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Are Environmentalists In Favor of Anything?

From the Wall Street Journal:
Al Gore has been hectoring Americans to pare back their lifestyles to fight global warming. But if Mr. Gore wants us to rethink our priorities in the face of this mother of all environmental threats, surely he has convinced his fellow greens to rethink theirs, right?

Wrong. If their opposition to the Klamath hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest is any indication, the greens, it appears, are just as unwilling to sacrifice their pet causes as a Texas rancher is to sacrifice his pickup truck. If anything, the radicalization of the environmental movement is the bigger obstacle to addressing global warming than the allegedly gluttonous American way of life. . . .

These dams provide cheap, renewable energy to 70,000 homes in Oregon and California. Replacing this energy with natural gas -- the cleanest fossil-fuel source -- would still pump 473,000 tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. This is roughly equal to the annual emissions of 102,000 cars.

Given this alternative, one would think that environmentalists would form a human shield around the dams to protect them. Instead, they have been fighting tooth-and-nail to tear them down because the dams stand in the way of migrating salmon. Environmentalists don't even let many states, including California, count hydro as renewable. . . .

Their opposition to nuclear energy is well known. Wind power? Two years ago the Center for Biological Diversity sued California's Altamont Pass Wind Farm for obstructing and shredding migrating birds. ("Cuisinarts of the sky" is what many greens call wind farms.) Solar? Worldwatch Institute's Christopher Flavin has been decidedly lukewarm about solar farms because they involve placing acres of mirrors in pristine desert habitat. The Sierra Club and Wilderness Society once testified before Congress to keep California's Mojave Desert -- one of the prime solar sites in the country -- off limits to all development. Geothermal energy? They are unlikely to get enviro blessings, because some of the best sites are located on protected federal lands.
Anyone feel like a BANANA?


gunter said…
I notice that there is no mention of energy efficiency and conservation which is in fact the critical first step in a sustainable energy policy for the 21st Century.

Could it be because the industry ignores the fact that there is broad agreement in the environmental community and entrenched disdain by centralized power corporations who remain by and large fixated on expanding generating capacity?

I would also note that Progress Energy has put its rush to judgement on new nuclear power construction at Shearon Harris on hold to prioritize the development its energy efficiency and conservation programs. Not only is this a wise investment but it is far more readily implementable in expanding their generating capacity.

The entire electricity industry should be aggressively pursuing efficiency and conservation for its residential,commercial and industrial customers, if not voluntarily, then by federal and state legislation.

Such a move would expand generating capacity and with an aggressive program even substainally reduce both CO2 and radioactive emissions.

Doug said…
Gunter, environmental groups always lead with conservation as a first step. What's the next step after that? Also, you are wrong that conservation will expand generating capacity - obviously it won't, though it may give existing capacity some breathing room.

I'll grant you that there is plenty of room for efficiency gains, but this will not reduce power needs to zero. Where are we going to get our power from once we run out of ways to reduce consumption?

It's easy to knock down energy projects one by one by appealing to conservation, because there is always enough potential efficiency gain to offset any one project. But in the aggregate, there isn't, and so the net effect of this incrementalist strategy has been to perpetuate our dependency on coal.

Try looking at the problem wholistically. Start with the fact that we are getting half our electricity from coal, and virtually all our transportation energy from oil. Now, assuming EVs are successful, shift half the transportation needs to electricity (which still has to come from somewhere). Now cut the amount of electricity needed by reasonable conservation measures and the greater efficiency of the EVs. After all that, you are still going to need a whole lot of electricity, IMO more than we are using now. Are we still supposed to get that from coal?

You also allude to centralised power in a way that makes me think you believe decentralisation is the magic bullet here. Well, if that were so, we would already be using it. What exactly is going to be the source of the distributed power? Surely you're not talking about NG-fired cogen? If you're talking about home-based solar and wind, let's think about that.

First of, what about all the people (e.g. apartment dwellers in big cities) that don't have any way to put such facilities up? Even if the buildings as a whole did so, they simply don't occupy enough surface area to meet more than a fraction of their needs. As for people living in suburbs, wind is not a realistic option, so that leaves PV. Power from PV is extremely expensive - this is why a lot of us prefer to get power from centralised sources, it's a lot cheaper than we could produce it ourselves. Finally, I would note that most PV systems still need a backup source of power at night, or when the weather doesn't cooperate. Most home PV systems are grid-tied. Up to a point, people who are willing to pay more for their electricity can continue building PV systems and using the grid as a sort of battery, but it should be obvious that this cannot reach 100% of usage, and in fact the point at which this would create problems for grid management would be reached far sooner than that (well below 50%, probably somewhere between 10-30%).

