Good Climate News Headlines Bury the Bad News Lead

You see it all the time. A story with an optimistic, reassuring headline. Take the tweet below, with the picture of a crisp solar panel and wind turbine against a clear sky. And yet something lurks in the shadows.

chat Posted Jul 14, 2015 by Rezwan | Category : Narrative
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What does the headline tell us? “Five Seismic shifts to shake global electricity over the next 25 years.”  Clearly this means:

Five seismic shifts to shake global electricity over the next 25 years, via @BloombergNEF:

— UNFCCC (@UNFCCC) June 24, 2015

Don’t just retweet that in blissful ignorance.  Click on the link. Read the article.

Burying “Bleak”

The subheading of the article above is:

BNEF’s forecast to 2040 sees $2.2 trillion boom in small-scale solar as consumers seize control of their power, and weaker growth in electricity demand, but prospects for the climate are bleak [emphasis mine].

Even the subheading tries to cushion the blow of the bad news by prefacing the bleak with three positive things: (“boom in small scale solar,” “consumers seize controls,” reduced electricity demand).

The body of the story continues burying the lead. The first four “seismic shifts” it lists are upbeat. But the fifth “seismic shift” is utterly bleak.

Climate peril. Despite investment of $8 trillion in renewables, there will be enough legacy fossil-fuel plants and enough investment in new coal-fired capacity in developing countries to ensure global CO2 emissions rise all the way to 2029, and will still be 13% above 2014 levels in 2040

For a moment, something radical slips out:

Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, commented: “NEO 2015 draws together all of BNEF’s best data and information on energy costs, policy, technology and finance. It shows that we will see tremendous progress towards a decarbonised power system. However, it also shows that despite this, coal will continue to play a big part in world power, with emissions continuing to rise for another decade and a half, unless further radical policy action is taken.”

They scrub the “radical” out in the concluding paragraph, downshifting to: “Further policy action on emissions will be needed.”

Bloomberg’s Content is Clear: Carbon is a Runaway Train. But the Headlines…

Bloomberg’s 2015 New Energy Outlook tells a terrible story. In typical “good-newsy” fashion, the first nine (9) slides show all the progress. The last two slides have the bad news. Despite 8 trillion to be spent on renewables, we’ll be using the same amount of fossil fuels as today. CO2 emissions will peak in 2029, and will be 13% ABOVE today by 2040.

We know from the Carbon Bathtub that CO2 emissions need to be negative (Zero from us, and an extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere). So a 13% INCREASE means this is a runaway train. How does Bloomberg present the runaway train?

With this tweet: “We. Love. Charts. The future of global power in 11 clicks.” Love is good, right? “The future…of power” means we have a powerful future. Awesome!  What pretty charts. SPLENDID!

Story Gusts

A common headline that buries the lead - reports of dramatic energy yeilds in wind.  Here’s a July 2015 headline:  “Denmark just produced 140% of its electricity needs via windpower!

What great news!  Surely this story proves that wind power will save the world, with 40% to spare! We can all stop looking for other solutions - and just bring pressure on evil businesses or lazy politicians for not advancing wind. But wait - is there a bad news lead buried here?

OK, Denmark got a gust of 140% of its electricity from wind on one day. On average, wind supplies 40% - of electricity. And in Denmark, electricity is about 10% of total energy use. From the EIA study of Denmark energy (pdf) we get a view of what is really going on in Demark. Wind is a tiny fraction of energy. Oil and natural gas continue to dominate.

With the 140% headline, Denmark gets to look good as a green country, even though 40% of 10% is 4% - so Denmark gets about 4% of its energy from wind. And even though Denmark is a net exporter of oil and gas. The most important number to track is carbon emissions. Denmark’s emissions are 7.2 Metric Tons of CO2 per capita.

The bad news lead: even with gusts of 140% electricity from renewables, carbon emissions are still high. But the most important news is that people aren’t that excited about the reality of wind energy. This story tells of the NIMBY backlash that Denmark is experiencing, with only a 4% wind penetration into its energy supply. How much further can it go with wind? How far short of 100%? And what can make up the difference if we want a zero carbon world? 

Coaches advice: Take wind as far as you can, and join us for a #ReNuLRC.


Don’t panic!

The worst thing you can do in the face of bad news is nothing. The best thing you can do is…a lot actually. For more action, see “3 Levers and a Miracle…”

Notes & Related:

More Examples

78 vs. 3.3

The Hype:
Germany just got 78% of its energy from Renewable sources! That’s technically true, but…

The sober news:
Germany gets only 3.3% of its energy from wind and solar.

You know what they say.  “If you don’t like the way people report the news, give them feedback.”  Retweet if you agree:

Try, 3.3% with gusts up to 78? @thinkprogress @carboncounter

— Footprint to Wings (@Footprint2Wings) August 7, 2015
How to Host a Renewables + Nuclear Energy Living Room Conversation. #ReNuLRC
The 100% Renewables Approach: What will it take?

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