A Climate Hawk Gets Real

David Roberts at Grist seems to have had an a ha! moment. In a long, wonky post about the “rebound effect,” he frames the grand challenge of emissions reduction as a problem that offers one of two choices:

2a. Drive down global energy intensity.

2b. Drive down global economic growth.

Roberts runs through the math and concludes that “it will be extremely difficult to drive energy-intensity decline faster than economic growth.” He also admits that it will “be extremely difficult to scale up low-carbon energy fast enough, especially in the short- to mid-term.”  The logical conclusion he arrives at:

So what option does that leave us? It seems we’re back to 2b, the option that dare not speak its name: suppressing economic growth.

Roger Pielke Jr. gets a chuckle out of all this (while coughing “iron law“) but gives Roberts props for

taking the time to run the numbers and report the results — we all benefit from such analyses, uncomfortable as the results might be.

Roberts is a brainy fighter in the climate debate (he popularized the term climate hawk). He believes in staying on message and not giving his opposition any ammunition. By all appearances, he abides by the an enemy of my friend is an enemy of mine credo. So who knows what prompted this sudden realism, but it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

Roberts’ post has also triggered a sane, constructive discussion at the Grist thread, including this comment by Steve Harris, a Fellow at the UK’s Schumacher Institute:

Having spent some time considering these issues in my role as a researcher at the Schumacher Institute here in the UK I have also arrived at the conclusion that further growth is incompatible with climate change mitigation. Today’s figures on the upsurge in UK emissions as our economy goes back into growth are yet another confirmation, if any were needed. Unfortunately – and I think Jesse’s [Jenkins] contributions on wealth redistribution also point to this – the tight connection between GDP growth and GHG emissions also carries serious implications for social justice, the ‘development’ part of sustainable development, which also appears to be strongly tied to growth (unacceptable as that might be in principle). In other words, it looks like social justice loses both ways: either because the poorest are hit hardest by climate change, or because they are hit hardest by degrowth/recession. The situation is, as you say, daunting. I for one am being forced to reluctantly agree with the growing cadre of scientists who are arguing that as abandonment of growth-oriented economics within the required timeframe looks unlikely, geoengineering now looks inevitable and we better start seriously researching it as soon as we can. It’s also caused me to radically shift my position on nuclear energy here I’m with the Breakthrough guys – because if the gap between renewables and demand is much bigger than we thought, as rebound indicates, then we better throw any and every low-carbon technology we have into the gap. All in all, the more information we get the more it becomes clear that the old entrenched positions within the environmental and sustainable development movements are no longer tenable, especially where they lead to rejecting technological solutions out of hand before we have enough knowledge to judge them fairly.

I once thought that Grist would be at the forefront of a necessary debate, examining how “old entrenched positions within the environmental and sustainable development movements are no longer tenable.” But it has mostly become a bloggy clearinghouse that, when it comes to technology, is happy to encourage long-standing green fears about nuclear power and GMO’s.

Roberts’ post lays out the huge challenge of climate change from the energy perspective. It gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, Grist will start to question green orthodoxy, instead of enforcing it.

UPDATE: I should say it’s clear that Roberts recognizes the negative implications of option 2b–suppressing economic growth. I assume he’ll try to puzzle out (in a future post) how it can be done without the downside that Harris notes in his comment.

74 Responses to “A Climate Hawk Gets Real”

  1. Jarmo says:

    Would somebody please explain where do we get the money to invest in developing renewable power, the new grids to handle it, nuclear power and biofuels if the world economy is contracting? Has anybody realized how cheap oil, coal and gas would become?

    Remember, even during the slump 2008-2010, the world economic growth actually did not go negative. But, a barrel of oil went down to 30-40 US$.

    Now, imagine a 5 %drop in world growth and guess the oil price?

  2. EdG says:

    Funny, I thought the ultimate purpose of the whole UN AGW project was to slow down economic growth in target areas, notably the US. To redistribute wealth and all that. That definitely is all Durban was about.

    You asked: “So who knows what prompted this sudden realism”?

    I think you know. If you don’t, you must not be looking. The ship is sinking. Did you miss what is happening now in Germany (a topic worth a blog if ever there was one)? And this piece by the BBC’s Richard Black is another sign of the times.

    “Is there or isn’t there a scientific consensus on climate change?
    And does it matter?”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16906738

    I have often compared the AGW project to the Iraqi WMD project, and Black’s backpeddling reminds me of that parallel, and its spinners.

    Yes, We just haven’t found them, or we know they could have been there… and even if there were no WMDs it was still a good idea, Etc.

    I expect that many AGW promoters will be having moments of convenient epiphany as they scramble to save what remains of their credibility and careers and hope that everyone has short memories. That has worked many times before, as Paul Ehrlich will confirm.

    Next up: Biodiversity Crisis.

  3. Keith Kloor says:

    EdG,

    I think you’re getting a bit carried away. But on the topic of short memories, yes, I would agree with that, as the Bomb Iran drumbeat continues, based on hyperbole and no evidence.

  4. Jeff says:

    David Roberts is not a smart thinker. He’s an environmental ideologue. None of this analysis is new.

  5. Keith Kloor says:

    Jeff,

    Well, that settles it, then! Seriously, care to make an actual rebuttal? 