We have a choice - we can continue to believe in an energy fantasy while we burn coal, or we can get busy shifting transportation demand to the grid and building low-carbon generation facilities with technology that we know works today. I don't think that's a difficult choice.
Gunter, are you advocating the continued use of fossil fuels?

It sure seems like it.
gunter said…
No arguing that displacing wasted generation capacity from inefficent consumption (i.e. heating buildings with antiquated incandescent light bulbs then cooling the buildings with inefficient air conditioners) with more efficient appliances makes more available generating capacity for still more efficient use without building new generators.

"Plenty of room for efficiency gains" indeed, as five national laboratories found the USA can cut electricity demand by 47% with an aggressive national policy for residential, commercial and industrial applications.

That's my point. Nobody is saying its all efficiency and conservation with zero generation.

It is apparent this blog missed the New York Times story on June 1, 2007, "Where Now, for the Wind."

Not surprising.

The article is about Florida Power & Light Group's (FPL Group) biggest wind farm in the world right in Wingate, Texas.

The article focuses on the contribution of this utility's to renewables than the dismissive bunk on this site.

Here are some quotes:

"There is little quixotic about wind power anymore: the FPL Group is now building a second giant wind farm right next door."

"...wind power can work as well for shareholders as it does for environmentalists."

"The nation’s wind energy capacity grew last year by 27 percent, with the industry investing $4 billion to install more than 2,400 megawatts of power."

"This year, wind power could increase 26 percent, according to the American Wind Energy Association, and Wall Street is increasingly eager to finance the investment."

Still, there's is a ways to go without question. But do not dismiss the coming collaboration of environmentalists and power companies to implement a safe, secure, environmentally sustainable and economically profitable 21st Century energy policy as a model for the world and climate change abatement program. True, not everybody wants a wind farm nearby but the above facts speak for themselves. However, expansion into renewables is both welcome and happening.

I am not sorry to say that that genuine collaboration will not include new nuclear power with all its proliferation, n-waste, safety, security and economic warts. A relapse into more nukes will only squander timely progress towards the sustainable goal.

t7 said…
Gunter, do you have a plan to replace 100% of the fossil fuel capacity by conservation and renewables?

As these are clearly much more dangerous than nuclear, after you come up with a realistic plan to replace those, lets chat about what to do with nuclear, OK?
gunter said…
t7 argues that fossil fuels are more dangerous than nuclear power plants as if carbon emissions were all that we have to worry about.

Significant carbon emissions from the nuclear fuel production process aside which increase with the depletion of high grade uranium ore, the proliferation of nuclear power carries its own unique rapid climate change threat.

Global warming will require globally adaptable solutions.
Trading fossil fuel for more atomic power means the proliferation of nuclear materials globally and the consequential proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Remember North Korea was once a member of the NPT till they got their bomb materials and they simply dropped out. India, Israel and Pakistan were never in the NPT.

There is substantial evidence that nuclear war carries its own risks for rapid climate change. My father-in-law was deeply involved in those studies. As such, trading global warming for nuclear winter is not a solution. Witness the nine Middle Eastern countries now posturing to obtain nuclear materials under the guise of "peaceful" purposes like Iran.

This is merely the beginning of regional arms race in one of world's most dangerous flash points for world war.

How incredibly short-sighted and self-centered can this species be?

bw said…
Air pollution (particulates, smog etc...) and water pollution (mercury, arsenic etc...) matters to me more than carbon emissions because they are clearly killing more now and for decades to come.

Those are all caused by fossil fuel usage. Air pollution kills more than 3 million each year.

Nuclear weapon proliferation to this point has killed no one.
Hiroshima/Nagasaki all from the original developer of nukes.

Nuclear war - I know you are scared about it. Conventional war and violence killed 200 million in the 20th century. Nuclear war 180,000. 3 days of fire bombing Tokyo in WW2 killed 100,000.

A one sided all-out modern conventional war can be just as deadly as a nuclear war to the losing side. the big nuclear power countries (US, Russia, china etc...) could firebomb and destroy the infrastructure of a target country. Take out medical and emergency response capability. Then poison food and water. Blockade and wait a couple of months. They could speed it up with some biologicals which would be devasting to a place without medical infrastructure but which is ok for a place with it.

Nuclear war is just a bit faster. We should stop letting the nuclear war fears cause us to continue to let 3-5 million/year die when we could save them.

Stopping deaths now is more important than nightmare scenarios which are not anymore likely or dangerous than other conventional kinds of all out war.

