The Radioactivity of the Breakthrough Institute: lies, misstatements, and critically flawed analyses
Once again, The Breakthrough Institute (TBI) and its founders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus are lying about President Obama and publishing very bad analyses designed to push their anti-climate-action, anti-environmental agenda. Their statements and analyses should be seen as a radioactive by any serious journalist or policy analyst protective of his or her professional reputation (see “Memo to media: Don’t be suckered by bad analyses from the Breakthrough Institute the way Time, WSJ, NPR, and The New Republic have been“).
Shellenberger and TBI’s Jesse Jenkins have just published “Climate Bill Analysis, Part XII: CBO Projects Waxman-Markey Would Cut Cumulative Emissions by Just 0.5% Through 2020,” which claims “In the first projections from a government agency of the likely impacts of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the legislation will cut cumulative emissions in supposedly capped sectors of the economy by just 0.5% through 2020.”
Rubbish. The CBO found that cumulative emissions reduction from 2012 to 2020 in capped sectors would be more than 8% and that emissions reductions in 2020 would be nearly 12%. I’ll have more to say later on CBO’s analysis, which I am quite certain underestimates actual domestic emissions reductions (and overestimates the use of offsets). But TBI’s analysis is utterly wrong.
First let me discuss TBI’s absurd lies about Obama. And I use the word “lies” here quite deliberately – although it is a strong word even for the blogosphere – since TBI certainly understands that they are lying, as you’ll see. Indeed, attacking leaders like Obama, Gore, Waxman, the green groups, and Tom Friedman by twisting their words or misrepresenting what they have said is standard operating procedure for TBI (see “Shellenberger and Nordhaus smear Gore by making stuff up” and here and here).
Many people in the climate community, including me, received a press call notification today of a “Telephone Briefing on New Quantitative Analyses of Waxman Markey climate legislation” featuring Jenkins and Nordhaus, which included this brazen lie:
Supporters of the legislation tout its $1 billion investment in clean energy R&D – that’s one-fifteenth of what President Obama promised, and one-thirtieth of what energy scientists said in an open letter last year would be needed.
That is perhaps the single most hypocritical smear that The Breakthrough Institute has ever made in its long history of pushing disinformation. Let me explain how BTI has utterly flip-flopped on one of their supposedly core beliefs in order to create the impression that Waxman-Markey fails to deliver on a core promise by Obama during his campaign. What you will see is that BTI in fact has no core beliefs whatsoever – only a single-minded quest to trash Waxman-Markey and all those who support it, including the President. And as I’ve noted, they need W-M to fail, otherwise all their claims that the environmental movement keeps imploding would be seen by everyone as the sham that it is.
Let’s start with exactly what Obama actually promised during the campaign in his “New Energy for America” plan:
Barack Obama and Joe Biden will strategically invest $150 billion over 10 years to accelerate the commercialization of plug‐in hybrids, promote development of commercial scale renewable energy, encourage energy efficiency, invest in low emissions coal plants, advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, and begin transition to a new digital electricity grid. The plan will also invest in America’s highly‐skilled manufacturing workforce and manufacturing centers to ensure that American workers have the skills and tools they need to pioneer the green technologies that will be in high demand throughout the world.
So this was NEVER $15 billion a year in clean energy R&D narrowly defined as TBI would have you believe.
Further, the stimulus bill Obama signed included $71 billion for clean energy programs plus $20 billion in clean energy tax incentives (for details, see “Progressives, Obama keep promise to jumpstart clean energy, economy“). So that one bill takes Obama 60% of the way to meeting his entire 10-year goal by itself. And of course Obama has begun to aggressively increase clean energy R&D in his annual budget proposals – and plans to do much more (see Obama vows “we will exceed [R&D] level achieved at the height of the space race”).
Finally we have Waxman-Markey aka The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). As the authors of the bill explain in their recent summary (see here):
ACES invests over $190 billion through 2025 in clean energy and energy efficiency programs.
So from 2012 through 2025, the bill invests more than $190 billion in clean energy research and development and demonstration and deployment programs, which just happens to come to nearly $14 billion a year.
So Obama delivers on his promise. And TBI is well aware of the fact that Obama’s promise was research and development and demonstration and deployment – not just R&D, as you’ll see.
How hypocritical is TBI – how desperate are they to sell out their principles in order to trash President Obama?
Consider what Jesse Jenkins, Climate & Energy Policy Director at TBI, wrote on this very blog one year ago (here, emphasis added):
You are consistently setting up a false dichotomy between R&D and deployment. President Bush may promote that same dichotomy himself, but the Breakthrough Institute does not.
Breakthrough’s policy paper, Fast Clean Cheap argues for at least a $30 billion/year public investment in research, development and deployment, and I think we’d agree that deployment deserves the largest share of that funds.
Yes, you read that right. One year ago, TBI said that they were pushing for research, development, and deployment – with deployment having the largest share. Now that Obama is actually starting to deliver on that exact promise, TBI abandons the last of its core beliefs – that the single most important element of any climate bill must be a massive spending program on clean energy R&D and deployment – just so they can attack president Obama and this climate bill.
I urge anyone who thinks that TBI has a shred of intellectual honesty to go to that link and compare Jenkins’ words to what these guys are now pushing in their emails and discussions with the media and even their latest PowerPoint presentation attacking Obama and Waxman-Markey (here, slides 26-30).
And just for the record, it won’t surprise you to know that the open letter from energy scientists (from December 2007, not “last year”) calling for $30 billion a year in spending was NOT calling for that money to be spent just on R&D:
America should be ramping up to invest a minimum of $30 billion per year to develop, demonstrate, and stimulate the commercialization of a range of technologies and approaches that can provide affordable carbon-neutral energy and use that energy more wisely.
So, no, Obama isn’t providing “one thirtieth” of what those experts said would be needed. In fact, he is attempting to deliver more than half of what they said would be needed – I say attempting because TBI has launched a full scale effort to stop Obama from delivering on the promise that they themselves once endorsed. Moreover, the letter clearly says America “should be ramping up,” which is precisely what Obama is doing.
Frankly, almost every single piece of analyysis that is on their website right now is a similarly riddled with misstatements, flip-flops from previously held core positions, and incredibly bad analysis. I simply don’t have the time to waste debunking every single piece of it, but if any journalist is still contemplating hurting his or her own reputation by citing their work, feel free to contact me.
It’s no surprise that the most famous “journalist” who cites their work at length is an ultraconservative opponent of any climate action (see “The Audacity of Nope: George Will embraces the anti-environmentalism – and anti-environment – message of The Breakthrough Institute“).
Bottom Line: Analyses and statements by The Breakthrough Institute staff and its Senior Fellows, like Roger Pielke, Jr., should be seen as a radioactive by any serious journalist or policy analyst protective of his or her professional reputation. That’s why I used the graphic above, which is the International Atomic Energy Agency’s “New Symbol Launched to Warn Public About Radiation Dangers.” Sometimes a picture is worth 1000 words.