If you’ve followed CleanTechnica for long, you’ve surely run across the “100% renewable energy” work of Mark Jacobson. Basically, he has been uncovering how the world could go 100% renewable (on a country-by-country basis, and on a state-by-state basis in the US). You’ve probably also heard of a man who goes by the name Elon Musk — a South African dude now living in California who has a cleantech startup named after an old-timey dude from Croatia.
As well known and influential leaders in the transition to zero-emissions technology, these guys are stimulating an inspirational amount of hate, trolling, and PR attack pieces. Expect to see a lot more of that soon, and for years to come.
As Karl Burkart wrote yesterday, the recent “academic” attack on Mark Jacobson’s work came from 18 people, even though only 3 of them actually coauthored the paper. Some of these individuals have a strong bias for nuclear energy (an illogical bias of course — nuclear energy is insanely expensive, inflexible, takes forever to build, and comes with some major risks of its own). Some of these people are rather supportive of fossil fuels and CCS. Some of them think biofuels that Jacobson and crew excluded are important. And some are perhaps just envious of the press Jacobson and his initiatives (like The Solutions Project) get. So, they somehow decided to team up to throw some stones at Mark’s CV. In any case, the underlying point is clear yet important to highlight: As we get closer and closer to 100% renewables, as the target becomes more and more popular, and as the core technologies gain market share, the pushback from people and companies that for some reason don’t want 100% renewables will get stronger.
Mark may not be that accustomed to such attacks (though, I remember dealing with trolls talking smack about him in CleanTechnica comment threads years ago). However, Elon Musk surely is.
As we wrote months ago, websites have been set up to smear Elon, to mislead people on important matters relating to his companies, and to slow the transition to cleantech. Some of the main (and absurd) messages from these anti-Elon lobbyists have been that Elon’s businesses exist just to steal money from taxpayers and give it to the rich, that Elon’s companies would go bankrupt if not for government subsidies, and that Elon likes to kidnap kittens and make them play video games for hours on end (okay, I may have invented the last one, but it may actually be true).
As you all know, these attacks on Elon and his businesses are bunk. But they have certainly achieved some results. The LA Times has published multiple articles arguing these points, articles that have relied on hugely misleading and even completely false information. Some other major media outlets have done so as well. The arguments now pour into comment threads about Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, and Elon Musk on media outlets, blogs, and social networks across the web. It’s unclear what percentage of these comments now come from paid trolls versus people who have been genuinely confused by such trolls. Either way, though, the number of such comments has been rising.
Getting back to Mark Jacobson, the recent PNAS hit piece makes sense — the best place to attack a researcher is in an academic journal, right? Want to delegitimize the academic side of the push to go 100% renewable? Do … exactly what Clack et al. did. The approach apparently wasn’t scientifically legit, but it got passed off as such, and then some mainstream media outlets covered it like it was a big deal, and now the waterfall is flowing and there’s no stopping the ongoing misinformation dissemination that results.
It won’t be the last time Mark’s work is attacked in such a way. Furthermore, for each attack like the fault-ridden one published in PNAS, hundreds or thousands of follow-up attacks from people citing the Clack et al. piece can be run. They will be run. Congressional testimonies and politicians will be fed the “findings,” will parrot them with an anti-science megaphone, and will sometimes be able to pass or block legislation as a result.
FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) are highly effective at slowing progress. Methods used to keep pushing cigarettes into humans’ mouths have been used by Big Oil, Big Auto, and other Big Pollution industries. They will be used for years to come, and the size of the world’s totally insane carbon bubble (that keeps growing) make me think the anti-cleantech campaigns will reach a size never before seen.
Renewables and electric vehicles have already gotten extremely competitive, but when more oil, gas, coal, nuclear, auto, taxi, investment, and semi truck companies are collapsing or have collapse in their sight, they will get desperate. Some of them will hire professional shit talkers. Some of them will fund political campaigns for people like Don the Con. Some of them will commission error-infused reports from think tanks. All of these actions will lead to some genuine, good-hearted people getting incorrect ideas in their heads — bad ideas — and unbeknownst to themselves fighting progress.
It may seem like Elon Musk is on top of the world, but he’s got more haters than many of us would feel comfortable with. He has to wonder, “What will they try next?” Was he illogically paranoid that Big Auto and the UAW teamed up for a massive Tesla smear campaign that even infiltrated the good intentions and thorough journalism of The Guardian? Or is that really what went down? Was that just one of many dirty efforts to stifle the transition to zero-emissions transport? What’s around the corner?
Why bring all of this up? Why write a long article about it?
Word of mouth is powerful. Word of mouth is decentralized. Elon Musk and Mark Jacobson can put out their own responses, but it is genuinely the work of millions of individuals that gets the job done. It’s genuinely the work of “the little guy” that spreads accurate cleantech awareness, wipes out a large dose of misinformation, inspires another fan, and leads to another cleantech purchase. Great products do their part. Good communications at the source are absolutely critical. But grassroots word of mouth is priceless.
Naturally, I’m biased. I’m in the business of trying to communicate important messages to the masses, bring valuable information to more eyeballs, and debunk harmful myths. But I’m in the business in part because I think lack of awareness and lack of experience are the two biggest barriers to a much faster cleantech transition. We reach millions of people per month here on CleanTechnica, but our words only go so far. The potential for more human, in-the-flesh communication led us into conferences, but each of our conferences only reaches a tiny number of people.
If you’ve made it all the way down this verbose article, you probably know the story exceptionally well. You may feel — like I do — that you can’t reach enough people to counter the misinformation/disinformation campaigns, to inspire enough cleantech consumer action, to move the world forward fast enough. But the point is that each of us should do our part —whatever that is — to provide more people with critical information regarding renewable energy, electric transport, and other cleantech solutions. We can chip away at the inertia of our family members, friends, coworkers, and Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn connections.
We can — and should — stand up for Mark Jacobson and Elon Musk when they and their work get attacked, get misrepresented. No, you won’t save the world alone, but neither will the biggest names in cleantech — each of us is vastly limited in the number of people we can reach. How many people do you know who know almost nothing about Elon Musk? It’s really not about Mark or Elon. It’s not about their reputation or popularity. It’s about opening up societal consciousness and dissolving the counterproductive thoughts in people’s heads.
So, watch out for misinformation, watch out for FUD campaigns, watch out for trolls — and do your part to effectively communicate important information that counters these, preps people for them, or bypasses them.