Dr. Emanuel provides a thorough, factual and balanced history of the past thirty years of scientists and the public struggling to understand, accept and respond to the human hand in climate change.
Frankly, it would be high on my list of items to be included in a time capsule. Then, our great grandchildren might understand the extreme complexity of putting the science pieces together in a time of bitter political cat fighting and corporate campaigns to confuse and paralyze our political leaders.
That said, we now have an opportunity to write page two and the science pieces appear to driving more consensus and now, action.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 23 Jan 2007 @ 6:16 PM
Thanks for the great link.
And speaking of the human hand in climate change, lately I have seen a lot of climate change denialists citing an article by L. F. Khilyuk and G. V. Chilingar, entitled “On global forces of nature driving the Earth’s climate. Are humans involved?” in Environmental Geology.
I would really like to hear what you folks at Real Climate have to say about it. To me it seems it suffers from several flaws that have to do with the time scale of changes we are seeing today and the time scales the processes in this paper operate at.
Unfortunately ,the paper’s abstract ends with this little sound bite: “The writers show that the human-induced climatic changes are negligible.”
Could you either provide a rebutal to this paper here in this comment thread or in a full post. I’d really like to have an informed critique to point to regarding this misleading paper.
Nice piece, but I wonder if the willingness to address climate change is further advanced, including in the US, than Kerry Emmanuel suggests when he warns at the end of his piece of scientific illiteracy among politicians and groupthink among left leaning academics.
From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Senators John McCain and Ted Stevens, Republicans are initiating policies that could lead to actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman writes that the hallmark of a successful ideological revolution is that it swiftly makes party political labels irrelevant, and that this appears to be happening with climate change. Amanda Griscom Little Grist.org picks up the same theme in a piece titled “Tip Tip Hooray!”
Of course, whether the new orthodoxy — if that is what it proves to be — leads to actions sufficient to meet the challenge is another question.
Thanks for the heads-up. That’s one of the most concise explanations of what we do and don’t know in climate science I’ve ever read. The history of the politicization of the debate is also quite good, though not as ringingly clear. One thing Kerry mentions that I’ve seen relatively little press on is the tendency for more conservative model estimates to make it into reports. Is this due to the desire to avoid having a strong claim with a greater possibility of being wrong splayed across the papers, or are the probabilities truly lower and uncertainties higher for less conservative estimates?
Personally, one of the reasons I found the warm spell last month so disturbing was that unlike previous El Nino years I looked at, there was a temperature anomaly of around +8C over nearly all of Canada and the Arctic. To me this ought to at least raise the possibility that Arctic warming is proceeding along much a LESS consersative timeline than conservative model estimates incorporated into reports like the IPCC have suggested. Ceartainly weather != climate, but is there something to be made of the strong high-latitude temperature anomaly, which is apparently a new feature in the dataset? Can anyone here comment on this?
I take issue with a passage near the end of Emanuel’s article. He writes that “in 1988, James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, set off a firestorm of controversy by testifying before Congress that he was virtually certain that a global-warming signal had emerged from the background climate variability.”
Of course, Hansen turned out to be correct, and while he may have “set off a firestorm of controversy”, he also helped to “set off” eighteen years of research into the question. But my real objection comes when Emanuel then goes on thusly:
At roughly this time, radical environmental groups and a handful of scientists influenced by them leapt into the fray with rather obvious ulterior motives. This jump-started the politicization of the issue, and conservative groups, financed by auto makers and big oil, responded with counterattacks.
First of all, who are these alleged scientists who were “influenced” by “radical environmental groups”? And who exactly does Emanuel mean by “radical environmental groups”? And what are these alleged “rather obvious ulterior motives”?
This is pretty inflammatory and accusatory language to be using, without backing it up with specifics, and suprisingly it is exactly the language that is always used by the AGW deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry: “These people trying to scare you about global warming are a bunch of dirty hippie radicals whose real motive is to destroy capitalism and force you to live in caves, or rogue scientists who are trying to dupe you into giving them more grant money.”
Second, Emanuel’s statement that “radical environmental groups” and scientists “influenced” by them “jump-started” the “politicization” of the issue, and that the oil and auto industries only “responded” to this “politicization” is exactly backwards from my recollection of that period, the late eighties and early nineties. It is my recollection that the oil and auto industries began propagandizing against public awareness and acceptance of fossil-fuel driven global warming from the earliest moments that the issue received any public attention. They weren’t just “responding” to “radical groups” with “ulterior motives.”
[Response:I personally was rather cheesed at the statement toward the end, “Scientists are most effective when they provide sound, impartial advice, but their reputation for impartiality is severely compromised by the shocking lack of political diversity among American academics, who suffer from the kind of group-think that develops in cloistered cultures. Until this profound and well documented intellectual homogeneity changes, scientists will be suspected of constituting a leftist think tank.” My strongest political views are environmental. There aren’t that many anti-environmentalist oceanographers out there, rather a rare breed. Does Emanual think I should hire some creationists for my geology department? Let him hire some for his! David]
Another bone to pick about this article. Emanuel writes:
… environmentalists have only just begun to rethink their visceral opposition to nuclear power. Had it not been for green opposition, the United States today might derive most of its electricity from nuclear power, as does France; thus the environmentalists must accept a large measure of responsibility for todayâ��s most critical environmental problem.
First of all, the opposition to nuclear power is not “visceral”. It is substantive. Proponents of nuclear power like to say that the opposition is “visceral” or “irrational” so they don’t have to deal with the substantive arguments against nuclear power.
Second of all, environmentalists are indeed “re-thinking” and “re-re-thinking” the question of nuclear power, and increasingly are coming to the conclusion that it has little to offer in terms of mitigating anthropogenic GHG emissions. It is by far the most expensive and least effective option available. Apart from its dangers and risks, the toxic pollution it generates in huge amounts, and the nuclear weapons materials it proliferates, it would take many decades even in the most aggressive scenarios put forward by the nuclear industry before nuclear power would even begin to make a dent in the growth of GHG emissions, by taking the place of new coal power plant construction, let alone actually contribute to reducing emissions by replacing existing coal-powered plants. Conservation, distributed photovoltaics and windpower, combined with a new-generation smart electric grid redesigned from the ground up to handle distributed intermittent power generation (see Al Gore’s recent proposal for a DARPAnet-style project to develop an “electricity Internet”), can do the job faster, cheaper, and much more safely, and in the end will give us a more sustainable and resilient electrical energy system.
Third, the reason that no nuclear power plants have been built in the USA in decades is not “green opposition”, it is the complete economic failure of nuclear power — despite over one hundred billion dollars in federal subsidies to prop it up.
Emanuel does not remotely demonstrate either (1) that the US has “failed” to build hundreds and hundreds of nuclear power plants as a result of “green opposition” or (2) that environmentalists therefore “must accept a large measure of responsibility” for the USA’s soaring greenhouse gas emissions.
Also, Emanuel writes that not only nuclear power but wind power is “viewed with deep ambivalence by the left” (equating the environmental movement with “the left”, whatever “the left” may mean to him — he doesn’t say). The sole example he gives is “Senator Kennedy” who “is strongly opposed to a project to develop wind energy near his home in Hyannis”. (I wonder if Emanuel is confusing Senator Ted Kennedy with attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr who has been an outspoken opponent of the Cape Wind offshore wind turbine project?) In fact, the environmental and clean energy movement overwhelmingly supports wind power, and overwhelmingly supports that particular project. Kennedy’s opposition is a unique case and in no way represents a widespread “ambivalence” about wind power in the environmental / clean energy community.
Emanuel is a climate scientist, not an expert on energy issues or on the history of the environmental movement and its campaigns for clean renewable energy, yet he is writing definitive-sounding pronouncements on these matters that reflect a great deal of ignorance, in an apparent attempt to be “fair and balanced” in his criticisms of “both sides” of the political debate about the problem of global warming and the solutions to it.
I want to say that I am not anywhere close to being qualified to question the works of Dr. Emanuel and under no circumstances do I intend disrespect. However, I have noted some things that concern me as to whether or not they are appropriate or I fail to feel comfortable that a strong data source exists that supports the conclusions shared there. So please forgive me as I share my ignorance and if you can assist with sources or the understanding of the reasons that the data is definitive, my thanks.
I am a little confused, Dr. Emanuel has made the following statement; “It is a remarkable fact that, averaged over the planet, the surface receives more radiation from the atmosphere than directly from the sun!” and I have not seen the source of this comment. The main information appears to be indicated by a model in a 2003 paper by Dr. Hansen and appears to have been confirmed by satellite in 2005. However, there have not been confirming measurements from terrestrial based devices, to my knowledge on clear night skies. Does anyone have the reference that confirms this statement?
Later on he talks about two leaves and then continues in the reduction of the time it takes for the two leaves to increase in distance from one another. I have done this experiment hundreds for times as a youth and I can assure you the chance that this assumption is valid appears to be less then 25%. Repeatedly I have released to identical floating objects to have them stay together less then 10 feet of flow or 20 seconds for nearly 90% of the time. By the same token I have been able to release two identical objects in the same stream separated by 1 foot to have them join together 20 feet away locked together by surface tension and the primary change was the amount of flow in the stream. Therefore, I don’t know if this is an appropriate example. However, it does act as a vehicle to explain the basis of the reason there is a belief that the quality of the model to track the actual phenomenon is close enough for a period of time. Also it appears to help explain, that if the values of the two data banks were not tracking close enough they would diverge much quicker
Yet, it appears that the models being employed still have a tendency to use broad strokes of the brush to define the patterns and their effects on the long term weather. From what I have seen there has not been an analysis in the physical processes of what causes change or oscillations of these broad scale patterns. If the point is that less clouds in the Western Tropical Pacific were the primary driver of increased SSTs and the slow down of the Walker circulation then what happens if you plug those characteristics into the model instead of the ENSO pattern? If I recall correctly, the runs experience a quicker divergence in the values then when the large scale pattern is employed. To me this says we still do not have the drivers correct. When I look at the Colorado State Lidar of water vapor density and upper atmospheric temperature estimates I see many processes occurring that we do not apparently have a clear description for. IE: On the one hand the folks at CSU demonstrate that aerosol size and color affect CCN effectiveness in regards to precipitation and at the same time we have work from UCSC that discounts the requirement of aerosols for CCN which one is true and under which conditions are both or either true. This leads to the next question which one is the primary process in cloud formation? That there appears to be peer reviewed studies in apparent opposition to each other seems to suggest that both are correct; however, they are only different sides of the same subject and we do not have enough understanding of the subject yet.
Finally, when a scientist suggests that a politician needs to understand scientific processes or suggests the need for a scientific politician it worries me. Rather than a scientific politician why not a scientist that suggests that there are questions as to the validity of the observations of the study and under which conditions they may be accurate. Rather than suggesting politicians be scientists or scientists be politicians why not suggest that politicians be politicians and scientists be scientists and when the subject is clearly defined by sufficient scientific work that it be described as such and shared with the politicians.
In the case in which there is a rush to gather additional data and there exists peer reviewed data that appears to contradict each other that maybe there remains more science to be done. Are we done with scientific research now and can redirect climate funding to other things? I do not believe we are done. I suggest that before a conclusion is trumpeted from the press that the definitive answer has been achieved we need to demonstrate the data that exists is definitive.
Well, that was one of the clearest things I’ve ever read on the issue of anthropogenic climate change, that seemed to touch on all of the main issues, with one exception: the effects of rapid climate change on the biosphere. This is not meant as a criticism, because regardless of how difficult it is to predict the responses of the physical land-ocean-atmosphere-ice system to changes in atmospheric gases and aerosols, predicting the biological response is even more difficult.
This is because there is no single equation for a biochemical activity like photosynthesis or methane formation and oxidation; the organisms involved are sensitive to a wide variety of variables and may also change their biochemical behavior in response to environmental stimuli.
There seem to be a number of conclusions: biological processes are sensitive to ‘extreme events’ in a way that other physical processes are not; thus an entire crop might be killed off by a one-week heat wave, even if the change in yearly average temps resulting from the heat wave are miniscule. Secondly, predicting the reactions of the biosphere is even more fraught with uncertainty then predicting physical processes – which seems to mean that it is critical to monitor the biosphere – and it also seems clear that there is a strong effect, as measured by already accumulated observations, of global warming on the biosphere. There are also other influences on the biosphere (rainforest removal via logging, and industrial pollution of lakes and the ocean, for example) that may be difficult to separate from climate-related temperature effects.
Perhaps the most important take-home message is the need for independent scientific institutions that are not under the control of political or economical (or religious) power centers.
A similar problem to the one described in this article has arisen in attempts to calculate the actual ‘energy efficiency’ and net CO2 emissions involved in ethanol production; the issue is well summarized at scienceblogs: Bad Math and Ethanol – On one side is the ethanol lobby; on the other is the fossil fuel lobby, and the actual facts? Hard to say.
There is a story that relates to this; when Ernst Rutherford, discoverer of the nucleus of the atom, was a graduate student, he brought some nifty invention to his advisor, J.J. Thompson at the Cavendish laboratory and told him that an investor was interested in it; Thompson looked at the device and then told Rutherford, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon”… and the rest is history.
Many public scientific institutions in this country would do well to heed Thompson’s advice; the private sector is where profitable inventions should be developed (Bell Labs being the classic example – source of both the solar cell and the transistor).
Dr. Emanuel did write a very good article, but I cringed a little when he wrote about the “radical environmental groups”. I have seen many times people who are very quick to dismiss the things that the skeptics and contrarians say about climate science as nonsense. However they will accept without question what the skeptics and contrarians say about environmentalists.
Just as there there are standard skeptic talking points about climate science, there are standard talking points to bash environmentalists. Unfortunately Dr. Emanuel touched on some of them, like how radical they are and the power (ie they stopped nuclear power) they have.
Comment by Joseph O'Sullivan — 23 Jan 2007 @ 8:37 PM
Governor Schwarzenegger, who is urging strong action to fight global warming, just asked the US Govt for about a billion dollars to fix damage to his state’s citrus crop due to record cold weather.
I asked before on this blog, and got no answer. In any given year, is global temperature a zero sum game? If it is colder than normal somewhere, does it have to be warmer somewhere else?
[Response:Generally, for natural climate fluctuations, the global mean temperature doesn’t change much. El Nino drives the temperature up a few tenths of a degree, by moving heat from the ocean, but generally, warmer here means cooler there. The climate response to rising CO2 has been different in this respect, in that there is a general warming trend almost everywhere. David]
“The second strand also sees the natural state of the universe as a stable one but holds that it has become destabilized through human actions. The great floods are usually portrayed in religious traditions as attempts by a god or gods to cleanse the earth of human corruption.”
> Interesting metaphor, for political rather than scientific speech. Easy to identify such a “religious-unconscious” basis in some current sermons on humankind’s sin.
KE quote :
“Since the early 1980s, improved technology and ever more stringent regulations have diminished sulfate aerosol pollution in the developed countries, aided by the collapse of the USSR and the subsequent reduction of industrial output there. On the other hand, sources of sulfate aerosols have been steadily increasing in Asia and the developing countries, so it is unclear how the net global aerosol content has been changing over the past 25 years.”
> It’s a pity that the main anthropic forcing except GHG’s is so poorly monitored. Because of that, it’s quite difficult to contradict the following assertion : 1980s onward warming is at great part due to direct / indirect effects of sulfate aerosols drop. (Remember the warming trend : 0,49 K 1977-2006 ; 0,41 K 1916-45 on Nasa Giss ; “exceptionnal warming’ of past three decades is just but 0,08 K / dec. as compared to the prior significative period of GW).
“At roughly this time, radical environmental groups and a handful of scientists influenced by them leapt into the fray with rather obvious ulterior motives. This jump-started the politicization of the issue, and conservative groups, financed by auto makers and big oil, responded with counterattacks.”
> So, we must conclude that politicization began from environmentalist exaggeration ?
“Ever eager for the drama of competing dogmas, the media largely ignored mainstream scientists whose hesitations did not make good copy. As the global-warming signal continues to emerge, this soap opera is kept alive by a dwindling number of deniers constantly tapped for interviews by journalists who pretend to look for balance.”
> Probably true in the USA, not the same perception from Europe (here, no debate at all).
“In the first category are findings that are not in dispute, not even by les refusards (…) The year 2005 was the warmest in the instrumental record.”
> No, that’s second category; HadCrut, WMO, RSS, UAH told us that 2005 was colder than 1998.
I think that the accuracy of Dr. Emanuel’s statements about the politicization of environmental issues can be measured by hostile tone of some the the responses here. In particular, SecularAnimist attacks him as if he was a global warming denialist, using the standard technique of challenging any point he disagreed with by asking for details beyond the scope of the article. Of course, no such questions were asked about, for example, the section on hurricanes which is a bit vague on their actual connection with global warming.
I agree that nuclear power was stopped more because it “failed” economically than by anti-nuclear lobbying. (By the way, I was active in that campaign. I am no longer 100 percent sure it was the right thing to do.) It failed for the same reason renewable energy has failed, because it is cheaper to burn coal. Nuclear plants have a long lead time before they produce energy, but other than that I don’t know if it costs more per installed megawatt of power than the renewable alternatives, and neither does SecularAnimist. He just has faith that it does.
I think David missed the point about the “intellectual homogeneity” of acedemics. He is not talking about agreement on a scientific issue such as climate change or evolution, he means (I assume) the social and political viewpoints outside their area of expertise.
I am pleased to see a scientist speaking out against the political polarization of the important issue of climate change, and am not really surprise a few feathers have been ruffled.
[Response:Bah! What politics am I being accused of favoring here? Maybe English departments are roiled by political considerations, but I don’t see either Karl Marx or Adam Smith as playing any role in science discourse, or hiring, or evaluation of global warming, or anything else. It just doesn’t come up. Views of environmental stewardship or lack thereof tend to get lumped together with lots of other political baggage by our two-party system in the U.S., but that’s not my fault. David]
[Response: Kerry has bought into the conservative shibboleth that the tendency of academics to be liberals (and generally democratic liberals) comes from some active exclusion of conservatives who otherwise happen to be good scholars. There’s no evidence for this; it’s more that the supply of people who become academic scholars tend to lean liberal, and you can make your own speculations about why that is. I’ve never in thirty years encountered a case where a hiring decision took into account somebody’s politics. Standard speculations about the liberal tendencies of academics are that: (1) Academics tend to be more idealistic and less interested in money, since similarly talented people could make more money outside academe if they want to; these traits tend to correlate with liberalism. (2) Academics are generally smarter or at least have looked at issues in more depth, and they tend to be liberal because in most cases the liberal position is the correct one. I don’t know of any studies that say that either one of these speculations is right, but either one sounds more plausible to me than the idea of active exclusion. Anyway, just what are we supposed to do about it? Are we talking about Affirmative Action for Conservatives — i.e. giving preference in hiring to less qualified conservatives, for the sake of diversity? I have indeed heard conservatives argue for this. It’s the one case where they tend to show any support for affirmative action. –raypierre]
Re #9 from Dave Cooke: A reference for the statement “the surface receives more radiation from the atmosphere than directly from the sun” can be found in any standard radiation balance chart, eg. this one from the 2001 IPCC report.
A technical question of my own: Emanuel says “doubling the concentration of CO2 would raise the average surface temperature by about 1.4 F”, or 0.78 C. Of course this is only the direct radiative forcing, but I thought it was more like 1.2 degrees C.
I’m puzzled by #8’s assertion that no one in policy supports nuclear power, since among the policy people (at the local university and elsewhere) I talk to, and read in peer review journals, there appears to be a general acceptance that nuclear power is necessary. For a few people, that acceptance is grudging; most don’t find this a problem or are enthusiastic about nuclear power. Dr. Emanuel may be disappointed; I live in a liberal town.
I made a quiz on the relative dangers of nuclear and fossil fuels, because when I began looking at the issues I found myself surprised at the numbers.
Thanks for the links on origins of the ice age hundreds of millions of years ago. If I understand correctly, the ice age was a result of continent position.
“The highest global surface temperature in more than a century of instrumental data was recorded in the 2005 calendar year in the GISS annual analysis. However, the error bar on the data implies that 2005 is practically in a dead heat with 1998, the warmest previous year.”
1997-1998 was also when the strongest El Nino of the 20th century occurred; it seems reasonable to assume that this event resulted in a large ocean-to-atmosphere heat transfer that explains the record temps recorded around the globe; no such event occurred in 2005.
This is about the global warming benefits of going vegetarian. I wonder if the claims about reduced greenhouse gases are supportable.
[Response: This work was done in my department by two very talented and careful faculty members, Gidon Eshel and Pam Martin. It is entirely credible and well supported, and was published in a peer reviewed journal. Earth Interactions . The press reports of this work routinely garble the findings. To get up to the Prius level, you have to difference a meat-laden Argentine type diet with a vegan diet. From average American diet to pure vegan is somewhat smaller. A surprise to me is that chicken is actually better than lots of dairy, so far as GW impact goes. They don’t consider efficient animal protein (rabbits (sorry Pam!) and catfish) which are potentially low impact but not currently part of the diet. For me, what was disappointing is that it appears you need to go full vegan to have a big impact. Ovo-lacto helps, but not nearly as much. What’s life without cheese? Its a matter of personal choice what tradeoffs one makes to reduce one’s CO2 impact. For me, I’ve been looking elsewhere than going complete vegan. Regardless of the implications for personal diet choices, a very important implication is that there are big numbers lurking in agricultural practices. If there is a way to make dairy production less CO2 intensive, there’s a lot of leverage in that. –raypierre]
Re #17: It wasn’t the policy people who killed the nukes the first time around, nor would I expect them to this time. What’s most telling about nuke supporters now is the way they so enthusiastically skip over the low-hanging fruit, starting with efficiency and conservation.
Re #8, #20, and others commenting on nuclear power: I’m in the middle of reading Lovelock’s “Revenge of Gaia” at the moment. He cites an interesting statistic: it seems that the actual number of deaths per terawatt-year caused by nuclear power is about 10% of the nearest conventional source (natural gas, IIRC), and far less than such seemingly benign sources such as hydropower.
As to the economic costs, it seems not to have occured to you that the reason that fossil-fuel power is less expensive is that they get to dispose of their garbage, especially the CO2, for free. Suppose your local coal-fired plant had to pay for CO2 sequestration: how competitive would it be then? Start taxing CO2 production at a rate that at least approaches the real cost of the problems it causes, and nuclear power (like other alternative sources) will look lots better.
As to nuke supporters (and I count myself as one) skipping over the low-hanging fruit, nothing could be further from the truth. Some of us just recognize that even the best we can realistically do in that department still isn’t going to be enough.
[Response: Another thing to think about with regard to the US/French comparison on nuclear power is that a large part of the responsibility for the relative failure of nuclear in the US lies with the incompetence of the US nuclear industry and the incompetence of US oversight and direction of nuclear electricity generation. France can simply build plants cheaper and faster, and run them more reliably. This is partly because the French have learned not to be afraid of government, and have learned to do centralized things well. That talent doesn’t work for everything, but for nuclear power, it does seem to work well. –raypierre]
A very comprehensive and lucid explanation in ordinary language of why man’s global industrial activities are now the root cause of what we are measuring and observing, and why the fat is now in the fire and why we will not be able to reverse gears in the face of rampant greed and Capitalism to say nothing of idiotic hyper-consumerism of which we all are guilty. We must now accomodate and adapt to the inevitable, a rather bleak prospect for our grandchildren. Kerry Emanuel, I hope, is of some influence upon Bush and his fellows [edited] but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Re #17 again: This article tells part of the sad tale as to why the false choice between fossil fuels and nukes continues to have traction, but here we have environmentalists filling in the gap by proposing a comprehensive alternative to continued reliance on big coal/nukes.
I seem to recall that TMI lit a fire under Nuclear Power and Chernobyl put a fork in it from a public support point of view. Building a nuclear plant, mining, refining and transporting uranium and the resultant wastes are fairly fossil fuel intensive operations so the net reduction in CO2 emissions is not as large as one first supposes.
As far as vegan diet baloney…
The problem with farm raised animal protein is actually the special feed concentrates made from intensive farming of corn and soybeans. Addtionally those feed concentrates are omega-3 poor and cause harm in more ways than one…
Proper traditional feeding with grazing, hay, waste food, etc is a slightly more efficient food production method since it converts non-edible stuff into high quality edible stuff. It’s not a big win mind you – but it’s definitely a win. Another factor is that pigs and poultry don’t produce very much methane. The link below seems on the mark with everything else I’ve ever read on the subject of animal food production.
>”the surface receives more radiation from the atmosphere than directly from the sun”
While it won’t help you at night or outside the visible spectrum, a quick way to consider this:
— compare any photograph taken on Earth to any taken on the Moon. There’s probably a light meter reading somewhere taken of Moon shadows; you can take one of Earth shadows on any sunny day and measure the visible light reaching that point from the atmosphere. Or
— sit inside a room in a sunbeam, and take a light meter reading with an incident light meter (the kind with the little white bubble over the chip). Then go outdoors in an open area and take another reading, where the incident light will include the light coming from the whole dome of the sky.
I feel like the going vegan concept being better then cutting emissions through cars etc. is a little presuming. If I stopped eating meat it doesn’t mean the company growing and slaughtering the animals is going to change their ways and start selling soy products or peanuts. In fact the only way I think that could happen is through some sort of legislation, like taxing meat consumption somehow. I seriously doubt that would happen anytime soon, most people like their food more then their cars. It would however make for a good side point to motivate people to contribute in other ways. ‘Do everything you can to cut carbon emmisions or go to bed with out your dinner’ :)
Seriously though, most people I know would rather drive a bike use solar power and so on, rather then give up what they love to eat.
I wonder if it is even a feasable idea?
#19 Life without cheese? That might become a serious reason why France will not sign a prolongation of the Kyoto protokoll. Might be there is a solution by international cheese-quota trading? France pays some Million $ to support cheese free alimentation in China and gains some “Mega Fromage” to go on with its own consumption.
Here in Australia we were recently presented with a report into the viability and necessity of nuclear power. The group producing the report is government selected panel of nuclear science and industry types. They tell us that the country should go nuclear and could have 25 nuclear reactors operational within a two or three decades (!!!). The only problem is that they estimate that for Australia with all our cheap coal, nuclear power would be 40% more expensive than coal fired electricity. So there would need to be a carbon tax that leveled the difference and/or nuclear power would have to be subsidised. The government, which until recently has been denying that greenhouse is an issue and that it would cost us too much to deal with anyway, is now pushing for the nuclear option. (And by-the-way talking lots about all the money we will make digging up selling and using lots more of our uranium deposits.)