Nuclear energy is only deadly when something goes very wrong. Fossil fuels are deadly all the time even when things are going relative right. Business as usual fossil fuels are over 20 times more deadly than nuclear has ever been including 1945.

Get your sense of proportion in line with reality. Get reality separated from potential fears
Dakian said…
Gunter, I hate saying this but honestly, what position are you in to deny people the use of nuclear power? What right do you have to deny society access to energy that is dense, reliable, and safe? You can't look at places like India and China and say to these people "You can't use nuclear power, oh and fossil fuel is bad too."

These people live more densely than any western populated world, and they need power. They have the right to obtain the means to have their own information age. It is their birthright that they are able to obtain the best source of power for themselves and their children.

Nuclear weapons are scary, but if you simply remove the reason to use them, then there's no reason to have them. And I can tell you, right now, there's no doubt in my mind that if you deny people the right to a better lifestyle, then they will fight you with any and all means possible.
Anonymous said…
I alway like to see the antinukes report numbers, rather than simply make ad hominem attacks, because they always trip up on the numbers and even inadvertently state the case for nuclear power. As usual, Gunter trips up, contradicts himself and even gives us some damning numbers on the wind power industry.

Gunter notes that:

"with the industry investing $4 billion to install more than 2,400 megawatts of power."

To account for the real capacity of wind power, we need to multiply 2,400 by 20%, which would be 480 MW. $4 billion for 480 MW and zero dispatchability is terrible. The Finns will be getting 1600 MW of reliable power for about $4 billion.

Keep mangling your statistics Gunter. Your mistakes only support the case for nuclear power.
Dona Tracy said…
As to environmentalists always leading with conservation and what happens next. The point is that conservation is not being used at the first step. And in fact it is being entirely overlooked. I simply do not accept that. And frankly it makes no sense whatsoever to move on to more and more Energy projects that we don't need and will never satisfy us because we have not done all we can to conserve. We need to curb our wasteful use of our natural resources. Period. And we need to clean up those pollution producing power plants which is also not being done. If we refuse to take responsibility and make responsible use of our resources then we are all heading for nuclear power... since it is the only reliable form of non CO2 producing power that is reliable and can really do the job. I believe we need to work on the hydrogen economy and biomass technology. It will take time but all worthwhile things do.
Dona Tracy said…
PS. Environmentalists are completely divided. I used to call myself an environmentalist but now I call myself a conservationist. To me, environmentalism has been overtaken by the Green movement which has little to no connection to the natural world. Greens have bought the industry line of leave it to them, they will save the world, hook line and sinker and seem to think we can turn our backs on wildlife and conservation and individaul action and actually survive with out them.
Anonymous said…
I totally agreed with the gist of the WSJ article. Putting environmentalists in charge of saving the planet would be disastrous. Let’s see how long Germany stays with their “energy correctness” and nuclear phase-out silliness.

The Princeton Wedge Theory says in the next 50 years we have to TRIPLE existing nuclear output world wide. All 7 wedges are so ambitious that it is rather pointless to express a favorite.

Last weekend I went backpacking in Big Sur, and joined the 1.6 Billion people on the planet that don’t have electricity. Three days without a hot shower and I gotta tell ya, I can only take environmentalism in small doses.

Bill Vidalin
gunter said…

Again, you miss the point. We can dramatically cut emissions and nuclear waste/materials proliferation by changing out light bulbs, etc. etc. etc.

Is NEI still passing out those silly mock rubber incandescent light bulbs? You all must have boxes and boxes of those momentos to wasted mega-wattage.

I keep one on my desk to remind me that centralized energy's mantra is "more generation" at the expense of climate, safety and national security.

I willing agree with you on the conventional warfare and its escalating potential. I was in Viet Nam where more ordiance was dropped than in both theatres of World War II.

Agreed, today, we are positioned to dwarf that spectical of state sponsored violence even without nuclear weapons.

Still you ignore the growing threat from the megatonnage of destruction that sits in silos and bunkers around the world.

Simply put, the plan is no longer to bring the people to the extermination ovens, it is now to bring the ovens to the people whether it be by MIRV, semitractor trailer or a simply smuggled suitcase.

Do you really want to support the worldwide proliferation of these nuclear materials?

As for that "reality" you speak of, the Coal Oil and Nuclear (CON) job and agenda was secured in closed door meetings with Cheney early in the Bush Administration.

The Nuclear Energy Institute was in cahoots with the coal and oil interest. You all are linked. So as far as I am concerned you can get off the all high and mighty horse about about climate change. Its a shameless ruse like the "peaceful atom" or "too cheap to meter."

