What We’re Told About Climate Change Versus What We’re Told About Genetic Effects of Radiation
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has started an initiative branded as “What We Know” about climate change. The initiative is sponsored by the following individuals and organizations:
Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment
Lawrence H. Linden
The MacArthur Foundation
Rockefeller Family Fund
Henry M. Paulson
Here is a brief excerpt from the page about the initiative:
The What We Know initiative is dedicated to ensuring that three “R’s” of climate change communicated to the public.
- The first is Reality — about 97% of climate experts have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.
- The second is Risk — that the reality of climate change means that there are climate change impacts we can expect, but we also must consider what might happen, especially the small, but real, chance that we may face abrupt changes with massively disruptive impacts.
- The third R is Response — that there is much we can do and that the sooner we respond, the better off we will be.
This short video adds some depth to those bullet points.
Consensus Sense from What We Know on Vimeo.
It’s also worthwhile to point you to a document titled What We Know: The Reality, Risk and Response to Climate Change.
Please take the time to at least skim through that document. It takes what might be called “the kitchen sink” approach to scaring as many people as possible into taking action. Here is a sample quote:
The range of uncertainty for the warming along the current emissions path is wide enough to encompass massively disruptive consequences to societies and ecosystems: As global temperatures rise, there is a real risk, however small, that one or more critical parts of the Earth’s climate system will experience abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes. Disturbingly, scientists do not know how much warming is required to trigger such changes to the climate system.
I’m sure it is a bad idea to keep dumping 30 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year and I am sure there are unpredictable, often negative future consequences from doing so.
That does not mean I believe that humanity is immediately facing such dire consequences that it must disrupt its current technological structure and adopt stringent measures to enable us to live within the power capability of the wind, water and sun.
I’m deeply skeptical about the motives and goals of people who purport to put a high priority on the fight against climate change while also ignoring or actively working against the use of ultra-low emission fission power generation technology. That is especially true when it is reasonably obvious that the speaker or writer is financially interested in promoting natural gas, wind, solar, or biofuels instead of reducing CO2 emissions.
One particular statement from What We Know: The Reality, Risk and Response to Climate Change jumped out at me as an example of the way that the document authors chose to toss the kitchen sink at readers and overwhelm them with dire possibilities.
Over the past two decades, sea levels have risen almost twice as fast as the average during the twentieth century. Salt-water intrusion can be witnessed in southern Florida, where sea level rise is contributing to salt-water infiltration of coastal wells.
I’m not an expert on all of the topics introduced in the document, but I know a little about salt water intrusion in coastal wells in South Florida. I grew up in Pembroke Pines, a suburb located between Miami and Fort Lauderdale about 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. When we moved there in 1962, the population of the burb was about 2,500. When mom moved away 40 years later, it was well over 150,000. That is only one of dozens of towns with similar stories of population growth in the South Florida megalopolis.
There have been concerns about salt water intruding into South Florida’s fresh water aquifers for at least half a century. The documented cause has been excessive pumping to support the growing population. There have been some attempts in recent years to push the blame on rising sea water levels caused by CO2 emissions from the rest of the world, but the primary culprits are Florida residents, not everyone else.
The structure of the language in What We Know sounded eerily familiar. I then realized where I had seen a similar discussion of “real risk, however small” that described the possibility of terrible consequences.
There are numerous similarities between the AAAS document titled What We Know: The Reality, Risk and Response to Climate Change and the National Academy of Sciences 1956 document titled Genetics Committee Report Concerning Effects of Radioactivity on Heredity, one of six sections of the Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation.
Both reports carry the weight of being issued by a credible, well-known scientific body. Both acknowledge significant technical uncertainty, but assert that there are major, scary risks that people need to take action to avoid. Both assert that there is incontrovertible proof of the basic science, in one case that radiation causes mutation and in the other that CO2 causes a greenhouse effect. Both selectively limit participation in the creation and review of their report, one to geneticists and one to climate scientists. Both appeal to consensus and nearly unanimous agreement among the selected scientific group (geneticists and climate scientists.)
Examples: From the Genetics Committee report: “The basic fact is — and no competent persons doubt this — that radiations produce mutations and that mutations are in general harmful.” From What We Know – “So let us be clear: Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists conclude that humans are changing the climate.”
Both reports discuss the notion that scientists sometimes need to depart from their labs and experiments to warn the public about dire risks and the need for immediate action while recognizing that they are stepping into political territory. Both acknowledge that the substance they are warning about is part of our natural environment that cannot be eliminated, but both recommend strict limitations on future increases.
Both reports are part of a major pubic relations campaign designed to change behavior and perception. Both reports are sponsored by people or organizations with substantial financial interests in shaping public opinion and actions specifically with regard to the topic of the report they have sponsored. (The sponsors for What We Know are listed above; the Rockefeller Foundation funded all of the NAS Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation work from 1954-1962.)
Here is a sample quote from the Genetics Committee report.
A discussion of genetic damage necessarily involves, on the one hand, certain tangible and imminent dangers, certain tragedies which might occur to our own children or grandchildren; and on the other hand certain more remote trouble that may be experienced by very large numbers of persons in the distant future.
No two persons are likely to weigh exactly alike these two sorts of danger. How does one compare the present fact of a seriously handicapped child with the possibility that large numbers of persons may experience much more minor handicaps, a hundred or more generations from now?
There are thoughtful and sensitive persons who think that our present society should try to meet its more immediate problems and not worry too much about the long-range future. This viewpoint is in some instances supported by the belief that new ways, perhaps unimaginable at the moment, are likely eventually to be found for meeting problems.
There are other thoughtful and conscientious persons who think that we are specifically responsible for guarding, as well as we can now determine, the long future.
And here is a similar sounding sample from the “What We Know” report.
Even Americans who have come to recognize that climate change is occurring know there are limits to their ability to make this judgment from their own experiences. It might appear as if it’s raining more or less often, that it’s hotter than usual, or that there are more storms than in the past. But is this true climate change or just natural variation? Does a particularly cold or snowy winter, such as the one the eastern United States experienced in 2013 and 2014, or variations in the rate of global surface temperature change call global warming into question? If the climate is changing, are human activities responsible, or is it being caused by natural factors?
When we take the long view on climate change, we face these same uncertainties and risks. Climate projections for the year 2100 (when many children born this year will still be living) give a range of plausible temperatures. We are uncertain whether we will experience the high or low end of the range, but the risks of bad outcomes increase greatly at the high end of warming scenarios.
I want to make it as clear as I can. I am not a climate change skeptic; I know it is happening. I’ve been convinced by reading about the science and by lengthy discussions with climate scientists who rationally recommend that addressing the challenge requires the best use of all available tool, including nuclear fission.
I am also not a skeptic about the fact that radiation above certain doses can cause mutations, cancer or even death in a short period of time. It is important for everyone to understand the risks associated with excessive alpha, beta and gamma radiation exposure in exactly the same way that all of us need to understand the risks associated with excessive ultraviolet radiation exposure.
What I don’t believe is that society needs to seek to reduce either “man-made” CO2 or “man-made” radiation doses to near zero. There are reasons to limit both CO2 and radiation doses, but there is no logical or moral reason to impose too tight a limit on either one.
In fact, I’ve often found that people working very hard to impose such limits don’t even like other people and seek to restrict their access to economic prosperity and physical power.
Climatology and health physics basically say the same thing. Each molecule of CO2 can trap infrared radiation. The more CO2 molecules, the more warming. Each photon/particle of ionizing radiation can damage DNA. The more ionizing radiation, the more genetic damage.
Both climatology and health physics have to put up with people who deny the science.
A science denier is not a “skeptic”. A science denier is a denier.
I read no denial in Rod’s piece.
The issue at hand is that placing excess effort into getting to zero is far more detrimental than those last bits above zero. Overall human prosperity will be much greater with a value of CO2 emissions and an allowable radiation limit that is greater than zero.
Actually threshold and repair mechanisms are parts of the climatology analogy you’re making here. There’s all sorts of natural CO2 sinks that have a certain capacity for insult.
Its perfectly acceptable for us humans to emit 1 billion tonnes of CO2eq per year, for the next million years. But emitting 100 billion tonnes a year for the next 1000 years is totally unacceptable risk.
I have not yet run the numbers, but I hope we can emit something closer to 10-15 billion tons per year (1/3 to 1/2 our current level) without crossing damage thresholds. There are way too many fun ways to burn fossil fuels that cannot be replaced with any other known technology.
Where did the 30 billion tons come from? I don’t think the Keeling curve has ever shown greater than ten tons and this the total, not just the anthropogenic.
I think that curve just counts the mass of C, not CO2. The world’s consumption of coal alone approaches 10 billion tons per year.
CO2 has a molecular mass of 44, carbon has an atomic mass of 12.
10 billion tonnes is likely too high. IPCC says 80% below 1990 levels so that’s a 90% cut over near future economic growth levels. And that’s just myopic near term planning. We’re looking at another doubling beyond that due to population and affluence.
That’s 20x less fossil fuels, or more correctly 20x lower fossil intensity. How to think of this? Simple. No fossil fuels for anything mainstream. Just niches.
IPCC is not omniscient. I don’t have the time to read their documents, but I would expect they don’t include ideas like large increases in desalination to allow fertile, but dry areas of the world to grow more plants.
From the summaries I’ve read IPCC policy recommendations appear to be closely aligned with the sacrificial prescriptions from anti-abundance, anti-prosperity people like Lovins and Jacobson.
The climate is not a biological system with repair mechanisms Bob. This is pathetic reasoning, not worthy of anyone that considers themselves a scientist.
-‘The climate is not a biological system with repair mechanisms Bob.’
Actually, if Jim Lovelock is right, the biosphere is acting as one giant organism, and so does maintain feedbacks to restore equilibrium and repair damage. Only trouble is, the feedbacks can be a bit slow moving on human timescales. In a few hundred thousand or a couple of million years, erosion and limestone formation will put all that surplus carbon back in the ground where it belongs, and hopefully a new panoply of species will evolve to fill the gaps in the ecosystem. Unfortunately by that time we might have cooked in our own industrial excreta. We’ve had two hundred years of CO2 output exceeding natural carbon sinks, and probably about eight millenia before that with agriculture and forest clearing nudging the levels up. Most of the short term feedbacks are positive – less ice, more water vapour, methane from melting permafrost – and the negative ones – more plant growth and mountain erosion – haven’t really stared yet. We could in theory figure out ways to sequester as much carbon as we’re currently producing –
but that still wouldn’t fix the two hundred odd parts per billion surplus in the atmosphere, and if that went down the extra carbon dioxide in the ocean surface would start to outgas and replace it. The last time CO2 levels were at 400 ppm, Florida didn’t have salt intrusion into the ground water – it didn’t exist. The whole peninsular was several metres underwater.
