Nirvana Fallacy: Must Wind Energy be 100%?

Guest Blog | April 28, 2015 | Energy Policy, Wind
Logical fallacies are frequently employed by politicians and news media to short-circuit a thoughtful and critically thinking public. For example, several arguments against wind power and other renewable energies frequently suffer from the “Nirvana Fallacy”. The Nirvana Fallacy is named after the Buddhist philosophy of a state of perfection (not Kurt Cobain’s rock band). Here is a good description of the fallacy from

“Comparing a realistic solution with an idealized one, and dismissing or even discounting the realistic solution as a result of comparing to a ‘perfect world’ or impossible standard. Ignoring the fact that improvements are often good enough reason.”

Nirvana Fallacy arguments against wind energy tend to focus on wind power needing to be “100%”; either 100% on, 100% without environmental impact, or 100% free of governmental incentives.  If you have been following any news about wind power, assuredly you have heard of a few of these logically fallacious arguments.

Nirvana Fallacy #1: The wind doesn’t blow 100% of the time.

A recent variation of this fallacy has been that because wind power cannot be used 100% of the time, and fossil fuels are sometimes used instead of wind power, that therefore wind power is useless and should be completely rejected (implicitly in favor of a 100% fossil fueled future). Another version is simply that because the wind doesn’t blow 100% of the time, wind power cannot be used. For an analogy, this argument could be used against hybrid electric vehicles because some gasoline is still used, or against sailboats because they may use a small motor to get out of a harbor. Wind power is used as it is available, and can help save consumers money and reduces pollution. Fossil fuels will eventually run out (they’re a finite resource), and when that happens, wind energy and a mix of other renewable energies will be capable of producing power reliably. States like Iowa are already receiving up to 25% of their electricity from wind power – despite wind’s variability. Check out our previous blog, “What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?” Also, our other blog, “The Intermittency of Fossil Fuels“, which highlights that no power plant is 100% available.

Nirvana Fallacy #2: Wind Power must be 100% without environmental impact.

The most common environmental concern vocalized about wind energy is wind turbines’ impacts on birds. However, fossil fuels are substantially worse for bird populations than wind farms and cats and buildings cause far higher rates of bird mortality than wind turbines ever do. According to a University of Georgia study, cats kill more than a billion birds annuallyHunting kills approximately 37 to 64 times as many ducks as wind turbines kill birds. Simply put, wind turbines end up saving more birds than they harm.

Nirvana Fallacy #3: Wind Power must be 100% free of governmental incentives.

This logical fallacy is based on the incorrect assumption that wind power is the only power source to receive governmental incentives, and that otherwise a completely free market exists. All forms of energy resources receive some level of governmental support. Removing the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power wouldn’t level the energy playing field – it would require wind power to compete against heavily subsidized fossil fuels. And many utilities are protected as regulated monopolies, the complete opposite of a free market system. A completely free energy market, without any governmental intervention, is a utopia that ignores reality.

Why does this matter?

Nirvana Fallacies are ways to justify the status quo. Put another way, the “Perfect is the enemy of the Good.” In some bizarre sense, these fallacies implicitly claim that wind energy is worse than the status quo; and that therefore, fossil fuels are somehow the best option. Wind energy may not be perfect (no energy resource is perfect), but it certainly is progress compared to the status quo.

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