Climate Skeptics Against Global Warming

What Conservatives Can Teach Liberals About Global Warming Policy

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Beyond the bellowing, name-calling, and cherry-picking of data that have become the hallmark of contemporary climate wars lies a paradox: nuclear and gas, the energy technologies favored by the climate-skeptical Right, including Robert Bryce, Steven Hayward, and the Koch brothers (left to right), are doing far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the ones favored by the climate-apocalyptic Left. Following the new IPCC report, as both parties spend the next week slugging it out over what the climate science does or does not tell us, we would do well to remember that science cannot tell us what to do. Making decisions in a democracy requires understanding and tolerating, not attacking and demonizing, values, and viewpoints different from our own. Conservatives, whether or not they think of it as climate policy, have important things to say when it comes to energy. Liberals would do well to start listening.

September 26, 2013 | Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

Over the last decade, progressives have successfully painted conservative climate skepticism as the major stumbling block to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Exxon and the Koch brothers, the story goes, fund conservative think tanks to sow doubt about climate change and block legislative action. As evidence mounts that anthropogenic global warming is underway, conservatives’ flight from reason is putting us all at risk.

This week's release of a new United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report opens another front in the climate wars. But beneath the bellowing, name-calling, and cherry-picking of data that have become the hallmark of contemporary climate politics lies a paradox: the energy technologies favored by the climate-skeptical Right are doing far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the ones favored by the climate-apocalyptic Left.

How much more? Max Luke of Breakthrough Institute ran the numbers and found that, since 1950, natural gas and nuclear prevented 36 times more carbon emissions than wind, solar, and geothermal. Nuclear avoided the creation of 28 billion tons of carbon dioxide, natural gas 26 billion, and geothermal, wind, and solar just 1.5 billion.

Environmental leaders who blame "global warming deniers" for preventing emissions reductions point to Germany's move away from nuclear and to renewables. "Germany is the one big country that’s taken this crisis seriously," wrote Bill McKibben. Other progressive and green leaders, including Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Bobby Kennedy, Jr., have held up Germany's "energy turn," the Energiewende, as a model for the world. 

But for the second year in a row, Germany has seen its coal use and carbon emissions rise — a fact that climate skeptical conservatives have been quick to point out, and liberal environmental advocates have attempted to obfuscate. "Last year, Germany’s solar panels produced about 18 terawatt-hours (that’s 18 trillion watt-hours) of electricity," noted Robert Bryce from the conservative Manhattan Institute. "And yet, [utility] RWE’s new coal plant, which has less than a 10th as much capacity as Germany’s solar sector, will, by itself, produce about 16 terawatt-hours of electricity.

Reagan historian Steven Hayward, formerly of the American Enterprise Institute, noted in the conservative Weekly Standard earlier this week, "Coal consumption went up 3.9 percent in Germany last year. Likewise, German greenhouse gas emissions — the chief object of Energiewende — rose in Germany last year, while they fell in the United States."

Emissions fell in the United States thanks largely to a technology loathed by the Left: fracking. From 2007 to 2012, electricity from natural gas increased from 21.6 to 30.4 percent, while electricity from coal declined from 50 to 38 percent — that's light speed in a notoriously slow-changing sector. And yet the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and most other green groups are working to oppose the expansion of natural gas.

Hayward and Bryce are two of the most respected writers on energy and the environment on the Right. Both are highly skeptical that global warming poses a major threat. Both regularly criticize climate scientists and climate models. Both men are regularly attacked by liberal organizations like Media Matters for working for organizations, the American Enterprise Institute and Manhattan Institute, respectively, that have taken money from both Exxon and the Koch brothers. And yet both men are full-throated advocates for what Bryce calls "N2N" — accelerating the transition from coal to natural gas and then to nuclear.

Arguably, the climate-energy paradox is a bigger problem for the Left than the Right. One cannot logically claim that carbon emissions pose a catastrophic threat to human civilization and then oppose the only two technologies capable of immediately and significantly reducing them. And yet this is precisely the position of Al Gore, Bill McKibben, the Sierra Club, NRDC, and the bulk of the environmental movement.

By contrast, there are plenty of good reasons for climate skeptics to support N2N. A diverse portfolio of energy sources that are cheap, abundant, reliable, and increasingly clean is good for the economy and strengthens national security - all the more so in a world where energy demand will likely quadruple by the end of the century.

Why then is there so much climate skepticism on the Right? One obvious reason is that climate science has long been deployed by liberals and environmentalists to argue not only for their preferred energy technologies but also for sweeping new regulatory powers for the federal government and the United Nations.

But here as well, the green agenda hasn’t fared well. Those nations that most rapidly reduced the carbon intensity of their economies over the last 40 years did so neither through regulations nor international agreements. Nations like France and Sweden, which President Obama rightly singled out for praise earlier this month, did so by directly deploying nuclear and hydroelectric power. Now the United States is the global climate leader, despite having neither a carbon price nor emissions trading, thanks to 35 years of public-private investment leading to the shale gas revolution. Meanwhile, there is little evidence that caps and carbon taxes have had much impact on emissions anywhere.

In the end, both Left and Right reject a more pragmatic approach to the climate issue out of fear that doing so might conflict with their idealized visions for the future. Conservatives embrace N2N as a laissez-faire outcome of the free market in the face of overwhelming evidence that neither nuclear nor gas would be viable today had it not been for substantial taxpayer support. Progressives seized on global warming as an existential threat to human civilization because they believed it justified a transition to the energy technologies – decentralized renewables – that they have wanted since the sixties.

The Left, in these ways, has been every bit as guilty as the Right of engaging in "post-truth" climate politics. Consider New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza's glowing profile of Tom Steyer, the billionaire bankrolling the anti-Keystone campaign. After Lizza suggested that Steyer and his brother Tom might be the Koch brothers of environmentalism, Steyer objects.  The difference, he insists, is that while the Koch brothers are after profit, he is trying to save the world.

It is telling that neither Lizza nor his editors felt it necessary to point out that Steyer is a major investor in renewables and stands to profit from his political advocacy as well. Clearly, Steyer is also motivated by green ideology. But it is hard to argue that the Koch brothers haven’t been equally motivated by their libertarian ideology. The two have funded libertarian causes since the 1970s and, notably, were among the minority of major energy interests who opposed cap and trade. Fossil energy interests concerned about protecting their profits, including the country's two largest coal utilities, mostly chose to game the proposed emissions trading system rather than oppose it as the Koch brothers did.

As Kathleen Higgins argues in a new essay for Breakthrough Journal, it's high time for progressives to get back in touch with the liberal tradition of tolerance, and pluralism. "Progressives seeking to govern and change society," she writes, should attempt to "see the world from the standpoint of their fiercest opponents. Taking multiple perspectives into account might alert us to more sites of possible intervention and prime us for creative formulations of alternative possibilities for concerted responses to our problems."

As Left and Right spend the next week slugging it out over what the climate science does or does not tell us, we would do well to remember that science cannot tell us what to do. Making decisions in a democracy requires understanding and tolerating, not attacking and demonizing, values and viewpoints different from our own.

Conservatives have important things to say when it comes to energy, whether or not they think of it as climate policy. Liberals would do well to start listening. 

 


Comments

  • The major point of this article seems to have been tragically turned upon itself; there is fuss about political obfuscation of energy and climate, yet conclusion is reached by saying how one clear group ought to listen to another group. Is that politicizing, and polarizing?

    There are very valid, albeit somewhat simplified points made about fundamental problems in “both parties” viewpoints, but neither of those viewpoints are accurate to the point of any usefulness.  The portrait seems painted with such a broad brush stroke that the inspiration for the piece is convoluted in presentation and emphasis.

