Breakthrough Institute does the full Charlie Sheen: After months of attacking clean energy standards and efficiency, now they flip-flop to defense

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I’m not certain anybody can follow the gyrations of The Breakthrough Institute (TBI) anymore.  Over the last few years, it has attacked essentially every plausible solution to our energy and climate problems — and anyone who tries to end our status quo energy policies.

Now, in the span of a few weeks, it has gone from attacking clean energy standards and energy efficiency, especially efficient lighting, to proudly defending those crucial strategies.  If TBI doesn’t even read its own reports, should we?

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Readers have long asked me to update the term “jumping the shark” — especially since the term is really supposed to apply only to “the point in a television program’s history where the plot spins off into absurd storylines,” and I have often been using it for institutions that were not serious to begin with.  Certainly another new Breakthrough Institute article can’t be said to be jumping the shark (see TBI’s attack on energy efficiency backfires and Debunking TBI’s attacks on Obama, Gore, Waxman and Markey, Rachel Carson (!), and top climate scientists).

That’s where Charlie Sheen comes in.

Charlie Sheen seems a better archetype for a group that was never terribly serious, and now seems to issue incoherent statements primarily for the purpose of getting media attention.  Sheen at least is reveling in his self-parody.  As CBS reports, “Charlie Sheen has announced additional tour dates to his upcoming ‘My Violent Torpedo of Truth‘ tour, which kick starts next month.”

TBI, however, has been engaged in a wholesale attack on clean energy standards and energy efficiency for months now, using talking points that right-wing think tanks have pushed for years (see The intellectual bankruptcy of conservatism: Heritage even opposes energy efficiency).  This shouldn’t be terribly surprising to longtime followers of TBI.  After all, last year they partnered with a right-wing think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, to push right-wing energy myths and attack the most basic of clean energy policies, a clean energy standard.

The Introduction to the October 2010 report that TBI’s Ted Nordhaus and Michael SHEllENberger co-authored with AEI (and Brookings) states:

New mandates, carbon pricing systems such as cap and trade, and today’s mess of subsidies are not going to deliver the kind of clean energy innovation required.

Yes, Nordhaus and Shellenberger joined AEI in asserting that mandates plus a carbon price plus subsidies can’t drive the necessary innovation.  Seriously.

Note that energy subsidies include R&D (see for instance Wikipedia), and Nordhaus and Sheen support a massive ramp up in clean energy subsidies, just (slightly) different ones … well, it would take too long to try to explain what they supposedly mean here about that, other than pointing out that the Republican National Committee loved their attack on Obama’s huge ramp up in clean energy subsidies so much, they used it themselves.  But I digress.

[Regular readers know that TBI posts require multiple head vises.  New readers can take some comfort in the fact that DARPA is funding R&D into a containment field that could protect people’s crania from The Breakthrough Institute analyses.  It’s too late for you, of course, but just imagine how that breakthrough might improve the lives of future generations!]

At the same time last fall, TBI starting publishing pieces claiming that More Efficient Lighting Will Increase, Not Decrease, Energy Consumption” [emphasis in original — if you truly have world-class head-vises you can search for “Saunders” on their website].  It was debunked here:  “Efficiency lives “” the rebound effect, not so much.”

Then they published a whole big report last month on “How Efficiency Can Increase Energy Consumption.”  I have published various debunkings by some of the world’s leading energy experts (see “Debunking the Jevons Paradox: Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” and “The Breakthrough Institute’s attack on clean energy backfires” and “Energy efficiency and the ‘rebound effect’ “).

But the fact that TBI published easily debunked nonsense is not news.  What’s head-vise-busting here, what defines the full Charlies Sheen, is that Breakthrough Institute’s Senior Fellow Roger Pielke Jr. published an op-ed in the NYT last week touting the benefits of energy-efficient lighting standard — and the very same TBI website that has been pushing out an unending stream of disinformation on energy efficiency and clean energy standards, now pushes out a tweet praising the study and posts this on their front-page:

TBI featured

Well, as we’ve seen, you can’t spell Shellenberger without Sheen.

[Yes, something would appear to be wrong with their website since the Pielke article isn’t “today,” it was the March 10th (see here).]

TBI supported Obama’s climate plan until he made a few changes and then they trashed it and everyone who supported it (see S&N go after Obama by recycling GOP talking points).  They supported a massive increase in spending on clean energy, until Obama did it in the stimulus, and then they trashed it.

But this is beyond such standard TBI fare.  Again, after months of trashing clean energy standards, explicitly saying that they don’t drive innovation, and after months of trashing efforts to promote energy-efficient lighting, explicitly saying it could actually lead to increases in energy use, now they sing the praises of energy efficient lighting standards:  “Let There be More Efficient Light.”

