What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change?

Someone pointed me at Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers in El Rego, which is Lewis "you know you can't trust me" Page's take on What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change by Ross Koningstein & David Fork. Who they? Dunno, but you can read what they say about themselves: Ross Koningstein and David Fork.

Before I begin, a question: "why now"? The Rego article is clearly in response to the spectrum.ieee article, which is about "RE<C", which died in 2011. Poking around I come to google.com/green/energy/investments/ which makes it pretty clear that google is still investing in renewables; so the "its all a waste of time according to google" spin is clearly nonsense. Looking at the google page on RE<C doesn't help. So, I'm a bit puzzled. The article ends by saying that they "dedicate this article to the memory of Tim Allen" so perhaps he's recently died, and that prompted it? Paging JM...

Anyway, back to RE<C, a project named in order to irritate people writing html. The goal was to produce a gigawatt of renewable power more cheaply than a coal-fired plant could, and to achieve this in years, not decades or something like that. Not surprisingly, they failed. Perhaps they did some good work along the way, who knows. But AFAIK everyone expects making renewables competitive in the short term requires carbon pricing - for example a carbon tax. Moreover, a carbon tax - or, if you must, near equivalent - is actually desirable from an economic point of view; so designing a techno-fix without it isn't obviously a good idea.

However, the article then starts to go a bit odd: Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach. Which isn't at all obvious. They don't demonstrate - or really, make any attempt to demonstrate - that just standard plugging-away-at-it boring improvements in solar panel manufacturing won't make such competitive in time, turning "today's tech" into a solution without any fundamentally different approaches. And they rather shoot the whole thing in the foot - or allow Hansen to shoot them in the foot - by having him say: His climate models showed that exceeding 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere would likely have catastrophic effects. I can't be bothered to look up if Hansen really did say this, or something that can be paraphrased as this, but its the sort of unhelpful thing that does get said.

So, meh. It all reads like excess techno-optimism, or perhaps like disappointed techno-optimism turned into pessimism. Consider Google’s approach to innovation... Wouldn’t it be great if governments and energy companies adopted a similar approach in their technology R&D investments? Hell, yeah! It would! And wouldn't it be great if, like, everyone was nice to each other and wrote lint warning free code into the bargain? Well, tell that to the Russkies (the bit about being nice, not the bit about lint).

So what does combatting climate change need? I think sane government policy would go a long way - i.e., carbon tax instead of subsidising particular tech. It would certainly be cheaper than the current approach. And a variety of people, starting with the West, realising that their bloated consumerist lifestyles are pointless. But you could argue that's about as likely as people being, like, nice to each other.


Its bigger than it looks, as the Bishop said to the actress. The start of the Grawawand from the Grawagrubennieder (it seems to have multiple spellings; anyway, the pass from the Neue Regensburger to the Dresdener). Somewhere behind it is the RuderhofSpitze, but that's another day. No, I didn't try to climb it, I went around to the left.


* German plea to Sweden over threat to coal mines - the fuckwitted Krauts discover the downside of turning off their nukes.

More like this

The Hansen "quote" is a spectacular misstatement of Hansen's analysis that we ought to aim at reducing from the (then) 385ppm to 350ppm (see http://arxiv.org/pdf/0804.1126.pdf). Opinions on correctness of Hansen's analysis vary, but I think we can all agree he doesn't deserve to be misquoted this badly.

By Steve Easterbrook (not verified) on 24 Nov 2014 #permalink

According to your argumentation it's better to make cheap energy expensive (coal, gas) than to make "renewables" cheap, did I get it right?

[No -W]

I'm not sure, but I think you are missing the point when you are saying "And a variety of people, starting with the West, realising that their bloated consumerist lifestyles are pointless."

What you are actually saying is something like this: "Keep the poor, poor. Keep them away from a cheap source of energy. Sorry but you are so far away from being an environmentalist. You are a misantrophist.

[You're pushing the std.denialist viewpoint -W]

Carbon tax, yes.

Now just to persuade.

What I read about his previously (citation needed) is that they realized that re<c doesn't work because what that alone doesn't displace already deployed infrastructure. So we need re<<c to retire existing plants, or plants that are built during the transition period from now to re<c.

Which probably needs a carbon price.

By blueshift (not verified) on 24 Nov 2014 #permalink

To a first approximation, RE is monotonically decreasing and C is monotonically increasing. Across a lot of the world, RE ~= C right now. 0.75 < RE/C < 2 for RE_solar at basically all latitudes less than about 50 degrees and for RE_wind in a lot of places. Of course RE_hydro << C in a lot of places, and RE_geo << C in some, and those have been true for a long time. Of course we need to price carbon, and if we did then RE would be < C already, almost everywhere, and nobody would build another coal plant, ever. But I have come to believe that RE will be less than C in the places that most people live by about 2020, even without carbon pricing.

We still need carbon pricing for all the other carbon (automotive, heating, etc), of course.

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

Way better than letting the market work its "magic" to get rid of superfluous fossil plants is to just order them shut down by government fiat, as the Germans are apparently about to do. Not only does this work well, it turns libertarians a spectacular shade of red. Double win!

[Are you sure? http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5061a3e6-7347-11e4-907b-00144feabdc0.html#axz…

IMO German's move away from nukes is insane -W]

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

IIRC the 350 ppm calculation is just the (paleo-derived) long-term level needed to preserve the ice sheets, plus a safety margin. By implication, overshoot requires fast action to get back down to it. I'm not too optimistic about that given the equanimity with which most people greeted the recent news that the ASE and probably the bulk of the WAIS are already toast. Wilkes Land ho!

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

What seems to be overlooked is the very real fact that consumers are parting with their hard earned money to purchase renewable energy systems to put on their roofs or to replace their boilers or power their cars. It doesn't so much matter if renewable energy costs more than coal if people will buy it anyway.

Of course right now it is the wealthy and upper middle class that are doing so. But there is every indication that those a notch lower on the income level would love to join them in their green aspirations--look at the increased sales of hybrids and high mileage ICE cars.

People want to be green. Politicians should look for ways to let them...

By Thomas Fuller (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

try paying more attention to what people and civilizations do to the surface of the Earth.

Geology is as enduring as meteorology is ephemeral-- the impacts of changing the surface can outlast even those of methusaleh gases, which is how despite the relativele sparse populations of the past, we have so far managed to alter half the continental surface without really trying..

By Russell Seitz (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

Read the discussion of dispatchable power in the IEEE piece. Solar and wind are not dispatchable, and that is why distributed generation using these technologies cannot fully (and possibly not even mostly) replace fossil fuels in electricity generation. Batteries in every cupboard is wishful thinking. Koningstein & Fork lament the absence of dispatchable distributed renewables technologies, but offer no hint of any solution to the problem over any time frame. Big bad energy companies are not going to be put out of business by distributed local generation.

So what are we left with for low emission dispatachable power? Ignoring the boutique technologies, we have hydro which is very nice if you have it, but is not without it's downsides, biomass which clearly has it's downsides and nuclear which has the lowest environmental impact of the lot.

It's time to face reality on this.

@Thomas Fuller,

This notion of a consumer lead energy revolution has it's limits. For example in Australia, household energy consumption is about 18% of national final energy use. Rooftop PV is barely chipping away at that 18%. (Source: Australian Government Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics).

Hi quokka, well i should really drag Paul Kelly into this, but in his absence, let me say that both politicians and large companies do pay attention to how people vote with their wallets. I actually help them do it on occasion.

A solar rooftop or even a Tesla counts for little in reducing carbon emissions. But people pay attention regardless.

By Thomas Fuller (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

> what are we left with for low emission dispatachable power?

I'd bet on something we don't know about yet -- like making panels that are combined photovoltaic and chemical storage battery. Some university press release showed a version of that recently. Local storage without transmission loss would take care of a lot of need.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

I think the key assumption ofr the pessimists, is that the cost of current renewables won't come down substantially. I claim that wind/solar (and in the early phases now storage) have demonstrated sustained incremental improvement (i.e. they are getting more cost effective by several percent per year -or more for PV). The bottom line claim is we need breakthrough technology, but I claim that sufficient incremental improvement can be revolutionary all by itself.

Now, better political will is still required. We need to retire older plants long before their design lifetimes and replace them with renewables. Thish requires writedowns of past sunk costs. Thats not an easy thing for our beancounter dominated culture to accept. Stuff like a cost for carbon (and ending the still very large fossil fuel subsidies).

The best way to sustain the incremental improvements into the future, is aggressive deployment today and into the future.

By Omega Centauri (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

IMO low emission dispatachable power is not going to be a problem for a while yet considering the relatively low penetration of wind and solar. So no reason not to press on with them as much as possible.

BTW, the FT is spinning the increase in lignite to replace nukes. The reality is that the slack had been taken up by renewables, but because gas has become relatively more expensive, it has been replaced by lignite. I'm on a small screen device so it's a pain to find but there are figures from the German ministry that clearly show this.

By turboblocke (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink


In the first 10 months of 2014, the largest contributor to renewable electricity production in Germany was not solar and not wind. It was biomass:

Biomass: 43.5 TWh
Wind: 38.6 TWh
Solar: 31.5 TWh

The percentage increase in production over the corresponding period in 2013 was highest for biomass.

http://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/downloads-englisch/pdf-files-englisch/d… (p4)

According to the following, biomass is expected to comprise two thirds of German renewable energy use by 2020. It already needs over 40% of German forest production and 17% of arable land.


A cynic might observe that a process of reversion to pre-industrial energy supply is under way.

And Sweden has even more percentage of biomass. And biomass is dispatchable although it probably can't respond quickly. But battery storage is good for bridging the mismatch between dispatchable ramprates and renewables variation. Germany, New York, and California all have started significant (hundreds of megatwatts to gigawatts) storage procurements.

So to match supply/demand we have demand management, (stuff like IceBear AC, which makes ice when power is in oversupply, and uses the ice for cooling during peak demand). We also can to some extent flex hydro/geothermal/biomass, and until we totally eliminate fossil fuels gas. This should enable greater than 50% renewables penetration without too many difficulties.

By Omega Centauri (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

Nuclear plus hydto for about 70% of maximum demand (base load).

Even if wind and eventually solar PV have lower cost, the required batteries still make this expensive dispatcfhable pow4er.

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

"... Quasi-random nanostructures are being considered for many photon management applications but their use has been limited by their costly fabrication. Here, Smith et al. show that the quasi-random patterns on Blu-ray movie discs are already near-optimized for light-trapping applications in solar cells." ...Date 25 Nov 2014
doi: 10.1038/ncomms6517

I guess we stop throwing them in the trash ...

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

Within Hansen et al's cited paper we find:

"Continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions, for just another decade, practically eliminates the possibility of near-term return of atmospheric composition beneath the tipping level for catastrophic effects."

Given that Hansens et al's Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim? was published in April 2008, I don't believe it is correct to say the paraphrasing by Koningstein & Fork is a spectacular misstatement of the paper's results.

Whether or not Hansen's statement is 'helpful' is irrelevant; is it correct and based on good science is all that really matters.

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

Interestingly, William, I finished that FT article far more encouraged about things than when I started it. I am entirely unsurprised that the Germans (well, Gabriel anyway, although from other things I've seen he seems to be a bit of a loudmouth) are concerned about maintaining supply for the coal plants that will remain open for now. (Of course if they're sold, it will be to someone who will continue to operate them, so I wonder what Gabriel's real issue is.) Really, you should be pleased that our political fellow-travelers are having such an impact, both at the national level (where as previously noted Merkel took the highly unusual if not unprecedented step of appointing Greens, not part of the government, to key positions of influence over the Energiewende; IIRC these were hard-nosed technocratic Greens rather than the squishy sort that gets all the media love) and at the state level, where although the article doesn't make it clear I assume center-left refers to a Green/SPD coalition. Last but not least, I was nearly gobsmacked by the Vattenfall position stated in the article. Amazing news, that.

