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Killing Environmentalism to Save It: Two Greens Call for ‘Postenvironmentalism’

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Environmentalism, like politics in general, is depressingly polarized these days. On one side, alarmists like the activist Bill McKibben, climatologist James Hansen and blogger Joe Romm warn that if we don’t cut way back on fossil fuels—now!—civilization may collapse. On the other side, deniers, including most of the current GOP candidates for president, won’t even accept a causal link between surging carbon emissions and warmer temperatures. (Newt Gingrich advocated countering global warming in 2007 but now, sucking up to conservatives, calls global warming an unproven “theory.”)

Forced to choose, I’d go with the alarmists, who at least are guided by science and concern about humanity’s long-term future. But some greens, notably Romm, are so shrill and hyper-partisan that they harm their own cause. Just as many voters yearn for a third party that transcends the fractious old politics, so I and many other people are eager to hear fresh, creative approaches to global warming and other enviro-threats.

That’s why I’m a fan of Ted Nordhaus (left in photo) and Michael Shellenberger, iconoclasts who run a think tank, the Breakthrough Institute, in Oakland, Calif. While most green—and anti-green—activists preach to the converted, Nordhaus and Shellenberger challenge basic environmental assumptions and values. Even if they don’t totally convince you, they should force you to reconsider your views on, for example, the debate over fracking.

In their 2004 essay “The Death of Environmentalism” and 2007 book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (Houghton Mifflin Co.), they chastised greens for suggesting that perils such as global warming can only be addressed by curbing human progress. Economic development and technological innovation are essential, Nordhaus and Shellenberger argued, to help us overcome ecological crises.

I thought this message would resonate with faculty and students at the engineering school where I teach. And so in 2008 I brought Nordhaus and Shellenberger to my school to have a public conversation with Andy Revkin, then a New York Times reporter and now author of the influential Dot Earth blog. Later I chatted with Shellenberger on Bloggingheads.tv.

Now, I’m happy to report, Nordhaus and Shellenberger are back with an e-book, Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene (Breakthrough Institute, 2011), in which they and other thinkers–including the French philosopher Bruno LaTour, whose riff on Frankenstein gives the book its name–re-envision environmentalism in upbeat terms. What I like best about the book is its optimism, which I’m coming to believe is a prerequisite for progress. What follows is my email interview with Michael and Ted about their new book.

John: Love Your Monsters makes the argument that the Anthropocene, the age of man, is something we should embrace. What do you mean by that?

Michael: What we mean is that don’t have any choice. We are now the dominant ecological force on the planet and that means that we must ever more actively manage our environment. It is both a responsibility and an opportunity and it demands that we actually make hard choices. If we want more forests and more wild places, then we’ll need more people living in cities and more intensive agriculture. If we want less global warming, then we’ll need to replace fossil energy with clean energy, including a lot of nuclear energy. If we want to save places like the Amazon rainforest then we have to recognize that, over the next 50 years, a lot of the Amazon is going to be developed. The choices will come down to where we want development, and what we might save in the process.

John: In the introduction to Monsters, you say that environmentalism “has become an obstacle” to addressing global warming and other problems. What do you mean by that?

Ted: Environmentalists still imagine that solving those kinds of problems involves limiting the human footprint on the planet. But our footprint is everywhere. We are now, through our daily existence, modifying the environment on a planetary scale. The choices we face are not whether or not to modify the environment but how. We will exercise those choices through the ever more powerful social and technological tools and the enormous wealth and resources that we now have at our disposal. Environmentalism has long imagined that development, modernization and technology are the source of our problems, but they are now the only solutions. And, perhaps more to the point, there’s no going back to the Holocene. Even if human civilization chose to it couldn’t.

Michael: There is, but what’s at stake isn’t the survival of the human race but rather the quality of the global environment, our ecological inheritance and the costs—moral and financial—of environmental degradation. In many ways, Monsters is an effort to reconstruct a non-apocalyptic grounds for taking environmental action.

Michael: Absolutely. There is a new generation of environmentalists, and even some of the old guard has embraced this vision. We call them post-environmentalists in Monsters, folks like [Whole Earth Catalogue founder] Stewart Brand, [The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans author] Mark Lynas, and [The Guardian newspaper columnist] George Monbiot, who recognize that because human development is inevitable, we’re going to need lots of advanced technology, including nuclear, to reduce the risks of the Anthropocene.

John: How did you select contributors for Monsters?

Ted: After Break Through we discovered a much larger group of thinkers, mostly academics, some of whom knew each other and some of whom didn’t, who were working on similar problems. A big part of the reason we started Breakthrough Journal is because we thought their ideas deserved a larger audience, and because we wanted to be in a situation where we could work with these thinkers to fully develop our arguments. Monsters was an opportunity for us to take some of the best thinking we’ve come across on the new ecological challenges we face and put it all together in one place.

John: How does Love Your Monsters build upon the themes of Break Through?

Michael: One of the ways is Break Through‘s critique of the concept of nature as a closed, fragile system in a state of delicate balance, and constantly at risk of tipping into chaos. In Break Through, we observed that there is a difference between a false choice and a hard choice. In Monsters, the authors all in one way or another further elaborate what those hard choices look like.