If warming continues it certainly will be again, the only question is, how soon. I think it may still be possible to pull the greenhouse gas levels down before that happens, but it won’t be easy or cheap. Keeping on burning any fossils that we don’t have to, when nuclear can do the job, will only make it harder.
Bob – I think you’ve drawn a flawed analogy. Living cells can, to a large degree, repair DNA damage from radiation, oxidation, etc., but a CO2 molecule can’t alter its reaction to infrared energy. The amount of energy it absorbs, and the time that energy is retained, is baked into the CO2 molecule’s cake.
For me the question in both cases is what should be our response? What risk are we trying to mitigate? If we don’t know the comparative risks, we cannot make a rational response. Also, we now know that there are ways to reduce the amount of CO2 in the oceans by putting iron into the water. http://russgeorge.net/ We know that the effects of low level radiation are very small, much smaller than other risks we normally face in life. Those risks, even if Mr. Bob is correct, are not of such a nature that they deserve the current type of regulations. Also, if those risks are so high that they do deserve the high regulation of NPP’s we should also regulate naturally occurring radioactive materials in exactly the same way. Consistency should be the effect of good science. But if the regulation of radiation across the world were to be done in the same way as for a NPP in the USA – where would we live?
There is another technique using lime which requires heating limestone. That process creates CO2 which can be captured and dealt with at a reasonable cost. The amount of CO2 released is much smaller than what will be captured by lime. But the amount of lime needed is huge so it would require nuclear reactors to provide the power. Most likely electric kilns to reach over 1000 Celsius. Without remediation most of the important life forms in the oceans may go extinct in only 25 years. That would of course affect the food supply for humans but also kill the whales and other species we are so fond of that depend on the food chain. The ocean’s ability to absorb CO2 has saved us from much more severe weather changes happening decades ago. But there is a limit to what it can absorb.
The great thing about using small amounts of iron is that the food supply is greatly increased. If you look at the website, Russ says that the amount of iron going into the oceans has reduced because the CO2 levels increasing has caused more plants to grow thus reducing the dust in the air, thus the amount of iron going into the oceans.
The question in my mind is whether there is a threshold dose of CO2. I mean, CO2 is plant food. Is there a certin amount that is beneficial vice harmful?
Also, earth has been in a long series of ice ages, one of which would probably be quite damaging to humanity and civilization too. Are we willing to risk THAT danger too?
I’m certain nobody proposes to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to a level that could start a new ice age or impair plant growth, and even if someone would propose that, we’d have no idea how to do it.
Currently we’re *adding* a very large amount of CO2 to the atmosphere every year, and we can measure the concentration increasing constantly (minus an annual cycle of plants growing and then decaying).
The threshold that’s acknowledged is instead the one where adding this much CO2 every year would be absorbed and not result in an increased level of CO2 the following year. And the other unknown is what the effect of this CO2 will be precisely, where the level of scaremongering above is dishonest with regard to the fact we don’t know for sure what will happen and how fast.
One of the pieces of information that gives me hope that we have the technology to stabilize — and reduce if necessary — the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is the global record of seasonal variation. It may be trite, but I watched a short segment on 60 minutes last night about a particular form of intensive agriculture that uses artificial lighting to convince commercially valuable plants to grow faster and without regard to seasons. Suppose we used nuclear electricity to enable that kind of practice to become more widespread?
I’m convinced that high-efficiency indoor/vertical farming will be a big part of our next green revolution. Genetic engineering and nuclear power are strongly synergistic here. We could radically increase crop yields and nutrition while slashing land/water/pesticide use.
“Commercially valuable plants”……I know what program that was. It came on directly after the Colts-Broncos game.
This is a form of farming that I think is totally logical and would make high density urban areas sustainable and points to the fact that the best way to make the earth sustain high populations is with more energy. I had a funny conversation with my son about this exact issue when he was arguing that we would run out of land and I challenged him that people were more creative than than and asked him what he would do to solve it. He said sarcastically, “you would have to build farms in skyscrapers and run artificial lights..” Then he stopped and realized that he had just proved my point.
With Nuclear Power, such farming might make cities on the Moon sustainable.
Also, the heck with ” a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage”; How about:
A river in every wadi, a garden on every shoreline…
Photosynthesis is very inefficient and the energy requirements would likely be stupendous.
The American Physical Society released a study in 2011 that concluded that with optimistic assumptions, it would cost $600 per tonne to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere. Much cheaper to not put it there in the first place.
I don’t have the reference, but I recall Hansen saying that a maximum global reforestation effort would reduce atmospheric CO2 by no more than 50 ppm. If the CO2 tap were turned off right now and such an effort undertaken it would get us to 350 ppm which is what Hansen considers a safe long term level.
Even if we turned the tap off, it would not lower the CO2 level for many years, decades, or centuries. Pick one because they are all correct.
Was that method based on absorbing/compressing/removing the CO2 directly from the atmosphere?
Based on the U.S. Navy’s results of their fuel synthesis research, it sounds like less energy/money is required if one extracts disolved CO2 from seawater.
Either was, it’s the same CO2, so if it takes less energy to extract it from seawater, the APS’s estimate could be inaccurate.
“The question in my mind is whether there is a threshold dose of CO2. I mean, CO2 is plant food. Is there a certain amount that is beneficial vice harmful?”
Adding carbon dioxide increases the global average temperature. Removing carbon dioxide decreases the global average temperature. It’s as simple as that.
Humans may be well adapted to live with current temperatures. Other organisms may be well adapted to live with higher temperatures. If the global average temperature increases, then many organisms that are adapted to current temperatures will become extinct.
Temperatures have changed in the past. And with each change, there have been extinctions.
Whether this is “beneficial” is difficult to say. It depends on what you value.
“Also, earth has been in a long series of ice ages, one of which would probably be quite damaging to humanity and civilization too. Are we willing to risk THAT danger too?”
We are currently in an ice age. Adding carbon dioxide will take us out of the ice age.
I would hope we all value human life.
There is one big difference that I can see. Human beings are living creatures, while the atmosphere isn’t. Living creatures have adaptive responses which are turned on and off as needed. The atmosphere doesn’t. It only has feed back loops.
Lovelock was not far off in describing the earth as a living system (Gaia) that has some ability to adapt to maintain a rough stability. The feedback loops that maintain atmospheric chemistry are quite powerful, but they can be overloaded. I think we have passed that point from two directions, both in reducing absorption by deforestation and by pumping too much CO2 into the atmosphere.
Human society has the ability to take action that would affect both of those. With plenty of water there are vast areas of arable land that are not hosting any trees or other plant life. We can also substantially reduce the addition term by shifting more power production to ultra-low emission nuclear sources. (I am not a huge fan of such geoengineering proposals as adding iron to oceans or SOx to the atmosphere. Too much potential for unintended consequences.)
With cheap high-grade heat, desalination could be performed on a grand scale turning millions of acres of desert in North Africa, an area the size of the USA, into forest and cropland. It could produce food for billions of people and pull billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere at the same time.
The million-fold energy density advantage of nuclear makes this and other visions of plenty both realistic and achievable. Given enough clean concentrated energy, humanity can live well without destabilizing climate systems or destroying habitability of the biosphere.
I see this idea bandied about a lot, but the unintended consequences are enormous. It turns out that deserts are the source for a lot of the iron and other nutrient content near the ocean surface. Foresting North Africa may take CO2 out of the air directly, but it may have an even larger impact in the other direction by decreasing the rate of oceanic plankton growth.
Good point. It can even affect the south american forests as these even are “fertilized” by dust from the Sahara. Odd. Complicated little planet we live on.
On a geological scale there’s a lot of CO2 sinks, anything from buried plants to rock weathering (like olivine) and limestone production (buried sea shells). Without CO2 input from volcanos, geologically this would be a decreasing GhG concentration affair. Our planet likes to suck up and sequester the CO2. All we have to do is maintain the balance with some modest emissions. Much smaller than today’s emissions but can still be billion ton amounts.
What I worry about more than ocean levels rising is ocean acidification. A small incremental shift there could shut down organic shell production triggering an outcome that is wildly disproportionate to the small change in ocean chemistry. And though my feeling is that we aren’t quite yet to the tipping point of large methane releases, we know such tipping points exist, and have been tripped in prior episodes which had dire effects, and the observed increase in methane plumes north of Siberia suggests we are at least stepping on the fringes of a danger zone.
My intuition is that reducing net human CO2 output to zero isn’t going to be nearly enough. We are already running about 500 billion tons heavy on environmental CO2, and for the near term human CO2 output is going to continue to soar, with many hundreds of planned coal plants coming online. Even if we could drop net human CO2 output to zero immediately, the current sequestration rate would take centuries to digest what we’ve already put in.
However, I also don’t accept that CO2 reduction must entail energy poverty, nor even that it has to mean the elimination of all use of fossil fuels. We can still have a net negative contribution if we drive sequestration at greater than our emission rates. I know some are opposed to geoengineering, but that’s what we are doing right now, and I don’t see the problem with counterengineering. Adding pulverized olivine to the oceans, for example, basically mimics erosion, but at a moderately accelerated rate. And pumping seawater through peridotite extracts CO2 with minimal and highly predictable additional changes to ocean chemistry. And it’s hard to see what could be risky about changing urban albedo, or making shifts in the timing of air traffic. The Rodale Institute has done work which suggests large amounts of CO2 could be sequestered by changes in our agricultural practices, so would that count as geoengineering?
But displacing fossil fuels and unwinding the CO2 overburden while supplying the growing energy needs of humanity looks like it is going to require large amounts of nuclear power of some sort–maybe various sorts. Yes, there is some uncertainty about exactly how bad the CO2 situation is, but a sensible risk analysis is going to weigh likelihoods and magnitudes of worst outcomes. Worst case if we are over-estimating the CO2 threat is that we might overdevelop our nuclear power production, we might have an energy glut, there might be economic hardship for the least competitive forms of nuclear power, and we might bring CO2 levels down closer to what has been normal for all of human existence to avoid consequences which might not have been as dire as we feared. Worst case if we are underestimating how bad the situation is could entail the collapse oceanic carbon sequestration, mass extinctions, a possible methane catastrophe, reduced atmospheric O2, anoxic oceans, and/or poison gas pouring into the atmosphere from anaerobic bacteria. To me, it’s no contest which would be the preferable direction of error. So I’m not going to complain too much if the alarms about CO2 dwell on the uncertainties and are sometimes more strident than can be strictly proved by our existing state of science. The important part to me is to keep the focus on solutions which can actually help rather than focus on the issue of exactly how badly we need them.