  6. Jeff says:

    And I will also point out that it ultimately boils down to the fact that no one has any fucking clue what the world will look like in 2030, much less 2100.
     
    Imagine in the 1920s you had a grand group of individuals who had the arrogance to predict economic growth out a century away. 
     
     
     

  7. Jarmo says:

    It would be good if Greens did more number crunching based on the real world instead of some Greenpeace renewable Shangri-La.

    What about the touted Green growth? 

    http://www.euractiv.com/priorities/europe-2020-green-growth-jobs-linksdossier-280116 

  8. Joshua says:

    Keith –
     
    I remember reading a study recently that questioned the significance of the rebound effect and as I recall, Pielke Jr. said it is likely insignificant.
     
    Care to weigh in? (I haven’t read the Grist posts you l linked as of yet).

  9. Keith Kloor says:

    Joshua,

    I’m not sure which of those you’re referring to, but Time’s Bryan Walsh has a nice write-up on David Owen’s new book. The headline on Walsh’s piece: “Why energy efficiency isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” 

  10. Joshua says:

    Keith –
     
    http://co2scorecard.org/home/researchitem/22
     
    From Pielke Jr. (it appears that I mischaracterized his opinion, a bit. It isn’t that he called the rebound effect insignificant, but that it is “inconsequential to the debate over decarbonization.” 
     
    “A group called CO2scorecard.org, whose efforts to compile energy data I have praised in the past, has issued a report which argues that so-called “energy rebound” at the micro-level might be in the range of 30% or less rather than the higher levels that have been argued by my colleagues at The Breakthrough Institute. While longtime readers of this blog and readers of The Climate Fix will know that I think that the debate over the rebound effect is largely inconsequential to the debate over efforts to decarbonize the economy, the report and reaction to it provide a great opportunity to highlight a key intellectual challenge that we all face when overwhelmed with information ““ beware promoting bad analyses simply because they accord with your tribal convictions.”


    http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2012/01/collateral-damage-from-not-knowing-what.html

  11. hunter says:

    So even people at Grist are starting back away from the precipice. Amazing.

  12. Anteros says:

    Keith/Joshua
     
    I think there are parts of the efficiency projections that also fall foul of Jevons paradox.
    Efficiency has some real benefits but is also hamstrung in some irritating ways.

  13. Another kick-butt piece by David. Wish I’d said that.
    Well, I’ve said most of it, but I wish I had said it as well.
    I don’t think David is backtracking.
    One uncomfortable consequence is that there is no pricing mechanism that is adequate to the carbon problem no matter how successful the “Breakthrough” development of alternative energy is; only a regulatory regime will suffice. 
    I wish I could come up with something easier to sell, but I can’t.
    Interestingly, great swaths of the oil industry are in favor of a regulatory regime, provided that it allows for CO2 capture and sequestration.
     

  14. Anteros says:

    Jeff @ 6
     
    Your point could be broadened to cover the majority of negative predictions about the future.
     
    One that has been looming larger in my daily consciousness is that somehow it is inevitable that any changes in climate will have net negative consequences. My problem with this isn’t the usual “Well the consequences might be net benign or positive”, but that apart from the fact that climate change pales into insignificance beside the impact of climate, there is a much more important variable.
     
    Take the effect of climatic events [weather writ large] 150 years ago. Compare it to today. What has happened? The change has been like the change in the price of food or the abundance of aluminium – they have changed by an order of magnitude.
     
    Food is more than ten times cheaper, aluminium is more than ten times more abundant, and the effects of climatic events are more than ten times less. We look at the possibly measurable changes in climate itself, obsess about them, and forget that the important variable – the one that has changed, is changing, and will continue to change – is humanities vulnerability to climatic events themselves. 
     
    This vulnerability declines with the building of every windproof, waterproof, temperature controlled house. Every irrigation system. Every step in widening the global food market. Every weather satellite launch. Many of us already live in a Goretex, climate-resilient world. The spreading of that resilience makes the alleged prospect that some places may become ‘windier’ or ‘rainier’ virtually meaningless.
    Imagine the European cold snap happening 150 years ago. How many deaths?
     
    Which changes are most definitely occurring and which are purported to be waiting in an imaginary future? Which is more important?

  15. EdG says:

    3 Keith

    “carried away” I just reread my post and don’t see anything off the rails or even unpredictable. 

    Yes, Iran. I find this site (below) to be most interesting for news about what is happening in Iran, Syria, etc. Word has it that it is just an israeli propaganda site but that doesn’t seem to explain some of their coverage, and it is always days ahead of the usual media’s reporting, when they even report these things at all (like Libya). I guess some propaganda is better than others.

    http://www.debka.com/

    Oh well. What time is American Idol on?

  16. Steve Fitzpatrick says:

    Michael Tobis,
    “Breakthrough” development of alternative energy is; only a regulatory regime will suffice. 
    I wish I could come up with something easier to sell, but I can’t.


    As Roger Pielke Jr. and others have long noted, that sale is not going to happen.  Hum… lemme see, reduce total global energy use (and economic activity) by maybe 50%, then redistribute all the money evenly worldwide via regulation/taxation, so that people in developed countries average maybe 20-30% of their current wealth.   No, that is not ever going to sell.  Perhaps you should hope for climate sensitivity under 2C per doubling and change the focus of your work to practical geo engineering schemes, so that the technology is in hand for 50 or 75 years from now.  You might also want to lend your support to a rapid expansion of nuclear power.

