The Australian government’s conclusion that the climate change debate is over has prompted a column from Andrew Bolt, who insists that there is to a big debate still going on. Bolt writes:

Just look at the big Greenhouse 2005 conference [environment minister Ian Campbell] department is sponsoring in Melbourne in a week.

See how free of yucky debate it is, with speaker after speaker picked to say, yes, man-made global warming is so true that we must, the organisers say, “work closely together to tackle this significant environmental issue”.

There will be so little debate that one of the four key presenters is the local head of the World Wildlife Fund. Even more telling is that another is Dr Michael Mann.

Actually, if you look at the program (available
here), you will find that neither Mann nor the head of the local WWF will be presenting.

Bolt then claims that the hockey stick graph has been found to be flawed, claiming that McIntyre and McKitrick had found that Mann’s program produced a hockey stick no matter what data was fed to it. However, other researchers have looked at their claims and concluded that the hockey stick is not the product of calculation errors by Mann.

Bolt then trots out every discredited claim about widespread disagreement on global warming that you’ve ever seen:

Peiser checked a now-famous claim last year in the influential Science journal that 75 per cent of almost 1000 scientific papers on global warming in the past decade backed the “consensus view” that man-made gases were largely to blame. Peiser found in fact only one third implicitly backed the consensus, but just 1 per cent did so explicitly.

Trouble is, if you check Peiser’s work, his classifications are wildly incorrect.

It also rejected an article by Prof Dennis Bray of Germany’s GKSS National Research Centre on an international survey of 500 climate scientists. The findings? Just one in 10 strongly agreed climate change was caused mainly by man.

Trouble is, it wasn’t a survey of 500 climate scientists. The URL for participation was posted to a global warming skeptics mailing list, so it included some unknown number of skeptics as well as climate scientists. This made the survey useless.

More than 17,000 scientists signed the Oregon Petition, saying they doubted the theory, too.

The Oregon Petition actually expresses doubt about catastrophic warming. Almost all of the signers were not climate scientists and were uninformed on the issues. See my post for more details.

Finally, given Bolt’s complaints about Campbell not allowing a debate on the greenhouse issue, it is interesting to see what happened when Steve Gloor tried to post a comment disputing Bolt’s claims to Andrew Bolt’s forum. Gloor’s comments just did not appear.

Comments

  1. #1 Dano
    November 14, 2005

    I find it encouraging the preferred tactic is to recycle debunked arguments. That’s all they got. It’s the best they can do.

    Best,

    D

  2. #2 Sylvia
    November 14, 2005

    This is getting REALLY REDUNDANT but the great thing about blogs is we can just link to where these arguments have already been debunked instead of having to expend endless amounts of energy responding to the same BS.

  3. #3 z
    November 14, 2005

    The constant repetition of the same arguments leads to the conclusion that they are so obviously true, that those who deny them must be deliberately ignoring the truth for some murky reasons. For instance, those who deny the DDT ban.

  4. #4 ben
    November 15, 2005

    One telling feature of the enviros, at least in this country, is their unwillingness to reconsider nuclear fission as a viable energy source. If you want to cut greenhouse gas emissions in a meaningful way while simultaneously leaving the economy unhindered, fission is the way to go.

    And yet, correct me if I’m wrong, there hasn’t been a fission plant built in this country in over 30 years, since any time someone tries to build one, they are hamstrung with lawsuits and prohibitive regulations. So instead we get these ghastly eye-sore, bird-chopping, wind farms, which do not come close to providing reasonable amounts of energy, but which the enviros rubber stamp with their *sustainable* seal of approval.

    I so look forward to the day when fusion is commercially viable.

  5. #5 Juke Moran
    November 15, 2005

    ben-
    Inasmuch as the topic is false claims in argument against the real fact of global climate change, spinning off to an emotional plea for nuclear power is an adolescent move.
    Especially since the logic you’re using is:
    Energy source A (petrochemicals) has been proven harmful therefore energy source B (nuclear power) should be used instead – when the very people you insult with the name “enviros” are the ones who’ve been claiming A was bad for years.
    And they’re the ones you’re arguing with about nuclear power.
    How about admitting they’re right and just being quiet for a while?