    What the authors should be advocating for is much more serious, deliberate, and un-politically driven discussion, rather than labeling some ideas as hallmarks of one party or another; there are dissenting voices in both parties, and in independents, or people who don’t give a damn about political affiliations altogether. (Ironically, I would even give the BTI founders the benefit of the doubt in being in the last category).

    People who don’t see the benefit of nuclear power, or soberly assess natural gas (who apparently are liberals in the context of this argument?) should get over it; people who deny evidence of anthropogenic climate change (who apparently are conservatives in the context of this argument?), should get over it.

    This seems like an attempt at being (unnecessarily) radical in terms of stating a viewpoint - and then reinforcing some of the most problematic constructs influencing the very issue that is to be of concern.

    I am noticing a trend of energy analysts becoming stronger: a sort of idealism that comes from looking at how to meet vast global energy demand, and by prioritizing that need, significant and invaluable nuances are glossed over to support the solution, or framework of solutions, of choice. There is a sort of gravitas about how to address the demand, yet in doing so, political, regulatory, health/safety, or other non-energy-demand factors are unrealistically reduced to caricatures. (These factors, however disagreeable, cumbersome and perhaps depressingly persistent, must be accounted for; they are part of the reality of our situation that has to be addressed, just as much as and if not more so than global energy demand).  I really feel a strong desire in many energy analysts & thinkers to make the energy/climate challenge much easier than it is, yet simplified ‘answers’ are really appealing to anyone other than the factions that created them.

    I’d like to see the BTI spend more time reflecting on that, rather than synthesizing a semi-controversial take on data supporting some of its premises - only to sensationalize the very thing (energy discussion, energy literacy, a-political energy realism) it is hoping to achieve.

    - Jesse Parent

    By Jesse Parent on 2013 09 26

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    • Excellent comment Jesse.

      Lets forget this political affiliation non-sense and deal with the facts:
      1. AGW is real and society can and should deal with it
      2. Natural gas, nuclear, and energy efficiency are the most cost-effective ways at present to make meaningful reduction in AGW.

      These are not opinions but rather scientific facts. Anyone with a care for the future should be repeating these two facts any time the topic is brought up until his/her face turns blue.

      By John Morehouse on 2013 09 27

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      • “cost-effective” and “scientific fact” are 2 terms that have not been demonstrated to be synonymous. especially since money, which usually denominates cost-effectiveness analyses, can NEVER be the independent variable.

        energy efficiency = (clean air and water, healthy food, comfy shelter, and plenty of sleep and exercise) / energy and resources

        By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 27

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        • Maybe cost effective was the wrong term.

          How about this:
          Well designed nuclear reactors require far less land, labor, and raw material inputs than variable generators such as wind and solar per unit energy produced.

          By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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          • so what? you are totally bypassing the most important first step of actually defining energy NEEDS. talking about supplies before that is just a really bad way of designing anything.

            By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 30

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            • I omitted acknowledgement of energy needs because it is well known that global energy demand will continue to grow rapidly. Given that is the case my statement above has large implications.

              By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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              • well, i don’t know that. and i distrust predictions of demand because such predictions are just projections of past trends, and because ‘demand’ fails to differentiate between NEEDS and WANTS, a crucial distinction. another error is failing to differentiate between physical needs (physical energy) and metaphysical needs (not physical energy). the implications of your statement are retreads that i have heard far too often already.

                By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 30

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                • Well Muriel, I dare speculate that you: have a closet full of clothing; have a cell phone; often travel by car; perhaps even by plane; own a computer; eat foods and consume goods from far destinations on and on and on.

                  Even if you do all of these things in the most efficient manner possible you will still use far more energy than 1.5 to 2 billion people currently living on this planet. Are these people not entitled to the same conveniences you are? Believing they won’t get it is pure foolishness.

                  In addition, denying that world population will continue to grow is simply unscientific, there is no indication that we can significantly hinder its growth without the outbreak of war, disease or some other terrible occurrence.

                  Ironically more energy consumption actually leads to lower population growth rates, and it provides a higher standard of living. It also in fact increases environmental activism, Developed nations enact far more stringent environmental law than third world nations with low per capita energy usage.

                  By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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                  • it’s true that i have a closet full of clothes that are almost all from the thrift store; that i have an ancient PAYGO cell phone; that i travel by bike more often than by car; that i have 3 computers but no tv, dishwasher, AC, motorized garden equipment, nor central heat; that i always cook from scratch and all the produce i eat is local; and that i know the difference between physical needs and what’s not.

                    am i entitled to these conveniences? no. is anyone? no. believing that all the people who are currently using less energy than me will get all the so-called conveniences you imply is pure foolishness.

                    there is plenty of indication that convenient and affordable birth control can and already has significantly hindered population growth.

                    the cause-effect relationships between energy consumption, population growth, standard of living, and energy activism are, i suspect, not as simple as you imply. nations that use energy in a sensible way probably have less need of stringent environmental laws.

                    By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 30

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                    • Muriel,

                      It is fine to be opinionated, but when your opinion is defied by well-known reality you become ignorant. Access to electricity has been increasing steadily throughout the modern era. This continual increase in electricity is met largely by coal, especially in the poorer parts of the world. The world economy is capitalistic. Believing that larger percentages of the Chinese and Indian populations will not gain access to electricity and transportation is pure ignorance.

                      Your food may be grown locally but it is likely planted, fertilized, and harvested by heavy equipment. A large portion of the global population requires heat to survive for portions of the year.

                      Technology has greatly increased the standard of living for humans and has created a society capable of being caretakers rather than mindless consumers. Your Luddite viewpoint is both hypocritical and ignorant.

                      By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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                      • i agree that larger percentages of the populations of the not-yet-overdeveloped nations will realize access to electricity. but i’m skeptical that such percentages will equal the percentages in the overdeveloped nations before the system becomes too dysfunctional.

                        i doubt that i could now obtain my food with less energy input unless i grew it all myself. how did global populations stay warm before fossil fuels?

                        i don’t view technology in the monolithic way that i infer you do. “standard of living” is also a monolithic concept that bears categorization into physical needs and all else, as i have noted. it appears to me that many in the usa are mindless consumers.

                        my luddite point of view is well-informed, unlike your technology-is-a-holy-grail point of view.

                        By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 30

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                        • Humans stayed warm through burning various items. The population is much larger now and growing, reverting back to such ways is not feasible. Developing nations do not need to use energy to the extent the US does, overall demand will grow rapidly nonetheless.

                          How is your food grown? By horse and plow?

                          Standard of living doesn’t transfer into happiness but it is positively associated with trends in life expectancy, comfort, education, and sustainable population growth.

                          Your viewpoint is not well informed whatsoever. There exists vast amounts of energy globally in fossil fuels, uranium, thorium, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, hydro etc etc etc. Believing that mankind will not continue to exploit these resources is a pure fantasy and you will have to get used to the expansion of technology globally whether you like it or not.

                          By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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                          • excuse me, but the US does not NEED to use as much energy as currently.
                            my food is grown by sun and rain and the soil food web.
                            judging by the declining health of the us population, our standard of living could use some adjustment.
                            your viewpoint is not well informed whatsoever. you speak as though all technology were new - ha! while mankind will doubtless continue to exploit resources in a foolish way, ‘the plans of men are the jokes of the gods.’

                            By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 30

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                            • Your food is magically planted, fertilized, harvested, transported, and cooked?

                              I’m glad that you are more deserving than the citizens in thrid world countries. Continue to type on your on your three computers and believe that all of the goods and services you benefit from are free of environmental impact. You are certainly living minimalistically - with regards to common sense.

                              By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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                              • does this mean that the accuracy of my reasoning is inversely related to my fossil fuel energy use?

