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Unpublished letters: Wrong facts supporting wrong conclusions

September 13th, 2010 · No Comments

WarrenS has taken on an admirable resolution: to send a letter to the editor (LTE) (or, well, a major politician) every single day, on the critical issues of climate change and energy. This discusses his approach and here is an amusing ‘template’ to for rapid letter writing.

Now, I have always written letters and even had many published — just not one every day. WarrenS inspires me to do better.

Many newspapers state that they will reject letters that have been published elsewhere, thus I have not been blogging letters … perhaps that should change. Thus, below is what might be the first in an “unpublished letters” series publishing those LTEs that don’t get picked up by the editors.

9 April 2007

To the Editors, Newsweek,

In “The Case for a Global Carbon Tax”, Fareed Zakaria writes that “we consume three times as much energy as we did 30 years ago.” In fact, according to the US government’s Energy Information Agency, this is not true. In 1976, total US energy use was 76 quadrillion Btu. In 2006: 99.7 quadrillion Btus. That percentage increase was 31% rather than the 200% (“three times”) in the article. In that time period the US economy tripled while the US population grew by 36.9%. Thus, with a growing economy, there was actually a per capita decrease in energy use.

Mr Zakaria uses incorrect information to support an incorrect conclusion: “In the end, everyone realizes that innovation is the only real solution to the global-warming problem. And that’s where Cheney is right. Conservation and energy efficiency are smart policies, but not enough.” Well, many energy experts would disagree with this statement, such as Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), who coined the phrase “negawatts” to desribe the reality that we can save a tremendous amount of energy for less than it costs to create new energy generation capability. Study after study bear this out. Conservation and Efficiency have worked wonders and yet tremendous potential remains for even more savings.

Zakaria states that “rising living standards mean rising energy use”. This ‘truism’ is not necessarily true. California, for example, uses the same level of electricity per capita that it did 30 years ago while the rest of the nation has seen 60% increased electrical use per capita. How did California achieve this? Did Californians somehow do without the “rising living standards” that Zakaria discusses? No, absolutely not. What has occurred is a systematic investment — from power generation to the home — in better building codes and better technologies to achieve more efficient use of energy.

Sadly, this article doesn’t rest on shaky ground but on falsehoods. Getting the facts wrong in major publications does not help the nation move toward a better future.


A Siegel

NOTE: Blog post version (with links sourcing the cited data) of this letter at Fareed Zakaria …Wrong Facts Drive Wrong Conclusions

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Tags: Energy · energy efficiency · environmental · unpublished letters