  17. Nuclear will be insufficient absent policy-driven caps for the same reasons that solar will be.

  18. Joshua says:

    Steve Fitzpatrick –
    Are you on board with centralized energy policies and public sector financing as seen in other countries with significant %’s of nuclear energy?
     

  19. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Keith I’m disapointed if not surprised by this post.  sometimes it pays to expand your roladex. Just because RPJr or BTI says it is so does not make it so. If you don’t believe ask Michael Levi 😉

  20. […] Roberts concludes, in an excellent essay that Keith Kloor feels compelled to call “a long, wonky post” that limits to carbon emissions amount to limits to economic growth. I think this is […]

  21. Keith Kloor says:

    Marlowe,

    I’m confused. You should be disappointed with Roberts, not me. I’m just the messenger here. 🙂

  22. Steve Fitzpatrick says:

    Michael Tobis,
    No, of course, it would be impossible to build enough nuclear plants quickly enough, and you would have to go to breeders to not run out of uranium too quickly (and start a serious thorium development program for the longer term).  But every nuclear plant built would reduce the total CO2 emitted. I was not suggesting nuclear power could keep atmospheric CO2 from rising, but it could reduce the rate of rise.  My real point (maybe not clearly made) was that it is unrealistic to imagine people in wealthy countries will politically accept a huge drop in material wealth and living standard, now or any time in the foreseeable future.
     
    Joshua,
    “Are you on board with centralized energy policies and public sector financing as seen in other countries with significant %’s of nuclear energy?”
    I didn’t say anything about the details of how increased nuclear power generation could/should be implemented.  That seems to me a secondary issue.  The more important issue is more that if someone is honestly concerned about the rate of rise in atmospheric CO2 (and it’s long term consequences), then vigorous support for nuclear power seems a logical product of that concern, especially in light of the improbability of a drastic reduction in global wealth to curb emissions… with the biggest reductions in the most wealthy countries.   Elected officials are not going to even discuss that prospect, never mind support it.
     

  23. Joshua says:

    Steve –
     
    I’m not sure why it is any more of a secondary issue than is the practicality of accepting lower economic growth to limit ACO2 emissions. My point is that there will be a lot of political resistance to overcome (from the right and the left) w/r/t financing and safety issues. How practical is nuclear as an option in today’s political environment in the U.S.?

  24. Howard says:

    Keith:
     
    I thought the free ice cream gravy train was so last year.  The monkey has a strong grip on us all.
     
    The problem is that the solution to decarbonization is to burn more carbon like it’s 1999.  Wealth is the only proven driver of environmental remediation. 
     
    However, the daydream believers on the right and left live on the Planet Claire, so we are fucked unless Israel nukes Persia. Then AGW is off the stove completely and we can get back to true existentialism.

  25. Paul in Sweden says:

    Michael Tobis Says:
    February 8th, 2012 at 5:18 pm “Interestingly, great swaths of the oil industry are in favor of a regulatory regime, provided that it allows for CO2 capture and sequestration.”
    MT, I go along with “Interestingly, great swaths of the oil industry are in favor of a regulatory regime” but not so much the CSS part.
    The oil industry is unconcerned. Their product will remain in high demand for the foreseeable future. Oil industry business plans going out to 2050 are in the public domain. Major oil companies discover more reserves every year than they sell during the previous year. Oil companies are solely interested in regulatory stability. Consumers foot the bill.

  26. jeffn says:

    #23 Joshua- so we face a choice between nuclear power, which comes with risks that even environmentalists now admit were lies and exaggerations (see Monbiot on the subject). Or we can mandate a deeper recession that will harm everyone and, ultimately, have no effect emissions (I have little faith in the sustainability of enforced suffering for climate).
    Just to clarify- you find this choice difficult and think people are likely to pick option 2?
    For me, this one’s a no brainer.

  27. Paul in Sweden says:

    jeffn #26


    Nuclear power is expensive. Nuclear power is also unsuitable for undeveloped countries. Nations that still stone women to death and cannot be trusted with rocks certainly cannot be trusted with nuclear power.
    Contained and properly managed, nuclear energy offers constant stable albeit expensive energy relatively safely.  Recent statistics have shown that there have been more deaths associated with wind power than nuclear power over the past decade or so.

  28. Paul in Sweden says:

    having difficulties with the WYSIWYG editor, bold and italics seem to do their own thing. -Paul

  29. Joshua says:

    #26 jeffn –
     
    I can assure you, there are many people who certainly don’t consider themselves anything near environmentalists but are concerned about safety issues associated with nuclear power. You can think that they are all dupes of the scares fabricated by the left-wing media and ebul environmentalists, but I think that they are more likely to be aware of the scale of potential danger of nuclear plants and nuclear waste generation.
     
    Now you might think that concern about the safety of nuclear power is irrational – but trying to blame those concerns on environmentalists (singularly) is ridiculous. If you look at the money that we have spent on anti-terrorism efforts, and the related changes in our governing structure, and you compare them to the actual level of threat represented by terrorism, and the amount of harm that terrorists have caused us, You might consider that to be irrational also. Who are you going to blame that on?
     
    We could find hundreds of similar examples of widespread reaction to risk that we might describe as irrational.
     