What I don’t get is that we also have unlimited sunshine, plenty of wind power projects underway and being planned, the exploitation of our dry-rock geothermal energy provinces seems imminently about to go ahead, etc. And they would all probably be cheaper than nuclear. A single dry-rock geothermal province discovered recently has enough tappable energy to supply all our projected energy needs for the next 70 years! Projects to tap these energy sources are going ahead slowly now anyway, so they must be close to being competative with coal. It seems to me that if there were a 40% carbon tax, in an otherwise open market they would leave nuclear floundering. Unless, of course, we choose to set the nuclear subsidy + carbon tax mix so that nuclear is cheaper to the consumer than alternative energies.
So Professor Emanuel, great article. However, when it comes to the suggestion that environmentalists should be condemned for not supporting nuclear, I am yet to be convinced.
You have to analyse what the term climate change or AGW as it is known here at realclimate really means? Lets define the term AGW.
People talk about the climate system solely but it seems to me that it is at times about the earth system due to the feedbacks that are involved and how parts of the systems work such as the oceans ability to absorb CO2, the ice caps albedo, how foliage (plants and trees) effects the climate again by abosrbing and relasing CO2 and transpiration I would imagine, and many more besides.
Although AGW specifically relates to the burning of carbon based compounds in liquid, gas and solid form that creates CO2 in the atmosphere there are large other human activities that also effect the atmohphere such as burning and deforestation etc that also efect the climate and atmosphere. Can we seperate them out or clump it all togetehr under the term AGW?
RE #12: I guess the best you could say is that it is slighly positive game over 10 years, one year would not be enough I assume ( someone correct me if I’m wrong ).
The billion dollars for Arnie’s orages is the kind of thing we have been suffering in Australia. In 2006 our grain harvest was down 62%, the dairy herd down 20%, and livestock in the S/SE was culled down to ~1/3. We have had average rainfall over last year (when measured across the entire continent) but the drought still managed to halt the flow of water in Australia’s “breadbasket” (the murry darling basin) and perpetuate the ever stricter water rationing. The reason we had average rainfall was because more of it fell in the tropics and NW of the country (much of which is useless for traditional farming).
Since new-year the weather has (thankfully) turned wet (due to El Nino) but in this prosses there have already been record flash floods in SA. However it’s too late for the grain harvest or the fruit destroyed by a couple of unseasonal cold blasts interspersed in the record heatwaves or the entire bannana crop lost to a cyclone.
Where is the data source that supports the charts indication of 324 Watts/ m^2 of back radiation?
As to scientist politicians, my preference is that the intellect of the expert be focused where they are best accomplished or trained. Spliting the attention among different subjects has a tendency of reducing the intellect.
If the scientist follows good procedures and presents data where there is repeatable direct measurements with little conflict across data sets then the data and the analysis stands on its own. It is when there is not direct measureable evidence of a hypothetical physical process that questions arise.
(Hard verifiable data does not require the politican to “have to understand science or scientific methods”.)
Re #30, Nuclear power has high CO2 production over the lifetime of the plant especially in the act of getting the fuel for the reactor in the first place and then building and decomissioning the plant at the beginning and end of its life.
Nuclear is/was a dream (and still is with fusion) of a new age (post second world war II) of energy provision and nothing sounds more space age than nuclear does. Every other energy source we get directly from the actions of nature whilst nuclear is human made and hence it should be better. Nuclear was part of the brave new world brought about by the discoveries in physics during and around the time of the second world war and after, trouble is that nearly all big science in the physics world is coming to and end due to costs and lack of achieveable progress, sure ITER tells us that fusion will come one day but not yet (2080 at the earliest), particle physics can only afford one or two more accelerators and the returns are diminishing (technologically) unless you want to know about cosmological related stuff. That is where physics is heading now, the cosmos, with astronomy and cosmology and space science, unmanned probes and the like but it looks like fusion aside humankind is not about to magic up some new fuel source (and that includes hydrogen) to stem fossil fuel use in any way that will cause humankind to not use up all the Oil and Gas at the very least and more likely a lot of the coal to. Hence expect 450 ppmv (1 C) and more than likely 500 ppmv and maybe even 550 ppmv.
I am sure that renewables such as geothermal, wind and solar (PV) and ethenol can supply some large amount of our power requirements but not all, it will need to be a mix of everything we have got for the world population will hit 8 billion by 2050 and thats means a 100% increase by 2060 of our energy requirements.
Short of some major breakthroughs in PV/Solar and or liquid fuel production (second generation ethenol) I would say that we need everything we can lay our hands on energy wise. I would rather go renewable than nuclear until we really need it because maybe, just maybe fusion might be cracked by 2060 and energy production can commence by around 2080. Just a thought.
Here is an interesting article on Oil energy provision. Rather than use joules, BTUs and the like they rate energy by CMO (cubic miles).
Are you talking about diffuse radiant energy as opposed to direct radiant energy? And your technique demonstrates what, visable solar radiant energy that has been bounced arounds off atmospheric water vapor and aerosols? Are you suggesting that the direct measured radiant energy coming from the sun from a about a 1/2 Deg. angle at about 1364 w/m^2 is exceeded by about 4 watts/m^2 from about 179 Deg. Does this technique demonstrate incoming radiant IR or Clear Night Sky background radiation from GHG?
I relation to your response, thanks I am very aware of the ARM contribution. I have been a champion of the good work the team there does there for over five years. I have accessed many volumes of data sets there and have attempted to try to coordinate them with time and weather and using my pitiful Server resources have not been able to get a clear indication of a clear sky night time trend in increase LW radiation.
Hence, I figure I must be doing something wrong. I do further research of the systems and find that the data sets have issues in relation to the weather in which the measurements were made and I attempt to adjust for them and still I do not get a clear measure that there is an long term increase. When I start to look for precise data that would fit the specific energy bands again I am finding that the data may not be available to laymen such as my self.
(Note: I suggested that the GHG radiative contribution is hypothetical, as I have not seen a corrected data set that clearly defines the clear night sky radiative long term contribution that could be associated with GHGs. My humble apologies if this was in error, if you have a source to the contrary it would be most welcome)
This is nonsense, David. I suggest an experiment with a camera light meter in the daytime, and you ask me does this demonstrate incoming infrared at night? Of course not!
For goodness’ sake, bless your heart, you aren’t reading, you’re just typing disbelief here.
Look again at the link Gavin gave you —- did you look at all? Look here at another one from the same data collection. Look at the fact that you proclaim data doesn’t exist even after people point you to some of it.
I am a member of a geology department and oceanographer, and I have been in this business for a long time.. But I have yet to meet a geologist or ocean scientist who is even marginally politisized. And I find it offensive that being an environmentalist is considered being a part of the “leftist think tank.” Trying to protect the environment and trying not to leave a “damaged” Earth to our children and grandchildren is not a political or scientific issue. It’s simply what is right. It is the responsibility of all people regardless of their political views, dietary preferences, or interest in science.
I am puzzled by the idea that science needs to be “political” and “diverse” (in a political sense). Like many have posted before me, data is not political. It just is the way it is. No denialist or politician is going to change the fact that, right now, there is significant human induced global warming happening. Just saying it isn’t so doesn’t make it go away. If only it did..
[Response:At the risk of accusations of group-think, I’ll agree with you. David]
Re: response #8. I found the article by Dr. Emanuel very well written and presenting an informative and intelligent point of view. However, some of the reactions and comments (see in particular reponse #8) seem nuclearphobic and visceral. The case in point is the comment in response #8 on Dr. Emanuel, “….not an expert on energy issues or on the history of the environmental movement and its campaigns for clean renewable energy, yet he is writing definitive-sounding pronouncements on these matters that reflect a great deal of ignorance, in an apparent attempt to be “fair and balanced” in his criticisms”. The same statement could be applied to responder #8 and his pronouncements on all things nuclear and environmental.
Comment by a NuclearAnimist — 24 Jan 2007 @ 10:25 AM
There seem to be two threads, one on the main points of the article and one on nuclear power.
Under BAU, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to more than double from 2000 to 2050. We need to reduce GHG emissions all of that amount, plus another 60?%, 80?%, or more. It depends on how much risk you consider acceptable for a temperature increase of 2 C. The CA plan is to reduce GHG emissions by more than 80%.
Improved efficiency everywhere has to be a high priority. Much can be done (up to a point) at negative costs, and if we raise the price of energy by carbon taxes, even more can be done at negative cost. I’ve heard estimates as high as 40% of energy demand can be reduced at negative costs (though negative over a long period of time, such as the lifetime of the car, or decades for a building). That’s as current costs. Even more with higher energy prices. But there are still the majority of GHG reductions left (but a much more manageable quantity). Again: there is no solution without increased efficiency (and I would add mandates on temperatures in public buildings — does it have to be so hot in DC in the winter and so cold in the summer?)
No one sees solar plus wind providing >20% of electricity in the coming decades, and when wind storage is used, it will be combined with inefficient natural gas plants.
While some complain that nuclear can’t compete without carbon taxes in a major coal country, Alan (#32) observes that Australia’s agriculture may be subsidizing Australian energy policy.
A lot of analysis comes out of researchers in coal countries showing problems with nuclear power, the high GHG emissions in nuclear one comes out of Australia. It has never been submitted for peer review, though the person sending it to me assures me that the authors intend to. There is analysis in several countries showing that life cycle GHG emissions from nuclear power plants is fairly low.
I too am also a little confused by Emanuel’s reference to radical environmentalists. Who are these people and what did they get wrong? It seems almost gratuitous.
And now that Emanuel has stated that we need to cut back on emissions (as if none of us have figured that out) when can we expect to see some writing by Pielke Jr. that Emanuel is now “fully politicized?”
L. David Cooke wrote: (Hard verifiable data does not require the politican to “have to understand science or scientific methods”.)
I strongly disagree with you on this. Facts taken out of their context are largely meaningless at best, and can actually hinder understanding and communication at worst. For example, as I write this the temperature outside is 41 F. That’s a fact and it’s verifiable, but it’s meaningless by itself. But put it into context that the temperature is rising towards a forecast high of 48 F, and the average high temperature for Austin for this date is 61 F tells me we’re having unseasonably cool weather today.
Politicians get bombarded by facts from both sides of every issue they deal with. They can only make intelligent decisions when they understand the overall context those facts fall into. For effectively dealing with global warming, yes, they need to understand at least some of the science. They need to understand the scientific method well enough to know what confidence to place in the data they’re given. The alternative, which we’ve seen all too often, is for politician to rely on the recommendations of special interest groups like the auto industry or the coal and oil producers. That’s worked really well, hasn’t it?
Many people are interested in global warming but are loathe to pick up a textbook or read a scientific paper. Articles such as the one Dr. Emanuel wrote, and the excellent sites such as RC, are a much needed resouce to help lay people such as myself get a basic lesson in AGW. It presents a lot of facts in an understandable context, and in some cases it will spark a deeper study of the topic.
The better informed the politicians and voters are, the greater the chance of making meaningful changes.
In answer to your first question, yes I did take a long hard look at the weather that the data was collected during. The day before there was a clear indication of high humdity with an early morning fog. The evening of the measurement the wind was from the North at a average rate of around 24 mph and it was a clear night sky. In addition the ambient temperature was 9 degrees above normal for that date.
When I look further I cannot find the barometric pressure and that is a critical factor. Also, I cannot find the record of the relative humidity. This combination is crucial in defining that there was likely a high pressure zone overhead and the falling adiabatic rise in temperature was likely in the 15um range. Funny, that is likely the center of band for the IR detector in the Elk Falls KS region that evening with a 9 db roll off towards the upper frequencies and a variable 3db roll off towards the lower frequencies with a 50 watt increase in sensitivity. Also at issue is that the 1999 detector at Elk Falls was likely one of the devices that are sensitive to upwelling ground radiation as noted in earlier posts skewing the data by about 50 watts/m^2. Without sufficient detection differentiation between the energy bands how do you separate out heating by adiabatic heating and IR radiation?
I could quote you chapter and verse of SKYRAD or GNDRAD tables if you like; but, without the ability to determine the energy band source how would you differentiate which of the 290 Watts/m^2 at 4AM on 2/2/99 is related to detector error, adiabatic heating, reflected terrestrial upwelling and long wave IR associated with GHGs? (This is not a rhetorical question!)
Comment by L. David Cooke — 24 Jan 2007 @ 11:14 AM
All those authors are associated with the GMI or with the CO2science.org industry front group; Sherwood Idso has been in the climate denial business since 1980, as this link demonstrates: Basic Radiation Calculations:
“In 1980 a scientist at the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory in Arizona, Sherwood Idso, joined the attack on the models. In articles and letters to several journals, he asserted that he could determine how sensitive the climate was to additional gases by applying elementary radiation equations to some basic natural “experiments……
Stephen Schneider and other modelers counterattacked. They showed that Idso, Newell, and Dopplick were misusing the equations – indeed their conclusions were “simply based upon various violations of the first law of thermodynamics.” Refusing to admit error, Idso got into a long technical controversy with modelers, which on occasion descended into personal attacks.”
Idso is now the president of CO2science.org, and he now claims that “It is abundantly clear we have nothing to fear from increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 and global warming, i.e., the “twin evils” of the extreme environmental movement. Indeed, these phenomena would appear to be our friends, and friends of the entire biosphere.”
That is certainly not the case, by any measure. See the links in #10, for example.
The above publication has never been peer reviewed, and is only available via the GMI – but your comments seem to be lifted from it; here are a few quotes: “But looking at such a simplified picture alone is quite misleading. Next, one really needs to ask how well each flux components are constrained or even if the individual flux components may be directly measured from the real world.”
“The key fact to note here is that individual energy flux components like solar shortwave radiation absorbed at surface and atmosphere or longwave radiation emitted by Earth’s surface are all uncertain”
In fact, you seem to be recycling a group of discredited arguments that date back to 1980 at least. The above ‘paper’ is a good example of how science on this issue has been abused by a small group of climate contratians and fossil fuel industry think tanks – and yet it seems to serve as your primary reference – care to comment?
Certainly, first I have never read that study before. In any case, the conclusions reached there appear to be as questionable as conclusions I have seen in the opposite direction. I have no ax to grind, as I am a simple disabled 50 year old layman, with a failing heart striving for a BS in Physics or Meteorology, while trying to understand how if a physical process is attributed that it cannot be measured, (or at least the indication of a change in the process by the attempt to measure it, lol).
There is no attempt on my part to deny that the change is valid. If anything I want to be able to discover a means to perform direct measurement of the GW phenomenon. So far I am coming up short, as it appears that conclusive data in this regard has yet to be researched and confirmed.
Even my humble attempt to access the SKYRAD data tables, confirm them against the local weather for the 7 ARM.gov detection sites and load them into my SQL Server and then feed them through a Fathom2 statistical filter are not working. (Much less begin the process of establishing the specific energy bands necessary for analysis and working at trying to determine the thermal dynamics in a hypothetical 1 Km grid at various latitudes to begin to track the heat paths. (Though for now the SSRS barometric analysis values at altitude and latitude from NCEP are helping with gross insights.))
In essence, it is becoming clear to me that I as an individual will not be able to accomplish this research. It also appears clear that there is not any interest by the IPCC team members to work towards this. Apparently, it is not important to try to confirm the physical process that “everyone knows” is the reason for global warming. For me overlooking assumed data is the opportunity for an error and my preference is to avoid the error regardless of the assumption of any association others would like to attach with my research attempt.
[Response: I’m extremely confused by your statements here. What exactly are you trying to test? You described as hypothetical the very existence of downwelling LW radiation – but you appear to be aware of tons of data supporting that. Then you claim that you are trying to detect a trend associated with increased greenhouse gases. This is something else entirely, and if this is the issue, then I’m not at all surprised that you have been unsuccessful. Detection of trends in surface radiation products requires long, well calibrated stations, which (despite the attempts of the BSRN group) are still very difficult because of the weather noise and instrumental issues. TOA trends are slightly easier, though inter-satellite changes are important. The best reported changes (and ones that fit very closely to what is expected from models was Harries et al 1997. – gavin]
Comment by L. David Cooke — 24 Jan 2007 @ 12:12 PM
Dave, there are many things that we cannot measure directly, but use proxies for. You cannot collect data on the cause but you measure the effect as a surrogate. I think this goes back to our conversation about night time temperatures rising. My view is that we know, and have known for over a century, that CO2 causes the earth’s temperature to rise. CO2 is rising and so is the global temperature. The sun is also playing a part. Unless we can find some economical way of turning the sun’s thermostat down, we ought to do something about rising CO2. Because we can do that.
RE: #14 Raypierre – A practical operational definition of a conservative is one who innately distrusts human nature in the sense that human institutions are imperfect, inefficient and tend toward tyranny. Liberals have more faith in them (or perhaps, value their outputs more than conservatives do and are willing to excuse their negatives). I don’t think intelligence has anything to do with it. I hang out in “intellegent” circles and find both liberals and conservatives. Another factor, somewhat politically incorrect to mention, but I must, is that those whose roots are mostly from the Scots Irish who dominated US settlement during the 18th and early 19th century tend broadly toward conservatism whereas more recent arrivals, and earlier ones from other backgrounds, are more likely to be liberal. Broad brush but much truth in it. So there is also an ethnic factor in there as well, I won’t waste any more keystrokes diving any deeper into that sociological study unto itself.
Thanks for the response, my apologies for the confusion. (The assumed GHG LW radiation would have been a better description of my question and was what I assumed Dr. Emanuel was referencing in regard to the diffused down-welling energy exceeding the direct terrestrial solar insolation.) You are correct the concern I share is the GHG signatures. Also, you are correct that there are several confounding issues in trying to achieve the measure. (Thanks for the reference, I will go back and review the Harries et al 97 work.)
The BSRN have been up against a wall in my opinion and I had been trying to see a way through to extract the desired data. The ACCRIM and other tools such as TRMM and CloudSat and CALIPSO are very useful for tracking water vapor. What I was hoping was to find a way to differentiate water vapor as a heat path (Either through direct Lidar or by Barometric / Relative Humidity signatures) from discrete radiant measurement to attempt to get a clear GHG signature.
Sorry for the confusion and the extensive posting. (Note: In 2001 I had written to one of the ARM research teams suggesting the possibility of using a tunable laser reflecting off a Radiosonde tropopause based, wide band reflective target in association with a detector in the target as a means of extracting and exciting the various atmospheric chemical components. Though I did not get a response it was wonderful to see the implementation of the Lidar experiments soon there about. I was hoping that I could help in furthering the pursuit of knowledge. It appears I will not get the chance.)
Comment by L. David Cooke — 24 Jan 2007 @ 12:55 PM
Re my #19: Hmmph — I was just asking who are the climate scientists to whom Emanuel was linking environmental groups and attributing ulterior motives. I thought it relevant. (But thanks, Ray, for the response regarding agriculture. Regarding personal choice, if a person can drive to work one less day per week and get patted on the back, why shouldn’t eating two more vegan meals per week and having the 6 oz rather than the 10 oz steak be similarly rewarded/ing? Could 3/4 of a slice of cheese be as enjoyable as a full one?)
Back to the politics of scientists. Many biological scientists do subscribe to (or at least accept that their work is affected by) an ethical philosophy of environmentalism or animal rights. A forester is generally trained to think that the continuation of the forest and its processes is to be valued. Similarly, fisheries scientists are trained to believe in biological sustainability (even though it may be more economically sustainable to let some species go extinct in a mixed-stock fishery). When NASA dropped “protecting our home planet” [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/22/science/22nasa.html?ex=1311220800&en=74c926c8939e58e0&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss] from its Mission statement, I imagine the scientists disapproved partly for political reasons and not just because their proposals were written and projects designed with the old mission statement in mind. Their expertise suggested to them a best way to spend public money that did not align with what the government wanted to project. Therefore, because being an environmentalist is itself a political posture, I can accept that most life scientists and earth scientists cluster together on at least one political axis. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s bad. The other side of that axis is indefensible.
raypierre wrote in response to #19: “For me, what was disappointing is that it appears you need to go full vegan to have a big impact. Ovo-lacto helps, but not nearly as much. What’s life without cheese?”
What life without cheese is, is healthier. Strictly in terms of dietary changes and health, you would do better to keep eating meat and giving up dairy, than to give up meat and keep consuming dairy products.
Having said that, I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian in 1974 (a personal ethical decision). I consumed dairy products and eggs for another 14 years before adopting a vegan diet in 1988. The last dairy product to go was cream (not half-and-half but whole cream) in my coffee when I finally found a soymilk that worked well with coffee. I have been a vegan now for over 16 years. It is a lot easier than most people think, in fact as a practical matter it is easier than trying to obtain meat from animals that are raised for food in a humane and environmentally sound manner (e.g. free-roaming, organic-grass-fed cattle).
And it is in no way a deprivation. There is an amazing abundance of fantastic cuisine from all over the world that is made from the Four Vegan Food Groups — fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes.
In addition to adopting a vegan diet, another way that individuals can reduce the GHG impact of their food choices is by obtaining as much food locally-produced as possible. It is incredible that in the Eastern seaboard of the USA, millions of people consume lettuce — which is 90 percent water — that is grown in energy-intensively irrigated deserts in California, and then shipped 3000 miles in refrigerated diesel trucks, while much of the East coast has an ideal climate for growing lettuce for most of the year.
I am developing a big organic vegetable garden in my suburban back yard and as time goes on, hope to grow more and more of my own food there, and buy as much as possible of the rest from local farmers’ markets and locally owned stores that carry locally-grown produce.
The impact that any individual or family has on the Big Picture by switching to a vegan diet, or consuming locally-grown food, or driving a Prius, or walking or bicycling instead of driving — or insulating their attic or installing rooftop photovoltaics for that matter — is small, but the aggregate effect of many, many people making these choices is significant.
I do not disagree; however, I would like to be able to measure the progress in to our investments. It would help resolve the questions if we could point to a clear value that directly represents the relationship between downwelling IR and GHG. So even though a direct measure can be confounded by current methods I try to figure out a way to accomplish it anyway. My preference is to end the controversy once and for all and the only way I believe that is going to be done is if we can provide a direct measure.
In my ignorance, I believe that it can be done and wanted to do all that I could to try to accomplish that goal. My concern for the representation you suggest is the night time temperature can increase by water vapor falling from a greater altitude, (IE: adiabatic heating). In essence, the evidence there is too broad and can have multiple sources, my goal is to try to devise a method to eliminate the confounding variables, if it is possible. I suspect it is, given the time and expertise to accomplish this goal. Hence, my decision to return to school, one reason is to document my alternative energy designs and the second was to devise a means to clearly define and measure the progess we achieve in implementing the various techniques.
Kudos to Prof. Emanuel for a great article. It is refreshing to see that there are people in the academia [edited…] who maintain sober outlook on both scientific and political issues relevant to climate change.
First, consider the reserves of cheap Uranium.
Second, consider the standard industry reactors.
Then, forget nucular, unless you can offer a cheap breeder reactor or a Thorium machine.
Comment by Florifulgurator — 24 Jan 2007 @ 1:41 PM
Before the nuke discussion gets up and gallops off with the thread, can I point out that any discussion of the utility of nuclear power is probably out of scope of this admirable blog? Also, can I suggest that anyone who wishes to make claims about it please RTFA.
Based on reading the Wiki article (and the Lovelock and Flannery books) I’ve shifted from blanket anti-nuke to undecided, probably leaning to the position that key questions on storage of ‘spent fuel’ remain unanswered.
But in an effort to make a connection between my comment and this blog’s subject, I’d point out that AGW is also the consequence of ignorance about what happens to ‘spent fuel’ when we burn hydrocarbons. It seems to me that any energy supply engineering in the future is going to have to talk about a cycle of some kind.
I’m astonished by the obsession of nuclear power – maybe because I’m French and 80% of our electricity is already producd by this way, without any problem in 40 yrs and at a competitive price (fossil or renewable sources are more costly here). If I understand, some are opposed to fossil AND nuclear energy at once. Well, I suggest they meet India or China governments in order to explain the energetic efficiency of solar or wind power for their social and economic needs.
Re Mr Cook. T
Thank you Mr Solem et al for your revelations regarding Mr Cooks sources. Im sure Mr Cook is a very fine chap, but his arguments have no credibility. I for one will now skip any of Mr Cooks posts, and ignore him. There are more relevant matters to consider. Next!
In comment 51 Paul G. Brown posts a link titled RTFA, but since it’s a Wikipedia link it might well be titled WTFAIYHNBTD.
It is helpful to acknowledge that nuclear power station spent fuel has, as yet, harmed no neighbour, anywhere in the world, in the slightest degree, ever. Or anyway, not so that there’s any evidence. It’s not like carbon monoxide.
Persons with a conflict of interest such as an oil-and-gas-tax-fattened paycheque won’t acknowledge that unless they have some decency, but if it’s their personal skin that needs either to be removed from Arctic ice that has grown tiresome by a nuclear icebreaker, or left sitting a while longer awaiting other transport, up the gangplank they go.
This is odd in light of the fact that as a nuclear boat comes towards them with a 100-thermal-megawatt propulsion reactor freshly turned off, there is a megawatt or more of spent fuel decay heat in its core. This is a large fraction of the greatest thermal power the Yucca Mountain dump will ever contain, but both are very small compared to natural inventories in seawater and rock. Equations for post-shutdown its variation in time are given at RERTR
RE: #52 – In the US, UK and Canada, environmentalists have long been captured by anti nuclear frenzy. Part of it is a bona fide concern regarding the waste issues and part of it is a more ideological concern about the use of nuclear reactors to produce fissionable materials for fission bombs and triggers for fusion bombs. Many in these three countries who are environmentalists are also hard core believers in unilateral nuclear disarmament. Some small subset of them were probably recruited by the KGB during the late 1960s and early 1970s to undermine Western strategic defenses. The rest have gone along with it because of their utopian beliefs that unilateral disarmament will lead to world peace.
I would say that I thought the article was a good explanation of the science involved. Like others here, I thought the comments Prof. Emanuel made at the end of the article were cavalier – especially since he cites no names or examples. The one name of a scientist mentioned in that context was James Hansen, in the following quote:
“Then, in 1988, James Hansen, the director of NASAâ��s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, set off a firestorm of controversy by testifying before Congress that he was virtually certain that a global-warming signal had emerged from the background climate variability. At that time, less was known about natural climate variability before the beginning of systematic instrumental records in the nineteenth century, and only a handful of global climate simulations had been performed. Most scientists were deeply skeptical of Hansenâ��s claims; I certainly was.”
