When an Anti-Clean Energy Conspiracy Isn't

It's hard not to be gripped by a sense of urgency in a world where ominous news of advancing of climate change is the norm—the previous decade was deemed the hottest on record, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reportedly hit 400 parts per million, and yet global emissions output continues to reach new highs.

And all that can lead to a tense atmosphere in which those advocating for a rapid transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar can be all too eager to paint those who disagree with them as boogeymen, as shadowy agents of the fossil fuels industry. I'll be the first to admit I've been guilty of this—doing so fires up our ideologically similar tribes, it energizes environmentalists; it motivates greens to fight, to donate, to volunteer their time.

But it also produces the potentially harmful byproduct of reducing the argument to a binary. We're right, they're wrong. If you oppose clean energy, you're the fossil fuel-funded Bad Guy. And yes, there are innumerable documented cases of fossil fuel-reliant companies (Exxon, Koch, etc) tapping their immense budgets to seed confusion in the public or to lobby against policies beneficial to solar and wind companies. There's plenty of reason to be defensive. But it's important to recognize that that's not always the case, that the story is often much more nuanced. That we acknowledge that there can be civil disagreement without conspiracies and oily cabals undermining the debate every step of the way.

Case in point: a few weeks back, I wrote up a story that purported to unveil a conspiracy between nationwide Tea Party groups and clean energy foes to coordinate a grassroots opposition to wind power projects across the country. The newspaper had gotten access to a confidential document that appeared to outline a PR strategy for coordinating opposition to clean energy projects. This document had supposedly been presented at a meeting in D.C. attended by representatives of various conservative groups. And it did indeed seem to offer a roadmap for how best to get folks to rally against wind power.

But here's the thing. John Droz Jr., who organized the meeting, contacted me shortly after I published my piece. The document in question was never discussed at the meeting, he said, and nor has it been since. And it wasn't written by him, as had been alleged. It was written by Rich Porter, a member of Wind Watch, a group that opposes wind turbines. It was submitted for consideration, but wasn't ever tackled.

"I had planned that it would be one of many items we would talk about, but (as fate would have it) we ran out of time and never discussed this document. It stands now as it did initially: the opinions of one person," Droz wrote (emphasis his).

Now, we emailed back and forth a number of times, and Droz ardently responded to my many questions. I think it fair that he tell his side of the story. So, I'm going to reprint his rebuttal to my (and the Guardian's) earlier post on the topic, where he says I printed numerous mistakes.

"As I just wrote, the conspiracy story is 100% false," he writes. He goes on to list the other other fallacies he says that I printed in my post:

a) That this was an attack on Obama's energy policy. Fact: Obama and his energy policy were never mentioned.
b) "A network of ultra-conservative groups is ramping up an offensive". Fact: we were individual citizens. No groups were invited or participated.
c) "The strategy proposal was prepared by a fellow of the American Tradition Institute (ATI)". Fact: the document was prepared by another US citizen, not me.
d) "The proposal was discussed at a meeting". Fact: the document was not discussed at the meeting.
e) "These documents show for the first time that local NIMBY anti-wind groups are co-ordinating and working with national fossil-fuel funded advocacy groups..." Fact: 100% false.
f) "Their main priority was co-ordinating PR strategy. "Our No 1 reason for getting together was to talk about whether there was agreement with a common message."" Fact: the Guardian writer contradicted herself here. The second sentence is accurate, yet it conflicts with what she wrote in the first one. "PR strategy" is methodology. That is a completely different matter from "message". Our primary objective was to assure that we were on the same page about the message, not PR.
g) "But conservative activists describe the ramp-up as critical to the effort to defeat Obama in the elections." Fact: False for us. We are an apolitical collection of citizens.
h) "More than 30 local wind farm opponents, all selected by Droz, came to Washington at his invitation." Fact: There were 20 attendees.
i) "Participants included members of conservative groups such as Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow " Fact: There were also participants that belonged to many other groups, like Audubon. How come Audubon wasn't listed as part of this fabricated conspiracy?
j) "Since the meeting, participants have pooled efforts to make phone calls and send email to members of Congress." Fact: False. We have made no phone calls or emails since the meeting.

Meanwhile, he says, there was no fossil fuel funding for the meeting—it was convened by him, and he says that he's never once received money from the fossil fuel industry. "In the 30+ years I have worked on environmental and energy matters, I have not received compensation from anyone, anywhere," he writes.

Now, it's clear that the meeting was indeed convened to discuss if and how to promote a common message opposing wind power. In my eyes, my initial post wasn't completely wrong—these are indeed individuals, who belong to various groups, who have a common interest in opposing wind power projects. They were discussing strategy. And I think it's fair to report on such meetings taking place—just like it's fair to report on strategy meetings at Netroots Nation or other progressive gatherings. But I regret the conspiratorial angle, and for unduly assigning so much meaning to one strategy document without considering its background.

I may disagree with Droz on numerable counts, but, especially with climate and energy issues, it's important to confer with those we disagree—there's much to be learned. I've spilled tons of negative ink about efforts to roll back environmental protections, to kill the climate bill, about the Tea Party and other groups that oppose clean energy-friendly policies. And I've never gotten such an in-depth response, or engaged in such a spirited back and forth like this.

The bottom line is this: Droz opposes clean energy (which he repeatedly says is nothing more than "a marketing term") because he believes it "has no scientific basis," not because he's paid to. He's passionate about the issue. The debate, in other words, is more complicated than we'd sometimes like to let on.

Coincidentally, I saw this on Upworthy today:

Just saying.

When an Anti-Clean Energy Conspiracy Isn't
We must resist the urge to paint all opponents of clean energy as fossil fuel-funded boogeymen.

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