     
    People take all kinds of approaches towards assessing risk. They can broadly be categorized 
     
     
     
    There was a significant reduction in the rate at which nuclear power plants were being built in this country that predated Three Mile Island. There were a number of factors in play.  Complicated factors related to risk assessment, the need for environmental production, and economics. In particular, the economics. As far as I can tell, every country that has significant %’s of nuclear energy, with the possible exception of Finland, has done so via massive public sector funding and centralized energy policies.
     
    How do you propose overcoming the irrational fear that the right has of public sector funding and the centralization of policy development and implementation?
     

  30. Jarmo says:

    About renewable power, Spain seems to be in trouble.

    First of all, despite heavy investment in and multibillion subsidies for renewable power, Spain is behind its commitments for Kyoto and must buy emission rights… once again:

    http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/spain-buys-6-million-tonnes-of-carbon-credits-from-eastern-europe.html

    Spain already cut solar and wind subsidies that would have cost it over 100 billion. Now they have suspended subsidies for all new renewable energy “temporarily”:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-27/spain-suspends-subsidies-for-new-renewable-energy-plants.html

    Looks like degrowth to me 😉

     

  31. jeffn says:

    #29, Joshua:
    Sorry, but you make a rather classic misdirection play here. The places that went whole-hog, centralized, government control/ownership/subsidization of nuclear did so largely because that is what they did with all energy. I don’t think we need to take France’s approach to oil, so I don’t think we need to take France’s approach to nuclear power.
    It’s a hoot that you’re trying to lay the blame on restrictions on nuclear at the feet of Republicans and right-wingers. You’ll have to scrub a lot of history to accomplish that- I can name Democrats and environmental organizations who still happily claim full credit for killing nukes.
    But you never did answer the question- nukes or forced recession, you think this is a difficult choice for people? Think it’s going to be close?
     

  32. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Here is a comment from Brinda Thomas over on the Grist thread that provides some useful perspective:

    “I agree with your previous conclusions though, that rebound or not, energy efficiency is a good option for promoting economic growth while reducing energy consumption…It is also important to keep in mind that while energy efficiency may lead to economic growth, other factors like personal income growth and labor productivity are larger drivers of economic growth.  
    In my view, rebound effects are an academic issue for developing better energy models, not an argument against energy efficiency policies.  However, the existence of rebound effects makes it clear that we cannot use energy efficiency investments as a substitute for dealing with the main problem: in much of the world, there is no price or too low a price on CO2.  A price on carbon is a policy issue worth fighting for, and one which would help the market decide how much energy efficiency, renewables, CCS, nuclear, and any other options to invest in.” 

  33. Joshua says:

    jeffn –
     
    I don’t seem to have explained my point clearly. I didn’t blame our lack of nuclear power on any particular group. That is what you did, and I was suggesting that in doing so you are in error. The characteristics of how people assess risk run across pretty much any particular large demographic subgroup you might like to consider.
     
    ” The places that went whole-hog, centralized, government control/ownership/subsidization of nuclear did so largely because that is what they did with all energy.”
     
    But that is precisely my point. Having centralized control/ownership/subsidization is pretty much a precondition of large scale reliance on nuclear power. Many countries rely on oil without having policies similar to France. No country (with the arguable exception of Finland) significantly rely on nuclear power without massive public subsidization and highly centralized policies.
     
    For example, in order to attract the massive levels of investment needed, you have to provide assurances that deal with the reality  that there other investments in less risky endeavors that bring great returns on much shorter time horizons.
     
    I think that your “choice” is a false dichotomy rooted in a simplistic analysis. Accordingly, it seems pointless to me to give you an answer to a completely decontextualized and abstracted question. Still, since you seem to care what my opinions is,  of course I don’t think that people would  choose economic hardship in comparison to extremely low-risk options that would be categorically more beneficial economically.
     

  34. jeffn says:

    Marlowe, people have been fighting unsuccessfully for a price on carbon for 20 years. They keep losing for three reasons:
    1. it makes no sense to attempt to set a price high enough that it makes windmills and solar panels look good when there are more cost-effective options.
    2. there is no price you can set that is high enough to drop emissions to the level you want them to be. Iron law.
    3. A “compromise” that sets a price that does neither 1 nor 2, but gives you a revenue stream for redistribution of wealth is pointless as environmental policy and stupid as economic policy (carbon pricing is regressive taxation- you don’t take from the poor to give to the poor).

  35. jeffn says:

    Joshua – “No country (with the arguable exception of Finland) significantly rely on nuclear power without massive public subsidization and highly centralized policies.”
    That’s simply not true. The US gets 20%+ of it’s power from nuclear, despite the desperate attempts to demagogue it through the 1970s and 1980s. That number would be higher today absent that concerted effort to misrepresent the risks. And by-the-by it is skipping a step to exaggerate a risk and then claim that the “concern” generated about the fake risk will naturally limit the willingness to accept something that isn’t really risky.
    If there were a group of people who were concerned about GHG emissions, for example, they might be interested in dropping the lies and admitting the truth about the level of risk associated with nuclear power. George Monbiot appears to be one of those people. Are you, or will you hold out for an ideologically purer “solution”? Makes no difference to me- I have no doubt the ideological approach will fail – it has for 2 decades and it’s prospects aren’t improving. I also don’t think the issue is urgent, so I’m with you- spend another couple decades discussing your framework for an unlikely policy.