I’ve been a risk analyst. Maybe I wasn’t a particularly good one, but I generally discounted or ignored “worst case” and “best case” scenarios that were either fanciful or wildly unlikely. Spending large sums of scarce resources to win lotteries or avoid asteroid impacts just did not seem worthwhile to me or to my bosses.
Taking your example of an asteroid impact, developing an asteroid detection and deflection program is sure to cost billions of dollars, and the odds of such an impact at any given moment are extremely small. But over time, the cumulative risk grows, and a rational risk assessment doesn’t just look at the odds of an outcome but also its potential magnitude. And the death and economic toll from an asteroid impact could be so vast that it dwarfs into insignificance the several billion price tag it might take to avoid it.
I’m not sure what scarce resources you are talking about, but I notice Americans spent over $7 billion on Halloween last year ($350 million for pet costumes alone) and a further $15 billion on fantasy football–not even “real” football (which is arguably many more billions spent frivolously). We have way more wealth than we need to be able to afford both asteroid protection and the development of multiple forms of advanced nuclear power without causing hardship for anybody. It’s just a matter of getting them to a good place in the spending priority stack. And if public alarm about climate bumps nuclear development up a few notches in the stack, I have a hard time seeing that as a bad thing, even if we don’t know to the exact degree how much of such alarm is warranted.
At least with expenditures like a space program or reactor research and development, there is a decent likelihood of educational benefits, skilled employment, and spinoff technologies which offer a much better return on investment than many of the things we routinely throw our money away on–irrespective of whether the primary reason for those investments was fully justified.
Are you a grant dependent or government employed scientist? You argue like one.
Total spending on Halloween costumes or fantasy football is the sum of many individual personal choices, not a government directive from on high. That money is not accessible for a government program unless elected officials pass laws that collect additional taxes while preventing the spending from occurring.
Actually since the transactions were already taxed and both the spender and those whose revenues depend on the transaction are presumably American citizens or legal residents, I am not sure what the total gain in resources would be if both of those activities were halted. Of course, that assumes that the people involved don’t revolt when someone tries to stop them from spending their money as desired.
Raising “public alarm” about extremely low probability events in order to build huge government programs strikes me as being quite immoral.
Calling other people’s spending choices “frivolous” sounds terribly elitist and arrogant.
“What I worry about more than ocean levels rising is ocean acidification. A small incremental shift there could shut down organic shell production triggering an outcome that is wildly disproportionate to the small change in ocean chemistry.”
Mr. Adams wrote:
“I generally discounted or ignored “worst case” and “best case” scenarios that were either fanciful or wildly unlikely”
Wikepedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification
Most of the oxygen that I breathe and my tuna fish comes from the ocean. These ocean scientists (not climate scientists) seem to take this one pretty seriously. You might want to include the ocean acidification scenario in your odds making. Wikepedia has lots of links after their article. People took the Ozone hole thing a few years back. I figure this one could be considered.
“Are you a grant dependent or government employed scientist? You argue like one.”
I don’t see that as relevant to the substance of my position.
“Total spending on Halloween costumes or fantasy football is the sum of many individual personal choices, not a government directive from on high.”
The point was that money is not a “scarce resource”. I could have used the example of government spending on football, which also runs into the billions, but it’s the same point.
“Raising “public alarm” about extremely low probability events in order to build huge government programs strikes me as being quite immoral.”
To relate this to a specific example discussed here, do you think it would be immoral for an advocate of an asteroid defense program to describe the possible destructive effects of an asteroid impact in order to get public opinion behind such a program?
“Calling other people’s spending choices “frivolous” sounds terribly elitist and arrogant.”
You are as entitled to that opinion as I am to my opinion that football and pet costumes are frivolous. And you can have the opinion that raising the alarm about climate change is immoral, and I can say I don’t see the moral argument for that at all.
To relate this to a specific example discussed here, do you think it would be immoral for an advocate of an asteroid defense program to describe the possible destructive effects of an asteroid impact in order to get public opinion behind such a program?
Absolutely, especially when such a program might cost many tens of billions of dollars and most likely still not work. It sounds to me about as useful as Star Wars ITER, the Super Conducting Super Collider or NIF.
How would one test an asteroid defense system? What do you think we should give up in order to fund it – besides Halloween costumes and fantasy football? How many elementary school teachers could be paid by the money spent developing and maintaining such a system?
By the way, please explain why you think that “the government” spends billions on football? Does that take into account the government’s income from all of the free choice transactions involved in the sport?
Sure, people are entitled to their opinions. They must also be willing to accept that they may hear strong rebuttals from those who disagree.
Rod, we just need to prioritize things. Right now we don’t know where most of the asteroids are. So a program would be focused on finding the darn things first. I think I once heard an astromer say that there are more people working in the average Burger King than there are astronomers looking for dangerous asteroids.
Once we get a good feel of where the dangerous asteroids are we can determine the correct response. Best case, if we are fairly certain after a major finding effort that there are no threatening asteroids in collision course this century, then no program is needed. Worst case if its a big asteroid that we missed and it won’t miss us soon, then its “bring out the nukes”.
Risk analysis is an important part of my dayjob.
I’ve learned it is vital to do sanity checks, because it is too easy to get lost in paperwork and assumption-upon-assumption.
Best way to do this is to look at history. Has this happened before?
Worst case tsunami for the Fukushima plant designers was a 3 meter tsunami. The historic record shows there was a tsunami with 20-30 meter runup heights nearby a century ago. Many 10+ meter tsunamis in the recent geological history.
The US NRC is saying that the probability of reactor vessel axial and radial weld rupture, as a result of cold overpressurization transients, is both 10e-3. So one in 500 LWR reactor years = weld rupture. So we should have had dozens if not a hundred of such ruptures in the history of nuclear power. Far as I can tell the actual number is zero.
65 million years ago the dinosaurs were killed off by an asteroid.
There have been far worse calamities in the geological past. Supervolcanos. Are you familiar with the Deccan Traps in what is today India?
Best case vs worst case isn’t relevant at all. What is relevant is that you know the things that are important. A worst case result can be a best case result if you forget to consider critical information. Then you think you’re being conservative, when in fact the opposite is the case.
Sanity checks, sanity checks, sanity checks.
In case of planet-killing devastation, another question is can we live with the results. If this planet becomes a sister furnace to Venus, obviously that is not something we can live with. We can live with Fukushimas, contrary to public opinion this would be perfectly rational, even though it was preventable. We can’t live in a furnace.
Bjorn Lomborg (climate skeptic, Copenhagen Consensus Center) made the interesting observation that if you ever want to know someone’s position on climate change, just read their proposed energy solutions. I’ve found that unreliables hucksters tout the instant collapse of civilization. Nuclear advocates tend to have a moderate view (it is happening, hard to predict exact consequences, action still needs to be taken). While fossil fuel supporters doubt it is happening or it is a direct result of human behavior.
Why do renewable advocates always promote the “humanity is immediately facing such dire consequences that it must disrupt its current technological structure and adopt stringent measures to enable us to live within…” narrative on climate change?
There are many nuclear supporters who discredit human induced climate change.
Its a bad hand in cards. The ones who understand the need for drastic action support technologies that don’t work (wind and solar) and the ones who understand the solution don’t see a problem.
So nuclear energy ends up going nowhere, torn between friends who don’t know what its for and enemies who don’t see it for the real ally it is.
The idea of putting some effort to avoid mankind-killing scenarios seems reasonable to me. We are not without a reference framework. Our sister-planet, Venus, is a climate disaster made real. Surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead. It has gone into a thermal runaway. This has happened. Its real. Not hypothetical or challenging the envelope of science, like the magic moon beam melting down the nuclear powerplant that then causes a mutation that ends up killing all humans.
For similar reasons I think it is ok to look into prevention of super volcanos catastrophic eruptions. Geothermal energy usage in Yellowstone might be the ticket to prevent buildup of pressure. Yet here too we see an “environmental” reason being used to not develop geothermal resources there and any plan to try to prevent future eruptions is seen at best as comical science fiction.
Do agree on nuclear utilization of course. A problem is only a real problem if you have a solution. Displacing coal plants with nuclear is as easy as its going to be, it is a drop in replacement. A modern nuclear plant can displace 2 to 4 run-of-the mill coal plants. Good mileage. It doesn’t bother me that people have apocalyptic worries about climate change, the nuclear blindness is the big issue I think.
Post scriptum. Al Gore was wrong about the frog. It won’t stay to be boiled to death. It’ll jump out, no matter how slow the heatup. Frogs are not quite so stupid as that.
Post post scriptum. Is anyone else bothered by the term scientific consensus? That’s like dry water or warm ice.
“Is anyone else bothered by the term scientific consensus? That’s like dry water or warm ice.”
I dislike how Rod Adams has to reinforce his position with “I want to make it as clear as I can. I am not a climate change skeptic…”
My limited understanding is that science thrives on disagreement with multiple dueling hypothesis. The public discussion has been pigeonholed into two corners and is evident with Rod’s disclaimer.
“Our sister-planet, Venus, is a climate disaster made real. Surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead. It has gone into a thermal runaway.”
I’d not seen that used before. Very good example.
Discussing climate change, by necessity, must be as much a political discussion as it is a discussion about actual science. The denial of human caused climate change is a political stance, if, as Rod’s comment asserts, 97% of climate scientists believe human caused climate change is a verifiable reality. This denial is NOT a stance founded in scientific consensus. Realizing this, I find the right wing leanings of so many here, at least on this topic, to be inexplicable. Why would one adopt a political stance denying human caused global warming, in defiance of popular scientific opinion, if not in order to further the interests of the fossil fuel industries? Frankly, I find such political posturing to be despicably disingenuous. Both sides, right and left, engage in it, science be damned, depending upon the issue. But on this issue, it cannot be denied that the right wing is the driving force behind ignoring the scientific community, at the behest of special interests; the global fossil fuel mega-monster. The idea that a right wing controlled house and senate portend good things to come, regarding NE, is a ludicrous fantasy that will be shattered in the coming few years.
You may be wrong. Nixon, a Republican, started the EPA. I believe people can have an epiphany. Keep your eyes on Jimmy Inhofe.
Are you a hater, POA, or are you truly liberal and tolerant of those whose point of view differs from yours, like conservatives?
And have you forgotten about all those liberal progressive Democrat politicians who have acted against nuclear power, like Mario and Andy Cuomo, Henry Waxman, Barbara Boxer, Ed Markey, Bernie Sanders, Harry Reid, et alias?
I am a conservative Catholic and I have worked in nuclear energy for 30+ years. Get used to it because people like me are not leaving. And yes, I am skeptical of all this global warming conjecture, but Rod Adams’ article is very well balanced: dumping billions of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere is an untried experiment with unknown consequences.
