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EVs, Solar, & Energy Storage: Ignoring The Science That Will Save Us

Why do people develop and hold onto negative opinions about sustainable technologies in the face of evidence to the contrary?

Ignoring the science that could save Planet Earth is rampant today. People can have empathy, function in society, and survive — even thrive — yet still reject basic premises of scientific climate reasoning. People want to be totally sure, for example, that the changes they make in removing themselves from reliance on fossil fuels, centralized electricity generation, and legacy autos are certain and solid decisions.

But ignoring the science disregards the facts about the climate crisis and the power of renewable technologies.

Cars, trucks, and other forms of transportation are a major producer of air pollution in the world. Climate scientists say vehicle electrification is one of the best ways to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. A research team from MIT released data in an interactive online tool to help people quantify the true costs of their car-buying decisions — both for the planet and their budget. EVs are arriving much faster than anyone might have forecast.

The source of solar energy — the sun — is nearly limitless and can be accessed anywhere on earth at one time or another. Yes, it would take around 10 million acres of land, but that’s only about 0.4% of the area of the US to allow enough space for solar photovoltaics (PV) to supply all of the nation’s electricity.

Energy storage has been evolving and creating long-term benefits and reliability for consumers. It is critical for the entire grid as it augments energy resources and can act as a generation, transmission, or distribution asset – sometimes in a single asset. As an enabling technology, it can save consumers money, improve reliability and resilience, integrate generation sources, and help reduce environmental impacts.

If renewable energy technology is so great, then why do so many people deny its potential in our lives?

Ignoring the Science: Denial in Crisis

Public health expert Sara Gorman and psychiatrist/scientist Jack Gorman argue in a recent book that failure to adhere to scientific evidence can have dire outcomes. Their exposition can help us to unpack why well-meaning people hold to notions that sustainable energy methods like EVs, solar, and energy storage are bad.

Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Science that Will Save Us updates a 2016 first edition book. The revision investigates the psychological factors that lead to self-defeating denial of facts; the authors conclude that normal, evolutionary, and adaptive tendencies act against us. If we extend their argument, the costs of wavering on renewable energy technologies are so enormous that we must make transparent theirs benefits — over and over — if we are to overcome denialism and create a citizenry who can sort out scientific climate facts from hype.

Here are some inroads to do just that offered by the authors of Denying to the Grave.

We want to think that charismatic leaders of anti-science movements are just people who hold incorrect ideas about health and well-being. The Gormans discount that notion and say, instead, that such individuals actually masquerade as selfless but gain considerable personal benefits from promulgating false ideas. Activist voices like Greta Thunberg and António Guterres have counterparts like Peter Duesberg, Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, Gilles- Éric Séralini, and Wayne LaPierre. Such leaders have such an influence that audiences make decisions or hold beliefs that do not resemble decisions or beliefs they might otherwise hold on their own.

Confirmation bias refers to our tendency to attend only to information that agrees with what we already think is true. Just look at the world’s energy system, which definitely needs to be greened for sustainable development. However, green energy development is fundamentally established upon people’s knowledge about its comparative advantages over other types of energy development. Whether an energy candidate is truly ‘green’ depends on many factors that encompass costs and benefits in various dimensions and range from inputs to outputs along multiple lifecycles. Cognitive biases can lead to misleading language use and further result in entrenched decision-making that only leads to more ignoring the science of renewable technologies.

Ignoring the science of sustainable energy technology can often involve examining causality and filling in ignorance gaps, according to Gorman and Gorman. They say that it is highly adaptive to know how to attribute causality but that people are often too quick to do so. People have a difficult time sitting with uncertainty and accepting coincidence. Revealing ways to better comprehend true causality can be done by examining criteria for causal inference — strength, consistency, specificity, temporality, biological gradient, plausibility, coherence, experiment, and analogy. We might apply those criteria to early studies of demand response or smart grids demonstrated the effective matching of supply and demand in a region.Today, to fill in the knowledge gaps, such analyses can be expanded into linkages among carbon dioxide emissions, energy consumption, and economic growth.

Because it’s impossible to keep up with the enormous amount of scientific articles that are published, we rely on a variety of sources (like CleanTechnica 😀 ) to sift through them. Gorman and Gorman argue that the public needs to overcome an avoidance of complexity of science to judge independently what publications are important. In the world of EVs, solar energy, and energy storage, this means drawing upon a complexity science perspective in which an appreciation of the complex, dynamic, and interconnected relationships occurring within a complex system or problem. Renewable energy fundamental understanding and scientific breakthroughs in new materials and chemical processes make possible new energy technologies and performance levels — staying current with these innovations is essential to gaining renewable energy scientific literacy.

It’s common today to hear people problem-solve through a risk-cost-reward equation. Sometimes, we work through those equations based on skewed risk perception and probability. Risk perception is prone to change based on type of risk, and many people still consider renewables a risky venture. Yet over the last decade a surge in lithium-ion battery production has led to an 85% decline in prices, making electric vehicles and energy storage commercially viable for the first time in history. Comparing energy storage needs and priorities in 2010 vs 2021, important applications continue to emerge including decarbonization of heavy-duty vehicles, rail, maritime shipping, and aviation and the growth of renewable electricity and storage on the grid.

Ignoring the Crisis OR Zeroing in on Clean Technologies

The scientific process is slow and methodical. Analyzing claims can lead to peer-reviewed consensus so that, eventually, the scientific community converges on a shared reality that becomes scientific fact. Spread of misinformation is common in any time of social change and has produced much science denial in crisis over the last decade. Especially during times of political polarization, audiences tend to reject an entire body of beliefs, rather than examining each belief separately.

Surveys show that people in the US have a very high regard for science and its potential to accomplish much that will benefit individuals. When agencies like the EPA have their necessary funding, scientific expertise can be restored to full strength. Gorman and Gorman argue that “the science that is used to help guide policy must be unencumbered by political intrusion and represent solid, data-driven research. We need an end to censorship, banished words, and firing of scientists whose findings are inconvenient for politicians.”

ignoring the science

 
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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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