Insanity is in the eye of the beholder. As I like to say, go back and unmelt Fukushima and we'll talk.

Blu-ray tech. No kidding. Wow. Thanks, Hank.

Tommy F is dead-on about the importance of participation by individuals in the renewable energy transition. Twenty-five years ago I played a key role in the design of a then-revolutionary recycling law (IIRC at the time the first zero waste legislation globally, albeit just as an an ultimate goal) for Alameda County, CA, a jurisdiction of about 1.5M people. The key to its passage (over the opposition of most local electeds) and continued popularity was the emphasis on ensuring the provision of residential curbside recycling service, a decision we took even though it's small potatoes tonnage-wise compared to commercial recycling.

quokka, biomass necessarily hits a ceiling at some point and probably doesn't get much cheaper on the way, whereas solar, wind and batteries have vast potential and are on a very sharp downward cost curve. An HVDC grid is also important, and IIRC the Germans are working on that as well.

Re participation in renewable energy production and consumption by those of lesser means, various schemes to facilitate just that are becoming pretty extensive in California and IIRC have been going on in Germany for quite a bit longer.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 25 Nov 2014 #permalink

Oops, I read that FT article a little too quickly, thinking that "Mr Löfven’s centre-left coalition government won a September election in which the climate change impact of Vattenfall’s German coal operations was a big issue" was referring to a German state election. That it was Sweden makes it even more interesting.

And I see that Gabriel isn't just any old SPD politician, but their leader. Hmm, is he at odds with Merkel and the Greens over the pending added coal plant closure plan and perhaps even the present course of the Energiewende? Any enlightenment on this from Yurpeens?

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

@Steve Bloom

"Insanity is in the eye of the beholder. As I like to say, go back and unmelt Fukushima and we’ll talk."

No, how about we talk about it right now. No radiation related deaths, no radiation caused injuries, no expected detectable adverse effect on public health, no adverse population wide detected effects on the biota of Fukushima except for the sea grass in the vicinity of the water outlets of the plant.

An evacuation that could mostly end right now (or earlier) on any rational assessment of risk of returning most of the evacuees to their homes where they would be exposed to lower radiation dose than the residents of Cornwall in the UK.

BTW, UNSCEAR estimates that the average excess lifetime radiation dose to the residents of Fukushima is about 11 mSv of which about one third was delivered in the first year after the accident.

How about we stop pandering to radiation phobia and tell it the way it is?

As pessimistic as the article seems on the surface, it does provide ammunition for the carbon taxers. Fair enough. A carbon tax does at least recognize that the best vehicle for energy transformation is the free market. It's moot whether governments should pass laws intended to move the market one way or another.They do it all the time.

Now the carbon tax is a frustrating idea. While everyone expects making renewables competitive in the short term requires ... a carbon tax, there's no specific sense of how much the may be, who pays it, how it is collected or when it will be imposed.no one has a specific. The last is the most problematic.

That the low probability of the 5 largest emitter nations will adopt carbon pricing in the near term may not be an argument against a carbon tax. It definitely is an argument for looking at a fundamentally different approach. Surely there must be a way to move the market that does not require a political majority before it can even begin. Not looking for that way, waiting for a carbon tax, is equivalent to doing nothing - to the denialists' delight.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

@Kevin ONeill

The trouble is that 'catastrophic effects' has undergone major mission creep. Unless timescales are clarified, people hear this as The Day After Tomorrow - whereas Hansen is clearly (explicitly) talking about timescales of (many) centuries, since ice-sheet loss is one of his standards for catastrophe.

There's also the question of 'catastrophic for whom', since many people are really only bothered about how far climate change will affect (a) humans, and (b) our own generation and maybe up to 2 or 3 to come. Hansen clearly has no time for that perspective and sees drastic changes over a few centuries as 'catastrophic' (as do I for that matter). But if you interpret 'catastrophic' in more immediate terms, as most seem to do, then Hansen's statement re 350ppm seems obviously 'alarmist.'

The citation is thus not wrong, but it is unhelpful.

"Can renewable energies provide all of society's energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy." - James Hansen, 2011


So where was Tom Steyer’s big nuclear project push instead of condemnation of existing power? The public saw right through you for with real instead of “adjusted” facts, and handy smart phones, a mere handful of us seasoned skeptics blanketed media stories and Twitter so to help turn climate alarm into a toxic issue, as the resulting landslide indicates. This election was climate alarm versus America's version of “no carbon tax” by now right wing controlled Australia, as Obamacare lies and now Grubergate video clips will now afford a clear 2016 right wing takeover followed by serious investigation into climate “science” fraud. Remember, Obama has been protecting the rogue hockey stick team

[Somewhere before this point you ran off the rails; which is a shame, because it detracts from what you were trying to say. None of this has anything to do with THS, so why bring your hatred of it into this? -W]

ever since Climategate so we are still early into any real backlash. Now #GamerGate and #ShirtStorm revolts against progressivism are converting a new generation into Brietbart, Instapundit and even Fox News fans. A pattern of deception is being revealed and all that indoctrination of youth will thus turn huge Occupy Wall Street level anger right back at the progressive cultural Marxists who everybody now associates with climate alarm after that big red banner NYC climate justice march.

Your cultish inability to condemn the hockey stick team of outright scammers

[Ditto. You can't tell when you've been fed denialist lies, which severely dents your credibility -W]

has helped lead to an overall sudden collapse of progressive fascism. Thanks for being do terribly incompetent! You nearly all treated third rate scientists gone bad into an infallible priestly class that was very easy to successfully mock and ridicule in which a single volunteer skeptical activist turned millions of dollars of alarmist PR back onto itself as exposed deception.

By NikFromNYC (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

The beginning of the end for the climate con as Climateaudit.GOV starts asserting itself, and no, us skeptics are not affording anybody who doubled down on deception a soft landing, no:

“Australian Wind Industry in a Tailspin as Senate Sets Up Inquiry Into the Great Wind Power Fraud”


[Your headline is just spin, so its presumably deliberately intended as self-referential irony. As to the substance, as you know, I prefer a carbon tax to subsidising renewables -W]

By NikFromNYC (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

quokka, the point about Fukushima is on the one hand that while it wasn't a full-out catastrophe it came so close to being one (in particular that elevated and over-stuffed spent fuel pool), and on the other that if this is the sort of thing that can happen under any circumstances, a densely populated place like Germany is a poor place to locate them.

The talk a couple years ago was that the awful nuke-phobic Germans were ignoring their coal problem. Now they're not, and somehow people like you and William seem disappointed.

[I don't understand that. The Germans are continuing their insane policy of shutting down their nukes, which amounts to ignoring their coal problem -W]

Well, obviously the December 3rd announcement is only a single step, but but to all appearances it's going to be a good one and makes it clear that the Germans will now get rid of their coal as fast as advancing technology and continuing rapid deployment of alternatives permit. For the near future, we should keep our eyes on the combination of ocean wind (the first array is just now going into operation IIRC), HVDC and utility-scale storage. A little farther on, as electric vehicle market penetration increases, distributed storage seems likely to play a major role.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Hey, it is easy to get renewables as cheap as coal. For any wind installation, simply erect giant fans to blow them up to peak output 24/7. For any PV install, simply erect giant searchlights onto the panels, so they run at 100% output 24/7. Problem solved.

Oh.... you mean that wouldn't be fair because those fans and searchlights represent an external cost??

By Gingerbaker (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Of you really cares about climate you would demonstrate this be loudly condemning the now ridiculous 500-1000X inflation of hurricaine deaths by the top two climate justice warriors of all, the President and Vice President:



...and you would call loudly for Marcott 2013 and other fraudulent hockey sticks to be retracted with sanctions after investigations.

[Again, you've started foaming at the mouth, and then you wonder why no-one takes you seriously. None of the multiple HSs are fraudulent; however, Inhofe is definitely a nutter (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/senator-inhofe/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hockey_stick_controversy, etc etc) and his pet Wegman (oh, that was Barton, wasn't it?) didn't even understand what he was talking about -W]

Instead you encouraged outright deception so bad it all publicly failed the laugh test. While you are still alive do future sociology and psychology thesis writers a favor and offer some confessional essays about what really lies at the heart of doomsday cults. What motivated you? Us rational people cannot fathom it.

By NikFromNYC (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

PK, renewables are already becoming competitive. There's still the baseload issue, much if not most of which is solvable by HVDC for which government action is needed, but more prroblematic for the short term are the sunk costs of the old system. More government action is needed for that, I'm afraid. Our energy future may be a libertarian paradise, but the path to it is paved largely with government fiat.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Re "But AFAIK everyone expects making renewables competitive in the short term requires carbon pricing"


"The cost of oil, coal and gas has steadily climbed in past years, but the major change is caused by the price of renewables, which has dropped at a fantastic rate. In some markets in the US, the tipping point where the price of renewable energy equals that of conventional energy has already been reached. This was made possible by subsidies which may or may not be continued, but recent analyses conclude that even without those subsidies, alternative energy can often compete.

Texas, one of the biggest oil producers in the States, has developed a deal which will provide 20 years of output from a solar farm at less than 5 cents a kilowatt-hour. In September, the Grand River Dam Authority in Oklahoma announced its approval of a new agreement to buy power from a new wind farm expected to be completed next year. It’s like Christmas for wind energy – everywhere you go, it’s there, and it’s cheap.

“Wind was on sale — it was a Blue Light Special,” said Jay Godfrey, managing director of renewable energy for the company. He noted that Oklahoma, unlike many states, did not require utilities to buy power from renewable sources. “We were doing it because it made sense for our ratepayers,” he said.
But how low are prices actually going at a national level? A new analysis conducted by the investment banking firm Lazard showed that with subsidies, solar energy costs on average 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents. Just so you can get an idea, the cost of energy from natural gas is 6.1 cents a kilowatt-hour on the low end and coal comes at 6.6 cents. But even without subsidies, wind is really cheap. Without subsidies, solar comes in at 7.2 cents a kilowatt-hour at the low end, with wind at 3.7 cents – competitive to say the least."

These new results (press release) are closely tied to the Blu-ray one Hank linked. They're synergistic, one would hope, but I point to the second one mainly to observe that these types of breakthroughs are happening at a very rapid pace. Breakthrough to practical deployment tends to be a long and bumpy road, but I think we can be sure that the sheer volume of such stuff is going to make a commensurate difference.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

William, obviously they are prioritizing shutting down the nukes, but they are very pointedly not "ignoring" coal, so why say they are? Quite the reverse, as we're seeing leading up to December 3rd. A near-term ~15% reduction in plants is nothing to sneeze at. It's actually quite refreshing to see a country take its emissions reduction goals seriously.

[I must have missed something. What Dec 3rd? The FT thing I read was about them wanting more lignite. There's a non-paywalled version at http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/24/vattenfall-germany-idUSL6N0TE… -W]

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Following up on #2 which you dismissed with a simplistic ad hom. Since you are in favor of the carbon tax, why do you think that it makes energy more expensive for rich people but not for poor people?

[#2 was too far from sanity to be useful. I'm happy to deny that I'm in favour of "Keep the poor, poor". But I also think that a carbon tax makes energy more expensive for everyone. Why do you think those two are contradictory? Or did you want something else from #2? -W]

OK William - if energy is more expensive for everyone, and it represents a major fraction of living expenses for poor people, then making it more expensive makes them poorer.