PS, the rest of the nation that voted for a GOP Congress does not agree with you. Do you respect the “Democratic” process?
It is not “Rod’s comment” that asserts that 97% of climate scientists believe human caused climate change is a verifiable reality.
I would not put such a precise figure on something phrased so carefully.
My post quoted the statement made in the “What We Know” document in order to discuss the implications of a document designed to raise concerns about impending doom in order to motivate immediate action — even if that action will not be effective.
Fear-motivated people often become irrational mobs that cannot make good decisions, even if they are readily apparent to those who more calmly approach a situation looking for good solutions.
Scientists should not get into the business of fantasy fiction in order to scare people. They should tell us exactly what they know and why they know it. It is up to a different kind of person to pull disparate information together to paint an overall picture, not the job of specialized researchers focused on particular experiments or data sets.
From your previous writings you have demonstrated a great affinity with collective social responsibility. Its why I come back to this site because it displays human as well as scientific values.
Its the following extract from your essay where we have a significant divergence:
“That does not mean I believe that humanity is immediately facing such dire consequences that it must disrupt its current technological structure and adopt stringent measures to enable us to live within the power capability of the wind, water and sun”
From my readings of the IPCC reports together with those of our Australian climate change scientists and most significantly those of James Hansen we differ strongly on this point. All my reading tells me that CO2 emissions must get to about 10% of current values by 2050 if we are to prevent the dangerous impacts of global warming. A decade ago I realised that nuclear power was the only energy that could achieve this scale of reduction.
That’s in Australia, a nation with NO nuclear power reactors and political opposition to its use.
This conclusion has created many opponents as Barry Brook and Ben Heard have also found. Many environmentalists dwell in a place of guilt and sin and create such negative messages that they repel mainstream society. They think that global warming solutions will come packaged in cardboard boxes stuffed with cotton wool.
Very big changes are required to how we produce energy, synthesise transport fuels, reduce metals and manufacture cement if we are to limit the impacts of global warming.
I think where we agree is on the technology, our social responsibility and the incredible growth in industry that would accompany these changes. Where we disagree is that I firmly believe it should have been done yesterday.
Thank you for the kind words about my affinity for collective social responsibility.
Now, please reread the quote that you pulled from my essay carefully.
“That does not mean I believe that humanity is immediately facing such dire consequences that it must disrupt its current technological structure and adopt stringent measures to enable us to live within the power capability of the wind, water and sun.”
I don’t believe that we need to disrupt our current technological structure because a vast expansion of nuclear power would not require that disruption. It would fit well with what we already have.
I don’t believe that a vast expansion of nuclear power would require “stringent measures” because done properly, the expansion would be hugely popular.
Finally, I tried to make it clear that I am aiming my fire at the people like Mark Z. Jacobson and Amory Lovins who profess that we need to learn how to live within the power capability of wind, water, and sun and reject the use of nuclear energy as the most capable tool in the box in addressing climate change.
Does that explanation make it likely that you will continue to come back?
Rod that “technological disruption” might occur, but it will be a good thing if we realize the right technologies are already available. Replace coal plants with nuclear plants, this pushes us into the right tech direction. Nuclear energy is the energy of the stars, the energy of the universe, the energy an advanced civilisation will use. Not long dead plants. Long dead plants are for barbarians.
The solar and wind stuff is poison, we agree on this. If this message gets through then we are looking at some really positive technological disruption, improved reliability in energy supply, improved air quality, etc through nuclear energy.
France has basically done this in terms of electrical supply. It wasn’t a hard time for them at all. They just built a bunch of PWRs and were done with it. Hardly disruption of society.
Coal is easy to displace (with a notable exception in iron and steel making). Oil is harder, I will concede that. But we may be forced to abandon it soon enough, for reasons other than emissions.
France and Ontario have both shown to be pretty good models on how to use nuclear energy effectively. They don’t have as much cheap natural gas to threaten their profits. There is also more significant support from their governments. Also their approach to fuel supply is significantly different.
So a nuclear energy game changer is indeed what the US needs. MSRs are the best choice in my opinion.
Let your local congress reps know what you think. That’s one of our best paths to success.
Disrupting a single sector — in this case the coal, oil and gas fuel industry — is not the same as “disrupting our current technological structure.”
I have no fears and no worries about putting the fossil fuel industry in its proper place. What I don’t want to do is to have to get involved in the kind of massive disruption that would have to take place to enable the Lovins/Jacobson/Makhijani vision.
I want most consumers to keep thinking that electricity comes out of the wall socket whenever wanted in whatever quantities the copper wires can carry without tripping a breaker.
Then this isn’t a climate change (problem) argument, but a nuclear (solution) argument. Lovins, Makhijani promote false solutions that work in their elitist version of a future where most of the world’s energy-poor folks stay energy-poor and continue to live lives without electricity. This isn’t a climate change thing, its the distorted view that Lovins, Makhijan et al have of nuclear energy vs the scale of the energy problem in a world where everyone has access to reasonable amounts of electricity. These people have a lot of bubbles, but I don’t think GhG emissions is one of them for these people.
It’s worse than that. The Lovins/Makhijani/Jacobson approach STARTS with a 67% reduction in current energy use, even if the population grows. In other words, it requires depowering a lot of people who are currently powered up and reasonably affluent.
Thank you for your clarification and I understand where you were aiming your criticism. Its just that the current technological structure that must be disrupted more decisively than any other is that of coal and gas burning – moreso in Australia perhaps.
In both our countries we have economic structures in place which fail to price CO2 pollution and which encourage fossil fuel burning as a least cost source of energy. This is having a ruinous impact on your nuclear power utilities and yet the science that I read tells us we need to get our carbon emissions way down to 10% of current amounts across our entire economies – not just electricity production.
In one fell swoop this can be fixed by progressively pricing carbon burning out of existence. This will be subject to Australia’s coal customers in China and India agreeing and your Republicans facing up to the fact that with benefits come obligations – there’s no free lunch.
This will be accompanied by big shifts in our economies. These would be very exciting and invigorating times. It would see whole classes of people especially tradesmen re-employed and family life would be richly enhanced through the creation of valuable work.
I certainly had no intention of abandoning a site where we can explore the subtleties of meaning and really elevate the debate.
Please see my response above. Disrupting coal, oil and gas fuel industries is quite different from “disrupting our current technological structure.”
Of course there are certain places where those fuel industries play an even more dominant role than they do for most of us. Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, and probably a few others would be more disrupted than most of the rest of the world.
Like you, I do see the shift from coal, oil and gas to nuclear as involving a lot of great jobs and a lot of hard, but valuable work. I see an abundant future with greater wealth distributed more widely because actinide power is more about creative human power than burning oil, coal or gas are.
“The question arises: Were the decisions concerning this enormous funding for global warming research taken out of genuine concern that the climate is allegedly changing as a result of CO2 industrial emissions, or do some other undisclosed ideas stand behind this money, IPCC activity, Kyoto, and all the gruesome catastrophic propaganda the world is now exposed to? If this concern is genuine, then why do we not see a storm of enthusiastic environmentalists and United Nations officials demanding to replace all fossil-fuel plants with nuclear plants, which have zero emission of greenhouse gases, are environmentally friendly, more economical, and much safer for plant workers and much safer for the general population than other sources of energy?”
– Zbigniew Jaworowski
Because the truth of AGW has been hijacked by various actors with a wide variety of interests which do not include an expansion of nuclear power.
Just because pharmaceutical companies try to sell all manner of useless pills and potions to combat obesity – as opposed to simply recommending learning to eat less calories – doesn’t mean obesity isn’t a genuine issue.
By the way, I wonder in what world funding for global warming research can be called ‘enormous’. It is peanuts! The only funding which can rightly be called ‘enormous’ is the funding provided for the implementation of unreliables.
@Joris van Dorp
I think we agree wholeheartedly. Just because charlatans try to use fear, fire and brimstone to market “solutions” to problems does not mean that the problems do not exist and should not be addressed rationally, using the best available tools. It is not surprising that the charlatans will resist effective solutions because they would eliminate the irrational responses that fear induces and reduce sales of “snake oil” type solutions. Cures are bad for business if your business is selling “treatments” that don’t work very well but seem to provide some temporary relief as long as they are taken regularly.
On the issue of funding for research, I do agree that is part of the problem. There are certain kinds of people who like “doing science” enough that they will gravitate to any field where there are available grants, even if the total amount of money available might seem rather small in the big scheme of things. The individual grants are sometimes quite generous, especially compared to the near starvation wages paid to post-docs who don’t want to leave the ivory tower and enter the world of applications where people make money by providing useful products to willing customers.
People that live on grants are fairly easy to buy or rent and will provide desired answers to those who are providing the funding stream so that they can keep getting their grants renewed. I’ve read enough biographies of real scientists to understand that they must often take virtual vows of poverty in order to pursue truth without being pushed into topics that don’t interest them very much, but do interest people with money. The only real exceptions to that appear to be those scientists who are born into prosperous circumstances and can afford to pursue their passions without worries about paying the bills.
Welcome to the world of R&D for advanced reactor concepts! If only a tiny fraction of the money that has been wasted on deeply flawed, ideologically driven “climate studies” (keep in mind that I used to be part of this world when I was in graduate school) had been spent on genuine nuclear R&D … well … I’m sure that the DOE would have wasted most of it … but the remainder that went to those of us who just want to make a product that we can sell would have resulted in some very substantial progress.
But the reality is that I’ve just been tasked with tidying up and documenting the calculations that I performed to better understand severe-accident analysis of advanced gas-cooled reactor designs. This is work that resulted in a couple of published papers, but the budget for this cleanup/documentation work is $0, because there is no budget. There wasn’t even enough budget to get the papers done in the first place. That’s what nights and weekends are for. Fortunately, my day job manages to pay the bills.
Gee … I wished I worked in a field so flush with money that they’d fly me to Bali or Peru to discuss my latest “research” (or the made-up crap that I call “research”). I was fortunate enough to go to the last year’s meeting on new nuclear power plants (ICAPP’14), but that’s only because it was in Charlotte, NC, and I could drive there. I have nothing against Charlotte, but it’s no Bali.
The amount of money that has been, and still is being, wasted on the Climate BS is truly obscene, and those who refuse to see it are the real “deniers.”
Not only that, the Kyoto accord explicitly excludes reductions in CO2 emissions from being credited in their CO2 credit reduction scheme.
Not only do they not embrace nuclear, to reduce CO2, they explicitly disallow it.
A suspicious person might say that this whole global warming thing, regardless of its underlying truth, is a propaganda scheme designed to resign consumers to more expensive electricity.
