n article claiming that EV batteries, solar power and wind power are worse for the environment than coal and gasoline, by Bruce Haedrich, is being passed around the internet. Haedrich, a self-published MAGA science fiction author, confirmed that he is the author of the piece.
This is a full rebuttal and evisceration of Bruce Haedrich’s article which exists on the internet with various titles and versions, the original of which is, “The Shocking Naked Truth.”
Bruce Haedrich claims his piece was originally published by Forbes Magazine. A warning to anybody who deems this piece factual: There is little editorial oversight of the quality of pieces that get published there. Forbes.com is a well known self-publishing vessel for climate change deniers and other extreme low quality, low-fact opinions.
For anybody who wonders, why focus on rebutting MAGAs rather than established journalists or opinion writers, the piece I am rebutting has actually been widely read, shared and quoted internationally. Climate disinformation rarely passes through established channels of expertise and journalistic credibility.
Nevertheless, if an article ‘goes viral’, as Haedrich himself asserted, should we ignore it and focus only on established journalists writing for respected publications? Of course not.
The author Thomas Nichols, in his well-regarded The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, builds on the apparent fruitlessness of trying to correct the relentless barrage of low quality internet opinions.
“People do not come to the Internet so that their bad information can be corrected or their cherished theories disproven. Rather, they ask the electronic oracle to confirm them in their ignorance. In 2015 a Washington Post writer, Caitlin Dewey, worried that fact-checking could never defeat myths and hoaxes because “no one has the time or cognitive capacity to reason all the apparent nuances and discrepancies out.” In the end, she sighed, “debunking them doesn’t do a darn thing.”
However, it is important to remember that a rebuttal and evisceration of an article and its author does not need to be written for them. Rather, such a rebuttal can help an intelligent audience dive deeper into the nuances of climate-change denialism. If this article helps you embarrass your crazy uncle, more power to you.
The Lecture Bruce Haedrich Quotes in his Article Never Happened, and the Experts he relies on are Fictional
The article describes Haedrich attending a lecture about EV batteries that was allegedly very popular and well attended. Haedrich writes, “The packed auditorium was abuzz with questions about the address; nobody seemed to know what to expect.”
The article quotes broadly from this lecture, setting up credibility by quoting a ‘scholarly’ expert, who appears to be a scientific representative for an electric automotive company. The scholarly expert lets an Artificial Intelligence computer make his case for him. Clearly, this lecture never actually occurred, the unnamed scientist does not exist, and the quotes from the lecture were all made up.
The fact that the article uses a fabricated expert may be obvious to many, but it appears that Bruce Haedrich was intentionally employing a logical fallacy to advance his opinion. Namely, he invented two experts, gave them the job of stating most of the facts of the case, and let them guide the reader toward Haedrich’s conclusion. This is the most dubious form of the “Appeal to False Authority” fallacy, in which the author of an article not only fails to quote experts in their fields, but actually makes them up. However, because Haedrich presented the events of his article as a real event, we can safely deduce that the voice, the views and the stated facts made by the scholar and the AI computer are actually Bruce Haedrich’s.
First, Let’s Examine the Entire Article
In the infographic below, I have color-coded each section of the article. When you look at the different sections of the article on the whole, you’ll see that they don’t actually correlate into a cohesive argument. Nowhere in the article does Bruce Haedrich attempt to actually state why batteries – which are a fundamental component of global climate change solutions – are destructive to the environment. Rather, he jumps, rant-like, from subject to subject.
In this color-coding of the Bruce Haedrich EV battery article, you’ll see that for all its length, Haedrich does not actually establish that EV batteries, wind power or solar power are environmentally destructive.
Confusingly, halfway through the article, he tacks solar and wind power on to his original argument against EV batteries, and then commits more words to decrying these renewable energies as ‘environmentally destructive.’
Batteries, as well as solar power and wind power, all have their own environmental costs, which we’ll cover later in this rebuttal. But, relative to their environmental benefits, these costs are minimal. More importantly, these costs are known, and market sectors are solving for, and reducing these costs.
A competent article on the environmental consequences of different green technologies might mount a case, through citations of experts and facts, that readers should learn more about such costs and the ways they are either being ignored or mitigated. The naturalist Kenn Kaufman, for example, wrote persuasively about the dangers of wind power to migrating birds in his recent book, A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration.
