From Scott Carlberg

These are comments you might hear someone say about electricity:

  • No more solar fields. Land is for agriculture.
  • All solar and wind is best, no nuclear.
  • Natural gas is horrible and should be outlawed.

A researcher at Colorado State University is opening minds about power generation – moving from this either/or to both/and.

Good thinker: Alan Knapp, Professor of Biology, Colorado State

Scientific investigation is important, so is human nature in Alan Knapp’s research. Here’s why. Sometimes even with the best of intentions people get trapped into false dilemma logic. Another name for it – either/or thinking – presents two exclusive options so only one seems like a real choice. The inference: If one is true the other is false. Happens all the time in public debate.

Both sides may be true or false, really. “When this logical fallacy is used on purpose, it’s typically done so with the intent of forcing a choice … By oversimplifying an issue, people create false dilemmas to encourage others to think or act in a certain way.” (Source)

It is how we think. “Binary is simple; life is not. It is much easier to hold just two options in our minds than to hold all the possibilities in-between. Yet those in-betweens are exactly what we need to step over the ‘either or’ trap…” (Source)

In energy, it is a choice like voting down all wind or solar power. Or being against nuclear.

Either/or builds barriers to combining ideas for new alternatives; exploring grey areas for innovative designs.

People with strong opinions about energy – for or against – easily fall in the trap.

I had the chance to talk with Knapp, whose research can help stop some restrictive thinking about solar power and agriculture, a big either/or issue.

Knapp is a grassland ecologist developing “optimal designs for ‘agrivoltaic’ systems – fields with crops and solar panels that work together to maintain crop production, produce renewable energy, and increase farm profitability.” He is a co-researcher on this project.

The official name is Sustainably Co-locating Agricultural and Photovoltaic Electricity Systems (SCAPES) (CSU story, right) Its goals are to “maintain or even increase crop yield, increase the combined (food and electricity) productivity of land, and diversify and increase farmers’ profits with row crops, forage, and specialty crops across a range of environments.”

Even with scientific data, the societal side of an issue can be a challenge. “That is true of so many things and can be a big barrier. We will provide the best information, lots of concepts, and ideas about solar and agriculture. If you search for the data on this now it isn’t there. That is the purpose of the project. Right now, people think about energy or food, we put in and instead of or. It has to work out economically, agriculturally, socially, and scientifically,” Knapp told me.

“There is no either/or,” he says. In a second column about this work, I will share part of my interview with Knapp.


Feature image is from a combined solar/agriculture site near Boulder, Colorado. More about that in the next column.