Scientific American on ClimateGate

UP to now we’ve only discussed ClimateGate in connection with the bizarre claims made by creationists, to the effect that all of science has been proven corrupt, therefore creationism is true. But creationists are too predictable. It’s time to see how a mainstream science publication is dealing with the email imbroglio.

We’re mostly interested in the politics of global warming, and therefore we’ve never expressed any firm opinion on the science. We’ll continue with that approach, and let you reach your own conclusions about an article in Scientific American titled Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense.

It’s written by John Rennie, the same man who, seven years ago, wrote the highly recommended 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.

Rennie starts his list of seven points by saying: “What follows is only a partial list of the contrarians’ bad arguments and some brief rebuttals of them.”

We’ll skip over Rennie’s first six points. They’re all interesting, and well worth reading, but you can judge them for yourself. Let’s get right to his last point, headlined: Claim 7: Technological fixes, such as inventing energy sources that don’t produce CO2 or geoengineering the climate, would be more affordable, prudent ways to address climate change than reducing our carbon footprint.

Note, dear reader, how Rennie frames the issue. It’s written in terms of “inventing energy sources that don’t produce CO2.” Not surprisingly, he concludes that this is unrealistic. Fair enough, however …

Perhaps you noticed, as we did, that Rennie ignores the option of deploying currently known and well-understood energy sources that don’t produce CO2. Is there such a technology? Hint: nuclear energy.

France uses it to produce almost all their electric power needs. See: Nuclear power in France. Were we to do the same, not only would there be an immediate reduction of CO2 emissions (we understand that over 70% of US electric power generation uses oil, natural gas, or coal), but there would also be a reduction in the money we send each year to oil-producing countries overseas.

But surely, you object, Rennie must be aware of this option.

Is he? Perhaps so. But he doesn’t mention it in his article.

We don’t know why Rennie left out nuclear power generation. To us it seems an obvious topic for discussion in an article such as his. We have some thoughts about the omission, but we don’t want to leap to any conclusions. There’s been more than enough of that already.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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34 responses to “Scientific American on ClimateGate

  1. Diving in with both feet, eh?

  2. Well, it’s currently a hot topic. And science-denial is a common tie. We’ll get back to The Controversy as soon as there’s some news.

  3. We don’t know why Rennie left out nuclear power generation

    Like you, I wish he hadn’t. But I read the main point for #7 to be that (he thinks) we should reduce CO2 emissions “straightforwardly by all available means.” Meaning we should not simply wait for new power reactors (of any type) to come online, we should be using regulatory measures to reduce CO2 while they do so. Even if we started building now, replacing 70% of U.S. power generation infrastructure with nuclear would take decades.

  4. That’s not how I read it, eric. He seems to prefer regulatory means for reducing CO2. Not a whisper about building nuclear power plants. But maybe he just forgot.

  5. Gabriel Hanna

    If carbon dioxide weren’t an issue, nuclear plants wouldn’t be worth building, economically speaking; at least for the US. We are the Saudi Arabia of coal.

    Nuclear power in THIS country replaced oil for power generation but didn’t make a dent in coal power.

    Okay, carbon dioxide IS an issue. So your choices are, for SERIOUS power generation, hydroelectric and nuclear.

    Hydroelectric only works in the Pacific Northwest, pretty much, and we’ve already built all the dams that could reasonably be built there (there’s fourteen I think on the Columbia and Snake rivers). But suppose there weren’t. Could any new hydroelectric dams be built in the current regulatory climate, where activists continually sue any new power project?

    This is why nuclear power is so expensive-lawsuit. This has ALWAYS been why they take so long to build and cost so much. Even without the lawsuits they aren’t cheap.

    Even solar projects get sued by activists. Even wind projects get sued by the Kennedys.

    The environmental movement, by its actions, show that it is only willing to allow one solution: poverty. That is why I do not respect them.

  6. Gabriel Hanna says: “The environmental movement, by its actions, show that it is only willing to allow one solution: poverty.”

    That does seem to be the objective. Hope and change!

  7. I’m all for nuclear energy, particularly as the technology is far in advance to that which produced numerous catastrophes in the recent past. And I agree that most of the people that are against it are as irrational as your average science denier, as well.

    There are, however, problems with it. You can’t use nuclear energy to power all sorts of things, including cars (unless far better electric cars are produced very soon), and the nuclear waste issue is still unresolved, though it is much better dealt with than, previously.

    Also, according to some reports, depending on demand, there may only be 30-60 years worth of uranium accessible for us to use. If that is anywhere near true, then clearly nuclear power isn’t a solution to the climate problem. At least, that is, until we find another source of nuclear energy.

    And then there is the problem of building new plants. Though I wish that it weren’t so, the process of building a new plant takes, on average, 20-30 years, at this moment in time. Again, this isn’t a solution for reducing carbon emissions in the short term, unless we can cut that by something like a third.

    And once you have decided that nuclear power isn’t going to have enough of an impact, what options are left?