As an expert on American birds and an internationally renowned voice for conservation, Kaufman’s book actually helped raise concerns which have led to migratory bird safety measures in the wind power industry.
But it is clear that Haedrich does not have such an agenda. As a self-published author of MAGA science fiction, his disdain for environmentalism abounds throughout his writing. In his recent Outlands trilogy, the international terrorist villains, who have embedded themselves in the cities of the United States, are environmentalists.
In the article, he states his thesis several times. Below are a set of bullet-point quotes which form the thesis for the piece:
- “I predict EVs and windmills will be abandoned once the embedded environmental costs of making and replacing them become apparent.”
- “You must look beyond the myth of zero emissions.”
- “(A California) construction project (the Moss Landing Battery Storage facility) is creating an environmental disaster.”
Haedrich ends his piece with what appears to be his end goal. He hopes that readers made it to the end of his piece, and upon doing so, begs them, “And, how many will still buy their 1st EV or buy their 2nd and 3rd one?”
A climate-friendly future will see the electrification of everything. Electric construction, container ships and industrial equipment will electrify.
Mining Toxic Components for Batteries: Bruce Haedrich Makes False Claim
Haedrich writes, “It should concern you that all those toxic components come from mining. For instance, to manufacture each auto battery…you must process 25,000 pounds of brine for the lithium, 30,000 pounds of ore for the cobalt, 5,000 pounds of ore for the nickel, and 25,000 pounds of ore for copper. All told, you dig up 500,000 pounds of the earth’s crust for just one battery.”
This is a false and misleading statement. It might sound like a process that removes 500,000 pounds of the earth’s crust for a single battery is a massive undertaking for a single component of a single electric car, and that’s because the claim is entirely false.
Here are some facts.
- The claim above was lifted from a now discredited climate change skeptic thinktank, the Manhattan Institute.
- The claim does not weigh the relative cost of oil and gasoline. Thousands of pounds of oil and gas are consumed every day. They are not recyclable and their costs in terms of climate change devastation, pollution and constant war and conflict have civilization-ending consequences. But most EV-battery components are recyclable.
- The claim is a massive exaggeration. In this Fact Check of an Australian senator who quoted the above claim, the world’s leading fact-check organization, the AFP, points out that there are various mining processes around the world, none of which displaces anywhere near the amount described by Bruce Haedrich.
The AFP Fact Check continues:
Jake Whitehead, head of policy for the Electric Vehicle Council of Australia, said the amount of material moved during the mining of raw materials to produce electric vehicle batteries was “not the right metric for comparing environmental impact”.
He said studies have shown the manufacture, maintenance, electricity production and consumption of electric vehicles were still lower than gasoline-powered cars.
“As outlined in a recent report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, [EVs] are critical to global decarbonisation and net-zero by 2050,” he told AFP.
Additionally, more than 90 percent of the mined materials used to make electric vehicle batteries were recyclable, Whitehead said.
Another Fact-checking organization, Politifact, rebutted similar internet claims and pointed out that:
“…CO2 emitted in the production of the battery can be offset over a short time in an electric car by the lack of tailpipe emissions when it’s in operation.”
Also, according to the same article, “A midsize vehicle completely negates the carbon dioxide its production emits by the time it travels 4,900 miles, according to the report. For full size cars, it takes 19,000 miles of driving.”
The False Claim about EV Batteries and Cobalt
Haedrich writes, “Sixty-eight percent of the world’s cobalt, a significant part of a battery, comes from the Congo. Their mines have no pollution controls, and they employ children who die from handling this toxic material. Should we factor in these diseased kids as part of the cost of driving an electric car?”
This Washington Post article from 2016 describes the human rights problems associated with cobalt mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, cobalt is not necessary to the production of EV batteries, and the United States, and US car companies like Tesla, are working to correct the supply-chain problems associated with battery raw materials. Tesla in particular has been able to circumvent some of the worst environmental and social costs of battery raw products by working directly with mines. Tesla states:
While cobalt, nickel, and lithium go through multiple processing steps by different companies, some of the more important environmental and social risks in this supply chain are present at mine sites. Direct sourcing from mining companies allows Tesla to engage directly in local contexts instead of having to rely on multiple midstream companies that typically sit between EV makers and mining. It also enables more transparent and traceable supply chains and better environmental and social data.
