The Junk Science of Finkel's Folly

Peter Smith09 Jul, 2023 4 Min Read
Doomed. We're all doomed.

Just read Powering Up by Alan Finkel, published in June this year. The subtitle is more telling: “Unleashing the clean energy supply chain.” Finkel held the position of Australian chief scientist from January 2016 to December 2020. He is a neuroscientist and electrical engineer. Looks sensible. Looks can be deceiving. Bound to be in an age in which superstition trumps reason. I bet many of those prosecuting witches in the 17th century looked like regular folk. Equally, Chicken Littles are now part of the furniture. Otherwise sane people believe that the planet faces a fate equivalent to the sky falling in. And soon. In ten years I think it was, almost ten years ago now. So you see there’s little time left; hence, Finkel’s renewable-energy fabulism.

Why buy the book? Good question. I heard a report that Finkel foresaw the need for wind turbines and solar panels so far as the eye could see. I thought he might be spoofing and was curious. No, unfortunately not. He opens at a dinner party explaining to a naïve greenie called Kathleen, the “staggering” size of the task ahead.

Replacing that rich diet [fossil fuels] with lean wind and solar energy is a task of barely imaginable proportions. Think of forests of wind farms carpeting hills and cliffs from sea to sky. Think of endless arrays of solar panels disappearing like a mirage into the desert.

And this pretty well sums up Finkel’s split mindset; emblematic of all alarmists. Lip service to realism: the task is huge. Followed by flights of fancy: but we can do it. He notes that the contribution to global energy consumption of oil, coal and gas  has fallen only marginally from 87 percent in 1990 to 83 percent in 2021. And gets real before the fancy kicks in.

The stark reality is that despite only achieving a [global] four-percentage-point reduction in 31 years from 1990 to 2021 we have to eliminate the remaining 83 percentage points before 2050... The task ahead is daunting but I am a great believer in ingenuity to overcome such challenges… Zero-emissions electricity will completely replace our existing fossil-fuel-generated electricity and largely replace fossil fuels where they are used directly in transport, heating and industry.

Attack of the 280-foot wind turbines!

Making and exporting green hydrogen he calls “shipping sunshine.” To be fair, it’s not all pixie dust. The book is informative. I was going to burn after reading but I’ll keep it as a reference source. For example, if you want a handle on the seventeen rare earth elements, if you want to convert a kilogram of hydrogen to a gigajoule of natural gas, to distinguish between the different methods of making green hydrogen, to understand the various means of storing power. Of course, it’s not meant to be a reference source. It’s a call to arms to all true believers. To go where no man has gone before.

There is a lot to do. The clean energy transition is the biggest economic challenge in human history. Never before has a major source of energy been eliminated from the global economy, and now we are proposing to replace all three of the big ones.

How will this venture into the unknown be accomplished? Plenty of wishin’ and hopin’. A large number of “needs” are identified; including innovation, large-scale financial investments, supportive government procurement policies, and so on. And, all the while, in extracting the large quantities of minerals required for renewable energy, miners “must respect the rights of indigenous communities… and ensure that all workers are well trained and responsibly employed.” Good luck with that one in Africa and China. And the use of children to mine cobalt in the Congo? According to Finkel, “the roots of [the Congo’s] troubles lie in in one of the world’s most brutal examples of colonialism, led by King Leopold II of Belgium more than 100 years ago.” We can only conjecture. Is Leopold’s wicked influence lingering still?

From wishin’ and hopin’ to, well, lyin’. Par for the course for alarmists when they explain the desperate need to achieve net-zero by reference to “unprecedented” weather events. A snag, there’s no evidence that weather events have become more frequent or intense or "unprecedented," for that matter. Easy fix, if the truth is dispensable. Make them up. Exhaust the skeptics by forcing them to prove that this or that weather event was not untoward. Then simply make up others.

Seriously, you guys.

Finkel starts his list with an Australian “record” temperature of 50.7⁰C in 2021 in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Fact check: this temperature is no greater than the temperature reached in Oodnadatta in South Australia in 1960; not to mention the 51.7⁰C reached in Burke in NSW in 1909 – which so discombobulated global warmists that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology struck it from the record books. He goes on to list the “European summer of 2021, with one country after another reporting record temperatures,” the “explosive wildfires” in California, the drought in China in 2022 which brought the “mighty Yangtse River to its lowest level ever,” and the “unprecedented floods” in Pakistan. As I said, it’s tiresome and not much use debunking these so-called records. He’ll have others up his sleeve.

But let’s look at his observation that the Great Salt Lake in Utah “dried out” last year. A drought did bring the lake to a low level; perhaps to a record low. But, as an article in The Washington Post points out: “There are so many claims on the state’s rivers and streams that, by the time they reach the Great Salt Lake, there’s very little water left.” Now wouldn’t you think that a “scientist” worth his salt would have mentioned that? What these alarmists say and claim is no better than junk.

After a career in economics, banking and payment-systems management, Peter Smith now blogs on the topics of the day. He writes for Quadrant, Australia’s leading conservative online site and magazine. He has written Bad Economics, of which, he notes, there is much.


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2 comments on “The Junk Science of Finkel's Folly”

  1. The whole modern day Eco-Freak Movement is based upon Junk Science and Politics and it all started with Malthus back in the 1700's it just took Carson and Ehrlich to get the ball rolling again back in the 1960's

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