  36. Paul in Sweden says:

    When Rush Limbaugh, Bill Maher, Grist, Mother Jones, Deltoid or the Center for American Progress are mentioned I immediately disregard anything that follows.

  37. Jarmo says:

    #32 Marlowe,

    We have price for carbon and emission trading here in Europe.

    We have also energy companies that are making fabulous profits thanks to these policies. For example utility Fortum here in Finland routinely makes 30-40 % profit from their sales. Better than Apple in 2011…
    http://www.fortum.com/en/investors/financial-information/interim-reports/pages/default.aspx

    Their biggest investments? Renewables? Nooo! Gas and coal power plants in Russia.

    http://www.fortum.com/en/mediaroom/articles/tobolsk%20power%20plant%20one%20of%20fortums%20most%20important%20investment%20targets/pages/default.aspx

     

  38. Joshua says:

    jeffn –
     
    “The US gets 20%+ of it’s power from nuclear,…”
     
    Fair point.  “Significant” was an overstatement. That said:
     
    –snip–
    All operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. were built with substantial public subsidies. These included large subsidies to research and development, plant construction, uranium enrichment, and waste management.  Since its inception, the industry has also benefitted from government programs to shift key risks of the nuclear fuel cycle away from investors and onto taxpayers. 
    A handful of studies have quantified subsidies to the nuclear-power industry over the decades, indicating aggregate subsidization at well over US$ 150 billion, and a subsidy intensity (government support per kWh output) normally exceeding 30% of the market value of the energy produced.
     
    These subsidies have enabled our existing commercial reactors to remain viable power providers, but only with additional capital write-offs. These write-offs have occurred not only through bankruptcies, but in the form of compensation for “stranded costs” as well. Basically, a cost was considered stranded if it made a plant uncompetitive at the time the electricity industry was being deregulated. Nuclear generation accounted for large share of total stranded costs in the United States, with nearly US$ 100 billion (2007$) of nuclear-related infrastructure deemed uncompetitive transferred as a liability to be bailed out by ratepayers. Although the industry frequently points to its low operating costs as evidence of its market competitiveness, this economic structure is an artifact of large subsidies to capital, historical write-offs of capital, and ongoing subsidies to operating costs. 
    –snip–
     
    http://www.globalsubsidies.org/en/subsidy-watch/commentary/gambling-nuclear-power-how-public-money-fuels-industry
     
    If you have a link to information that shows different evaluations than what is stated above, I’d love to read it.

  39. BBD says:

    Joshua
     
    I can assure you, there are many people who certainly don’t consider themselves anything near environmentalists but are concerned about safety issues associated with nuclear power.
     
    Since 1970 we have had over 11,000 years of continuous operation of nuclear plant. Almost all of it by antiquated plant over 20 years old. 
     
    TMI was idiocy. Chernobyl likewise, aided by the insanity of running a reactor in a shed instead of a containment vessel. Fukushima was a natural disaster.
     
    Nuclear risk is grossly, absurdly over-stated.

  40. #25 ” Major oil companies discover more reserves every year than they sell during the previous year.”
     
    I believe this assertion to be incorrect and I challenge you to provide evidence for it.
     
     

  41. Sashka says:

    @ 29
     
    How do you propose overcoming the irrational fear that the right has of public sector funding and the centralization of policy development and implementation?
     
    The right has no fear of public funding. Neither in the form of bonds issuance nor in the form of tax breaks or subsidies. Provided that the subsidies don’t go “green” companies, of course.

  42. Sashka says:

    With MT @ 40.
     

  43. Joshua says:

    jeffn –
     
    Also please note:
     
    From you:
    “despite the desperate attempts to demagogue it through the 1970s and 1980s.”
    From the link:
    “Subsidies to the nuclear power industry have gone through cycles. During the early 1980s the industry benefitted from very high subsidies to capital formation.”
     
    Also, as I mentioned, the slowdown in the development of nuclear power predated widespread concern about safety as represented by Three Mile Island (frequently referenced by anti-environmentlists as evidence of over-hyping). There are a variety of reasons for that. You might find the following interesting (published in 1990, but still relevant, I think):
     
    http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter9.html
     
    –snip
    No nuclear power plants in the United States ordered since 1974 will be completed, and many dozens of partially constructed plants have been abandoned. What cut off the growth of nuclear power so suddenly and so completely? The direct cause is not fear of reactor accidents, or of radioactive materials released into the environment, or of radioactive waste. It is rather that costs have escalated wildly, making nuclear plants too expensive to build.
    –snip–
    Now discussion of the role of environmental activism in increasing costs is reasonable – as is the role of activism in what the link speaks to by way of “regulatory ratcheting.” But to have such a discussion, there can’t be demagoguing about demagoguing .

  44. Paul in Sweden says:

    MT #30
    #25 “ Major oil companies discover more reserves every year than they sell during the previous year.”
     
    I believe this assertion to be incorrect and I challenge you to provide evidence for it.
    —-

    MT fair enough but I am surprised that you are not aware of this. I will post the references here and on your web site.

  45. Joshua says:

    BBD –
     
    “Nuclear risk is grossly, absurdly over-stated.”
     