1) I find it odd to be critical of Hansen (as Prof. Emanuel appears to be here) when he was right too early. As the chart in the article shows, by 1988 the GW signal *had* come out of the noise (as we understand it now).
2) Because of its proximity to the sentences about the “radical environmental groups” I take from this that he regards Hansen as one of the scientists who were taken in by them.
3) I am not an expert on this, but my recollection of the situation in 1988 was that there were already a significant number of scientists who were persuaded by Hansen’s conclusions. It is true that the situation was far less settled, but I am surprised that Prof. Emanuel can say that “most” scientists were “deeply sceptical”. Perhaps someone who remembers better can comment on that.
I am getting a chain of PHP errors when I try to post (cf #57) so I’ll post this in pieces and see how it goes. I would say that I thought the article was a good explanation of the science involved. Like others here, I thought the comments Prof. Emanuel made at the end of the article were cavalier – especially since he cites no names or examples. The one name of a scientist mentioned in that context was James Hansen, in the following quote:
Thanks for the great graph on Global Mean Temperatures. I am very new to this field of study. The graph shows the interconnnection beteen the observed and the models and makes it understandable. It’s almost surreal to read the conclusions that global temperature is increasing and furture predictions cannot be made without consideration of GHG and aerosols. In fact, I shared this Chart with my 14 year old, 8th grade daughter and she understood it, too. What can a skeptic say when confronted with this Chart?
In addition, I sincerely appreciate the candor of Dr. Emanuel’s categorization of ideas within this discussion. Separating the political concerns, the impacts and responses to warming allows scientist to discuss these other ideas in addition to science facts. Keeping “real climate” information separate from the other discussions is one key to greater understanding. We might not all agree on the politics/responses and even impacts of warming, but at least we have science and data as a foundation.
If one thinks climate is complex, human thinking and behavior are even more complex. For one, they cannot be reduced to “right” and “left,” “red” and “blue.” There is also the matter of “green,” and many other shades of thinking and behavior. And then, unlike biological evolution, which takes many generations for a species to change & adapt, people and cultures can change more rapidly, even abruptly (sort of like that aburpt climate change Kerry mentions). At the individual level anthropologists might call it “mazeway resynthesis” (like a sudden insight to new thinking, or a religious conversion) and at the societal or group level, “revitalization or social movement.”
I, for one, started out on the “right,” but switched to the “left” (but not completely) decades ago — in part because of the right’s insensitivity to human suffering, the tendency to say “it’s their own fault; let ‘em die.” That sort of breaks down when it is the rich peoples of the rich nations that may be most responsible for enhancing droughts, famines, and other forms of suffering. There are contradictions and conflicts within ideologies and other aspects of our human condition (which includes the everyready ego), much like the complex host of climate factors. Eventually the environmental reality principle may cause a sudden change in human culture, like a forcing; just hope it’s not too late.
Another thing, I’ve had my dealings with geologists…let me say “little tradition” geologists teaching at community colleges and smaller universities (not “great tradition” geologists who contribute to this blog). From the few I’ve run into over the past 10 years or so, they all are totally opposed to any idea that global warming might be real (they ought to get a new textbook). Then some others make comments like, “The earth has always been in a state of change and always will be.” Someone told me that people have to die when I brought up GW; and I countered with, yes, but we don’t have to kill them.
So, I think sometimes the geological perspective and even the scientific perspective has a hard time coming into focus with the human perspective — I think most people would like to avoid pain & suffering, & avoid causing pain & suffering to others. That’s our ultimate concern in the global warming debate, and it goes beyond merely finding out the truth for the truth’s sake. And (as I keep harping) we would like to avoid false negatives (doing nothing when a problem is real) & are not so concerned about avoiding false positives.
If some environmentalists have been strident in response the the lack of response to this problem….well, they’re just trying whatever they can to get the ball rolling, Day After Tomorrow, whatever. Up until Katrina, nothing seemed to work, and now it seems there’s a shift…maybe even an aburpt change in the offing. The barometer has suddenly plummeted.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 24 Jan 2007 @ 6:49 PM
Steve Sadlov wrote: Part of it is a bona fide concern regarding the waste issues and part of it is a more ideological concern about the use of nuclear reactors to produce fissionable materials for fission bombs and triggers for fusion bombs. Many in these three countries who are environmentalists are also hard core believers in unilateral nuclear disarmament.
The concern about “the use of nuclear reactors to produce fissionable materials for fission bombs” is not “ideological”. Nor does this concern require a belief, “hard core” or otherwise, in “unilateral nuclear disarmament”. It is sufficient to be concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, whether to currently non-nuclear states (e.g. Iran) or terrorist groups. Every country that has developed nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has done so as a spin-off of a “civilian” nuclear power program.
I found the tone of the article a bit off. It starts out promising enough, though. I gave up rather quickly, started skipping to the bottom, and found myself wondering why it was being linked here. I notice some of the comments above, and my puzzlement increases.
One thing I’m worried about is that Denialists are going to start sounding more moderate in order to carry on their agenda without looking like total, utter imbeciles, and some moderates may start to talk like Reformed Denialists in a fashionable attempt to “find a middle ground”.
That would REALLY suck. This is not a beauty pagaent and there is no middle ground. Either the science is right, and the backers of said science have been right all along for the right reasons, or else it isn’t. That the latter Reformed Denialists are now held out as level headed problem solvers trying to get at the Truth, and the earlier whistleblowers are *still* offered as lunatics with an agenda, is simply NOT helpful.
Kerry Emanuel’s article provides an excellent opportunity to point out some of the best and the worst of how the climate change issue has been represented by climate scientists themselves. His discussion of matters immediately related to his own domain of expertise – the scientific aspects – seems to me to be excellent, in fact superior to much of what has been written for an audience outside of the atmospheric sciences (and here I would include not only non-scientists but those in other disciplines, such as myself, a geologist).
I especially appreciate the way Dr. Emanuel avoids the style of bombastic metaphor that so laces a great deal of science writing generally – metaphors derived from the kitchen, sports, auto mechanics, and so on. Anyone who has taken the time to read books like Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” or Tim Flannery’s “The Weather Makers” should know that journalists hardly have a monopoly on exaggerated language (note the statements by scientists that Kolbert quotes). The tendency of scientists, when faced with media representatives, to engage in sensationalistic, even apocalyptic phrasing, is so common as to verge on cliche, and can hardly be attributed purely to goading by reporters. Whatever the motive, this practice by anyone denigrates the intended audience (“yes, you are idiots, so I need to aim as low as possible…”). In any case, I applaud Emanuel’s discussion for this alone.
There is much more to appreciate, however. He nicely divides what is accepted with almost universal certainty from what is the subject of majority consensus but trails lingering dispute. His descriptions of the state of the science and its challenges seems excellent and convincing, though I am not qualified to judge it in detail. If one were to strip off the first and last sections of the article, and delete his comments about the nature of science and the evils of the media, this would be a truly excellent piece of (dare I call it?) journalistic writing.
Unfortunately, once he leaves the confines of his own domain, Emanuel proves himself less equal to the task. His descriptions of good scientists as impartial spears of the unknown, heroes of knowledge beyond the touch of politics and partisanship, is archaic and self-congratulatory. The literature on political influences in science – including power relationships in research and the academy, historical influences, and the political aspects to knowledge creation itself – is so vast and established that its lack of place here is tantamount to discussing literature without literary criticism. I am not speaking here about so-called constructionist or other post-modern theories of science, which too often leap headlong into the quicksand of considering science just another form of cultural understanding. Emanuel would do well, I think, to read a work like Daniel Kevles ‘The Physicists” or perhaps, after a martini or two (shaken or stirred) Daniel Greenberg’s now-classic “The Politics of Pure Science.”
I, for one, am very tired and disappointed at the unending bleat that attributes politicization of the climate issue, and its misunderstanding by the public, to a few “special interests” (Big Oil, car companies, illiterate Congressmen and Senators), plus the intrepid sensationalism of the media. This is poor understanding, and shows an emotion-laden, reflexive response on the part of scientists (wherefore impartial investigation and thought?) to what is really a far more complex and deep-seated set of problems. Climate change, in fact, is politicized at its root, once we speak at all about its causes and solutions. This is because such discussion involves, immediately, questions about the nature of society and progress – whether, for example, we have been profligate and destructive, or else endlessly productive and innovative. Climate change brings to the surface deep divisions of belief and ideology. The judgments with which it bristles run counter to faith in the value of the free market, the perceived need by neoconservatives to reduce the power and place of government. The issue also connects directly with environmentalism as a whole, with calls for the style of change that this movement has been demanding for decades. Moreover, even within a field such as petroleum geology (with which I am familiar), a field many might assume would be united against any serious mitigating action on carbon emissions (a cadre of scientists guilty of intellectual corruption, that is), there exists a huge range of response to the issue, from denial to embrasure.
The reasons for public confusion over climate change have a lot to do with media representations and misrepresentations, no doubt about it. But not only this. The term “apathy” as a hammer to crush all complexity in public attitudes, seems a poor and unhelpful choice. People have a range of responses – fear, denial, numbness, fatigue, fatalism, excitement, and more. In fact, the largest event to have occurred in the U.S. during this past year related to climate change is the enormously raised awareness of the issue among Americans, spurred in part by consistent media attention and by Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” a film that Emanuel doesn’t even mention. Recall that this has been seen by tens of millions of educated Americans. Consider, too, that there are now four bills in Congress to be considered on limited carbon emissions.
By ignoring all these (and other) social complexities associated with climate change, Emanuel reduces the value of what he has written and shows that his view of the larger issue is, I’m afraid to say, naive, even out of date. But what he reveals, too, is something very pressing. Climate change lacks a series of effective spokespeople, and an effective discourse that they can use, to help move public opinion. It lacks (and I will be hated for saying this) a Carl Sagan type of individual, a person with full scientific credentials who is savvy in the ways of speaking in public. Jim Hansen is not this person; neither is Steve Schneider; neither is Al Gore, though he comes closer due to his speaking abilities. Climate change, the great issue of our time and lives, has not yet found its public champion.
Comment by Scott L. Montgomery — 24 Jan 2007 @ 8:23 PM
I too found Dr. Emanuel’s piece puzzling. The science was fascinating, a joy to read. But his political commentary seemed rather bizzare. Worst of all, the two didn’t go together; the science is good enough to give an undeserved stamp of legitimacy to his political comments, and the political comments are strange enough to discredit his scientific statements.
Lynn, thank you for demonstrating so clearly that some scientific issues, such a AGW, cannot be seen simply as interesting intellectual exercises. Human values must come into the picture, or we have adopted a stance of amoral automatons. That hundreds of millions of people in Asia could run out of fresh water due to melting of the Tibetan glaciers is much more than a scientific curiosity, for example.
Emanuel’s article is a good illustration of the almost irresistible urge to use a public platform to expound on subjects outside one’s area of expertise. Einstein did it, Hansen does it (e.g., in his New York Review of Books article, which mixes solid science with less solid economics), and most people in Hollywood do it. I don’t begrudge people their opinions, but a good scholar should be clear on the distinction between his professional judgements and his amateur judgements. Since I believe his undifferentiated political characterizations to be nonsense, I am now less inclined to trust any of Emanuel’s writings. RealClimate, by contrast, has maintained a remarkably high standard in this regard, for which I am grateful.
With respect to the more important issue raised on this thread, I am prepared to increase the ratio of goat and/or sheep cheese to cow cheese that I consume if it would help. Perhaps raypierre can research the subject.
[Response: What a terrific idea for a follow-on. It was quite hard for Pam and Gidon to get their hands on all the agricultural data they needed, so it’s not surprising that they limited their study to the major components of the American diet. It would be truly great to resolve the goat/cow question. –raypierre]
Re: Responses to #14: First, it would be nice if someone here could get Dr. Emanuel to respond to some of the interpretations of what he said. In my view the reaction here misses the point of what I think he is trying to say.
As I see it, he is not taking a right wing point of view, rather he is equally critical of both left and right. He states most scientists have remained objective, and makes no claim of political bias in the hiring of scientists. I agree with Raypierre’s reasons why acedemics tend to be liberal. As to what to do about it, all I can say is we should all try to apply our critical scientific thinking to non scientific issues and question some of our long held assumptions. Emanuel is only asking that scientists stick to the facts, which most of them do, and I could not agree more with that.
To change the subject, I think the energy consumption in agriculture issue is worthy of its own RealClimate discussion.
Dr. Emanuels article is one of the best summaries of the climate issue that I have ever read. The fact that he lets both the left and the right political sides take a couple of punches each is of course very wise, from a rhetorical point of view. No use writing an article that will be only read by people who already agrees with it.
As for the “science vs politics” matter, “politics” happens to be the way we get things done in a democratic society. There is no reason on earth to look down on politics and politicians. Science defines and describes the problem, but politics is where we have to go to find and implement the solutions. Democracy may be one loud, dirty and erratic decision-making system, but, alas, it is the best one we have.
Comment by Anders Lundqvist — 25 Jan 2007 @ 3:39 AM
You might want to look here. France ranks at 46 in the world for per-capita emissions – similar countries like the UK and Germany rank at 25 and 20 respectively, with emissions around 6% higher per capita. Denmark – home of the wind farm – comes in at 24th. Bear in mind that France exports electricity to both Germany and the UK.
Those the the real-world figures; replacing coal with nuclear for electric generation makes a big difference. Abandoning nuclear as a solution makes life much, much harder, if you are serious about reducing CO2 emissions.
Re “Detail: for a doubling CO2, K. Emanuel suggests a 0,77Â°C warming (1,4Â°F) without feedbacks, but I sometimes read other values (1 or 1,2 Â°C). How is it estimated?”
The estimate of Houghton (2004) is 1.2 K. It’s determined from climate models incorporating radiation codes. The estimates vary, but not by very much. Note that this figure is for CO2 doubling by itself, without any feedbacks. With feedbacks, the figure becomes 1.5-4.5 K.
Re “RE: #52 – In the US, UK and Canada, environmentalists have long been captured by anti nuclear frenzy. Part of it is a bona fide concern regarding the waste issues and part of it is a more ideological concern about the use of nuclear reactors to produce fissionable materials for fission bombs and triggers for fusion bombs. Many in these three countries who are environmentalists are also hard core believers in unilateral nuclear disarmament. Some small subset of them were probably recruited by the KGB during the late 1960s and early 1970s to undermine Western strategic defenses. The rest have gone along with it because of their utopian beliefs that unilateral disarmament will lead to world peace.”
And some of us have nothing to do with the KGB, but oppose nuclear power because of the obvious dangers associated with it. Is that hard for you to grasp? Why do you have to make up this crap about the KGB? Don’t you think people can honestly disagree with you without being paid by the KGB?
re: 74. “Emanuel’s article is a good illustration of the almost irresistible urge to use a public platform to expound on subjects outside one’s area of expertise.”
Indeed, we see it here in many posts by contrarians/skeptics/denialists who expound against global climate change which is far outside their own area of expertise (e.g. geology, economics, statistics, etc.). Yet they believe they are right or they know something others do not know and that thousands of climate scientists are wrong or have forgotten basic physics or…etc.
Tamino, your comment made me reread the Dr. Emanuel piece because I might have missed the subtle bizarre nature of his political commentary. Now, I wonder if we read the same piece. Or, am I older and you might have been a contemporary involved in the early days of US awakening to then-climate change (forgive me if I am wrong on this comment). It was a slow start of researching, publishing and, among some vested interests, visceral challenge of the new knowledge.
I started seriously focusing on global warming when Dr. Keeling was measuring CO2 concentrations at about 324 ppm. As an environmental advocate, I began to see the conflict America would have addressing any concern about steadily increasing CO2 concentrations. I worked to regulate coal strip mining. Had we known then what we know today, I should have been working to eliminate coal as a primary fuel for electric generation. But, thirty years ago electric utilities had maxed out on hydro, oil became an international and national security issue and natural gas seemed harder to find and share with residential and petrochemical customers. Wind was mainly pulling water from aquifers and not yet feeding the grid.
National environmental groups were slow to focus on the atmospheric consequences of coal burning and devoted twenty years to controlling ambient pollutants destroying NE lakes and forest with acid rain.
Ralph Nader launched his personal war against nuclear power by vowing to choke the industry on its garbage. Really now, are anti-Yucca Mountain activists credible when they say the nuclear waste stored in the deep tunnels of the mountain will remain lethal for thousands of years? WE DO NOT HAVE THOUSANDS OF YEARS TO FIND OUT.
Nuclear power is an option our children may well have to utilize and we are making the decision now that such an option will not be available to them while we go about our consumptive lifestyles making their future more precarious.
Environmental activists are mortals like the rest of us. We base our beliefs on what we read and are told. Most of the early leaders of the largest organizations were recent college and law school grads. We were short on the hardware side of the discussion and long on the value component. We made mistakes and used the few dollars on hand to maximize our message. That some used dramatic language and warnings of calamity did not make them deliberately deceptive. We were trying to get the attention of post-Viet Nam-weary Americans.
In the 70s and 80s, a great deal was accomplished in the Congress but de-carbonization was not on the agenda. There were a lot of lost opportunities to win more hearts and minds. We 5 percent of the world community being 25 percent of the AGW problem are a stubborn bunch.
So, on a second read, I did not find the non-science (political commentary) bizarre. To me, it was a moment of truth.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 25 Jan 2007 @ 6:31 AM
Comment by Florifulgurator — 25 Jan 2007 @ 8:29 AM
Emanuel’s article was a very good explanation of the science for the layman. Especially the explanation of the radiative physics which is something thats hard to find. For those things it is definitely worth reading.
It seemed to me that he fell into the “balance” trap that journalists sometimes fall into when he wrote about the enviros vs conservatives. I was not exactly sure what he meant by political imbalance in scientific departments. Did he mean people who back the environmentalists vs the people who don’t or the more general liberal vs conservatives?
Thanks Ray for that link to the paper about diet/agriculture and climate change (#19). I knew that a vegetarian diet uses less resources so has less of an environmental impact, but I did not know how it effected GHG emissions. Sometimes the off-topic threads can be enlightening.
# 61 (Steve Sadlov) environmentalists working for the KGB? Thats a extreme version of a standard anti-environmentalist talking point. It progresses from environmentalist being liberals to leftists to socialists to communists. The countries with the largest environmental problems in human history are those that made up the former USSR. There is a positive correlation between countries with open democratic governments and strong environmental regulations. And yes its off-topic so I’ll leave it at that ;)
Comment by Joseph O'Sullivan — 25 Jan 2007 @ 9:38 AM
re: 89 and the environmental history of the USSR
A few years ago, there was a Michael Palin travelogue which took him to China. The horrifying environmental degradation casually exposed in China was so pitiful that if the former USSR’s history is worse then we can safely go from “scant hope” to “no hope” to avoid the worst case scenarios of global warming.
Overall I thought this was a very informative post, Thank you for drawing it to our attention. There are some details that could be refined when Kerry strays from his area of expertise, as others have mentioned. Some other details . . . . .
 Kerry noted a potential benefit of global warming, that it would take less energy to heat buildings. He also noted later on, for balance, that AC costs would go up. I have been curious what the net effect on carbon would likely be. In a recent study Hadley et al. (2006) found that “As a whole [USA] increases in carbon emissions from higher air conditioning needs more than offset decreases in carbon emission from reduced heating needs” — summary from EOS v. 87 No. 37 12 Sept. 2006 Mohi Kumar, Staff Writer. Hadley, S.W., Erickson III, D.J., Hernandez, J.L., Broniak, C.T., and Blasing, T.J., 2006, Responses of energy use to climate change: A climate modeling study: Geophys. Res. Lett., v. 33, p. L17703, doi:10.1029/2006GL026652.
 Kerry noted “previously infertile lands of high latitudes will start producing crops”. I suspect he means that areas that previously were too cold for a given crop will start to have a climate that is more favorable for that crop. Not too many folks in the agricultural science community have proposed that global warming will increase soil fertility other than a likely one-time release of soil organic nitrogen as microbial respiration is enhanced. Sadly, we could also anticipate an associated decrease in soil organic matter and all that goes along with that as the soils warm. Consider this significant caveat to the notion that croplands can simply migrate northwards. Following Kerry’s logic, with the level of warming that is currently projected by the end of the 21st century one might predict that Canadians in Ontario would reap the benefits of the climate now associated with the fantastically productive Iowa-Illinois-Indiana grain regions shifting into their latitudes. Unfortunately it is a lot more complicated than that. Newly arriving corn plants will find very unforgiving soils of the Canadian Shield that will hardly have the potential for 100 to 150 bu/ac corn that US farmers enjoy today on exceptionally producitve soils. Another potential unhappy consequence of warming on agriculture will likely be increased costs and environmental effects that will arise from the need to use more herbicides and pesiticides in a warmer world.
Comment by Tom Huntington — 25 Jan 2007 @ 11:35 AM
I have an offtopic question:
Does anyone know how big dams (the water reservoir) affect local or regional climate? Will the surface temperature rise or fall? Will the percipitation increase?
I hope someone can answer my question. Or is there some scientific literture?
“‘Public access equals government censorship’ … worried too much about making precise statements … if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn’t matter if they can discredit your statements …. ‘Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate'”
Re #12 and the freeze in CA. I’m no climate scientist, and I don’t think the climate scientists actually know one way or the other, but my hypothesis is that as we pull away from the non-GW station (and perhaps even later) the GW impact could involve a greater standard deviation in weather data, so hotter hots and colder colds, wilder swings. (I do understand that on average the nights are warming faster than the days due to the “blanket effect,” so I’m not referring to diurnal swings which are decreasing on the whole.)
During Hurricane Emily here in the Rio Grande Valley, we had a hail storm, which the weatherman and some scientist on this site said was highly unusual, unheard of.
Personally I think the cold snap in CA may be something to expect from GW in its early stages. Eventually the CA cold snaps may be in the 50s and the hot snaps in the ?120s? when the average global temp is way up there, but for now perhaps these extreme cold snaps (I sort of guess) may fit some GW pattern that has not yet been discovered.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 25 Jan 2007 @ 12:44 PM
I would say that I thought the article was a good explanation of the science involved. Like others here, I thought the comments Prof. Emanuel made at the end of the article were cavalier – especially since he cites no names or examples. The one name of a scientist mentioned in that context was James Hansen, in the following quote:
“Then, in 1988, James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, set off a firestorm of controversy by testifying before Congress that he was virtually certain that a global-warming signal had emerged from the background climate variability. At that time, less was known about natural climate variability before the beginning of systematic instrumental records in the nineteenth century, and only a handful of global climate simulations had been performed. Most scientists were deeply skeptical of Hansen’s claims; I certainly was.”
1) I find it odd to be critical of Hansen (as Prof. Emanuel appears to be here) when he was right too early. As the chart in the article shows, by 1988 the GW signal *had* come out of the noise (as we understand it now).
2) Because of its proximity to the sentences about the “radical environmental groups” I take from this that he regards Hansen as one of the scientists who were taken in by them.
3) I am not an expert on this, but my recollection of the situation in 1988 was that there were already a significant number of scientists who were persuaded by Hansen’s conclusions. It is true that the situation was far less settled, but I am surprised that Prof. Emanuel can say that “most” scientists were “deeply sceptical”. Perhaps someone who remembers better can comment on that.
The skepticism Dr. Emanuel refers to was skepticism about the _measurable_ signal _emerging_ from the background noise — if you read Emanuel carefully that’s exactly what he’s saying.
Hansen said the same thing.
But Dr. Emanuel or his editor left the text vague enough that without parsing the sentence carefully, a naive reader could think Dr. Emanuel is saying that “many scientists” were “deeply skeptical” of the theory of global warming.
That would be wrong. I’m sure it’s not what he meant to write. I hope he’ll clarify that at some point.
“5. When will global warming and climate change be obvious?
… judging from our model by the 1990s … It seems to us that this is a sufficient ‘loading’ of the dice that it will be noticeable to the man in the street.” J. Geophys. Res. 93, 9341-9364, 1988.
A brief history of environmentalism in the U.S.: Preservationists in the 19th c (incl Teddy R), then conservationists, then the 2nd wave environmentalists in the 60s & 70s (concerned about pollution & resource depletion), then a fairly quite period until the ozone hole & global warming in the late 80s/early 90s (and many con-fused together these 2 harms), which spawned a 3rd wave of environmentalism. Then a very loud silent period of over 15 years while GW become more & more certain according to scientific studies.
After the Rachel Carson broadside against pesticides in the 60s, the indy people woke up and started taking proactive measures against environmentalism. They’ve been pouring money into think tanks, educational institutions, and indy institutes (e.g., scientists at the Formaldehyde Institute were criminally convicted for out&out falsifying science). The media has also been complicit in this indy broadside (where do you think the media get money for their programs & papers???). Note that the “Governor Moonbean” epithet against presidential primary candidate Jerry Brown (who would have done something about global warming) was first created by Mike Royko of the Chi Tribune; then a McNeil/Leherer newscaster asked Jerry Brown about people calling him that and made a funny face at him (as if the larger public had made it up).
Around 1990 there was a positive mood that we could lick environmental problems, even global warming. I watched “Is It Hot Enough for You” (I guess one of those “extremist” programs with extremist scientists to which Kerry alluded — since it was 5 years before the 1st scientific studies reached .05 p on AGW). I started reducing my GHGs by 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 below my 1990 levels — saving money without lowering my living standards, even improving them (I had already moved close to work since the oil crisis in the 70s, so I’m not even counting that in these 1990s reductions). I wrote to my gov reps & local paper, and helped get recycling started in my town (how radical can one get!), and I told everyone, including my gov reps, that “Is It Hot Enough for You” would be airing again on such&such a night in 1991. That was the exact same night we started Gulf War I, and of course the show was bumped off the air for good, and the global warming issue along with the 3rd wave of environmentalism died a public, but quiet death.
After that, “environmentalist” became a very dirty word. I’ve suffered nasty sneers and harsh words. People just don’t understand why I want to turn down the AC during church meetings (aside from the fact I’m freezing). The jokes against me have been the hardest to bare. And even my husband is embarrassed when I take my own bags grocery shopping. But I don’t care if I’m the only one in the world who’s right & everyone else is wrong, I’ll not change to their wrong anti-(or un-)environmentalist thinking and ways (tho I have to do sanity checks often, like lepers have to check their fingers every day).
Now it seems the tide is turning. There’s even an ad on TV for a fuel efficient car in which the lady says, “I’m no tree-hugger, but I do want to leave the world a better place for my children.”
My husband (not an environmentalist) turned to me and said, “What’s wrong with tree-hugging, after all that trees do for us.”
