Brown Report Claims Anti-Wind Group Uses Deceit, Delay, Denial and Chicanery to Sabotage Crucial Renewable Energy
Green Oceans’ persuasion methods echo those of national climate change deniers
April 11, 2023
Green Oceans, a Little Compton, R.I.-based citizens group that lobbies against offshore wind projects, bases its arguments on techniques of disinformation — skewed and cherry-picked facts, obstruction, denial, delay, fake experts, conspiracy theories, and logical fallacies — that are taken directly from the playbook of national climate change denial organizations and obstructionists funded by the fossil fuel industry.
The Lab released the report today under the formal title “Discourses of Climate Delay in the Campaign Against Offshore Wind: A Case Study from Rhode Island.” Climate Jobs Rhode Island collaborated on the report.
The report opens by restating the urgency of global warming, which threatens Rhode Island with deadly high temperatures and coastal flooding. It states, “Rhode Island needs to rapidly transition to renewable energy and eliminate its dependency on fossil fuels,” and calls offshore wind “the most viable renewable technology to meet our state’s energy demands.”
J. Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and of environment and society and sociology at Brown University, said, “For Rhode Island to do its share in fighting climate change, offshore wind is the most viable and abundant resource we have. There has been a decade of planning and negotiation and biological studies, and now it is time to get building because we are already behind if we want to save a livable future for our children.”
It then launches into 16 pages, followed by references, of scathing analysis about the ways Green Oceans replicates the disinformation methods used by oil industry-funded think tanks such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Caesar Rodney Institute. The anti-wind rhetoric of these groups “often disguises itself as pro-environmental,” the report notes.
Green Oceans members say they fear the environmental consequences of building hundreds of wind turbines on the Outer Continental Shelf, but the report says the group is using arguments designed, ultimately, to keep the fossil fuel industry rich.
The report emphasizes the need “to understand the … networks of mis/disinformation that are seeking to obstruct … renewable energy, as a strategy to maintain fossil fuels as a dominant energy (and profit) resource.”
Green Oceans was founded last December and some of its core members own property in seaside Little Compton. It has promoted its anti-offshore wind views through newspaper opinion pieces, public forums, a PowerPoint presentation, and a white paper. It has focused its opposition on Revolution Wind, which expects to receive final permission this summer to build up to 100 wind turbines off the southeasterly coast of Rhode Island.
Roberts said, “It is important for people to have their own perspective about whether they want energy infrastructure in their neighborhoods, but they don’t get to make up their own facts.”
ecoRI News asked Green Oceans on April 11 to read the Brown University report and offer its reactions and rebuttals. Elizabeth Knight, the main spokesperson for the group, said no one would be available today to speak to a reporter about the report. She said, “It is too bad they are focusing on ‘technique’ as opposed to addressing the actual issues about which we are concerned. That sadly diverts the conversation away from facts and the truth and squanders the effort to actually try to do the right thing.”
The first framework is Discourses of Climate Delay (Lamb et al. 2020), which offers four categories of obstructionism — three of which are heavily used by Green Oceans — and includes several specific examples that apply to Green Oceans’ communications.
The first category, “Emphasize the Downsides,” presents the costs of mitigating climate change, such as harms to sea life, as worse than the costs of doing nothing. “Redirect Responsibility” implies that others — but not the historically biggest polluters, like the United States — should take the lead in solving climate change. The third category, “Push Non-Transformative Solutions,” refers to rejecting wind power in favor of technologies that are not viable now, such as hydrogen and fusion, and those that are not welcome in peoples’ backyards, like nuclear.
The second framework, named FLICC (Cook 2020) describes five techniques of science disinformation and gives examples of how these are used by Green Oceans.
The five techniques are fake experts, spokespeople who convey the impression of expertise on a topic when they have none; logical fallacies, which occur in arguments where the starting assumptions do not logically lead to the conclusion; impossible expectations, described as unrealistic or unattainable standards of scientific proof; cherry-picking, meaning selectively choosing data that lead to a conclusion different from the conclusion from all available data; and, finally, conspiracy theories, or suggestions of secret plans to implement nefarious schemes.
The Brown report gives several examples of Green Oceans’ arguments against offshore wind and shows how the arguments track with the disinformation techniques of “Discourses” and “FLICC.”
Emphasize the Downsides/Policy Perfectionism
CO2 Emissions: Green Oceans says wind turbine structures would provide habitat for invasive filter feeders that eat phytoplankton and release CO2. The Brown report says this example of policy perfectionism portrays offshore wind as imperfect technology with hidden forms of harm, thus introducing doubt and distraction, and encouraging inaction. Here, Green Oceans is using “blowfishing” — focusing on an inconsequential aspect of scientific research, blowing it out of proportion to distract or cast doubt — to exaggerate the scale of filter-feeder emissions. The report says various studies show the life-cycle emissions of offshore wind facilities at about 6 to 13 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), whereas natural gas-fueled electricity generation releases about 500 pounds per kWh, making wind energy nearly 50 times better for the climate. (Techniques used: logical fallacies and blowfishing).
Endangered Species: Green Oceans claims offshore wind would threaten the North Atlantic right whale and other species, partly due to acoustic soundings on the seafloor to determine locations for turbines. The report says Green Oceans cited two “highly speculative” articles to claim dangers of wind facilities, one of them published by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which denied the existence of human-caused climate change until 2016 and received substantial funding from ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and the Charles Koch Foundation. The second article included false claims about offshore wind’s harms to marine mammals that were later debunked by scientists from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and oceanographers at the University of Rhode Island. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supports wind energy while saying that continued data collection about ocean life impacts is needed and ongoing. NOAA also recently issued a final opinion that said an offshore wind project near New Jersey was likely to adversely affect, but not jeopardize, sea life, include right whales. Also, according to NOAA and the Marine Mammal Commission, there is no evidence that offshore wind construction leads to whale deaths. (Techniques: fake experts, conspiracy theory, cherry-picking, logical fallacies, blowfishing, and misrepresentation).