    I probably agree. The questions I’m interesting in, however, are how can we understand what seems like irrational risk assessment, whether or not it is attributable to particular individuals or groups (as opposed to basic human nature), and whether or not it is sufficiently explanatory for the state of the nuclear industry in the U.S.?
     
    We can find what seems to be irrational concern about risk in many different areas.
     

  46. Marlowe Johnson says:

    @bbd
    I’m not sure you’re really being responsive to Joshua’s point.  While I agree with you that the public perception of nuclear risk is overstated when considered on an objective basis (e.g. damages/reactor years), it is hardly unique in this regard.  Consider people’s  fear of flying vs. driving as another example.

    Furthermore, you don’t exactly help your case with the TMI and Chernobyl examples.  I think a good case can be made that what really makes some people worry about nuclear is that all it takes is human error (what you call idiocy/insanity) to produce a very, very large problem. 

    I’d also be curious to hear your take on the subsidy issue, which nuclear power has traditionally had in spades; both directly through financing arrangements, capital right-offs, and indirectly through liability caps (e.g. Price Anderson Act).
     

  47. Joshua says:

    Sashka –
     
    “The right has no fear of public funding.”
     
    My perspective on that is because it’s easier to whine about ebul environmentalists than it is to confront the need for public subsidization and legitimate regulation.
     
    If push comes to shove, “the right” will need to reconcile anti-government rhetoric with the realities entailed in increasing nuclear power. It may happen, but overcoming irrational fear of government will be required.

  48. Sashka says:

    irrational fear of government


    I think it’s very rational. The government, unlike temperatures, never stops growing.
    As for nuclear, it is the government regulators that are in the way now. How many years does it take to approve an application?

  49. Joshua says:

    Sashka –
     
    “I think it’s very rational.”
    I get that. And people concerned about nuclear safety think their fear is rational also.
    I look at large, “nanny-state” “socialist” governments and I see things like democracy, economic prosperity, and more nuclear power.
    Go figure.
    I guess teasing out causation from correlation is difficult to do with simplistic analysis.

  50. jeffn says:

    #43- “Now discussion of the role of environmental activism in increasing costs is reasonable ““ as is the role of activism in what the link speaks to by way of “regulatory ratcheting.” But to have such a discussion, there can’t be demagoguing about demagoguing .”
    Yes, the result of irrational fear-mongering was irrational restrictions that left capital investments hanging. That was the result of the activists’ hype. Nice of you to use the term “subsidy” to describe the willingness of the government to only partially offset the irrational costs it imposes. To answer your question- I’d be willing to keep the existing “subsidy” regime in place for nuclear (which we’ve somehow managed without govt. control of energy) and reduce it as the lies about nuclear energy are exposed.
    In short- how about an honest discussion about alternatives to coal. Which do you think would win out- rooftop solar, nukes, or forced recession?

  51. Joshua says:

    – 50 – jeffn –
     
    “Yes, the result of irrational fear-mongering was irrational restrictions that left capital investments hanging. That was the result of the activists’ hype.”
     
    I am “afraid” that there’s no point in discussing with you the realities behind quantifying the impact of environmental activism (as opposed to widespread “irrational” fear and rational concern) on the state of nuclear power in the U.S.
     
    Is my fear irrational?  Your repeated posts suggest that it isn’t.

  52. Sashka says:

    And people concerned about nuclear safety think their fear is rational also.
     
    I am not one of those who would sharply disagree. We have to learn from past mistakes, use better designs and keep nuclear far away from seismic areas.
     
    I look at large, “nanny-state” “socialist” governments and I see things like democracy, economic prosperity, and more nuclear power.
     
    I don’t believe you can demonstrate meaningful correlation. Particularly after Germany’s recent decision. Forget about causation..

  53. Joshua says:

    Sashka –
     
    What is the difference between “meaningful correlation” and causation? Do you mean any degree of positive correlation? 
    Which non “nanny-state” “socialist” governments have democracy and economic prosperity? Somalia?
    And when we select for more significant %’s of nuclear power than we have, which countries can you point to that don’t have “nanny-state” and “socialist” governments? Somalia?
    I’m not claiming causation. I’m suggesting a positive correlation. Depending on your definition, I may even be suggesting a “meaningful correlation.”

  54. harrywr2 says:

    Michael Tobis
    <i>I wish I could come up with something easier to sell, but I can’t.</i>
    Look at South Carolina. I don’t think anyone would consider South Carolinian’s particularly green.
    But they’ve figured out a framework to build new nuclear with relatively low finance rates. They just issued some bonds with a 4.3% yield which is substantially below the ‘consensus’ estimates that ‘new nuclear’ finance costs would be at least 8% if you could get finance at all. They also have not bothered seeking ‘loan guarantees’.
    http://www.scana.com/en/investor-relations/news-releases/2012-sceg-announces-debt-offering.htm
    One of the problems the climate movement suffers from is they are married to a ‘policy’ rather then a ‘result’.
     

  55. jeffn says:

    #51 why do I have this vision of you and your friends laughing at the poor fool of a mechanic who simply refused – refused! – your demand to replace the fetzer valve on your car?
    Don’t worry Joshua, your preferred policy will happen any day now. Keep insisting on it!

  56. Joshua says:

    #55 –
     
    “why do I have this vision of you and your friends laughing at the poor fool of a mechanic who simply refused ““ refused! ““ your demand to replace the fetzer valve on your car?”