John: When you think about the future of the planet, what is your biggest fear?

Ted: My biggest fear is that outmoded, irrational and self-defeating ideologies about nature and the market will get in the way of humans making the shared investments in technological innovation required to be responsible earth stewards. I worry that slow rates of innovation among renewables and popular fears of nuclear energy will mean continuing high uses of fossil fuels for decades to come.

John: What is your biggest source of optimism?

Michael: I think my biggest source of optimism is the progress made by the human species. We are a far more intelligent and humane species than we were 100 years ago—not to mention 200,000 years ago! When I hear people worry that because humans evolved on the veldt we don’t have it in us to manage large complicated systems, I think that’s ridiculous. We never stopped evolving—physically, culturally and intellectually. At bottom, I think humans are more than up for the task of being responsible Earth stewards.

John Horgan About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. N a g n o s t i c 6:06 pm 12/26/2011

    Wow. I can’t believe I just read this common-sense and inspiring piece, here on Scientific American’s left-wing bullhorn of a website.
    These guys are a refreshing breath of fresh rationality.
    Such a cogent and perceptive point of view they espouse, one remarkably similar to my own.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Carlyle 9:25 pm 12/26/2011

    Absolutely agree. How heartening. Or is it an aberration?

    Link to this
  3. 3. sault 12:10 am 12/27/2011

    Mr. Horgan tries to do a quick and dirty smear of James Hansen, Joe Romm, et. al. while offering NO PROOF to back up his accusation. If the picture is really as bad as they say, then you’re really just hating on the messenger, sir! Just because Nordhaus and Shellenberger (N&S) have a more palatable narrative doesn’t mean they’re right!

    Just because Joe Romm SKEWERS these guys on a regular basis, does not make him shrill:

    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2009/05/22/204144/waxman-markey-offsets-breakthrough-institute-shellenberger-nordhaus-media/

    It looks to me as N&S are really just another facet of dirty energy’s strategy towards solving climate change: DELAY DELAY DELAY! They don’t want us to do any meaningful environmental action, but just wait, we’re going to find that magic fairy dust someday that’ll solve all our problems! We don’t need to move down the learning curve on clean energy by ACTUALLY deploying it! Someday, a magical technology will jump right of the laboratory shelf and miraculously shut down all the dirty coal plants & oil refineries overnight! These guys are the scam diet pills of the climate debate that want their customers to think they can melt the excess pounds by sitting on their couches and downing their colon cleanser pills!

    Look, these guys have found their little niche of notoriety by claiming to be part of the environmental movement but skewering any effective actions to limit environmental damage in reality while giving credibility to debunked right-wing talking points:

    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/03/16/207705/breakthrough-institute-full-charlie-sheen-energy-efficiency-standards/

    Mr. Horgan, you’re doing the environment no favors by helping these guys to spread apathy and delay meaningful action to limit our damage to the planet.

    Link to this
  4. 4. grmc1 1:32 am 12/27/2011

    Oh what a sad article and a sad couple of fake supporting comments. Nothing scientific or environmentally responsible about either. pure apologists for the failed nuclear industry. Any article that uses the phrase “clean energy” and “nuclear” in the same sentence immediately loses all credibility. To even suggest that nuclear is clean energy following the tragic debacle of Fukushima, which despite all attempts to explain it away simply and sadly proved without a doubt what environmentalists have been saying for decades. Nuclear is a deadly and filthy dirty industry in every aspect from mining the ore, through preparing the enriched fuel to the remaining waste products to which there is no solution. Get a life you guys.

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  5. 5. Carlyle 2:08 am 12/27/2011

    re post 3. Sunlight, solar nuclear radiation, kills millions through skin cancer & is far & away the greater danger. Would you like to ban it or learn to live with it?
    Then again, like nuclear power, it also offers other benefits. I guess you will have to learn to live with both.

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  6. 6. sethdayal 2:12 am 12/27/2011

    With a fossil to nuclear conversion over ten years well within our idle industrial capacity, rates of return of 40% per annum to the nation as a whole, and a fossil to renewable conversion utterly impossible financially, industrially, and politically, malevolent not so renewable advocates might start wondering if their uninformed Big Oil funded opposition to a fossil to nuke conversion is worth the pollution deaths of three million folks worldwide every year the conversion is delayed and the deaths of billions more when they cause us to slide over the fast approaching climate precipice.

    The greenie global warming denier represented by the dark organization Greenpeace, while embracing the solar/wind junk science rejects the peer reviewed science published in reputable journal that tells us we are even as little as 5 years from sliding off a warming disaster precipice. They are Big Oil’s dream – the climate equivalent of the well meaning cold war “useful idiot”.

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  7. 7. sault 2:48 am 12/27/2011

    Re seth:

    Come on, man! I already showed that your 40% annual return number is bogus UNLESS you can build a 1GW reactor for under $2B. With Vogtle coming in at $12B BEST CASE while Summer in SC coming in at $10B BEST CASE (and the dozens of failed reactor construction projects in the 70s and 80s), how many nuclear mulligans does the industry need to even get to $4B per GW? How come ACTUAL DATA suggests that nuclear power has a NEGATIVE LEARNING CURVE? How come the price for reactors is headed in the WRONG DIRECTION?

