Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. had a worthwhile guest essay in Foreign Policy titled: Climate of Failure published last year that Dr. Judith Curry has made a post about today that she calls a “good topic for Sunday discussion”. I agree. While I see many of the same things she does, I also see a different path forward. Her last takeaway point is:
… focus on goals that can actually be accomplished and getting people who think differently to act alike.
We have the technology to do that in our hands now, all we need is the will. If it weren’t for the need to make nuclear bombs (of which uranium based nuclear power is a spinoff), we might already have been there. Few people know this, but the demonization of coal didn’t start with environmentalists, it started with nuclear power advocates, but that is a story for another day.
Here are some excerpts from Pielke Jr’s essay in FP:
Environmentalists are just now waking up to the reality that if we’re going to stop global warming, we’re going to have to be a lot more politically savvy.
So what’s the next step? For years — decades, even — science has shown convincingly that human activities have an impact on the planet. That impact includes but is not limited to carbon dioxide. We are indeed running risks with the future climate through the unmitigated release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and none of the schemes attempted so far has made even a dent in the problem. While the climate wars will go on, characterized by a poisonous mix dodgy science, personal attacks, and partisan warfare, the good news is that progress can yet be made outside of this battle.
The heady days of early 2009, when advocates for global action on climate change anticipated world leaders gathering later that year around a conference table in Copenhagen to reach a global agreement, are but a distant memory. Today, with many of these same leaders focusing their attention on jump starting economic growth, environmental issues have taken a back seat. Leaders’ attention to climate policy is not coming back — at least not in any form comparable to the plans being discussed just a few years ago. A rising GDP, all else equal, leads to more emissions. But if there is one ideological commitment that unites nations and people around the world in the early 21st century, it is that GDP growth is non-negotiable.
Stabilizing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would require more than 90 percent of the energy we consume to come from carbon-free sources like nuclear, wind, or solar. Policymakers often discuss reducing annual emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels. But emissions today are already more than 45 percent higher than in 1990, so that higher level implies a need to cut by more than 90 percent from today’s levels. Put another way, in round numbers, we could keep at most 10 percent of our current energy supply, and 90 percent or more would have to be replaced with a carbon-free alternative. Today, about 10 percent of the energy that we consume globally comes from carbon-free sources — leaving a long way to go.
Consider this: If the goal is to stabilize the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at a low-level by 2050 (in precise terms, at 450 parts per million or less), then the world would need to deploy a nuclear power plant worth of carbon free energy every day between now and 2050. For wind or solar, the figures are even more daunting.
Natural gas is not a long-term solution to the challenge of stabilizing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, because it is still carbon intensive, but the rapidly declining U.S. emissions prove an essential policy point: Make clean(er) energy cheap, and dirty energy will be quickly displaced. To secure cheap energy alternatives requires innovation — technological, but also institutional and social. The innovation challenge is enormous, but so is the scale of the problem. A focus on innovation — not on debates over climate science or a mythical high carbon price — is where we’ll make process.
The vast complexity of the climate issue offers many avenues for action across a range of different issues. What we need is the wisdom to have a constructive debate on climate policy options without all the vitriolic proxy battles. The anger and destructiveness seen from both sides of this debate will not be going away, of course, but constructive debate will move on to focus on goals that can actually be accomplished.
Full essay here: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/08/06/climate_of_failure
Notes from Anthony:
“…the world would need to deploy a nuclear power plant worth of carbon free energy every day between now and 2050. For wind or solar, the figures are even more daunting.”
Given the size of the task presented, and the “herding cats” nature of individual sovereign nation economies, it seems to me that the promise of clean energy alternatives as a solution to carbon emissions is essentially stillborn.
In my opinion, Thorium based nuclear power is the way forward. It has all the benefits of zero carbon emissions, plus it has less problematic fissile by-products than comparable Uranium235 based power systems. Plus, the fuel components of thorium based power systems aren’t generally compatible with current fission and thermonuclear bomb making technologies, making such technology less of a terrorist action risk. Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust.
Surprisingly, the US has already had (and discarded) a Thorium based power plant. The very first nuclear power plant at Shippingport , which converted to Thorium and began operating in August 1977:
It used pellets made of thorium dioxide and uranium-233 oxide; initially the U233 content of the pellets was 5-6% in the seed region, 1.5-3% in the blanket region and none in the reflector region. It operated at 236 MWt, generating 60 MWe and ultimately produced over 2.1 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. After five years the core was removed and found to contain nearly 1.4% more fissile material than when it was installed, demonstrating that breeding had occurred
It was decommissioned in 1982 and dismantled, the former site has been cleaned up and released for unrestricted use without any radioactivity issues.
Just think of the good people like Bill McKibben could do if they got behind ideas like Thorium power, rather than wasting their efforts trying to tear down existing energy supplies and replace them with impotent alternatives.
Here are two videos on Thorium based nuclear power, the first is 30 minute documentary,
The second is a 5 minute intro into LFTR reactors for the time-challenged.