by Judith Curry
New members of the climate ‘deniers’ club: James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, Tom Wigley . . . and Bill Gates.
The latest bit of idiocy from Naomi Oreskes is this article in the Guardian: There is a new form of climate denialists to look out for – so don’t celebrate yet. Subtitle: At the exact moment in which we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel, we are being told that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs. Excerpts:
After the signing of a historic climate pact in Paris, we might now hope that the merchants of doubt – who for two decades have denied the science and dismissed the threat – are officially irrelevant.
But not so fast. There is also a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs.
Oddly, some of these voices include climate scientists, who insist that we must now turn to wholesale expansion of nuclear power. Just this past week, as negotiators were closing in on the Paris agreement, four climate scientists held an off-site session insisting that the only way we can solve the coupled climate/energy problem is with a massive and immediate expansion of nuclear power. More than that, they are blaming environmentalists, suggesting that the opposition to nuclear power stands between all of us and a two-degree world.
If we want to see real solutions implemented, we need to be on the lookout for this new form of denial.
When President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, many critics of the decision (and even some supporters) said it was merely symbolic. Symbols matter – so even if it were, that would not necessarily be bad. But rejecting XL was a crucial step in the direction of rejecting new commitments to fossil fuel infrastructure.
The key to decarbonizing our economy is to build a new energy system that does not rely on carbon-based fuels. Scientific studies show that that can be done, it can be done soon and it does not require nuclear power.
Hansen, Wigley, Caldeira, Emanuel
Two weeks ago in Paris, Hansen, Wigley, Caldeira and Emanuel held a press conference. Excerpts from the press release:
Four of the world’s leading climate scientists, Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Tom Wigley, Dr. Ken Caldeira and Dr. Kerry Emanuel, will issue a stark challenge to world leaders and environmental campaigners attending the COP21 climate summit at a scheduled press conference in Paris on December 3.
Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Tom Wigley, Dr. Ken Caldeira and Dr. Kerry Emanuel will present research showing the increasing urgency of fully decarbonizing the world economy. However, they will also show that renewables alone cannot realistically meet the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C, and that a major expansion of nuclear power is essential to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system this century. (1)
The scientists will outline how only a combined strategy employing all the major sustainable clean energy options — including renewables and nuclear — can prevent the worst effects of climate change by 2100, such as the loss of coral reefs, severe damages from extreme weather events, and the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems worldwide.
The challenge from the scientists comes as nuclear power is back on the table at Paris as a major climate mitigation option, appearing as a significant component of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of major emitters including China, the U.S. and India. The four scientists call for an increase in ambition in the deployment of improved light-water reactors, with the accelerated development of advanced fission technologies to accompany planned increases in solar, wind and hydro power generation.
In light of the urgency of tackling climate change and nuclear power’s essential role in limiting temperature rises, the four scientists will therefore challenge environmental leaders who still hold anti-nuclear positions to instead support development and deployment of safe and environmentally-friendly nuclear power. For example, the Climate Action Network, representing all the major environmental groups, still insists despite all evidence to the contrary that “nuclear has no role to play in a fully decarbonized power sector.” The four scientists will state that the anti-nuclear position of these environmental leaders is in fact causing unnecessary and severe harm to the environment and to the future of young people.
The scientists will outline the latest research on sea level rise, ocean acidification and ice sheet collapse supporting their conclusions about the increased urgency of tackling carbon emissions.
(1) Nearly every serious look at the energy technology required over the next several decades to supply the world’s growing energy appetite while effectively mitigating climate change has concluded that there is likely to be a need for large amounts of nuclear energy. In 2014 alone, reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, the UN Sustainable Solutions Network and the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate argued for a doubling or trebling of nuclear energy – requiring as many as 1,000 new reactors or more in view of scheduled retirements – to stabilize carbon emissions e.g. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg3/, Presentation, slides 32-33; International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2014, p. 396; UN Sustainable Solutions Network, “Pathways to Deep Decarbonization” (July 2014), at page 33; Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, “Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report” (September 2014), Figure 5 at page 26.
In his recent Atlantic interview, Bill Gates stated We need an energy miracle. Excerpts from the article:
Those who study energy patterns say we are in a gradual transition from oil and coal to natural gas, a fuel that emits far less carbon but still contributes to global warming. Gates thinks that we can’t accept this outcome, and that our best chance to vault over natural gas to a globally applicable, carbon-free source of energy is to drive innovation “at an unnaturally high pace.”
Wind has grown super-fast, on a very subsidized basis. Solar, off a smaller base, has been growing even faster—again on a highly subsidized basis. But it’s absolutely fair to say that even the modest R&D that’s been done, and the various deployment incentives that are there, have worked well. Now, unfortunately, solar photovoltaic is still not economical, but the biggest problem of all is this intermittency. That is, we need energy 24 hours a day. So, putting aside hydro—which unfortunately can’t grow much—the primary new zero-CO2 sources are intermittent. Now, nuclear is a non-CO2 source, but it’s had its own problems in terms of costs, big safety problems, making sure you can deal with the waste, making sure the plutonium isn’t used to make weapons. So my view is that the biggest problem for the two lead candidates is that storage looks to be so difficult. It’s kind of ironic: Germany, by installing so much rooftop solar, has it that both their coal plants and their rooftop solar are available in the summer, and the price of power during the day actually goes negative—they pay people to take it. Then at night the only source is the coal, and because the energy companies have to recover their capital costs, they either raise the price because they’re not getting any return for the day, or they slowly go bankrupt.
There are many people working on storage—batteries are a form of storage, and there’s a few others, like compressed air, hot metals. But it’s not at all clear that we will get grid-scale economic storage. We’re more than a factor of 10 away from the economics to get that.
On the self-defeating claims of some clean-energy enthusiasts:
They have this statement that the cost of solar photovoltaic is the same as hydrocarbon’s. And that’s one of those misleadingly meaningless statements. What they mean is that at noon in Arizona, the cost of that kilowatt-hour is the same as a hydrocarbon kilowatt-hour. But it doesn’t come at night, it doesn’t come after the sun hasn’t shone, so the fact that in that one moment you reach parity, so what? The reading public, when they see things like that, they underestimate how hard this thing is. So false solutions like divestment or “Oh, it’s easy to do” hurt our ability to fix the problems. Distinguishing a real solution from a false solution is actually very complicated.
Well, to play Oreskes’ denial game, Oreskes et al. are engineering ‘deniers.’
If you accept the premise that human caused climate change is dangerous and that we need to rapidly stop burning fossil fuels, then I don’t see a near term alternative to nuclear. The innovations that Gates is looking for most likely won’t be major factors in energy generation for several decades.
There is no good solution massively reducing our emissions from fossil fuels on the time scale of a decade. If the nuclear solution is unpalatable, then reconsider whether the proposed cure is worse than the hypothesized disease.
Now that political victory on climate change has been declared, its time to look at the engineering (not to mention economical) challenges.
Naomi Oreskes and her ilk that are playing politics with science, and now engineering, need to get out of the way.