    “Before 2007, price estimates of $4000/kw for new U.S. nukes were common, but by October 2007 Moody’s Investors Service report, “New Nuclear Generation in the United States,” concluded, “Moody’s believes the all-in cost of a nuclear generating facility could come in at between $5,000 – $6,000/kw.” That same month, Florida Power and Light, “a leader in nuclear power generation,” presented its detailed cost estimate for new nukes to the Florida Public Service Commission. It concluded that two units totaling 2,200 megawatts would cost from $5,500 to $8,100 per kilowatt “” $12 billion to $18 billion total! In 2008, Progress Energy informed state regulators that the twin 1,100-megawatt plants it intended to build in Florida would cost $14 billion, which “triples estimates the utility offered little more than a year ago.” That would be more than $6,400 a kilowatt. (And that didn’t even count the 200-mile $3 billion transmission system utility needs, which would bring the price up to a staggering $7,700 a kilowatt).”

    Yeah you DO need transmission upgrades for these large reactors because VERY FEW people want to live next to them.

    How about $8B per GW in San Antonio:

    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2009/10/28/204877/toshiba-san-antonio-nuclear-power-plant-expensive-cost/

    Good thing the city walked away from that disaster!

    AND your star-performer CANDU reactors are also way too expensive:

    http://www.thestar.com/comment/columnists/article/665644

    As Joe Romm says, they’ve gone from too cheap to meter to too expensive to matter!

    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/04/06/207833/does-nuclear-power-have-a-negative-learning-curve/

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  8. 8. JamesDavis 9:51 am 12/27/2011

    “grmc1″; I agree with you 100%. I don’t know where they are able to find all these conservative anti-environmentalists, but there seem to be a lot of them around. They throw a couple of words out into your face like: “clean” and “green” and think people will not see through their lies and suck it up like 100 year-old Scotch. Did you notice that this time the article even said that these two conservative anti-environmentalists published their new pro-nuclear book in the e-book format and not in paper. I think that was a lie too since they didn’t give the link where the e-book is being sold or who published it. I wouldn’t care to bet you that these two guys and the author of this article work for Exxon Mobile.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Barrett808 11:33 am 12/27/2011

    These guys are whistling past the graveyard. Visit Desdemona for the real scoop:

    50 doomiest stories of 2011
    http://www.desdemonadespair.net/2011/12/50-doomiest-stories-of-2011.html

    Desdemona Despair
    Blogging the End of the World™

    Link to this
  10. 10. geojellyroll 12:24 pm 12/27/2011

    What environmentalism needs is more ‘science’ and less agenda. My Canadian city , an evil oil industry capital, has the cleanest air and water of any city over 1 million in the world. Affluence gives options in family size, sewage treatment, education, wilderness protection… On can safely drink out of most German rivers…not those in Nigeria. The air in Stockholm is much cleaner than that in Dehli.

    Link to this
  11. 11. Carlyle 3:34 am 12/28/2011

    I must admit I did once. Pumping gas in the 1950s.
    On the other hand I would guess you are unemployed or on the Government teat.

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  12. 12. lamont 10:04 am 12/29/2011

    Nuclear is expensive and the costs aren’t going down. It simply isn’t cost-competitive with other forms of energy.

    There is also a “Peak Uranium” issue similar to “Peak Oil” (and “Peak Coal” and “Peak Natural Gas” and anything else that we dig up out of the ground) where the mining capacity of Uranium will be maxed out if we aggressively pursue it.

    Add to that the risks, and the obscene expense of molten salt reactors and other kinds of science fiction that isn’t economically viable, and I don’t see where the solution is in nuclear.

    Does their argument come down to anything other than if the government spends hundreds of billions on molten salt reactors the costs might eventually come down with adequate safety?

    And the problem is that we’ve been burned before. After Chernobyl the nuclear industry basically promised us that the old soviet design of that reactor was the problem and that something like that could *never* ever, ever happen with a more modern design. Well post-Fukushima the goal posts have been moved and now it takes ever more modern designs or prototype reactors in order to have safe nuclear design. I see what they’re doing there, and don’t trust them. Yep, I’m “negative” and don’t see all the shiny possibilities of nuclear. I think we’re overstretching our capabilities and that nuclear reactors are very complicated engineering designs with lots of human factors involved in running them and a very bad failure modes and we’re poor at ensuring that those things never happen.

    We can’t keep our bridges from falling down in the US, which is a much simpler engineering issue. I wouldn’t trust a nuclear power sector that was 10x or more the size of our existing one to be regulated and inspected properly (none of these reactors safely run themselves).

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  13. 13. Lotharloo 10:07 am 12/29/2011

    Where are the numbers? Where is the arithmetic? Slogans such as “embracing our technological creations”, “trusting the intelligence of human species”, and etc are soothing but ultimately meaningless. It is basically the same “don’t worry we’ll figure it out” strategy used repeatedly by the industry goons; it offers better sleep at night without providing any solutions. While good sleep is important, at this point, an essay that proposes a new solution without containing any verifiable arithmetic is completely useless.