  6. #6 Scott Church
    November 15, 2005

    Ben,

    “One telling feature of the enviros, at least in this country, is their unwillingness to reconsider nuclear fission as a viable energy source. If you want to cut greenhouse gas emissions in a meaningful way while simultaneously leaving the economy unhindered, fission is the way to go.”

    And I can think of at least three telling features of Right-Wing extremists in any country.

    1) An utterly predictable reliance on name-calling (e.g. “enviros”) rather than properly researched evidence.

    2) A near complete ignorance of any and all science relevant to their case (I have yet to meet even one ultra-conservative who could even tell me how a fission reactor works much less explain the risks involved).

    3) Ignorance of what economics are involved in either the impact of, or the mitigation of global warming (most I know of still parrot a handful of extreme impact estimates from oversimplified models, carefully designed to avoid anything other than the worst extremes and the smallest mitigation benefits).

    The reason “enviros” (or for that matter anyone who is scientifically literate) use terms like “sustainable” is because because they’re able and willing to consider these things and they’re concerns lie a little farther down the road than the next report to the stockholders.

  7. #7 richard
    November 15, 2005

    Scott,

    I don’t find that there is a big difference between the Left and Right wrt “willing to consider these things and they’re concerns lie a little farther down the road “.

    Try asking a lefty who has a blog on, e.g. banning urban pesticides, and ask him/her for some epidemiological health data showing that this (use of pesticides in an urban environment) is a problem. Most times, rather than getting a rationale response, you get sneeringly dismissed as an astroturfer.

    The Left certainly has its share if irrationale and intemperate members. The main difference right now is that the Right has corporate sponsors that help broadcast some of their nuttier members’ mad ravings.

  8. #8 jet
    November 15, 2005

    richard has a point. It’s hard to take a blog seriously when you find the word “Frankenfood” a serious topic of debate.

  9. #9 Brian S.
    November 15, 2005

    Ben, when you’re posting on an Australian blog, it might be helpful to clarify what you mean by “this country.” I suspect you’re an American like me.

    It might also be helpful for you to realize there’s a well-publicized reassessment among enviros, in “this country” over nuclear power. I consider myself one of those who are willing to give nukes a second look, but not with an adoring eye. Cost and vulnerability to terrorism are real constraints, as well as the long ramp-up time.

  10. #10 Dano
    November 15, 2005

    Richard,

    That’s a good post, well argued.

    I would say, however, the premise of your banning urban pesticides, and ask him/her for some epidemiological health data showing that this (use of pesticides in an urban environment) is a problem. should be looked at in a more holistic contextual sense. Such that when you ask about the little critters that perish from overfertilizing or pesticiding, the picture is a little different than what you imply. And then when you take ecological principles into account, scaling up, we see that urban pesticides are an ecological issue.

    Now, we can talk about how WWTPs don’t filter estrogens and they are getting into our drinking water, and all that, but you get my drift.

    Best,

    D

  11. #11 ben
    November 15, 2005

    Sorry, yup, I’m in the USA and that is *this country*.

    By enviros, I’m **not** referring to anyone who happens to like or defend conservation and the environment. I’m referring to the environmentalist analog of “ultra-conservatives.” You must know the type: big, honkin’ dreadlocks, ratty clothing, and knee jerk reactions to the mention of “corporations” and “profits.” The same ones that sue the instant anyone tries to build a nuclear reactor in America.

    I’m not certain exactly what your definition of “ultra-conservative” is anyway. Almost sounds to me like it’s the same thing as my “enviro” name calling. How ironic. Anyway, if I’m one of those aforementioned ultra-conservatives, I know very well how a fission reactor works, thanks for asking. And even if I didn’t, I could look it up on Wikipedia in about 30 seconds.

    I’m not certain of the current state of the environmentalists view on fission reactors in this country. I hope it’s taking a turn as in Australia. And of course, it is not the panacea for our energy problems, since comes with its own issues in terms of safety and dealing with the waste. It is however, IMO, the best short term solution to meeting our energy needs until fusion is viable. And nuclear fusion is the panacea. Of this there is little doubt.

