The Washington Post has published an easily fact-checked falsehood about clean energy — for the umpteenth time (see “WashPost op-ed page remains the home of un-fact-checked disinformation about clean energy and global warming“). Not surprisingly, columnist George Will is the source (see “WashPost lets George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages).”
I don’t have time to waste dealing with all of the bad analysis in his most recent piece, “Awash in fossil fuels,” but let’s focus on just one key non-factoid:
But surely now America can quickly wean itself from hydrocarbons, adopting alternative energies — wind, solar, nuclear? No….
Today, wind and solar power combined are just one-sixth of 1 percent of American energy consumption.
Uhh, no. And it would have only taken the WashPost’s nonexistent fact checker about 60 seconds to find out the correct figure.
Any decent fact-checker looking for information about U.S. energy consumption would of course start with the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The most recent data is most easily accessible at their Short-Term Energy Outlook Page. In Table 1, you can easily find out that the U.S. consumes, roughly, 100 quadrillion BTUs of energy a year, which makes it incredibly easy even for non-mathematicians to do the math on what percentage is provided by different power sources. In Table 8, you can see we consumed 0.514 quads of wind in 2008 and 0.09 quads of solar (don’t miss the residential number).
And so, in 2008, wind and solar combined to provide 0.6% of American energy consumption — six-tenths of 1%, not one-sixth of 1 percent. But, of course, Will and the Post said “today,” and wind power is growing rapidly despite the great recession thanks to the stimulus (see “U.S. wind energy industry installed 1,649 MW in third quarter, more than Q2 and Q308“)
Mathletes and fact-checkers can use the quarterly figures to see that we have consumed nearly 72 quads in the first nine months of 2009 while wind and solar combined to deliver about 0.55 quads. So the correct statement is:
Today, wind and solar power combined are three-quarters of one percent of American energy consumption.
So Will was only wrong by a factor of more than 4.
But, of course, the entire point the Post was letting Will make was about weaning from hydrocarbons and adopting alternatives. So that means we should include biomass, and hydro, and geothermal and other alternatives, not just wind and solar.
Today, renewable energy provides about 7% of American energy consumption, and is growing faster than any other energy source.
I am glad Will is pointing out the U.S. appears to have a lot more natural gas than people thought, as I’ve been doing for many months now — see There appears to be a lot more natural gas than previously thought (Part 1) and therefore unconventional gas makes the 2020 Waxman-Markey target so damn easy and cheap to meet (Part 2). But as usual, he can’t see the deforestation for the trees:
Such good news horrifies people who relish scarcity because it requires — or so they say — government to ration what is scarce and to generally boss people to mend their behavior: “This is the police!” Put down that incandescent bulb and step away from the lamp!”
Today, there is a name for the political doctrine that rejoices in scarcity of everything except government. The name is environmentalism.
Yes, this is a standard piece of nonsense from right-wing Post columnists (see “Krauthammer, Part 2: The real reason conservatives don’t believe in climate science“).
Today, there is a name for the political doctrine that rejoices in spreading misinformation on clean energy, ignoring climate science, attacking climate scientists, and asserting that the only reason people want to reduce pollution is to boss people around. The name is conservatism.