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  14. 14. FrancoisDM 12:43 pm 12/29/2011

    I cannot understand how it is possible that SA falls down to such a low level of understanding of the issues of sustainability when interviewing people that do not have the slightest idea of what they are talking about. Indeed, these two guys are very irritating. Initially, their message seems convincing, i.e. that mainstream environmental NGOs have lost the plot, and that they have turned into mini-companies with special interests. They make a nice case that environmental NGOs lack an overall vision and that they fight separately issue after issue without having an overall direction like the civil rights movement had. And when you wait them to propose something like economic degrowth, environmental justice or something of that sort, they come up with their Apollo 2.0 plan! A plan of environmental investments involving the private sector, that will resemble that of the space program that got Americans to the moon! This is simply the ideology of a cancer cell…

    To be more specific, here are some quotes from a recent piece they wrote on their blog (http://thebreakthrough.org/blog/2011/02/the_long_death_of_environmenta.shtml) that illustrate their shortcomings.

    “Human technology and ingenuity have repeatedly confounded Malthusian predictions yet green ideology continues to cast a suspect eye towards the very technologies that have allowed us to avoid resource and ecological catastrophes.”

    Their work only focuses on technology and mentions almost nothing about life style change, as if evolution was not possible… They also mix green ideology and malthusianism, still to continue with the faith in technology.

    “Tenth, we are going to have to get over our suspicion of technology, especially nuclear power. There is no credible path to reducing global carbon emissions without an enormous expansion of nuclear power.”

    They simply assume that nuclear energy is a “carbon-free” energy source without backing their talks which demonstrates a total lack of understanding of this technology, and makes me worry that it is the case of other technologies as well.

    Finally, this is the most worrisome to me:
    “Twelveth, big is beautiful. (…) these solutions will be: large central station power technologies that can meet the energy needs of billions of people increasingly living in the dense mega-cities of the global south without emitting carbon dioxide, further intensification of industrial scale agriculture to meet the nutritional needs of a population that”.

    Well, I wonder whether these two guys would like to live in such an above described world… and finally I wonder whether they really care about their future and the one of future generations. The increasing popularity of these two guys is the unfortunate demonstration of the systemic low understanding of science, technology and metabolic patterns of society in discussions about sustainability. Nowadays, where science is considered not of usefulness and only remains this kind of crazy ideas that are both undesirable and nonviable if we are to achieve “true” sustainability. SA should really be careful about this slippery trend to preserve their credibility in these discussion about sustainability.

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  15. 15. dwbd 8:48 pm 12/29/2011

    lamont says: “…Nuclear is expensive and the costs aren’t going down. It simply isn’t cost-competitive with other forms of energy…”

    What an idiotic statement. Do you know anything whatsoever about energy? According to the EIA, Wind for delivery in 2016 has a levelized cost of 9.5 cents/kwh onshore and 24 cents offshore, vs new, First-Of-A-Kind Advanced Nuclear (before learning curve cost reductions & unlike Wind or Solar, before factory or assembly line production) at 12 cents p kwh, with 60-80yr life not 15-25yrs. That’s for real power, locatable anywhere, 24/7, summer/winter, day/night, south/north:

    http://www.energytransition.msu.edu/documents/ipu_eia_electricity_generation_estimates_2011.pdf

    lamont says: “…There is also a “Peak Uranium” …and anything else that we dig up out of the ground…”

    Does that include the 10-100X more material inputs to Renewables than Nuclear? Just the Depleted Uranium currently stored would fuel the World’s Electricity supply for 1000 yrs. There is no Peak Uranium worry.

    http://atomicinsights.com/2011/11/tedx-new-england-nuclear-entrepreneurs-aiming-to-use-waste-for-fuel.html

    lamont claims:”…the obscene expense of molten salt reactors and other kinds of science fiction that isn’t economically viable…”

    Another idiotic statement from someone who doesn’t have a clue. Take a look at the cost of the very successful original MSR development, about a $million per year, amounts Wind Energy companies consider chicken feed:

    http://energyfromthorium.com/2011/12/23/techtalk-why-tmsr/

    lamont says: “…We can’t keep our bridges from falling down in the US, which is a much simpler engineering issues…”

    According to your belief we should immediately shutdown all aircraft, large computers, the Smart Grid and the Power Grid, aircraft carriers, all rocket launch systems, NG turbines and a vast array of other tech that is MORE COMPLICATED than Nuclear Power plants. The PBMR is just a pile of rocks in a tank with a gas flowing through them, which it heats up.

    And Fukushima killed precisely ZERO PERSONS unlike your Coal, NG & Oil which kill millions every year. One NG gas well in Indonesia caused a Mud Volcano that makes Fukushima look like a bad rainy day. You’re OK with that.