We may be on the verge of the 4th wave of environmentalism — just this time please be savvy to the ploys used by anti-enviro politicos, indy people, and the various media to divert our attention, like wars and stuff.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 25 Jan 2007 @ 3:05 PM
Hello, Re: “Politics of climate change” in Dr. Emanual’s article and threads in #s 54, 55, 56 & 71 on increasing nuclear power: Can we try moderation, conservation and preservation first?
Uranium mining is dangerous. We must protect uranium mine workers, their families and the biotic communities near these mines. Many mines are in remote locations like the Navajo Nation, with poor people. The potential exposures for these people and biotic communities could lead to expensive problems if we expand nuclear energy too fast without new mining laws. See EPA web site for cost estimates of $7 to $24 Billion for clean up of mining sites. http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2004/20040331-2004-p-00005.pdf Mining Laws in the US date to 1872! They need reform.
Also, right now in the Kansas City area, the utility companies are planning two new coal power plants. Why not try energy conservation & way-of-life moderation first?
re #93 [4th wave] Lynn, bless your heart for hanging in there. I suspect you are correct about the next wave of enviros stepping up to the plate. Just as AGW influences temperatures upwards over the usual weather noise, so too does it tend to move people further along the continuum of environmental awareness, even to taking action. As for the corporations, their time may be up. They’ve pulled some nasty tricks, and people have started to detect a pattern, and mayhaps this time we won’t be as easily manipulated.
This is one of the reasons I take a hard stand on the science (see #69, etc) because I feel we need people to really dig in this time. There is much at stake and little room for continued errors.
Jane Kloeckner, in calling for “energy conservation & way-of-life moderation” as an alternative to nuclear energy, you are implicitly giving a pass on harm to miners, etc., to oil and gas — and they do a lot more harm to miners. You might have realized this if you had been aware that on an equal-energy basis oil costs ~60 times more than uranium. Some of that money is spent doing harm to workers, for example, the 10 or 11 who were lost when the Brazilian oil rig sank in, IIRC, 2001.
A fair prescription would be energy conservation, way-of-life moderation, and for such energy as we do after all choose to use, nuclear power. Vehicles typically do not run on grid electricity, but reactors don’t make electricity; they make heat, which then is partially converted to electricity. It could also be partly converted to motor fuel.
Re; #7 -“My strongest political views are environmental. There aren’t that many anti-environmentalist oceanographers out there, rather a rare breed. Does Emanual think I should hire some creationists for my geology department? Let him hire some for his! David]”
Not that I’m a biblical literalist myself, being a Catholic. But why should you care on the practical political level whether someone is a strong creationist or not, or a theist who cares about climate and the environment?
The off-hand use at the beginning of Emmanuel’s article of the phrase ‘god or gods’ will irritate no end the people Emmanuel, and you, need to work with.
“You might want to look here. France ranks at 46 in the world for per-capita emissions – similar countries like the UK and Germany rank at 25 and 20 respectively, with emissions around 6% higher per capita. Denmark – home of the wind farm – comes in at 24th. Bear in mind that France exports electricity to both Germany and the UK.
Those the the real-world figures; replacing coal with nuclear for electric generation makes a big difference. Abandoning nuclear as a solution makes life much, much harder, if you are serious about reducing CO2 emissions.”
Oddly enough, France also produces 256 different cheeses. Perhaps there is a balance to be found.
RE #94, I read a couple of decades back that Navajo uranium miners had 85 times the lung cancer rate of the general population (and that in a very clean air place); one young woman had been widowed 5 times, all husband dead from uranium mining.
I think if everyone would use a frig thermometer, and keep the freezer at 0-2 degrees F, and the frig at 40-42 degrees F, we could probably shut down several coal powered planting in the U.S. Just that one measure. Most people, not knowing their frig’s temp, keep it colder than necessary.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 25 Jan 2007 @ 11:06 PM
Things that Vincentnathan read a couple of decades back don’t have to be true, nor believed by the people who wrote them; oil money could have been involved. Some discretion in repeating things would be nice.
A sample of 757 Navajo uranium miners shows, Table 2 p. 3, 26 fewer deaths due to heart disease than would be expected, and 24 excess lung cancer deaths, compared to “combined New Mexico and Arizona non-white mortality rates”. A “healthy worker effect” is usually seen in this sort of study, and this one is no exception: total deaths are 90 percent of the expected, 303 versus 325.5.
Uranium mining is relatively safe; as above shown, relatively safe compared to being an average person, because some of them don’t work. Relatively safe compared to coal mining. Relatively safe compared to working on wind turbines for the same energy output, since that’s about as dangerous as coal mining.
“… Tory-IIC was run again the following week for five minutes at full power, producing 513 megawatts and the equivalent of over 35,000 pounds of thrust; less radiation escaped in the reactor stream than had been expected.
… Returning to the lab, Merkle concentrated on making the reactor lighter, more powerful, and compact enough to be test-flown. There was even excited talk of a Tory-III, capable of propelling the missile to Mach 4.”
What’s possible with fissionable materials goes far beyond what’s desirable or, for most, even imaginable.
Once you have the stuff.
Yes, coal used as it is spreads far more radioactive material widely than nuclear used without any slip or failure.
Fissionables used — as they can be used — give us things like Project Pluto.
Back then, that was a high-tech, difficult technology. Yet they built it and ran a full size device at full power and proved it worked, before halting it short of putting wings on it and flying it.
But it worked, just fine. And nowadays those high tech ceramics, and that high temperature auto engine paint used to protect the electrical parts, are available anywhere.
Read that thing and imagine them being built with wings on them, eh?
“Pluto was about as durable as a bucket of rocks,” says one who worked on the project. It was because of the missile’s low complexity and high durability that physicist Ted Merkle, the project’s director, called it “the flying crowbar.”
Let’s hope we get Helium-3 from the Moon, or otherwise find a fusion path that doesn’t produce copious quantities of neutrons. That would be a really attractive form of nuclear energy.
And better we have a big industry handling Helium-3 than one deeply committed to mining and using either coal or uranium, in the long run.
There is one quote from this article by Kerry Emmanuel that needs further discussion (numbers added):
“Is this really so bad? In all the negative publicity about global warming, it is easy to overlook the benefits: (1) It will take less energy to heat buildings, (2) Previously infertile lands of high latitudes will start producing crops, and (3) there will be less suffering from debilitating cold waves. (4) Increased CO2 might also make crops grow faster.”
Regarding (1), reduced heating oil demand and sales in the Northeast this winter support this; this is also why oil prices remain lowish – but will more air conditioning demands offset this factor?
Regarding (2), this seems questionable. For example, what will happen to the growing season in Alaska under warming scenarios? Climatic instability is a large threat to crops; note that the Western US orange crop in particular was already on edge due to unseasonable heat this past summer before it was knocked out entirely by the recent Western US cold freeze – which only lasted a brief time, but that was enough.
Regarding (3) see number 2. From the article:
*Rainfall will continue to become concentrated in increasingly heavy but less frequent events. *The incidence, intensity, and duration of both floods and drought will increase.
If this is so, then that means a more variable distribution of water vapor in the atmosphere; in the winter that means more frequent cold snaps – or is that an overassumption?
Regarding (4), this is probably the most questionable point because it ignores the notion of ‘limiting nutrients’ in plant growth – it is true that if you grow annual plants in controlled environments – where temperature, humidity, nitrogen and other nutrient levels can be optimally adjusted – and then raise the CO2 levels, you see an increase in plant growth – but only because you have artificially created a situation where CO2 is limiting to plant growth. Outside the greenhouse, factors such as temperature, water, nitrogen and phosphate levels limit plant growth.
Furthermore, plants aren’t simply carbon dioxide sponges; when they have abundant carbon dioxide their storage areas (roots, etc.) become ‘full’ and they then downregulate their CO2-fixing Rubisco proteins and simply fix less CO2; this has been demonstrated by plant physiology experiments (for example Van Oosten et al, 1995; there are many similar peer-reviewed reports.
There is another factor: the possible decrease in the biosphere’s ability to absorb CO2 as a result of temperature extremes…and a resulting increase in the rate of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere. This is a distinct possibility.
On the other hand, you have Sherwood Idso promoting the “benefits of CO2 fertilization” and producing ‘publications’ such as Biological Consequences of Increased Concentrations of Atmospheric CO2, which has never been submitted for peer review by plant physiologists (for good reasons!). For example, he writes this blatantly false statement: “The veracity of these claims is supported by literally hundreds of experiments that have convincingly demonstrated that the more CO2 there is in the air, the better plants perform their many vital functions.”
Just on basic physiological grounds, plants have to breathe (respire) just as humans do, and (just like humans) will suffocate under truly high CO2 conditions. Furthermore, experiments with short-lived annuals demonstrated reduced photosynthetic efficiency under high CO2 levels, and the response of trees has not been studied much. There are a few references involving CO2 stimulation in forest plantations, but water and fertilizer were both necessary, and the effects were not all beneficial: here, and also here
At this point, it seems relevant to mention Politics, in the sense that politicians are obviously influenced by their funding sources. The Fraser Insitute, where Idso’s piece was ‘published’, is described at ExxonSecrets: The Fraser Institute. It is a Canadian based think tank whose chief scientist is one Kenneth Green, author of “Global Warming: Understanding the Debate”, who was rather prominently featured in the recent RC discussion, Calling All Science Teachers as an NSTA-promoted author suitable for K-12 classrooms.
So, when you see think tanks and ‘educational institutions’ benefiting from fossil fuel industry funding and going to great lengths to influence public opinion on the dangers of global warming, you really have to conclude that they are attempting to politicize the scientific debate in order to avoid the necessary 70-90% reductions in CO2 emissions (read: fossil fuel sales) that will be required to avoid the high end of global warming predictions.
Of course one would care if a potential job candidate for assistant professor in a geology department is a creationist. The age of the Earth is 4.6 billion years. A creationist may favor a number like 4004 years. Therein lies the problem. Faculty posiitons come with a teaching component. And geology professors need to respect the science and the scientific method so they may teach it well. It’s like a job requirement. Would an atheist be effective as a priest?
As far as the things Dr. Emanuel writes about, like the things that Ike Solem (#102)quotes, I think he is trying to show how there are many complexities that are not easily characterized as “good” or “bad”.
Considering the audience of the magazine he writes for (a lay audience in a literary and political magazine) he does a good job of demonstrating that there are multiple sides of climate change that need to be examined when political action is discussed and before actions are taken.
If you look beyond the “radical environmental groups” part its a very well written article.
Comment by Joseph O'Sullivan — 26 Jan 2007 @ 2:03 AM
Lynn (99) and Jane (94) –
To illustrate the problem with this (Refering only to electric grids..):
Most western countries have as mixture of supply for the electric grids, being coal, nuclear, hydro and natural gas powered in various proportions (Say 25% each for this example). Typically, all the hydro sites are already taken, so this isn’t going to change.
Now, if we do a large scale conservation program, we may be able to save 20% of our electricity consumption – ignoring economic and population growth. However, if ovcer the same time period we have phased out nuclear, then we are already left with an energy gap; probably small enough to fill with renewables.
So having undergone all the ‘easy’ energy saving changes, we haven’t actually reduced CO2 emissions at all.
But it’s worse than that, because with local natural gas sources rapidly depleting in western countries, additional supplies will have to come from larger distances, losing perhaps a third of the gas en-route just to transport the rest. So the net emissions from the NG plants will have risen 33%. Or (and this is basically the same effect) natural gas will have been replaced by coal – this is already happening – with consequent rises in CO2 emissions.
So you could well find, even if the policies advocated by the anti-nuclear environmentalist camp were followed – strong conservation, renewables and phasing out of nuclear – we could easily find ourselves 15-20 years down the road with *increased* net emissions from the power sector. And bear in mind that achieving even a 20% reduction in power usage in the face of population and economic growth is getting towards wishful thinking.
Of course one would care if a potential job candidate for assistant professor in a geology department is a creationist. The age of the Earth is 4.6 billion years. A creationist may favor a number like 4004 years. “Therein lies the problem. Faculty posiitons come with a teaching component. And geology professors need to respect the science and the scientific method so they may teach it well. It’s like a job requirement. Would an atheist be effective as a priest?”
But the problem under discussion is not filling a faculty position. It’s gathering political and social support for measures that may possibly effect global climate change.
Following on from #102, (2) Previously infertile lands of high latitudes will start producing crops,
but I wonder how suitable once-we-were-tundra soils will be for immediate cultivation? Unlike the soils of the US mid-west and other bread basket areas, I would imagine that artic soils would be severly leached of minerals in the upper portions – usually leaving a hard pan of minerals some way below the surface.
I understand that such soils can only be rejuvenated in sub-human-generational timeframes by enormous effort by GHG-emitting machines to rip through the mineral pan to mix and re-introduce the minerals to the poorer surface soils, and to provide drainage which will be essential under the higher rainfall (vs snowfall) climate.
Added to this, and new pasture will require large amounts of imported fertiliser and agro-chemicals to kick-start mass-production – which are virtually all oil-based, and/or require oil to transport to the site and to apply. All contributing to more GHG emissions.
Nigel, your comment regarding quality of top soil in the higher latitudes of the NH was on point but will be lost in the noise of this meandering thread.
It is easy to imagine how the rich topsoil of southern Illinois origniated. And, because it was transported south, in part, by glacial action during the last ice age, the origin point north has (surprise) thinner high grade topsoil. I am not a soil scientist but this would be an opportune time for someone with that knowledge to jump in here.
The idea we can simply shift the US grain basket to a warmer northern latitude is the fantasy of those who point and click and make things happen on their computer screen.
Thanks for the dose or reality. Please provide more.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 26 Jan 2007 @ 7:57 AM
The amount of negative feedback that Emanuel’s article generated in this blog very well illustrates the validity of his point regarding radical environmental groups.
This resonates very well with our recent discussion of new heresy. Prof. Emanuel did nothing more than provided a sober analysis and he is immediately accused of heresy. That’s very sad.
#100, it’s good to hear they are finally letting the Navajo uranium miners wear safety equipment.
I’m not so much opposed to nuclear, as in favor of doing all we can to reduce our energy consumption in ways that do not undercut productivity or lifestyles (at first), and implement more alt energy. After we do all we can in this direction (which I think would easily cut GHG emissions by 60%, then we can think about maybe sacrificing — forgoing a few pleasure trips, etc. — and getting down to an 70% cut. Then we can look to wind & minipower generation (mini-hydro (if you have a little stream by your home or a downspout off your roof), mini-solar, mini-wind).
Finally we could build one nuke to supply all our energy. And since these have to run continuously, then during off-peak hours they could pump water up into some dam, then during peak hours they could generate hydro power (I actually got that idea from a ComEd person in Chicago).
If you think I’m crazy, please do read NATURAL CAPITALISM ( http://www.natcap.org ) & the ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTITUTE website ( http://www.rmi.org ) for starters. There was an industry that was able to cut its energy needs by 90% without reducing productivity — the technique is called “tunneling through.”
Once all the known tech it thus used to reduce our GHG by 80%+, then we can start motivating inventors to come up with some really innovative ideas. Like offer some prizes or profits… At the very least, stop slashing funding to alt energy deparments (as the current admin is doing).
This “can’t do” attitude re reducing our GHGs is pretty sickening.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 26 Jan 2007 @ 10:29 AM
Re: #109 (Sashka)
You’re guilty of circular logic. Using the response to the article as illustrating the validity of his point, assumes that he’s right. If he isn’t, then all the criticism here is just a rational reaction to his editorializing.
Now, are you writing that because you _do_ believe it, or because you _don’t_ believe it?
Last I recall you wrote what you write here is things mostly that you do not believe.
I wasn’t sure whether to believe you or not.
With regard to Emanuel’s attack on environmentalists, it may be useful rhetorically to appeal to his audience, but what he says is simply untrue – nuclear power stagnated mostly for economic reasons, secondarily because of TMI and Chernobyl – and if the environmentalists’ pleas for investment in energy conservation and renewables had been heeded in the 70s and 80s, we’d be in far better shape. France’s nuclear power industry is heavily subsidised and, of course, integrally linked to its nuclear weapons programme.
Re #75 “To change the subject, I think the energy consumption in agriculture issue is worthy of its own RealClimate discussion.” – Blair Dowden
More generally, GHG emissions (and sequestration) in rural land use and land use change. Just to start this going, here’s a top-of-the-head rundown of issues as I currently understand them:
In mitigation terms, direct energy consumption for machinery etc. seems to be tiny compared to other sectors. The biggest GHG contributions from agriculture itself are CH4 from ruminants (work is underway on feed additives to reduce this) and N2O from fertiliser use; CO2 from food transport is significant; so are the changes in carbon uptake/release with different land uses and with the process of shifting from one use to another (most notably deforestation to grow crops mainly as cattle feed, but planting trees can also cause considerable CO2 release) and land management techniques (e.g “no-till” agriculture). Biofuels seem to be a seriously bad “alternative” to fossil fuels – cutting down forest for palm oil plantations is the economically most competitive approach, and apart from the other consequences, causes huge CO2 release. Ethanol from corn as Bush suggests has marginal benefits, unless coal is used to get the sugar out, in which case it has none. In any case it’s not feasible as a general replacement strategy – it would just take too much land.
With regard to adaptation, farmers are pretty good at dealing with fast-changing and unpredictable conditions, both climatic and economic, but of course there are limits, and the world as a whole currently depends on large surpluses over local need from the Americas and Australia. A shift to less meat (particularly beef) and dairy would help enormously in allowing reserves to be built up in case of serious crop failures, as well as cutting CH4 emissions and deforestation.
I think you need to distinguish between honest scientific discussion aimed at illuminating issues and politically motivated polemics – I think anyone interested in the science should be very happy that this piece was published, as it provides a good basis for discussion. I don’t see anyone accusing Prof Emmanuel of “scientific heresy”; the ‘negative responses’ seem to focus on the ‘politics’ issue. “Heresy” seems like a public relations phrase, in any case.
The best response to global warming is an energy engineering issue; solar power, wind power, biofuels, geothermal sources, and nuclear power all have certain benefits and disadvantages in various circumstances…unfortunately, distinguishing between honest discussion and clever public relations press releases is difficult. Nuclear may be theoretically safe, but not if cost-cutting measures lead to the elimination of safety systems – and there is always the waste disposal problem to deal with. Biofuels can be carbon-neutral, but not if large amounts of fossil fuel are used in growing crops and distilling ethanol. Solar and wind are very clean once the panels and turbines are manufactured, but the sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind is also intermittent, so there is an energy storage problem. Energy-efficient technology has obvious benefits (10 mpg vs 60 mpg – a 600% increase in efficiency). Any rational discussion of these issues relative to global warming needs to be based on long-term lifecycle energy/carbon estimates… not exactly the topic that RC focuses on.
RE#107, I agree with #108 – thanks for the reality check.
Re uranium mining — 85 times natural cancer rate means several people getting cancer multiple times. However, before ventilation was introduced into uranium mines in the late 1950s, miners were exposed to radon. 335 excess deaths from lung cancer among the miners were found by 1990. The US government and mine owners were irresponsible in not ventilating mines earlier.
Currently, a thousand US coal miners or so die each year, primarily from black lung disease. The death rate is higher here than in Australia, and substantially higher in the Ukraine and China. In the Ukraine, as many coal miners have died from accidents alone since Chernobyl as people are expected to die over 8 decades from Chernobyl.
I believe that people (Holdren anyway) are talking about decreased crop and ecosystem productivity pretty much everywhere once temperature increase reaches 2.5 C; the moderate scenario for BAU gets us there the third quarter of this century. Check back February 2.
Re #94 etc: Why shouldn’t all miners, not just uranium miners, have safe working conditions? We frequently see news accounts of trapped coal miners, with dramatic hour-by-hour accounts of rescue efforts and the final recovery of the dead & (sometimes) a few survivors. That’s if it’s in the US, of course: we only hear vague reports of accidents in places like China & Siberia. There are likewise ongoing reports of deaths in refinery fires, conventional powerplant accidents, natural gas explosions…
There seems to be a massive intellectual disconnect among the anti-nuclear lobby, as if a nuclear-related death is in some strange way far, far worse than a death from any other cause. This disconnect somehow causes a selective blindness to real-world experience, which is that deaths from nuclear power are 10-100 times less (per MWh generated) than from conventional sources – and that’s not even counting the inevitable future consequences of environmental damage.
Consider that just _one_ set of hydrolectric dam failures, Banqiao, China in the mid-70s, killed something like 170,000 people. (Compared to less than 50 killed by Chernobyl.) Yet no one goes into public hysterics about living downstream from a hydroelectric dam: if there’s opposition, it’s because of scenic values, or the damage done to fish.
Things nuclear seems to have become a modern Satan, the fear of which drives out all capacity for rational thought. Yet the real irony is that we ourselves – indeed, the entire Earth – are just radioactive waste, the fallout from the nuclear explosions of long-dead stars. Remember? “We are stardust…”
I don’t believe in clear separation of science and policy which is best illustrated by the volume of policy discussion generated even in most scientific (by original intent) threads.
In this case, Emanuel used the word “radical” which at first sight seems to be political, not scientific. In reality he also made a statement about the science (pseudo-science, if I may) beyond this “radical” thinking. No wonder that people who align themselves with this camp are up in arms.
Re #91: Perhaps your parsing of Prof. Emanuel’s discussion is correct. As I said in my post, the signal *had* come out of the noise by then – even though, yes, there was more uncertainty remaining then than now. (And to further the impact of Hansen’s statements, 1988 was an endless, hot summer, which may have had something to do with why the Congress was finally looking at the issue.)
Either way, I still find it odd that in such a short article, nearly 20 years after the fact, Emanuel finds it necessary to bring up this event, unless he wants to be critical of Hansen.
Re #115. The Chernobyl figure of 50 is of deaths so far, and includes only those among workers exposed to high radiation doses in the immediate aftermath, not the local population, let alone those further afield. It is from an IAEA report which estimates the final total at perhaps 4000 (according to the Chair of the IAEA commission that produced the figure, the Chernobyl Forum, this is “a very rough scoping estimate” i.e. a guess). The IAEA is of course strongly pro-nuclear. WHO estimates 8000 deaths so far among the local population, and still does not take account of those further away. Other estimates, which do try to take all those exposed to increased radiation into account, have been far higher (though some at least are from strongly anti-nuclear sources). None of this makes large-scale hydro a good idea either. Contrary to what you say, opposition to big dams is not just on the grounds of scenic value, or damage to fish. Displacement of local populations, sometimes 100,000s of people, has generated enormous opposition – have you never heard of Narmada or Three Gorges? Forced off their land, many of the displaced people will in fact die prematurely as a result. Moreover, drowned vegetation can produce vast quantities of methane, and dams often silt up quickly, reducing the power they can generate and depriving downstream floodplains of nutrients. Take a look at http://www.irn.org/.
Re “There seems to be a massive intellectual disconnect among the anti-nuclear lobby, as if a nuclear-related death is in some strange way far, far worse than a death from any other cause. This disconnect somehow causes a selective blindness to real-world experience, which is that deaths from nuclear power are 10-100 times less (per MWh generated) than from conventional sources – and that’s not even counting the inevitable future consequences of environmental damage.”
You have a point. Actual deaths so far from nuclear power pale in comparison to the potential deaths from a really bad accident. Of course, some epidemiologists think the Chernobyl disaster will kill several thousand people prematurely, but it’s hard to attribute a given case of child thyroid cancer specifically to Chernobyl.
“The IAEA is strongly pro-nuclear” — well, it is not as strongly pro-nuclear as would be a governmental nuclear oversight body that was not largely funded from fossil fuel tax revenue. That conflict of interest colours virtually all publically funded thinking. Without it, the IAEA would more strongly stress that while the increase in thyroid cancers is real, it will lead to very few deaths, and projections of thousands of Chernobyl deaths are entirely theoretical, and have no more grounding in reality than would hormesis-based projections of thousands of lives saved.
Barton Paul Levenson’s comment 80 refutes a charge of KGB funding of activities such as his; that charge is indeed very foolish. Fossil fuel tax revenues bring in billions a week, and not just in the Soviet era but this week; they are a much more sensible explanation.
I think the article showed balance, which is needed in this subject. Experts are not always right , they can only give an opinion based on their understanding and knowledge. The courts are littered with cases of oposing expert opinion. Furthermore extremists, on both sides, degrade many an argument with polarized views. So frequently the truth lies somewhere between black and white
I often remain silent, reading the comments posted.
After reviews of climate models I find the predictions too conservative, the hand played by humans in climate change far too conservative, and the exponential rate of change in warming to be far more aggressive and advanced than most of the quoted model data presented so far. The number’s and results are there.
There is so much outstanding work out there.
With all due respect for all my colleagues in this arena, we should non-sugar coat these predictions.
The only way to get humanity as a whole to look at the future and how to deal with the inevitable effects, is to not sugar coat what is happening and will happen; when, where, how much to the best of our ability collectively regardless of the political or corporate world. The results of the real numbers are affecting real people, not those inside the bubble of the corporate and political realms.
What is needed is a model that shows the non-sugar coated predictions/scenarios in which I agree with my friend and colleague David Suzuki, that the change is here now, that we are already in it. What we , as scientists need to do is to de-conservatize the predictions. We’re not politicians, we are the data and numbers people.
The data and equations don’t fudge. Politicians do unfortunately [for their corporate minders], but the numbers and results don’t.
What we have found are exponentially accelerated changes and human sociological/economic effect scenarios far more significant than many governments and corporations are willing to accept..
As in the first stages of cancer, denial is ususally the most natural human reaction to a malignancy, hence we deal with the first stages of the global malignancy of human contributed climate change; some realizations of the pending battle for human survival, but still denial. Now, playing the part of the notifying physicians, we should always be blunt about the reality.
Hopefully, in the near future, we shall have a new place in which to finalize this model along with the human factor, including the sociological and economic effects scenarios.
Considering all of the discussions of the quality of various energy production methods, I was struck by the following article: http://sciam.com/article.cfm?articleid=517E9954-E7F2-99DF-36C206BCA2D4E3C5&chanId=sa028
on current research into geothermal energy.
Obviously, no one method is going to wean us completely off of fossil fuels, but this is a very promising concept, and could allow geothermal energy generation to be used in far more areas than it is currently.
#113, can you point me to an article in which I can read about this integration, “France’s nuclear power industry is heavily subsidised and, of course, integrally linked to its nuclear weapons programme.” Is the same true in the US and other countries that have large nuclear-electric generation? And do all countries that have nuclear-electric capability also have nuclear weapons programs? Which do and which don’t?