  12. #12 z
    November 15, 2005

    “the best short term solution to meeting our energy needs until fusion is viable. And nuclear fusion is the panacea. Of this there is little doubt.”

    Hoo boy. Again there is going to be troubles. How did such thing become the “conservative” standard? (No personal pointed attack intended, BTW, please do not take personal offense, it’s just that your words sum the position up very concisely, a slightly backhanded compliment).

  13. #13 ben
    November 15, 2005

    No offense taken, but I did not know that fusion was then new conservative standard. I know Bush had some initiative or other, but so what?

    Here in my department at the University of Washington, we have a good sized effort directed at fusion research. The guys conducting this research figure that commercialization is probably 20 years away. They also acknowledge that they thought this 20 years ago as well.

  14. #14 Steve Bloom
    November 15, 2005

    Ben, I’m afraid your comment…

    ‘By enviros, I’m not referring to anyone who happens to like or defend conservation and the environment. I’m referring to the environmentalist analog of ‘ultra-conservatives.’ You must know the type: big, honkin’ dreadlocks, ratty clothing, and knee jerk reactions to the mention of ‘corporations’ and ‘profits.’ The same ones that sue the instant anyone tries to build a nuclear reactor in America.’

    …demonstrated neatly that you are unfamiliar with the relevant history. These kinds of lawsuits are expensive, and the people you refer to don’t tend to have that kind of money. As well, the failure of the domestic U.S. fission reactor industry had more to do with engineering and financial failures (the most prominent examples of each being TMI and WPPS) than protests.

    Please pause for a moment and consider why it is that so many people (and not just ultra-conservatives, whatever that means) seem to prefer to consider expensive energy/GW solutions like fission reactors and carbon sequestration rather than easy, immediate ones like CF lighting, insulation, efficient appliances, wind/solar generation, etc. Possibly it has something to do with who is likely to profit from each path.

  15. #15 Dano
    November 15, 2005

    In my old Dept at UW, we looked for ways to integrate technological and innovations with ecological information that obviate the need for risky energy technologies.

    Just to say that all of UW hasn’t bought into the mantra that society needs moremore power.

    I, personally, would prefer technological innovation in the efficiency sector. Perhaps then this will get us some of our good paying jobs back that went offshore, and maybe entrepreneurial jobs too.

    Innovations in efficiency, microgeneration, insulation, LED lights, sensors, home downsizing, etc will create jobs for entrepreneurs and cushion the blow to the economy whenever oil starts its inevitable decline.

    So, uh, anyway, what Steve said.

    Best,

    D

  16. #16 Eli Rabett
    November 15, 2005

    Hi Ben,

    I’m close to 60, practical fusion power has been 20 years away since I was 10 :)

  17. #17 Eli Rabett
    November 15, 2005

    On a more serious note, there has been a large increase in power generated from nuclear in the US over the last 30 years as the utilities learned how to operate the systems. This has been the equivalent of many new plants.

    The net capacity factor has increased from 56% in 1980 to 88% in 2003. Also, new plants that were under construction came on line after TMI so that the number of operable generating units increased from 71 in 1980 to 104 today. On net nuclear’s share of electrical generation increased from 11% in 1980 to 20% today including the large increase in usage over that period.

    The crunch will come as plants exceed their design lifetime and have to be rebuilt/ replaced.

    (Data from the US Statistical Abstracts table 909 2004)

  18. #18 ben
    November 15, 2005

    I’m essentially for efficient technologies of course. However, when, over the life cycle of the device, the savings due to efficiency gains do not offset the higher price of the device over its lifespan, you cannot expect people without the extra cash to burn for the sake of the environment to buy such products. At the same time, the more people buy these things the cheaper they become and the more people will buy them.

    And yes, the earthies I described weren’t the ones backing the lawsuits since they have no money. But who is then, and why? Nuclear energy is safe and relatively clean. The cost of doing business, as far as I can tell, has to do with fighting government regulations and environmental organizations. From [this source](http://capmag.com/article.asp?ID=201) I find

    >Yet the hysterical claims of the anti-nuclear activists continue to shape government policy, leading to absurd licensing standards for nuclear plants. For example, the radiation levels in Washington’s Capitol building (due to uranium in the granite walls) would legally prevent the structure from being licensed as a nuclear plant. People who work full time at the Capitol are exposed to radiation levels thousands of times higher than those produced by nuclear plants.