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  16. 16. dwbd 9:01 pm 12/29/2011

    Francois says: “…They simply assume that nuclear energy is a “carbon-free” energy source without backing their talks which demonstrates a total lack of understanding of this technology…”

    It is carbon-free. Why don’t you bother learning a bit before you make dumb statements. Full lifecycle analysis of CANDU’s in Ontario – CERI analysis is 1.8 gms CO2 per kwh, that is lower than Wind 11-14, Hydro 6 & Solar PV 45.

    Francois says: “…I wonder whether they really care about their future and the one of future generations…”

    Are you kidding me? All you are offering is Pixie dust energy fantasies, without even the REMOTEST clue as to how to provide that, a recipe for TOTAL ECONOMIC COLLAPSE, mass poverty, mass migrations, billions of deaths, never-before-seen-in-human-history Rape-and-Pillage of the environment. Have some compassion for others before advancing crackpot fantasy schemes that will not achieve ZIP.

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  17. 17. Carlyle 6:13 am 12/30/2011

    Re post 12. Why don’t you & your like minded colleagues do what the hippies did back in the ‘60s? Form your own communes & show us all what utopia looks like. Don’t forget the dope. Most important ingredient to keep up the hallucinations that you people mistake for truth & enlightenment. My generation had to support that lot of losers on welfare. Time for this generation to fund another bunch of losers who think dreams are reality & someone else should pay.

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  18. 18. George Monbiot 12:36 pm 12/30/2011

    I don’t see myself as a post-environmentalist. Environmentalism is perhaps the most politically diverse movement in modern history, and it has long embraced a wide range of views. The belief that we need to use
    advanced technology to get us out of the fix we’re in is hardly novel and hardly alien to this movement. There are major disputes within our ranks about which technologies we should develop, but with the exception of a very small number of anarcho-primitivists, I have come across no one who rejects the entire suite of advanced low-carbon options or the idea that technological development is one of the tools we should use.

    I believe that an outright rejection of nuclear power is irrational and largely informed by junk science. While I have taken plenty of criticism from within the movement for this view, I have also received a good deal of support, and I may even have changed a few minds. My heterodox views can live within this movement, as many other heterodox views do. I believe this article mischaracterises environmentalism, portraying its politics as narrower and less diverse than they are.

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  19. 19. hackney13 3:49 pm 12/30/2011

    It is bogus that environmentalists don’t embrace technology. I live off grid on solar power. Nuclear power is dead technology, too expensive and dangerous to use. I won’t read any thing these guys publish unless they are advocating negative population growth. Anyone who reads SA ought to know that growth in a closed system will eventually come to an end, and not a good one.

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  20. 20. dwbd 6:14 pm 12/30/2011

    “…bogus that environmentalists don’t embrace technology…”

    Nobody said that, you like to make things up. Some environmentalists are what Monbiot calls “anarcho-primitivists”, which don’t embrace technology. Some, like yourself, only embrace “pixie power” tech, like Wind & Solar Energy. Two of the World’s Foremost Environmentalists, James Lovelock and Jim Hansen, are strong supporters of Nuclear Power, and both worn that Renewables are a dangerous misdirection.

    “…I live off grid on solar power…”

    Woopedy-do, that’s 10% of your share of per capita energy consumption. Are you suggesting even a tiny portion of the country can do that – with no money to spend. If you run an EV, on solar power, you might be up to 20% of your share.

    “…Nuclear power is dead technology, too expensive and dangerous to use…”

    An idiotic statement. There is a rapid expansion of Nuclear power, a growing surge, in developing nations mainly,at the moment, China, India, Vietnam, UAE, Finland, Argentina, Brazil, to name a few. Cost is lower than ANY OTHER low carbon source of electricity, except Hydro – and only in excellent locations. And much hyped NG, is not only VASTLY MORE DANGEROUS than Nuclear but CERTAIN to be MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE. That’s just a fact. And with virtually zero deaths, Nuclear is the SAFEST OF ALL ENERGY SOURCES. 100X safer than NG, never mind the future of NG which = LNG traffic.

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  21. 21. Carlyle 7:34 pm 12/30/2011

    RE post 16.
    Tell me please, what energy source was used to produce your PVs, the supporting structure, your house (unless it is a hand dug cave), your computer, clothing, transport, build the road to your property, grow your food. Have a look at the items in your house. Anything metallic uses high energy intensity. Aluminium has rightly been called metallic electricity. No doubt taxpayers funded a substantial proportion of your feel good PVs too.

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  22. 22. 2008RealityCheck 8:40 pm 12/30/2011

    You really don’t understand conservatives do you?
    Republicans are all for clean air, water, and land. But their solutions are different than yours. While environmentalists put massive restrictions on US production, they ignore production just shifts to dirtier manufacturing countries. While conservatives fight inefficient ‘green energy’, environmentalists force taxpayers to fund inefficient systems that require a dwindling supply of rare earth elements (REE) that are 97% monopolized by China, and systems that multiply our electricity rates which makes the US noncompetitive. Environmentalists worry about global warming then prevent biomass being burned which would actually reduce overall methane emissions (methane is 28X worse than CO2).