#116, I agree that all miners & factory workers, etc. should be kept in mind — so it really does behoove us to REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE as much as possible.
We should also think of the Niger uranium miners and the pastoral lands that are being destroyed by the mining. These people cannot even afford electricity, but their livelihood (as meager as it is) is being destroyed. They don’t have the high mining standards that we have in the U.S. When I asked the ComEd man where they got their uranium, he said from the spot market (could be from anywhere in the world).
Marx wrote about each product containing the blood, sweat, and tears (the labor) of the worker, but we can go further; each product contains environmental harm (aside from the obvious benefits we & the workers derive from products).
I, for one, would like to see some carbon counter that indicates the GHG emissions involved in each product. Then I could choose, say Toothpaste A (which involves less GHG emissions) over Toothpaste B (which involves more). And I’d bet that Toothpaste A also costs less!
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 26 Jan 2007 @ 6:05 PM
There are two entirely rational reasons to be opposed to nuclear power:
1. It relies on mining, processing, transporting and indefinitely storing massive amounts of the most toxic substances known to man, of which very small amounts are sufficient to not only poison millions of humans to death, but if widely dispersed, are sufficient to poison entire bioregions for centuries.
2. It relies on mining, processing, transporting and indefinitely storing massive amounts of substances of which very small amounts are sufficient to make the most destructive weapons known to man, with a single weapon capable of incinerating an entire city and poisoning the surrounding region (see above).
Proponents of a world wide electrical generation system based on thousands of nuclear power plants, distributed throughout all the various nations of the world, are proposing that humans can operate and maintain a vast and incredibly complex system based on the above two points, infallibly, forever.
And people who are concerned about this proposition are called “irrational”.
When it comes to issues of global warming and replacing fossil fuel energy supplies, policy should be based on science, but what happens when vested fossil fuel interests have too much influence on government is that science (especially science funding) becomes based on policy, which is putting the cart in front of the horse.
Some examples of this problem are:
(1) the push for putting more people on Mars or the Moon instead of funding a comprehensive satellite and ocean sensor network for the entire globe that would result in masses of new data on the oceans, glaciers, land masses and atmosphere.
(2) Failure to invest substantially in renewable energy research, particularly into bringing down the cost of high-efficiency solar panels and increasing the efficiency of carbon-neutral fossil fuel-free biofuel production (cellulosic ethanol as well as algal ethanol and biodiesel) – instead we see pushes for ‘clean coal’ or ‘coal synfuel’ production.
(3) Failure to even begin planning for a transition to a zero-fossil fuel use energy economy. In this respect, natural gas and nuclear are preferable to coal and oil (natural gas has the highest ratio of energy produced: carbon emitted – due to all C-H bonds, unlike coal and oil), but effective solar and wind are definitely even more preferable in the long run, especially combined with highly energy-efficient technology.
(4) Failure of government science institutions to acknowledge the severity of the climate situation due to constant political pressure to revise estimates of the effects of global warming downwards. This is often due to threats of removing funding from institutions that don’t cooperate; thus there is a general tendency among government scientists to understate the problem.
It’d be nice to say, “let’s just study the science”, but over and over again we see discredited scientific arguments brought up to ‘challenge’ the notion of global warming, and you see inordinate media coverage given to a small group of fossil fuel-funded climate contrarians, and so on – and the only ‘conclusion’ that makes sense is that science is not guiding policy, but that pre-agreed policy is attempting to control science – which is not a good situation. I mean, even “Google News” is using Sherwood Idso’s “CO2 Science Magazine” as a “news source” right now (try Google News, “CO2 fertilization”) – what a travesty.
50 or so deaths are so far attributed to Chernobyl; the high estimate today is that 4,000 may die from Chernobyl over 7 – 8 decades. Someone cited a higher WHO figure — I’d like to see where WHO says that.
Thousands of coal miners have died in the Ukraine alone since Chernobyl, just from accidents. The Ukraine, if it keeps statistics on black lung disease, doesn’t reveal them.
More US coal miners will die this year from accidents and black lung disease than uranium miners have died total in providing uranium for power and bombs. Though the government and mine industry were culpable in the high death rate among uranium miners.
Here is a comparison on the relative safety of different energy sources.
When I began looking at how energy sources compare, I noticed that anti-nuclear power people didn’t actually say that anyone would die from long-lasting, highly radioactive waste; they just leave it to the imagination. I also learned that there is only occasionally overlap between public and scientific and policy discussions of dangers of energy sources. And that people are able to segregate in their hearts or in their minds 8 Chernobyls each year in the US from coal power, with anxieties that there might be another Chernobyl some year from nuclear power.
So many lives, so many species, are affected by our technology choices. I hope that antis will consider examining how serious concerns about nuclear power are, compared to concerns about the immediate alternatives for the next few decades.
And I have changed my behavior! Lots! No more flying, not this year, hardly get into a car anymore, and it’s not mine. I feel able to do this — I have had years to consider shifting, and motivation — climate change and health. I do not anticipate that enough others will choose to do this, that we can get by with a little natural gas plus a little hydroelectric.
The Oconee Nuclear Plant (Duke Energy) here in upstate SC already makes use of a pump back system. There are two man-made lakes (lakes Keowee and Jocasee). One is used for cooling purposes and the other is a reservoir for holding the water until off hours when the water is pumped back into the other lake.
A problem with nuclear plants and GW: They require lots of water for cooling and it must be below a certain temperature. Both lakes mentioned above are deep lakes on the edge of the mountains and are cold. But this requirement is going limit where the nuclear plants can be built.
Good mention of a great article. This is really giving a perfect overview of climate change research for lays and amateurs interested in the topic (such as me :D).
I really appreciate the work you guys are doing.
Congratulations especially to Stefan for his concise contribution on WDR 2 a coupe of weeks ago. Keep up the good work, guys! You sure brought me to working in climate protection in a company now!
France produces about a third less CO2 per capita than Germany and the UK, and more than three times less than the US. Small countries with petroleum industries have even larger per capita CO2 emissions (mostly because of refining).
re: #131. There is nothing in that post that is a correct statement.
“The Oconee Nuclear Plant (Duke Energy) here in upstate SC already makes use of a pump back system. There are two man-made lakes (lakes Keowee and Jocasee). One is used for cooling purposes and the other is a reservoir for holding the water until off hours when the water is pumped back into the other lake.”
There is a pumped-storage facility, Bad Creek, higher up the hills above Lake Jocasee. Water is not pumped between Lake Keowee and Lake Jocasee.
“A problem with nuclear plants and GW: They require lots of water for cooling and it must be below a certain temperature. Both lakes mentioned above are deep lakes on the edge of the mountains and are cold. But this requirement is going limit where the nuclear plants can be built.”
Nuclear-electric power plants are built along the coasts of oceans; cold deep lakes are not necessary. There is a three-unit system here in the US in AZ and nuclear units operate in FL, for two examples among many. Neither AZ or FL are known for having any deep cold lakes.
Coal and natural gas based generating power plants need water for cooling too. Nuclear power plants are not unique in this respect.
Mr. Rabett, on the site that you link to, you write “… the interesting point about these figures is the difference between the UK and Germany on one hand and France on the other. Nuclear electrical generation appears to reduce CO2 emissions/capita by about a third.”
However, the UN figures you chart on that site are apparently for CO2 emissions from all sources, not just from electrical generation.
I think your conclusion that “nuclear electrical generation” in and of itself reduces per capita GHG emissions by one third is unwarranted, given that both Britain and Germany do use nuclear electricity generation, and that contributions to per capita GHG emissions from other sources than electricity generation, e.g. from transportation, must also be taken into account.
It would be necessary to analyze the GHG emissions of Britain, Germany and France from all sources to determine what role, if any, France’s larger reliance on nuclear electrical generation actually plays in lower per capita GHG emissions.
Comment by SecularAnimist — 26 Jan 2007 @ 10:18 PM
Adding to Dan’s comment: The Palo Verde nuclear power plant just outside Phoenix Arizona is not near any body of water.
And, of course, all power plants need some place to reject heat. This has nothing to do with the fuel source and everything to do with the second law of thermodynamics. Large bodies of cold water happen to make convenient heat sinks– but they aren’t absolute requirements.
I had forgotten about Bad Crrek (memory lapse – I used to hike up in that area before the facility was built. The last time I went to hike up there (in the 1970’s), the road was blocked by well armed guards).
As far as cooling water, the cooler the water, the more efficient the plant can operate. In a warmer country, there will most likely be less water. Warmer cooling water requires more water. See the following:
I know reactors can be built in places like Az and Fla, but they need lots of cooling water and that will be decreasing. There have been nuclear plants that have had to be throttled back because of the cooling water being too warm.
#136 Don’t understand your logic. In France, we’ve an electric nuclear production of 431 TWh (UK : 75 TWh ; Germany : 154 TWh). Independently of the number of reactors, you’ve just to compare mean CO2 emissions for 1 kWh produced with nuclear or gas/coal plants : in France, you get 6 g/kWh for nuclear, 427 g/kWh for gas, 978 g/kWh for coal (source:CEA/EDF/DRD).
If your priority is CO2 reduction, nuclear power is a good technology. But all depends of priorities, and environmentalist movement has to be clear on that. In my opinion, the “no… no…” solution is not a solution, just a radical rhetoric. Everybody hopes we’ll get in the future an abundant, safe, renewable and clean ernegy. But for the moment and next decades, we must choose between existing and operative technologies.
#138 Do you have numbers for the amount of hydro and coal in France? My impression is that there are a number of small hydro plants around the country, so coal and nat gas may essentially not be used.
More to the point, to go nuclear for power generation was a policy decision made by the government about 30-40 years ago and represents the type of effective policy that can be implemented. It is a chimera to insist that the majic market will do it all.
#142 For national production of electricity in 2005 (source EDF) :
– total 549, 4 TWh
– nuclear 430,0 TWh (78,3%)
– coal/gas 62,2 TWh (11,3%)
– hydro + renewable 57,2 TWh (10,4%)
Comment by Charles Muller — 27 Jan 2007 @ 10:37 AM
This is a bit OT (to start with – not that I would be the first) but Friday, 2 Feb is the beginning of the Fourth Assessment Report (FAR?) from the IPCC. I am sure I am not alone among readers when I say that I await the analysis by the good people of RealClimate, although I believe that faithful readers will probably not see much that is new. Keeping up with the literature has its benefits. There is an opportunity for many of us readers to get the science out to the “real world” and become point the way towards responsible stewardship. The issue of climate change is more than an academic exercise.
The discussions brought up by Dr. Emanuel’s article (as well as the article itself) are enlightening. I may disagree with some of his criticisms of academia, but 1) certainly there is room for a range of opinions, and 2) as a mixture of the physics, the models and the data, the science is very well synthesized and presented. I hope that this article and others can bridge the gap between the FAR and the general public. Maybe some of us who have been immersed in the science (and those of us who are scientists in other fields) can help.
What I am saying is simply that Mr. Rabett cited data showing that the per capita GHG emissions of France are one-third less than those of the UK or Germany, and then attributed this difference to nuclear electrical generation. I replied that that is an unwarranted conclusion from that data.
First, all three countries operate nuclear power plants and generate some portion of their electricity from nuclear power. So where Mr. Rabett wrote “Nuclear electrical generation appears to reduce CO2 emissions/capita by about a third”, what he is really saying is “France’s greater reliance on nuclear electrical generation appears to reduce CO2 emissions/capita by about a third”, or that to derive around 80-90 percent of electricity generation fron nuclear vs. 20-25 percent, or in rounder numbers to triple or quadruple the amount of nuclear in the generation mix, irrespective of other factors (e.g. what is the rest of the mix?), in itself is responsible for reducing per capita emissions by one third.
The simple data on per capita emissions is not really sufficient to demonstrate that.
Second, the per capita GHG emissions are not only from electrical generation, but from other sources such as fuels for transportation, fuels for heating buildings, etc. and differences in this sector must be considered when explaining the difference between the three countries.
So, Mr. Rabett’s conclusion is unwarranted. If there is a sector by sector analysis of the sources of GHG emissions in those three countries, that would provide a better basis for determining the reason that France’s per capita GHG emissions are lower than those of the UK and Germany.
Burn boron wrote: “Sounds as if SecularActivist might be Mark Morano.”
gavin replied: “Careful. Comparisons to Morano are definitely ad-homs”
I don’t know who Mark Morano is, and I am not him.
I am learning not to be surprised when criticism, skepticism or concern about nuclear power is greeted by name-calling. Including, on this thread, an accusation that opponents of nuclear power are dupes or paid agents of the Soviet KGB.
Charles Muller wrote: “If your priority is CO2 reduction, nuclear power is a good technology.”
If your priority — in the sense of urgency — is CO2 reduction, then nuclear power is not a particularly good technology, because even under the most aggressive build-up scenarios proposed by the industry, it will be decades before nuclear power significantly reduces the projected growth in GHG emissions from new power plant construction let alone begins to have a significant impact on current emissions levels by replacing existing coal plants.
Wind turbines and solar photovoltaic can be brought online much faster. Both technologies are already growing very rapidly. According to the WorldWatch Institute, in 2005 global wind power capacity grew 24 percent to nearly 60,000 megawatts, four times the growth in nuclear power capacity, and production of photovoltaics grew 45 percent to nearly 1,730 megawatts, six times the level in 2000.
And private sector investment is flooding into both of these rapidly growing industries, in contrast to nuclear power which has always, everywhere, been entirely a product of massive state subsidies — in the USA over $100 billion since the beginning of nuclear electrical generation, compared to around $6 billion for wind and solar.
We can reduce GHG emissions more effectively, more rapidly, more cost-effectively, and more safely, by a four-part program of (1) rapidly deploying wind turbine farms and distributed rooftop photovoltaics, especially the new low-cost thin film photovoltaics (e.g. Nanosolar and Ovonic); (2) improving batteries, fuel cells, solid hyrdogen storage, flywheels, and other forms of electricity storage for both centralized, distributed, and mobile use; (3) developing a next-generation intelligent electrical grid — an electricity Internet — optimized for distributing electricity to consumers from a variety of large and small, baseline or intermittent, centralized or distributed producers; and above all (4) maximizing the efficient use of electricity by consumers, than we can with a massive buildup of nuclear power generation.
Comment by SecularAnimist — 27 Jan 2007 @ 11:42 AM
Dr. Emanuael’s article is refreshingly honest in its admission that the AGW article is based on “faith” in the models. He, however, neglects or is unaware of the evidence that his faith has been proven unjustified, by the IPCC diagnostic subproject work of Roesch. All, yes ALL, of the AR4 models being used for the next IPCC report had a positive surface albedo bias relative to two recent satellite data sets. This failure of “different parameterizations” and “very likely,different sets of coding errors” to eliminate such correlated bias is probably due not only to the shared code history that he mentions but to the comfort that some modelers now have in validating against other models rather than focusing on the actual climate data.
Since these correlated biases in the models against solar forcing are larger than the net energy imbalance thought to be responsible for the recent warming, it comes as no surprise that the models cannot reproduce the recent warming by natural causes alone. This despite the data that solar activity for the last 70 years is at one of its highest levels in the last 8000 years per Solanki, and the climate commitment research which shows that a sustained increase in forcing can take a century or more to equilibrate.
In accepting the model projections of future climate, Dr. Emanuel also fails to note that these projections ignore the research by Solanki and others that the current high levels of Solar activity are unlikely to continue, i.e., they assume that the current unusually high levels of solar activity will continue.
Dr. Emanuel appears to also be wrong when he states “One obvious hurdle the model must pass is to be able to replicate the current climate, including key aspects of its variability, such as weather systems and El NiÃ±o.” He apparently was unaware that Dr. James Hansen’s highly publicized 2005 Science article on the earth’s energy imbalance was based on model runs that did not reproduce the ENSO phenomena.
See my “Comment by” link for the specific references.
Look, I think the evidence is clear that nuclear energy is overwhelmingly safer than coal, cheaper than many renewables and cleaner than gas. But like I mentioned upthread, the big question has to do with waste management. It isn’t just a question of what to do with spent fuel. It’s also what to do with old reactors, and so forth.
We’ve evidence of 200 years of coal / oil / gas extraction. But the dangerous life of spent nuclear fuel is measured in tens of thousands of years. The best kind of mental model I’m familiar with doesn’t involve centralized storage at all but instead grinding the stuff up really fine and distributing it through the atmosphere or into the deep earth in ways that make its presence indetectable.
The more I read about it, the closer I get to accepting nuclear power into the mix. But the case for it isn’t quite so lay-down-obvious as people who consider the question with a relatively narrow, technical frame of reference seem to think. What we’ve learnt from our experience with hydrocarbons is that understanding the complete picture is really, really important.
Martin, the “actual climate data” that you say modellers should be testing against – well, it sure would be nice if govenment funding for data collection in the oceans had been made a priority decades ago. As it was, our government kept critical data on the thinning Arctic ice sheet (collected by nuclear submarines under the ice) secret for well over a decade for ‘national security reasons’ – and now, instead of funding a global network of ocean sensors, the funding has apparently moved to “putting a man on Mars”- you’d think the Cold War never ended. Do deliberate efforts to prevent data on global warming from reaching the public constitute “politicization of the debate?”
In any case, testing the models against each other is necessary – if it wasn’t being done, the contrarians would be howling about it.
Quote: Regardless of any discussion about solar irradiance in past centuries, the sunspot record and neutron monitor data (which can be compared with radionuclide records) show that solar activity has not increased since the 1950s and is therefore unlikely to be able to explain the recent warming.
As far as GCM’s not reproducing El Nino, they don’t reproduce local rainfall patterns either; in fact attempting to predict El Nino more then a year in advance is still very questionable, putting El Nino in the ‘mid-scale’ phenomena range; see http://www.ccb.ucar.edu/ijas/ijasno2/nicholls.html for a discussion. Again, this is an issue where comprehensive ocean data would improve the lead time for ENSO predictions.
Why the obsession with nuclear on this thread? The facts are that solar, wind and biofuels can make up for a very large percentage of current energy demand when coupled with energy-efficient technology; process engineering is bringing costs down as well; for examples see:
That’s just a small sample of of modern biofuel developments; there is an equally long list of promising developments in solar, wind and energy storage technologies.
There is a limited supply of uranium as well; in the long run nuclear is just a stopgap measure – and I’ve yet to see a convincing method for safe long-term storage of the very hot fission products that result from the process. The real focus should be on stopping the use of coal and oil immediately, and perhaps using nuclear and natural gas until a completely fossil-fuel free energy infrastructure can be developed.
Re #128: Your two reasons for opposing nuclear power would be rational, if the points themselves weren’t flat-out wrong.
Consider #1: First, the amounts of waste generated aren’t “massive”, at least by comparison with the amount of waste generated from fossil fuels. In “The Revenge of Gaia”, Lovelock says that a single year’s production of CO2, if solidified, would make a pile 1 mile high, and 12 in circumference. (I haven’t checked his figures, though.) Then there are mine tailings, fly ash, the radioactive materials released when coal is burned, oil spills…
Second, the wastes are far from being “the most toxic substances known to man”. Most aren’t particularly toxic at all; none come anywhere close to natural biological poisons such as ricin, which you can grow in your garden. Another fallacy here is that harm done is proportional to the dose, so that if a large radiation exposure kills people, a tiny one must be harmful too. Yet we can find numerous examples in nature of things that are beneficial, even necessary, in small amounts, yet are poisons in excess. Vitamin A is a classic example; another is the recent case of a woman who died from drinking too much water. Then for an even closer parallel, there’s sunlight. Too much will cause health problems, but so will too little.
As for the claim that radioactive wastes will “poison entire bioregions”, take a look at the so-called “Dead Zone” around Chernobyl. It’s a wildlife sanctuary: perhaps the healthiest & most biodiverse one in Eastern Europe.
A discussion of point #2 would get off into international politics, so I’ll just say that the time to lock that particular barn door was before the horse was stolen.
Several commenters have (rightly, in my view) taken issue with Emanuel’s somewhat sanguine outlook on the agricultural effects of global warming, but there is more to adaptation than doing the same thing as now in different places: there is also the possiblility of doing something slightly different, but equally effective, in the same places. For example, regions that currently support cattle herds may be used instead to raise drought- and heat-tolerant camel herds. Camels can provide mainy of the same products, and considerable progress has been made in recent years in the production of camel cheese …
As can been seen here the change in solar forcing is small compared to the change in forcing by well-mixed GHGs.
The relevance of (or lack thereof) Solanki et al has been covered here previously.
Your interpretation of Roesch has been refuted here previously.
Re #150, the obsession with nuclear — our goal, according to some, eg Hansen and Holdren, and they may be right, is to reduce GHG emissions worldwide by 2015 or 2012 to 2005 levels, even as population and per capita consumption increase. Goal 2 — reduce per capita GHG emissions to 3% of current US per capita emissions by 2050. Goal 3 — zero out the carbon to protect the oceans. Faster or even much faster would be less risky.
Re #148 — ask yourself how many might die if the nuclear waste management more or less follows current plans, then ask yourself the same question for fossil fuel waste. Nuclear waste answer here.
You won’t find anyone in policy who doesn’t want major investments in efficiency, solar, etc, though many consider some of the wind, biofuels, etc claims overly optimistic. But it’s pretty hard to find an analysis that has been peer-reviewed that says we can make the kinds of reductions advocated by Hansen and Holdren without nuclear. I’ve never seen such an analysis.
It still seems to be that if you have $4 billion to spend on non-CO2 producing energy sources, the better investment would be to build 40 solar-cell manufacturing facilities at $100 million apiece; for example see Honda Solar Factory; this would result in some 1,100 megawatts of solar cell capacity being produced per year, in comparison to a single nuclear power plant (typical power level: 600-1200 MW) being built.
While some may claim that nuclear power is far cheaper, if you look at the history of nuclear power cost overuns, you see that $4 billion for a single plant is an underestimate; for example the Shoreham Nuclear Power station came in at $6 billion.
Just to get back to the original theme of this post, it’s clear that human emissions of CO2 related to both fossil fuel combustion and deforestation are altering the climate. What I can’t seem to find is a reliable, widely accepted ‘human carbon budget’ (as compared to the ‘atmospheric carbon budget’) that separates out CO2 emissions from various sources: coal, oil, natural gas, cement plants, deforestation – let alone one that includes the other infrared-trapping gases, i.e. N2O, CH4 and CFCs – but perhaps it’ll all be included in the soon-to-be-released IPCC report.
“There is a limited supply of uranium as well; in the long run nuclear is just a stopgap measure – and I’ve yet to see a convincing method for safe long-term storage of the very hot fission products that result from the process. The real focus should be on stopping the use of coal and oil immediately, and perhaps using nuclear and natural gas until a completely fossil-fuel free energy infrastructure can be developed.”
Actually the issue is NOT the “very hot fission products”, which all have short enough half-lives that the total radioactivity of spent fuel is less than that of the uranium ore that was use to produce the fuel after about a 1000 years of sequestration from the biosphere. A 1000 years of sequestration is pretty easy for all of the methods that have been seriously considered. The real issues, more political than technical, are the actinides produced by neutron capture during operation in the reactor. These tend to have long half-lives that mean they will be around for hundreds of thousands of years. They have geochemical properties that make it unlikely that actinides sequestered in deep geological repositories will ever reach the biosphere, but to careful scientists “unlikely” is not “impossible” and to too many in the public and in regulatory agencies, “possible” is not acceptable.
The size of the uranium resource is not as limiting as Ike assumes. Existing uranium can be used in high-convertor or fast- or thermal-breeder reactors, expanding that resource by several orders of magnitude. In addition, thorium-232 is fissionable and its resource size is 3 to 4 times that of uranium.
Nuclear reactors can be part of a “completely fossil-fuel free energy infrastructure.”
We mustn’t forget that almost all resource conservation (incl water) helps reduce GHG emissions. It’s not just the amount of electricity or gasoline we consume.
And such reduction can be done with existing tech & principles like “tunneling through,” without reducing productivity or living standards. (Imagine what might be done with new tech breakthroughs.) And these should be given 1st priority. Then we can think about more nukes. If we just build more & more nukes, without implementing all possible conservation/efficiency measures — that’s, for one, economically a wrong direction.
Now re nuclear power, when the ComEd man came to our church environmental group in the early 90s. Someone mentioned electric cars. The ComEd man got excited & said if lots of ratepayers were plugging in EVs at night, then the cost of electricity could be drastically slashed. Again, a matter of needing to run the nuke plants at fairly constant levels. And with EVs, maybe some coal-powered peaking plants (needed by nukes for peak time) would not have to be run or built, since the nuke plant could run at a higher constant level.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 27 Jan 2007 @ 4:19 PM
Sorry about the ad-hom, and I now see, the misspelled pseudonym. Karen Street should not overlook the possibility of very substantial reductions, perhaps below zero, of net CO2 emissions. It takes a lot less energy to pull a CO2 molecule out of plain air and sequester it, essentially forever, than is yielded by the burning of one carbon atom’s worth of fossil fuel. Nuclear would certainly be helpful for the calcination part of that deal — search on “plumbostatic” for my earlier rumination — but is not required.
I must say I rather like Ikes idea of short term use of nuclear as a way to get off the fossil fuel kick, with the obvious caveat that it is just that – short term.
The actual mass of the real bad nuclear fuel is not too much on an annual basis. If that fuel was put into a decent re-entry vehicle and slung into a retrograde orbit around the sun, then the waste problem is solved. The re-entry vehicle format is so that – in the event of ascent stage failure – we can find the slug intact and safe and try again. There are a few boosters that are quite capable of the heavy lift duty.
That combined with improved industrial efficiency, enforced adoption of solar for all domestic heating and power requirements, and vigorous development of Green transport systems for the growing third world market, and we might stand a chance of making a useful change.
The nukes would need to be pretty simple affairs to setup – maybe package plants centrally manufactured in a few locations with the requisite skills. They dont need to be particularly efficient – as on a short term basis using a bit of extra fuel is not a drama – as long as it reduces emissions overall. The sort of package plants I think of are those on ships – USS Enterprises nuke could run a city, so lets stick in an order for 10,000 of them, delivery by Christmas, please!
I believe that a minor challenge with nuclear is that it takes a while to build – 10 years or so – cf 1 or 2 for a coal fired plant (both timeframes ignoring the issues of getting planning consent!), but in the context of all the above happening it is a fair enough idea, and one that may receive reasonable political support – considering the options that confront us.