                                does this apply to yours?

                                By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 01

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                                • In my opinion, yes, you shouldn’t be advocating a lifestyle for the billions on this planet that you yourself are not willing to live by.

                                  Based on what youve told me you benefit greatly from energy and technology, you shouldn’t expect others not to live the same way, and the reality is that we can provide energy in environmentally friendly ways such as nuclear power and renewables.

                                  By John Morehouse on 2013 10 01

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                                  • i’m perfectly willing to live that way. i’m just not in a position to make it happen, because i am stuck in existing infrastructure along with everyone else. and nuclear is not environmentally friendly.

                                    By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 01

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                                    • This has become comical. You are so hopelessly stuck with existing infrastructure that you must use energy and technology? Have you ever thought perhaps you use these things because you enjoy them and they can improve the quality of your life?

                                      Have a good day Muriel.

                                      By John Morehouse on 2013 10 01

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                                    • i’m perfectly willing to live that way. i’m just not in a position to make it happen, because i am stuck in existing infrastructure along with everyone else. and nuclear is not environmentally friendly.

                                      I’m doing a project for school (an essay on Climate Change), and I have been reading all of these comments.  This comment is one of the best ones I’ve seen so far. I agree with what you’re saying, that “perfectly willing to live that way” but that we’re not “in a position to make it happen, because I am stuck in existing infrastructure”.  Exactly. I was sitting here thinking of ways to maybe help the environment, what I could do only as one person. And although I can take a few steps back, I cannot fully eliminate this problem for me alone.  For example, I can do small things like : stop idling my car, carpool, try to walk when I can instead of driving (if local), try to take a bus (even that would still require energy, but it’s a way of carpooling to save a bit), plant my own vegetables, and stop using light in the house, and stop using the computer, and stop using the Internet, but then what quality of life would I have, compared with those around me?  It would be hard to have a meaningful life, neglecting all the modern trends such as TV, movies, internet, etc.  Internet helps us with quality of life, and computer uses electricity.  Also, I can grow crops, but how can I cook without electricity? I would use fire but will that pollute the air, too?  Or is fire safe for the pollution?  See, if I could really do these things, then it won’t be so bad!  And then perhaps I could encourage friends to do the same, but they may just laugh at me.  It is hard to make change, but we must start on a small scale.  And anything i can do to help will be beneficial.  I am going to stop keepign things plugged in, stop using my computer as much (except school work), etc.  But like you said, in today’s world it is so hard.  They don’t allow us to get by without it!! Appointments are made on the Internet or phone,both of which require energy.  Ordering things: phone/Internet.  We may as well just live a Nun or a Monk type of life if we are going to neglect electricity, basically!  If I had friends that were willing to do this with me, I may consider doing it.  i am def going to start making small changes for now, though.  It is sad how much I have learned from this project and this class… see , I did learn something afterall.  Science and environment has NEVER been my thing, but after this essay I am really getting to realize what is going on in this world.  I think it should be MANDATORY for people to study this topic, and then maybe the “infrastructures” as you mentioned would gradually change as well.

                                      By project on 2013 10 13

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                                      • hello ‘project’, don’t despair. when you say “they don’t allow us to get by without it” can you describe who “they” are?

                                        because fossil fuels are so embedded in the way we currently live, removing them requires rethinking a lot of basic assumptions. such as what is required to have a meaningful life. see http://www.work4sustenance.blogspot.com for some ideas.

                                        and keep asking questions - it’s the best way to attract answers.

                                        By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 15

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                                        • Hi Muriel, When I say “they don’t allow us to get by without it” I am referring to people in general, society, the people in our community.  To be more specific, here are a few examples:
                                          1- I cannot even make a doctor’s appointment without driving there, calling which requires electricity, email which requires electricity, etc.  Things don’t magically happen, so I rely on current “set-ups” to get by. 
                                          2- I cannot hand my project in without driving to the school (which uses gasoline), or emailing it which requires electricity. An option I could do is not go to school, but that’s a whole other topic in itself.
                                          3- In today’s world, since I live in a suburb, I need to drive to most places.  Plus I am disabled so I can’t walk far.  Living in a city is an option, but I’d still need to take care of business.  The only really way I can see avoiding all this is by walking everywhere, which is not feasible in today’s setup and what society expects of us.  The USA wants us to work, and what if we can’t find a local job?  So then we must drive, or even move, and even moving would require electricity.  I guess what I’m saying is to “reduce” the amount of resources we use is the goal here.  It is easy to reduce the resources, but hard to avoid using them altogether, with today’s set-ups. Society frowns on us when we don’t work.  Also, many other things are frowned upon like if they say “oh, just fax it to me” and you have to be difficult and say “I don’t use fax because it uses elcetricity” they’ll just laugh at you lol.  Or if I tried telling my teacher I don’t use email because it “uses up electricity” they would think I was just being lazy or difficult.  It is hard to change people’s minds.  Also, I looked at the link.  Thanks for sharing.  I think that we don’t really require much, but we will yearn for more and more.  And with growing population, we need ways to connect each other, and internet is a good tool.  It is hard with the population these days to get by without hearing what’s going on in the world, ways to make connections, etc.

                                          By project on 2013 10 31

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                                          • we are all accustomed to certain habits and specific technologies, really you could say we are co-evolved with them. however, it appears to me that the nature of fossil fuels has had radical effects on how we have come to be living, and so to kick the fossil fuel addiction will require similarly radical change. i often list our physical needs - clean air and water, healthy food, comfy shelter, and plenty of sleep and exercise - as a way to induce a more radical perspective on priorities. and it’s physical needs that pertain to the discussion of the physical energy of fossil fuels. of course, we also have metaphysical needs, but fossil fuels doesn’t really pertain to them in the same way.

                                            here are a couple more websites which offer somewhat different angles on all this:
                                            http://bio-paradigm.blogspot.com/
                                            http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2222988

                                            By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 31

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                            • We are living longer with technology, as social security was set at the average death rate for its maturity and it is now around 75-80 years…electricity no matter how it is formed will reduce death rates in poor countries getting them off of indoor fires of wood or dung.

                              Green Energy’s waste stream of rare earth elements tosses enough of the super fuel Thorium to power the entire planet yearly with out additional mining. energyfromthorium.com

                              By Walter Horsting on 2014 04 12

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      • 1. AGW is real and society can and should deal with it

        “Society should deal with [AGW]” is a normative statement, not a fact.

        By Nate Pinney on 2013 10 06

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    • Jesse… I have to confess.. I went from being completely discouraged at this article to finding a glimmer of hope in your analysis of it.

      Irrespective of party ideology, we all need to take an objective look at energy policy and what it’s impact will be on our children and grand children.

      As for the general sentiment that gas and nuclear are the best way to meet future energy demands… That’s a myopic view of things.  One major issue to consider is water.  Fresh water and energy are inextricably linked.  ... The population centers are out of fresh water… Nuclear uses enormous amounts of water… and so does co-gen natural gas… In this “future” of many more nuke plants and natural gas co-gen, where will the water come from?  And just how bad will the deleterious impact be to water scarcity on farming and global food production?  And guess what else happens when we start running out of fresh water… the hydro power goes with it.  Increasing energy demands and shortages aside… how do you get enough water for food production… Desalinization?  Guess what that requires - ENERGY.

      Water scarcity is not abstract theory or a problem for future generations… the pressure on fresh water supplies is here today, it spans the globe and is only getting worse.  In the US, roughly 40 percent of our fresh water is used for steam turbine energy production.)

      Solar and wind are intermittent resources, but their intermittency can be mitigated by distributed generation and by HVDC transmission projects spanning states.  ... And of course, PV solar and wind require ZERO water. 