[No, not if there are adjustments elsewhere in the system. For example, Hansen's tax-and-dividend scheme -W]

You wonder why we froth at the mouth, but with obstinate refusals to acknowledge simple points

[If you're referring to your point above, its wrong, and not simple, which is why I don't ack it -W]

(as well as continued defense of the indefensible Mann) what sort of reaction do you expect?

[Well, no. I haven't said that of you. Unless you regard yourself as one with Nik? There are two points to that: one, that THS is irrelevant to the present discussion, so why bring up and insist on points that are irrelevant, but where you know we'll disagree? two, you're wrong, but I don't expect you to agree -W]

Tom C:

OK William – if energy is more expensive for everyone, and it represents a major fraction of living expenses for poor people, then making it more expensive makes them poorer.

[No, not if there are adjustments elsewhere in the system. For example, Hansen’s tax-and-dividend scheme -W]

You wonder why we froth at the mouth, but with obstinate refusals to acknowledge simple points

Tom, W acknowledged your simple point about a carbon tax being regressive by pointing out that it was too simple. His point, and mine, is that a carbon tax and dividend scheme can be designed to reduce the impact on low-income energy users.

If you want to keep it revenue-neutral, how about (per Hansen) distributing an equal fraction of the revenue to everyone who files an income tax return? That would mean that anyone who uses less fossil carbon energy than the national average would make money. Poor people who use more than than the national average would still lose, though.

If we remove the revenue-neutrality constraint, how about reserving some of the revenue to help poor people become more energy-efficient and/or self-sufficient? Help with installing more home insulation? Cash for clunkers, not just cars but furnaces, clothes dryers, etc.? Greater incentives for small-scale solar/wind/hydro, and storage too?

Good carbon-pricing legislation can be written as easily as bad. Of course, no national legislation that threatens the revenues of the fossil-fuel billionaires can succeed as long as they continue to fund the AGW-disinformation campaign you are abetting with your frothing mouth - "indefensible Mann", FFS! But "free-market conservatives" obstinately refuse to acknowledge that simple point, don't they?

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Three elephants that seem to be ignored on this blog are:
- $500+ billion annual subsidies to fossil fuels

[What do you want me to say about them? They're a stupid idea, but they're mainly third world dictators buying off the populace, like Saudi. In fact, I've already said that in The Politics Edition where, ironically, you've commented... -W]

- approx $ 670 billion spent by fossil fuel companies per year in searching for new reserves, reserves that can't be exploited if we want to keep a comfortable climate
- the merit order effect of renewables that bring down the wholesale price of electricity.

#28 ah the benefits of hindsight. Now how much did it cost to move everyone away from the contaminated areas? X billions plus even more billions in lost productivity etc. A minimum figure of $105 billion is being bandied about for cleaning up as well. Maybe with hindsight it wasn't necessary, but who was going to take the risk at the time of the leak. And who ends up paying for it all? Ultimately the Japanese taxpayers. Because that is where the consequences of nuclear disasters always end up, no business can afford to pay for them.

By turboblocke (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

BTW are you aware that in 2000 Germany had already decided to phase out nukes by 2036?

By turboblocke (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Here e.g., William. I'm not quite clear what's going on with this, but we shall see on the 3rd.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Mal and W

If you charge an onerous "fee" to energy companies

[I don't think you understand; I'm talking about carbon taxes -W]

they will simply pass on the cost to consumers by raising the price. The money is just going around in circles with the gov taking a cut.

Why on earth do you think industries that employ millions of people, pay billions of taxes, and have millions of shareholders will voluntarily lose money?

Your comment, Mal, about "billionaires" signals an emotional response that seems to disengage critical thinking. Oil and gas companies do not operate at large margins. Exxon is between 5 and10% if I remember correctly. Apple is often up above 25% for reference. So, while it might make you mad or envious that some of these folks get rich, you can't take a big chunk out of their revenue and expect them to remain viable companies.

BTW, there is no need to put "free market conservatives" in scare quotes as if the phrase is ridiculous. A fair number of Nobel winners in economics self-identify as such. Engage their ideas, as scary as that might be for your ego.

FYI, "Green" businessman Tom Steyer is the true rip-off artist.

[Why are you bringing him up? I've never heard of him -W]

@Steve Bloom

"quokka, the point about Fukushima is on the one hand that while it wasn’t a full-out catastrophe it came so close to being one (in particular that elevated and over-stuffed spent fuel pool)"

The internet was awash with a whole bunch of horror stories about spent fuel pools peddled by the usual suspects. The situation now is that all the used fuel has been removed from SFP #4 without incident and the northern hemisphere is still habitable.

Over the years, the US NRC has put a lot of work into risk assessment and consequences of beyond design basis SFP accidents. For some reason, uninhabitable hemispheres don't feature in the consequences. The 2013, post Fukushima accident update is here:


Start at page 150 for off site consequence analysis. The number in brief:

No early fatality risk and risk of early injury is negligible.

For the case of high density fuel packing, mitigation measures not applied or unsuccessful, LNT assumed, individual latent cancer risk within a ten mile radius is estimated at 4.4E-04.

The plain fact is that anti-nuclear "experts" peddled nonsense, and the media gleefully regurgitated nonsense.

If free market economics tells us anything, it's that if the price of fossil fuels goes up, including as a consequence of a carbon tax, people will be more likely to make use of alternatives.

But apparently when viewed the correct way it wouldn't actually work like this, which must be why the fossil fuel industry is fighting it tooth and nail.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Did they discuss the potential consequences of a meltdown resulting from the collapse of that fuel pool, quokka, or did they neglect that detail?

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Answering my own question: Nope, apparently on the basis that it didn't actually collapse. How close it might have come to that seems to have been left as an exercise for the student.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Tom C:

If you charge an onerous “fee” to energy companies

[I don’t think you understand; I’m talking about carbon taxes -W]

they will simply pass on the cost to consumers by raising the price. The money is just going around in circles with the gov taking a cut.

Tom, this isn't that hard. Of course fossil-fuel producers will pass the cost on to consumers! That's the whole idea: to internalize the climate-change cost of fossil-fuel consumption, so consumers will feel it every time they fill their gas tanks or pay their utility bills. The goal is to encourage us to use less, and to make renewable energy sources price-competitive with fossil fuels, thereby stimulating the development of renewable technology and infrastructure. And if all the revenue from the tax is divided equally among the taxpayers and returned to them, the gubmint doesn't get a cut, does it?

Why on earth do you think industries that employ millions of people, pay billions of taxes, and have millions of shareholders will voluntarily lose money?

Uhm, that's why it has to be involuntary. Do you really not understand the concept of externality?

Your comment, Mal, about “billionaires” signals an emotional response that seems to disengage critical thinking. Oil and gas companies do not operate at large margins. Exxon is between 5 and10% if I remember correctly.

Sigh - I admit to an emotional response, but the facts are in the public record. It's not companies as much as individual investors, who've made their fortunes by socializing the climate-change costs of fossil-fuel production. You presumably haven't read Jane Mayer's series in the New Yorker, beginning in 2010 with Covert Operations, or Robert Brulle's peer-reviewed report titled Institutionalizing delay, published last year in Climatic Change. I provide those links not because I think you'll follow them, but for any genuinely skeptical lurkers who might (ahem - Sourcewatch has lots of links to documentation too). Wouldn't you at least agree though, Tom, that it makes sense to spend a little of the 100's of billions of dollars in annual fossil-fuel profits in the political arena, to protect that revenue stream? One wouldn't call it a conspiracy, because it's not illegal in the US, and it's not a secret. It's just good business!

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

Bah! William, can I prevail upon you once more, to delete the duplicate text in my comment 8^}?

[Oh go on then -W]

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 26 Nov 2014 #permalink

The Deep Decarbonization Project has released it's report for pathways for US for 80% emissions reductions by 2050.


Much interesting reading, but from an initial skim, some things stand out.

Four scenarios - high renewables, high nuclear, high CCS and mixed.

High nuclear is lowest cost. High renewables is highest cost.

In the mixed scenario, wind is largest contributor to electricity generation followed by nuclear. Solar is much less than either. Perhaps they don't have "faith" in the batteries in every cupboard story.

Sharp rise in electricity demand.

Final energy use is much the same in all scenarios.

And of course any report that does not exclude nuclear and CCS from the start is less likely to suffer the ills of motivated reasoning.

"realising that their bloated consumerist lifestyles"

Meh. I like central heating, indoor plumbing and a car instead of a horse. The "bloated consumerist" line is rather arbitrary.

[Yes, indeed. I'm not counting access to any of those as bloated -W]

The current dilemma is that the energy density of petrol far exceeds alternatives. At some point the atmosphere and ocean will be the cheaper sources for carbon and hydrogen. It's self-correcting

By Tim Beatty (not verified) on 27 Nov 2014 #permalink

#44 my apologies, it should have been "this post", rather than "this blog"

Indeed, most of the subsidies are in less developed countries, where they provide Erayor's poor in #2 with cheap energy. And it's precisely those countries that are projected to generate a lot of demand for energy over the next decades. It's straight out of the tobacco companies play book: get them hooked when young and you've got ( many of) them for life.

By turboblocke (not verified) on 27 Nov 2014 #permalink

BTW here's a fact to put costs in perspective: the German energy transition is funded by a levy of about 6 euro cents per kWh on small users. The average four person household in Germany uses about 3,700 kWh/year. So that's about €220/ year for 4 people. In real money less than a quid per week. This is what people are getting uptight about?

Of course, one might say that even Germany is not going fast enough, so let's double the levy and do it twice as fast. Eek that's £2/week... Good Lord that's almost thirty p per day.

By turboblocke (not verified) on 27 Nov 2014 #permalink

Where the delayers score easy points is by using big, scary, numbers: IIUC the climate change fund is supposed to eventually reach $100 billion/ year. Well the developed countries have a population of at least 2 billion, so that means on average about one dollar a week from all of us. Is that really such a big deal?

By turboblocke (not verified) on 27 Nov 2014 #permalink

> indoor plumbing
The economies available there are more a matter of where the stuff goes and how it's managed

> central heating
Economics gets complicated; the old "heat and dry out the building" worked fine when fuel cost was low; the 1970s superinsulated buildings had problems as do the new cool roofs in cold-winter climates: http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-035-we-need-to-do…

> and a car
At least one for every city block -- that would satisfy what I and my elderly neighbors need, to the extent we're planning our shared shopping trips thoughtfully. The ZIPCar parking lot is ten minutes' walk away. Yeah, I'm not being that smart about vehicle ownership myself but I'm an old fossil; the young-adult relatives mostly don't own automobiles, and are making the transition from "borrow the parents'" to "use the shared ones" directly, it appears.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 27 Nov 2014 #permalink


"Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear. All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms - and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race."

The author is Lewis Page, who is apparently an engineer. Does anyone know of any actual scientific study that might prove or disprove the above reasoning?

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 27 Nov 2014 #permalink

The Deep Decarbonization Project that quokka links to looks interesting, though I'm not sure how much evidence there is behind those figures - the notable symmetry and consistency in the 25th and 75th percentiles between the four scenarios (p.24) suggests uncertainties are based on assumptions more than calculations, perhaps.

What I'd be interested to know is how the picture would look on a global scale. Would comparative costs for nuclear and renewables be the same in developing countries as in the US? Would costs, and feasibility, of CCS be roughly equal everywhere? How much of the costs involved in renewables is tied up in investment in developing new technology, which might scale better globally than the costs of the other scenarios.

Um, Alex @60, did you even read the first paragraph of this post?

