A few days of vigorous debate here has changed my views on the energy production and environment issue. I now believe we should do the following to improve our slim chances of saving civilisation and the environment.

  1. Downscale our energy use dramatically.

  2. Dam all suitable watercourses on Earth for hydroelectric power. (Screw scenic beauty.)
  3. Replace fossil fuel power plants and lo-tech nuclear power plants with hi-tech nuke plants in affluent democracies, which must for safety’s sake sell electricity cheaply to less fortunate countries. The nuke plants should preferrably be in areas with well-educated and socially privileged inhabitants to ensure that they are monitored well.
  4. Put a LOT of R&D money into solving the rad waste problem and developing fusion power.
  5. Vote greenish within our ideology of taste.

This better, guys?

Comments

  1. #1 apy
    February 16, 2007

    As for point #2, isn’t damming all those useful water courses going to have a fairly disastrous effect on the environment? Don’t a number of things depend on the water flowing at the brisk pace in order to survive?

  2. #2 Martin R
    February 16, 2007

    Ecology would probably prefer if we left those watercourses alone, but I don’t think the environmental impact of wholesale damming would compare to the problems inherent in fossil fuels or fission.

  3. #3 big
    February 16, 2007

    #2 has to be carefully considered site-by-site, as decay of flooded forests for example release methane -so some dams create more GHG than they save. Not tearing down existing ones is a different matter.
    #3 Politics won’t allow rich countries to sell costly to produce power cheaply to others.
    #4 Rad waste doesn’t need huge research budgets, just get over the NIMBY at a suitable site. Fusion is likely infeasable. Research into renewables, and increasing efficiency of use will likely go alot further.

  4. #4 RyanG
    February 16, 2007

    I think dams can produce a lot of methane unless the valleys are defoliated before being filled with water.

  5. #5 Martin R
    February 16, 2007

    You guys log the dam basins before we flood them, and me and my people will dig a selection of representative archaeological sites.

    Rad waste does need a huge research budget, because we don’t know yet how to render it a short-lived pollutant, as we must for moral reasons.

    Politics will most likely make any sensible handling of these issues impossible. I’m talking about what we should do.

  6. #6 Jim RL
    February 16, 2007

    Damming all suitable watercourses is an awful idea. It’s a cutting of your nose to spite your face solution. We must address global warming in order to preserve biodiversity. Free energy is all around us. We should push tidal, wind, solar, and waste-to-energy for power. Nuclear shouldn’t be banned, but fission won’t get us out of this mess. There also needs to be a push for much higher fuel standards and plug-in hydrids. A gas tax with gas tax revenues going to efficiency and sustainable infrastructure coupled with a cap and trade system is the best suggested policy solution I’ve seen.

  7. #7 Martin R
    February 16, 2007

    Please enlighten us. What in your view is wrong with hydroelectricity apart from the concomitant loss of scenic beauty and the inconvenience of having to move shoreline settlements?

  8. #8 Jim RL
    February 16, 2007

    The “scenic beauty” you refer to doesn’t just have aesthetic appeal. That beauty usually refers to large forests. Such forests are homes to a plethora of species, and creating resevoirs would obviously have catastrophic impacts on them. Also, such ecosystems aide in removing GHG’s from the atmosphere, but as has already been indicated flooding them with cause result in rotting biomass that will produce large quantities of methane (even with the trees removed) that there is no currently feasible way to collect.

  9. #9 Martin R
    February 16, 2007

    Well, considering the alternatives, I find short-term partial destruction of a certain biotope to be a small price to pay.

    After a hydroelectric dam has been in use for decades, the greenhouse gas ratio per MWh of produced electricity must dwindle to insignificance.

  10. #10 J RL
    February 16, 2007

    I want it to be clear that I am not categorically against hydroelectric power, but I think that we need to be cautious about such projects, and I think my biggest concern was with your use of “all suitable watercourses”. It suggests a lack of concern for unintended consequences. I could actually completely agree with the statement as long as negative effects on biodiversity were taken into deciding suitability. I also think there are better ways to combat global warming. First off, we need to somehow economically internalize the negative effects of burning fossil fuels. We must also provide developing countries with the opportunities for sustainable growth.

  11. #11 Martin R
    February 16, 2007

    Sounds like we are pretty much in agreement, then.

    But the problem of why the Third World is still the Third World is insanely complicated. So providing opportunities for sustainable growth is a very tall order. Most of the methods tried so far haven’t worked. I mean, nobody really knows how a warlike lo-tech tribal society becomes a peaceful affluent hi-tech democracy. All we have is anecdotal and conflicting evidence from our own history.

