Did Time magazine’s Bryan Walsh cut-and-paste a faulty critique of Obama’s clean energy efforts?

Exhibit 1, from an SF Chronicle op-ed by the disinformers of TBI, published July 27:

China alone is reportedly investing $440 billion to $660 billion in its clean-energy industries over 10 years. South Korea is investing a full 2 percent of its gross domestic product in a Green New Deal. And Japan is redoubling incentives for solar, aiming for a 20-fold expansion in installed solar energy by 2020.

Exhibit 2, from a Time article by Bryan Walsh, dated August 1:

China is reportedly investing up to $660 billion over the next decade in clean energy and research. South Korea is planning to invest close to 2% of its GDP each year, or about $85 billion over five years, in clean tech. And Japan is aiming for a 20-fold expansion in installed solar by 2020.

Somebody has some explaining to do to their editor (and the public) — especially since Walsh quotes The Breakthrough Institute in the article, “borrows” much of the rest of their flawed critique of Obama and Waxman-Markey (adding some new mistakes of his own), and rips off TBI’s Big Lie by asserting:  “On the campaign trail Obama promised to spend $150 billion over 10 years just on clean energy research.”

Note to the media:  That is just an outright falsehood, and if you keep quoting TBI your reputation is going to take a hit the way Bryan Walsh’s just did.  For the umpteenth time, here is what Democratic nominee Obama actually promised during the campaign in his August 2008 “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 no, that ain’t “just on clean energy research.”

And before that we had Democratic nominee Obama’s energy plan from October 2007:

Invest $150 billion over the next ten years to develop and deploy climate friendly energy supplies, protect our existing manufacturing base and create millions of new jobs….

At present, the federal government spends over $3 billion per year on all energy innovation efforts….  We must do better. Obama will double our nation’s commitment to energy R&D.

Not terribly ambiguous.  The $150 billion is for clean energy R&D and development and deployment, including commercialization, fuel infrastructure, the smart grid, and workforce training.  The “just clean energy research” commitment is a doubling from current levels!

Walsh’s rip-off is really a secondary issue, and I’m glad Time is finally highlighting the need for far more U.S. investment on clean energy, which I’ve been writing about for two decades.  Also, I fully understand that with a tough economy, slightly dropping poll numbers, and intransigent Republicans who have slowed down congressional action on Obama’s top priorities, the media packs smells blood and is looking for every angle with which to trash him.

But what Obama has achieved to date on clean energy is certainly one of his greatest achievements and cribbing TBI’s disinformation to attack him in this area is journalistic malpractice.  Here’s TBI paragraph after the opening excerpted above:

In contrast, the United States would invest only about $1.2 billion annually in energy research and development and roughly $10 billion in the clean energy sector as a whole under the Waxman-Markey bill — less than 0.1 percent of U.S. GDP. A group of 34 Nobel laureates recently wrote a letter to President Obama decrying the lack of investment and calling on him to uphold his promise to invest $15 billion annually in clean-energy R&D.

Let’s set aside the multiple falsehoods in the second sentence.  The key point is that in a grotesque parody of serious analysis, TBI has followed a list of mostly planned stimulus spending on clean energy by Asian countries with no mention whatsoever of actual spending on clean energy by Obama in our stimulus, as noted here:  “Will America lose the clean-energy race? Only if we listen to the disinformers of The Breakthrough Institute.”

Walsh puts his parroting paragraph right before the one excerpted above:

The legislative fight has mostly centered on how tight the carbon caps should be, but some of the revenue created by the cap “” which would require some companies to pay for carbon credits “” will be directed to energy research and development.

As cap and trade was revised in Congress, though, that number has dwindled “” the current bill would channel perhaps around $10 billion a year to energy research in its early stages “” but not solely for clean energy. By contrast, on the campaign trail Obama promised to spend $150 billion over 10 years just on clean energy research. On July 16, an assortment of 34 Nobel Prize winners wrote a letter to President Obama, calling for more support for energy research and development in the climate bill. “We need a much larger investment than what we’re getting,” says Jesse Jenkins, director of energy and climate policy at the Breakthrough Institute.