Someone pointed me at Renewable energy ‘simply WON’T WORK': Top Google engineers in El Rego, which is Lewis “you know you can’t trust me” Page’s take on What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change

The very first link in Dr. Connolley's post is to the article you linked to, albeit not hosted at The Register.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 28 Nov 2014 #permalink

I used to visit ElReg every day for IT news. I noticed their editorial policy getting more AGW-denialist, but I though Lewis Page was more objective. Then he made some unsupported denialist assertion, and I tried to submit a comment with a polite but firm objection. It was never posted. I sent email to the comment editor, politely asking if I might know why. The response was "no, you may not." Haven't been back to the site since.

I've assumed The Register's official AGW-denial position is financially motivated, but I don't have any information about it's ownership. Can anyone here point me to some?

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 28 Nov 2014 #permalink

Page? That rings a bell.

Anyway, he sounds like the kind of weirdo who thinks that wind turbines take more energy to make than they ever make in use, which is flat out wrong.

And anyway, he is making the claim, he should be substantiating it with some numbers re. amounts of concrete etc etc.

@guthrie: I would think that the burden of proving the feasibility of a renewables-only approach to climate change lies squarely with those who are actually advocating this policy. I don't really care who Lewis Page is; I think knowing for certain that he's wrong about that is important.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 29 Nov 2014 #permalink

@Alex Harvey,

You can only "prove" the feasibility of a renewables-only approach to climate change on the most trivial level eg enough sunlight falls on the surface of the earth and there are enough materials and other resources (especially land) available to do the job.

In any case the starting point is wrong. The question must surely be: Which approach has the best likelihood of success? And the what are the other non-climate environmental impacts?

Addressing the real issue has not been the strong point of many (if not all green NGOs). Just about everything they have ever published is tainted by their anti-nuclear position. Putting it bluntly they are more afraid of radiation than climate change (or at least they are afraid that donations might take a big hit if they reversed their anti-nuclear position). That position is not even remotely supportable by the science of radiation risk or by the history of nuclear power.

One clear example is the myth of the "baseload myth". The whole world depends on fully firm baseload capacity to deliver reliable electricity supply - no exceptions. The "myth" is very real, as is the coal burned to deliver that fully firm capacity and the CO2 puked into the atmosphere in so doing. As the developing world electrifies, what is it doing? - building fully firm baseload capacity. Also without exception. There is very little chance of this changing soon. It may well be outside current power system engineering capabilities to do without some fully firm thermal (or hydro) capacity. CSP does not fall into that category.

Why are there so many silly arguments about this? Because the only available fully firm low emission technology that is near universally deployable is nuclear power. And most greens don't want that under any circumstances and prefer obfuscation to dealing with the problem head on.

As an aside, a golden rule for dealing with changes to highly complex systems - minimise changes to the extent commensurate with achieving the desired outcome. That is, if you want to manage risk and cost.

On the subject of materials and land requirements for wind, CSP and modern nuclear in the form of the Westinghouse AP1000 see the gross disparity here:


And something that receives little attention, despite the currently fashionable notion of battery backed PV. What is the EROEI when you add storage to renewables?


quokka, do you accept the findings of the Deep Decarbonization Project report you linked to above? This seems to suggest there are reasonable pathways to high renewables energy futures in the US at least, pathways that aren't massively more expensive than nuclear.

Earlier I posted " Without subsidies, solar comes in at 7.2 cents a kilowatt-hour at the low end, with wind at 3.7 cents – competitive to say the least.”"

That apparently is already out of date.


Acwa Power did not just stop at bidding for the 100 MW project which was up for grabs. But it also provided alternative bids in which it proposed to immediately build the complete 1,000 MW at a tariff of 5.4 cents/kWh! That’s more than a 10% discount on the price they had bid for the 100 MW solar plant — again, the lowest solar bid in the world.

7.2 down to 5.4 in just 4 or 5 days - that is quite a rate of decline ;)

If a battery in every cupboard is not feasible to use solar power off-peak, I suppose a battery in every car is out of the question

Re Alex Harvey's quote #60, is the easiest debunking to quote cost of solar 5.4 cents a kilowatt-hour per link in #69 vs
natural gas is 6.1 cents a kilowatt-hour on the low end and coal comes at 6.6 cents per link in #38

If the price is cheaper then the scale is less than growing in proportion to our energy use.

Tom C: Why on earth do you think industries that employ millions of people, pay billions of taxes, and have millions of shareholders will voluntarily lose money?

I'll bite. Why did BP refuse to spend a few million on better precautions in its Macondo well, that third parties recommended, and end up spending billions on reparations? If that's not volunteering to lose money, what is?

The fact that American fossil fuel companies, their subsidies protected by the U.S. government, continue to act as if fossil fuels are good for the foreseeable future virtually guarantees their losing money at some point. They may be immensely profitable now — but for how long? Prudent management, in addition to doing better preventive maintenance (as ExxonMobil has managed to do since the Exxon Valdez), would be hedging its bets by starting the conversion away from carbon.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 30 Nov 2014 #permalink

So, meh. It all reads like excess techno-optimism, or perhaps like disappointed techno-optimism turned into pessimism. Consider Google’s approach to innovation… Wouldn’t it be great if governments and energy companies adopted a similar approach in their technology R&D investments? Hell, yeah! It would! And wouldn’t it be great if, like, everyone was nice to each other and wrote lint warning free code into the bargain?

I'll vote for excess techno-optimism. This is the sort of thing that makes other people doubt any sort of technical fix — often to the point that "technical fix" becomes a pejorative phrase in itself. The two Google engineers mentioned in the article might be among the group James Howard Kunstler wrote about in Too Much Magic. He was not complimentary.

Averting the harm that global warming portends is obviously going to require non-technical measures like a carbon tax, like production tax credits for renewables that don't appear and disappear every two years, like subsidies for the creation of a "smart grid." It will also require technical fixes — like that smart grid.

Personally I have always been an advocate of nuclear power plants, provided they are well-designed and competently operated. The industry's record so far is not great, even though relatively few deaths have resulted. The reality of climate change makes "well-designed" a high standard: NPPs must be breeders that burn most of their waste; they must be cooled by closed-cycle systems; and their cores must not melt down even if cooling is lost. There is hope that this standard can be met, but the new plants being built in the U.S. (though much improved) are still the old PWR and BWR designs with once-through fueling. Really new designs are coming along more slowly than they might. Indeed, we might have had them decades ago. (See e.g. The Demise of Nuclear Energy? by Morone & Woodhouse.)

A side point of the above is that nuclear breeder reactors can fairly be called a form of renewable energy, in that they make their own fuel. I think they should be part of a sensible energy infrastructure. The fact that our breeders (Fermi, near Detroit) and HTGRs (Fort St. Vrain in Colorado) were failures does not mean that these reactor types are inherently unworkable.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 30 Nov 2014 #permalink

@crandles So what's the catch - if renewables were cheaper than fossil fuels there'd be no need for a carbon tax or a Paris climate change summit. The free market would take care of everything.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 30 Nov 2014 #permalink


In the US alone, fossil fuel subsidies (although Dr. Connolley won't call them that, for some reason) range from $10 billion to $52 billion annually, so the market is already distorted. And even without subsidies, the market won't internalize climate change and other external costs of fossil fuels in the prices we pay for them. A carbon tax would do that, making renewables more competitive immediately, and encouraging the development of renewable technology and infrastructure, thus bringing the price of renewable energy down.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 30 Nov 2014 #permalink

It really appears that advocates for every solution, whether fossil fuels, solar, wind, nuclear, or something else come armed with their own facts. E.g. the EROI graph in the link quokka posted above shows pretty clearly that fossil fuels are an order of magnitude cheaper than renewables+storage, and nuclear more than twice as efficient as fossil fuels.


By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 30 Nov 2014 #permalink

I guess I should say "more efficient", not "cheaper".

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 30 Nov 2014 #permalink

#74 >"So what’s the catch – if renewables were cheaper than fossil fuels there’d be no need for a carbon tax or a Paris climate change summit. The free market would take care of everything."

We are only just getting to the point where renewables are cheaper and probably that is only in ideal conditions; the Dubai bids I linked were only just announced. Dubai has lots of sunshine compared to cloudy places. Storage adds a lot of costs so using renewables for everything would still be expensive but may come down.

Also too much wind and sun and the wholesale price comes down at those times and probably up at other times. So renewables investors don't want too much renewables or they end up with less revenue generation.

In view of these issues, a bit of subsidy to make it happen faster or even at all still seems necessary.

Prices are changing fast and it may not make much sense to leave subsidies at higher levels than necessary for long. Subsidies may need to focus on different aspects like storage technology once renewables get up to 20 to 30% range.

Nearly all discussion of renewable energy eventually reverts to solar+wind. Unfortunately this is indicative of the idealized (and unrealistic) view of energy that has been basically shoved down the public's throat in the anti-nuclear cause.

Renewables reality has meant a sharp rise in the use of biomass. In Europe, in absolute terms, the contribution of biomass to final energy use has risen far faster than that of solar+wind.


The average power density of biomass is no better than 0.5 W/m^2 and in some cases a lot worse. That means you would need at least 2,000 km^2 of land to produce as much energy as a single 1 GWe nuclear power plant. At Gravelines in France 5.4 GWe of nuclear capacity sits on less than a 1 km^2.

It is delusional to believe than any "renewables only" energy mix is not going to have large amounts of biomass. What sort of world do we really want to see?

@crandles, so in other words these costs are hiding the fact that the energy would still need to be backed by fossil fuels or nuclear.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 01 Dec 2014 #permalink

Alex, I don't think the 'backed by' framing is helpful or accurate. There are different challenges as the renewables % increases. That doesn't mean those challenges cannot be overcome.

The other part of my last answer is that we are just getting to the point where renewables are cheaper. That doesn't change the mix instantly - it takes time. Further cost falls for renewables and storage may well be likely and help speed up the transition.

Alex Harvey:

it really appears that advocates for every solution, whether fossil fuels, solar, wind, nuclear, or something else come armed with their own facts.

Heh. It does look that way sometimes. The lopsided scientific consensus that CO2 from burning fossil carbon is causing the climate to change, however, can't reasonably be disputed. Ineluctably, climate change is an external cost of fossil fuel consumption, that we are avoiding when we pay our utility bills. It isn't necessary to account for every dollar in external costs, to show that fossil fuels aren't "cheap". If even a lower-bound externality estimate were internalized in FF prices, renewables would be much more competitive. Wouldn't you agree, Alex?

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 02 Dec 2014 #permalink

Can anyone here tell me how to map an infinite plane onto the surface of a Euclidean solid?

That problem is isomorphic with the issue of indefinite economic growth on a finite planet.

[http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/timworstall/100017248/infinite-gro… -W]

Bottom line is: we hit the limits to growth decades ago and have been in overshoot ever since. We are now reaping the "rewards" of our folly.

Yes, nuclear, and yes, renewables: to quote Aldous Huxley out of context, "nothing less than everything is truly sufficient." At root the technology issue is simple: replace 19th century energy sources with 21st century energy sources. How to go about this (carbon taxes, nationalization, whatever) is a minor technical exercise compared to the magnitude of the risks of not doing so.

But the idea that foregoing "growth" and moving to a steady-state economy will only end up hurting the poor, is "not even wrong." It completely neglects the enormous waste that is the "privilege" of those at the very top of the economic pyramid scheme. Cut off that waste and redistribute accordingly, and the poorest will have better standards of living beginning immediately.

If someone got on this site and claimed that humans should do X or not-do Y because of a superstitious taboo, for example "don't ever use a number with 13 in it," they would be laughed out of here so fast their heads would spin. I submit to you that kowtowing to the wasteful prerogatives of the oligarchy, and kowtowing to the catechism of growthism, are just such exercises in superstition and taboo, exercises worthy of study by anthropologists and ridicule by rational people everywhere.