Cobalt mining that exploits poor workers is an embedded cost of EV batteries, but this does not in any way support Haedrich’s thesis that EV batteries, solar power and wind power are ‘environmentally destructive.’
Rather, awareness of cobalt mining human rights issues presents a chance to correct supply chain problems. That is already happening. In fact, as I write this rebuttal, the first U.S. based cobalt mine has just opened in Idaho.
Additionally, a huge deposit of lithium and cobalt was just discovered in Sweden.
The human rights abuses and working conditions associated with cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are not to be trivialized, and they represent the reality that the urgent rush to eliminate greenhouse gasses presents conundrums and conflicts of interest which must be – and are being – addressed.
I searched Bruce Haedrich’s science fiction novels for any sign of an interest in human rights or poor working conditions. Obviously, any visit to Walmart is a visit to thousands of products which are ripe with the embedded costs of child labor, toxic skin care products, foods that promote poor health and obesity, slave-like working conditions and economic support for nations with robust human rights violations. If Haedrich has published thousands of pages of near-future science fiction covering all his political ideas, why is evidence of his interest in human rights missing there, but not here?
Lastly, Haedrich is overstating his case. He says, “Should we factor in these diseased kids as part of the cost of driving an electric car.”
Most mines in the Congo do not employ child labor, and most mines have safeguards for their workers – those safeguards are demanded by automakers like Tesla, whose buyers demand transparency. The problem is when cobalt comes from small artisanal mines, and when players in the EV battery industry are not accountable for their cobalt sources.
But what group of people in this world are most interested in, and most capable of resolving human rights issues? Those in the green industry and environmentally-conscious consumers.
A great example is the US clothing company, Patagonia, which has sought to use its success as a small niche outdoor clothing company to solve environmental problems (I interviewed a Patagonia executive for my article on the Olympic Peninsula), particularly in the supply chain of the fashion industry. Nevertheless, anybody who follows Patagonia news knows that the company balances its interests in advancing environmental progress with fair labor practices. Despite that, even Patagonia’s own audits have uncovered the difficulty of removing poor labor conditions from the supply chain.
The Claim about the Toxicity of Solar Panels
Haedrich claims that, “The main problem with solar arrays is the chemicals needed to process silicate into the silicon used in the panels.” He continues, “To make pure enough silicon requires processing it with hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, trichloroethane, and acetone. In addition, they also need gallium, arsenide, copper-indium-gallium-diselenide, and cadmium-telluride, which also are highly toxic.”
It appears that Haedrich borrowed these words from paragraphs one and two of an article written by the well-regarded Union of Concerned Scientists. But Haedrich leaves out the important context in the article he appears to have lifted words from:
“If not handled and disposed of properly, these materials could pose serious environmental or public health threats. However, manufacturers have a strong financial incentive to ensure that these highly valuable and often rare materials are recycled rather than thrown away.”
Nowhere in Haedrich’s article does he explain why toxic components make solar power an environmental disaster. Yes, there are some toxic materials in solar panels, but solar panels are actually made mostly with conventional, regular and environmentally sound materials like glass, aluminum, copper, and silicon.
There are trace carcinogens in some solar panels, but the solar industry has successfully been able to replace the most worrisome components with more earth-friendly ones.
Nevertheless, toxic components exist in manufacturing processes and in end-products that we use everyday. The relatively minor threat of toxic components leaking into the environment does not in any way represent the ‘environmental disaster’ that Bruce Haedrich complains of, and he cites no evidence to the contrary.
In fact, modern, reputable solar-panel manufacturers build solar panels that are safe for the environment. They are designed to hold the toxic components within their internal structure.
The Claim that Windmills and Windmill Blades are Heavy and Must Be Replaced
Bruce Headrich writes, “Windmills are the ultimate in embedded costs and environmental destruction. Each weighs 1688 tons (the equivalent of 23 houses) and contains 1300 tons of concrete, 295 tons of steel, 48 tons of iron, 24 tons of fiberglass, and the hard to extract rare earths neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium. Each blade weighs 81,000 pounds and will last 15 to 20 years, at which time it must be replaced.”