    Drugs?

  57. Paul in Sweden says:

    @Jeffin #55
    “Hey! It’s all ball bearings nowadays. Now you prepare that Fetzer valve with some 3-in-1 oil and some gauze pads. And I’m gonna need ’bout ten quarts of anti-freeze, preferably Prestone. No, no make that Quaker State”
    🙂

  58. Sashka says:

    What is the difference between “meaningful correlation” and causation? Do you mean any degree of positive correlation?
     
    As you know, correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation. But meaningful large correlation, let’s say over 50-70%, gives a reason to suspect one.

  59. Joshua says:

    Rather timely:
     
    “It’s been 34 years — and several nuclear accidents later — but a divided federal panel on Thursday licensed a utility to build nuclear reactors in the U.S. for the first time since 1978.
    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, opposed licensing the reactors at this time even though he had earlier praised their design.
    “There is still more work” to be done to ensure that lessons learned from Japan’s Fukushima disaster last year are engrained in the reactor design, he told his colleagues. “I cannot support this licensing as if Fukushima never happened.”


    Gregory Jaczko – “irrational environmentalist?”  You make the call.

  60. Paul in Sweden says:

    How many individuals of the  KK “climate concerned community” are aware that the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are prosperous and habitable?
    Nuclear energy as implemented today is expensive. I am not today a proponent of Nuclear energy on this basis.

  61. Sashka says:

    And when we select for more significant %’s of nuclear power than we have, which countries can you point to that don’t have “nanny-state”
     
    There are much more nanny-states than significant nuclear powers. So I’d call the evidence circumstantial at best.

  62. Paul in Sweden says:

    Sashka Says:
    February 9th, 2012 at 1:07 pm
    There are much more nanny-states than significant nuclear powers. So I’d call the evidence circumstantial at best.
    Sashka, lo and behold we have finally found a point of agreement.
     
     

  63. Joshua says:

    Sashka –
     
    “There are much more nanny-states than significant nuclear powers. So I’d call the evidence circumstantial at best.”
     
    Let’s look at this a bit more.
     
    I don’t know exactly how you’d define “nanny-state” “socialist” countries, but I would guess it’s safe to say that you think there  are many “socialist “nanny states” and many “non-socialist” “non nanny-states”
     
    Among the countries that do not rely on nuclear for significant %’s of electrical generation, there is a mix of both “nanny state” “socialist” governments and “non nanny-state” “socialist” governments.
    Among the countries that do rely on nuclear for significant %’s of electricity generation, “nanny state” “socialist” countries are disproportionately represented.
    Circumstantial?  Really? 
    OK. If you say so.
    If you define circumstantial to mean correlation but not necessarily causation.

  64. jeffn says:

    Paul, only deniers think it’s all ball bearings these days. 100% of certified fetzer specialists say otherwise. Don’t trust mechanics who are not certified on fetzer replacement! There is broad consensus that in 100% of instances of catastrophic engine failure, we know that the fetzer valve was NEVER replaced. Take that deniers! With a small price on sparkplugs I bet we could declare the scourge of fetzer failure to be over sooner than you think!

  65. Sashka says:

    Gregory Jaczko ““ “irrational environmentalist?”
     
    I don’t know nearly enough to pass judgement but the rational part of his position is not immediately obvious.

  66. Joshua says:

    Sashka –
     
    “I don’t know nearly enough to pass judgement but the rational part of his position is not immediately obvious.”


    I can go with that. From what I can tell, his opposition is related to Fukushima, but I don’t know the details, and that’s where the devil is found (or not).

  67. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Keith,

    re #21 see #32.

    the idea that Roberts and other advocates who believe that carbon pricing has to be a core component of any meaningful mitigation strategy (aka ‘the green orthodoxy’?) are only now  recognizing that decarbonization will be difficult is ridiculous.  Can’t you point me to the part where the ‘green orthodoxy’ said that it would be easy?  Let me suggest that you try and resist the tendency for cheap point scoring for your ‘tribe’ once in a while.

    Incidentally, the problem that I have with RPJr’s ‘iron law’ formulation is the same one that I have with your take on the Brulle study in your most recent post.  Saying that people won’t tolerate extremely high carbon prices is as self-evident as saying that people take their cues from public leaders.  Both are somewhat useful and unsurprising insights.  The more important questions are the ones that follow.  Wrt to the ‘iron law’, why are some places able to have carbon prices in place without riots in the street (e.g. BC is @ $25/tonne right now) while other jurisdictions balk at a $5 tax?  

  68. BBD says:

    Joshua

    There is some context missing from the Jazcko quote (emphasis added):

    The review work of the NRC staff was celebrated by the commissioners in a confirmatory hearing today. Four commissioners voted to grant the licence, while chairman Gregory Jazcko abstained. He had wanted the licence issued on condition that Southern Company implement NRC recommendations developed in response to the Fukushima accident in Japan last year and said he “could not support issuing this licence as if Fukushima had not happened.” The other commisisoners spoke to respectfully disagree with Jazcko. Kristine Svinicki said: “There is no amnesia individually or collectively regarding the events of 11 March 2011 and the ensuing accident at Fukushima.” She added that NRC staff did not recommend and did not support Jazcko’s idea of a condition being attached to the licence, “because we found it would not improve our systematic regulatory approach to Fukushima, nor would it make any difference to the safety of operating or planned reactors.”