    >Similar irrational standards apply to the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste disposal site that is being developed in the Nevada desert. In the 1980s the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) insisted that radiation at the site cause no more than 1,000 deaths in 10,000 years–compared with the thousands of deaths per year the EPA was then predicting from exposure to natural radon. Yucca Mountain is now being further delayed as environmentalists demand that the time scale be extended to 100,000 or even 1,000,000 years.

    >No wonder not a single license for a new nuclear plant has been granted in over two decades–and no wonder the country faces insufficient supplies of electricity.

    If that is true, then there’s a big problem. If it’s not true, then what is false about it?

  19. #19 ben
    November 15, 2005

    Hmmm, it seems, from Wikipedia, that the US is in line to build some new fission reactors. I guess that’s that.

  20. #20 Ian Gould
    November 16, 2005

    Ben: One telling feature of the enviros, at least in this country, is their unwillingness to reconsider nuclear fission as a viable energy source. If you want to cut greenhouse gas emissions in a meaningful way while simultaneously leaving the economy unhindered, fission is the way to go.

    Ben, ever compared the cost of nuclear power versus conventional power – and that’s WITH massive state subsidies (such as paying for disposal costs and subsidizing insurance costs by limiting legal liability).

  21. #21 Scott Church
    November 16, 2005

    Ben,

    “I’m not certain exactly what your definition of ‘ultra-conservative’ is anyway. Almost sounds to me like it’s the same thing as my ‘enviro’ name calling. How ironic.”

    Ironic? Conservative is a noun, ultra is a prefix. Both are listed in the American Heritage and Webster’s dictionaries. In general, conservative means favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change. Ultra denotes the extreme end of a spectrum of possibilities. In Western nations conservatism is generally associated with distrust in governmental regulation, implicit trust in free market principles, a tendency to value military over social spending, and a general distrust of environmental and social services programs. An ultra-conservative is someone who holds extreme views in any or all of these areas–all environmental policies are evil, corporations are virtually without exception always forces for good, Economic prosperity for the successful justifies everything, those who oppose war and favor caring for the poor to any degree whatsoever are godless evildoers, etc. etc. Examples include Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Michael Savage in the U.S., or Tim Blair and Brookes News in Australia. There are corresponding examples for the Far-Left. It’s really not that difficult.

    Ultra-conservative isn’t name-calling Ben–it’s accurate.
    By contrast, no dictionary I’ve seen references “enviros” or “Lefties”, and nearly every use of those terms I’ve ever encountered is derogatory. Only two weeks ago I received a particularly stark example in an email from someone who concluded his comments to me with “f**k you lefty scum”.

    The claim that “ultra-conservative” is no less derogatory than references to Lefties with “big, honkin’ dreadlocks”, and “ratty clothing” is unconvincing.

    “Anyway, if I’m one of those aforementioned ultra-conservatives, I know very well how a fission reactor works, thanks for asking.”

    Wonderful. So how about dispensing with the Segways about Lefties with big, honkin’ dreadlocks and getting to the point. Why exactly is nuclear waste less of a concern than the environmental impacts of “ghastly eye-sore, bird-chopping, wind farms”? How do you know the latter are inefficient and the former are are cheap and low risk? How exactly do you know that problems with the former are easily corrected and the latter absolutely are not? Specifics please.

  22. #22 ben
    November 16, 2005

    I only just browsed this [piece](http://www.uic.com.au/nip08.htm), but nuclear doesn’t look too bad.

  23. #23 Ender
    November 17, 2005

    Ben – nowhere in the document however, is the cost of waste disposal, decommissioning the plant or insuring the plant. This tends to make NP seem cheaper.

  24. #24 the amazing kim
    November 17, 2005

    Not to mention the cost of mining and enriching the uranium in the first place.

    I believe there is a fission reactor around somewhere already – a very large one – they call it the sun.