Appeal to Social Justice
Jobs and Economic Development: In its PowerPoint, Green Oceans said Revolution Wind would create 800 to 1,200 jobs for two years and 50 permanent jobs, but it dropped the mention of 800 to 1,200 jobs from its white paper. Ørsted, co-developer of Revolution Wind, said the project would create 1,660 construction jobs and thousands of other “indirect or induced jobs.” Climate Jobs Rhode Island, working with Cornell University, has predicted tens of thousands of new jobs for Rhode Island if the state installs 3,000 megawatts of wind power by 2040. Revolution Wind is designed to produce 700 megawatts; other offshore wind projects are in planning stages. (Techniques: cherry-picking and “slothful induction,” defined as ignoring relevant evidence when coming to a conclusion).
Impact on Fishing: NOAA and BOEM have strongly asserted that research on the impacts of offshore wind on ecosystems must continue, in collaboration with the fishing industry. Green Oceans, the report says, “focuses on specific studies without contextualizing larger efforts to understand the issue.” Green Oceans also fails to acknowledge how warming waters and ocean acidification caused by climate change are harming fish and other sea life. Green Oceans also claims that “wind farms can increase water and air temperatures … rising ambient temperatures can affect fish larvae.” However, the report says, “the article the group cites to support this argument makes no reference to offshore wind development.”
Green Oceans argues that toxic heavy metals coating turbine towers would contaminate the ocean, but the very detailed Construction and Operation Plan for Revolution Wind makes no mention of heavy metals in coatings. Conversely Ørsted, the co-developer of Revolution Wind, presents ways to mitigate environmental harm during construction with methods like bubble curtains, noise mitigation screens, hydro sound dampers, and suction bucket jackets. Ørsted is funding research on environmental impacts and best mitigation practices by New England Aquarium and Inspire Environmental. The report says, Green Oceans ignore these efforts and “fails to acknowledge information published by developers and regulators that describes their efforts to minimize infrastructure impacts on marine ecosystems.” (Techniques: logical fallacies, misrepresentation, cherry-picking, slothful induction).
Offsetting Carbon Emissions: Green Oceans says Rhode Island can offset only the amount of CO2 that it emits, which is the second lowest of any state. The report says this is false. Rhode Island is part of a New England-wide electricity grid, and the 400 MW of electricity it intends to buy from Revolution Wind would account for 40% of the state’s anticipated 2030 electricity demand. In an example of “whataboutism,” Green Oceans says other countries and states produce more greenhouse gas emissions than Rhode Island, so those have greater responsibility for the problem of global warming.
The Brown report says, “Rhode Island is complicit in the climate crisis and its size … is not an excuse for inaction.” Viewed globally, between 2000 and 2019, Rhode Island produced an average of 10 tons of energy-related CO2 emissions per person, which was double the global average over the same period. Green Oceans’ attempt to portray the state’s emissions as insignificant is a red herring — or logical fallacy — that overemphasizes one point — the state’s small size — to distract from the larger issue of global climate change. (Technique: logical fallacies, red herring).
Push Non-Transformative Solutions/Technological Optimism
Fusion: Green Oceans suggests nuclear fusion as an alternative to offshore wind, even as it acknowledges that this technology is a decade or more from commercial feasibility. “Technological optimism” is used here to offer a technology that does not yet exist as superior to one — offshore wind power — that has been commercially available for 30 years. Also, Green Oceans cites a 2022 New York Times article that discussed nuclear fusion, but The Times said this was not a viable option in the near future. The Brown report says, “Green Oceans cherry-picks information from this article and ignores relevant evidence in order to present a false conclusion – a textbook example of slothful induction.” (Techniques: cherry-picking, wishful thinking).
Dismissing Current Wind Technologies: Green Oceans says the electrical output of offshore wind projects, specifically Revolution Wind, would not significantly offset greenhouse gas emissions. “Here, Green Oceans deploys the discourse of ‘oversimplification’ by drawing conclusions … based only on the minimum requirements,” the report says. Discussing technical and economic costs of offshore wind, Green Oceans cited the Manhattan Institute, a think tank connected to the fossil fuel industry that published climate denial statements as recently as last month. (Techniques: logical fallacies, oversimplification, fake experts).
Fossil Fuel Solutionism
Natural Gas: Green Oceans suggests “immediately converting coal plants in the U.S. to natural gas.” The Brown report notes Rhode Island does not burn coal, and that natural gas accounted in 2021 for 87% of the state’s total electrical generation. In 2020, natural gas created 5.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in Rhode Island, for 54% of the state’s total CO2 emissions. Introducing coal into discussion about reducing emissions in Rhode Island is a red herring, the report says, deployed to distract from the fact that natural gas is not a “clean” fuel. “Warming from carbon dioxide and methane emissions from natural gas production, transmission and combustion is comparable to that of other fossil fuels,” the report states, adding that Green Oceans “ignores the abundance of science on the harms of natural gas.” (Techniques: logical fallacies, red herring, cherry-picking).
The Brown report concludes by saying Green Oceans is not an isolated phenomenon, but, in fact, part of a “very vocal international network that attacks renewable energy development, circulates talking points rooted in misinformation, and sometimes shares lawyers, lobbyists advisors and donors” in a “web of deceit and obstruction of climate action.”