    Environmentalists are forcing manufacturing to China because China controls the REEs necessary for wind turbines, PV cells, advanced batteries, etc, and which is REDUCING exports. While conservatives fight growing food for fuel, environmentalists force taxpayers to subsidize ethanol, and causing farmers to use up a dwindling global phosphate supply for fertilizer and millions of acres of marginal land for growing corn to be turned into the WORST fuel additive possible. This same failed policy increases N2O emissions (296X worse than CO2 as a GWG), increases pesticide and herbicide use and runoff.

    Conservatives ‘get it’ that environmentalists want to de-develop America and punish our past affluence. Conservatives also understand that the outcome environmentalists will create is MORE pollution, a withered US economy, faster depletion of resources, and Rule of Man versus Rule of Law.

    Environmentalists are the ‘deniers’ that America is BROKE. We have resources but they deny us in using them. America has over ten trillion dollars in fossil fuels which can be used to help pay off debt and balance the budget. Pebble Mine in Alaska has over $450 billion in gold, copper, and molybdenum but environmentalists block it. They prefer we buy oil from Saudi Arabia than Canada.

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  23. 23. 2008RealityCheck 8:43 pm 12/30/2011

    In case you don’t understand ethanol, here’s a primer: The auto industry found that E15 damaged HALF the cars tested. Why? Because it is corrosive; absorbs water; is conductive; hardens many elastomerics; separates from the gasoline so you have two separate and different fuels in the tank; causes contaminants to be picked up from the tank and run through your fuel system; and…wait for it…burns hotter so as to burn out catalytic converters – the very devise meant to reduce air pollution. That’s right! Progressives are destroying our air by forcing ethanol into our fuel. A Washington State Dept of Ecology official told me personally that any more than 2% ethanol in the fuel and Seattle exceeds EPA Ozone Attainment levels.

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  24. 24. 2008RealityCheck 8:45 pm 12/30/2011

    If you think offshore wind power is great, just witness Germany’s experience http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,805505,00.html#ref=nlint

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  25. 25. Dr. Strangelove 9:29 pm 01/1/2012

    “We are now the dominant ecological force on the planet and that means that we must ever more actively manage our environment.”

    Yes we must manage the environment but we are not the dominant ecological force on the planet. Nature emits 38 times more CO2 than humans. Plants consume 6.6 times more energy. Cows eat more food than all of humanity. There are more cattle by weight than humans. There are 80 times more microbes than humans by weight. That makes microbes the most dominant life form on earth.

    “I worry that slow rates of innovation among renewables and popular fears of nuclear energy will mean continuing high uses of fossil fuels for decades to come.”

    In five decades we’ll run out of oil so we’ll have no choice but to shift to renewables and nuclear. This shift will be driven more by economics than environmentalism.

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  26. 26. FrancoisDM 5:05 am 01/10/2012

    Re posts 13-14:
    I will not engage more in-depth discussions with people that do not even have the courage to comment with their full name.
    My name is François Diaz Maurin and I worked during 4 years as an Engineer in the nuclear industry, both in France and in the US, mostly on the design of new reactors. I am now doing a PhD with Dr. Mario Giampietro on energy issues and societal transitions at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (http://eco2bcn.es/). In my dissertation, I use my previous experience from the industry to assess the viability and desirability of nuclear energy as an alternative energy source. (Here is for the introduction of the hippie.)

    Re to George Monbiot (post 15):

    Dear George, while I agree with your corrections of what the environmentalism movement is and urgent needs for low-carbon alternatives (among other aspects!!), I am astonished with the low level of knowledge and understanding of the big picture you demonstrate as regards of nuclear energy (this also applies to other comments of this thread).

    Needless to say that I am aware of your fascinating article “Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power” you wrote in the Guardian 10 days after the accidents (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/21/pro-nuclear-japan-fukushima) while Japan is still struggling with an unfolding disaster almost one year after and that there are fears of news issues there:
    http://enenews.com/report-spent-fuel-pool-4-lost-water-began-boil-after-70-new-years-quake-plant-worker
    http://fukushima-diary.com/2012/01/breaking-news-shallow-earthquake-right-under-fukushima-plants/

    Once again, there is a very low level of information about the situation at Fukushima as it has been officially acknowledged:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v480/n7377/full/480313a.html
    This, BTW, inherently affects the desirability of nuclear energy. Indeed, how can societies still rely on a technology that cannot be fully controled and that entails large doses of uncertainty (in an already highly uncertain situation).

    Indeed, in your article of March, your point was about the death toll differences between coal and nuclear. Indeed, the coal death toll is a usual argument for those in favor of nuclear energy, and you are right. But the very problem is that how can you define the boundaries in terms of death toll induced by the nuclear industry given the very limited knowledge we have about the effects on health of low levels of radiation?
    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110405/full/news.2011.206.html
    Also, how would you assess an energy source for which we do not have a full experience (since it would require a very long time scale of representation)? This is a very difficult problem for which science does not have any answer, not even the best experts that are not immune against the unavoidable ignorance (=uncertainty) affecting the understanding of the whole process of nuclear energy.

    As you see, there is a big difference between (1) beliefs and reality; and between (2) present problems and future prospects, especially in times of urgent needs for viable and desirable solutions so as to start the energy transition.