Just as the on-going panic-mongering about fresh water is the first shot in a coming campaign to gouge consumers for water.
just as similar panic-mongering are early shots/water-testings to see if consumers are ready to be gouged on foods.
These campaigns all take the same form. Soften up public opinion with a propaganda campaing designed to insert into the public’s mind the idea that some commodity willl become expensive. Use government influence to “privatize” or “deregulate” or remove price/production supports in the markets in the commodity area. Manipulate the regulations and markets to create avoidable scarcity. Profit off of the commodities market while gouging the heck out of the consumer.
Maintain public support for this price gouging by convincing the Republicans that it’s good free market action at work and convincing the Democrats that it’s serving some nobel environmental goal that must be maintained/achieved.
Dooh! That first sentence should have been:
“Not only that, the Kyoto accord explicitly excludes reductions in CO2 emissions from nuclear electricity generators from being credited in their CO2 credit reduction scheme. “
“Absolutely, especially when such a program might cost many tens of billions of dollars and most likely still not work.”
I don’t know what an asteroid defense program would cost, and I’m certainly in no position to speculate about its odds of effectiveness, but thinking about Tunguska and a recent close pass over Russia, I think it’s entirely reasonable to consider the possibility, and at least examine what it would take to make such a program operational. First stage, I imagine, would be to conduct a sky survey to get some idea how many of these earth-crossing objects there are. That would at least put us in a better position to make an informed decision about risk.
“How would one test an asteroid defense system?”
I imagine we would nudge a few asteroids about and track the results.
“What do you think we should give up in order to fund it”
If banks can conjure money into existence in order to lend it to governments, I don’t know why we couldn’t reclaim that power for public financing. But even granting the finite-money premise of the question, I can think of a few things I’d be happy to see traded for it. The F22 fighter program, for example, is expected to exceed $1 trillion–for a jet the military doesn’t want, designed for a mode of air combat which is obsolete. And that’s peanuts compared to what the next Wall St. bailout is going to cost.
“By the way, please explain why you think that “the government” spends billions on football?”
My recollection is that the Cowboys stadium alone cost well over a billion, and the Met Life stadium even more. Even with private funding kicked in, virtually all the major football stadiums suck in hundreds of millions in public subsidies each. And then there are the college stadiums at public universities, and multi-million dollar high school football stadiums, and that’s even before we get to the annual operating costs of high-school and public college programs themselves. http://ideas.time.com/2013/12/06/football-a-waste-of-taxpayers-money/
“Does that take into account the government’s income from all of the free choice transactions involved in the sport?”
Even at the professional football level, it is a net drain on public coffers (profits could be tapped to cover public cost, but that doesn’t happen), but the tax return for high school football is virtually negligible compared to its cost. But let’s say that government spending on a program stimulated enough economic activity to recoup public costs. Would that help to justify the program, in your view?
“Sure, people are entitled to their opinions. They must also be willing to accept that they may hear strong rebuttals from those who disagree.”
I’m actually interested to hear reasoned rebuttals. That’s largely how I made the transition from anti- to pro- nuclear. But the degree to which an opinion may be strongly felt is mostly irrelevant to me.
The F22 fighter program, for example, is expected to exceed $1 trillion–for a jet the military doesn’t want, designed for a mode of air combat which is obsolete. And that’s peanuts compared to what the next Wall St. bailout is going to cost.
Now you are talking. There are huge pots of money in unproductive defense programs that I would be willing to trade for reasonable, focused research on asteroid defense systems. Just don’t tell me you want to pay for it be tapping pools of money like those spent by individuals on Halloween costumes.
I’m a huge football fan and have been since I was young. I’m old enough to have watched the first Monday Night Football game and the first Super Bowl. I’ve enjoyed thousands of hours in the “frivolous” activity of watching football games both in person and on television. One of my daughters played varsity flag football and was the first 4-year letterman at her high school. My wife and I have already begun taking our grandchildren to watch Navy football games, with the enthusiastic participation of all of their parents.
One of my regrets in life is that my mom would never let me play organized football for fear of injury, even though I loved playing at the sandlot level. Maybe about now I appreciate the fact that I don’t suffer as many aches and pains as former ball players.
Over the years, I’ve known and worked with dozens of former ball players. My best junior officers when I was Engineer on a submarine were former football and baseball players. They understood hard work, they could function well as leaders of a team, and, perhaps most important of all, they knew how to shake off a mistake and do better on the next “play.”
Unlike some of the academic types that gravitate towards nuclear power, even in the Navy, people who have played team sports have all experienced failure along with success and know it is not fatal. My geeks would often get so flustered by an error – because they had not made many in their lives – that they would become temporarily dysfunctional. That is a deadly condition on an operating submarine or in a power plant.
In other words, I think your accounting regarding football is too limited. I do agree that stadiums like the AT&T Stadium that hosted last night’s National Championship college football game are a bit over the top and probably should not have been funded by the public. However, who am I to tell voters in another city, state and town that they should not agree to tax themselves to create an arena that gives them intense local pride and hosts major entertainment spectacles that focus the eyes of the nation on their city on a relatively frequent basis?
I’ve seen a much darker side of football than you have, but that’s not why I consider it frivolous. I consider it frivolous because it’s a game. An entertainment. The fact some people enjoy it doesn’t change that. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours playing video games too, but I’m under no delusion that was anything but frivolous.
Is it possible that real and tangible benefits can accrue from games and entertainments? Sure. But why is it that you can see that aspect where football is concerned but can’t see it where research and large technological projects are concerned? From a science point of view, there was no real justification for sending men to the moon. We did it for emotional reasons, but even so, I’ve seen some plausible arguments that it was a spur to education and technology which realized societal benefits and economic returns that far exceeded its costs. Trying to head off climate change or developing an asteroid defense program *might* not be vitally necessary (ie. it is a logical possibility that there is no threat from climate change or asteroids) and yet, even in that instance, both programs could yet realize large tangible benefits. Of course, at the other end of the possibility spectrum, they might prevent enormous, possibly global, cataclysms (something which cannot be claimed for football).
Ah yes. You didn’t like the aspect of government spending on those programs. But government spending on football is okay because in that instance, officials are only doing the will of the voters.
No doubt there is a dark side to football. I have sometimes called it my “guilty pleasure.”
I’ve also seen the dark side of massive, Big Science projects that stimulate a lot of specialized construction and education that is then useless once enough people begin questioning the value of the project and funding is cut.
There was a lot of pain on the Space Coast after we made it to the moon. Sure, it inspired a lot of people to become aerospace engineers. Many of them ended up with lengthy periods of unemployment due to an oversupply. Sure, they were well educated and eventually adapted to a different job, but that is the kind of thing that happens when a big project is totally dependent on the government for its funding rather than having a major part of its revenue stream coming from interested and willing customers.
My point is that I would rather motivate tax paying voters to contribute funds with hope, vision, and real, steadily increasing rewards leading to a better life rather than reverting to fear and trembling as the forcing function. I’m not a manned space travel fan because of the way we have approached the process as a race to be won and then abandoned.
Inspiring young people is great, but not if you inspire them to unachievable goals. I have three friends who are astronauts with numerous shuttle flights between them. There might be a few hundred of those kinds of people in the country, but when I was reviewing applications from high school students wanting to come to the Naval Academy, about 60% of them listed a desire to become an astronaut as one of the reasons they were interested in the Academy.
I went to a football dynasty high school, and I happened to be large and, thanks to lots of cycling, one of the fastest sprinters in the school. The pressure to play football was intense, and administrators even jiggered my schedule so that I’d have to take 6th hour varsity. So I signed up for tennis. You would have thought I personally stabbed all the students and faculty in the back, and the locker room “hijinks” I experienced, in any other context, would simply have been criminal assault. But sharing the locker room, I also got to see the drug and steroid use, the steady stream of injuries, and hear the stories of partying and sex which were just the perks of being royalty. I’ve heard the claims that football builds character. My experience lead me towards a very different conclusion. And I haven’t seen that Americans wind up with so much more character than people in countries which do not have American football.
Virtually all of the players had dreams of making it to pro football–except for the kid who wound up a paraplegic (though at least he lived, unlike the the three whose names were etched onto the granite monument at the end of the running track). A few made it to college football, and none of them made it to pro, and you can multiply that out over thousands of high school football programs. And while we had a lavishly paid coaching staff, our math and science programs were cut to the bone–only one teacher for both physics and chemistry, only one teacher beyond algebra. Sometimes I’d get stuck in a jock class–designed for easy A’s so that players could maintain their play status. For one of those classes, the only homework was watching Gunsmoke once a week. (I got my A without ever watching a single episode.)
Kids have unrealistic aspirations. I get that, and I don’t know that I’d want to change that. But I don’t see that winding up with an aerospace engineering degree is especially worse than winding up ignorant and crippled because of chasing gridiron glory.
As for the big project burden on the public, I now live in the district of another dynasty school, and I have been taxed literally thousands of dollars to support their football program. (As a voter, the only choice I was ever offered was on overall school funding–never on the football program separately.) No big research or development project has cost me anything like that. I also approve of projects like the TVA which brought enormous benefit to a large segment of the population which private enterprise had written off as unprofitable. I like private enterprise for many things, but there are some endeavors which really are better served by public programs.
Understood. I recognize the harm that can come and comes far too often. At the schools I attended, football was not as high on the priority list. My senior year in high school, we had a perfect 0-10 record. We still had good times going to the games and watching the band, which was very good.
At my college, football is big, but so is character building. The money the football program brings in helps to pay for the other 24 varsity sports teams whose members get an equal or greater dose of character building and development, but don’t attract many paying fans. It also helps to pay for the club and intramural programs that involve all of the rest of the students at the school. (At USNA, there is a requirement to participate in sports for at least one season of the year. Most participate all three available seasons, but there are exemptions for certain other activities like the drum and bugle corps.)
We both agree on the value of big projects that serve and bring enormous benefits to the public. TVA, Bonneville, the WPA, National Parks, the Interstate Highway System, airports, public education, on and on.
I just don’t see that we get much value from government-sponsored Big Science compared to what we used to get in the era before WWII when science was funded by foundations and corporate research organizations like Edison’s Menlo Park, Bell Labs, etc.
Far too much of government R&D goes to the industrial segment that claims to be “defending our freedom” with some of the least freedom-enhancing technologies known to man.
“I don’t know what an asteroid defense program would cost, and I’m certainly in no position to speculate about its odds of effectiveness….”
Considering NASA just landed the Rosetta probe on a comet, the technological capability is certainly within reach. The asteroid Apophis, is scheduled to pass below earth’s satellite communications in 2029.
There are unfunded plans to deflect asteroids on paper.