Like Charlie Sheen, The Breakthrough Institute doesn’t make sense anymore, but they are both amusing, in a way (if only TBI’s efforts weren’t spreading so much disinformation for right-wingers to use).  Still, I’m filing this under humor and ending with a final tweet:

John Stamos, Twitter

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12 Responses to Breakthrough Institute does the full Charlie Sheen: After months of attacking clean energy standards and efficiency, now they flip-flop to defense

  1. boulderwind says:

    Joe, here is the link to the Pielke piece:

  2. Joan Savage says:

    The Breakthrough Institute about-face possibly makes more sense with some information about LED lighting.

    First generation energy efficient LED lighting was usually a pretty harsh spotlight, and not a comfortable spectrum for home use. Light-diffusing plastic provides more even illumination and improves the spectral quality of LED lighting. RTP Company (several locations) makes a light-diffusing plastic favored for that purpose.

    Whether Koch Industries plastics divisions are competitors for the LED business growth, or business allies of RTP, is a question.

    [JR: Except all their attacks on lighting specifically involve a discussion of LED lighting. You are seeking rational explanations where there are none to find. Think Charlie Sheen.]

  3. Joan Savage says:

    JR in #2,

    Indeed I do! Charlie Sheen is reinventing himself for a new market niche. Why not others?

    The New York Times piece by Pielke, Jr. endorses regulation that could push down both incandescent and CFC bulbs (both types of bulbs are largely imports) and open up a huge market for LEDs.

    It gives a whole new twist to TBI’s favored notion of “Rebound Effect.”

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I think the answer is ‘Confusion will be my epitaph as I crawl a cracked and broken path….’Fancy that! Channeling King Crimson, all out of nowhere. It’s amazing what you can do with two and a half neurons! Still, it’s all about confusion. Keep the facts fluid. Move the goalposts, then chop ’em down. Say one thing one day, the opposite the next.’Oceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia’. Consistency is for the ‘reality-based’. These creatures, as Karl Rove boasted, ‘..create their own reality’. And the time spent taking note of their capering and strutting and fretting is wasted time, which must be kept to a minimum.

  5. Barry says:

    Looking forward to the Breakthrough Institute’s new denial and delay mega-roadshow…staring an ever expanding cast of GOP can’t-can’t dancers:

    “Our Violent Torpedo of Defeat/Truth is Not an Option SHOW”

  6. Joan Savage says:

    Erratum in post #3 – It should be CFL (compact fluorescent lighting), not CFC.

  7. It was a very confused opinion piece by Pielke. His main point was that the government has successfully set standards for weights and measures (such as a uniform standard for one gallon) in the past, and so they should set standards for energy efficiency now.

    Of course, those are two totally different issues. When the government set the standard for one gallon, it just told businesses how to measure the quantities that they sell. It did not set set performance standards for their products.

    Of course, there are good reasons for the government’s setting strong energy-efficiency standards. But they have nothing to do with the reasons the government sets standards for weights and measures.

  8. Tom Rodd says:

    Here’s a quote from the blog Coal Tattoo’s Ken Ward, on how the climate disinfromers freely move from one line to its opposite, to keep the confusion coming:

    “Back in the early 1990s, I remember writing about how terrible the Kyoto Protocol was, because — according to the coal industry and the UMWA among others — it required the United States to cut its greenhouse emissions, but required no action by developing countries such as China and India. Part of the argument was that if we cut our emissions and didn’t make them cut theirs, then we would be at a competitive disadvantage, and our industries and workers would lose out to China, India, etc.

    “Now, the forces of the fossil fuel industry and global capitalism in general (and its voices in the media, from places like the Economist and Forbes — both great and fascinating publications) are arguing, for example: “It’s absurd for people in the developed world to try to deny those in the emerging markets the opportunity to use coal to power their growth–because no other energy source is cheap enough or sufficiently scalable to compete.” (See … thanks to reader Casey for the link)

    “Back then, it was wrong to do anything about climate change because the plan under consideration would allow developing countries’ to grow. Now, it’s wrong to do anything about climate change because doing so would keep them from growing.

    “Which is it?”

    Quoted from comments at

  9. Interesting that RPJr supports small scale incandescent production, with no discussion of how to keep it small scale. The best way I could see to do that is cap-and-trade for incandescent permits. Presumably that will come in his next Op-Ed.

  10. mike roddy says:

    Pielke, Nordhaus, and Shellenberger have no real ideas or convictions: they are opportunists. This may be a good indicator, since their personal motto is follow the money”

  11. MightyDrunken says:

    Energy efficiency destroys American jobs by lowering the profits of energy companies.
    It is our duty to put up the heating and destroy a few Windows for the good of the economy. How do you think Bill Gates got so rich?

  12. Shredder says:

    Ditto mike roddy. Also, their mission is to bash hippies.

    At this point, they have gone from those annoying little dogs nipping at the heels of the big dogs to irrelevant little bugs.

    Time for their funders to wake up and redirect that money to more productive efforts.