in a march 25, 2018 article, gorman responds to a new york times op-ed.
In the United States, there are some who would like to create a narrative in which climate change is little more than a theory and relying on alternative energy is too costly and a threat to national security. Our country stands out as the only developed nation with a dominant political party opposed to reform measures meant to offset global climate change. Media consumers today are assaulted by confusing messages and varying opinions. One such opinion can be found in the June 8, 2011 New York Times op-ed titled “The Gas is Greener”. In this article, Robert Bryce argues against the use of solar and wind energy production.
Bryce chose to submit his op-ed to the New York Times. This is one of the most widely respected and circulated newspapers in the United States. Its readers are largely college educated, a demographic that also tends to support renewable energy. Bryce likely chose this outlet because he wanted to challenge the readers’ beliefs. Rather than dismissing climate change as a hoax, he attempts to appeal to his audience using facts, but his failure to provide multiple examples creates a weak use of logos.
This op-ed was written during Obama’s presidency, shortly after he pledged to increase the production of natural gas to reduce the country’s dependency on foreign oil. He also committed funds for the research and development of solar and wind energy projects (Chu). Bryce’s article was published when the country was at a crossroads, and his argument favors the path toward natural gas.
The op-ed is titled, “The Gas is Greener.” This is an interesting title as the audience might initially interpret this to mean that natural gas is the more environmentally sound option, which appears to be the author’s claim. However, the title is also a play on the phrase “the grass is greener”, which is an assumption that moving to another pasture will provide more opportunity. But the phrase is often interpreted that this assumption is false. A more cautious reader might interpret the title to be a warning of the content of the op-ed.
In the first paragraph, Bryce presents a situation—solar and wind power are coming, and they have the support of the government and the public. He follows this with the problem statement, “while energy sources like sunlight and wind are free and naturally replenished, converting them into large quantities of electricity requires vast amounts of natural resources — most notably, land” (Bryce). A reader might assume that Bryce is a proponent of the environment. Not only does he tout the benefits of natural energy, his concerns seem to lie with the impact on land and resources. He uses ethos to convince the reader that he shares their concern.
Delving further into the article, Bryce utilizes logos to support his argument. He often uses statements like, “obviously, these are ballpark figures,” “the math is simple,” and “the math is straightforward” suggesting that the problem is glaring, and that any reasonable person should understand this. This might leave the audience feeling that his claims are common sense and not deserving of scrutiny. He claims that the amount of energy needed will require a substantial amount of land, using existing solar and wind projects as examples. At first glance, the readers might see his figures as reasonable. He writes, “to have 8,500 megawatts of solar capacity, California would need at least 23 projects the size of Ivanpah, covering about 129 square miles, an area more than five times as large as Manhattan” (Bryce). Using Manhattan as reference is certain to register with the local readers of the Times—New York is not the largest city, but its dense population exaggerates its size in the mind. If the land use alone were not serious enough, Bryce injects pathos to further influence the reader—a looming threat to the desert tortoise and other environmental impacts.
His critique of wind farms follows the same formula: First he uses logos to detail the energy production vs. land use. He equates this again with how many Manhattans this would consume. Manhattanites, notoriously overcrowded, would take notice of the threat he implies, “few if any people could live on the land. Bryce’s vague mention of infrasound harkens back to many a cartoon scenario, where an unaware hero is ushered off with a final, ambiguous warning, “and watch out for the…”.
Bryce then describes the problems of routing the energy. He “name drops” the Nature Conservancy organization to establish ethos, once again suggesting that his interests are aligned with environmentalists.
He also states his concern with the amount of steel required to produce wind turbines. He uses logos again to impress upon the readers the numbers involved, comparing production of a wind turbine vs. a natural gas turbine and the amount of steel is required to manufacture each.
He closes by stating that, “such profligate use of resources is the antithesis of the environmental ideal” (Bryce). He follows this with a quote from the economist, E.F. Schumacher. This effectively associates “the environmental ideal” with an economist’s perspective. Bryce then restates his argument: that renewable energy is a hasty solution that counters this ideal. His proposal for a solution seems to appeal to a middle ground, “low-carbon energy sources”.
As a supporter of environmental efforts and renewable energy, and as a reader of the New York Times, I am likely a part of Bryce’s target audience. While I am skeptical of an op-ed which opposes the push for renewable energy, I am willing to hear other perspectives. Unfortunately, Bryce’s article falls short of convincing.
I feel that Bryce was successful in identifying an actual concern with developing renewable energy. His use of numbers to illustrate production, energy per square mile or energy per ton of steel, make sense at a very superficial level. Developing the infrastructure for renewable resources will be expensive and require land and resources. While Bryce creates a compelling argument, his use of pathos, ethos, and logos failed to persuade me against the development of renewable energy sources.
Several times Bryce uses Manhattan as a reference of land mass. I am undoubtedly less concerned with space than the average resident of New York City. Having lived in Texas, where one billboard on I-35 boasts that the Dallas-Fort Worth airport is larger than the island of Manhattan, my perception of open space is much different than an apartment dweller in Brooklyn.
Bryce also limits his argument by using examples of just one solar farm, one wind farm, and one powerline. This doesn’t convince me because these examples might be atypical. His casual mentions of desert tortoises at risk, an ominous threat of infrasound, and national forests being destroyed seem fleeting to me.
Looking past my own biases, Bryce’s op-ed alerts me to some of to the environmental costs of renewable energy and reminds me that there are perspectives which I haven’t heard. While the author attempts to appear that he is on the side of science, I don’t feel he addressed the issue using a scientific approach. His methods of research appear limited and he fails to address any negative impacts and risks associated with natural gas and nuclear power.
If Bryce is to lure me to “greener” pastures, he will have provide more comprehensive reporting to support his argument.
Bryce, Robert. “The Gas is Greener.” The New York Times, 8 Jun. 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/opinion/08bryce.html. Accessed 5 Mar. 2018.
Chu, Steven. “What I Heard About Energy Policy through Advise the Advisor.” The White House, 22 Apr. 2011, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2011/04/22/what-i-heard-about-energy-policy-through-advise-advisor. Accessed 23 Mar. 2018.