How many trillions of dollars worth of heavy/rare earths are sitting in the asteroid belt past Mars? If either NASA or private enterprise could figure out a way to move/deflect and mine asteroids, the payout could be huge.
How much would the metals be worth if the supply from asteroids flooded the market and created an oversupply situation?
The diamond (can also be made synthetically) and oil markets appear robust and profitable, even though their markets could be flooded with over supply.
Additionally, the value of a raw material in space is different than the same raw material on the ground here on earth. Water, for example, could be extracted and used in space. It cost $10,000 per pound to get something into space.
Even if mining is not possible/practical, an asteroid observation program could be established and along with the ability to move/deflect them from their orbit. What is the value of insuring the entire west coast from total devastation?
I am not sure why there is such hesitation to big science projects. Just build the Super Conducting Super Collider and let future generations figure out the economic value of any discoveries. Did Michael Faraday understand the potential implications when he dragged a magnet through a loop of wire?
‘ The diamond (can also be made synthetically) and oil markets appear robust and profitable, even though their markets could be flooded with over supply.’
Bad examples. Diamond and oil prices have both been controlled by cartels ( De Beers and OPEC ) for decades, and should arguably be much cheaper.
I am not sure why there is such hesitation to big science projects. Just build the Super Conducting Super Collider and let future generations figure out the economic value of any discoveries. Did Michael Faraday understand the potential implications when he dragged a magnet through a loop of wire?
Michael Faraday was not consuming the output of hundreds to thousands of his fellow citizens in a “Big Science” project where the ends were not even visible.
My father worked on a computer system back in the mid-60’s which cost $14 million back then (comparable to about $100 million these days). It had less computing power and storage capacity than your average smart phone or tablet these days. So which computer is “worth” more?
Enormously increasing the supply of rare earth (and other) metals would crash their market price per ton, but with reduced cost, we will find more things to do with them, and consumption will rise, as will their overall value to society. For the producers, all that matters is that they get more money for the materials than it cost to produce them. Computer manufacturers today get only a tiny fraction of what they used to get per unit of computing power, but with the greater volumes they still remain quite profitable.
October 31, 1993 – Clinton signed the bill that cancelled the SSC project
1994 – NASA’s budget is cut by 1.5 billion dollars
June 30, 1994 – The IFR progam was canceled at a greater cost than finishing it
I’ve always thought that the nuclear slice was from a larger “Big Science” pie.
“How much would the metals be worth if the supply from asteroids flooded the market and created an oversupply situation?”
Depends on the manner of arrival and point of impact. On land recovery would be easier but within the blast zone places that had once been cities would be full of recyclable metals. Then again, an ocean impact would make recovery difficult… but there would be far less demand, since ~44% of global population lives within 150km of the coastline.
Markets would recover, even if we do not.
You have taken my comment out of context. It referred to humans departing Earth, going to asteroids, mining them and bringing the materials back. It had nothing to do with taking advantage of asteroid impacts on Earth.
It never seems to occur to the antis that “manner and point” could be “fractional-ton quantities foamed, shaped into broad cones and covered with aeroshells of slag” and “aimed into either shallow water or a sandy desert”.
Of course it would be problematic to land a thousand tons in a single piece. Instead, you land 10,000 units of 100 kg at 1-second intervals over about 3 hours. You spend the rest of the day picking them up so the next day’s delivery has somewhere to land. If you can foam them light enough to float in water, you can use booms and nets to collect them and you don’t particularly need shallows.
Rod, for a comparison of risk between asteroid impact and climate change, consider that it’s 65 million years since the dinosaur’s were wiped out by the Chixculub impact. Our remote ancestors at the time probably resembled shrews. There are no threats on the radar, and the chances of a major strike make a lottery look like a boilerplate investment.
There have been over a dozen mass extinctions in the past from climate change ( probably triggered by volcanic gas outbursts ) compared to maybe two from bolides.) Even without catastrophic climate change, last time CO2 reached 400 parts per million in the atmosphere, during the Eemian interglacial, the sea wasn’t pushing into Florida’s groundwater – the whole peninsula was metres underwater.
That was only 125,000 years ago. With a suit and a haircut, folk from that era could walk past you in the street without getting a second glance.
IMHO a sensible risk strategy would include an immediate international push to nuclear, and at the same time a plan to draw down carbon on the same scale as we’ve been burning it. Normal erosion of coal- or oil- bearing rock releases CO2, and is roughly matched by erosion of ultramafic rock, coming up from deep underground with the gas cooked out of it. This helps form limestone deposits, keeping the amount of carbon in the biosphere fairly constant. We’ve burned a few hundred million year’s accumulation of carbon in only two hundred: we can’t afford to wait for the earth’s leisurely feedback systems to pack it away again. This proposal
would match current CO2 output by digging up, grinding, and dissolving a volume of olivine rock on a par with today’s coal mining. As you know, a much smaller uranium or thorium mining enterprise could easily power that, and replace the coal as well. It would probably then be cheaper to do away with oil and gas production as well, rather than have to compensate for their emissions.
Scientists who’ve studied in detail some of the other mitigation techniques, such as stratospheric sulfur dioxide, expecting bad outcomes, have generally found it to be a lot less scary than the alternative of runaway warming, while the unauthorised Haida oceanic iron fertilisation scheme off Canada seems to have had no noticeable ill effects and to have massively boosted fish stocks. Volcanoes have already done both these experiments for us, by dumping sulfur into the stratosphere or iron into the ocean in heroic quantities.
Please think about the implications of this innocent sounding phrase – “volume of olivine rock about equal to the coal mined today”.
Do you have any idea how massive today’s coal industry is, how many individual mines it includes, and how long it took to build the durable capital assets that it includes? Do you have any idea how massive some of the individual pieces of machinery are and how unlikely it is that they could be moved very far to a different kind of mine?
Remember, as much as many people like to hate on coal, it is a product that has an established market and willing buyers. The people who have invested money into all of the capital I mentioned did not do so out of a desire to save the world. They did it to make money by selling a product that customers found to be useful enough to pay a high enough price to make the enterprise worth the effort.
Who is going to pay for the olivine rock extraction, grinding, and distribution effort that you envision? Do you really think that such an effort would be less damaging and less dangerous that growing new forests that could be habitats for billions of living organisms and provide useful products like fine wood and paper products that will not return their CO2 into the atmosphere for decades to centuries, if ever?
I’ve looked into this Schuiling olivine idea in some detail and basically concluded that it can work. The scale is large, but not unmanageable. Is there some impact in mining and land use? Yes, but don’t exaggerate. It would affect perhaps a hundred thousandth of the earth surface area. Is it lower land use impact than growing trees to get the job done? Absolutely.
Who is going to pay for it? Well, you pay per ton of CO2. Various options are available for that, from taxes to trading. It isn’t different from paying to plant a tree, except that it is more permanent. Trees die and rot and make methane and CO2. So the equilibrium carbon store is small. Mining is 3-dimensional, dense business. Forests have only two dimensions, their third dimension is rather modest. In the end forests are solar powered, so you have all the problems. Mines can be nuclear powered.
Still I’d concede that forests are pretty and mines are ugly.
“I think that scale was regarding what it would take to match current CO2 output. Clearly that’s not going to be attainable or sustainable”
Seems feasible to me. See Schuiling work.
I think that scale was regarding what it would take to match current CO2 output. Clearly that’s not going to be attainable or sustainable. But if we dramatically reduce our CO2 output, that also reduces the scale of the needed carbon sequestration efforts. And some olivine sequestration strategies would not require the pulverizing and distribution. For example: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/411129/carbon-capturing-rock/ The ones who would pay for this would most likely be the ones most able to pay. But the chief drivers of cost are market competition and labor, so in a world of increasing energy abundance and automation, even if the project cost would be prohibitive right now, it might not be after we start making the large scale transition to nuclear power. And some of the costs could be dispersed by integration into existing activities. Olivine dosing of ballast water in shipping, for example.
Ultimately, it isn’t going to be matter of deciding which one sequestration strategy we should use. We are more likely to need virtually all of them. I put emphasis on de-acidification of the oceans merely because that looks to me like the most urgent and impending risk of catastrophe, but we’ll need forest growth, and carbon-retaining forms of agriculture, and the production of durable wood products, and bio-char, and deep CO2 injection, and carbon-sequestering concrete, and anything else we can think of to lock CO2 away wherever we can. But a lot of our sequestration strategies would have a limited storage capacity or points of diminishing returns, which is why I think the first order of business needs to be CO2 output reduction (and I see no more powerful tool for that than nuclear power in various forms) and hopefully that will simultaneously be an engine of wealth creation to help with the costs of carbon mitigation. And the sooner we move in that direction the better, which is why I’m okay with the message that urgent action is needed. That’s actually what I believe. And that doesn’t mean I have to agree with the bogus prescriptions of Lovins, Wasserman, and Jacobson just because they too say urgent action is needed.
Reforestation is fine as far as it goes, but that’s not very far.
‘To further reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 7%, as stipulated by the Kyoto Protocol, would require the planting of “an area the size of Texas [8% of the area of Brazil] every 30 years”.’ So if the US emissions are about a fifth of the world’s total, you’d need more than two Texas’ every year for net carbon neutrality. Obviously you’ll run out of land a lot sooner than you run out of fossil fuels – there are hundreds of years worth of coal and shale oil left. Nearly all the land suitable for forest was forested before people got there, so putting it all back into forest, with no allowance for farmland, wouldn’t even start to counter the fossils we’ve burned as well.
If you don’t get to carbon neutrality, the ocean will keep getting more acid, and the climate will keep getting warmer and weirder.
Reforestation is not an option.
To clarify the problem, which is worse, the warming or the ocean acidification? It seems like you hear a lot more about the global warming than the ocean acidification. I just remember that some fish are pretty sensitive to small changes in their environment. I’m thinking more than the ocean here. I wonder if inland lakes will also be affected by this thing.
Raising the water temperature is also not very good as is known by trout fishermen.
Someday, some of us may look back in hindsight and say, “You know, we should have built those nukes back then.”
we can deal with both acidification and warming by olivine sequestering.
I only hope it won’t be used as excuse to continue using coal powerplants forever.
“for a comparison of risk between asteroid impact and climate change, consider that it’s 65 million years since the dinosaur’s were wiped out by the Chixculub impact.”
How long has it been since the Tunguska event? There could have been millions such incursions which never showed up in the fossil record. And while something like that would pose no planetary-scale hazard, one of those smaller asteroids could still eradicate a major city, with trillions in repercussion costs rippling through the global economy.
Right now, we are largely in the dark as to the actual scale of the risk. I think we should at least be considering ways to correct that.