    Now, let alone the discussion about whether nuclear energy would be a low-carbon energy source or not (which clearly is not the case as you need to consider the overall process of the energy system and not only considering the narrow view of what is going on in the power plant as other readers suggest here), here is my rapid take on the viability and desirability of nuclear energy.

    The debate between those in favor and those against the civil use of nuclear energy has always been based on a discussion over three unresolved problems (i) proliferation/terrorism; (ii) consequences in case of accident; (iii) long term management of radioactive waste.
    Then, even in the (dubious) case where those three problems would be resolved, yet there is another fourth unresolved problem that is systematically neglected in the discussion over the desirability of nuclear energy: (iv) the systemic lack of economic competitiveness of this technology as a producer of electricity (http://www.recercat.net/handle/2072/169668).

    So as long as nuclear energy keeps facing any of those unresolved problems, I am afraid that there would be no future any for this option, as it can be already observed in developed countries. To make things even worse, continuing with the idea that problems will be resolved in the future (which for me reflects more a bet on the future than rationality), will only delay the energy transition towards sustainability.

    Indeed, nuclear energy cannot be considered as a bridge technology towards sustainability given the long time period of its overall process — making it the energy systems showing the highest inertia. So it is not compatible with the urgent needs for energy transition. The large inertia of nuclear energy, BTW, leads to a technological lock-in meaning that we have to invest in a new generation (i.e. new fleet of reactors) whose benefits will serve to pay for the (energy and capital) costs of the current generation. In such a cycle, there is no exit. So, let’s consider the current fleet of reactors as the only way to have nuclear being considered as a bridge technology, but definitely not future ones that would be deployed too late compare to the time frame at which we need adjustments (and things will certainly go even slower with new safety features required for new designs after the Fukushima accidents).

    So things are not that simple and nuclear energy faces (huge and systemic) internal constraints that prevents it from being considered as a viable alternative energy source. And as far as its desirability, nuclear energy should not be considered desirable per se, but rather this should be the result of a negotiation between all social actors in the post-normal approach to science for governance.

    Readers that are interested in more in-depth discussions on energy issues (I am done with this thread) can start by looking at the different stories that energy experts (Vaclav Smil and others) posted on our website “Our Energy Futures” (http://ourenergyfutures.org/). You are also invited to react to these stories so as to join the discussion we engaged between scientists and society.

    Link to this
  27. 27. FrancoisDM 6:48 am 01/10/2012

    Now, so as to respond to the specific point of Post #13, dwbd says:

    “It is carbon-free. Why don’t you bother learning a bit before you make dumb statements. Full lifecycle analysis of CANDU’s in Ontario – CERI analysis is 1.8 gms CO2 per kwh, that is lower than Wind 11-14, Hydro 6 & Solar PV 45.”

    - This study is not published in an international journal but in a think-tank which makes me fear that there has been no any peer review process behind it…
    - Anyway, the above cited study is one out of plenty LCA analyses.
    - Moreover, this study only deals with the assessment of one single type of nuclear reactors (HWR).
    - Last, this study does not deal with the problem of the large sensitivity of results on some critical variables.

    First, you should know that LCA analyses are not always useful to support an argumentation because they just throw numbers over the fence and I would not base my assessment just on one single criterion and certainly not on one single study which is far from being representative!
    But, if you still want to make your opinion on this very specific point of carbon emissions, then I would suggest you to take the time to look at the existing literature.

    In doing so, you would have seen for instance a meta-analysis from Lenzen (2008) who performed a comparison of more than 100 LCAs on nuclear energy, as well as a sensitivity analysis on various variables. Then, you would have also seen that the greenhouse gas intensities for LWR and HWR vary widely: between 10 and 130 g CO2-e/kWhel, with an average of 65 g CO2-e/kWhel (see, it is far higher from your single number of 1.8 gCO2-e/kWhel, and so, even in the lower end…).
    source: Lenzen, 2008. Life cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review. Energy Conversion and Management Volume 49, Issue 8, August 2008, Pages 2178–2199. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enconman.2008.01.033

    May I suggest you to use of some dose of modesty the next time you think others “make dumb statements”. Really, the scientific discussions over technology deserves better quality.

    Link to this
  28. 28. FrancoisDM 12:39 pm 01/10/2012

    (comment reposted as it has been deleted by SA w/o notification and obvious reason for it)

    Re posts 13-14:
    I will not engage more in-depth discussions with people that do not even have the courage to comment with their full name.
    My name is François Diaz Maurin and I worked during 4 years as an Engineer in the nuclear industry, both in France and in the US, mostly on the design of new reactors. I am now doing a PhD with Dr. Mario Giampietro on energy issues and societal transitions at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (http://eco2bcn.es/). In my dissertation, I use my previous experience from the industry to assess the viability and desirability of nuclear energy as an alternative energy source. (Here is for the introduction of the hippie.)

    Re to George Monbiot (post 15):

    Dear George, while I agree with your corrections of what the environmentalism movement is and urgent needs for low-carbon alternatives (among other aspects!!), I am astonished with the low level of knowledge and understanding of the big picture you demonstrate as regards of nuclear energy (this also applies to other comments of this thread).