      There’s enough wind in the Dakotas alone to power the entire US… and there’s enough sunshine in 100 miles by 100 miles of the southwest to do it all over again.  Even if we don’t aim for 100% renewables… 70 or 80 percent is easily within reach… especially with the help of hydro and enhanced geothermal for base load supply.

      We can do this people… just have to set our political affiliations aside and get to work.

      By Jon Silvester on 2013 09 27

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      • Jon, the problem is that the wind in the Dakotas, and the sunshine in the Southwest, simply aren’t there all the time. I live in southern Minnesota, not far from the Buffalo Ridge that’s full of windmills for power. There are plenty of times that the wind just isn’t turning them. The 100-square-mile plot you speak of in the Southwest will run afoul of not only maintenance issues with blowing dust, but also environmentalist objections to destroying habitat for whatever bugs and weeds they can get their hands on to stop the project.

        And then there’s the reality that electricity does not work well for many uses we have for energy. For example, nobody in the northern part of the country - you know, where it snows regularly and often - heats with electricity, simply because it’s too expensive compared to natural gas. Then there’s the electric car, which is making great strides, but is nowhere near what many users like me need: the ability to go 300 miles on a charge at 70 MPH with an SUV-load of people and stuff, then be ready to do it all over again in 15 minutes, indefinitely. And there are even harder problems: an electric-powered replacement for light aircraft is a much longer ways off.

        Pie-in-the-sky plans like yours won’t get the job done. We have to exploit *all* of the available energy to us, not just that which one part of the environmental movement likes.

        By Jay Maynard on 2013 09 27

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        • I have only a moment to respond… With all due respect, Jay, you’re wrong on essentially every point.  I’ll try and explain where:

          For one… I never suggested we try and sight ALL wind in the Dakotas or ALL solar in one spot in the southwestern desert.  I’m merely making the point, the planet is awash in energy.  Enough solar radiation hits the earth in 40 minutes to power the entire globe for a 365 days!  That’s about 10,000 to 1… ratio of supply to need.

          Yes, renewables are not constant, but distributing the generation lessens the impact of the intermittent nature of some renewables.  Other renewables, like enhanced geothermal and hydro already serve base load and the latter could be ramped up significantly.  The remaining 20-30% of overall demand can be served by conventional energy.

          Also, clearly you missed the point about HVDC… HVDC can connect the wind in the Dakotas to the wind in Texas… to the wind in Minnesota… to the off shore wind on both coasts… to the solar in the southwest and everywhere else… to the geothermal in Nevada.  Add in demand response programs from the utilities…  and the level of renewable energy integration feasible is probably higher than I’ve even suggested.

          In terms of renewable energy being viable for transportation…  I never tried to make this point, but even still…  Just because you can’t buy today the SUV you mentioned, it certainly doesn’t follow that we should write-off or postpone electric propulsion of transportation entirely.  80% of drivers drive less than 40 miles a day… If just half of us drove on electrons FIRST it would dramatically alter the demand for oil across the globe.  And most of us with a commute already have the charging infrastructure for this kind of range in place with a standard 110 outlet.  (... Read it closely… I didn’t say half of us needed EVs… there’s a big difference between an EV like a Nissan Leaf or a Tesla and electrons first drive-train like a Volt.)
           
          Calling something “pie-in-the-sky” just because it looks different than today is pointless… Change is inevitable… and before you reply with a lecture about the toxicity of batteries… or the cost of added transmission infrastructure… you tell me… where’s the water going to come from for the added global demand for energy and food production?

          Distributed solar and wind, coupled to an HVDC grid are the only ways to increase energy production without vastly altering already precarious water supplies.

          By Jon Silvester on 2013 09 30

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          • “Distributed solar and wind, coupled to an HVDC grid are the only ways to increase energy production without vastly altering already precarious water supplies”

            The first SMR to gain funding from the DOE is air cooled. Desalination is always an option.

            Renewables are here to stay, but decarbonization should be done in the most cost effective way possible. regarding the comprehensive costs of grid compatible electricity Nuclear is currently the most cost effective way to power large population centers. HVDC transmission lines running the length of the country certainly are not free.

            By John Morehouse on 2013 10 01

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            • what do you mean cost effective? remember, money can NEVER be the independent variable. stick to watts.

              remember, efficiency = (clean air and water, healthy food, comfy shelter, and plenty of sleep and exercise) / (energy and resources)

              large population centers are not the way to maximize efficiency.

              By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 01

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              • comprehensive cost per unit of GHG reduction. Thats the important metric.

                Dense population centers are a reality, we have to deal with them, and seeing as how they decrease the need for transport of people and services in comparison to rural populations, they are in fact efficient.

                By John Morehouse on 2013 10 02

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                • a metric that includes money is suspect, because money can never be an independent variable.
                  dense - and large - population centers as at present could not have arisen without cheap fossil fuels. increasing size means that as human transport is facilitated, food transport is stretched. the optimal efficient size is governed by the opportunities and constraints of the ecology as it exists.

                  however, anyone who seriously says that a scientist’s theories about the world can be disproved by their personal choices is practicing magical thinking.

                  By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 02

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                  • Both the fact that you cannot align your behaviors with your minimalistic ideologies and more importantly real world data of trends in adoption of technology suggest that it is very unlikely that human behavior at large can be modified from the current trend of the energy-enabled lifestyle even for the sake of the climate.

                    The irony is that people like you who claim to be trying to do environmental good are only standing in the way of environmental preservation by opposing a very effective solution such as nuclear energy. Staunch opposition to nuclear energy from the likes of the Sierra Club, Green Peace etc consequently lead to more fossil fuel usage, because there is no group stands a chance at stopping the economic proposition that power plants provide. We can only hope those plants are clean.

                    The anti-nuclear lobby has had real measurable effects on the amount of nuclear plants built world wide and on GHG emissions.

                    In short, your opinion that human societies should live more simplistically and use less energy is a pipe dream that flies in the face of economic principle in an economic world where over 1/3 of the inhabitants are still trying to climb out of abject poverty. Your advocacy against less solutions with less environmental impact only worsens the situation.

                    By John Morehouse on 2013 10 02

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                    • if you want scientists to take you seriously, i advise depending more on data and less on assumptions or conclusions borrowed from others. you seem to believe that trends are sacrosanct - very amusing.
                      as you no doubt know, i am far from the only scientist who is skeptical of nuclear as a solution to anthropogenic climate change, and i suspect you have had little success convincing them either given the ad hominem arguments i have seen thus far.
                      referring to economic principles when you are treating money as the independent variable is also amusing.

                      By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 02

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  • “One cannot logically claim that carbon emissions pose a catastrophic threat to human civilization and then oppose the only two technologies capable of immediately and significantly reducing them.”

    Of course nuclear and gas are important, but “immediately” is an overstatement. It’s probably best to be wary of techno-optimism to the extent that it fails to view economics or politics as important.

    The “liberal” version of the argument goes something like: “We already have all the [renewables/efficiency] we need, if only those climate skeptics and politicians they’ve bought off would get out the way!”

    The “pragmatic” version of the argument as laid out here seems to be something like “We already have all the [nuclear/gas] we need, if only those stupid liberals would stop whining and get with the program!”

    “Pragmatic” silver bullets are still silver bullets.

    The authors would do well to heed their own words of wisdom: “Making decisions in a democracy requires understanding and tolerating, not attacking and demonizing, values and viewpoints different from our own.”