You’re discussing the remote possibility that someday a big rock will hit one city ( open country is far more probable ), compared to the near certainty that, on our current trajectory, about half the world’s major cities will be permanently flooded, and nearly all our farmland will be climatically shunted some distance towards the equator ( but with no increase in sunshine hours ).
What I was addressing was your basis for estimating asteroid risk. I don’t see the point of trying to compare it to the risk of climate change because I don’t consider them competing risks.
You call an asteroid catastrophe a remote possibility, but we don’t really know the odds. We know a big one came close enough to be very destructive in the last century, a pretty big one that we didn’t see coming recently came very close over Russia (while we were watching another near pass that we did see coming), and we know another big one is soon going to make two close passes, and we can’t predict the trajectory of the second pass at this point.
The day before the Tohoku quake, many people would have thought the odds of the subsequent events at Fukushima Daiichi were pretty remote. It had been centuries since something like that hit Japan, and that reactor had only been in service a few decades. But unlikely events sometimes happen, so I think we would do well to give some consideration to the ones which have very large potential for dire consequences.
I think you meant “some distance away from the equator.” The worrisome thing about shifting agriculture farther north or south is that there is less land and less average solar insolation.
Actually I meant that the shift in climate zones simulated the farmland being moved sunwards, but as you say, it’s not so easy to up sticks and move to suit ( though, as an example, winemakers are buying land further polewards or at higher elevations, and changing grape varieties to better suit the conditions expected.) You Yanks at least have a bit more room upstairs of you than most, though according to Ambrose Bierce’s definition of Man ‘ …His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.’
A natural ally of the pro-nuclear community for fighting global warming is the holistic planned grazing movement, led by the Savory Institute. Allen Savory’s TED talk on the ability of restoring the world’s vast grasslands from desertification through scientific grazing has gone ultra viral. In it, he shows how vast herds, grazing as if being pursued by predators as they were in the years prior to domestication, actually is crucial for healthy grasslands. Vast herds of bison, wildebeest, cattle and so on are capable of sequestering vast gigatons of carbon in rejuvenated soils. This is a revolution in ranching (and is being applied to no-till agriculture successfully). Like Gen IV MSR tech, it is profitable to employ, and does not require altruistic sacrifice, to be successful. Like MSRs, China appears to be intensely interested, as their vast efforts at reversing desertification through standard means of “removing animals and planting trees” are an abject failure. Grasslands coevolved with vast herds, but those under the pressure of predators and forced to bunch up for defense, which meant that they defecated and urinated on their food source and had to move along after beneficially eating the grass down (so sunlight can penetrate) but not eating the grass to the nubs and destroying it. Their hooves mulched the herbivore’s waste into the remaining grass, providing fertilizer. Grasslands retain rainfall, versus runoff and evaporation from destroyed grasslands. Immense quantities of carbon are sequestered in healthy rejuvenated soil. See: http://www.savoryinstitute.com/media/40591/Savory_Institute_Carbon_RestoringClimateWhitePaper_April2013.pdf as well as available peer-reviewed sources.
The good people at realclimate ran a piece on Savoy’s claims about carbon. Basically they don’t add up.
Realclimate is frequently an an excellent place to go for calm, evidence based assessments by real scientists of contentious claims.
The Real Climate article is a hit piece. It is refuted by intelligent replies in the comment section. Extravagant speculation that holistic grazing and the reversal of massive desertification could sequester enough CO2 that has been emitted since the industrial revolution is perhaps easy to refute. I do not think this is the official Savory Institute view. They defer to specialists. They do claim the ability to, as I put it, sequester “immense quantities of carbon” in rejuvenated soils. As well, refutation of “rotational grazing” is not refutation of holistic grazing. Different things. What I have found is that there is a raving section of Greens that regards eating meat as akin to ecocide based on the horrors of factory farming methods. They have become as committed to their antipathy to any and all livestock ranching as many Greens are to nuclear energy. Many times they are the same people, attracted to all misanthropy. As well, they don’t necessarily admit to their fanatical vegetarianism when attacking Allen Savory. Unsavory methods abound. But then again, we pro-nuclear adherents are familiar with this sort of thing from them.
Here is a wonderful TEDx talk by an Australian rancher who implemented holistic grazing on his own land; and brilliantly explains how reversing the massive desertification humans have caused through bad agricultural and ranching practices can sequester billions of tons of carbon (derived from atmospheric CO2) in healthy soils. This is quite hopeful, as, the practices are also profitable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgmssrVInP0&feature=youtu.be
Basically, I’m with the “raving Greens” on this issue. The consequences of 10 billion people dining on steak dinners a couple of times a week don’t bear thinking about. People are attracted to Savoy because they don’t want to think about it.
Maybe 10 billion could dine on synthetic meat dinners twice a week – I’ve really have no idea and anyway, it’s too early to tell.
quokka – You just cited “realclimate.org.” You don’t have to explain that you’re with the “raving Greens.” It’s clear that you’re one of them.
RealClimate is run by working climate scientists who are well within the mainstream of the scientific field of climate research.
“Greens” are essentially Marxist ideologues, many of whom would use coal to eliminate nuclear energy (as they are trying to do in Germany and even in France). There is essentially no overlap between them. If you conflate the two, you’re showing that you have completely bought into the narrative constructed and pushed by the science-denialist organization called the George C. Marshall Institute (which started off by denying the science on tobacco), and the fossil-fuel interests through GMI, the Heartland Institute, and other think tanks and captive foundations. In short, you’ve become the victim of a very clever disinformation campaign.
“Greens” are essentially Marxist ideologues, many of whom would use coal to eliminate nuclear energy (as they are trying to do in Germany and even in France).
Suggesting coal as a replacement for nuclear does not prove a Marxist ideology. Instead it provides one more bit of evidence that supports my theory that Greens are often hydrocarbon marketers. They may claim something else, but anyone can claim anything they want. Actions and consequences matter.
On a similar note, I read an article the other day from a certain kind of news outlet that made following claim: since gunmen who attacked Charlie Ebdo were heard shouting phrases like “Allahu akbar!” and “We have avenged the prophet Mohammed!” and “since no one questions the sincerity of these declarations,” it should be obvious to everyone that the proper description for the attackers it “Islamic terrorists.”
How hard would it be for someone who wanted to stir up trouble to hire gunmen and given them lines to shout as they were attacking their target? That might have been part of the hired package or perhaps even an optional, extra cost service.
Darn, it is simply too easy to imagine several different explanations besides the obvious one we are supposed to take hook line and sinker from the spokespeople from government or the media.
E-P – Oh Jesus, do we have to go through this again?!! This is why I hardly bother to comment here anymore. The learning curve of even the regulars is practically flat.
If you’re going to go off on an irrelevant tangent by pulling organizations like GMI and the Heartland Institute (the latter of which is a strong supporter of nuclear power, by the way, unlike RealClimate.org) into the conversation, then perhaps I should point out (yet again) that the RealClimate blog owes its existence to funding from Environmental Media Services, which was a front group for Fenton Communications, a huge “environmental” public relations firm that specializes in greenwashing all sorts of stuff for its clients. Greenpeace is one of its most prominent clients. The founder of this firm, David Fenton, is the guy who produced the “No Nukes” concerts back in the late seventies.
So if I’m supposedly “the victim of a very clever disinformation campaign,” I guess that makes you the victim of a very pathetic disinformation campaign. So what do you know about climate science? Answer: nothing except the talking points that the PR firms feed you.
But if you’re willing to believe that RealClimate is just a blog that is run by “working climate scientists,” then I’ve got a really nice piece of real estate — a bridge — that you might be interested in purchasing. I’m willing to let it go for a very good price. Call me. 😉
talking about genetic effects ….. anyone know if this study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25076115c is against LNT model?
It appears that some of my comments relating the AGW meme is and has followed the exact same technique as the LNT meme have finally registered in your conscience awareness.
And, with all of your extoling the virtues of Nuclear Energy, I now read that unexpectedly another NPP that I thought would be around for at least another 20 and possibly 40 years (Ginna) is now considering shutting down. Seems like the amount of NE is going down even with the new plants approved. Perhaps you should do some research into how the grennies, in making “renewables” the preferred method of making electricity have priced nuclear power out of the market. Or, it could be that the large corporations have learned that they can make more money collecting subsidies, destroying land, killing eagles, etc. than making affordable nuclear energy. Warren Buffet has clearly stated that the only reason he invests in wind is for the tax write-offs. Within 10 years the utility I retired from will have over 30% of its name plate capacity from “wind.” For this I get a 20% increase in my electric bill, and no COLA to my retirement for the foreseeable future.
Well, you identified a major part of the problem. Those wind farms don’t harvest wind so much as they harvest subsidies. And governments are the ones who put those subsidies in place. In my state (Ohio), the state government is mulling removing the state portion of those subsidies, and the unreliable energy lobbyists are raising holy hell. They say they won’t proceed with any new projects without those subsidies. That right there tells me how they are making their money. And of course they also lobby for high-priced PPAs, while you have travelling anti-nuclear activists decrying PPAs for any company with nuclear plants (they say it shows the nukes need “subsidies”).
“I have not yet run the numbers, but I hope we can emit something closer to 10-15 billion tons per year (1/3 to 1/2 our current level) without crossing damage thresholds.”
I’m not sure what numbers you intend to run, or how you intend to run them, but let’s accept your numbers for the sake of argument. It seems unlikely that we will be able to do better than 10 or 15Gt per year anytime in the next half century.
Current CO2 emissions are around 40 Gt per year, roughly 36 from fossil fuels and cement making, and the balance from changes in land use. (Source: http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/14/hl-compact.htm)
Emissions of other greenhouse gases like methane mean that CO2e emissions are even higher.
So we need a big reduction. But reductions from current emissions, as challenging a problem as this is, is not the main difficulty. The main difficultly is that we have many billions of people either now living or who will be born over the coming decades who now emit very little CO2, but who want (or will want) to live lifestyles like those led the readers of this blog. If they follow us down the fossil fuel road – as is very very likely, unless there are huge efforts to provide them with affordable carbon free energy – their emissions will dwarf reductions in current emissions.
If world population peaks at 12 billion, then to live within a 10 to 15 Gt per year CO2 budget, we’d each be able to emit only around 1 ton per year. This is 20x less than we now emit in the US, and say 10x less than people in Europe emit.
Providing both poor and rich countries with affordable carbon free energy is an enormous challenge and is the main reason why we should, in my opinion, be embarking on a massive world wide program to rapidly scale up nuclear power.
Providing both poor and rich countries with affordable carbon free energy is an enormous challenge and is the main reason why we should, in my opinion, be embarking on a massive world wide program to rapidly scale up nuclear power.
My only quibble is with the word “program,” which implies some kind of coordinated, government led action.