First off, the number hasn’t “dwindled.”  In fact, the first version of the bill didn’t have the allowance allocations, so the amount of money directly channeled to clean energy by government soared as the bill was revised.  Second, the current bill doesn’t channel “$10 billion a year to energy research in its early stages.”  Who knows where Walsh got that?  My guess is that since his sole source for numbers seems to be TBI, he was probably confused by the general muddled and inaccurate numbers they are pushing.  [And the money is “solely for clean energy” if by clean one means low-carbon, which is a reasonable definition for a climate bill.]

Now Walsh does do one thing that TBI doesn’t — he gives Obama (a teeny amount of) credit for the stimulus:

In the government’s defense, the stimulus bill has directed further billions toward clean energy, and the new levels of funding will be higher than anything the industry has ever known. But other nations, especially in Asia, are still beating us. China is reportedly investing….

“Further billions”?  As McKinsey notes in a new report, the stimulus “appropriates $97 billion in energy-related funding.”  Again, that is nearly two thirds of what Obama promised during the campaign that he would deliver over 10 years!  If Time magazine is going to publish possible future stimulus efforts by Asian countries, the least it can do is print the actual number of the Obama stimulus for fair comparison — especially if Time is claiming the Asian plans mean those countries are “still beating us.”

I have posted many times that we are losing the clean energy race to other countries (see “Why other countries kick our butt on clean energy: A primer“).  But the reason is not that they outspend us on clean energy R&D.  Thanks to our world-class R&D efforts, we invented many core clean technologies, such as the modern compact fluorescent (mostly built elsewhere now) and the modern PV cell (see “Solar PV market doubled to 6 Gigawatts in 2008 “” U.S. left in dust, having invented the technology“).  It’s that other countries aggressively fund technology commercialization and deployment efforts.

But conservatives have blocked every effort to ramp up clean energy funding beyond research.  Indeed, it would be nice if for once the media would acknowledge that it has taken us three decades to lose our leadership in clean energy — and that our current mess is NOT the fault of progressives, not the fault of Obama and Congressional Democrats, but rather of conservatives who have worked hard to gut all of the applied clean energy development and demonstration programs in the federal government whenever they were in charge (see Who got us in this energy mess? Start with Ronald Reagan and “Anti-wind McCain had to deliver his climate remarks at a foreign wind company” and “Why is our energy policy so lame? Ask the three GOP stooges“).

Note to Media:  The Breakthrough Institute blames our troubles on progressives and environmentalists like Gore, Obama, and Waxman, because if you want to sucker the media into running your contrarian attacks, you have to attack your supposed “friends.”  But just repeating their disinformation isn’t journalism and it isn’t accurate.

Time magazine does get a quote from a non-TBI person dissing the clean energy bill:

“This bill does nothing to drive the installation of new renewable energy for the next several years,” says Craig Mataczynski, the president of Colorado-based clean energy company Res Americas.

Well, duh.  The clean energy bill does nothing to drive the installation of new renewable energy for the next several years because it doesn’t even start until 2012 and because the stimulus funding is projected to blow the roof through renewable energy deployment (see “EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus“).

Also note that this quote isn’t even directed at the supposedly inadequate level of funding for clean energy research that forms the basis of Walsh’s (and TBI’s) critique.  It is directed at the too-weak renewable energy standard, which directly drives deployment.

Bryan Walsh and Time should be embarrassed by what they have done. They have published a cut-and-paste hit job on Obama with no fact-checking whatsoever.  They have repeated disinformation that attacks Obama for supposedly failing to deliver on a promise that in fact he is in the process of over-delivering on — unless, of course, TBI succeeds in their full-court press efforts to kill the clean energy bill.