  25. #25 z
    November 17, 2005

    The environmental cost of uranium mining is already enormous. Maybe more than coal mining, despite the lesser volume.

    The highest grade uranium ore contains less than 1% uranium, often less than .2%. So huge amounts of ore are pulverized, leaving 99.9% of it as tailings full of heavy metals and containing 85% of the original radioactivity, which eventually ends up downstream or in ground water.
    The largest such piles in the US and Canada contain up to 30 million tons of solid material. In Saxony, Germany the Helmsdorf pile near Zwickau contains 50 million tonnes, and in Thuringia the Culmitzsch pile near Seelingstadt 86 million tonnes. Luckily, after about a million years the radioactivity finally will have died out. The EPA estimates the lifetime lung cancer risk from living near a pile of
    uranium tailings as 2%, just from the radon it emits. (This is about 1/10 that of a heavy smoker, and more than a lifelong heavy smoker who has quit for 10 years). This means that the uranium tailings deposits already existing in the United States in 1983 will cause 500 lung
    cancer deaths per century. Aside from gradual dispersal of tailings by everything from leaching into groundwater to burrowing animals, every now and then the dams they are held behind break; 1977, Grants, New Mexico, USA: spill of 50,000 tons of sludge and several million liters of contaminated water; 1979, Church Rock, New Mexico, USA: spill of more than 1000 tons of sludge and about 400 million liters of contaminated water; 1984, Key Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada: spill of more than 100 million liters of contaminated liquids. And of course, in the third world tailings have a tendency to just get dumped. At Bukhovo in
    Bulgaria, the tailings were just dumped between 1947 and 1958, eventually discovered to have contaminated 120 hectares of land which
    was being used for agriculture. After some cleanup, they are still being used for agriculture, even though creeal grains grown there now contain radium up to 1077 Bq/kg. At Mounana in Gabon, more than 2 million tonnes of uranium mill tailings were dumped into a creek
    between 1961 and 1975.

  26. #26 Ian Gould
    November 17, 2005

    From the article Ben cites: “Nuclear power is cost competitive with other forms of electricity generation, except where there is direct access to low-cost fossil fuels.”

    you know low-cost fossil fuels like the coal fields of the western US and eastern Australia.

  27. #27 Steve Munn
    November 17, 2005

    “Z” raises the subject of the dangers of uranium. I highly recommend a book called “Red Sand, Green Heart” by John Read. Read worked as ecologist at Roxby Downs from 1989 to 1998 and during that time he found no evidence of any significant environmental problems associated with the site. Frogs are supposed to be highly sensitive to pollutants, yet Read found no evidence of above average disease or mutation among the 4 species of desert frogs that live right next to the Roxby Downs mine. Read also pointed out the radiation exposure of Roxby workers is far less than in various other parts of Australia with naturally high background radiation levels.

    Environmental groups also have egg on their faces as a result of the UN IAEA finding that the Chernobyl nuclear incident has killed less than 50 people, with another 4,000 predicted to die in the future from cancer. Greenpeace and other eco-warriors were spruiking figures like tens and even hundreds of thousands.

    Irrespective of the above, nuclear energy isn’t a sensible option for Australia and probably most other places. It fails on economic grounds. I think the Rocky Mountains Institute has the most intelligent discussion of energy options on the web. (www.rmi.org/) RMIs views on hydrogen and fuel cells is particularly interesting.

  28. #28 Andy James
    November 17, 2005

    Over 4,000 people will die, Steve, and the environmentalists have egg on their faces?

  29. #29 Urinated State of America
    November 17, 2005

    The Amazing Kim said “I believe there is a fission reactor around somewhere already – a very large one – they call it the sun.”

    You misspelled *fusion*.

  30. #30 Vague
    November 17, 2005

    “…gradual dispersal of tailings by everything from leaching into groundwater to burrowing animals…”

    Is anyone else now concerned about giant mutant radioactive wombats?

  31. #31 Steve Munn
    November 17, 2005

    Andy James says “Over 4,000 people will die, Steve, and the environmentalists have egg on their faces?”. Yes they do. But they aren’t the only ones. Newspapers, including the NYT, cited expert and Ukraine Government figures that talked of hundreds of thousands of deaths.