    By Daniel Roberts on 2013 09 26

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  • Thanks, Dan. In the energy world, coal going from 50 to 38 is pretty darn immediate. We didn’t cite it here but the mathematician Geoff Russell found that French and Swedish nuclear was 5-7x faster than German renewables in adding electricity:

    http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/energy-and-climate/nuclear-has-scaled-far-more-rapidly-than-renewables/

    Michael

    By Michael Shellenberger on 2013 09 26

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  • Sure, I get it. But the U.S. today isn’t 1970s Europe. Heck, Europe today isn’t 1970s Europe! I’d like to think we can move from nuclear retrenchment to renaissance in both places. Next generation reactors are promising, but not ready for prime-time. Maybe there’s more going on in other countries like China to give us hope. But since we’re not there yet, I’m not sure it’s helpful to frame nuclear/gas vs renewables as an either/or contest. Technology tribalism can only get you so far. 

    —Daniel

    By Daniel Roberts on 2013 09 26

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    • I agree with you. We are in favor of all the low-carbon energies, including renewables. It’s the Sierra Club, NRDC and much of the rest of the environmental movement that is against the two technologies that avoided 36 times more emissions than renewables.

      By Michael Shellenberger on 2013 09 27

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      • The 36x more emissions avoided since 1950 figure is misleading since the wind and solar industries weren’t largely commercial in 1950.

        There are many sound technical reasons why nuclear is more practical and economical to displace large amounts of fossil fuels rather than variable generators such as wind as solar. Comparing things the way you have above doesn’t help you demonstrate that though- it makes you seem biased by purposely selecting skewed data.

        Another example of this skewed data was: German solar 4x more expensive than Finnish nuclear.

        While this may be true it should be prominently disclosed that the current price of PV is much lower than it was at the beginning of energiewende. Again, the comprehensive practicality and economics are still heavily in favor of nuclear, so there is no need to skew the data in such a way that makes you seem biased and non-credible. Let’s try to be as objective as possible.

        By John Morehouse on 2013 09 27

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        • Thanks, John, but we in fact have written extensively about declining costs for PV and wind, both of which we have supported for over a decade.

          By Michael Shellenberger on 2013 09 27

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          • That doesn’t make use of the above mentioned figures correct. Compare the emissions reduction provided by nuclear, gas, and renewables in the modern era during which each of these industries have actually existed.

            Compare the cost of nuclear power plants to the current costs of solar PV, not to the costs of PV deployed a decade ago.

            Enough with the excuses, do it right, be objective.

            By John Morehouse on 2013 09 27

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            • Hi John, the historical analysis fixes carbon intensity at 1940 levels, before significant amounts of nuclear and gas entered the energy supply. Renewables didn’t start making a significant splash until the late 1990s. So you’re right, of course the analysis finds that nuclear and gas have accounted for most of the carbon intensity (and thus emissions) decline since 1950. This is an important reminder that the very technologies that many are so quick to dismiss these days have done more than all others to get us to a cleaner economy.

              But even if we did a similar analysis for the modern era and fixed carbon intensity at, say, 2000 levels, natural gas would still overwhelm the contributions of wind and solar due to the simple fact that it has added so much more relatively clean (low carbon emissions per energy supply) energy than wind and renewables have over that period. Between 2000 and 2011, natural gas supplied 56 times more energy than wind and solar over the same period, about 280 exajoules compared to about 5 for wind and solar (see EIA’s Energy Perspectives report – http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm).

              By Max Luke on 2013 09 27

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              • Thanks Max,

                You are preaching to the choir about the viability of nat gas/nuclear to reduce emissions. But please for the sake of your own work please remember to make the necessary disclosures when providing potentially skewed data, otherwise you are doing yourself a disservice as those on the fence may find you untrustworthy.

                By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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  • Ted/Michael, great article.  These “wicked” environmental issues transcend politics.  Liberals and conservatives alike, who care about resolving environmental problems, must stop the name-calling and focus on finding workable solutions.  Thanks for your contributions to changing the dialogue and paradigm.  http://www.conservefewell.wordpress.com

    By Brent Fewell on 2013 09 27

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  • Energy issues notwithstanding, Michael and Ted, there is no “left” in the United States. None . Zip, outside the editorship of Monthly Review and Bernie Sanders. You really need to find another way to frame this without inventing a part of the political spectrum which has ceased to exist, just because the right (folks to the right of you) feel lonely and one-sided without it.
    Liberals today are mostly conservative social democrats like Merkel and Obama, neither of whom has a left bone in their body.If you want to kick them around fine, but don’t imagine that the collapse of 60’s centrist liberalism left a polarized left and right. The only thing left about the left is that it is to the left of the extreme right. Thus Krugman’s plea that he hasn’t moved at all, and the right tail of the distribution has become “fat.” Politics in the US is a skew distribution with the modal position not quite one standard deviation to the right of where it stood in 1966-1970.

    What you are looking for is a pragmatic centrism that is today impossible not because of an intransigent left (which does not exist), but because of a “no enemies to the right” dynamic being played out in congress this week, for instance, with the “revolution” beginning to “devour its own children” as tea-party jacobins send one moderate republican after another to the primary fight guillotine. The far right is emptying out the center right, this will pull the moderate republicrats into the vacuum, but then the right will move further out to create the distance again. It’s the pathology of fine distinctions. Except maybe the house going after Cruz which reminds me of the Red Guards going after the Gang of Four.

    The point is not who is right, but the direction of movement on the scale and the operational dynamic.

    “history is always played twice: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

    You know I think nuclear is a good idea, but that market based nuclear leads to Fukushima, not to France. Fracking is a good technology if you can safeguard groundwater. And it was market based nuclear in Japan that killed efficient state run nuclear in Germany.

    Mostly,  I hope you can try to find some way to do this energy thing without falling into the hell of fighting an ideological battle that ended shortly after you were born, just because the framing is adopted by some of your allies. Jesse said it pretty well at the top of the thread

    By Mott Greene on 2013 09 27

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    • Thanks for the feedback Mott. You are right that the current craziness can’t be sustained for long. Their will, sooner or later, have to be a correction, at which point there may be an opportunity to have a productive conversation about how to decarbonize our energy system. But the fact that the Right is crazy is not a good reason for the Left to descend into its own form of polarizing crazy too.

      By Ted Nordhaus on 2013 09 27

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    • In 1962 the AEC wanted JFK to use Molten Salt Reactors for civilian power for their safety, efficiencies,  it would have been impossible for Fukushima to occur with an MSR.

      By Walter Horsting on 2014 04 12

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  • “I’m not sure it’s helpful to frame nuclear/gas vs renewables as an either/or contest. Technology tribalism can only get you so far.”

    Well said Daniel.  When I worked at Breakthrough Institute from 2007-2009, we favored a broad-based clean energy innovation strategy, including both renewables and nuclear (among other technologies).  In the foundational paper for Breakthrough’s energy and climate climate, “Fast, Clean, & Cheap: Cutting Global Warming’s Gordian Knot,” we wrote, “There is no silver bullet when it comes to clean energy alternatives. For that reason, we must make investments in a wide range of low- to zero emissions technologies, including wind, geothermal, efficiency, carbon capture and storage, nuclear, solar, and advanced energy technologies.” (We even proposed buying down the price of solar PV through a massive public procurement program.)

    We called this approach “Make Clean Energy Cheap” - a pragmatic, principled, tech-agnostic decarbonization strategy, grounded in the political economy that decarbonization technologies must compete on price: make clean energy cheap, and may the cheapest technology win.

    Today, there are many of us (including several former Breakthrough employees and fellows) who recognize the importance of natural gas and nuclear while being simultaneously committed to a diversified energy innovation strategy, including renewables and energy efficiency.  This approach is neither Left nor Right.  It favors the responsible use of unconventional gas and a significant nuclear RD&D push, while also recognizing the dramatic progress occurring in renewable and energy efficiency technologies, as well as their remaining limitations. 