There are several problems with this argument. The first is that windmills and windmill blades do not weigh a set amount, nor do they uniformly last between 15 to 20 years. There are commercially available wind turbine models that weigh four-times as much, and micro-wind blades that weigh ounces. Some wind power is even generated by kites.
But how does the weight of a windmill or blade make it environmentally destructive? I know of playgrounds that weigh eight times the amount of the heaviest wind turbine in the world, and the weight of a shipment of environmentally-sustainable wool from Ireland weighs eighteen times as much as six fully-operational wind turbines in the Tehachapi Pass. The larger windmills get, and the larger their blades get, the more capacity we have to offset greenhouse gas emissions with clean energy. This is a case where often bigger is better.
Wind turbine blades are heavy on fiberglass, and they do end up in landfills. Again, this is a minor environmental issue, which is being corrected in the industry. Remember that fiberglass exists in so many components of our modern world. We want less fiberglass to leach into the environment, but context is important here – fiberglass used in recyclable wind turbines does not in any way represent environmental destruction.
This article explains the issue well, and discusses ways that recycling turbine blades is increasing:
“The good news is that some efforts at developing alternatives are underway. Two large utilities in the US, PacificCorp and MidAmerican Energy, for example, have recently announced plans to partner with the Tennessee company Carbon Rivers to recycle some of the utilities spent turbine blades instead of landfilling them.”
Despite Bruce Haedrich’s claims to the contrary, wind and solar power are successful, cheap, and play an important role in reducing greenhouse gasses globally.
The Claim about Zero Emission Vehicles and Coal Electricity
Bruce Haedrich writes, “Since forty percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. is from coal-fired plants, it follows that forty percent of the EVs on the road are coal-powered.”
Here, Haedrich makes up fake numbers to prove a false point. Coal is not anywhere near forty-percent electricity in the United States. In fact, it’s closer to 20%.
Haedrich seems to believe that owners of electric vehicles do not understand that their cars are powered in part by greenhouse gas energy sources. He continues, “to say an EV is a zero-emission vehicle is not at all valid.”
In an informal poll of 23 of my acquaintances who own electric cars, I discovered that 22 of them understood fully well that their electric cars were powered by a mix of energy sources – namely, partially coal (20%), partially renewable and nuclear (45%) and partially gas-fired (35%). They all understood, correctly, that EV’s become more green as we convert more of our energy to renewable sources – namely, wind and solar and other renewable sources.
So, EV owners in the United States definitely understand that their cars become greener as our energy infrastructure becomes greener, and that their cars are not magic answers to the threats posed by greenhouse gas emissions.
However, EVs are still zero-emission vehicles, because the phrase refers to tailpipe emissions. EVs are zero-emission vehicles at all times, and hybrids are zero-emission when operating in full electric mode. While there are carbon emissions associated with the manufacturing of EV batteries, EV’s in the United States already use “about 60–68 percent fewer emissions than gas-and diesel-powered vehicles. And when those EVs are charged smartly they can further reduce emissions by an additional 18 percent and even become a grid resource.”
Claims about Wildlife and Sustainable Energy
In his conclusion, Haedrich states, “Sadly, both solar arrays and windmills kill birds, bats, sea life, and migratory insects.”
This is actually the first time in his piece that Haedrich refers to something that is actually akin to environmental destruction.
In fact, here are some examples of real environmental destruction.
- Coral reefs, which are home to 25% of all marine biodiversity, are dying.
- Animal populations have declined 70% around the world.
- The global insect population is declining by 2% per year.
- North American bird populations have plummeted 29% since 1970.
- Tropical forests are being burned and destroyed at an unprecedented rate. In fifteen recent years, global tropical forest coverage declined by an amount the size of India.
- Mangrove forests are disappearing around the world.
- Millions of plant and animal species face extinction around the world.
- World fish populations are plummeting due to overfishing and other stresses on marine environments.
- The oceans are becoming more acidic, threatening the organisms responsible for the health of the marine environment.
Most of the above examples are caused primarily by climate change, pollution, ocean acidification and habitat destruction. Oil and gas have a heavy hand in almost all of these threats – and these threats to biodiversity will end human civilization if we do not alter our course. Oil and gas are central to climate change, ocean acidification and habitat destruction, and have a role in every other major form of environmental destruction. Even the devastation of war is largely influenced by oil and gas – many of the wars and conflicts around the world, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, are largely influenced by fossil fuels.