Instead witness endless war for oil in the Middle East and unbated mountain top removal for coal and the Bush Administration's continued stonewalling of meaningful carbon reductions while endorsing rapid expansion of atomic power.

Mayors and governors are doing more to reduce carbon emissions than Cheney-Bush or Congress.

Don't be CONed.

Robert Merkel said…
Gunter, the statistics are in on other emissions, and they're crystal clear.

Coal and oil are killing hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people every year.

Even if you ultimately believe humanity would be best off getting all its energy from renewables, surely the fact that hundreds of coal-fired power stations are currently planned or under construction around the world is a far bigger concern than nuclear power plants?

As far as conservation goes, there are over two billion people in China and India who want something approximating a Western lifestyle. Would you care to explain to me explain to me how their aspirations could possibly be met (and they are *NOT* going to settle for less) without the world's total energy consumption going up considerably?
t7 said…
Gunter, there are at least hundreds of thousands people dying each year due to fossil fuels, from mine, tanker and gas pipe accidents to air pollution. CO2 related dangers such as global warming is _on_top_ of it.

(The very small) CO2 emissions from nuclear cycle are due to the large fraction of fossil in the energy mix! This is a pro-nuclear argument. Would we displace more fossil fuels by nuclear, these emission would get even lower.

And please throw that Storm's argument with depleting ore concentration out of the window, it was debunked so many times that it is not even funny.

As for nuclear weapons - they have nothing to do with nuclear power for peaceful means, such as electricity. Making any connections as such is just plain stupid. Do you want to ban soap because of napalm danger?

Nuclear weapons are over 60 years old technology, any country which decides so can make some. Unless persuaded by some political pressure. The technology is well known and uranium is abundant.

Actually making nuclear weapons from the fuel spent in civilian reactors is close to impossible, therefore one can argue that nuclear power is an anti-proliferation agent, as once the uranium is ran through the reactor, it is made useless for weapon construction.
t7 said…
Gunter, 3 short questions, please:

1) Do you think that fossil power (coal combustion by large) is more dangerous than nuclear power? [Y/N]

2) Do you agree that global climate changes are a serious problem which happens now?

3) Do you understand that "wind power" is actually 60-95% a "fossil power", due to its chaotic nature?
Anonymous said…
Conservation is fine as far as it goes but it doesn't produce a single KW of new capacity. You still need an energy source to conserve. From all the studies I've seen, the projected increase in demand over the next few decades dwarfs any realistic estimate of savings from conservation, particularly in the developing countries. Also, from what I've read, even if so-called "renewable" energy sources were developed to their maximum practical economic potential, we're looking at meeting about 20-30% of projected demand. So the question is, where do we go for the other 70-80% of our needs? Coal? Sure, if you want to blow off global warming and GHG concerns. Natural gas? A depletable energy source of which we don't have enough domestic reserves and environmentalist wackos oppose to the nth degree construction of LNG terminals. Plus unreliability of supply. The Brits found out the hard way how pleasant it is having a country like Russia hold a knife to your throat. That leaves...nuclear. Uh, oh. Gonna have to face the music eventually. Better sooner than too late.
Brad F said…
Regarding the argument that CO2 is released during the nuclear fuel cycle (mining, transportation, fuel fabrication), one might as well argue that since tractors run on fossil fuels, farming should be discouraged as it releases CO2 to the atmosphere. The only valid CO2 analysis one that looks at HOW MUCH CO2 is released versus HOW MUCH energy is generated. In this comparison, nuclear is roughly on par with hydro and other renewables, and well below all forms of fossil fuels.

Regarding the proliferation argument against civilian nuclear energy, t7 has it right. You don't even need a reactor to develop uranium weapons, you just need enrichment technology. The first atomic weapon used was a uranium weapon, and it wasn't even tested beforehand they were so certain it would work (so I've read). Plutonium weapons require weapons-grade plutonium that is much easier to get from certain purpose-built reactors than from civilian power reactors. You can say but, but, but... all you want, but the physics is well known, the cat is out of the bag, the genie is out of the bottle, and Pandora's box has been open for a while now with respect to weapons. But this has NOTHING to do with civilian nuclear electricity generation and its benefits for mankind.
Anonymous said…
Conservation is fine as far as it goes but conservation alone does not add a single watt of capacity. You still need an energy source to conserve. From the demand projections I've seen for the next few decades, the increase in demand alone dwarfs any savings from conservation. It also dwarfs any amount of new capacity that might be reasonably expected from so-called renewable sources. Couple that with retirement of existing capacity or removal of some generators from the total capacity because of GHG and carbon emissions, and you've got a prescription for widespread electricity shortages.

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