  8. And Mr Curmudgeon what are the facts behind nuclear that make you want to support it?

    How do you address the fact that;-

    1. Uranium is also a finite resource.
    2. Water is needed for cooling.
    3. Decomissioning is expensive.
    4. There are limited places to put the waste.

    If you want to play at science you need to come up with facts rather than opinion.

  9. Damian says:

    You can’t use nuclear energy to power all sorts of things, including cars …

    I’m not talking about nuclear cars. Just power generation stations.

    Also, according to some reports, depending on demand, there may only be 30-60 years worth of uranium accessible for us to use.

    I’ve seen estimates of centuries. I’m not an expert on this.

    … the process of building a new plant takes, on average, 20-30 years …

    Two or three years, really. The rest of the time is politics and litigation.

  10. Correction. Here’s a link to one of Florida Power & Light’s nuclear plants: About St. Lucie. It took almost six years to get it up and running, from construction permit to operating license. I suspect that if all unnecessary procedures were waived it could be done a lot faster.

  11. retiredsciguy

    If the president were to declare building nuclear plants rapidly a national emergency, by using emergency executive powers we could build new nuclear plants in as little as two or three years. No new technology needs to be developed; no unexplored engineering challenges.

    Mr. Obama, if you are serious about reducing CO2 emissions 17% by 2020, you’d better get moving on this.

  12. Chris P says: “If you want to play at science you need to come up with facts rather than opinion.”

    Jeepers, I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.

  13. Gabriel Hanna

    If the president were to declare building nuclear plants rapidly a national emergency, by using emergency executive powers we could build new nuclear plants in as little as two or three years. No new technology needs to be developed; no unexplored engineering challenges.

    Just like LA did after the Northridge earthquake when they needed the interstates rebuilt in a hurry.

    Waive the usual onerous contracting procedures and don’t let the hippies sue. Very simple.

    As for the waste problem, why do people who are against nuclear power pretend that france doesn’t exist? France has been reprocessing waste for thirty years. And the more dangerous the isotope, the less time you have to store the waste, because the more intense radiation implies a shorter half-life, due to conservation of energy.

    Has France been attacked by terrorists who stole France’s nuclear waste? No.

  14. Gabriel Hanna says: “Just like LA did after the Northridge earthquake when they needed the interstates rebuilt in a hurry.”

    The Alaska pipeline is another example. Once Congress finally approved it, things went swiftly.

  15. At least you Americans are allowed to have the debate. Here in Aus, with huge Uranium reserves (that we’re happy to export to all and sundry, except India…. grrrrr) we’re not even allowed to have the debate.

    Yes, it’s very expensive but, if you have to have non CO2 emitting power, it’s essentially the only option for baseload power. If I hear one more idiot crap on about wind power being the answer to our prayers…..

  16. Richard says: “Here in Aus …. we’re not even allowed to have the debate.”

    What debate can’t you have? Don’t you guys have elections down there?

  17. Richard “If I hear one more idiot crap on about wind power being the answer to our prayers.”

    It would be funny if it was not so head bangingly stupid here in Britain. Faced with the fact that the remaining nuclear power stations are ageing, and will have to be decommissioned in the next 20 years, and along with the remaining coal power stations to reduce co2. The Labour government finally said they need to build 10 new ones. Labour has been against nuclear power for decades, which should show people how serious the whole problem is. Yet you have all the usual groups crying out (as well as the Scottish parliament). Saying renewable energy only. Of course not one of them say how they propose to build in excess of 200,000 turbines in 20 years, when we already struggle to build 300 a year due to lack of space on this small island, and the lengthy planning hassle, and court battles, they have to go through, because people do not want 100 feet windmills in holiday areas and near homes.

  18. Hasn’t there been a problem of nuclear waste disposal even in Europe — like contractors taking the money and then just dumping the stuff in the Mediterranean or the third world or something? Wouldn’t the problem be the same here, especially these days with so much pressure to deregulate and privatize energy and public utilities?

  19. retiredsciguy

    Damian: “You can’t use nuclear energy to power all sorts of things, including cars…”

    Sure you can. Since nuclear plants can run at full capacity with little extra cost for fuel, use the electricity during off-peak hours to generate hydrogen through electrolysis of water. Then, use the hydrogen to power fuel cells to run cars, trucks — even planes. It will take some engineering and building of infrastructure, but it can be done.
    But that’s probably not going to happen, because it’s not really necessary for reducing our carbon emissions substantially, which will occur if we replace coal-fired generating plants with nuclear.

    If (or when) the time comes when we no longer have access to relatively cheap petroleum, then it will happen.

    Along the same lines, electrolysis of water would be a good use for all the wind farms sprouting up across our landscape. It doesn’t have the problems associated with putting electricity on the grid from an unreliable power power source.
    (If we depend on wind-generated electricity for a substantial percent of our electricity, massive blackouts can be triggered when the wind suddenly dies down over a large area. Back-up generators can’t be fired up fast enough to carry the load.)

