This past week, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) ran a series of shows focusing on energy development in the United States. The above video is well moderated debate about the topics described in the shows featuring Robert Bryce, a senior fellow from the Manhattan Institute and the author of Power Hungry: The Myth of Green Energy, and Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
What I noticed during this segment and the ones aired earlier this week was that there was an “elephant in the room” topic that everyone avoided discussing. One of the services that PBS provides is a full transcript of each of its shows. I searched every transcript from the energy segments it aired this week. The ‘N’ word – nuclear – did not appear a single time on any of the transcripts.
That surprising lack of mention of the most promising and important ultra low emission energy technology available made me realize just how well the natural gas industry’s effort to promote the “Shale Gas Revolution” has worked – so far. Even the public broadcasting network in the US has become so dependent on corporate sponsorship – also known as advertising – that it is giving nuclear energy the silent treatment its competitors prefer.
At the end of the debate above, both Robert Bryce and Kate Sinding seemed to agree that energy efficiency and renewables have an important role to play in the energy future. Bryce says that “no one is against energy efficiency” and that he is “all for renewables.” His primary point, however, is that those do not provide the scale or the reliability that a growing economy needs without a massive contribution from natural gas. Ms. Sinding, however, seems to believe that there is a way for renewables to provide reliable power without extensive assistance from natural gas.
At least Bryce can do math, even if his prescription and mine differ considerably.
Watching that final exchange on the PBS energy series reminded me of the final stages of the recent Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Big Ideas debate titled We’ve Seen the Future and It’s Nuclear
Here is a short clip from that debate that is worth watching.
The argument that Ben Heard makes is one that bears repeating – natural gas is not a low carbon fuel. Even if you ignore the issue of methane leaks, burning natural gas produces between 50% and 60% of the CO2 per unit heat produced as burning coal. That is not a bridge to a brighter future based on the need to produce abundant energy without releasing much CO2; it is only a slight pivot on business as usual.
Shifting to a greater dependence on natural gas also keeps us all dependent on the same establishment energy suppliers that have been profitably enjoying the task of suppling industrialized society’s energy needs for the past 150 years or so.