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The Fallacy of the Ought

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This post was posted under the former name ‘Saving Our Planet’

Janne M. Korhonen likes to think outside the box. A PhD candidate, co-author (with Rauli Partanen) of the book Climate Gamble, he pursues his focus on innovation, energy and the environment in his blog “unpublished notebooks”. A recent posting, Two fallacies that explain A LOT about energy discussions, is a useful caution against common complacency traps.

FALLACY 2. We “must” stop fossil fuel use

If we must, we will. So goes the fallacy.


we really need to get off of our fossil fuel addiction and quickly reduce the share of fossil fuels in world’s energy consumption … to as close as zero as possible. [But] the need to stop fossil fuels does not, unfortunately, mean that we will stop using them.

Having and using fossil fuels is still very much a precondition for wealth generation … The poor world in particular is pulling itself out from poverty largely … by the same means we used previously: by building a lot of new energy-to-wealth converters (from power plants to cars to airplanes), using the cheapest and most reliable energy sources available. In most cases, this means coal, gas, and oil. Sure, this may well mean that the world – and these poor countries in particular – will eventually be hit hard by the ravages of climate gone wild.

Assuming that burning fossil fuels WILL stop because it SHOULD stop, even for the purposes of morale building, can lead us into a dangerous territory. If everyone around you agrees that fossil fuel use WILL cease, isn’t the climate fight as good as won?

This fallacy of the ought is probably more than any other single fallacy responsible for the extremely odd debates … Fossil fuels still account for about 85 percent of global energy supply, pretty much as they did back in 1990 when we first became worried about climate change.

FALLACY 1. [My favorite technology] advances by leaps and bounds, but the competition is obsolete

Whether our favorite low-carbon energy source is wind, water, sun, biomass or atoms, we all have a tendency to enthuse about advances in that domain and ignore or discredit the others. We each tend to stay in our favorite “information bubble”. But this is a mistake.

The two authors of Climate Gamble: Is Anti-Nuclear Activism Endangering our Future? , a concise book which carefully debunks the common anti-nuclear myths, emphatically do not deny the usefulness of other low-carbon energies. In another posting, 100% renewables and 100% nuclear are both practically impossible, Korhonen writes:

I’ve been following with interest how some nuclear power advocates are suggesting that building anything else than nuclear power is sidetracking us from the climate goals. These advocates claim that variable, non-dispatchable renewables will not be ultimately capable of delivering a deeply decarbonized energy system, and therefore we shouldn’t waste time or money on building them because we’d only have to replace them with dispatchable sources of low-carbon power – which in practice means nuclear.   It should be noted that this is very much a minority position among those who support nuclear power as a weapon in the climate fight.

In short, we need everything that can get us off fossil fuels, urgently!

You can read these articles and more Korhonen insights here:

Two fallacies that explain A LOT about energy discussions

100% renewables and 100% nuclear are both practically impossible

The unpublished notebooks of J. M. Korhonen

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