    To put the 4,000 deaths in perspective, it represents an additional 3% to cancer deaths that would normally be expected in the effected population. It also compares favourably with the annual 6,000 plus Chinese coalmine fatalities. I think those who oppose nuclear power are on firmer ground when they emphasise it’s economic unviability rather than safety issues.

  32. #32 z
    November 17, 2005

    “I think those who oppose nuclear power are on firmer ground when they emphasise it’s economic unviability rather than safety issues.”

    Two sides of the same coin, so to speak. It could be as safe and clean as anyone wished to spend the money to make it safe and clean. As could fossil fuel, for that matter. But nobody wants to spend $2.00 per kilowatt hour of electricity just so some coal miners won’t die.

  33. #33 Dano
    November 18, 2005

    But nobody wants to spend $2.00 per kilowatt hour of electricity just so some coal miners won’t die.

    I fergit what the figger is any more, but part of the cost of a kwh from coal is in the payments to families of miners who died of black lung disease. It’s a good fraction of the total cost. I wonder what would happen if we had to pay families of folk that died prematurely from the PMx in their lungs.

    D

  34. #34 ben
    November 18, 2005

    I don’t mean to hijack this thread, but according to some sources I have, black lung disease is almost entirely (if not entirely) due to smoking as a coal miner.

    I don’t have the specific works, but the physicians cited were Dr. W. Keith Morgan of the West Virginia University Medical Center, and Dr. William Barclay, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (I think this was in the early ’80′s).

  35. #35 Ender
    November 18, 2005

    Not really helping my case here is this study http://www.ecomall.com/greenshopping/cleanair.htm that shows an estimated 30 000 people die from Coal plant pollution in the USA. I do not use Chernobyl when arguing against nuclear power as I understand that this was a reactor type that would not be used by any sane modern operator.

    I am more concerned with waste disposal, sabotage, the deliberate release of radionuclides and weapons proliferation. These are far greater dangers than a nuclear accident.

    NP and coal power are both terrible ways to generate power. We only put up with them because they represent concentrated 24X7 energy that allows us to waste as much cheap energy as we like.

  36. #36 Steve Munn
    November 18, 2005

    Enders says: “I am more concerned with waste disposal, sabotage, the deliberate release of radionuclides and weapons proliferation. These are far greater dangers than a nuclear accident.”

    I wonder how many would die each year if every building was retrofitted with solar panels. After all, roofs are very dangerous places and so are factories, where solar panels are made. Silica is a carcinogen but it must be processed to produce silicone for photovoltaic cells. I’m not arguing that these are reasons to give up on solar power. My point is everything involves risk.

  37. #37 Ender
    November 18, 2005

    Steve Munn – and I absolutely agree with you that everything involves risk. However as more and more countries use NP and there is more and more nuclear fuel being transported and stored this raises the risk of something happening. Also with all the war hotspots around the globe if these countries adopt at first peaceful nuclear power, how great is the risk that when they are threatened they will adopt the ‘security’ of nuclear weapons.

    To me these are increasing and unacceptable risks. Additionally future generations cannot be consulted about whether they are comfortable with the risks of storing long term nuclear waste. We are making risk decisions in the full knowledge that they probably will not apply to us as we will be comfortably dead before the consequences are realised.

    Wind and solar involve no such risk decisions.

  38. #38 Steve Munn
    November 18, 2005

    Enders- I am also concerned by countries like North Korea and Iran having nuclear arsenals. And no doubt some terrorist group will eventually get it’s hands on radioactive material.

  39. #39 Ender
    November 18, 2005

    Steve – and therein lies the problem

  40. #40 ben
    November 18, 2005

    Now, exactly how many square miles of solar panels and how many acres of wind farms would it take to power the United States?

  41. #41 Dano
    November 18, 2005

    Now, exactly how many square miles of solar panels and how many acres of wind farms would it take to power the United States?

    How many square miles of roofs are there in the US?

    Anyway, that presupposes an energy requirement in the future that is equal to today, per capita. I’m pretty sure it’s clear to many that won’t be the case in the future.