The clean energy bill as currently constructed, combined with the stimulus and Obama’s budgets, would easily meet candidate Obama’s promise of doubling clean energy R&D and it would greatly surpass his goal of $150 billion in clean energy development and deployment funding over 10 years. In fact, those and other clean energy efforts by Obama would, as I’ve shown, probably generate total US investments in clean energy — public and private sector — of $100 billion a year (see “The only way to win the clean energy race is to pass the clean energy bill“).

Walsh opens his piece:

When Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon 40 years ago, it was a triumph of American scientific skill. It was also the result of the government’s willingness to spend over $125 billion, in today’s dollars, to take the country to the moon.

The need to remake our energy economy and to replace fossil fuels with renewables like wind and solar is often referred to as the new Apollo Project, a challenge to our scientists “” and to the federal checkbook “” that will be even greater than the moon race.

What Walsh seems to forget is that Apollo was not just R&D.  We put a dozen men on the moon ending with Apollo 17!  That is a massive amount of hardware deployment (after a lot of hardware demonstration).

While TBI and Time seem stuck on the ground in the 1960s with their focus on government-funded R&D, the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are pursuing a vastly superior strategy that would result not in one measly Apollo program of clean energy R&D — it would result in nearly one clean energy Apollo program of R&D and demonstration and deployment every year for decades.  That is the only chance this country has to avert catastrophic global warming and regain our leadership in clean energy.

9 Responses to Did Time magazine’s Bryan Walsh cut-and-paste a faulty critique of Obama’s clean energy efforts?

  1. Egregious.

    On the other hand, trumpeting a (supposed) superiority of Asian renewables investment does help break through the Senate Republicans endless claims that China is doing nothing about climate change (therefore we don’t need to do anything either)

  2. Dan C says:

    I am a relatively new reader who is unclear as to why such strong, [snip], language is regularly used with regards to the Breakthrough Institute (and Dr. Pielke Jr.) and their work given that, on the whole, you both appear to be advocating for very similar goals: massive investment into clean energy. Clearly you disagree on the role of emissions targets, which is certainly a topic worthy of healthy debate, but much of the remaining incisive commentary seems to relate more to semantics that serve only to polarize two groups that are in fact largely on the same side of the discussion.

    [JR: As a new reader, you should probably spend some time on Climate Progress and the science blogosphere to fully understand this particular issue. TBI and Pielke pretend to advocate similar goals and thus they sound like they are on the same side as climate science activists like me. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are very skilled at what they do, because their goal is to be credible enough with the media so that they can then launch vicious “contrarian” attacks on actual climate science activists. I think the best overall post I’ve written on TBI — with links to their disinformation-based attacks on Gore, Obama, Waxman, and other clean energy advocates, plus a withering critique of their supposed environmentalism by a well-known academic — is here. One of the top environmentalists in the country described TBI as the North Koreans of the climate debate — engaging in the most outlandish and egregious behavior in order to get noticed by everyone else.

    As for Pielke, among media figures who claim to believe in the IPCC, he is probably the most debunked person in the entire science blogosphere (although Lomborg is close). He is beloved of and widely quoted by the deniers — Sen. Inhofe and Marc Morano — for a very good reason. They basically have the same goal of delaying serious action on climate. Pielke viciously smears the professional reputation of real climate scientists on a regular basis over the tiniest of semantic disagreements (see here)

    My posts on TBI and Pielke comprise maybe 1% to 2% of my overall posts, and it is a general policy to mostly ignore them until their disinformation breaks through to the MSM. But if you think this is professional behavior by Pielke — see here — then you have a major disagreement with me and the overwhelming majority of my readers.

