Oil Industry Uses PBS Nova to Scare Voters About the "Risk" of Clean Energy

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For somebody old enough to remember PBS before “fair and balanced” news, last night was a shock.

“Energy: the Big Gamble” on PBS Nova contained blatant lies about the pending climate legislation in California. Funding for NOVA is provided by ExxonMobil, Pacific Life, David H. Koch… This is the same Koch family, that makes its billions off oil and gas, that Greenpeace found had spent $25 million from 2005 to 2008 funding  climate denial. This show was designed to scare US voters, and initially, California voters who now face the oil industry’s ballot initiative to put a stop to pending climate legislation, AB32 to move the state to a clean energy economy.


The message of the NOVA piece is that moving to a clean energy economy is just too risky. To drive the message into our subconscious, the show itself is called “Energy: The Big Gamble” and each time the narrator intones on the terrors of climate legislation, dice are shown being rolled (by uncaring hands) to show you just what a risk is being taken with your life. Tremble, Californians!  Some unseen gambler is messing with your livelihood.

Two segments contained particularly self-serving lies for the oil and gas industry now battling the climate legislation in California. In one segment about all the problems they claim will come with clean energy, they actually insinuate that California has blackouts – supposedly because we have too much renewable energy!

NARRATOR: But that is not the only problem. Coal can be burnt to release energy when you need it, but what do you do if the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow?

DANIEL KAMMEN: Renewables aren’t the easy we’re-just-going-to-do-it solution. There are issues. One of the big issues is that for solar and wind, in particular, they are intermittent. They’re on some of the time, off other times, and it’s not consistent. You cannot always predict it.

NARRATOR: (almost whining) But grid managers have to predict it. They need power on demand. And when they can’t get it, it raises one alarming specter.

REPORTER 1: Minutes after the power went out in Aliso Viejo there was the sound of screeching tires and crumpled cars.

NARRATOR: With an aging grid and a shortage of reserve power, blackouts have plagued California for years.

REPORTER 2: We’re talking 10, 20, 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, possibly, with people without power.

PHARMACIST: We cannot get on our computer. We cannot process prescriptions. We cannot call doctors for refills.

NARRATOR: To eliminate the risk of blackouts, as renewable energy increases beyond 20 percent, it will be necessary to come up with a cost-effective technology to store power.

Actually, the last time that California had blackouts was during the Enron extortion in 2000-2001. That was not because we had some “excessive” amount of renewable energy. It was found by FERC to be due to purely financial market manipulation by Enron.

In another segment they imply that AB32 will raise your energy prices by 25% (again, not true), driving you and your small business out of state.

NARRATOR: But there has been no gold rush for Jim and Myra Malkiewicz. Their family has been in the mattress business for decades, but with the increasing costs of materials, times are very tough.

JIM MALKIEWICZ (Wickline Bedding Company): My father’s been in the business for 50 years. He’s never seen it this difficult. And margins are shrinking: the cost of fuel is going up, the cost of foam is going up. In just a seven-month period we’ve had four price increases on polyurethane foam—which we use, obviously, a lot in our mattresses—totaling 60 percent, 60 percent. That’s just one component. It’s gone across the board.

NARRATOR: The vicious pincer of higher costs at a time of recession has devastated their profit margins. They’re down to just three percent. For Jim and Myra and their 60 employees, the prospect of a large hike in electricity rates is terrifying.

JIM MALKIEWICZ: Let’s add these costs up: let’s say we’re spending $4,000 a month on energy; that’s $50,000 a year. Let’s say we go up by $1,000 a month. That’s an additional $12,000 that you’re spending that comes out of the bottom line. Well, in some cases, that’s somebody’s employment. The question becomes, “Can you survive these bad credit markets, the tight money? Can you survive the bigger costs in gas, fuel, electricity?

Electricity prices are not going to go up 25%! And their 60% rise in polyurethane costs has nothing to do with the “risky gamble'” on climate legislation – that won’t even take effect till 2012, (and will cover utilities’ raw materials, not those of mattress makers).