    Needless to say that I am aware of your fascinating article “Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power” you wrote in the Guardian 10 days after the accidents (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/21/pro-nuclear-japan-fukushima) while Japan is still struggling with an unfolding disaster almost one year after and that there are fears of news issues there:
    http://enenews.com/report-spent-fuel-pool-4-lost-water-began-boil-after-70-new-years-quake-plant-worker
    http://fukushima-diary.com/2012/01/breaking-news-shallow-earthquake-right-under-fukushima-plants/

    Once again, there is a very low level of information about the situation at Fukushima as it has been officially acknowledged:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v480/n7377/full/480313a.html
    This, BTW, inherently affects the desirability of nuclear energy. Indeed, how can societies still rely on a technology that cannot be fully controled and that entails large doses of uncertainty (in an already highly uncertain situation).

    Indeed, in your article of March, your point was about the death toll differences between coal and nuclear. Indeed, the coal death toll is a usual argument for those in favor of nuclear energy, and you are right. But the very problem is that how can you define the boundaries in terms of death toll induced by the nuclear industry given the very limited knowledge we have about the effects on health of low levels of radiation?
    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110405/full/news.2011.206.html
    Also, how would you assess an energy source for which we do not have a full experience (since it would require a very long time scale of representation)? This is a very difficult problem for which science does not have any answer, not even the best experts that are not immune against the unavoidable ignorance (=uncertainty) affecting the understanding of the whole process of nuclear energy.

    As you see, there is a big difference between (1) beliefs and reality; and between (2) present problems and future prospects, especially in times of urgent needs for viable and desirable solutions so as to start the energy transition.

    Now, let alone the discussion about whether nuclear energy would be a low-carbon energy source or not (which clearly is not the case as you need to consider the overall process of the energy system and not only considering the narrow view of what is going on in the power plant as other readers suggest here), here is my rapid take on the viability and desirability of nuclear energy.

    The debate between those in favor and those against the civil use of nuclear energy has always been based on a discussion over three unresolved problems (i) proliferation/terrorism; (ii) consequences in case of accident; (iii) long term management of radioactive waste.
    Then, even in the (dubious) case where those three problems would be resolved, yet there is another fourth unresolved problem that is systematically neglected in the discussion over the desirability of nuclear energy: (iv) the systemic lack of economic competitiveness of this technology as a producer of electricity (http://www.recercat.net/handle/2072/169668).

    So as long as nuclear energy keeps facing any of those unresolved problems, I am afraid that there would be no future any for this option, as it can be already observed in developed countries. To make things even worse, continuing with the idea that problems will be resolved in the future (which for me reflects more a bet on the future than rationality), will only delay the energy transition towards sustainability.

    Indeed, nuclear energy cannot be considered as a bridge technology towards sustainability given the long time period of its overall process — making it the energy systems showing the highest inertia. So it is not compatible with the urgent needs for energy transition. The large inertia of nuclear energy, BTW, leads to a technological lock-in meaning that we have to invest in a new generation (i.e. new fleet of reactors) whose benefits will serve to pay for the (energy and capital) costs of the current generation. In such a cycle, there is no exit. So, let’s consider the current fleet of reactors as the only way to have nuclear being considered as a bridge technology, but definitely not future ones that would be deployed too late compare to the time frame at which we need adjustments (and things will certainly go even slower with new safety features required for new designs after the Fukushima accidents).

    So things are not that simple and nuclear energy faces (huge and systemic) internal constraints that prevents it from being considered as a viable alternative energy source. And as far as its desirability, nuclear energy should not be considered desirable per se, but rather this should be the result of a negotiation between all social actors in the post-normal approach to science for governance.

    Readers that are interested in more in-depth discussions on energy issues (I am done with this thread) can start by looking at the different stories that energy experts (Vaclav Smil and others) posted on our website “Our Energy Futures” (http://ourenergyfutures.org/). You are also invited to react to these stories so as to join the discussion we engaged between scientists and society.

    Link to this
  29. 29. bucketofsquid 2:52 pm 01/10/2012

    Very good discussion. I’ve been a “green” for 4 decades. I have always supported advanced technology and have been waiting most of that time for “green” energy to not be a waste of money. I’m still waiting. It seems likely that improvements in materials and systems combined with greater flexibility in application may make some of these “green” technologies worth while in the near future. One thing we have to do is ruthlessly destroy false “benefits” such as ethanol made from food crops. It is a gimmic to transfer money to a small group of people at the expense of most of the rest of the world.

    Life is not easy, nor is it supposed to be. Any energy source takes work and has risks. The best solution is to get industry off planet and become a mature species. Solar cells work better in space. Nuclear meltdowns are not as significant in deep space.

    Progress is not guaranteed. A lot of technology has been invented and then lost and rediscovered or re-invented. Some things seem to have stayed lost. Modern tech is great until the power goes out. It would be very easy to lose some of our progress under certain conditions. Better to spend a little now to survive later.

    Link to this

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