  12. #12 apy
    February 16, 2007

    So you don’t mind temporarly destroying the area around dams to deal with, what most people have stated, is a relatively minor problem of rad waste? That seems a bit backwards to me. How many more miles would you be destroying by doing that than by storing the rad waste until a better plan for it can be created?
    Your two posts on this discussion have seemed more emotionally charged than scientifically. Statements such as “…improve our slim chances of saving civilisation and the environment” seem to exist soley to get people in an emotional uproar. Of all the things threatening the survival of our civilisation, I think rad waste 40,000 years in the future is probably the least likely culprit at this point.

  13. #13 Martin R
    February 17, 2007

    You dam watercourses to avoid less enviro-friendly energy sources, such as fossil fuels or fission.

    Uproar is good to get people talking, I guess. But for once I have not cynically been exercising my demagogical skills to play on the emotions of the teeming millions who read this blog. If I sound emotional, then it’s because I actually care about these things, and because thinking about the likely turn of events in the far future scares me.

  14. #14 paddy
    February 17, 2007

    Hydropower is not so good really – the main problem is evaporation from resevoirs and loss of fresh water. Not to mention most hydropower locations in Europe are already used. There are better solutions:

    - Cut back energy use drastically (here I agree with you – double the price and let the people save!)

    - Use coal gasification to make fairly clean gas from coal

    - Forget fusion – it’s years and years away

    - Expand geothermal – a real green energy source

    - Sequester CO2 from existing installations

    - Expand low-cost solar power research

    - And use the waste heat from nuclear! As long as it exists, we should use any advantage it gives us.

  15. #15 Martin R
    February 17, 2007

    How would coal gasification lessen the CO2 emissions? And how would the coal be transported — on fossil-fuel trucks?

    What does “Sequester CO2 from existing installations” mean? That we should install machinery for chemical sequestration of CO2 at existing fossil-fuel power plants?

  16. #16 apy
    February 17, 2007

    Well being emotional about things can have its rewards but you might consider that it makes your opinion less objective. You’re willing to destroy a lot of are around watercourses to avoid what has, for the most part, been pointed out to be a lesser problem than you make it out to be? Are you suggesting this because you have done the math out and determined that the amount of land destroyed by water courses is less than the amount of land needed to take care of rad waste? Is the amount of rad waste we generate a reasonable figure to deal with in the time it takes to come up with a better way to deal with it? Rad waste is not the final answer, sure, but is what generates it the better solution that we have right now that will have the least impact on the world around it and at least get us in a position where we are out of the headlights of global warming which is a much more imminent threat? We aren’t, scientifically and socially, at a point where we can solve all these problems at once. Looking at the grand scheme of things doesn’t mean you can ignore the current problems. Morphine might lead to a patient getting addicted to it, but you have to solve their problem of pain right now or else it will be a lot worse.

  17. #17 paddy
    February 17, 2007

    The coal gasification could be done on-site, right at the coalmine and while the coal is still in the ground. Drill a series of shafts, pump down steam and collect the gases coming up. No transport necessary. Better explaination follows:

    “On-site gasification is accomplished by controlled, incomplete burning of an underground coal bed while adding air and steam. To do this, workers ignite the coal bed, pump air and steam underground into the burning coal, and then pump the resulting gases from the ground. Once the gases are withdrawn, they may be burned to produce heat or generate electricity. Or they may be used in synthetic gases to produce chemicals or to help create liquid fuels.”

    And yes, by sequestration I mean chemical sequestration of CO2 at existing power plants. Not always feasible, if a resevoir is not closeby, but you could also pump it to a large greenhouse complex or an algae bed and convert it back into biomass.

    I am doing a Master’s in this area (Sustainable Energy Engineering) and I could happily talk about this stuff for hours, so please stop me if I am getting boring…

  18. #18 Martin R
    February 18, 2007

    Apy: apples and oranges. The area occupied by a hydroelectric dam becomes a viable aquatic biotope and reverts to a dry-land one when the dam breaks. Not so with rad waste storage.

    Paddy: so coal gasification in essence entails a coal power plant without the mining and transport of the coal: we’d still be saddled with the emissions.

  19. #19 Michael Bo
    February 18, 2007

    I do side with the people thinking that nuclear power is the most feasible way to go. No emissions of CO2, and waste, while hazardous is clearly disposable, even if costly.
    But, I do worry about safety. From where I live in Copenhagen, Denmark, (which does not have any nuclear plants) I can see Barceb�ck every morning when I wake up. And, considering the fact that right now, 4 out of 10 reactors in Sweden is closed down, because of safety worries, I do worry more about nuclear power than before.
    A coal or oil powered power station is at most a local worry, but a nuclear power station accident is not. And, if Sweden, which I regard as possibly the best country in the world when it comes to quality of living, can’t make the energy companies check a faulty rubber seal, then how should I think of the countries like India, North Korea and other non developed countries. Oh, let’s not forget about Russia, which seems to care more about the money a few people will make, than the population.

  20. #20 Martin R
    February 18, 2007

    Indeed, I worry too. That’s why I want the parents and childhood friends of the Minister for Energy to live a stone’s throw from a reactor.

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