    Best,

    D

  42. #42 z
    November 18, 2005

    “Now, exactly how many square miles of solar panels”

    Given that the problem with electrical power right now is distribution capacity, not generation per se; and that such problem, of course, strikes only during peak consumption hours, i.e. hot summer afternoons when air conditioners are operating full blast; which in fact is when the availability of solar power from rooftops is peak (which is where the heat comes from, duh), a relatively small contribution to the total energy consumption of the US is liable to have a much more than proportional effect on easing the energy crunch, reducing the influx of money needed to handle the ever increasing load, eliminating brownouts and blackouts, etc.

    You don’t need to demonstrate that going to a new source is going to immediately cover all our energy needs. You just need to demonstrate that doing it will be an improvement over not doing it.

  43. #43 Ender
    November 18, 2005

    ben – a renewable future power system hopefully will be much different from todays centralised, 19th century model.

    You presumably typed your comment on a PC connected to the Internet. You did not have a terminal connected to a central large mainframe because a distributed computing model with independent nodes was a more acceptable model than a huge central mainframe.

    Right now you get your power from a central power plant through thousands of kilometers of power lines because in the 19th century a large power plant made sense because it was more efficient. That is not true today with solar panels and micro turbines being just as efficient big or small. We have grown used to this model and we think that this is the only way it can be done – a bit like Mr Watson’s famous quote that he thought the worldwide market for computers would be 5 or 6.

    With a distributed power model nodes will be intelligent and integrate weather forecasts to best use the available wind and solar energy. We will also have to drastically increase the efficiency of our appliances as renewable power is not as concentrated as fossil fuels an cannot power the waste we have now. Storage can be provided by parked electric and pluggable hybrid cars plugged in for charging as these assets can also supply electricity to the grid if they are designed correctly.

    Solar and wind power stations can also supply flammable gases such as hydrogen, syngas or methane to store. This can be then piped to combined heat and power turbines for both heating and power.

    All of this can be done with NO technology breakthroughs as it is all off-the-shelf. It requires us to ditch the mainframe view of power just as we ditched the mainframe view of personal computing.

  44. #44 Steve Munn
    November 19, 2005

    Ben says: “Now, exactly how many square miles of solar panels and how many acres of wind farms would it take to power the United States?”

    There are a couple of obvious problems with your statement Benny babes. Firstly, wind and solar are not the only renewable energy options. Let me give a few examples. (1) In New Zealand a significant amount of power is derived from the steam from hot water springs. (2) South Australia has had a project running for several years which is testing the viability of geothermal energy production. A decision will be made next year. (3) There are have been some recent new innovations in technology for utilising tidal power (4) fuel cell technology (5) et etc etc.

    According to the Rocky Mountains Institute “In most commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities, there are abundant opportunities to save 70-90 percent of the energy and cost for lighting, fan, and pump systems, 50 percent for electric motors, and 60 percent in areas such as heating, cooling, office equipment, and appliances.”

    It all sounds too good to be true, but RMI have plenty of runs on the board to back up their claims. They also wrote a book called “Natural Capitalism” a couple of years ago that provides hundreds of real-life examples.

  45. #45 Ian Gould
    November 19, 2005

    “Now, exactly how many square miles of solar panels and how many acres of wind farms would it take to power the United States?”

    A lot fewer than you think, I suspect.

    A couple of years ago I did a calculation on how many square miles of solar panels it’d take to power the world. I don’t have the results still but from memory it was around 1,000 square miles.

    Further, in order to meet the long-term target of reducing anthropogenic GHG emissiosn by about 2/3s we don’t need to completely stop burning fossil fuels.

    If we phased out the least-efficient current fossil fuel plants and repalced them with best available technology we could probably generate 35-50% of current electricity demand from fossil fuels indefinitely – or until we run out of coal in a few centuries time.

    Additionally, only a tiny minorty of the most extreme greens would advocate an immediate shut-down of existing nuclear power plants and large-scale hydro dams.

    So that’s another 10-15% of current demand.

    Meaning that you probably need sufficient renewable energy to replace somewhere between 35 and 55% of current demand plus enough to meet the growth in demand.

