The troubling trend of the fossil fuel industry and conservative media twisting scientific research to fit their own agenda is not going away, as Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson recently found out. In the age of rampant climate denial, scientists and researchers like Jacobson are increasingly recognizing that they must fight back against deliberate rightwing distortions of their work.
On January 8, the Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch reported on what he seemed to consider a “gotcha” moment for the environmental movement: environmentalists have been touting a study showing that the U.S. could transition to 100 percent renewable energy, but according to Bastasch, “they must not have realized the study also shows nearly 1.2 million Americans permanently out of work.”
Bastasch did not get this statistic from the study itself, nor did he contact any of the study's authors. He turned instead to a fossil fuel industry group called Energy In Depth, which he described as “an oil and gas industry-backed education project.”
Last summer, Jacobson led a Stanford University study showing that the U.S. can fully replace its fossil fuel infrastructure with 100 percent renewable energy -- wind, water, and solar (WWS) -- by 2050, and that such a plan would bring economic benefits, including a net gain of two million long-term jobs (defined as jobs lasting at least 40 years).
Last week, Energy In Depth's Steve Everley claimed that the Stanford plan would kill over 1.2 million more long-term jobs than it would create.
-- Mark Z. Jacobson (@mzjacobson) January 5, 2016
The study itself, as Jacobson explained to the ClimateDenierRoundup on Daily Kos, found that shifting to 100 percent renewables “would create 3.9 million 40-year construction jobs (3.9 million people working 40 years on construction) in addition to nearly 2 million permanent operation jobs.” It would also lead to a loss of 3.9 million fossil fuel-based jobs, resulting in a net increase of 2 million jobs over 40 years.
Jacobson told Media Matters in an email that Everley “refused to count the construction jobs as 40-year jobs, instead saying they were not 'long-term' jobs and pretending as if they were just short term (e.g., 1 year) construction jobs.” He added that Everley “refus[ed] to correct it when informed of the error.”
Not surprisingly, the Daily Caller took Everley's post and ran with it. In an article headlined “Enviros Accidentally Tout Study Showing 100% Green Energy Will Permanently Kill Millions Of Jobs,” Bastasch wrote that “green groups” such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have ignored the “inconvenient truth” about Jacobson's study. In reality, the only inconvenient truth here is that the Daily Caller has an aversion to accurate climate reporting.
Jacobson acknowledged to Media Matters that it's “necessary” for him to stand up for his work “when the misinformation is so egregious.” Said Jacobson, “Whereas I have experienced cases where people didn't like our results because they affected their energy of choice, this is the first time I've come across someone (Everley) actually falsifying data from our study then refusing to correct it when informed of the error.”
But this has become a common trend among fossil fuel front groups and rightwing media outlets, which frequently distort climate research to fit a pro-fossil fuel agenda. Scientific researchers have previously expressed deep concerns about conservative media outlets' “ridiculous,” “alarming,” and “patently false” distortions of their research.
In fact, these media distortions have become so common that a NASA scientist recently predicted climate science deniers would twist his study on Antarctic ice to dispute the climate change consensus -- and of course, that's exactly what happened.
Scientific research can be complicated, so it's a good idea to ask the researchers themselves what their research means, especially if it appears to mean something groundbreaking or unexpected. And when a fossil fuel industry consultant like Everley or rightwing outlet like the Daily Caller won't fix their stories even after the researcher himself demands a correction, then you know the falsehood is intentional.
So when conservative news sites like the Daily Caller continue to echo fossil fuel industry distortions of climate research, we're left with the unfortunate situation in which the researchers themselves must continue to speak out and defend their work.
Photo at top via Flickr user delwedd with a Creative Commons license.
UPDATE (1/15/16): After the publication of this post, Energy in Depth published a new post stating that Jacobson “delete[d]” data “showing a net loss of long-term jobs” from the transition to 100 percent renewable energy, which was echoed by the Daily Caller. In an email to Media Matters, Jacobson clarified that he had informed the Energy in Depth blogger Steve Everley on January 5 “that the numbers [Everley] was using for his article were dead test numbers not used or linked to anything,” but that "[e]ven after being informed, [Everley] still used the irrelevant test numbers in his article." Jacobson continued: “Because of [Everley's] abuse of the dead numbers and because they served no purpose, I removed the dead numbers from the spreadsheet. All numbers that the paper relies on are still in the spreadsheet and were never touched.” He added: “Any reader can compare the paper with the spreadsheet to determine this themselves.”