    Instead of criticizing renewables for their remaining limitations and pitting them against nuclear and gas, this approach attempts to highlight the innovations necessary for larger-scale renewables deployment (e.g. grid-scale storage, advanced power electronics, smart utility models, grid management technology, and of course continued RD&D on the renewable power technologies themselves) - in other words, seeing renewable power scaling as a challenge to overcome rather than some kind of technological impasse.

    Meanwhile, distributed renewables (especially solar PV), transport electrification, and energy efficiency technologies will increasingly defy traditional definitions of Left and Right and present a serious challenge to the existing utility model (we already see this happening in parts of the South, where libertarian Tea Party activists have joined with climate activists in advocating for distributed PV).  As FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff (hardly a naive energy softy) recently exclaimed, “Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything.” And small modular nuclear reactors (SMR’s) may further reinforce this trend toward decentralized generation as they find their first application among large institutions and microgrids (e.g. military bases, corporate facilities, etc). 

    Breakthrough has played a critical role in pushing back on the most over-optimistic and rosy-eyed renewables advocates while highlighting the importance of gas and nuclear, contributing path-breaking analysis on the history of unconventional gas technology and resurrecting the nuclear debate.  But it has apparently become so devoted to nuclear and gas advocacy that it’s willing to drive any wedge it can find to advance its own form of technology tribalism, even if it means ignoring or trashing some of the most important trends in the world’s energy history.  Here’s to hoping that Breakthrough comes back to its roots.

    By Teryn Norris on 2013 09 27

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    • Thanks for the feedback Teryn. But really, “Some of the most important trends in the world’s energy history”? You are confusing a trend with speculation. The thing about trends is that they have to be, well, trends. And the thing about trends that might count among the most important in “world energy history” is that they would presumably have to begin to measurably impact the world’s energy mix, or its emissions, or something. The development of the efficient steam engine and the massive expansion of coal burning count. Petroleum, electrification, sure. Unconventional gas? Probably, assuming the rest of the world gets itself organized to exploit it. Highly subsidized renewables that have grown only thanks to heavy, sustained, explicit and implicit subsidies? Not so much.

      I think you need to go back and read Fast, Clean, and Cheap again.  What part of this wasn’t clear?

      “Technological breakthroughs are needed to boost the performance of current clean energy technologies and to decrease the cost of deploying them. Without these breakthroughs, the costs of these technologies are too high, and their performance and return on investment too low, to justify private sector investment in their widespread deployment.”

      That was BTI’s view then and it is still our view today. We continue to support policies to invest in the development and commercialization of better renewables technologies. But the claim that we can do it all with present day renewables, or anything close, is simply not reality based.

      You can’t have it both ways Teryn. Either we’ve usefully pushed back against “over-optimistic and rosy-eyed renewables advocates” or the current growth of renewables represents one of the most important trends in energy history and “distributed renewables (especially solar PV), transport electrification, and energy efficiency technologies will increasingly defy traditional definitions of Left and Right.” The latter, with all due respect to the new FERC chair (who for the record is a long-standing solar enthusiast) is what a lot of folks would call overly optimistic and rosy-eyed.

      By Ted Nordhaus on 2013 09 27

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      • I am an advocate for the Thorium MSR, what the AEC wanted to be a standard for civilian nuclear in 1962. I think roof top solar is great but I dislike bird blending wind mills and the eye pollution they impose everywhere and intermittent power.  The US needs to realize China will walk away with our technology from ORNL and we will be buying Th-MSR from them instead of our country producing them.

        I am also for Th-MSR powered desalination for Southern CA instead of the massive waste the CA Delta Water Tunnel project will impose on us.

        By Walter Horsting on 2013 11 10

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  • two problems with this:
    1. people don’t want nukes
    2. there are other options: http://bio-paradigm.blogspot.com/
    and more fundamental ways to approach our fossil-fuel addiction:
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2222988

    By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 27

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    • From Gallup: “One year after the tsunami and resulting failure of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, a majority of Americans continue to favor the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity for the U.S. The 57% who favor nuclear power this year is identical to the percentage measured in early March 2011, just before the Fukushima incident.”

      http://www.gallup.com/poll/153452/americans-favor-nuclear-power-year-fukushima.aspx

      By Jason Sommers on 2013 09 27

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      • according to http://www.civilsocietyinstitute.org/media/030712release.cfm , about 2/3 polled didn’t want one within 50 miles of their home. plus which, the insurance companies flat out won’t insure them, nukes need insurance welfare ie the price-anderson act.

        before we have the discussion about supply, we need to have the discussion - and some calculations - about priorities, needs, wants, and values.

        By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 27

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        • The price anderson act has been a negligible subsidy thus far in the history of nuclear power in the US.

          Americans desire for a clean environment and reliable and affordable electricity far outweighs their unsubstantiated fears of living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant.

          By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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          • if the price anderson subsidy is negligible, then why are insurance companies unwilling to insure?

            apparently americans’ estimates of nuclear risks differ from yours. labeling them unsubstantiated changes nothig.

            By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 30

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            • Throughout its history the Price Anderson Act has factually amounted to a small /kWh subsidy in comparison to other energy subsidies the US has provided.

              The likelihood of an accident is demonstratably very low and becomes lower with each new generation in reactor design.

              So the PA act costs us little and nuclear is in fact very safe. So what exactly is your objection to it then?

              By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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              • my objection is that you sidestepped my point by failing to get the insurance companies to agree with you and start offering such insurance.

                By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 30

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                • Having the private sector cover such an accident scenario is a risk in itself in that the coverage amount is unusually large. That is primarily why the Price Anderson Act exists. Reasonable people understand that the small amount of risk in government liability is absolutely worth it given the benefits provided by nuclear. No emissions, long-term price stability, reliable performance.

                  By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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                  • the reason the price-anderson act exists and was recently renewed is that insurance companies think the risk is too big. can you say ‘fukushima’?

                    By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 30

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                    • I can say Fukushima,

                      I can say supercalifragilisticexpealidocious if you like.

                      Im sure you don’t understand why Fukushima occurred or why it won’t occur in the US, you are just scared of nuclear because that is the way you want to be and bothering with reality isn’t worth your time.

                      Its the amount of coverage, not the risk of needing coverage that keeps insurance companies from being involved.

                      By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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                      • it’s my professional engineering opinion, based on information available to me, that fukushima occurred because planners were overly optimistic. it’s certainly true that i, like amory lovins who is after all a smarter engineer than i, don’t think it’s a trade-off that’s sensible.

                        if the amount of coverage keeps insurance companies from insuring nuclear power in the free market, it’s probably because they don’t want to take the risk of that kind of liability exposure.

                        http://www.booktv.org/Program/14933/After+Words+Eric+Schlosser+quotCommand+and+Control+Nuclear+Weapons+the+Damascus+Accident+and+the+Illusion+of+Safetyquot++++hosted+by+Lynn+Davis+DC+Dir.aspx

                        By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 30

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                        • The Onagawa nuclear plant was also hit by the quake/tsunami yet had no safety failures. The Onagawa reactors were BWRs the same type as Fukushima, but the operator had installed a sea wall to protect them from wave impact. Fukushima obviously should have had the same but the operator declined to build one several years back. A costly mistake, but not one that threatens plants around the world. We live and we learn.

                          The Fukushima failure is a completely avoidable circumstance. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission enacted several measures to address what happened at Fukushima, ensuring redundancy in back up cooling functions. Also new plants don’t require active power for cooling at all.

                          Insurance companies don’t take on coverage in the magnitude of nuclear meltdowns. Try to find an example of 15 bn coverage. The risk is low, 50+ years of operation in the US without a major accident, plants only continue to get safer with each new generation.