    A portion of that would be met from bio-mass, geothermal and (possibly) tidal energy.

    All of this assumes no reduction from current demand levels or current rates of growth.

  46. #46 Ian Gould
    November 19, 2005

    “I am also concerned by countries like North Korea and Iran having nuclear arsenals.”

    The Pentagon is supposedly working on a relatively small-scale nuclear reactor using non-bomb-grade fuel that could operate completely sealed and with minimal maintenance for 20-30 years then be shipped back to the US for disposal.

    However this isn’t even at the design, much less the prototype stage at this point.

    “And no doubt some terrorist group will eventually get it’s hands on radioactive material.”

    Hospitals and food irradiation plants are probably much more likely sources than nuclear reactors.

    A radiological weapon (a so-called “dirty bomb”) wouldn’t have the same destructive capacity as a fission bomb but would still be far worse than any practicable conventional wepaon and far easier to build.

  47. #47 Ian Gould
    November 19, 2005

    Okay the IEA estimates US energy demand at around 4,000,000 gigawatt hours per year.

    To satisfy that you need a continuous supply of around 500 gigawatts.

    Ignoring for the moment the problems of storing solar energy, solar power plants have a utilisation factor of around 33% (i.e. they actually produce power for around 1/3 of the time after allowing for night-time, overcast weather and maintenance.)

    So you need an installed capacity of around 1500 gigwatts of solar power to produce around 4,000,000 gigwatt hours per year.

    This article illustrates the curent state of the art in actual working solar power plants:

    http://www.solarbuzz.com/News/NewsNAPR537.htm

    You need 4,500 hectares to produce 850 megawatts or around 0.18 megawatts per acre.

    So you’d need approximately 7.5 million acres to meet current US electricity demand.

    I’m more comfortable working in metric units. 7.5 million acres is approximately 30,000 square kilometres, equivalent to a square rougly 175 kilometres (ca. 100 miles) per side.

    http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/us.html#Geo

    The surface area of the US is approximately 9.6 million square kilometres (including Hawaii and Alaska)so we’re talking around 0.3%.

  48. #48 Ian Gould
    November 19, 2005

    Actually that should be 0.03%

  49. #49 Chris O'Neill
    November 19, 2005

    Among the most Greenhouse-inefficient things that are currently done, using brown coal as a source of energy to smelt Aluminium is one of the worst. It is one of the reasons why Victoria in Australia has one of the highest CO2 emissions per person in the world. Fortunately, there aren’t any new brown coal power stations planned for Victoria although they are keeping old ones going for an awfully long time (more than 60 years). And hopefully there will be no growth in brown coal powered Aluminium smelting.

    I guess a real test of (non-hydro) renewable energy will be when it is used to smelt Aluminium, considering the enormous amount of energy that now goes into this one product.

  50. #50 White Rabbit
    December 17, 2005

    Ian Gould says

    “A radiological weapon (a so-called ‘dirty bomb’) wouldn’t have the same destructive capacity as a fission bomb but would still be far worse than any practicable conventional wepaon and far easier to build.”

    Actually, the US Dept of Energy (I think) did some tests on the feasibility of such a weapon a while ago, and came to the firm conclusion that it was no real danger at all. It simply didn’t generate anywhere near the concentrations of radiation needed to be a real threat. Conventional explosives are far more of a concern. (Sorry, I don’t have the references, it was some time back, but go to DOE’s site and they should have it there.)

    The real terrorist danger from nuclear fission is the atomic bomb grade by-products, not the radiation bomb grade.

    This is why you don’t hear governments going on about dirty bombs anymore.

  51. #51 z
    December 17, 2005

    The ultimate dirty bomb is a small nuke applied to a nuclear power plant. The plant provides a vast quantity of highly radioactive material, the bomb provides enough of a blast to loft most of it into the atmosphere where it can form a plume hundreds of miles downwind. IIRC Scientific American did an article on it decades ago.

  52. #52 White Rabbit
    December 18, 2005

    z says

    “The ultimate dirty bomb is a small nuke applied to a nuclear power plant.”

    I agree that this would be the one version of a dirty bomb that would be a real worry.

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