Enough is enough. The stakes are too high to kowtow to superstitions, whether backed by sky-guys in the clouds, or by invisible hands in the markets. It's time to get serious about nuclear power, and it's also time to get serious about steady-state economics and redistribution of resources.

Say it out loud: "steady-state economics and redistribution of resources." There now, you didn't get struck by lightning. Say it again. Say it to your friends, families, coworkers, and whoever else you can reach: "steady-state economics and redistribution of resources." Keep saying it and eventually people will listen.

@Mal Adapted

I would agree, and that's why I've always supported a carbon tax.

It seems to me, however, that your real enemy is on the left, the Green parties the world over obstinately opposing nuclear energy, but more than that, simply being unable to agree on a policy response to climate change.

The difference between climate sensitivity of 1 and 3 isn't a whole lot - especially when peak oil is also a thing. I lean to the view that climate sensitivity is a lot lower than the IPCC has been saying, but I've realised for a long time that it makes no difference at all to policy. A carbon tax is still good policy, and where I am in Australia, nuclear energy is a no-brainer whatever you believe - a no brainer that's been killed off as a policy response by Green party scare campaigns and lies.

Our Green party actually voted with the conservatives to kill off an ETS in 2009, because it wasn't radical enough. As a result, there's now no carbon price at all.

Julie Bishop, Australia's current foreign minister, has just brought up nuclear energy again, arguing that it is the correct response to climate change. Cue for the Greens to support Tony Abbott again, the climate skeptic, to kill this off too.

When I go to government websites about renewable energy, I see a fairy story being presented to the public. All the wonderful bits documented loudly, all the caveats hidden.

It seems rather obvious that nuclear energy is needed. Identifying and disproving all the myths is much harder.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 03 Dec 2014 #permalink

Alex Harvey:

It seems to me, however, that your real enemy is on the left, the Green parties the world over obstinately opposing nuclear energy, but more than that, simply being unable to agree on a policy response to climate change.

A carbon tax makes every non-fossil-carbon energy source more price-competitive. I'm not opposed to nuclear, especially if we're talking about 4th-generation technology. I'm not convinced it's impossible to get entirely off fossil fuels without it, though. I'm more interested in "anything but fossil fuels" than in "all of the above". Once a hefty carbon price is in place, I'd bet on the market to develop the required technology and infrastructure for a rapid and efficient transition with or without nuclear. That includes better distribution and storage than at present, of course.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 04 Dec 2014 #permalink

I think it's wishful thinking to believe that a carbon tax alone can or will cause the sort of rapid decarbonisation of the global economy that's needed. Fossil fuel energy isn't cheap simply because the technology is efficient, but because the technology is also widely deployed. To persuade the market to rapidly abandon fossil fuel energy would require such a massive carbon tax, that no government would go anywhere near it. Some kind of government intervention to force us to newer forms of energy is also necessary, and at that point, there needs to be honesty about what can be achieved with renewables alone. James Hansen likened the renewables-only approach to belief in the tooth fairy. In any event, in countries like Australia that don't already use nuclear energy, the market would never be free because the Greens would still block nuclear. So the Greens are the enemy: the fossil fuel lobby doesn't have the same power to stop technologies that it doesn't like as the Green lobby does.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 04 Dec 2014 #permalink

[William, please delete my first, malformed response to Alex. 'Ta' in advance. I'll endeavor mightily henceforth to get my html right (all fixed up -W)].

Alex Harvey:

So the Greens are the enemy: the fossil fuel lobby doesn’t have the same power to stop technologies that it doesn’t like as the Green lobby does.

I'm willing to believe that's the case in Australia, but in the US the power of "the Green lobby" has dwindled since the 1970s, when concern for the environment was a bi-partisan value. The turn of the Republican Party against the environment, and the growing influence of money in American politics, means that the FF industry, and especially individual FF billionaires, are the biggest obstacle to an effective AGW mitigation policy.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 05 Dec 2014 #permalink

It may be that there's a peculiarly Australian fear of nuclear energy, and it may be that Americans are particularly in love with their oil and gas.

Nonetheless, I think my point stands.

Here's a list of countries phasing out nuclear energy:

Here's the home page for the group 'Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy':

I can't find any environmentalist groups that are pro-nuclear. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF, all anti-nuclear, and I can't find any country with a Green party that is pro-nuclear.

I am sure that even in America, the worldwide anti-nuclear lobby plays right into the hands of the fossil fuel lobby. Indeed, I remember reading somewhere or other that some parts of the fossil fuel industry actually invests in promoting solar and wind, because it keeps the real enemy - nuclear - down.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 06 Dec 2014 #permalink

Fortunately the new super-ultra-critical high efficiency coal burners are, at least, having to perfect the metallurgy to handle generators working at the high temperatures we're promised fusion plants will give us, 30 years from whenever.

(Yes, fission piles can get that hot, but they run fission plants at the same temperature range as the older, less thermodynamically efficient, air-burning coal plants -- because the limiting concern with fission piles is that the hotter they're run, the longer it takes to properly cool them down to Not Scary condition. So they aren't running even as hot as today's average coal burner, I recollect reading somewhere -- probably bravenewclimate)

"The thermal efficiency of UK nuclear power stations averaged 38% in 2005" http://www.mpoweruk.com/nuclear_practice.htm

Fusion plants, since the reactor's lower total mass would cool down relatively much faster, should be able to be run much hotter -- if we can handle that temperature.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 06 Dec 2014 #permalink

And the UK reactors have been running since the early 1980s.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 06 Dec 2014 #permalink

An eon after the invention of agriculture and game management by fire setting is a bit late to speak of reversal.

We've already altered the albedo of half the land surface of the planent- and much of that antedates the industrial revolution and the population explosion thay has attended it

By Russell Seitz (not verified) on 08 Dec 2014 #permalink

I think what it would take, fortunately or unfortunately, is as you state:

sane government policy would go a long way – i.e., carbon tax instead of subsidising particular tech. It would certainly be cheaper than the current approach. And a variety of people, starting with the West, realising that their bloated consumerist lifestyles are pointless. But you could argue that’s about as likely as people being, like, nice to each other.

I get excited when people being nice to each other is brought up. My take on that is a policy of universal respect and the absolute knowledge that with all our differences humankind must accept all its variations as interesting rather than fearsome, useful rather than to be feared as foreign and strange. As a former drawing instructor it seems to me this is similar to the kind of stripping of illusion and preconception necessary to properly observe and begin truthtelling, which is the point of breakthrough (pretty amazing being in on that, I have to say). Listening involves vacating prejudgment.

However, with all our new toys we are becoming busier with illusion rather than less so.

Still, I can hope.

By Susan Anderson (not verified) on 09 Dec 2014 #permalink

Alex Harvey and others who think nuclear is a solution, and it is only opposition from 'environmentalists' that prevents implementation:

How do you get there from here?

When France decided to 'go nuclear', it was a big old Socialist undertaking. Are you suggesting that the US House and Senate create such a centralized energy policy? (giggle)

I thought not, so how do you propose this is going to happen? What would you like the government to do? Send in the troops to lock up NIMBY-ers? We already subsidize and limit liability for operators, provide research money, and fast-track design approval.

I've yet to see any kind of concrete proposal for implementation of the 'nuclear fix'-- just some superficial hand-waving. There has been much more analysis of other approaches. Anyone willing to take it on?


Sorry, where are the realistic proposals to rapidly decarbonise the US economy using 100% renewables? Analysis by Green groups based on wishful thinking don't count.

The NIMBY's are mostly there as a result of misinformation of the environmentalist scare campaigns. Let people know that nuclear is much safer than the coal fired plants that are already in people's backyards, and I'm sure there'd be less opposition.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 10 Dec 2014 #permalink

@Alex Harvey,

Alex, you've made my point pretty well. You get to claim that Green proposals about renewables are unrealistic, but that's because there *are* such proposals. Where's yours on nuclear, so I can critique it?

As far as I can tell, NPP are not being built because the people with the money have decided that they are a bad investment. I have a really hard time seeing how that is going to change; the *economic* risks for building a wind farm or leasing rooftops for solar are much much less, even with the subsidies and liability limits provided by the government for nuclear.
If it were worth it to those people, we would be seeing a massive advertising campaign as you suggest to counteract the evil Green propaganda. (Our media are currently flooded with warm and cuddly images from the fossil fuel companies telling us that they are our BFF.)

Anyway, in an environment where our State of Texas is actually going French and mandating a grid upgrade to accommodate its ever-growing wind capacity, you have to do better than blame environmental groups for the weakness of nuclear as a source for electricity. Put together a comprehensive plan to incorporate all the methods for reducing FF consumption, and I wager Greens would give it a good listen even if it includes nuclear.


If I've made your point, then you've also made my point. You're saying that any plan - even one that's based on wishful thinking and has no chance of succeeding - is better than no plan at all. In actual fact, diverting scarce resources to a plan that has no chance of succeeding is far worse than simply doing nothing, because it provides another barrier to implementation of any new plan that comes along that actually could work.

Serious people believe the US energy future looks something like this:

I wouldn't be in the least surprised if fossil fuel interests are helping to hype the 100% renewables fantasy, because it helps protect their profits.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 11 Dec 2014 #permalink

From what I can tell, the main obstacle to building new nuclear plants isn't "Green groups." It's that industry itself doesn't think it's a productive line of investment. Sorry, Alex.

Alex Harvey:

"So here’s a plan: put a price on carbon and stop opposing nuclear."

And here's PhaseTwo:

Rescind the price on carbon, keep shipping coal to China, and gouge the ratepayers as the cost overruns rise on the zombie nuclear plants.

Maybe there's some advocate for nuclear here who really does have a plan? One that isn't BAU with lipstick?

@Ned W,

The cost of nuclear has been artificially inflated by the years of activism by the anti-nuclear lobby, and it's also competing with abundant fossil fuel resources like natural gas. It's a silly argument to talk about the cost. If activists wanted the cost of nuclear to come down, they'd make it come down as they've done with solar and wind.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 13 Dec 2014 #permalink

The cost of nuclear has been artificially inflated by the years of activism by the anti-nuclear lobby,

And artificially deflated by the years of activism by the pro-nuclear lobby.

and it’s also competing with abundant fossil fuel resources like natural gas.

Yes. But that's hardly the fault of the "Green groups" you're so incensed about.

It’s a silly argument to talk about the cost. If activists wanted the cost of nuclear to come down, they’d make it come down as they’ve done with solar and wind.

Governments and industry wanted nuclear to work. It's not cost-effective without a massive amount of government intervention on multiple fronts (privatizing profits and socializing costs). And I write that as someone who's been a supporter of nuclear power for decades, and who would absolutely love to see it work out.

The cost of solar has plummeted over the past couple of decades, due to technological advance. From what I can tell, the cost of pretty much every nuclear project ends up much higher than forecast.

Blaming "Green groups" for all of nuclear's woes no doubt is ideologically comforting. But it won't convince others who don't already share your position.

@Ned W

Ned, over the years I have been really puzzled about people like Alex-- seemingly sincerely concerned about CO2 but fixated on this magical concept of NPP sprouting like mushrooms after the rain.

Of course, many of the comments we see along these lines are simply poison pill/delay and obfuscation/concern trolling. But how to explain those who accept climate science but just don't get the engineering and economics and politics of fixing things?

As I said above-- I think a comprehensive plan that uses nuclear in specific, appropriate, applications, would be well received by 'Greens'. Until such time, there's simply no motivation to 'bargain with themselves' on this issue.

@Ned W

What is the pro-nuclear lobby?