#146, 150 (and some others)
Problems are orders of magnitude and energy-efficiency related to climate urgency. If you’re optimistic on the (low) climate sensitivity to 2 xCO2 and the (low slope) curve of world economic growth, you can progressively replaced fossil energies and fuels by renewable ones. But if you’re pessimistic (that is high sensitivivty and rapid growth), you need to include nuclear power in the mix. Have a look at EREC-Greenpeace (comprehensive) assessment “energy (r)evolution”: they succeed in a 2x reduction of CO2 emissions (2050) only by assuming a 14% increase of energy demand (instead of 100% BAU IEA scenario), due to a continuous improvement of energy savings by generalization of best practices in all sectors and all countries. But in my opinion, such a scenario is not realistic for the moment: it’s far more easy and competitive on short term to build coal plants in USA, China or India than to control / rationalize all private and public energy consumptions. http://www.energyblueprint.info/
Hello, Re: the nuclear and alternative power discussion thread. This thread has an overwhelming divergence of concerns and opinions. The GHG are increasing, the world needs to act and we have few plans. Good reasons for decreasing oil/coal/gasoline burning abound and good alternatives need development. No Action is unacceptable. Is it time to expand nuclear power or not?
Grid-connected Alternating Current (AC) solar panels;
Combined cycle gas turbines for standard electric power production;
Distributed combined heat and power systems;
Fuel cells for distributed power and low temperature heat applications;
Conversion of cellulosic materials for production of ethanol;
Wind-based electricity generation;
Carbon sequestration in aquifers and depleted oil and gas wells;
Increased coal bed methane and landfill gas use;
Replacement of grid connected electricity by PV;
Nuclear plants life extension.
This list is from 2001. Interestingly, building NEW nuclear power plants is not on the list. It will be interesting to see what the new IPCC Report, WGIII, to be published in October 2007, says about extending old plants or building new nuclear plants.
Surely, scientific analysis of nuclear power benefits include risk assessments that consider impacts to society, conomics and the biotic community (regional and global). The zero/infinity risks associated with nuclear power (e.g., relatively low chance something goes wrong, but high dangers/harm if problems occur), counsel reliance on the precautionary principle. Also, protecting against the low probablity of risk of terrorism/malfunction at nuclear plants will increase costs of this energy.
What is feasable is covering up the melting artic bogs with a gigantic tarp and then sucking out the methane as it releases. This would stop it from going into the atmosphere and we would have a viable source of energy. Kung pow chicken anyone?
I read the Hansen papers themselves, however, note in the web site that you reference Hansen states:
“The large energy imbalance that we have found implies that the global temperature responds slowly to forcing agents, with much of the response lagging several decades behind imposition of the forcing.”
This statement, based on an understanding of climate commitment, is why the argument that Solar activity has not further increased since the first half of the 20th century is invalid. The temperature response from that earlier increase can take up to a century, and the sea level response may take several centuries. The achievement of equilibrium with the new level of forcing may be delayed by other forcings or internal modes that may cause a period of cooling. In the case of this unusually high level of solar activity, we will probably never see the full response, since past history indicates that such an active period has less than an 8% chance of lasting until 2050 per Solanki, and the solar conveyor belt theorists project that the solar cycle after the next will be significantly weaker.
llewelly (re #153), In the complex non-linear climate system, it doesn’t matter that the solar forcing is smaller than the GHG forcing, the forcings can’t just be added or compared linearly. They are coupled to the climate system in quite different ways, GHGs are coupled more strongly to the atmosphere and the cyclic solar forcing is coupled to 10s of meters of the ocean rather than just a skin effect, as well as to the land and certain components of the atmosphere.
You are threatening the jobs of the climate modelers if you are arguing that you can know a’priori that model errors such as that diagnosed by Roesch are irrelevant. Those model errors are much larger than the energy imbalance causing the warming we are trying to understand. The globally and annually averaged model bias found by Roesch was 2.8 to 3.8W/m^2, the energy imbalance that Hansen attributes the recent warming to is only 0.8W/m^2. The question is do we need the models to be basically correct or not to project and attribute the climate, or can we use the “faith” or think method. I think we need the models, and they just aren’t there yet. Keep in mind that the errors that the Roesch IPCC diagnostic study found, while larger than what we are trying to measure, are small compared to other model errors found by the IPCC diagnostic studies. The Roesch significance is that it punctures the faith that the meta-ensembles will cancel out errors, and these correlated errors are a bias against solar forcing, the leading competing explanation for attribution of part of the recent warming.
Ike, it was Dr. Emanuel that stated that reproduction of El Nino was an obvious hurdle for the models, so I would say your argument is with him, if I didn’t agree with him on this point. I agree with you that rainfall patterns don’t need to be replicated on a year to year basis, we want the models to have the same internal variability as the climate, but on multi-year ensembles, we want the models to get the precipitation patterns right at least regionally.
One thing we learned from the Roesch study, is that seemingly small errors in snowcover and the timing of the snowmelt cannot be dismissed, because when globally and annually averaging the error, we see that it is larger than the quantity we are trying to measure, global warming. For several years, the descrepencies in the models have been particularly large at northern lattitudes, and it is reassuring to have the guidance of this study so we can resolve this in the future. Of course, the errors Roesch found, while “small” when averaged globally, they are extremely large locally, and the compensating errors introduced into the models to bring them back into energy balance may explain some of the local precipitation errors as well.
Presumably the models get the total albedo of the earth system correct, so these positive surface errors are compensated by negative albedo errors in aerosol or clouds parameterizations. Could the cloud feedback be reduced in some of the models to compensate for these errors, and such errors have greater impact on future projections of GHG scenerios? If you know the answer to that, then we don’t need the models at all, but can your argument meet the standards of peer review?
Coal, nuclear or solar? It seems solar is best; here’s why:
The Four Corners power plant is a 2,000 MW coal-fired electricity generator located in the American Southwest. Every year the plant emits over 15 million tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and carbon dioxide emissions and 590 pounds of mercury.
Replacing this plant with 2GW nuclear power station… is that feasible? Well, problem number one is that such a plant will produce 60 tons per year of high-level waste consisting of Strontium-90 (28 years), Caesium-137 (30 years), Plutonium-239 (24,000 years), Caesium-135 (2.3 million years), Iodine-129 (15.7 million years) (from nuclearinfo.net)
At the end of the hypothetical thirty years, you’d have a radioactive reactor and 1800 tons of high-level extremely dangerous waste to dispose of.
On the other hand, assuming the solar panels produced had a long lifetime, at the end of thirty years of solar cell manufacturing at 1000MW/year you’d have an installed peak solar power output of 30 GW – dependent on sunlight.
To make this work, however, you’d need a load-balancing system; for example, one could convert excess solar electric output during the day into hydrogen and oxygen via water electrolysis, and convert the H2 and O2 back to water and electricity at night in large fuel cells. This also applies to wind-generated electricity.
Thus, it seems like solar and wind are far more cost effective then nuclear for electricity generation, and there are no catastrophic safety issues either.
Once again the IPCC’s up and coming report has been commented on by the scientists who have worked on it in the UK newspaper The Sunday Times (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2569944,00.html) with more dire predictions for our planet and how it will respond to increased CO2.
Once again though I am struck by the similarity to James Hansens comments that he has made over the past few years regarding 10 years to mitigate dangerous climate change and the need to reduce atmospheric CO2 to no more than 450 ppmv. These IPCC scientists are now definately backing him up now and stating that it was a very accurate statement.
The bad news is that it looks like 450 ppmv is unavoidable and that 550 ppmv is the dangerous limit that Hansen has spoken of. The really big stumbling block now comes from the disarray of world leaders who will not be able to agree suitable cuts in CO2 due to the only card that politicians have in this free market capatalist world, progress and having to cut it. Whilst mitigating CO2 remains and “lifestyle choice” for everyone and nothing is mandatory then these levels of atmospheric CO2 look likely.
we are st 382 ppmv as of 2006 and hence we will be at 400 ppmv by 2016, 450 ppmv by 2041, 500 ppmv by 2066 and 550 ppmv by 2090 with current world growth and usage levels. Couple this now with the doubling of energy requirement and the world population going to 8 – 9 billion by 2050 and we can see that 2090 looks more like 2060.
I doubt that without cutting progress by a major factor regardless of peoples love of renewables we are going to be getting some very warm summers and stormy winters here in the UK and lots of other places are going to change for the worse to it would seem.
I wonder if this IPCC report will see a lot of climate arguments or capitulation by world governments at last.
Re “As for the claim that radioactive wastes will “poison entire bioregions”, take a look at the so-called “Dead Zone” around Chernobyl. It’s a wildlife sanctuary: perhaps the healthiest & most biodiverse one in Eastern Europe.”
If you don’t count all the kids with thyroid cancer.
So having followed the links I find that the arguments are
1) that wind power is more dangerous than nuclear because a workman once died falling off a windmill, and
2) that hydro power is more dangerous because two people once drowned while sun-baking downstream from a dam wall when someone opened the gate. Hmmm, I remain unconvinced.
#167, Pete, here’s the solution, we have to do this ourselves, despite government — do everything we can from taking a hanky to wipe hands in public restrooms (instead of using paper), to buying SunFrost refrigerators (which cost $2600, but save that much in 15 years in energy savings & less food spoilage — luckily I bought mine in 1991, so I’m just reaping in the savings now). We also need to try & impliment changes at work, school, church, town, state, nation, & world.
I do feel a revitalization movement is in the offing. People are stirring. There will be this big flood, a sea change. We’re just at the tipping point of a global warming revitalization movement. It will be chic to be carbon neutral. The naysayers will be jeered at (as I was for my environmentalism). It’s coming. Get prepared to hug a tree.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 28 Jan 2007 @ 10:55 AM
RE#164, You say “This statement, based on an understanding of climate commitment, is why the argument that Solar activity has not further increased since the first half of the 20th century is invalid.”; well…there’s been no increase in solar activity (see my previous comment), but regardless, you are basing that on the Hansen quote, “….with much of the response lagging several decades behind imposition of the forcing.”. Several decades is not a century, in any case.
However, the idea you are referring to is that the sunspot cycle strengthens the weak magnetic field of the solar wind (average magnetic strength on the order of 6 nanoTesla…but notice that the Earth’s magnetic field strength is on the order of 40,000 nanoTesla) and this miniscule variation in the solar wind supposedly prevents cosmic rays from causing clouds to form…whatever. Thoroughly debunked at Taking Cosmic Rays for a Spin. Sherwood Idso at CO2science is a big fan of the idea…
As far as El Nino goes, it seems that coupled atmospheric oceanic GCMs do indeed reproduce the phenomena; for example see Jungclaus et al 2006, and global warming may lead to an increase in the strength/frequency of El Nino, as Australian paleoclimate studies show a correlation, and finally, El Nino’s have become slightly more frequent over the past decades. The GCM models rely on parameterizations of the sea surface-wind interaction that plays a dominant role in ENSO, due to grid size limitations, and the models can’t seem to agree on what the effects on El Nino frequency will be in a warming world. However, since there is paleoclimate data and modern data that support a link between increased frequency/strength of El Nino and global warming, attacking the models is the only route left for contrarians.
Also, for the nth time, specific local precipitation patterns, i.e. weather, will never be predictable due to sensitive dependence on initial conditions, but the average precipitation for a region is part of the output of models, which predict drying of continental interiors and heavier precipitation in coastal regions, as I understand it.
Finally, when you say “For several years, the discrepencies in the models have been particularly large at northern lattitudes”, what are you talking about? It’s an unreferenced statement that simply isn’t true; we are currently seeing dramatic warming in the Arctic and at high altitudes and the effects are also starting to show up in the Antarctic. If anything, the models seem to be underestimating the speed of changes in the Arctic.
This is the sixth great extinction. The impact of our species is comparable to an asteroid strike.
That’s evident. Exclude people from an area and biodiversity increases. It doesn’t mean radiation, chemical toxins, or warfare are good for the environment.
To paraphrase Shaw:
We have already established what we are. Now we are quibbling over what we cost.
Nobody committed to making a living in politics — the *bertarians and the *munists and the *berals and the *cants and the *crats — can be comfortable with science.
“… removal or relocation of humans will most often facilitate a natural recovery of ecosystems even in the face of deleterious radioactive and chemical challenges. The observation that typical human activity (industrialization, farming, cattle raising, collection of firewood, hunting, etc.) is more devastating to biodiversity and abundance of local flora and fauna than is the worst nuclear power plant disaster …”
“… human population growth is a rapidly cycling positive feedback loop in which food availability drives population growth and this growth in human numbers gives rise to the mistaken impression that food production needs to be increased even more.”
#166 Ike, Four Corners mostly sources power to So. CA, it is where it is because that is where the coal is found. It would make more sense to site a nuclear plant in California where near the ocean to avoid transmission losses. If you are putting in a solar plant, the Mojhave(sp??) has just as much sun. What you are proposing for base load is a kludge. What we need is a combination of solar/wind and nuclear. IMHO of course, but when have I ever been wrong?
#167 Pete, we are already at 450 CO2 equivalent. Hansen’s strategy is to start by working on the other greenhouse gases, as their reduction may be simpler in the short haul. Seems sensible to me, but when have I ever been wrong?
#169 Launches fail. Launching the waste into space is unacceptably risky, but when have I ever been wrong?
#170 Barton, if you have enough towers to generate significant wind power, the number of people that fall off and die (many winning Darwin prizes) will mount into the hundreds if not the thousands per year. We know this from the number of construction workers that die in falls per year, but when have I ever been wrong?
#172 Craig, do not confuse wholesale with retail. Look at the total number of deaths, but when have I ever been wrong?
But alas I must go as Ms. Rabett (first appearance at Real Climate) is calling and pointing out several instances where I have been very wrong. In detail.
Quoting KE: “scientists whose hesitations did not make a good copy”.
I agree with that. The scientific community has been hesitant and shy before this issue. Major political decisions are needed to avoid the likely escalating AGW, and the necessary public support won´t come if the situation is not clearer to the common citizen.
The layman often disregards its importance with an attitude like “well, I can bear 5 degrees more” without realizing the other implications.
Paraphrasing the Portuguese writer Saramago, scientists have the responsibility of having eyes while others don´t.
Comment by Alexandre Lacerda — 28 Jan 2007 @ 12:44 PM
@ #175, Eli Rabett
Re: having enough towers to generate significant wind power and people falling off
Why don’t we have scores of people falling from cooling towers of nuclear plants? Answer: Not the least because the plants are guarded. But seriously, one can come up with all kinds of excuses.
Fact is that all kind of energy production is likely to come with drawbacks -witness the geothermal experiments in Basel, Switzerland apparently hitting some high-tension rock layers, releasing the tension and thus triggering minor quakes -mind you, those could eventually have been one big natural quake. The question for me is: Are we finally willing to step up to our responsibility and act in a sustainable fashion in which we face the consequences of our decisions ourselves? Present approaches to nuclear power production to me look like an effort to sweep things under the carpet and pat our kids on the back “You’ll figure it out one day”
This, to me, is practically the same approach that led to AGW to begin with -only that this time, we’re taking it in full knowledge of the fact.
… 1) that wind power is more dangerous than nuclear because a workman once died falling off a windmill, and
2) that hydro power is more dangerous because two people once drowned while sun-baking downstream from a dam wall when someone opened the gate. Hmmm, I remain unconvinced.
How about fossil fuel power? Any recent local problems there?
Nuclear is not and for many years has not been subsidized; if it were countries that express a wish to shut it off could simply do so and have a little extra money. But wind turbines in the US get a 1.9 cent per kWh production tax credit; some of the resulting subsidy is, of course, oil and gas money, for those commodities are negatively subsidized. Their tax revenues support people who somehow just can’t see how real, recent fatalities that nuclear might have prevented trump real ones that it caused long ago, or in the case of the invisible corpse-drifts downwind of Chernobyl, are said to have caused, in untestable theory long ago, by theorizers with an interest in the competition. Or in the Windscale case, long ago in an alternate universe; remember or Google “Cockcroft’s folly” that wasn’t.
Are the mentioned hydro and windpower fatalities the only recent ones in North America? Did the worker merely fall off the wind turbine, as Allen’s summary suggests, or was there more to story? Was his summary misleading in a way that helped him to “remain unconvinced”? Why yes, it was.
Smart people can say really silly things when they are pontificating in areas they don’t know much about.
For instance in #68, Secular Animist wrote:
“Every country that has developed nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has done so as a spin-off of a “civilian” nuclear power program.”
Well, this is just flat out wrong. The US, UK, France, Russia, China, Israel, South Africa, Libya, and Iran all had (or have) nuclear weapons programs outside the NPT and with no connection to a civilian nuclear power program.
In #62 the UK Met Office and Phil write:
“”surge heights are predicted to increase by up to 1.7 metres at Sizewell, the most affected site, and 0.9 metres at Hinkley Point, the least affected”
“If you must build nukes, be careful where you site them ”
In the US, at least, all nuclear plants sited on the ocean or large lakes, must be analyzed for the site’s and the plant design’s robustness against tsunamis, storm surges, and seiches. Existing plants have been subjected to all of these and have either operated through them or been shut down as a precaution with no significant plant damage or impact on the public.
In #159 Nigel Williams wrote (not silly, but incorrect):
“I believe that a minor challenge with nuclear is that it takes a while to build – 10 years or so – cf 1 or 2 for a coal fired plant (both timeframes ignoring the issues of getting planning consent!)”
Actually, in places where “planning consent” is not an issue (Japan, France, China, and some others), four to six years is the normal amount of time required for nuclear plant construction. This also bears on the responsibility of the anti-nuclear wing of the environmental movement for the high cost of nuclear power plants in the US. Starting in the early 70s, they were able to use a variety of licensing, safety, and environmental challenges to delay the licensing and construction of dozens of nuclear plants five to ten years. This substantially increased the cost since utilities build the plants with borrowed money, which cannot be paid back until the plant is producing electricity.
In #166, Ike Solem wrote:
“Replacing this plant with 2GW nuclear power station… is that feasible? Well, problem number one is that such a plant will produce 60 tons per year of high-level waste consisting of Strontium-90 (28 years), Caesium-137 (30 years), Plutonium-239 (24,000 years), Caesium-135 (2.3 million years), Iodine-129 (15.7 million years) (from nuclearinfo.net)”
This inclusion of Cs-135 and I-129 is fairly subtle sillyness. There are several factors that determine A radionuclide’s hazard to the biosphere. They include the types of particles and the energy of the particles in decay events, the physical half-life (which is what Ike is talking about), the biological half-life, its geochemistry, and its specific activity. Biological half-lives are frequently quite short, which means that the radionuclide doesn’t stay in the body long. Specific activity is the number of decay events per second per gram of material. It is roughly inversely proportional to half-life, which means that if the half-life is long enough (I-129, U-235, and U-238, for instance) the radionuclide is decaying so infrequently that it is coming close to not being a radionuclide.
In #168, someone and Barton Paul Levinson wrote:
“Re “As for the claim that radioactive wastes will “poison entire bioregions”, take a look at the so-called “Dead Zone” around Chernobyl. It’s a wildlife sanctuary: perhaps the healthiest & most biodiverse one in Eastern Europe.”
If you don’t count all the kids with thyroid cancer.”
Chernobyl caused something on the order of 2000 cases of thyroid cancer, mostly in children, and on the order of 20 deaths. In Poland, where children were given prophylactic doses of potassium iodide, there were very few cases. More to the point, the thyroid cancer cases and deaths don’t have much relevance to the question of whether Chernobyl “poison[ed] entire bioregions”. The thyroid cancer was caused by exposure to I-131, with a roughly 8 day half-life. Therefore after 80 days the iodine radioactivity was down by a factor of 1000, after 160 days down by a factor of one million. Studies of the genomes of wildlife near Chernobyl have shown genetic changes that are probably harmful to individuals, but those effects are overwhelmed by the benefits to the wildlife of getting the most of the humans out of the area.
In #171 Craig Allen wrote:
“2) that hydro power is more dangerous because two people once drowned while sun-baking downstream from a dam wall when someone opened the gate. Hmmm, I remain unconvinced.”
Craig might look up the Johnstown Flood or, for a more recent event, Google “Henan floods 1975″ for information about the cascading failures of 62 dams in Henan Province in China that killed about 150,000 immediately and later another 75,000 from disease and starvation.” My guess is that his “convictions” will be impervious to contrary evidence.
“However, the idea you are referring to is that the sunspot cycle strengthens the weak magnetic field of the solar wind (average magnetic strength on the order of 6 nanoTesla…but notice that the Earth’s magnetic field strength is on the order of 40,000 nanoTesla) and this miniscule variation in the solar wind supposedly prevents cosmic rays from causing clouds to form…whatever. Thoroughly debunked at Taking Cosmic Rays for a Spin. Sherwood Idso at CO2science is a big fan of the idea…”
Ike, I don’t think that is the idea Martin referred on #164. More simply :
– solar activity is highest in the second part of the XXth century than in the first, so far we take sunspots number as a basic proxy ;
– delayed reponse of climate system (notably thermal oceanic inertia) implies that comparison of successive Schwabe cycles’ minima is not necessarily conclusive.
For example, the signal of XXth century highest cycle (19) which peaked in the 1950s may be extended to several decades, even if the next cycle (20) was weaker. If you just compare 19 and 20, you miss that point.
But IPCC AR4 will seemingly conclude that solar total irradiance forcing is weak – approx. 1W/m2 between Maunder minimum and XXth century, mainly from Lean et Wang 2005 (but anyway, not so far from Foster 2004, or Balmaceda, Krivova, Solanki 2007 in press). Such estimation implies a 1750-2000 TOA forcing of 0,1 W/m2, quasi negligible. Very interesting in my opinion, because it suggests we misundestand something in solar climate sensitivity (or other forcings, maybe).
The figures for a century and several centuries for climate commitment are from Wigley and Meehl, the quote from Hansen was just to use a source that was already under discussion and had been cited as an authority:
Meehl G. A., et al. Sciencexpress, 10.1126/science.1106663 (2005).
Wigley T. M. L., et al. Sciencexpress, 110.1126/science.1103934 (2005).
No, I wasn’t referring to the sunspot cycle, the IPCC diagnostic study by Roesch, showed that ALL the AR4 models had a positive surface albedo bias, i.e., they were reflecting solar energy back into space. This is a bias against solar that is independent of the magnetic field and independent of any variation in solar activity.
Yes, some models can reproduce ENSO behavior, but Hansen, et al, in this paper, not only used a model with the bias that Roesch’s study documented (the authors probably didn’t know it at the time), they used their model at a resolution that could not reproduce the ENSO behavior. Just search the paper for ENSO:
Hansen, J., L. Nazarenko, R. Ruedy, Mki. Sato, J. Willis, A. Del Genio, D. Koch, A. Lacis, K. Lo, S. Menon, T. Novakov, Ju. Perlwitz, G. Russell, G.A. Schmidt, and N. Tausnev 2005. Earthâ��s energy imbalance: Confirmation and implications. Science 308, 1431-1435, doi:10.1126/science.1110252.
As for the northern lattitudes, I wasn’t disputing warming in the climate, I was just noting the well documented problems that the models have in accurately reproducing the climate particularly at those latitudes. The IPCC probably commisioned the Roesch diagnostic study to shed light on those discrepences. The Roesch reference itself not only documents the levels of discrepancy, but is specific in the source of the discrepencies and the physical processes that need to be represented in the models to correct the discrepencies.
Roesch A. (2006), Evaluation of surface albedo and snow cover in AR4 coupled climate models, J. Geophys. Res., 111,D15111, doi:10.1029/2005JD006473.
In the complex non-linear climate system, the models are our means and hope of attributing and projecting climate change. Dr. Emanual admits that this requires “faith” in the models. That faith is unjustified, and the Roesch study documented correlated error that even meta-ensembles can’t be assumed to overcome. Frankly, I am an optimist and think that with model improvement, we can be justified in having faith in the models, but then if it were justified, it wouldn’t be “faith” would it? 8-)
Re your comment up the top about the political bias in departments:
If you can think of a way to convince a conservative, market-oriented, fresh-out-of-college geologist to take a PhD scholarship instead of a $75,000/yr entry-level job at a nickel mine, please let the rest of us know.
#179 Thanks Jim for your correction to the time to build a nuke. 4 years is excellent progress on a complex job, eh. Have to make the coastal ones portable though so they can cope with increasing sea levels, storm surges and receding shorelines, so its onto a barge – kinda like a gold dredge.
#169 Barton; Retrograde to let it plop into the surface of the sun with the minimum expenditure of energy. (With apologies to the surface of the sun, of course! http://www.thesurfaceofthesun.com/ )
#175 Eli. Yup launches fail – hence the re-entry vehicle format for the payload. Weather permitting, a Morton-Thiokol SRB could probably shift a decent payload to where it needs to go. The SRBs reliability issues seem to have been sorted.
But, hey – dont take me too seriously – like most Im struggling to find the sweet-spot among all this gloomy news. Mother Earth is saying I Told You So! I dont like it any more than anyone else, but Im blowed if Im going to just lie down and take it!
Comment by Nigel Williams — 28 Jan 2007 @ 10:47 PM
Charles Muller, (re: 181)
There is another possibility beyond a misunderstanding of climate sensitivity or other forcings. We have very little understanding of solar variability. Our best physical solar models explain about 80% of the solar variation based on just two cycles, see the discussion we had on realclimate.org here:
While Lean’s reconstructions may be the among the best we have, that doesn’t mean we should place much confidence in them, as physical models of the Sun show, we know too little to reconstruct past radiative forcing. Radiative forcing at recent solar cycle sunspot minima, may bear little relation to that at similar sunspot levels when the Sun was in its Maunder minimum state. Hopefully the second solar cycle out, is as low activity as solar conveyor theory suggests and resolves some of the mystery.
Keep in mind also, that it may be CO2 climate sensitivity that we misunderstand. Models currently couple CO2 and solar in the same way to the whole mixing layer of the ocean, while physical understanding of the radiation wavelengths involved suggest that solar is coupled sometimes to 10s of meters of the ocean, while CO2 radiative forcing just penetrates a millimeter or so. Current models may be masking a significant non-linear difference.
Re “Actually, in places where “planning consent” is not an issue (Japan, France, China, and some others), four to six years is the normal amount of time required for nuclear plant construction. This also bears on the responsibility of the anti-nuclear wing of the environmental movement for the high cost of nuclear power plants in the US. Starting in the early 70s, they were able to use a variety of licensing, safety, and environmental challenges to delay the licensing and construction of dozens of nuclear plants five to ten years. This substantially increased the cost since utilities build the plants with borrowed money, which cannot be paid back until the plant is producing electricity.”
