Oprah gained weight — and confused the public about renewable energy

January 2009 coverIf I weren’t on vacation, I wouldn’t have read Oprah magazine. No really. But then I would have missed a piece of misinformation gratuitously foisted on her readers.

For her legion upon legion upon legion of fans, the big news is the O has recently been losing her battle with weight [— one legion does not do her empire justice. Turns out a Roman legion isn’t that big, just a few thousand fighters. Who knew? In any case, Oprah is now bigger than ancient Rome. No, I don’t mean physically — give her a break, it’s only 40 pounds, and she’s under a lot of stress and has a thryoid problem to boot. But I digress]. Even legions have their limits in certain fights.

But for clean energy advocates, it is a single sentence buried deep in the magazine that should be a source of distress:

Environmentalists live for the day we will discover a fuel source that is naturally replenished.


It’s bad enough such nonsense gets peddled by fossil fuel companies and conservatives, but by Oprah?

Of course environmentalists, unlike the editors of O, know that we already have a bunch of fuel sources that are naturally replenished, like wind, solar PV, solar thermal baseload, geothermal, and efficiency (see “An introduction to the core climate solutions“). They were discovered many, many centuries ago and then turned into modern technology decades ago and have become cost competitive in recent years, even without a price for carbon dioxide that reflects its harm to humans.

What is especially annoying is that the misinformation is completely gratuitous, part of a page on “five out-of-the-box approaches to change a habit, a mindset, or the way you think about change”:

The Green Light

Environmentalists live for the day we will discover a fuel source that is naturally replenished. In a personal way, each of us is literally standing on our own wellspring of renewable energy–our feet. All we need to do is get them moving. According to research, regular exercise not only alleviates fatigue but is invigorating. So dreading the effort you’ll expend at the gym or sweating to exhaustion is misguided; instead, look forward to the renewed energy you’ll gain. If you’re a die-hard exercise hater, try just walking 30 minutes three times a week, suggests Woodson Merrell, MD, chairman of the department of integrative medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and author of The Source. “It’s like plugging into a power grid.”

Now that is the most unintentionally funny mixed metaphor of the month. Walking is like plugging into the grid! No, Dr. Woodson Merrell, chairman of the department of integrative medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and author of The Source, walking is the exact opposite of plugging into the grid. It is like going off the damn grid, and, oh, I don’t know, walking somewhere!

My wife says that complaining about the obviously unintentionally uninformed first sentence in this O piece will make me seem like a curmudgeon. Seem? I told her she needs to read my blog more. Oh, snap!

Still, I like the magazine’s main headline. It should be a very common one in the not too distant future if we don’t stop catastrophic warming: “How did I let this happen?”

9 Responses to Oprah gained weight — and confused the public about renewable energy

  1. Michele M. says:

    Fitness groups, bootcamps, and other “get in shape” programs should utilize some of the human energy spent working off unnescessary flab in mindless gym workouts and redirect it in an organized effort to replant and reforest local sites. Urban and suburban “enviro-bootcamps” could spring up everywhere; the cost of participation would include a few saplings and the means to plant them. Urban dwellers could plant rooftop gardens or other eco-sensitive projects. Too much energy is created by overeating, only to be burned off in a (high carbon footprint) gym. Let’s harness (or create) some human muscle and put it to good use.

  2. Rick says:

    well I’d be much more inclined to walk somewhere if there wasn’t 2 feet of snow and ice on the ground. Conveniently enough global warming will be taking care of that little snow and ice problem and I’ll be getting in great shape any day now.

  3. jorleh says:

    Your Oprah seems to be a madam with average brains, we must read this kind of stuff overall.

    In the town of Utsjoki there was 6,3 degrees C warm last night. Utsjoki is situated on the beach of Arctic Sea.

  4. Hey, I’ve got on idea…. maybe we could invent little energy storing panels that not only capture the sun, but also the wind and energy we create while walking that we then sell back to the National grid. Sure would give us something new to focus on instead of trudging along thinking what a bore and a chore walking is, we could be striding out challenging ourselves to see how much green power we can generate with each month.

  5. bc says:

    Oprah’s been late to the issue, but she did do an episode of her show with Al Gore on climate. This just shows how specialists need to carefully communicate with the general public, as everything will be reinterpreted by often well-meaning generalists (or in this case, lifestyle magazine editors) who just don’t have a full grasp of the issue and will put it in their own frame of reference to sell their own point.

    And there’s always going to be the folks who say you can help with climate by bringing your shopping bag to the store. It’s not false, it doesn’t get to the heart of the solution, but might just get somebody hooked on doing something. That’s how I started 17 years ago.

  6. Roger says:

    Approaches to weight gain are like approaches to climate change. “Oh, so what if I eat this today; I can diet tomarrow.” And with the climate, “Oh, if this really gets to be a problem, we can deal with it then.” Yeah, until it’s too late, that is. The obese person dies of a premature heart attack. The earth’s atmosphere is overcome with a runaway greenhouse effect. People are too tuned to instant gratification and fail to consider the long-term effects of their actions. We’ve become a passive society who sits and eats and watches dumb shows on TV; where’s the spunk that created the protests for civil rights, woman’s sufferage, anti-slavery, and the Vietnam War?

  7. jtberman says:

    Joseph – do you think you could get on the show? Or get Al Gore to do one show a month where people get updated on the latest science and policy and where some of the exciting new developments are profiled! As far as I know, Oprah has only done two shows on global warming – one with Leo DeCaprio and one with Al Gore.

  8. Gail says:

    As you point out, Oprah has “her legion upon legion upon legion of fans” that will loyally purchase, read, support anything that is bestowed with the Oprah blessing ( thus deriving the infamous “O Effect” of virtually guaranteed success).

    I have long thought that if someone could work with Oprah to help her fully understand the catastrophic and all-encompassing nature of the global warming problem and get her to agree to host numerous shows that would boldly relate this message to her viewers, the O Effect could begin to work it’s magic to bring widespread understanding and the passion to participate in bringing necessary change.

    Oprah’s viewership – women – are a most appropriate and important demographic for reaching out to. Women are most often concerned with the health and welfare of their families and their children’s future. They are also in charge of making purchasing decisions and determinations of how the home operates. They are on the front lines of changing they way we do things.

    (Oprah has done a show or two in the past that touched on the topic, but lacked the kind of meaningful connection and powerful messaging to really make that notorious Oprah bond with her viewers).

    ….. Anyone got Oprah’s ear?
    (We really do have more to worry about that our bulging waistlines)

  9. Oprah really got stung when she stuck her neck out about the BSE issue (mad cow disease). I wonder does that explain her reluctance to get involved in taking a stand on global warming? If she took the matter to heart and became an environmental advocate, she could make a difference—-she got Obama elected didn’t she? Well, at least that is going to be something positive for the environment. I feel genuinely optimistic about the green agenda since January 20th 2009! But Oprah, if you’re reading, come and help us on the environment too….there’s work to be done and time’s gettin’ scarce!