, safe in the knowledge that no magnetic fields are likely to be disturbed.

Dec 18, 2015 at 1:12 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Check out Oreskes's new paper with Lewandowsky where they claim to have commissioned professional economists and gotten them to agree that there is no pause in global warming and that claims of such are 'fraudulent' if you can rule out incompetence.

Can you please do the same with upside-down Mann?

Dec 18, 2015 at 1:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikeN

MikeN I tried upside down Mann, and got something similar to 'uueW' which does look a bit more like a Hookey Schtick, but with more weebley bits.

Dec 18, 2015 at 2:12 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Driving up the M5 through Somerset a few days ago, I was amazed at the number of large fields of solar panels, including a new array under construction.

As much of the area was flooded last year, how well do solar panels work under water, should there be flooding again?

Dec 18, 2015 at 10:12 AM | Registered Commenterdennisa

Aila: "There was a time when groundbreaking thinkers raised to save humanity from itself, Buddha, LaoZi, Zarathustra, Homer."

Poor Lao sounds better with the Zu version of his name, rather than the lou-sy version. One of his sayings is very pertinent to the energy debate and the foolish imposition of so-called renewables,

"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading."

Homer I have great regard for, especially his quotes on climate, eg, "Weather gets hotter, weather gets colder, duh! Get me another beer."

And thus spake Zarathustra....

Dec 18, 2015 at 10:30 AM | Registered Commenterdennisa

Aila hasn't made me laugh so much since Monday night when I was opposite someone at an xmas dinner who out of the blue started trying to sell me "The Age of Stupid" as a brilliant film, he had no knowledge of my interest. He was a lawyer as well.

Anyway so I created a Discussion topic: Climate Change Chrstmas Cracker jokes. Come on there must be some good ones out there? Ok, I know last day in the office...

Discussion topic: Climate Change Chrstmas Cracker jokes

Thanks for the inspiration Aila...

Dec 18, 2015 at 12:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterMedia Hoar

Remember the current Arts establishment graduated 25 years ago using Word processors.

Count me in there :-)
I wrote all my essays on the Uni's Amstrads. I found it useful, because I always overran the length limit and could cut the fat off.

Looking at the profiles of some of my colleagues: a couple of us went into IT, there's someone who works for the BBC, diverse marketeers and a few went into academe. The bulk ( the 2:2ers) seem to work for various local authorities.

Dec 18, 2015 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered Commenterottokring

Oil price predictions from commodity experts are from $20 and $100 per barrel for 2016. :)

And some folk want to predict the state of the world in 2050. More than likely those of us left alive will be working from home (likely in a sunny clime) or sending our robots in a drone to represent us. It's next year that worries me though - or even this Winter if it turns cold.

Dec 18, 2015 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

ottokring, Ouch. I'm sorry that I keep putting my foot in it.

Still, it is an interesting idea about the impact of the computer on the use of the essay as a teaching tool.

You're still right about Critical Thinking being the requisite skill for open mindedness.

Dec 18, 2015 at 2:11 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

"Oil price predictions from commodity experts are from $20 and $100 per barrel for 2016. :)"

Dec 18, 2015 at 1:06 PM | JamesG

Yes, sounds like the economists who have predicted 11 of the last 3 recessions...

Dec 18, 2015 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaligula Jones

@ Michael Hart With enemies like Oreskes -
ha ha ha
I have added a little sketch here that might amuse. The 'lady' is something else methinks.

Dec 18, 2015 at 7:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas

Link didn't work the first time - this should.

Dec 18, 2015 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas


10 $/bbl and 100 $/bbl could both be hit within a year of course. Look at 2008, which saw a high of $145 and a low of $35.

Dec 19, 2015 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

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