Why, yes. If you don’t allow dissent, and if locals can’t protest plants being built in their area, you can build nuclear plants relatively quickly. There are all kinds of things the US could get done quicker and more efficiently if we just stopped people from protesting them.
The whole nuclear/anti-nuclear thing isn’t really OT for this website, so I won’t get into the gory details but I will recommend the writings of Jerome Guillet (who is, broadly and simplistically, pro-nuke and pro-renewables).
He did a diary on the Daily Kos last year, laying out the background of the French civil nuclear programme which addresses some of the points that have been raised by SecularAnimist and others. He also runs his own website which carries frequent essays and commentary on energy policy.
Launches fail. Launching the waste into space is unacceptably risky, but when have I ever been wrong?
He is seldom wrong, but this is one time. Attempting to rocket nuclear waste into the sun, starting out over the ocean, and fumbling every load into the water would still be a completely safe and effective nuclear waste management strategy; it is wrong because there are so many other such strategies that are better, not because it would not be good enough if it were the only one.
In fact, radioactive loads as hot as a full spent fuel cask may already have been launched. The recent New Horizons launch, and that of Cassini in 1997, carried no nuclear waste, but they did, respectively, carry 11 kg and 33 kg of plutonium-238 dioxide.
This substance is made on purpose because its radioactivity is exceptionally intense and long-lasting: 403 thermal watts per kilogram, declining 0.79 percent per year. So now that Cassini is at Saturn — http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/index.cfm –its radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs), initially running on 13,182 W of heat, still have 12,340 watts.
The radioactivity of spent nuclear fuel drops below 400 W/kg, below the specific power of the ceramic in RTGs, during its third hour of retirement.
After 25 years it’s below 1.2 watts per kg, cf. table 7 of an NRC decay-heat document, so the New Horizons launch was equivalent to launching 3.7 tonnes of 25-years-cooled spent fuel. That must be fairly close to a cask-ful.
But what if all the world’s 100 million kg, or whatever it is, of spent nuclear fuel rods were aimed near Jupiter, with the idea it would fling them into the sun, and they all missed and went in the ocean? How could the ocean endure the addition of 120 megawatts of radioactivity?
This turns out to be a little like asking how the ocean has been able to endure the salt from Titanic‘s saltshakers. There is about 2,000 megawatts of natural radioactivity in the ocean; much less than in an equal volume of rock, but still a lot compared to a nuclear power station spent fuel pool, much more, even, than all such pools in the world put together.
Re #170: “…On the other hand, no one ever heard of a wind turbine killing thousands of people (as at Chernobyl)…”
There’s just one minor problem in that statement: thousands of people WEREN’T killed at Chernobyl. The number killed as a result of the immediate fire & cleanup was probably around 30-50. (Because of Soviet-era coverups, it seems no one has exact numbers.) It’s quite possible that even most of those deaths could have been prevented had the Soviets bothered to train the emergency crews and provide them with protective gear.
Since then, there have been a small number (under two dozen) who have died of cancer. However, it’s almost impossible to establish a definite causative link between any particular case of cancer and the increase in radiation. About the best you can do is compare the rates with those in other populations, and those don’t show any marked increase.
Furthermore, if you’re going to be fair, you also have to take into account the comparative death rates from e.g. coal-fired powerplant emissions (which include a good deal of radioactive materials). The anti-nuclear folks are all too prone to assuming that the alternatives are all perfectly benign, which just isn’t so. Even leaving the climate effects of CO2 out of the equation, nuclear power’s safety track record is far better than any other major technology.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 29 Jan 2007 @ 4:09 PM
[There’s just one minor problem in that statement: thousands of people WEREN’T killed at Chernobyl.]]
Not yet, no.
This is a remarkable misunderstanding. The mass casualties of Chernobyl, if their number is positive, could well already have happened. There is no way to know. The range of numbers quoted represents uncertainty as to how large a number can hide untestably in the noise.
Cancer can take years to kill people.
Nonetheless, the estimated number of deaths from the Chernobyl accident is 4-8,000. I don’t find that acceptable.
Then reasons to doubt the impartiality of those making the estimates should be welcome, as should be the thought that if they weren’t so petrolish, their estimates might range from 8,000 to -8,000.
Interesting anecdote: CBC radio news said on October 21, 1993 that the Chernobyl nuclear accident “resulted in the deaths of” 8,000 people. By December 12, 2000, it must have believed half had been resurrected, for it then said 4,000.
This is an informative site on the above mentioned fission products: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Hbase/nucene/fisfrag.html Generally speaking, the biological half-lives are not short, because the body mistakes cesium for potassium and strontium for calcium, leading to bone cancer, leukemia, and so on. The toxicity of plutonium and uranium is related to that of other heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium – kidney damage, brain damage, etc.
I think the economic life-cycle cost/benefit issue is what matters more; if the solar panel factory can build 1 GW of solar panel power per year, cumulative over 30 years, then it seems like a far better investment then a 1 GW nuclear plant, especially if the initial cost is the same.
What the Roesch paper actually says in it’s abstract is this (SCA=snow cover area) “The most pronounced underestimation in the interannual SCA variability is generally simulated during snow melt. The pronounced negative SCA trend that has been observed from 1979-2000 is only partly reproduced in the AR4 model simulations. Furthermore, the computed trends show a large spread among the models. Results from time slice simulations with the ECHAM5 climate model suggest that accurate sea surface temperatures are vital for correctly predicting SCA trends.”
Thus, the models seem to underestimate the speed of global warming in the Arctic, and also the models are dependent on accurate sea surface temp data for their predictions; similarly, short-term weather models depend on inputs of atmospheric conditions for their predictions. I’ve never heard any of the well-known contrarians talk about the need for comprehensive ocean data collection systems on a global basis, but waiting to take action until more data can be collected would be a mistake.
Regarding a related issue, NOAA decided to switch to the 1971-2000 period for their ‘baseline’ in 2000 for the calculation of temperature anomalies; the main effect of doing this was to greatly reduce the ‘observed anomalies’ in the Arctic as compared to using the 1961-1990 period as the baseline; I’m curious to see what time period the IPCC report uses. The problem arises in looking at NOAA’s 2005 Arctic Climate Report: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/pubs/PDF/rich2952/rich2952.pdf (Figure 6)
The NOAA figure is quite different and seems to show a much lower warming trend, and is also followed by the unsupported statement “The run of unusual conditions observed for 2000-2005 may be coming to an end…”
Someone at NOAA made the decision to switch to the new baseline in 2000 because they wanted “normal” to represent the most recent period – which doesn’t seem like an unbiased viewpoint; it seems like manipulation of data to show a lower warming trend in the Arctic then would otherwise be the case. The 2005 NOAA report reads like an attempt at rebutting the 2004 ACIA report, as well.
Re #119 and #130. I must apologise, and retract the statement that WHO attributed 8000 deaths to Chernobyl. I foolishly relied on a secondary source. The original, at http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/chernobyl/who_chernobyl_report_2006.pdf, cites a study estimating that there will be this many excess deaths in the local population, and says that is consistent with no obvious statistical signature of these deaths appearing at the time the WHO report was written.
You misunderstand the abstract.
The negative Snow Cover Area trend was in the “climate”, and the models only “partly reproduced” it. The net effect was a positive surface albedo bias in the models. There are more components to what the models got wrong in addition to this, they also had a postive bias in the Snow Water Equivilent and a delayed snow melt, and their albedo was particularly biased in forested areas of the snow cover. They also had a positive surface albedo bias in the tropical desert, although the full text does just reports it and doesn’t provide the detailed diagnostics on it.
A preprint of the full text article was distributed to the WG1 draft reviewers.
Let’s see – what the abstract says is that the models underestimate the observed climate: “Surface albedo (ALB), snow cover fraction (SCF) and snow water equivalent (SWE) of state-of-the-art coupled climate models are compared and validated against groundbased and remote-sensed climatologies.
“Most IPCC AR4 climate models predict excessive snow mass in spring and suffer from a delayed spring snow melt while the onset of the snow accumulation is generally well captured. This positive SWE bias is mainly caused by too heavy snowfall during the winter and spring season.”
SWE is the snow water equivalent, and the relation to SCA is non-linear in that one foot of snow or 20 feet of snow has the same SCA, but different SWE.
One way to look at this is that if the models are leaving more snow on the ground in northern regions, and since snow has a higher albedo then bare ground, the result will be that the models overestimate the amount of incoming solar radiation that is reflected back to space, which leads to an underestimate of the amount of warming at the surface.
However, it’s more complicated then that: “The participating AR4 models generally reproduce the seasonal cycle of the surface albedo with sufficient accuracy while systematic albedo biases are predicted over both snow-free and snow-covered areas, with the latter being distinctly more pronounced. The study shows that the surface albedo over snow-covered forests is probably too high in various state-of-the-art global climate models. The analysis demonstrates that positive biases in SCA are not necessarily related to positive albedo biases.”
This paper seems to be an honest attempt to increase the accuracy of how GCMs handle albedo, and the conclusion is still the same; the models are underestimating the actual rate of warming in the Arctic, and would be able to make better predictions if more comprehensive data (especially on ocean temps) was available. The fact that NOAA is trying to downplay the warming in the Arctic by manipulating data is also not in dispute, unless you have a comment on that issue?
“This is an informative site on the above mentioned fission products: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Hbase/nucene/fisfrag.html Generally speaking, the biological half-lives are not short, because the body mistakes cesium for potassium and strontium for calcium, leading to bone cancer, leukemia, and so on. The toxicity of plutonium and uranium is related to that of other heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium – kidney damage, brain damage, etc.”
Ike responds oranges to my apples in #179. I said that the inclusion of Cs-135 (with 2.3 million year half-life) and I-129 (with 15.7 million years) in his list was fairly subtle sillyness. He responds with a web site that talks about Cs-137 and Sr-90 and uranium and plutonium. They are dangerous and keeping them away from the biosphere is part of the design and operating criteria for nuclear plants and nuclear waste storage. Other than Chernobyl, nuclear weapons explosions, and depleted uranium weapons, there have been no significant releases of these radionuclides. Further, there has been no reliable epidemiological evidence that the Chernobyl and weapons releases have had a detectable health impact. This last means less than it might seem, because epidemiology is a pretty blunt instrument.
Uranium must be enriched (in U-235) to the 15% level before its radiotoxicity exceeds it chemical toxicity (nephro-toxicity). Plutonium’s radiotoxicity always exceeds it chemical toxicity. However, there is a small cohort of workers from the early years of the Manhattan Project, who received a “body burden” of internal Pu contamination. They have be followed over the intervening 60 years and have been significantly healthier than the general public. Google George Voelz for details.
The issue with Cs-135 and I-129 is their low specific activity — there just aren’t many decay events per second. In addition, I-129 has a relatively weak beta emission and a relatively short biological half-life.
The best example of the importance of biological half-life is tritium, with a decay half-life of 12+ years, but a biological half-life of 10-12 days. It also has an exceptionally weak beta decay. Unless you can get someone to feed you lots of trituim for weeks on end, you will have no significant exposure (a reasonable standard for “significant” might be comparison to dose from external and internal background radiation).
Further, Ike writes:
“think the economic life-cycle cost/benefit issue is what matters more; if the solar panel factory can build 1 GW of solar panel power per year, cumulative over 30 years, then it seems like a far better investment then a 1 GW nuclear plant, especially if the initial cost is the same.”
This is another apples and oranges comparison. A full life cycle analysis would include the cost of building the solar panel plant, the cost of building 1 Gwatt of solar panels each year, the cost of building the solar panel facilities in sunny locations, the capacity factor of the solar panels, and issues with integrating the fluctuating availability into electrical grids, with a similarly comprehensive analysis of the 1 GWatt nuclear plant and its supporting facilities. With that sort of analysis, Ike’s 1 GWatt solar panel plant will not look so good.
Unlike Ike, I do not have a faith-based aversion to solar, wind, or other renewables, although I do have a lot of reservations about the environmental and safety impact of large hydro. I also believe we need to move quickly to a low-carbon economy and that nuclear is a reasonable part of at least the short-term mix. It is a complex technology requiring careful design and operation by well-educated and well-trained personnel, but that is true of most of our technologies.
I didn’t know that I had a faith-based aversion to solar, wind or other alternatives! Anyway, there are few things about Cherynobl that are glossed over in the above post; for example the emphasis on I-129 is disingenous, since the main issue in a nuclear accident is I-131, an extremely hot species with a half-life of about 8 days; likewise focusing on CS-135 instead of CS-137 (very hot, half-life 30 years) is disingenuous. A good discussion of the Chernobyl accident is at http://www.uic.com.au/nip22.htm ; some of the inside can be seen here.
Dealing with both the short-lived and long-lived radioisotopes is a serious long-term problem, even if there isn’t a catastrophic reactor explosion. In addition, it turns out that decommissioning old nuclear plants is very expensive, and the yearly operation costs would probably be similar to those involved in operating solar cell manufacturing facilities.
This raises the question of ‘life-cycle cost estimates’ which seem to be one of the most widely abused notions in the energy field. Essentially, when you have a process that includes hundreds of steps, it’s very easy to fudge the numbers in one direction or the other. For example, let’s say you want to compute the energy cost of building a silicon photovoltaic panel – what do you include? The cost of building the manufacturing facility, divided by the total number of panels the facility produces in it’s lifetime? Do you then subtract the energy that those individual panels will produce over their lifetime? Do you include the food the employees at the facility eat, the energy needed to grow their food, and their heating and air conditioning bills? This is just to demonstrate that ‘life-cycle energy analysis’ is fraught with uncertainty, especially when used by advocacy organizations such as the nuclear energy institute.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a long-standing interest in solar energy research based on the biomimetic photosynthetic approach. However, any way you look at it, we are going to have to rely on the sun for energy sooner or later, so why not sooner?
The wikipedia article is indeed interesting, although when I clicked on the link, I got a message saying there was no article of exactly that name – I don’t know why, because there is one – anyway, if you have problems, persist. Unless it is misquoting/misinterpreting, there is a very wide range of estimates of total excess deaths. I also find it interesting that non-fatal childhood thyroid cancers seem to be dismissed by pro-nuclear contributors as of little importance, despite the surgery and chemotherapy treatment involved; and that no account seems to be taken of the widespread economic effects of Chernobyl – some UK farms are still unable to sell their sheep for human consumption. To the best of my knowledge, neither the Soviet Union nor its successors has paid any compensation for such effects. Is there any country in which the civil nuclear industry pays the full cost of insurance for damage that may result from its activities?
non-fatal childhood thyroid cancers seem to be dismissed by pro-nuclear contributors as of little importance
That’s a rather unpleasant comment. I said an IAEA that was not funded from oil and gas taxation would more strongly stress the smallness of their number, since they are the only public health effects for which there is any evidence, and were caused 20 years ago. If there is evidence that alternatives to nuclear have killed children more recently, and I have presented some, the suspicion must arise that so few deaths so long ago is a lot fewer than those alternatives would have caused since, if their backers had at that time been able to shut down all nukes.
Re #210: You say “… the folks who are so certain that nuclear power is entirely safe…”, which is entirely missing the point I and others have been trying to make. I’ll make a flat statement: nuclear power is not entirely safe, because NO power source – indeed, no course of human action or inaction – is entirely safe. The question you should be asking is whether it is more or less safe than the alternatives.
So look at the alternatives. Estimates of excess deaths from coal-fired power plant pollution range from 15,000 to 45,000 per year, in the US alone:
Similarly, we have the experience of one interlinked set of hydroelectric dam failures (Banqiao, China) killing upwards of 170,000 people. Anti-nuclear activists ignore these, while making emotional appeals that invest the far smaller number of deaths from nuclear power with an air of desperate tragedy.
James, you’re illustrating the problem of discounting future costs to people not yet alive. You’re not counting them over ten thousand years’ time, are you?
This isn’t a nuclear physics science blog, and I suspect you’re not likely to get real scientists’ expert opinions here when you state your beliefs about longterm safety issues. You might want to read some of their work, though.
Nothing else we do, except perhaps climate change, will have such longterm consequences and affect (if the species is fortunate!) so many people.
“She swallowed the spider, to catch the fly, but I don’t know why she swallowed that fly …”
“Re “there has been no reliable epidemiological evidence that the Chernobyl and
weapons releases have had a detectable health impact.”
[edit – keep it polite please.]
I stand by the statement. If you know enough about epidemiology to ascertain
“reliability”, please cite some contrary “reliable epidemiological evidence”. As I
implied, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, epidemiology is a pretty blunt
instrument, particularly for detecting small effects of small exposures. I should
emphasize that since I referred to atmospheric weapons testing and depleted uranium
weapons, I implicitly excluded Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for which there is reliable,
although somewhat contradictory, evidence. Another event implicitly excluded is the
Mayak waste tank explosion in the 50s or 60s, a nasty accident that almost certainly
had significant health effects, but also involved much higher exposures that
Chernobyl or other nuclear plant accidents or atmospheric testing or depleted
In #208, Ike Solem writes:
“I didn’t know that I had a faith-based aversion to solar, wind or other
alternatives! Anyway, there are few things about Cherynobl that are glossed over in
the above post; for example the emphasis on I-129 is disingenous, since the main
issue in a nuclear accident is I-131, an extremely hot species with a half-life of
about 8 days; likewise focusing on CS-135 instead of CS-137 (very hot, half-life 30
years) is disingenuous.”
I thought it was clear from context that I was referring to Ike’s faith-based
aversion to nuclear power. As for I-129 and Cs-135, Ike was the one introducing
them as evidence of nuclear power’s nastiness, and I was making the point that their
inclusion in his list of radionuclides was inappropriate because of their low
specific activities and, in the case of I-129, relatively low energy of the emitted
particles and the short biological half-life of iodine. I also stipulated that
Cs-137, Sr-90, and the actinides are dangerous and noted that controlling their
release and access to the biosphere is part of the design and operations criteria
for nuclear power plants and nuclear waste storage facilities.
In a serious nuclear accident, I would be more concerned about Cs-137 and Sr-90,
since there are simple and effeective preventive/mitigative actions to counter I-131
— potassium iodide pills or painting a 4 square inch patch of skin with an iodine
containing antiseptic, like povidone. Polish authorities took those accidents after
Chernobyl, with the result that Poland have very few thyroid cancer cases.
In #210, Nick Gotts and the pseudonymous Secular Animist write:
“Nick Gotts wrote: “Is there any country in which the civil nuclear industry pays
the full cost of insurance for damage that may result from its activities?”
Certainly not the USA.
It would seem to me that the folks who are so certain that nuclear power is entirely
safe should be lobbying for the repeal of the Price-Anderson Act. According to them,
it is entirely unnecessary.”
Actually, the USA is precisely a country where the nuclear industry has, to date,
paid the full cost of insurance and damages resulting from its operations. Each
nuclear utility pays an annual premium into a trust fund. In the event of a nuclear
accident, like TMI, each nuclear utility pays an event premium, which I believe was
$1 million per plant, into the fund. All damage claims to date have been paid from
the accumulated premiums in the trust fund. The shareholders of GPU bore the cost
of lost of use and clean-up of the TMI plant.
In effect, what Price-Anderson does is establish the federal government as the
insurer of last resort for nuclear plants, a resort that has never been utilized.
This is all public knowledge for anyone willing to look rather than simply accept
anti-nuclear fairy tales. This is rather similar to the federal government’s role
as insurer of last resort for the impact of hurricanes, earthquakes, and other
natural and man-made disasters.
Seconding James’ comment in #213, you will have a more frustrating search than
Diogenes, looking for somewhere where I have said that nuclear energy is “entirely
safe”. Indeed, I explicitly said in this thread that it is a risky technology (like
almost all other technologies we use) that must be carefully mangaged by
well-educated, -trained, and -motivated workers.
[[I’ll make a flat statement: nuclear power is not entirely safe, because NO power source – indeed, no course of human action or inaction – is entirely safe. The question you should be asking is whether it is more or less safe than the alternatives.
So look at the alternatives. Estimates of excess deaths from coal-fired power plant pollution range from 15,000 to 45,000 per year, in the US alone: ]]
The choice isn’t between nuclear and coal. It’s between nuclear and coal on one side, and solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, tidal and wave power on the other hand. Amory Lovins pointed that out in 1976. The nuclear industry’s constant cry of “it’s either us or coal!” has never been accurate.
“there has been no reliable epidemiological evidence that the Chernobyl and weapons releases have had a detectable health impact.”
What are you smoking? And can I have some?
The choice isn’t between nuclear and coal. It’s between nuclear and coal on one side, and solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, tidal and wave power on the other hand.
Emphasis mine – you also snipped the OP’s subsequent caveat that epidemiology was a blunt instrument for the purposes of this argument. Check out the link to that WHO epidemiological study of the Chernobyl aftermath which was posted upthread – it’s the one that estimates that there will be a total of ~8000 excess deaths as a result of the Chernobyl disaster, but which also says that very few of these excess deaths have actually occurred yet and that, given the uncertainties in the data, the excess death signal had not emerged from the epidemiological record even though it was nearly two decades after the event at the time of the study. Compare and contrast with the truly massive excess death numbers associated with our current coal infrastructure.
In regard to the second point, the choice is between the status quo carbon heavy energy infrastructure – which is coal, oil and gas – and an alternative (hence disruptive) carbon light infrastructure – which is nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal and biomass; plus reductions in use, improved efficiency and (perhaps) carbon sequestration.
Any argument against any of the alternative carbon light technologies and processes (and I include misguided pro-nukists who disparage wind/tidal in this) is an argument for the status quo. Which in effect means an argument for coal, since that’s the fossil fuel the world has most of and it is coal-fired generation plant that is being built right now.
Despite the above controversies over the article, I personally found it astoundingly impartial and unbiased. I am an environmentalist and I find that radical environmentalists have been as damaging to the cause as our opponents have been. Radical elements on both sides of any issue tend to kneejerk rather than think sobrely. Locally, the ELF destroyed millions of dollars worth of construction equipment in order to “save” Toronto from condo towers — however, Toronto is not very dense and surrounding farmland has been destroyed by constantly sprawling suburbs. The massive vertical development in Toronto is good for the city, and Ontario, and Canada.
I have come to believe that nuclear is a fine factor in energy production. Ontario has a substantial nuclear component. CANDU reactors are quite safe and cannot reach the meltdown temperature of Chernobyl-style reactors. As long as they’re CANDU, I have no fears about more nuclear here in Canada.
[[Any argument against any of the alternative carbon light technologies and processes (and I include misguided pro-nukists who disparage wind/tidal in this) is an argument for the status quo. Which in effect means an argument for coal]]
No it doesn’t. We can have a renewable mix without nuclear and without coal. We don’t have to have nuclear. We don’t have to have coal.
re: 217. It is important to define “radical”. ELF is quite radical in its actions compared to “moderate” environmental groups/organizations such as Sierra Club or EDF. Yet the words many prominent spokesmen use imply that the later are “radical”. Whenever someone testifies before Congress and does not define “radical” is their testimony, it is quite unfortunate and probably calculated to be misleading.
The comment about CANDU reactors’ inability to “reach the meltdown temperature of Chernobyl-style reactors” is refreshingly wrong, or should I say, refreshingly merely wrong; I don’t get the impression, despite his name, that Green will hate the good news that Chernobyl wasn’t a meltdown, and nowhere outside the former Soviet Union was the chance of a similar explosion ever taken.
That makes Hank Roberts’ economically-truthful remark …
coal used as it is spreads far more radioactive material widely than nuclear used without any slip or failure
annoying in that it doesn’t acknowledge that in non-former-USSR practice, coal spreads more radioactivity than nuclear power used with slip and failure. Natural gas has a similar TENORM — “Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material” — release concern, if enhanced public radiation exposure is of any concern.
One last comment on the nuclear issue: If you look at my comment#40 in the Stern Science thread, there’s a list of current electricity generation sources in the US. Now, while I think it’s wise to be concerned about nuclear accidents and to have strict and independent safety oversight over nuclear generation, when I look at those numbers it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that shutting down nuclear power plants would be a huge mistake – however, I think that before any more new nuclear plants are built, the thing to do is to bring solar and wind up to the point where they generate and equivalent amount of energy; thus government policy should still be to support solar and wind over nuclear until that level is reached.
Re #219: I suggest doing some math, and maybe referring to the list of current generation by source that Ike posted. It’s just not technically possible to replace current fossil-fuel generation with anything but nuclear. Indeed, I doubt that even an aggressive “renewable” construction program could keep pace with demand growth, let alone yield a reduction in fossil fuel use.
Then you have to consider that most of the renewable technologies have characteristics that limit their usefullness as base-load generation. Solar & wind are intermittent, and there’s no efficient storage method. Conventional geothermal is only usable in a relative handful of places (one of which I can see through my window, as it happens). Tide & wave power are site-limited, and not well tested. And so on, and so on.
Wind turbines have their hands-off fans. Were they hands-on, the nonzero body count per electrical gigawatt-year might not seem so nitpicky to them, and us nuke fans’ insistence that safety in practice trumps safety in theory might get some traction with them. Polls indicate it has this with the general public.
Solar from space has always looked really good to me, as does solar with six-month storage, which as James remarks is difficult. Solar fans of the large-mouthed variety who nonetheless cannot say the word “winter” are tiresome. I think end-users might be better served by getting their energy supply in a non-electrical form. It’s interesting to contemplate their consuming boron all year round at a 1-GW(B) rate and sending the ash to a solar plant where a half-gigawatt-year heap of B2O3 would accumulate by the end of winter and be turned into a heap of B by the end of summer. The biggest heap is the end-of-winter B2O3 one, and it’s 930 kilotonnes, covering a circle 255 m in diameter, 5.1 hectares. Not much in a solar plant that covers a 15- or 20-km-diameter circle!
[[It’s just not technically possible to replace current fossil-fuel generation with anything but nuclear.]]
Who says? You?
[[ Indeed, I doubt that even an aggressive “renewable” construction program could keep pace with demand growth, let alone yield a reduction in fossil fuel use.]]
[[Then you have to consider that most of the renewable technologies have characteristics that limit their usefullness as base-load generation. Solar & wind are intermittent, and there’s no efficient storage method.]]
A national grid would do it.
[[ Conventional geothermal is only usable in a relative handful of places (one of which I can see through my window, as it happens).]]
Hot Dry Rock (HDR) geothermal can be used pretty much anywhere, and the new low-temperature conventional geothermal also has a greatly expanded number of potential sites.