    My “goal” is not “massive investment into clean energy.” That would be an inevitable outcome of my primary goal, which is avoiding catastrophic global warming. I have no idea what TBI and Pielke really believe. I know what they say and do — which shows no actual evidence that they are at all interested in avoiding catastrophic global warming, since they categorically refuse to propose policies that could possibly solve the problem (see here for instance). Indeed, given that TBI is working full time to kill the climate and clean energy bill, it is impossible to say they are on the side of anyone who cares about the health and well-being of future generations.]

    I read and value both your blog and that of Dr. Pielke Jr. for advancing useful ideas and information for our clean energy future; I do not care about who shut down who’s blog or who is a climate “denier”, nor does that benefit anyone as we attempt to move forward and solve our climate and energy issues. I ask respectfully as a reader that you try to focus on the issues and not the personal battles–and perhaps even acknowledge the ways in which your viewpoints converge–in order for a healthy policy debate to continue to thrive.

    (As a nice example, I thought your discussion of the McKinsey report on July 29 was terrific.)

    Thanks very much,

    [JR: Thanks. I hope you stick around. We won’t agree 100% on everything — but that is true of everyone who comes.]

  3. Mike#22 says:

    Dan, I was fooled a few times by innocuous statements from Pielke(s) and TBI. Some of the stuff over at TBI looks useful.

    Many thanks to JR and others journalists for exposing Pielke(s) and TBI. There is a LOT of material, all of it delayer/denier falsehoods, all dressed up to look fair and balanced. To quote the long eared one, Read The References, above.

    As regards the Time magazine article, it looks to me like thay have also inserted the TBI mantra into Energy Secretary Chu’s testimony: “But according to many energy experts — including Steven Chu, Obama’s Nobel Prize-winning Energy Secretary — the science isn’t there yet. Significant basic research and development needs to happen before renewables can truly displace fossil fuels” making it sound like Chu is against the immediate deployments of renewable energy across every sector.

    Walsh and Editors have some explaining to do.

    [JR: Good point, Mike. I need to do a Chu post. Not only is he for immediate and aggressive deployment of clean energy, especially efficiency, he is also for a high carbon price. So while he does believe we need major technological advances to avert catastrophic global warming — and who doesn’t, given that we probably need to get back to 350 pppm? — he is no delayer.]

  4. Jay Alt says:

    Others have drawn some of the same conclusions as TBI. See paragraph 3 –

    [JR: Uhh, not really. I’m sure those Nobelists support passing the climate bill, whereas TBI aggressively opposes passing the bill. But it is true that the Nobelists have bought into the myth TBI pushes, since the letter ends, “We hope that you will urge the Congress to send you a bill that will invest in energy research, development, and demonstration at an amount approaching the stable
    $15 billion annual support that you have proposed.” At least they added “demonstration” — but as I’ve shown, Obama didn’t propose $15 billion annually for RD&D.

    Don’t confused my constant debunking of TBI’s falsehoods with opposition to much greater RD&D&D spending. TBI uses their nominal support for clean energy as the “street cred” they need to trash anybody who actually tries to pass serious legislation to boostclimate and clean energy.]

  5. David B. Benson says:

    350 ppm isn’t low enough. Glaciers will still melt further back than is needed in those localities which rely on glaciers for melt water. Around 300 ppm CO2e is probably the correct goal.

  6. Jason says:

    Joe, Please explain why the $150 billion over 10 years for Energy R&D figure is still on the White House website. To my knowledge you have never addressed this.

    [JR: Since it is an obvious mistake, like many things on the web, I have always assumed that it was the work of some intern type. That’s why I never “addressed” it. But it does gives those who want to attack Obama for supposedly not keeping a campaign promise he didn’t actually make something to point to — so I’m assuming the White House will get around to fixing it.]

  7. Franklin Barrett says:

    Is this just like the RE-ENERGYSE initiative that Obama proposed? An “obvious” mistake that the White House will “get around to fixing”?


    [JR: What the frig are you talking about? You still can’t admit what Obama clearly campaigned on. How could he possibly have spelled it out in more detail over and over again. Please!]

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