                          Seeing as you are a PE it would be great if you used some of your analytical skills to actually assess the technical aspects of nuclear plant failure rather than simply believing them to be unsafe.

                          Amory Lovins is out of touch with reality as many environmentalists and philanthropists would agree.

                          A higher standard of living amongst people can create a greater sense of environmental stewardship and lower the rate of population growth. Nuclear & renewable energy, genetically modified crops, in-vitro meat, and other innovations will go a long way to make the planet more sustainable. Continuing to work against these technologies in hopes that the world reverts back to a lower standard of living is futile and given your lifestyle you are hypocritical to advocate such a viewpoint.

                          By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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                          • given the growing wealth and power of multinational corporations relative to nations, it doesn’t make sense for any nation to continue to give the nuclear industry a free pass.
                            just because i don’t agree with your non-engineering assessment doesn’t mean that i haven’t used my engineering skills. there are many environmentalists and philanthropists who think amory is acutely realistic; i can’t say if more disagree.
                            sustainability based on adapting to the planet strikes me as more sensible and better stewardship than thinking we can adapt the planet to our current fossil-fuel-intensive lifestyle.
                            it appears we have a different way of measuring standards of living.
                            the plans of men are still the jokes of the gods.

                            By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 09 30

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                            • Supporting nuclear energy actually makes a lot of sense. It prevents emissions which can help preserve what remaining biodiversity we have.

                              You seem to lack an understanding that a whole lot of coal is being burnt every single day, and you or Amory Lovins delusional wishes won’t change that. Only public policy and economically competitive energy alternatives can. #nuclear energy

                              By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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  • Fundamentally, conservatives like me mistrust the entire AGW alarmist industry because it is designed to push economic control away from the market and toward centralized socialist methods. Those have been long proven not to work, not only in the real world, but with sound, Nobel-class economic research. No matter how much we point that out, though, the loudest voices from the camp supporting the whole AGW theory are unanimous in that they demand national, and international, governmental controls over energy use and therefore implicitly economies.

    We are naturally suspicious of science produced to support more and bigger and more intrusive government controls financed by governments dispensing grant money by the billions of dollars. Given that the science is being warped explicitly by the policy makers (it’s telling that the IPCC comes right out and admits that the final report will be edited to align with the Summary for Policy Makers released today, the latter being written by policy makers, not scientists), and the policy makers are on record as saying that it’s not about climate change at all but rather redistributing wealth from rich to poor countries, why should we be otherwise?

    If you want to win us over, jettison and disavow the whole idea that the answer must lie in governmental control. Find market-based solutions that will work without such artificial distortions as the notoriously corrupt and manipulable cap-and-trade system. (A liberal talking about “externalities” is trying to distort the market.) We don’t trust governments. They have a long history of running amok and wrecking economies.

    You’re exactly correct that talking about reducing carbon emissions while simultaneously refusing to consider the working, proven solutions to the reduction is a logical fallacy. However, it fits very neatly with *other* statements made by the environmentalist Left about how man uses up too much of the planet’s resources and should cut back overall. We conservatives remember, and see the obvious connection. If your goal is to cut down on man’s use of resources, what better way then denying us the energy we need to do that? And if the world economies collapse and the standard of living is reduced to that of the Dark Ages, oh well, you gotta break a few eggs to get an omelette.

    There’s been a lot of name-calling flung around, to be sure. Even so, conservatives are willing to solve genuine problems - but only if they can be shown to be genuine by people who do not have an enormous stake in there being a problem in the first place.

    By Jay Maynard on 2013 09 27

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    • Fundamentally, conservatives like me mistrust the entire AGW alarmist industry because it is designed to push economic control away from the market and toward centralized socialist methods.

      Jay, as a fellow conservative traveler, I’m in agreement with your assesement.  However, too many on the Right still don’t take these matters seriously enough.  I think it was Roger Scruton who once said about environmental matters, liberals worry too much while conservatives don’t worry enough. 
      - Brent

      By Brent on 2013 09 27

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  • Anti-clean energy groups continue to misleadingly and selectively use statistics to hide the remarkable reductions in fossil fuel use and pollution Germany and other European countries have achieved due to their increased use of wind energy. Much of this deception has focused on a short-term increase in coal use over the last year or two as Germany has rapidly phased out its use of nuclear power. However, it is important not to miss the forest for the trees, and to understand that this short-term increase is entirely caused by the shutdown of Germany’s nuclear plants and is only a temporary blip in the long-term, steady decline in emissions achieved by Germany’s transition to renewable energy.

    The reality is that, over the last decade, wind energy has allowed Germany to greatly reduce fossil fuel use and pollution, reductions that would have been even larger had the country not also greatly scaled down its use of nuclear power over that same time period.

    As documented by International Energy Agency data, as Germany ramped up its use of wind energy, coal use by Germany’s electric sector fell by more than 12% between 2004 and 2010, a reduction of 20 million tons per year. Wind energy was able to drive that reduction in coal use despite nuclear power output declining by 16% over that time period (falling from nearly 34% of the country’s electricity mix in 2004 to less than 25% in 2010).

    Other European countries that have adopted even greater amounts of wind energy than Germany have seen even larger declines in pollution and fossil fuel use. Because Spain and Portugal now obtain 15% and 20%, respectively, of their electricity from wind, up from around 1% a decade ago, they have cut in half the amount of carbon dioxide their electric sectors emit per unit of electricity produced.

    Electric sector coal use in Europe’s top five wind-using countries fell by 21% between 2004 and 2010. These savings totaled more than 100 million tons of coal per year.

    The easiest way to assess the impact wind energy has had on pollution is to compare the emissions trend in the five countries that lead the world in wind energy use (Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, and Ireland) versus the trend for similar countries that have not deployed as much wind energy. Between 1999 and 2010, each of these five countries greatly increased its use of wind energy, as shown in the table below. For the comparison case, the aggregation of all European OECD countries increased their use of wind energy by a much lower amount.

    The best measurement of a country’s emissions profile is to look at changes in the amount of CO2 emitted by the electric sector for every unit of electricity produced, i.e., the emissions intensity of a country’s electric sector. One would expect that adding a zero-emission resource like wind energy to the power system would reduce the emissions-intensity of the country’s electric sector, and International Energy Agency data presented in the table below indicate that this is the case. The countries that added the most wind energy saw the greatest declines in their emissions intensity, while countries that added less wind energy (like Germany and the aggregation of all OECD Europe) saw smaller declines in their emissions intensities.

    Percent Change in Electric Sector CO2 Emissions/kWh from 1999-2010

    Country

    % Change in CO2 emissions/kWh from 1999-2010

    Increase in wind’s electricity percentage share from 1999 to 2010

    Portugal

    -53.07%

    19.9%

    Spain

    -46.45%

    15.4%

    Denmark

    -24.96%

    13.8%

    Ireland

    -34.24%

    10.1%

    Germany

    -12.58%

    6.9%

    All OECD Europe

    -12.60%

    3.8%

    Interestingly, Germany would likely have seen a much larger decline in emissions intensity had the country not decreased its use of zero-emission nuclear energy by 16% over the 1999-2010 period.

    To sum up, it is important to keep in mind that the temporary and small uptick in coal use in Germany over the last two years is purely the result of the country shutting down many of its nuclear power plants following the events at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in early 2011. As Germany continues to ramp up its use of wind and solar energy, the decline in fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions will resume.

    For more information, please see:

    http://aweablog.org/blog/post/correcting-fossil-fuel-industry-misinformation-about-germanys-success-with-renewable-energy

    Michael Goggin,
    American Wind Energy Association

    By Michael Goggin, American Wind Energy Association on 2013 09 30

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    • The fleet of wind turbines in German operate at a capacity factor of 17%, not economic in the remotest sense. As a result Germany has electrical rates nearly 3x the US average.