[[ Tide & wave power are site-limited, and not well tested. And so on, and so on. ]]
Between wind, solar and biomass, we can switch to all renewables. All we have to do is make a national effort, with the right incentives, and by cutting back on the massive government subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear.
[[ Solar fans of the large-mouthed variety who nonetheless cannot say the word “winter” are tiresome.]]
Are you of the opinion that the Sun turns off during the winter? Few potential solar sites are outside the 66 degree latitude lines. Yes, days are shorter. Yes, the solar declination is different. Yes, solar panels can be tilted. And in cold weather when the sun is lessened, wind is enhanced. Again, a national grid and a mix of renewables can supply the whole thing.
Barton, I always click to your RC contributions because they are informative and challenging.
However, your pronouncement that:
[We can have a renewable mix without nuclear and without coal. We don’t have to have nuclear. We don’t have to have coal.]
left me dumbfounded.
Let me add another item to your list:
We don’t have to have electricity.
You really let me down, there.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 1 Feb 2007 @ 8:59 AM
Re #215 “In effect, what Price-Anderson does is establish the federal government as the insurer of last resort for nuclear plants” – Jim Dukelow.
So, as I suspected, the US nuclear industry does not pay the full cost of insurance against accidents. If it did, there’d be no need for the federal government to act as the insurer of last resort – the insurance companies, and their arrangements for reinsurance, would cover it.
Re #211 Burn Boron apparently thinks the IAEA tends to play up the dangers of nuclear power because it is “funded from oil and gas taxation”. It’s funded by governments, and governments do derive some of their income from gas and oil taxation, but does Burn Boron have any evidence that this link has prevented the IAEA carrying out its objective, which is to promote “atomic energy”? This is the whole of Article II and the start of Article III of its statutes:
The Agency shall seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world. It shall ensure, so far as it is able, that assistance provided by it or at its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose.
ARTICLE III: Functions
A. The Agency is authorized:
1. To encourage and assist research on, and development and practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful uses throughout the world;”
Here is a quote from its 2005 Annual Report introductory section “The Year in Review”:
“In March, high level representatives
of 74 governments, including 25 representatives at
the ministerial level, gathered in Paris at a conference
organized by the Agency to consider the future role
of nuclear power. According to the final statement
of the President of the Conference, the vast majority
of participants affirmed that â��nuclear power can
make a major contribution to meeting energy needs
and sustaining the worldâ��s development in the 21st
century, for a large number of both developed and
If the IAEA is really an anti-nuclear organisation, as Burn Boron appears to imply (I can’t find any other interpretation for his comments), it is doing a remarkably good job of disguising it.
Jim Dukelow: “In effect, what Price-Anderson does is establish the federal government as the insurer of last resort for nuclear plants”
Without which, not one single nuclear power plant would ever have been built or would be operating today, because the private free-market insurance industry would refuse to insure them.
If nuclear power is so “safe” then why are the taxpayers forced to insure them against the risks of a serious accident? Why does the insurance industry refuse to do so?
As a general comment, I have long observed an overall pattern to the arguments of nuclear supporters, which is to deny or minimize the enormous risks and costs of nuclear power, while exaggerating the comparatively minimal problems with wind and PV electrical generation into insurmountable obstacles.
Re #230: “…I have long observed an overall pattern to the arguments of nuclear supporters, which is to deny or minimize the enormous risks and costs of nuclear power…”
While I have long observed an overall pattern to the arguments of nuclear opponentss, which is to enormously exaggerate the actual risks and costs of nuclear power, and when that’s insufficient, to make up purely imaginary ones :-) And now that we’ve both got that out of our systems, can we get back to dealing with facts?
Your argument re Price-Anderson is circular: how can private insurers compete with zero cost? Let’s be fair, though: the nuclear industry is hardly the only one that gets such insurance benefits. Consider how the taxpayers keep getting stuck with the tab for things like hurricane & flood damage, even though those events are far more likely and predictable than nuclear accidents.
Re #225: “Between wind, solar and biomass, we can switch to all renewables. All we have to do is make a national effort, with the right incentives, and by cutting back on the massive government subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear.”
I would like to see the math supporting that contention. I don’t think it adds up (though I’d be glad to learn otherwise). I think it’s going to take everything we can do – massive efficiency & conservation efforts, and the use of every practical non-fossil-fuel energy source – to even have a chance of dealing with the problem. As far as cutting subsidies goes, sure, but let’s be fair and cut all subsidies (other than pure R&D) – and what is your “national effort” going to be, if not massive government subsidies to the technologies you like?
Re 226: “…a national grid and a mix of renewables can supply the whole thing.”
There are problems with that. For instance, solar power goes away at night, and wind tends to drop as well, while transmitting electricity over the grid incurs losses proportional to distance.
Then there’s the cost issue. I have the PV system price list from a local retailer [ http://www.independentpowercorp.com ] on my desk. A 1 KW system goes for $10,900. A $2475 rebate from the local power company and a $2000 federal tax credit (did someone mention subsidies?) drops that to $6425. From that I get a rated 1766 KWh per year. Figure a 20 year useful life, and the unsubsidized cost works out to $0.31/KWh, about 3 times the current cost of grid electricity. Good investment?
One example of an efficient means of storing excess peak electricity from solar, wind, tide, etc. even in the absence of an uphill reservoir for water is already being built in Australia.
Take a typical chemical storage cell (or set of them, a ‘battery’).
Feed electricity through it until the chemistry has changed as much as can (it is ‘fully charged’).
Pump the ‘charged’ chemicals out into storage and feed in fresh ‘uncharged’ chemicals.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Basically it gives the effect of a far larger battery, without having to produce all the anode and cathode structures in proportion.
It’s a lovely idea, for big areas like Australia or the US Southwest.
This approach could work with fuel cells and any liquid-chemistry battery system. Not ideal with lead and sulfuric acid, given the risk of the materials; but there are safer battery chemistries available.
It’s in concept like using excess hydroelectric production to pump water uphill to a storage reservoir, so it can run back down through the turbines when there’s more demand.
James wrote: “A 1 KW system goes for $10,900. A $2475 rebate from the local power company and a $2000 federal tax credit (did someone mention subsidies?) drops that to $6425. From that I get a rated 1766 KWh per year. Figure a 20 year useful life, and the unsubsidized cost works out to $0.31/KWh, about 3 times the current cost of grid electricity.”
Why do you “figure a 20 year useful life”? Commercially available PV panels typically have 20 to 25 year manufacturer’s warranties, but their useful life will be closer to 40 years, and easily more than 30 years. And if you are going to compare the “unsubsidized cost” of PV electricity then you should compare it to the unsubsidized cost of grid electricity. Coal, natural gas and nuclear generated electricity is all subsidized in some way.
Photovoltaics have only barely begun to benefit from the economies of scale of mass production. As demand and production grows the costs of current PV technologies will plummet. Thin-film PV technologies such as those being produced by Nanosolar and Ovonics will be much less expensive than the current generation of PV technologies, and are likely to be a truly “disruptive” technology, like personal computers, cell phones and the iPod.
Aside from the dangers and risks of nuclear power, and the GHG problems of fossil fueled electrical generation, I think that advocating the construction of any sort of large centralized power plants today may be somewhat like a business in the early 1980s committing huge amounts of money to a mainframe computer with lots of dumb terminals at the dawn of the PC revolution. The really inexpensive thin-film PV technologies that are going into production now — along with dispersed, moderate-sized wind farms — will revolutionize and transform electrical generation, and within years, distributed electrical generation will become the new paradigm. Utilities that invest now in large centralized power plants — whether coal, gas or nuclear — will be sinking money into a soon-to-be obsolete technology.
> 20 year useful life, …, about 3 times the current cost
> of grid electricity. good investment?
Depends on things you can’t know.
Did you add replacement cost for the solar electric system to your homeowner’s insurance?
Has the cost of grid electricity changed, over the past 20 years, where you live (in, say, constant dollars, inflation adjusted, or as a percentage of your income, or compared to the cost of a gallon of gasoline)?
Do you have a market or cooperative-owned electric utility?
How much stock do you own in the companies supplying the grid?
“… ‘market fundamentals’ cannot explain the huge increases in wholesale market prices observed during Summer 2000…. truly competitive prices in the California electricity market would have been substantially lower than those observed this past summer. This “price gap” provides a rough measure of the effects of market power and related market imperfections reflected in wholesale market prices in California during the June through September 2000 period…”
The reference to massive subsidies to fossil fuel is how the publically funded establish, to their own satisfaction if no-one else’s, that in lobbying against nuclear energy they aren’t on the take. Of course if fossil fuels really were subsidized speed limits would be strongly enforced; but since, in fact, everyone on a public payroll is massively subsidized by fossil fuel consumers, speed limits are seldom enforced.
The house I am in has been shuddering repeatedly as tires and gas tanks burst about 2 km from me. Media say two tankers were involved. For several years I’ve been doing all I can to end the demand for tankers’ payloads. What have you been doing? Why is the house I am in not my own?
There’s lots of academic work done on this, so statements about what’s real can be backed up with cites. This is not climatology, it’s law and economics. The experts on those fields are available elsewhere.
This may help, as an example:
Federal Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Greenhouse Gas Emissions…
Annu. Rev. Energy Environ. 26:361-389. Nov01
“… This paper reviews existing studies of fossil fuel subsidies within the United States, as well as assessments of the potential impact of subsidy reform on GHG emissions….
“1. WHY LOOK AT FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES
“Fossil fuel combustion is estimated to contribute more than 90% of gross domestic greenhouse gas emissions (1). … market transition to increased conservation or alternative fuels is slower than it would be in the absence of subsidies…. Renewable energy sources also receive subsidies, and policy transparency is equally important for them. However, most multi-fuel assessments have found fossil-based energy to receive the majority of federal subsidies …, followed by nuclear energy….”
“I have come to believe that nuclear is a fine factor in energy production. Ontario has a substantial nuclear component. CANDU reactors are quite safe and cannot reach the meltdown temperature of Chernobyl-style reactors. As long as they’re CANDU, I have no fears about more nuclear here in Canada.”
I rather like CANDU reactors, for a variety of reasons, but as another poster noted they certainly can reach meltdown conditions in a severe accident.
There is a more concerning issue, however. Because of their superior neutron economy (that is, they generate more power per unit of fuel per unit time) and because of their on-line refueling (that is, they can be refueled while the reactor is at power), they are capable of efficiently producing weapons-grade plutonium if they are operated outside strict non-proliferation treaty controls. Apparently, both India and Pakistan produced their first nuclear weapons using heavy water reactors with on-line refueling.
Their record in Canada, however, is excellent, with the exception of some serious operations issues during the 90s.
“One last comment on the nuclear issue: If you look at my comment#40 in the Stern Science thread, there’s a list of current electricity generation sources in the US. Now, while I think it’s wise to be concerned about nuclear accidents and to have strict and independent safety oversight over nuclear generation, when I look at those numbers it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that shutting down nuclear power plants would be a huge mistake – however, I think that before any more new nuclear plants are built, the thing to do is to bring solar and wind up to the point where they generate and equivalent amount of energy; thus government policy should still be to support solar and wind over nuclear until that level is reached.”
I agree with most of this. It is particularly striking that the increase in US nuclear electricity generation between 1995 and 2005 is several times that of wind power over the same period. This increase came not from new reactors, but from increasing capacity factors at existing reactors and, in a few cases, approval by the licensing authority of operation of existing reactors at slightly higher power than before.
I am a strong supporter of wind power and can see out my window, on a clear day, around 300 wind turbines. I am more cautious about solar power, but there seems to be some interesting basic research results that may make it competitive in the near- to middle-future. I am reading the recent MIT report on hot, dry rock geothermal with interest and some scepticism. One of the things that astonished me when I got into the nuclear industry some thirty years ago was how corrosive very pure water was at temperatures and pressures that are most efficient for generating electricity. Hot, dry rock geothermal will have to deal with those issues, using water that has been passed over hot, dry rock 4-6 miles deep — rock that will not be as pure as the demin water used in nuclear and fossil plants. Geothermal is an idea that has been around for about 100 years. One reason there has been so little of it is that there are only a few places in the world producing steam at appropriate temperatures and pressures that is clean enough for a plant to operate for a economically practical number of years.
A further caveat to Ike’s prescription. For about a decade, nuclear reactor vendors have been designing the “next generation” of nuclear plants [this design work has been partially subsidized by the US DOE and similar government agencies around the world]. The redesign has aimed to reduce or eliminate some of the economic and safety problems of the current generation of reactors. Specifically, they have attempted to replace the current engineered safety systems — think of pumps, valves, and controls for same — with passive systems that utilize physical phenomena that will always be there and functioning. Similarly, they have tried to move to modular designs that can be factory-built and shipped to the plant site for assembly. To the extent the vendors succeed in those design goals, the next-generation plants will be both safer and more economic than the current generation.
Maybe the optimists on climate change are right, and we should move only as rapidly as is possible by using renewables, plus geothermal (not technically renewable), plus efficiency. If the extreme optimists are right, we have plenty of time, and an aggressive shift to renewables, which still requires us to use inefficient natural gas plants, may work. It may not, even under the most optimistic climate scenarios, but it may.
Re shifting quickly to renewables — with massive funding, subsidies at both state and federal level, CA hopes to reach 3 GW photovoltaic (solar) by 2017. Since capacity factor is 1/5 that of nuclear, a nuclear power plant 1/5 that size will produce the same electricity — about half of the smallest of the 3 models being considered in the US. In TX there is a discussion about building 9 GW coal plants — if these have the same capacity factor as coal today, that is about 12 times the cumulative PV in CA by 2017. This will change in time, but not in the short run.
Hank Robert’s source on incentives didn’t have nice graphs like this one does.
It seems to me that to argue effectively against nuclear power, it is necessary to show that we can reach 2005 emissions levels by 2015 or 2012, decrease 2050 per capita GHG emissions to 3% of US per capita emissions today, and then zero out carbon afterward — just in case people like Hansen and Holdren are right. Faster would be better, much faster also good. The second argument that you need to make is that nuclear compares to coal and other fossil fuels in danger. Think 10 – 12 Socolow wedges, not the seven mentioned by Pacala – Socolow, unless you are an extreme otpimist.
Avoid assuming that solutions for the US will work everywhere. Rome in north of New York, so PV will be less effective there. Wind will require at least 30% backup from natural gas and hydro if it wind power is transmitted long distances to overcome some of the intermittency issues in US analysis, but wind capacity factor in the US is 1/3 more than in Germany.
It’s easy to say that we can change our own behavior, improve efficiency (much could be done with some dedicated bureaucrats and a lot of money), build a few windmills and solar panels, and we’re there. Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong between here and there.
Re #232: “One example of an efficient means of storing excess peak electricity…” Except that there’s no mention of the actual efficiency there. I suspect it’s one of those technologies, like pumped storage, that will work but which loses quite a bit of the stored energy.
And #233: “Why do you “figure a 20 year useful life”?”, I picked that because I needed a quick number, and 20 years seems a typical figure. If they last longer, great. The other iffy figure there is the annual power production. I imagine the figure given is for a site in unobstructed full sun all day. In my case, I’d have to cut down a bunch of shade trees to get that, which would mean that I’d have to buy an air conditioner and run it in the summer. Either way my net annual production would be quite a bit lower. I think I’ll stick to solar heat and/or hot water, which has a much better payback.
“… I think that advocating the construction of any sort of large centralized power plants today may be somewhat like…”
I think you may be forgetting a couple of things. Sure, if the cost of PV solar relative to other sources drops to where most people can afford to cover their roof with it, then it could provide much of the domestic-use power. That’s only about a third of the total used, though, with commercial & industrial each using about half the rest.
Then you have to take into account the necessities of the power grid. It needs to keep voltage and frequency within pretty tight limits, while being subject to varying demands. That means there has to be a lot of “inertia” in the system. Some of that’s electrical, in the capacitance & inductance of the system, but a lot of it is simply the rotating mass and so on of power generators. PV systems AFAIK don’t have anything like this.
[[Re 226: “…a national grid and a mix of renewables can supply the whole thing.”
There are problems with that. For instance, solar power goes away at night, and wind tends to drop as well, while transmitting electricity over the grid incurs losses proportional to distance. ]]
For Solar thermal power, enough heat is generated that some can be stored in molten salts and the plants can continue to run at night or even during rainstorms. So it’s not strictly true any more that Solar can’t function at night.
[[“Re “there has been no reliable epidemiological evidence that the Chernobyl and weapons releases have had a detectable health impact.”
[edit – keep it polite please.]
I stand by the statement. If you know enough about epidemiology to ascertain “reliability”, please cite some contrary “reliable epidemiological evidence”. ]]
I edited the Industrial Hygiene Digest for eight years (1995-2003). In that time, several dozen articles came through my desk with epidemiological reports on Chernobyl by people who actually went to the Ukraine and Byelarus and did the on-site work. All of them found statistically significant elevations of thyroid cancer and projected large numbers of deaths. You might try checking back issues of Environmental Science and Technology for those years. I’ll see if I can’t dig up some cites. I don’t have access to the IHF library any more since they shut down the building.
In comment 236 Hank Roberts finds a website to say this —
… market transition to increased conservation or alternative fuels is slower than it would be in the absence of subsidies …
In comment 229 Nick Gotts seems to misunderstand my earlier words,
[The IAEA] is not as strongly pro-nuclear as would be a governmental nuclear oversight body that was not largely funded from fossil fuel tax revenue. That conflict of interest colours virtually all publically funded thinking.
and quotes a charter for it that I suspect dates from days when fossil fuels were not so profitable for government, from the days of Disney’s “Our Friend the Atom”, which Roberts also tried to link, although that link didn’t work for me.
If I correctly gather from the title that Disney then thought nuclear replacement of fossil fuels was as plainly a good thing as Semmelweis’s introduction to the medical community of handwashing, well, that’s the way a non-fossil-funded IAEA, or in my opinion a non-fossil-funded anyone, looks at it, then and now.
If the “mindfully” page were not deceitful by omission, subsidized fossil fuel consumers’ “transition to increased conservation or alternative fuels” would be, as it says, “slower than it would be in the absence of subsidies” — but everyone in government would be hurrying them up, because everyone in government would want to improve his financial prospects by freeing up fossil fuel subsidy money.
If you are after reducing CO2 emissions, and they were subsidized, everyone in government would be on your side. Of those not officially in government but subsistent on government money, only that minority getting the fossil fuel production subsidies would not be on your side. Everyone else would want to get that money away from them, and therefore, to help you.
Obviously, fossil fuel subsidies are not net subsidies; their sum with fossil fuel consumption taxes is of much greater magnitude and opposite sign. What’s the point of playing “mindful” about this?
Does the laxity of speed limit enforcement perplex you?
Re #231: “how can private insurers compete with zero cost? Let’s be fair, though: the nuclear industry is hardly the only one that gets such insurance benefits.” Jim Dunkelow
If you’ve lost the argument, change the subject. That the nuclear power industry gets zero cost insurance of last resort *is* the subsidy, and no-one has claimed it is the only thing subsidised in this way.
Re #243: Burn Boron does not, as I requested, supply any evidence that the IAEA has acted contrary to its charter due to the source of its funding; or indeed that it has done so at all.
Re #239: I accept that if we can’t make the required GHG reductions without building new nuclear plants, we must do so. However, Karen Street misses two points.
First, we must consider how we can maximise the reduction we get for any given level of resources. In the short term, demand reduction is where the big savings lie: in the US, use the resources to insulate existing buildings against heat and cold, insure that newly built ones do not require powered heating or cooling systems, propagandise the public to switch off what they’re not using and adjust their costume to ambient temperatures, and subsidise decent public ground transport, combining this with greatly increasing the costs of driving and flying. In the longer term, we do need low-GHG sources of electricity (note that nuclear power, like most renewables, can’t contribute to reducing transport-related emissions unless and until technology and infrastructure is developed to produce and distribute hydrogen or other suitable fuels, along with vehicles to use such fuels); and nuclear has to compete against renewables, and fossil fuels with CSC. The UK’s Hadley Centre has developed scenarios for 60% reduction in UK GHG emissions by 2050 both with and without nuclear power; George Monbiot reckons a 90% UK reduction by 2030 is possible without new nuclear power (he, like me, regards nuclear power as to be avoided if possible, but would accept it if shown to be necessary).
Second, nuclear power carries risks other alternatives to fossil fuels (with the possible exception of large-scale hydro) do not: disastrous failure during operation (new designs make this less likely, but human ingenuity-in-stupidity will usually find a way!); terrorist attack, or capture of materials for a “dirty bomb” (yes, I know a dirty bomb wouldn’t cause a lot of deaths, but it would cause $bns in evacuation and cleanup costs); and nuclear weapons proliferation. On the last point, the obvious strategy for a state wishing to develop nuclear weapons capability is to use the large overlap in necessary materials, technologies and skills to go as far as possible while pretending you’re only interested in a civil program, as to varying extents India, Pakistan and Israel did, Iran clearly is doing, and many other states (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Saudi Arabia) may well be doing. Also, while nuclear industries exist, they have strong financial incentives to sell materials, technologies and skills to anyone they can. Because of these nuclear-specific risks, there is a heavy burden of proof on nuclear power advocates to show that nuclear power is a necessary part of a GHG reduction strategy sufficient to avoid disastrous climate change.
“I edited the Industrial Hygiene Digest for eight years (1995-2003). In that time, several dozen articles came through my desk with epidemiological reports on Chernobyl by people who actually went to the Ukraine and Byelarus and did the on-site work. All of them found statistically significant elevations of thyroid cancer and projected large numbers of deaths. You might try checking back issues of Environmental Science and Technology for those years. I’ll see if I can’t dig up some cites. I don’t have access to the IHF library any more since they shut down the building.”
I agree that Levenson has identified an imprecision in my assertion. There certainly was a statistically significant increase in thyroid cancer in Ukraine and Belarus (primarily in children), although not in Poland, where authorities took preventive/mitigative action (interdicting milk supplies and administering potassium iodide, particularly to children; an interesting and effective mitigation of an I-131 release would be to take all of the local milk and make aged cheese — after 160 days the I-131 concentrations will be down by a factor of one million).
An IARC FAQ file, available at http://www.iarc.fr/Chernobyl/q_a.php includes the statement “The fact that there is no clearly demonstrated radiation-related increase in cancer risk other than thyroid should not be interpreted to mean that no increase has in fact occurred.” The FAQ also includes projections of cumulative cancer deaths from Chernobyl, writing ” Today, we have published estimates of the number of cancer cases and cancer deaths that might occur in the whole of Europe (define) due to radiation from the Chernobyl accident. By 2065, our models predict that about 16,000 (95% UI 3,400 â�� 72,000) cases of thyroid cancer and 25,000 (95% UI 11,000 â�� 59,000) cases of other cancers may be expected due to radiation from the accident and that about 16,000 deaths from these cancers may occur (Table).”
The key assumption here is captured in their phrase “our models predict”. Their models use assumptions about how to extrapolate dose response relationships derived from relatively high doses in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki populations down to the relatively low doses in Chernobyl and other populations exposed to relatively low doses. This is an area of active research in radiation biology and some sense of the ferment can be gained by looking at the archives of the BELLE (Biological Effects of Low-Level Exposure) newsletters, available at http://www.belleonline.com . Essentially, positions on this question come down to whether you believe Paracelsus or not.
The Wikipedia entry on the Chernobyl accident is reasonably authoritative with an extensive list of references. It is available at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_accident . It cites the 2005 draft summary report of the Chernobyl Forum which reports 47 workers dying of radiation disease in the immediate aftermath of the accident plus 9 deaths from thyroid cancer.
The IARC “model”, also used in many other radiation epidemiology, is a result of a linear (or, in some cases, a linear-quadratic) extrapolation to zero of correlations between high dose exposures, primarily at Hiroshima/Nagasaki and health consequences. The resulting risk coefficients, when applied to large populations with low exposures make predictions that are almost certainly too high and are not confirmed by the numerous epidemiological studies of DOE and other radiation worker populations that are invariably healthier than the general public. The IARC “model” is roughly equivalent to moving from the fact that ingesting 200 aspirins will result in death to the conclusion that if 200 people take one aspirin, one of them will die.
Karen Street wrote: “Avoid assuming that solutions for the US will work everywhere.”
Indeed, nuclear power seems particularly unsuitable for meeting the growing demand (and I think it’s fair to say “need”) for electricity in the developing world — in countries which lack the electrical grids needed to distribute power from centralized power plants to rural areas, or the resources to build them, and lack the institutional ability to effectively police a nuclear industry to ensure that it operates “safely” and prevent diversion of nuclear materials to weapons use. In such areas distributed, small scale wind and PV power is already growing very rapidly, because these technologies are less expensive to deploy (in the absence of a grid), safer, and much easier to operate — and in addition they foster democratic ownership and control of the means of energy production.
Re #244: “… nuclear power carries risks other alternatives to fossil fuels (with the possible exception of large-scale hydro) do not: disastrous failure during operation…”
This is yet another example of the frog-boiling principle: We’ve been developing fossil-fuel plants for more than a century, and it’s gradually gotten to the point where (according to estimates) they’re killing something like a hundred people a day just in the US. But nobody much seems to notice or care: because they killed a hundred people yesterday, and will kill another hundred tomorrow, it’s not news.
Re #246: What you’re neglecting, again, is that there’s very little industrial load in these countries. PV solar (with a battery backup) works a lot better for domestic loads, especially where you can start from scratch and use DC appliances. Even in the US, if you live more than a quarter mile or so from a power line, PV solar can be a more economical choice than paying to have a power line brought in, even though you also have to pay for a storage system for when the sun’s not shining.
The point is that there’s no one simple answer: solar (or wind, geothermal, etc) isn’t THE solution, it’s part of a system. As it becomes relatively cheaper than fossil fuel electricity, due to better tech, economies of scale, and (one hopes) carbon taxes, it will make more sense in more places. But it can’t, with anything like current technology, replace everything.
If you read this article, it says that the Kansas legislators believe nuclear is one of the solutions to our problem of how to reduce GHG emissions. The politicians want “clean” power .. do they understand the cost/benefits/risks? … is the subsidy too much? How much does Kansas subsize wind power? The debate continues…
[[CA hopes to reach 3 GW photovoltaic (solar) by 2017. Since capacity factor is 1/5 that of nuclear, a nuclear power plant 1/5 that size will produce the same electricity — about half of the smallest of the 3 models being considered in the US.]]
What happened to solar thermal? That has 30% space efficiency compared to about 15% for the average PV installation, plus you can store heat to run it at night. Is California actually going only for PV and not investing in solar thermal?