There isn't a single environmentalist group in the world as far as I've been able to discover that is pro-nuclear. There isn't a single Green party in favour.

This is a fact. How am I being ideological?

And how can you minimise or trivialise Green opposition? Surely you see that so much R&D has gone to solar because of its lovely Green image.

Yet the realities remain that base load electricity will always be required, and it seems all but impossible to achieve that with renewables.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 14 Dec 2014 #permalink

Let me put this another way-

When the climate concerned look at the problem, they see things in terms of environmental costs. Since nearly all environmentalists are opposed to nuclear energy, wishful thinking about renewables becomes policy.

When those who aren't climate concerned look at the problem, they see things in terms of economic costs. They see cheap fossil fuels like natural gas - which are relatively clean too - so that becomes policy.

Nuclear ends up a really hard sell when both the left and the right oppose it for different reasons.

This is fundamentally the problem: until Greens the world over grow up, and start being realistic instead of idealistic, there's no hope.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 14 Dec 2014 #permalink

Alex Harvey:

Since nearly all environmentalists are opposed to nuclear energy, wishful thinking about renewables becomes policy.

Huh? What makes you think you know what "nearly all environmentalists" think? The world isn't divided into two kinds of people, Alex. Believe it or not, "Environmentally conscious" and "supports nuclear energy under some circumstances, and is neutral under others" are overlapping categories. OTOH, I'll go out on a limb and say "nearly all pseudonymous Alex Harveys who comment on Stoat are obsessed with nuclear energy." With that, I'm done here.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 14 Dec 2014 #permalink

What is the pro-nuclear lobby?

Government plus industry. The same combination that works hand-in-hand to promote the development of nuclear power in France, Russia, China, you name it. It's a much more powerful actor than a bunch of earnest civilian "Green groups".

But even with that huge pro-nuclear lobby on your side, nuclear power is still basically stalled.

I fail to see how it can reasonably be denied that environmentalists successfully halted the deployment of nuclear reactors, capitalising on public fear after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. This is a simple fact of history.

Here's an interesting page looking at what caused the costs of nuclear to spiral. How is it that it was so easy to build nuclear reactors in the 1970s yet we can't build them anymore?

"Regulatory ratcheting is really the political expression of difficulties with public acceptance. In an open society such as ours, public acceptance, or at least non-rejection, is a vital requirement for the success of a technology. Without it, havoc rules.

It is clear to the involved scientists that the rejection of nuclear power by the American public was due to a myriad of misunderstandings. We struggled mightily to correct these misunderstandings, but we did not succeed.

By the mid-1980s the battle was over. Groups that had grown and flourished through opposition to nuclear power went looking for other projects and soon found them. Many of them learned to distinguish between trivial problems and serious ones like global warming and air pollution. Some of them have even made statements recognizing that nuclear power is a solution to some of those problems.

The regulatory ratcheting, of course, has not been reversed."


[That page is interesting, and I suspect largely accurate. Nonetheless, I can still deny your conclusion, "environmentalists successfully halted the deployment of nuclear reactor". Indeed, that page largely blames "Regulatory ratcheting", I think correctly. That wasn't created by env groups, that's the political / regulatory process. I also agree that "rejection by the American public" is correct; blaming that entirely on green groups is not correct.

However, I agree that green groups are in general anti-nuclear, and not for good reasons -W]

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 15 Dec 2014 #permalink

@Mal Adapted,

Well I'm simply looking at public position statements by Green groups, the world over. Aside from 'Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy', I can't find a single Green party or environmentalist organisation that is pro-nuclear, anywhere in the world.

So if you're telling me that loads of environmentalists actually support nuclear, well they're doing a terrible job communicating their position.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 15 Dec 2014 #permalink

@Alex Harvey

Just to offer a little balance with respect to how the poor nuclear industry has been beaten down by regulation:

"Texas’ largest power line company says it has found a way to quickly revolutionize the state’s electrical grid, making it more reliable and friendlier to renewable energy without driving up consumer costs.

The problem? It is likely to require a fundamental change in state law.

The company, Oncor, which has 119,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines delivering power to more than three million homes and businesses, surprised the energy world last month when it announced that it was willing to spend billions of dollars by 2018 to install some 25,000 batteries across Texas that would store electricity to be discharged when needed."

Now, if you read on in the NYT article


you will see that this offers a good lesson about what *really* needs to be done on the electricity front-- end the monopoly collusion between industry and government and allow real-time retail purchase of electricity.

But that is a complex discussion of engineering, economics, and politics, so please Alex, carry on with your simplistic whining about environmentalists. I'm beginning to think you had your girlfriend stolen by some bearded hippie back on the first Earth Day, and you've never recovered from the trauma.

Endless bitter tirades against environmentalists won't solve nuclear's problems and won't get a single power plant built. You are looking for your keys under the lamppost, because it's easier there, rather than in the dark alley where you actually dropped them, where the search would be more difficult.

From what I can tell, the private sector doesn't believe that nuclear power is a good investment. In addition, particularly after Fukushima, the general public -- NOT just environmentalists, the public at large -- doesn't believe that nuclear power is safe.

The problem is that addressing one of those concerns will almost certainly exacerbate the other. Assuaging public concern over safety by tightening regulatory standards will make NP even less cost-effective. Making it more cost-effective by lowering regulatory standards will make NP even more unpopular.

In a country like China, neither economics nor public opinion really matters. If the government decides it wants nuclear power plants, it can make them happen. That's not the case in the West, generally speaking.

I wrote: In addition, particularly after Fukushima, the general public — NOT just environmentalists, the public at large — doesn’t believe that nuclear power is safe.

Let me clarify that. In the United States, opinion polls generally show 50% to 60% of respondents saying that nuclear power plants are safe. But my impression is that a significantly smaller percentage would support nuclear power in their own neighborhood, and that the intensity of opposition is strong enough to outweigh the slight numerical advantage of its supporters.

If nuclear power plants were cheap to construct, this might be irrelevant. But they're phenomenally expensive.

@Ned: "opinion polls generally show 50% to 60% of respondents saying that nuclear power plants are safe"

Here I think you fall into the strawman trap set by people like Alex-- the opposition is a lot more sophisticated than the sub-group of the population that thinks NPP are 'unsafe' in the apocalyptic sense. It doesn't take a genius to realize that, with a nearby meltdown, my property value is kaput whether or not the radiation has any effect on my physical well being.

If that were not the case, we wouldn't need to cap the liability of the NPP, and put it on the taxpayer, would we? (Changing the law in this regard would be a great first step in re-educating the public about how benign the technology really is. Any vote on that from Alex?)

And how can you minimise or trivialise Green opposition? Surely you see that so much R&D has gone to solar because of its lovely Green image.

As a Green, I love this sort of thing. I mean, we can't get more than a handful of representatives elected, we barely have any money to run election campaigns, we're routinely ignored or reviled across almost all of the media, and yet we somehow have this magical ability to bend globe-spanning multi-billion-dollar industries to our will.

On the other hand, I suppose we could go out on a limb and propose that maybe the reason said globe-spanning multi-billion-dollar industries are investing in solar is that they've decided, on hard-headed business grounds, that it looks like a good investment.

Nah, that's obviously crazy talk. Everybody knows that (e.g.) BP's overriding concern, when considering long-term business strategy, is "how can we best appease a bunch of utterly powerless and politically irrelevant hippies?" Sure.

I suppose someone's going to tell me that feminists had nothing to do with women's liberation either, I mean, how could they in a world controlled by multi-billion-dollar industries? :)

If people are environmentalists and conceive themselves as so powerless, then why bother? Why not join the Labour Party?

I've been giving money to Green groups for years. To be sure, every second day I think about sending it somewhere else. Then I think some tiger will end up extinct and I'll feel responsible, so I procrastinate some more.

But if I'd known how powerless environmentalists are, I'd certainly never have bothered. :)

In Australia, our Green Party managed to prevent an ETS coming into existence in 2009. Why would they do that? Sheer lunacy. But the point is, they do have the power, and they didn't have a single seat in the lower house.

Here's the history of the anti-nuclear movement, according to Wikipedia:

It's the story of how, after the Chernobyl disaster, I quote, "the anti-nuclear power movement seemed to have won its case". How grassroots campaigners and environmentalists stalled the rollout of nuclear reactors globally.

It's one of environmentalism's most stunning achievements, for those who believe in this anti-nuclear propaganda.

@WMC, @zebra, others: I realise it's slightly more complicated than Greens vs the world - but who can seriously deny that __public opinion__, public opposition to nuclear energy, is largely informed by the propaganda of the anti-nuclear and Green groups lobby?

If you believe that the average Joe goes out and actually thinks about something, you have a lot more respect for public opinion than I do. In Australia, anyway, voters are either conservatives who mindlessly follow the Tories, or they're leftists who mindlessly repeat Green party slogans. Then there are the selfish swinging voters in the middle who vote according to self-interest and decide elections.

I simply look at my own left-wing friends, and I have no doubt that the moment the Australian Greens change their anti-nuclear position, everyone else, sheep-like, will follow.

@Ned: In China they have a better form of government - it's a somewhat benign dictatorship. As such, they can do things like build the 'Great Green Wall' and implement a one-child policy and build nuclear reactors. In democracies, who can influence public opinion can substantially influence policy.

@zebra: thanks for the NYT article, which I'll read.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 16 Dec 2014 #permalink

Here’s the history of the anti-nuclear movement, according to Wikipedia:

It’s the story of how, after the Chernobyl disaster, I quote, “the anti-nuclear power movement seemed to have won its case”. How grassroots campaigners and environmentalists stalled the rollout of nuclear reactors globally.

It’s one of environmentalism’s most stunning achievements, for those who believe in this anti-nuclear propaganda.

Sure, it's a very widely held belief, but I don't think it really stands up to scrutiny. I can't think of any other instance in which environmentalists have supposedly succeeded in completely derailing a global industry, despite significant attempts. We have completely failed to have anything like the same effects on any number of other industries (including, but not limited to: oil extraction, coal mining / burning, factory farming, and the global arms trade), despite plenty of effort, so I tend to conclude that effort on the part of environmentalists is not the critical factor.

This is not to say that we've never achieved anything at all - we've achieved worthwhile, albeit relatively minor and incremental, improvements in quite a number of areas. But nuclear really stands out as the one and only industry which we've supposedly managed to kill stone dead, despite it's claims of profitability, utility, and all-round wonderfulness, not to mention its significant governmental support.

I think it's worth considering a specific example here, namely the nuclear power industry in the UK. Now, there certainly was significant (and often militant) environmental opposition to the industry , don't get me wrong. And yet, the industry managed to continue operating quite happily, building new reactors and so on, all through the heyday of the protest movement. It was only in the mid-1980s (when, arguably, the anti-nuclear protest movement was in something of the doldrums) that the Thatcher government decided to kill off the domestic nuclear industry. Thatcher, it should be noted, was not exactly a tree-hugger, and her government was mostly in favour of nuclear power, until they audited the accounts in the run up to the privatisation of the electricity market, at which point they discovered that the nuclear side was haemorrhaging money like a severed femoral artery. The problem was so bad that they had to carve out the nuclear bits and keep them under state control, in order to privatise the rest of the industry.

At this point, it's also worth noting that the only countries which still have a nuclear power industry are those with significant state involvement...

So, why does the myth of the triumphant Greenies persist? Because it's in (almost) everybody's interests for it to do so. The Greens get to claim their one and only major victory, and the pro-nuke folks get to pretend that their pet technology really is the bees knees and was only killed off by Those Dirty Hippies. Everybody gets to feel good about themselves, everybody gets to keep their pre-existing tribal affiliations, and nobody has to acknowledge the Awful Truth - that the hippies can't force change on anything like the scale we'd like to, and the nuclear industry couldn't break even to save its life.