(In fact, a California business with good enough credit to be in business (and a roof) that wants to lower its energy costs can access clean power purchase agreements (PPAs) with companies that offer ways to save money from day one on electricity using solar.

Businesses that have put in energy efficiency or renewable energy find that they save money by adding renewable energy or efficiency. Any business can access Federal and state incentives under The Recovery Act and state and utility rebates that make clean energy production feasible for businesses.)

Don’t be taken in by this self-serving scaremongering by the fossil industry, masquerading as quality television. For shame, PBS.

Image: Mike Jackson’s Hollywood Disaster movie

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15 thoughts on “Oil Industry Uses PBS Nova to Scare Voters About the "Risk" of Clean Energy

  • Good on you susan, lies need to be confronted!

  • They actually said that if you put solar collectors on one million house holds in California that it would only give you one percent of that states needs. Then went on to say how California have a concentrating solar plant but need more and were will they put them all. I actually asked aloud ” This is a NOVA program”?

    • @DonJones Yeah – that was complete nonsense too, there was way too much disinformation to list it all in a quick read blog post.

  • So much for NOVA’s reputation as a science show. Perhaps they were trying to counter the perception that PBS leans left, but they sure botched it.

  • The BIG scare should be giving our oil money to izlam and their terrorists

    SK: @Joe – “Izlam and their terrorists” have the oil – so THAT’S where Exxon drills. The US only has 2% of world supply. So Exxon couldn’t be the largest company making only 2% of world supply. But Exxon and the Koch Brothers make money on their foreign oil, not just on the 2% that’s drilled in the US.

    “Exxon Mobil engages in oil and gas exploration, production, supply, transportation, and marketing around the world. It has proved reserves of just less than 21 billion barrels of oil equivalent.”

  • Climate change is a global problem, and yet each one of us has the power to make a difference. Even small changes in our daily behaviour can help prevent greenhouse gas emissions without affecting our quality of life. In fact, they can help save us money!

  • Good Job Susan!

    This sort of biased rubbish is par for the course these days in the media, from newspapers through broadcast and cable.

    Blogs have become an important forum to ‘call out’ these lying retards, but what’s really needed is to go head to head with them.

    With commodity level PCs, video cameras, free video editing software and Youtube… we suddenly now have the amazing opportunity where anyone can do their own documentary, and broadcast it themselves. And you don’t need the Koch family funding you to do it. 15 year old kids make their own sitcoms.

    What goes around comes around, PBS will get their own, they just killed their credibility. You can’t BUY credibility, it can only be earned!

  • I agree with automation. While I drive the speed limit, I see bad driving behaviour, usually solo young men in large pickups or SUV’s driving fast, erratic, obviously in a hurry. They’re on their way to work, like myself, but can’t seem to give themselves a few more minutes to be civil on the road. Conservation is the easiest way to save money and energy, and the most appropriate way to get people to conserve is to raise prices. Nobody likes to hear that, but it’s fair to the next generation to pay for our oil wars now, and to somehow keep up respect for our currency. Us older folks nearing retirement need to count on the money we’ve saved, that it will be worth something when we bail out of the rat wheel. Working people can only support so many rich people, so many poor people. Let’s hope they don’t get together on the “fair and balanced” planet and perpetuate forever, though a 51% majority, the easy life for themselves, at the expense of those who actually earn or create wealth.

  • Good catch Susan. NOVA and PBS have just lost their credibility with me too.

  • I have been to your blog before. The more I take in, the more I keep coming back! ;-P

  • “This show [Energy: the Big Gamble] was designed to scare US voters, and initially, California voters who now face the oil industry’s ballot initiative to put a stop to pending climate legislation, AB32 to move the state to a clean energy economy.”

    This NOVA show originally aired Jan. 20, 2009: long after AB32 was passed into law (2006), and well before CA’s current AB32 ballot initiative.

    For a less hysterical, more sober look at this controversial NOVA show, try here:


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