Messaging can distort our understanding, even when the understanding challenged is the result of careful consideration and observations made over decades. Case in point, messaging that targeted Americans concerned about the conditions Afghanis endured effectively led Washington to ignore the advice of defense and intelligence officials who repeatedly warned our defense forces were no more equipped to restructure life in Afghanistan than the Soviet or French forces who attempted to and failed before us had been. We’d throw everything we had at that mission knowing it didn’t address the issues most responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001 because this messaging effectively distracted us from them. Those who’d financed the construction of militant training camps and the effort that enabled terrorists to hijack the aircraft used to attack us were practically ignored by comparison, despite the fact that they clearly posed the greatest threat. And, just so you know, those people weren’t Afghani.
Closer to home a similarly misleading messaging campaign is being used to attack a plan to address regional greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) that resulted from careful consideration. The work of researchers who measured those emissions nearly 11,000 times to establish that the facilities run by Hydro Quebec represent the most direct route to reduce them has largely been ignored because estimates produced by a far less thorough approach have been repeatedly presented absent the warning they aren’t the result of direct observation of the facilities in question. As far as science is concerned, the superior research is that which relies on direct observation to reach a conclusion.
Annie Levasseur (who is not only an expert in climate change assessment but chaired the United Nations Working Group on Global Warming and served on a panel of experts from the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine to develop a research agenda on negative carbon emissions and reliable sequestration technologies) and her team used those measurements to establish that the emissions resulting from power generation at Hydro Quebec equate to just 34.5 gCO2/kWh. This is 30 times smaller than the emissions produced by facilities that rely upon coal to generate power and is 10 times smaller than the emissions produce by those relying upon natural gas. It is also an equivalency rating which means it takes into consideration the significantly larger impact methane has, converting it into a value that allows researchers to easily compare facilities whether they predominantly emit carbon dioxide or methane.
I think part of the problem is that we want the best. Many weren’t willing to settle for an approach that provided protection from terrorism when an alternative approach suggested it could be eradicated if we merely invaded. Similarly, many aren’t willing to settle for the reduced GHG emissions the Clean Energy Corridor will provide because they’ve been told other sources, yet to be developed to the point they can deliver an equivalent amount of electricity, could do better. What makes this so concerning to me is that the messaging makes it easy for people to choose the approach that hasn’t been fully evaluated. It’s as though we’ve been conditioned to favor the wishful approach to the thoughtful one.