Good analysis. I would only add that the most compelling evidence is what I observed in my initial comment:

The pro-nuclear people have never put put forward any kind of plan to achieve CO2 reduction.

You would think they would see environmentalists as natural allies in getting away from fossil fuels, and seek to enlist them as active partners. But even in the free-wheeling, speculative, world of blogs and comments, I've yet to see anyone propose anything along those lines. One can only conclude that the nuke people are well aware of the deficiencies of their technology, and do not welcome a serious engineering discussion of how it might be integrated in a carbon-reduction paradigm.

One can only conclude that the nuke people are well aware of the deficiencies of their technology

Hmmm... I'm not sure that that's really the case. I tend to think that many of these arguments are less about the actual engineering and economic practicalities, or even the stated goals of the various factions, than they are about the emotional valence of various technologies and their role in identifying tribal affiliations.

In this view, it doesn't really matter what the realities of the situation are. What matters is that nuclear technology is a key element of a particular worldview - one of limitless and inexorable technological progress, weaned on Isaac Asimov sci-fi fantasies of space colonisation* and atomic ashtrays - and that that worldview is in fundamental opposition to another one, of the world as one ruined by technology, driven by a soulless obsession with material wealth. The fact that neither of these viewpoints is particularly realistic is neither here nor there - they inform how a great many people construct their own sense of identity, and so will be defended to the death. Neither side is particularly interested in having a clear-eyed and rational discussion about the facts of the matter.

(* This is also why you see so many people obsessed with things like a manned mission to Mars, despite being almost entirely unable to explain what it's actually for. "But it would be really cool!" is not actually a sufficient reason to engage in that sort of project at this time.)

So a lot of skirting around the issues.

But does anyone actually deny that if Green groups around the world stopped spreading fear about nuclear energy, and instead started promoting it as clean energy of the future, public opinion would quickly shift accordingly?

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 17 Dec 2014 #permalink


I'm not sure how you think you are disagreeing with what I said.

There's obviously a range of technical understanding about these issues, and some percentage of each tribe is ignorant and manifesting D-K syndrome. But there are obviously also many who are capable of making sound judgements but choose self-interest over honest debate. (The self-interest may well have a strong component of identity and ego, but as with those who fund Denialism, it is certainly informed by economic outcomes.)

Nuclear is just the most inelegant solution an engineer could imagine; a necessary good fit for our giant aircraft carriers and submarines, but otherwise... . So, difficult to defend, which makes those invested in it defensive. If we had an actual free market in energy, distributed renewables would easily dominate.

If you want to get broadly psychological, I would identify your two camps as Authoritarian/Cornucopian v Liberal*/Malthusian. The former of course gravitates towards extraction and monopoly, the latter is inclined to what I think of as good pragmatic and creative engineering. Reality really does have a liberal bias, and figuring it out is good fun. (If there were more universal prosperity, a Mars trip would be a fascinating if suicidal exercise; I doubt anyone would object.)

*I would use the term Libertarian, but that has been co-opted and corrupted by the Authoritarians.

So a lot of skirting around the issues.

Exactly which issues do you feel are being skirted around?

But does anyone actually deny that if Green groups around the world stopped spreading fear about nuclear energy, and instead started promoting it as clean energy of the future, public opinion would quickly shift accordingly

I believe I just did. I believe I also denied that public opinion is a particularly significant factor in the decision as to whether we'll actually build nukes or not.

Let me be absolutely clear then: I don't believe that "Green groups" are particularly effective at shaping public opinion, and I don't believe that public opinion is very important when it comes to major infrastructure investments. If it was sufficiently profitable, people would be doing it regardless of how unpopular it may be. Nobody much likes oil pipelines, hydraulic fracking, or giant open-cast coal mines either, but those things all happen anyway.

Dammit, blockquote screwup... William, would you be so kind as to fix that?

[The html fairy strikes again -W]

Alex Harvey:

"But does anyone actually deny that if Green groups around the world stopped spreading fear about nuclear energy, and instead started promoting it as clean energy of the future, public opinion would quickly shift accordingly?"

Talk about skirting the issues.

"If scientists stopped saying climate change is a threat, and started promoting CO2 as plant food, would public opinion shift accordingly?"

"If doctors stopped saying cigarettes cause cancer..."

Get a life, dude. That hippie who stole your girlfriend was just honestly doing what young guys do, and she made a market decision-- move on, stop blaming others for your failings.


NEI? Hardly an objective source.

But whatever the global statistics, the question of actually building a NPP in a particular US State *is* affected by the public's opinion. That opinion is shaped by the psychology earlier discussed, and the degree of regulatory capture and collusion within the system.

You *can* get NPP built where there is an Authoritarian bias, but where there isn't much trust in the Massah in the Plantation Mansion, people would rather just put solar panels on their own roofs.

Again, in an actual free market situation, no objective consumer would pick nuclear over wind and solar.

NEI? Hardly an objective source.

True, but it was the best time series of public opinion data I could find from a cursory search. I'm curious as to what the actual state of public opinion is, and how it's changed over time. Do you know of any such data from other sources?


I don't know who would do such a survey other than the industry, and as always the problem is biased wording of the questions.

Here's a suggestion for a thought-experiment survey question:

"Do you think nuclear plants should be less regulated than they are now?"

What do y'all think would be the outcome?

But I repeat my point. People are smart enough to see NPP as a bad *economic* choice; that is demonstrated by the reluctance to allow their construction in most States. It isn't about Fukushima, it is about San Onofre.

Zebra: Just to offer a little balance with respect to how the poor nuclear industry has been beaten down by regulation:

“Texas’ largest power line company says it has found a way to quickly revolutionize the state’s electrical grid, making it more reliable and friendlier to renewable energy without driving up consumer costs."

Indeed. A couple of years ago I worked with a software company that was building a worker safety incident tracking system for a NPP operator in the southeastern US (I think it was American Electric Power). After a fatality at one of their sites, which they did not manage according to the legislated requirements, OSHA was forcing them to implement a workplace safety management system because... they didn't have one.

Imagine a NPP operator in the highly regulated nuclear industry, which doesn't have any kind of plant safety incident tracking or management. They simply ignored OSHA. That's when you start to think, "What other regulatory processes are they ignoring or faking their way through?"

Something else that occurred to me about the thesis that it's opposition from Greens and other related groups that keeps NPPs from being built... Here in the UK, electoral support for the Green Party is growing by leaps and bounds, and the last general election returned our first ever Green MP (under a FPTP electoral system, no less). And yet, the government returned by that election ordered our first new NPP in over 20 years.

I think that provides very good empirical evidence for my argument that either Greens don't have a strong influence on public opinion towards nuclear power, or that public opinion isn't a strong influence on actual decision-making. Or both. (In the UK, anyway.)

Some links on why 100% renewables is a fantasy.

Could the UK get 100% of its electricity from wind?

Short version - it's a fairy story. Although not looked at, it's easy to see that the solar+wind combination is just as far-fetched.

This study looked at how you could power the entire USA with renewables by 2030.

With a straight face, the authors claim that "Achieving 100 percent renewable energy would mean the building of about four million 5 MW wind turbines, 1.7 billion 3 kW roof-mounted solar photovoltaic systems, and around 90,000 300 MW solar power plants."

Now that's not the real challenge, however. "Jacobson said the major challenge would be in the interconnection of variable supplies such as wind and solar to enable the different renewable sources to work together to match supply with demands."

Oh and then there's the small matter of where all the neodymium will come from.

No mention of where the money would come from, or any mention of the new electricity grid that would be required, or any mention of intractable State vs Federal legal issues, or exactly where you'd put 4 million wind turbines.

This is an "optimistic" look at the US energy future by the EIA in 2014:
"The EIA projects that natural gas production, led by fracking, will increase by 56% between 2012 and 2040, to 37.6 trillion cu. ft. a year."

A page looking at the problem of the US electricity grid.

Green Germany after shutting down its nuclear reactors, has no choice but to build new coal-fired plants:

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 19 Dec 2014 #permalink


I read the article about Oncor.

For the state of Texas, it's claimed that we have would have the power of 4 nuclear reactors for a price tag of $5.2 billion. Except, we won't have the power of 4 nuclear reactors, because solar or wind is still needed to actually generate the power.

We also won't have the power of 4 nuclear reactors, because intermittency guarantees that sooner or later, without base load, there will be outages.

Then I notice this bit:

"Generally speaking, financial firms are predicting batteries will beat out the price of traditional power plants in two to five years. But that would be only with limited use, as the wear and tear of supplying the grid day in and day out would require frequent replacement, said Sam Jaffe, an energy analyst with the Chicago consulting firm Navigant.

But Oncor believes it can make the economics work."

It sounds to me that, truth be told, Oncor is betting that irrational support for renewables will make their batteries economical.

There is no mention of any plan for 100% renewables, so the claim that batteries would be economical is probably hiding the caveat "only if coal is there to provide base load".

Finally, we get to the legal issue. How realistic is it that State laws can be changed to make Oncor's plan work out?

I don't know the answer, but it sounds like it would make a whole lot more sense to ask the question: How can we get the price of nuclear reactors down so that we don't need batteries?

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 21 Dec 2014 #permalink

I don’t know the answer, but it sounds like it would make a whole lot more sense to ask the question: How can we get the price of nuclear reactors down so that we don’t need batteries?

That's a very good question, one which the nuclear industry has been trying to answer for something like 60 years. So far they don't seem to have come up with anything. Simply insisting that there must be one isn't going to achieve anything.

dunc: "insisting that there must be one isn’t going to achieve anything."

This is why it is so difficult to distinguish people who may be sincere but uninformed from the Denialist troll, whether "poison pill" or "concern" type.

The psychology seems to be similar-- going back to my first comment; those who claim to be pro-nuclear never offer positive plans; it simply devolves into wind/solar-bashing (and of course hippie-bashing.)

How is this different from "anything but CO2" and "conspiracy of scientists"?

As I've said, Alex is looking for his lost keys under the streetlight because the light is better there, even though that's not where he lost them.

The real problem with NP is that industry itself doesn't think it's a viable investment. But that's a pretty intractable problem for someone who has a strong emotional attachment to NP. So Alex shifts the focus of his ire to people who are promoting renewables, because it's easier to bash them than to deal with the real problem.

"someone who has a strong emotional attachment to NP"

But that's the question-- why would someone have such an attachment in the first place?

I see. So in summary:

- no comments on the Carbon Counter link, showing 100% renewables in the UK is simply impossible.
- no comments on what it will cost to build a new electricity grid in the US
- no comments on the US decarbonization pathways report that finds nuclear to be the cheapest way to decarbonize the US economy
- no comments on where you'd put several million wind turbines
- no comments on how you can change State/Federal laws - oh yeah, in 52 states, to make a decentralized grid/transmission/storage system work.

And all people can say is, "nuclear costs too much". Which is incredibly disingenuous, because we all know that of all of the costs are included, it's the cheapest option, especially if augmented where it makes sense economically.

This talk about cost simply masks ideological attachment to renewables, where we routinely turn a blind eye to all of the costs.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 22 Dec 2014 #permalink

Alex Harvey,

One characteristic of Denialist trolls is that they are unwilling/unable to articulate their view, but often offer a disjointed list of non-sequitur references to websites of questionable objectivity.

Asked for a plan, or at least a positive argument for nuclear, rather than just negativity, your 'best shot' is to say:

"we all know that if all of the costs are included, it’s the cheapest option"

Well, the "cheapest option" at Fukushima was to locate backup generators lower rather than higher, and to use less robust pumps to provide cooling for the core and the generators themselves. How did that work out, Alex?