I’d like to see us scale nuclear energy in ways analogous to those we have used to scale automobile use, commercial air travel, mobile phones, tablets, or flat screen televisions.
Think about how far and how fast those technologies have scaled without directives or negotiated treaties.
“I’d like to see us scale nuclear energy in ways analogous to those we have used to scale automobile use, commercial air travel, mobile phones, tablets, or flat screen televisions.”
Automobile Use – Government taxed fuel for roads. Cars would have gone no where without the infrastructure of roads built by governments.
Air Travel – Airports, Air traffic Controllers by government
Mobile Phones – Frequencies are allotted and controlled by the FCC and other agencies
We are all interconnected on this planet. As they did with the other technologies you mentioned, government could certainly give nuclear power an easy road to travel. In fact I’m thinking any road at all. They create great difficulties for new innovations with their expensive regulating.
I agree that governments should cooperate and enable. I just don’t think we will ever succeed if we depend on a government “program” — which to me implies a government mandated decision with a firm technology selection and implementation path — to deploy nuclear energy technologies rapidly.
“I’d like to see us scale nuclear energy in ways analogous to those we have used to scale automobile use, commercial air travel, mobile phones, tablets, or flat screen televisions.”
I would strongly prefer that route as well, if it were possible. Unfortunately, it is not. People want cars, air travel, cell phones, tablets, and TVs. They demand these things and are willing to pay for them. The market responds by providing these products and services at ever lower costs.
Low per capita carbon emissions is something entirely different. It is not something that people naturally want or demand. One needs a fair amount of knowledge about the risks of climate change to even be aware that low emissions are desirable. A few altruistic people may pay for reduced emissions, but most will not. Since there is no natural demand for low carbon energy, no price signal will be sent to the market to produce this service (low carbon energy).
The price signal must therefore be created by governments. Ideally, this would be in the form of a revenue neutral carbon fee + 100% rebate + a carbon tariff on countries that did not have a carbon fee. Such a fee, if set at the appropriate level, would send a strong demand signal to the markets and markets would respond as they always do. I’m pretty sure that a lot of the response would be for more nuclear power. If we had an economically efficient revenue neutral carbon fee (+rebate), Vermont Yankee would not have been shut down.
Alternatively, we could embark on a government program to directly build lots of nuclear plants, much as we build other long lived infrastructure. There are drawbacks to this approach, but it is being done successfully in China now.
In either case, government intervention (in all countries) is necessary. In the absence of a carbon fee, organic growth in nuclear is extremely unlikely to happen fast enough to avert the serious risks of climate change.
There is nothing that people want more than reliable, affordable electricity. As they learn more about how the established powers that be have worked hard to restrict their access to this desirable product, they will help us push for the philosophy and rule changes that we need to enable nuclear energy to flourish.
There is no need to sell “lower per capita emissions,” when you can sell “more power to the people.”
“Alternatively, we could embark on a government program to directly build lots of nuclear plants, much as we build other long lived infrastructure. There are drawbacks to this approach, but it is being done successfully in China now.”
How about this alternative to your alternative? Let the government build a couple of newer generation plants. This would enable contractors to develop the skills and tooling to create additional units. The government would be assuming the risk by being first. Once private investors saw that the newer plants worked, then private investors should know the actual risk and invest in other new plants. Sometimes, things need to be kickstarted.
It’s an idea that’s worked before and wouldn’t break the bank.
It’s an idea that’s worked before and wouldn’t break the bank.
It worked for a short time and then contributed to the virtual death of the nuclear plant construction industry because the contractors developed only those skills and tools needed to implement the technology chosen by short-term success motivated government officials – including the short-timer named Rickover.
After Rickover trained at Oak Ridge and then decided he and his team had the skills and knowledge needed to build a functional submarine propulsion plant, he knew that he would be forced to retire from the Navy if he did not achieve quick, visible success. He reached the 30 years of commissioned service point in 1952 (he was a member of USNA class of 1922); he knew his service record was not the kind that normally supported promotion beyond O-6.
That is not a dig, only 2-3% of any given year group makes it to flag rank. In the military, officers that have been commissioned for 30 years without being selected as admirals are forced to retire.
Sounds like that is an interesting aspect of the story of how the PWR came to be the dominant commercial reactor technology. Have you done any posts on the topic of Rickover’s need for a quick success with Naval sub development in relation to his own career prospects?
I like that idea.
So you think the mobile phones that I have purchased, and the dozen more more Internet connected computers I’ve owned were somehow only a result of a plan by the government to monitor my whereabouts and listen in to my conversations?
BTW, my MS is in Systems Technology, Command, Control and Communications from the US Naval Postgraduate School. In order to enter the program, I had to have a TS/SCI. We visited the NSA as part of the program. I sent my first Internet email in 1985. I have a little bit of knowledge of the real history of both digital and mobile communications.
When you are incredibly unclear with what you are saying don’t complain if people misunderstand you.
Suggesting people said things they didn’t say must be another awesome debate/discussion trick…
Hmm. My exact words were “how fast those technologies have scaled without directives or negotiated treaties.”
Exactly what directives or negotiated treaties are you thinking pushed the rapid scaling of the listed technologies?
“suggesting highly regulated and controlled technologies were laissez-faire”
I said that government should “cooperate and enable,” and you even quoted that statement. How does that translate in your dictionary into claiming I suggested they were a result of laissez-faire?
“Greens” are essentially Marxist ideologues–to quote Engineer Poet. Well, you may be an engineer and/or a poet, but a student of philosophy you are not. The anti-nuclear greens to which you refer are somewhat akin to the Luddites of early 19th Century England. They are in opposition to technological progress. Marxist ideology, on the contrary, considers advances in science and in the technology of production, to be essential to either revolutionize society directly by destroying the old feudal system of production, or, to create the conditions for social revolutions that will do so (see: China). In your defense, Mr. EP, it is true that some morons in Greenpeace etc. think they might be Marxists. But again, as I said, they are morons.
Maybe what is needed in this discussion is a quantification of economic impacts related to this issue (and also understanding the costs of delay and what this does to rising costs in the future). We do have “studies” on these topics, and don’t have to resort to guesswork or intuitive claims (which are unlikely to get us far in answering these questions). William Norhaus is a rather moderate in this field, and his article, “Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong” (here), got a fair bit of attention when it was published (and correctly so). It also has key relevance to some of the other broader issues you mention in your post (regarding our limbic system running hot from time time to time, i.e., “fear” based reasoning, and cooler heads prevailing and looking at numbers and assessing reasonable net costs and benefits). Norhaus sounds pretty level headed to me. And he also claims “from an economic point of view, it’s a pretty simple problem” (here).
Point 6 most directly relates to these concerns (but it is worth reading the whole article): “My research shows that there are indeed substantial net benefits from acting now rather than waiting fifty years. A look at Table 5-1 in my study A Question of Balance (2008) shows that the cost of waiting fifty years to begin reducing CO2 emissions is $2.3 trillion in 2005 prices. If we bring that number to today’s economy and prices, the loss from waiting is $4.1 trillion. Wars have been started over smaller sums.”
He also cites Richard Tol, “The Economic Effects of Climate Change” (paper is available on-line) who reviews much of this literature, and arrives at a social cost of carbon of around $50/tC (“much lower than the price of carbon in the European Union but much higher than the price of carbon elsewhere”). More work is clearly needed here. Of particular interest to me is the disproportionate share of these documented impacts and risks on poor and developing regions (as opposed to wealthier nations with diversified economies, stable and responsive governments, and better access to resources). So social justice is an issue here, not just economic impacts and the global average of risk (per se).
Nordhaus disagrees (Point 5): “The big money in climate change involves firms, industries, and individuals who worry that their economic interests will be harmed by policies to slow climate change.” If you are looking to create doubt about climate initiatives and risks (as it seems you are seeking to do), it would seem you are aligning yourself with firms, industries and individuals who stand to benefit from very low health, economic, and environmental standards for carbon dumping to the atmosphere, and not industries and firms with the tools to minimize such risks and realize net economic gains by doing so?
For an industry (nuclear) already facing competitive headwinds and rising costs, now we’re being told, oh yea, carbon emissions aren’t that bad either. If nuclear has two left feet, this might be a little bit what such a looks like. With respect to perceived benefits, I have a hard time believing that nuclear is better off with a smaller share of the pie.
There’s a big difference in what we’re told about climate change versus the effects of radiation.
Decades ago people subjected test animals to “large” amounts of radiation, and extrapolated their results to “small” amounts of radiation. The assumption was that as the amount of radiation decreased, then so did the effects of the radiation linearly. This implies that even at low doses of radiation there would be some damage. (ie. 1/10th the radiation = 1/10th the damage, 1/100th the radiation = 1/100th the damage..)
However, that’s not how science works. They had an hypothesis, but where were the experiments to prove it true?
Eventually it was found that the LNT model didn’t hold to be true. The expected cancers from Chernobyl didn’t match what was expected. Different parts of the world have different background levels of radiation, yet those changes don’t seem to correspond with the LNT hypothesis. There were accident where people were subjected to radiation, yet once again no correlation with cancer rates as suggested by the LNT hypothesis; in fact, in such cases it sometimes appeared that low doses of radiation could decrease cancer rates.
The LNT hypothesis is dead, or at least it should be. But there are people who benefit from keeping it alive, and rather than going back to the labs to try to figure out the proper relationship between radiation at low levels, and genetic damage, they try to muddy the waters.
Climate change might have its fear-mongers, much like the supporters of the LNT hypothesis do, but it has yet to be proven wrong. We know that greenhouse gases do affect the Earth’s climate, though to what degree our meddling will affect it is open to some debate, as is how harshly those changes will affect us humans. But, since the Earth isn’t a frozen wasteland, we “know” that greenhouse gases do affect the climate.
Low doses of radiation:
-> has fear mongers
-> those fear mongers have been proven wrong.
-> end of story, (or it should be.)
-> has fear mongers, and also
-> has those who benefit from denying it.
-> greenhouse gases affect climate, else the Earth would be a lot colder.
-> end of story, including how bad it will be, is yet to be written.
Given we don’t know the full story, we should research, and act, because the worse case scenario is disaster for us human. Replacing coal with nuclear is a no brainer. If there is room for some small release of greenhouse gases by us humans, it won’t include the use of coal to generate electricity. That’s one of the lower-hanging branches that we should be eliminating now.
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Renewables people are masters in marketing. Unreliable intermittent generators whose output is all over the place, and usually badly correlated…
Looking at their lineup, Westinghouse seems bound and determined to keep Gen IV in its “place” which is apparently the…
So they are developing a scaled down version of the AP1000, which is a scaled up version of the AP600,…