  20. Jugglingbuffoon

    I am a somewhat long time reader of this blog and am getting quite annoyed. Could you please stick to creationism?
    This post had nothing to do with creationism and it seems rather pointless. Your continual talk about the politics of global warming is starting to turn me off of this blog.
    I do like it when you talk about creationism because no one does it better (besides PZ of course) but when you start talking about global warming you lose all of my interest and start turning into another Bill Maher (claims to be a skeptic but obviously has no idea what he is talking about. We liked him in the beginning for some of what he does and now we are embarrassed to have given him anything.) That sort of thing.
    Thank you,
    Jugglingbuffoon

  21. This experiment has already been performed. For nearly 18 million years, during the Miocene, atmospheric CO2 was at twice its current abundance (deduced from boron isotope ratios in fossilized foraminifera, thought to be a proxy for surface water PH, itself a proxy for atmospheric CO2). Climates then were generally temperate, cooling, and life flourished quite wonderfully. Maximum average temperature during the Miocene was perhaps 3 degrees higher than present day — about the same warming predicted by climate models for our 0.04 percent contribution to the biosphere’s carbon budget. In light of this, some of us wonder whether our understanding of the Miocene environment is completely mistaken, or the climate models are.

  22. Gabriel Hanna

    @Synesius:

    Maybe you ought to have a look at this graph:

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/globalwarming/images/temperature-change.jpg

    What you are doing is cherry-picking some of the data while ignoring the very obvious trend.

  23. Gary Hemminger

    I don’t get it. The only comment you have about Climategate is to focus on the nuts who believe in creationism. Have the editors lost their mind? No I think they are perfectly sane. This is exactly the response I would expect from an organization that has promoted global warming alarmism. I figured out 5 years ago this whole science was settled stuff was complete nonsense. Come on now, how many of you out there believed that the world was warming and the entire human population was at risk? If you are a scientist, and believe this stuff, then let me ask you a question…how many armagendan scenarios have come true so far? Let’s see…um…um…none. So statistically speaking why did you believe it this time. The whole thing is a farce and it is finally crumbling. Keep denying that natural climate variation goes from cold to warm periods. This is the ultimate climate denial.

  24. Gabriel Hanna

    @Gary Hemminger:

    Keep denying that natural climate variation goes from cold to warm periods.

    Nobody in climate science DOES deny this. This is a straw man typical of people utterly ignorant of a science who have never listened to the other side of the argument.

  25. Sacre bleu! Am I hearing Americans saying something non-derogatory about the French?

    Say what you like about the Frogs (and there is plenty to be said), but their investment in nuclear power was damned smart in my book and is paying dividends.

    Their investment in the TGV network is pretty cool, too, IMHO.

  26. Jugglingbuffoon, you can skip our occasional posts on ClimateGate if they don’t interest you, but I think it is related to creationism when someone like Rennie, who has done so much to debunk creationists, appears to go off the rails when it comes to global warming. Rationality isn’t a sometime thing.

  27. This is kind of disingenuous, don’t you think? He doesn’t mention any specific technologies, pro or con. Not wind, not solar, not lofting mirrors into space, nor seeding the stratosphere with aerosols. To complain that he doesn’t mention your pet favorite is strange. Indeed, on my reading he seems particularly eager that currently accessible technologies should be implemented first before the pie-in-the-sky. Bird in hand and all that.

    Wouldn’t a more reasonable conclusion be that nuclear is at least implicitly on the table?

  28. The Curmudgeon :

    What debate can’t you have? Don’t you guys have elections down there?

    Nuclear power is almost the third rail of politics down here. Convervatives do try to bring it up, especially now but the left wing government won’t touch it. Too many inner city green votes to loose.

    Hell, we’re lucky to have one research reactor that also gets used to manufacture medical stuff.

  29. Rough situation, Richard. But you’ve been good allies in the Middle East, so everything isn’t upside-down.

  30. Lubos Motl responds to the SCiAm article here:

    http://motls.blogspot.com/2009/12/scientific-american-answers-to.html

    One factoid he presents that I didn’t know: the oceans/forests absorb a significant percentage of anthropogenic CO2 (half or better). Thus, the total CO2 concentration does not increase at the rate at which humans produce it, but something more like half that rate.

  31. Gabriel Hanna

    the oceans/forests absorb a significant percentage of anthropogenic CO2 (half or better).

    Well, there has been a LOT of reforestation going on in this country over the last hundred years and even more so in the last thirty.

    But when the oceans absorb carbon dioxide, they acidify. How much of THAT do you want going on? And if you want the forests to take up the slack, you have to plant new forest at the rate at which you produce carbon dioxide. It’s like painting roofs white; eventually you run out of space.

  32. Gabriel Hanna says: “It’s like painting roofs white; eventually you run out of space.”

    Then we can paint the streets.

  33. Gabriel Hanna

    Then we can paint the streets.

    The earth is not producing more surface area. Once you have painted all available surfaces white, or planted them all with trees, you are done.

  34. Gabriel Hanna says: “Once you have painted all available surfaces white, or planted them all with trees, you are done.”

    Yeah, but look at all the green jobs I’ve created.