Really, you are arguing at that naive rhetorical level, and then complaining that there is no interest in responding?

To bring out that tired but true old engineering axiom-- cheap, good, fast...pick two.

It doesn't matter what modernizing the grid would cost; what matters is the *value* that we get for the price we pay. Speaking for the USA-- if we start now, in 60 years we will have a robust and highly efficient system in place that will better allow us to weather whatever metaphorical storms may come.

In 60 years, if we were to achieve your (impossible) goal of constructing hundreds of NPP in a short window, we would have... hundreds of piles of radioactive junk to clean up. And, of course, a grid that is even more deteriorated and obsolete.

Which is the better legacy to leave our children? At whatever cost.

Which is incredibly disingenuous, because we all know that of all of the costs are included, it’s the cheapest option

No, we most certainly don't know that. If we knew that, people would be building the things in the expectation of making money.

You do realise that none of us are actually in any position to influence energy policy, right? As it stands (in the US and UK at least) energy policy is determined by the market, and the market has very clearly and repeatedly said that it has no interest in building nukes.

I have no particular ideological axe to grind here, I'm just observing the reality of the situation. The only places where you can get nukes built are where the state steps in and makes it happen. I'm entirely willing to entertain the argument that the market has failed in this case, or that security of supply is of such importance that an old-fashioned command economy solution is required, but I don't actually see any of the nuke boosters making those arguments.

Your own original argument was that nukes don't get built because of environmental opposition. I think I've made a fairly decent job of refuting that argument, and you've made no attempt to defend it. Now you resort to a combination of goalpost-moving and "tu quoque". Well, I'm perfectly happy to admit that there are huge, probably insurmountable problems with trying to run a modern grid on 100% renewables. I just don't think that that somehow logically implies that nukes must be a viable solution. The the laws of physics and economics are not bound to respect our desires, and we have to at least recognise the possibility that there may be no good solutions here.


Okay, finally, you have wheeled out the usual anti-nuclear propaganda.

So, it has never been about cost, and you know full well it's not about the cost, but about "hundreds of piles of radioactive junk to clean up" and Fukushima-style catastrophes.

The "piles of radioactive junk" argument is anti-nuke nonsense, and has been refuted so many times, I'm not going to bother here; and this talk about Fukushima-era reactors is equally a red herring.

I'm glad you've outlined your priorities, though. Evidently your first priority is to oppose fossil fuel AND nuclear energy at any cost; secondly, you want to leave a shiny 100% renewables system to your children (while you turn a blind eye to the fact that no system dependent on millions of batteries is truly "renewable" at all); and thirdly, it seems your least concern is the actual consequences of global warming. After all, you'd know that 60 years to build a new grid is way too long.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 23 Dec 2014 #permalink


Once again, the market only says "no" to building nukes because it's competing against coal and gas. If it wasn't competing against coal and gas, if these were illegal, then nukes would be the next best option.

As far as government intervention is concerned - yes, I believe that the government intervention is required. No one has any problem with governments building roads; what's wrong with governments building the energy infrastructure?

I think a carbon tax is good policy, but I don't believe, by itself, it could cause a phase out of fossil fuel energy at the scale or speed that is required.

Back to environmental opposition: I can't see where you've refuted that anti-nuke activists spread misinformation; this misinformation informs public fear; and public fear is the main reason nukes aren't widely deployed.

Here's Ontario's energy grid in real time:

Wow, a state the size of Ontario at close to zero-carbon.

Here's Greenpeace and the Canadian Greens doing their level best to spread panic in the community:

They want "hundreds of thousands" of people to be given anti-radiation pills, so they can survive the coming nuclear apocalypse.

In Australia, where I live, the conservatives have been pro-nuke for a while. The only reason the policy can't get advanced is the conservatives are afraid of the Green scare campaign that would be run. That is the ONLY reason.

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 23 Dec 2014 #permalink

Alex Harvey,

Someone who claims to be a nuclear advocate but doesn't know the lifespan of a NPP or the costs of decommissioning, really is indistinguishable from the usual Denialist.

Maybe you should actually read what the nuclear engineers and businesspeople involved have to say about it before wasting everyone's time? Maybe you should read a bit about San Onofre?

I'm off to find someone better informed to debate; perhaps one of those people who think climate change is the result of Klingon energy rays.

Thread – I’m first time to this site and coming in at the eighth pole. For introduction, I worked as a staffer for the Executive Office of the President in the post-embargo precursor to DOE Ford Administration (Cheyney in charge of the thinking), on oil pricing, gas wellhead deregulation and the earlier Nixon idea to compel the US towards a prospective all-electric built environment (Project Independence). Early into the Carter years, I transitioned from Policy to Research, and served as Executive Assistant to the Head of the Research and Development Panel of Carter’s “Domestic Policy Review,” an inter-agency re-examination of the ongoing renewable R&D portfolio (bumped by about three orders of magnitude from pre-embargo, NSF precursors), and the prospects for transitioning away from expensive oil imports. We looked at Biomass, PV, Wind, OTEC, Solar Thermal, Satellite-SPS, Hydro, and Geothermal.

I subsequently (1985) worked for (and resigned in protest from) the Ohio Utility Commission, on their response to the abandoned Zimmer nuclear station (AEP converted the 99% finished plant from nuclear to today’s 1.3 GW coal facility). And then spent 6 months with the campaign to defeat the initiative to close the Rancho Seco nuclear plant in California, on climate grounds, in the 1988.

I am thrilled to see this discussion, at long last. I’d like to throw a few tid bits I witnessed into the stew here.

oWhen Frank Press, Carter’s Science Advisor, handed him the landmark Academy white paper on climate in 1979 (the Charney Report, establishing the 3 C. +/- 50% canonical likely impact goalposts for 2X CO2), he told him he would never hand him a more consequential document. Manabe’s supporting “model” had three-foot “swamp” oceans.

oTwo years previous, Carter actuated his pre-Washington plan to kill funding for Clinch River. His Energy Secretary, J. Schlesinger, registered complete opposition to this decision. Neither contemplated, in Spring 1977, the implications of this decision upon a post Three Mile industry, or its climate implications.

oWhen the stage was set for all that followed, US policy in law (PIFUA) was to compel industrial and utility boilers off fluid hydrocarbons onto coal.

oClimate, while foreboding, looked a “late into the next century concern,” because Ramanathan had yet to extend consciousness to the full suite of actors, and Vostok’s penetration of Eemian ice would not occur until the mid-eighties, unmasking the Pleistocene driver.

oA brilliant chemist in our immediate group, who had worked on the bomb as a very young guy at Oak Ridge, knew two of the men mobilized to the control room at Three Mile, and I attended his daily two hour briefings as that crisis unfolded. I was at the time, both a nuclear agnostic and a renewable agnostic—but agnosticism was specified relative to easing the loss of international autonomy and the hemorrhage of foreign exchange from oil imports, not climate.

oNone of the bomb builders thought that the reactor vessel would end up unrecoverable, at the time.

oThe Ford administration had strongly encouraged utilities in ’75 to jump the brink, and go nuclear.

oPost Three Mile, the NRC began the evolution which ultimately resulted in the smothering of all of its babies. A thousand Solomans could probably not untangle that complex history with a time machine. The coincidence of the China Syndrome, and “peak anti-nuke” public activism, certainly eventually became a major influence upon the suspension of construction and the foreclosure upon the careers of the engineering talent which built the first hundred.

oFrom a pure human capital perspective, the NRC could not have been prepared for Three Mile. It had to hire green, and hand newbies unchallenged power to redesign simply everything about the regulatory requirements forward.

oThe construction suspensions, while these “Rainbow Regs” were developed, occurred co-incident with, one of the greatest and swiftest alterations of the unit of account in our monetary history. Booked debt for long-gestation assets, which could be nearly free in an inflating, post Iranian revolution moment, suddenly shifted towards inflation-free, twenty percent Real Interest costs, upon note rollover with Volker’s arrival at the Fed . Financially, this nearly “infinite” change, was akin to flying an aircraft precisely at the speed of sound for a few years, instead of instantly punching through the barrier. For so many suspended projects, the shake proved unsustainable and fatal. But Big Green and the Jane Fonda led hippies also proved decisive, in specific media settings, such as Shoreham. Seabrook was no picnic.

oAt Zimmer, the fragment of this history I learned most intimately, a 3-2 NRC decision to refuse a licensee, on construction quality assurance grounds, set a precedent.

oPresident Reagan’s group, arrived with complete disdain for Federal involvement, as he demonstrated by appointing a dentist to head DOE. I want to be judicious in this comment, but it needs stating. Carter was not the full “engineer” the DC press made of him, but he was second in his class at Annapolis, deeply personally involved in the energy policy decisions of his administration, an electric study and no stranger to either differential equations or the intricacies of uranium fission. Ditto, R. Cheney and Dr. Schlesinger. Cheney was the inner circle player most likely to catch even the subtlest error in your work product, and knew a great number of industry folks from all over to whom he both listened, and against whose opinions, he was certain to test proposed initiatives or any novel ideas. Schlesinger was simply a genius and polymath who was equally studious, and just awed everyone I knew who worked with him. So, Reagan overturned PIFUA, good for climate, but he also issued an important and little examined executive order that the federal government was to not lift a finger to assist commercial nuclear. This two-paragraph policy was sweeping in its singlemindedness. In Cincinnati, there were but a couple brief site visitations during the entire multi-year construction history for Zimmer, yet once the ground so radically shifted with Three Mile, the regulatory tone and chant from Washington shifted 179 degrees. It was the combination of the dimensions of the financial stress of holding infinitely increased real cost bond debt, plus complete uncertainty for eventual regulatory approval, which brought utilities to the abandonment decision. To say that the government could both encourage such a bold new departure, basically ignore the construction effort until mature, and then suddenly impose sweeping and fundamental redesign requirements while utterly indifferent to costs, and then to announce it was unsupportive in sharing same, made for a weak dance partner. This condemned the American nuclear endeavor to the grave.

oAs Mark Twain quipped, a cat would sit upon a stove all right, but once he sat upon a hot one, he would never do so again, hot or cold. Thus, Dunc and zebra, it seems to me you need to be rather careful about glib assertions as to what “the market” would do about climate and nuclear, even in a post-Lovins political world. It is just so much more complicated than that.

oLast, I met a guy at random in an airport wait once, decades ago in the early eighties. Turned out he had made his stripes on the sixth green in one shining moment, when he closed a deal on a gigawatt commitment. I got around to asking him about prospects for American nuclear, and he was then at GE and snapped: “Listen, we’re a fifty billion dollar outfit, and we don’t need either the headaches or the pennies we can make from that one anymore. Once it was clear we were stuck with a limited once-through fuel cycle, the potential no longer justified the risks.” Thus, he personally placed the critical camel straw in Carter’s hands, as without a breeding cycle, the future was sealed small. Climate was not an element.

By Dave Peters (not verified) on 24 Dec 2014 #permalink

@Dave Peters:

Do you have any thoughts about the future? You said you at one time looked at Biomass, PV, Wind, OTEC, Solar Thermal, Satellite-SPS, Hydro, and Geothermal.

I am personally amazed at the success of solar & wind, and the willingness of the market to bet on these technologies, considering fundamental limitations. I can't see any way to explain that, other than to acknowledge that Big Green is a lot more powerful than they seem to believe themselves.

Do you agree that if Big Green decided to support nuclear, instead of obstructing, we'd quickly see new nuclear reactors being built?

By Alex Harvey (not verified) on 26 Dec 2014 #permalink