Note: This text from 2043 has been delivered to me through a curious spacetime anomaly. Hopefully it only represents one possible future, not the future.
Multiple self-styled “environmental” organizations issued stark warnings of the catastrophic risks of their energy plans more than a quarter of century ago in prescient documents that have recently been rediscovered.
However, the organizations had been deeply invested in their opposition against many necessary clean energy technologies and helped lobby against their deployment, leading to accusations that these organizations knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly.
In one documented instance, an energy expert from one “environmental” organization admitted after a 2015 debate about energy plans that the highly optimistic plans he had defended as the only possible ones just minutes earlier were extremely unlikely to be put into practice or lead to necessary results. In another example, a long-time energy specialist in a major global organization openly admitted in 2011 that the key data in their hopelessly optimistic energy scenarios came directly from renewable energy industry, whose lobbyists also wrote the scenarios marketed by the organization as “the” solution to climate change problem. Similar frank admissions of the inadequacy of their plans were given to the author of this article by numerous other individuals in these organizations, albeit under cover of anonymity. Moreover, documents from organizations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth UK reveal that these organizations knew that the risks and drawbacks of certain clean energy technologies, including nuclear energy, were far lower than what they led the public to believe. As a damning research report commissioned by the Friends of the Earth UK in 2013 clearly states, “overall the safety risks associated with nuclear power appear to be more in line with lifecycle impacts from renewable energy technologies, and significantly lower than for coal and natural gas per MWh of supplied energy.”
But, despite being fully aware of the risks of runaway climate change, these organizations invested hundreds of millions of dollars in decades-long disinformation and scare campaigns against clean energy technologies, such as carbon capture and nuclear power, that worldwide scientific consensus believed either important or nearly irreplaceable in the climate fight. The environmentalist organizations also funded and supported outlier research that sought to undermine this consensus opinion and present the climate problem as solvable with renewable energy and energy efficiency alone, despite such scenarios being rejected by the IPCC and other expert bodies as unrealistic outliers.
According to both current and contemporary observers, these organizations had become prisoners of their history, continuing the policies they had adopted during their founding in the 1970s (when the organizations even went as far as to propose coal as an alternative to nuclear power) despite clear and mounting evidence that they were inadequate for the challenges of the 2000s.
Janne M. Korhonen, a Finnish historian and environmental activist, notes that in some ways this intransigence was understandable: “For these 1970s institutions, opposing nuclear power in particular was not only a major reason for their existence in the first place, but also an issue that continued to motivate their supporters to donate time and money to these organizations. They had their own, very effective but nevertheless misleading propaganda to thank for a lot of that grassroots inertia, and changing course would’ve meant both an admission that they had been wrong – something organizations are never good at – and a probable collapse in revenues.”
However, Korhonen also lays some of the blame on media and academic research community, noting that the self-styled “critical” researchers and media of the time were almost completely uncritical towards these organizations and their proposals. “It was naive then and it is naive now to believe that precisely the same energy policies that these organizations had championed since 1970s just happened to be the best option for avoiding runaway climate change as well. These organizations had in effect decided in the 1970s that they would support only what they somewhat arbitrarily labelled ‘renewable’ energy and energy efficiency, and it’s no surprise the emergence of climate change as a major problem did nothing to change these policies.”
“Nevertheless, for years these organizations could continue to distribute energy scenarios made by renewable energy lobbyists, from data supplied by renewable energy industry, without any criticism. They also faced no questions whatsoever about the details of their plans, such as WWF’s 2010 energy plan where bioenergy monocultures were envisioned to cover greater swathes of land than what was used for wheat at the time, without the slightest explanation of where this land was to come from. Very few questioned them about why their plans would condemn the Africans of 2050s to energy access far below the average Chinese of 2010s, and whether it was either realistic or ethical to make such plans. Finally, media and researchers continued to present these organizations as credible voices in energy debates, particularly in ones concerning nuclear energy, even long after their tendency to omit key facts and even forge statistics to make their case had been documented.”
“They really ought to have known the truth about climate change but couldn’t change their own thinking, even though they publicly demanded everyone else to change their thinking. In the end, it’s just sad that despite their good intentions, these organizations became de facto opponents of effective climate policies just when such policies might still have made a difference.”