      Had Germany invested enegiewend funds instead on more nuclear reactors their energy emissions would be near zero rather than higher than the US on a per kWh basis.

      Implementation of increasing amounts of wind and solar will only become more costly as overall penetration becomes larger. Wind has a place but nuclear is the primary means by which we can reduce emissions globally.

      By John Morehouse on 2013 09 30

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  • Actually, you may want to talk to Southern Company about the economics of wind. They’ve made some large wind energy purchases recently.

    Doing rough math, at an optimistic $6/W, nuclear is about 3-4 times more than the installed cost of wind. Wind’s capacity factor is more than 1/3 that of nuclear, so wind comes out well ahead on a $/MWh basis. Wind likely comes out ahead on integration costs, given that fast-acting contingency reserves for large conventional power plants are much more expensive than the minimal increase in operating reserves needed for wind. Neither wind nor nuclear is able to economically provide operating reserves, so that is a wash. Nuclear does have a higher capacity value than wind, although with stagnant electricity demand and increased use of energy efficiency and demand response, capacity has little economic value right now. Transmission costs might be higher for wind, although large grid upgrades are also needed for new nuclear plants. With nuclear’s loan guarantees, Price-Anderson, and other subsidies, the incentives are probably a wash. Wind certainly comes out ahead with a build time of around a year, versus nearly a decade for nuclear. Taking everything into account, the favorable EIA and Lazard figures for wind that were presented above make sense.

    By Michael Goggin, American Wind Energy Association on 2013 09 30

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    • How many wind turbines would it take to equal the Vogtle additions?

      Assuming a 30% capacity factor it would take 8,400 - 2 MW wind turbines to create an equivalent amount of energy annually (19 TWhs).  But creating the same energy annually isn’t the same as creating that energy in a controllable manner which a grid operator needs. And where would Georgia site all of these turbines in a state that is mostly forest land? How would the public ever agree to such a massive build-out of turbines and what would the land cost be? You think this could be permitted and built in a year? Not a chance.The transmission cost? What would the effects on winged wildlife be? Also I’m not so sure 30% is a realistic capacity factor for such a dense build-out of wind:
      http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2013/02/rethinking-wind-power

      Michael you don’t seem to understand ‘comprehensive costs’ or the real economic implications of variable vs controllable capacity. Im not against wind, it has many positive attributes and certainly has a place in our future, but it can’t power entire economies as nuclear is capable of and its not really a debatable issue, so if you care about the environment endorse nuclear and wind.

      Also you might like to know that in terms of funds actually dispersed thus far the PA-act amounts to a very modest subsidy.

      By John Morehouse on 2013 10 01

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  • Your math is off by more than a factor of two. 8400 2 MW turbines at 30% capacity factor = 44.150 TWh, not 19 TWh.

    Also, wind plants are far more flexible and dispatchable than nuclear plants, which in this country typically cannot change their output to follow fluctuations in electricity demand. Wind plants can and do have their output dispatched down in a matter of seconds, and once dispatched down they can be dispatched back up. It is not possible to reliably operate a power system with a large share of inflexible capacity, as the power system needs flexibility to follow changes in electricity demand. For more, read:
    http://www.awea.org/Issues/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=5453

    By Michael Goggin, American Wind Energy Association on 2013 10 01

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  • How embarrassing, you are correct, 8,400 is the amount of turbines needed to replace all 4 of of Vogtles units, not just the two new ones. The figure then is 4000 turbines to create the same amount of annual energy as the Vogtle reactors.

    “Also, wind plants are far more flexible and dispatchable than nuclear plants, which in this country typically cannot change their output to follow fluctuations in electricity demand”

    This is non-factual non-sense. The AP1000 reactors being built at Vogtle have full load following capability. In the month of August 2013 the US fleet of Nuclear reactors operated at over 97% capacity factor, with several plants in fact operating over 100%. This steady and reliable generation capabilities that nuclear plants have for decades is very valuable to grid operation. Your claim that nuclear plants are ‘inflexible’ is quite outdated as several commercial reactors today can follow load with agility similar to natural gas plants.

    Saying wind plants are far more flexible and dispatchable than modern nuclear reactors is totally and completely inaccurate. Wind turbines unless coupled with storage are not dispatchable. Curtailing wind output and then ending curtailment isn’t a form of dispatchment, it is a form of inefficient use of capacity and such an arrangement is not a reliable way to load follow to any extent given the real variability in wind resource.

    By John Morehouse on 2013 10 01

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  • just noticing that those who are saying on this page that nuclear energy is environmentally friendly actually mean that it’s less environmentally unfriendly (in their opinion) than fossil fuels. not a very high bar.

    By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 01

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  • It is interesting how closely the comments on this article mirror what the article is saying. 

    ” the energy technologies favored by the climate-skeptical Right are doing far more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the ones favored by the climate-apocalyptic Left.”

    Personally, I’m far more a part of the climate-apocalyptic Left.  Yet, it seems almost obvious to me that nuclear and gas (mostly nuclear), in addition to what renewables can provide, is the clear, appropriate, and realistic path forward.  I also think anyone who advocates a lower standing of living is insane (great can’t-do attitude there).  It is also almost obvious that AGW is real and a serious risk to future generations.  The severity is debatable, but the risk is real and backed by mountains of evidence and research.  Taking steps to mitigate this risk is also clear, appropriate, and realistic.

    By Scott Arnold on 2013 10 02

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    • as usual, there are more than 2 alternatives - there is also the climate-realistic green approach.
      from the perspective of PHYSICAL energy sources, the PHYSICAL aspects of standard of living which are most pertinent are: clean air and water, healthy food, comfy shelter, and plenty of sleep and exercise. as you are no doubt aware, this minimum physical standard is not yet available to the poor in many countries, whether in the over-developed world or the non-yet-overdeveloped world.

      By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 02

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  • Beautiful article, well written and obviously correct. My question is why wasn’t hydroelectric energy included in the analysis? On a global level it is close to nuclear. And the goofs on the left/eco-pop side oppose it even though it is undeniably renewable. I have a feeing it would be 50 to 1 rather than 35 to 1 if hydro were included.

    By Patrick Moore on 2013 10 28

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    • this profoundly unscientific, off-the-cuff reaction shows only that the author is not open to the thinking and information of a substantial sector of society. this is not a good way to find a solution to anything, let alone our fossil fuel addiction.
      besides, hydro is only renewable if you can figure out how to get mother nature to clean out the sediment which inevitably accumulates behind dams and ends their temporarily and narrowly useful life.

      By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 28

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  • Yes they are. As in “civilized” as we define it today one of the main factors is access to 24-hour electricity for communications, refrigeration, light, heath, etc. etc. I am certainly supportive of energy efficiency if it is cost-effective. Just look at the mess many European countries are in because they overdid it in subsidies for expensive renewables.

    By Patrick Moore on 2013 10 28

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  • no, your reply implicitly acknowledges that civilization is defined differently in different times and places.

    for example, i wager that gandhi’s definition (as well as mine) differs from yours.

    By Muriel Strand, P.E. on 2013 10 28

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  • Gandhi was famously asked what he thought of Western Civilization. “That would be a good idea” he replied. Very clever. But there are 300 million, mostly poor farmers, in India without electricity. What is you lifestyle” Do you have electricity? If so, I would advise cutting it off for one year and seeing if that doesn’t change your perspective.
    Electricity gets one out of poverty and into civilization.

    By Patrick Moore on 2013 10 29

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About Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are leading global thinkers on energy, climate, security, human development, and politics. They are founders of the Breakthrough Institute and executive editors of Breakthrough Journal.

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