  69. Steve Fitzpatrick says:

    Joshua,
    “I probably agree.”
    Not sure what to make of that sentence.  Most of the time people either agree or they don’t; assigning a probability to their own thinking strikes me as quite strange.
    “I’m not sure why it is any more of a secondary issue than is the practicality of accepting lower economic growth to limit ACO2 emissions.”
    It is secondary because one is plausible (with various options to be considered), while the other is essentially impossible.  Nobody who claims absolute reductions in CO2 emissions are required is suggesting lower economic growth; they are suggesting dramatic absolute declines in economic activity and the level of wealth in all developed countries.  (That is what Keith’s post was about, after all.)  Do you agree that this is not going to be acceptable to the vast majority of people in developed countries? 
    I can see people compromising on details of nuclear power generation; I can even see people accepting a change from a (more-or-less) open electric generation market based on fossil fuels to a market that is more tightly controlled and based mostly on nuclear power.  What I can’t see is people accepting a 75% (or greater!) decline in material wealth.   All I was asking was if you agree this is certainly not going to happen any time in the foreseeable future, so that the discussion could move from the realm of the impossible to the realm of the possible.

  70. DeNihilist says:

    Marlowe, my take on why we haven’t gone rabid in BC (at least regarding the carbon tax) is that our energy is still quite cheap compared tothe rest of the world.

  71. Marlowe Johnson says:

    @70
    here’s an exercise for you. calculate how the total energy services bill (heating+electricity+gasoline) increases for each province/state in North America under different carbon pricing scenarios (say from $5-$50/tco2e).

    I think you may be at least a little surprised by the results 😉

  72. Paul in Sweden says:

    MT #40 & in the vein of “dog pile on the rabbit” Sashka #42
     
    Micheal Tobis,
     
     
     
    In your reply to my post at Kieth Kloors blog you stated the following:
     
     
     
    Michael Tobis Says:
    February 9th, 2012 at 10:40 am
    #25 “ Major oil companies discover more reserves every year than they sell during the previous year.”

    I believe this assertion to be incorrect and I challenge you to provide evidence for it.
    ============
    Knowing this to be true and pointing to references are two different things. With as little song and dance as I can muster attempting not to waste your time further I will give you an article which is highly critical of the oil industry stating that Exxon/Mobile replaces 95 percent of its’ oil and 158 percent of its’ natural gas annually.
    http://on.wsj.com/zst12g
    Exxon/Mobil the largest non-government oil concern is not at +100 percent according to this published article that I have provided. At this time I am not willing to hunt for other references or find the power supplies for my archive hard disks. Many South American, Russian & Asian Oil concerns are above 100 percent replacement according to my recollection. I can live with the +95 replacement as cited but in the future I will be very hesitant to make statements even if I know them to be true without having accessible references.
    A plus 95 replacement for oil and a 158 percent replacement for natural gas for the largest non-government oil company is good enough for me ATM. As my statement was tangential to the original post by Kieth I see no need for further discussion unless you planned on bring another point to my attention.
    MT, the above response has been emailed to you at your admin email account at your http://planet3.org blog which I also read regularly.

     

  73. Tom Scharf says:

    One by one, the green machine proponents are giving up the great unicorn hunt of carbon taxes, global govt, and wealth redistribution.  

    AGW seemed liked such a perfect vehicle to co-opt this social utopia upon the ignorant masses with.

    Too bad it took so long and so much time and energy were wasted chasing unicorns when something constructive could have been accomplished.  It was an epic overreach, and now that the writing is on the wall, reason has come to the greens.  Unfortunately the momentum is lost, and there is blood in the water, and the chances of getting anything done is minimal.

    The greens truly need to get some pragmatists and engineers into leadership positions.  They are willingly ruled by idealists and would rather fight a noble battle and gain nothing, versus a long hard haul of slow progress and compromise.

    Energy policy is a marathon, not a sprint.

     

  74. Paul in Sweden says:

    @Tom Scharf #70
    Not so fast Tom.
    You are absolutely correct in stating “Energy policy is a marathon, not a sprint”.
    We need research, instead of implementation of not ready for prime time energy dreams.
    Still to this day I hold close to my heart Jimmy Carter’s 1970s renewable energy dream for America. Granted my thoughts have wavered as realization of limited technology advances are eclipsed by demand on energy but their still are distant possibilities on the horizon. 
    Much to the surprise and chagrin of the greens, the people who are propped up as the victims of climate change have never even heard of “climate change”.
    If you are concerned about the environment you would be against the constant dumping of raw sewage into our oceans, you would be against the eco-warrior demands for new Iphones that create huge lakes of toxic waste that wreck havoc on our populations. 
    People throughout the world are still burning cow dung in their kitchens to cook their food. Volunteer doctors in Africa are given a choice of running a tiny refrigerator or running a single light bulb in a one room community center powered by renewable PV energy.
    Cut Berkley and other bastions of leftist Democrat thought off of the power grid and let them demonstrate how green energy effects society so we can move on to dealing with real problems. If I were a betting man I would gamble to say that Greens forced to live on green solutions would conclude that the supply of pixie dust and ground Unicorn horns peaked years ago.
     


     
     
     

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