Solar power and wind power, along with numerous other renewable energies, play a critical role in ending global environmental destruction. Solar arrays can fry insects, yes, and wind power can kill migrating birds – but these industries are already adapting their technologies, and governments are already laying down regulatory groundwork for lessening the impact of these renewable energies. Simply put – the impact on wildlife is minimal. Cats kill far more birds than wind power, and other human constructions kill far more birds than wind turbines, from football stadiums to houses to buildings. The National Audubon Society, the premier bird conservation organization in the United States puts the case simply:
Audubon strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threats posed to birds and people by climate change. Top scientific experts from around the world, including Audubon’s own scientists, agree that the effects of climate change are happening now and will get worse. Scientists have found that climate change has already affected half of the world’s species’ breeding, distribution, abundance, and survival rates… Audubon’s research shows a particularly stark threat for North American birds: Our Birds and Climate Change Report confirmed that 314 species stand to lose more than 50 percent of their current ranges by 2080… Properly sited wind power is an important part of the strategy to combat climate change.
If the world converted to renewable energy tomorrow, the minor threats posed by solar and wind to birds would be trivial in comparison to the absence of greenhouse gasses, pollution and ocean acidification, which threaten wildlife and biodiversity relative to green energy on a scale of twenty-million to one.
Wind Power, Solar Power and the Electrification of Everything are the Future
In an email, Bruce Haedrich reiterated the opinion he expressed through his AI narrator in “The Naked Shocking Truth” by writing, “The idea that [electrical vehicles] will eventually be powered by windmills or solar panels is false. Both of those technologies are environmental disasters. In the meantime, EVs are powered by fossil fuels, the battery is like an expensive gas tank.”
Haedrich also claimed that, “EVs and windmills will be abandoned once the embedded environmental costs of making and replacing them become apparent.”
But this is nonsense. Wind power and solar power are the two most successful forms of renewable energy on Earth; it is quite possible other forms of renewable energy will compete with them in the future, but the one certainty is that decarbonizing our energy is essential to human civilization and the quality of life on Earth. Right now, as you read this paragraph, wind energy is the cheapest form of energy on Earth, per kilowatt hour, and the cost of renewables are falling every day.
Every form of energy has its embedded costs and weaknesses. Wind power’s weakness is about the reliability of wind, and solar energy is about the amount of sunny days. The marketplace is lessening the impact of these weaknesses as battery technology used to store that energy becomes more reliable and renewable energy operations learn to build renewable power with embedded battery storage.
But again, what is wrong with any renewable energy having weaknesses – soon to be resolved by technology – if that renewable energy solves our most critical global problems? What is wrong with renewable energy if it is the cheapest form of energy on Earth? What is wrong with renewable energy if oil despots could no longer rule with autocracy and blood?
Consumer automobiles play a very small role in the threats of climate change, but transportation in its entirety is a sizeable contributor to climate change.
The most important role that EV cars are playing, with the demented Twitter musings of Elon Musk, the sleek lines of Lucid cars, the ultra-fast electric sport cars like the Rimac Nevera, which blow gasoline-powered cars out of the water on speed, and the funny-looking headlights of Rivian Trucks, and the promise of a hippie van from Canoo, is that electric cars bring investment to battery technology and electric technology. In the end, the point of EV cars is not how much they end up reducing carbon emissions themselves, but how much they lay the groundwork for the elimination of carbon emissions across all sectors that can electrify. In fact, the market is already heading down the road of electrification across vast swaths of the transportation sector, agribusiness sector and even household tools industry.
The electrification of everything and the greening of the transportation sector means, among many other things, these changes:
Capitol is pouring into the renewables industry, and the technology is responding in kind. Not only is renewable energy the cheapest form of energy on Earth, it is getting cheaper and more efficient every year.
Bruce Haedrich made no effort to prove the contrary. In fact, in his 1,791 word essay, he did not give one actual example of batteries, wind power or solar power as agents of environmental destruction. He did not cite or invoke a single expert. Rather, he cobbled together anything he could find on the internet that made renewable energy sound bad, lifted those ideas, and in some cases, text, word for word, and made it sound like the future of energy is bad. But the future of EV batteries, wind power and battery is bright, and brighter than Mr. Haedrich’s gullible readers.
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