Wednesday, April 07, 2010

James Lovelock, Where Nuclear Has No Place

profesor-james-lovelock This brought us up short:

In Britain, environmentalist patron saint James Lovelock now tells the BBC he suspects climate scientists have "[fudged] the data" and that if the planet is going to be saved, "it will save itself, as it always has done."

This comes from an op-ed by Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens (behind a pay wall, so transcribed by us) that takes the premise that global warming is a hoax. What Stephens means to say here is that Lovelock agrees with this.

We think Stephens’s op-ed is utter tosh, as Lovelock might say, riddled with poor logic and a bad marshalling of facts. But we were interested in pursuing Lovelock’s current views and found, as usual, that parsing his words can lead to tears pretty fast. In a recent interview, he observed:

The good skeptics have done a good service, but some of the mad ones I think have not done anyone any favors. You need skeptics, especially when the science gets very big and monolithic."

That’s not quite where Stephens is coming from. Here’s how much Lovelock discounts climate change:

But even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.

We couldn’t disagree more, but that’s Lovelock. Stephens is right that Lovelock believes the  “world will save itself,” but in the interview where he says this, he also makes the point that it will do it without people – he expects the world population to drop to about a billion due to climate change by the end of this century.

Lovelock takes a very dim view on people being able to save their own future – either through government action or international effort - so he posits adaptation to a new reality as an alternative:

Climate change is kind of a repetition of a war-time situation. It could quite easily lead to a physical war. That's why I always come back to the safest thing to do being adaptation. For example, we've got to have good supplies of food. I would be very pleased to see this country and Europe seriously thinking about synthesizing food.

Soylent Green, anyone?

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We could scarcely leave Lovelock behind without noting his comments on nuclear energy in the Guardian piece:

I'm in favor of nuclear for crowded places like Britain for the simple reason that it's cheap, effective and exceedingly safe when you look at the record. We've had it for 50 years…

That’s the first half and it’s true enough.

…but I can understand the left hating it because it was [Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher's greatest weapon against the miners because we were then [in the 1980s] getting 30% of our electricity from nuclear.

And that’s the second, in case one thought Lovelock could say anything without broader context. We don’t always agree with Lovelock – and more frequently agree then disagree then agree - but he’s a genuinely fascinating figure – contrary, counterintuitive, always thought provoking,

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We always like to bring you positive editorials about nuclear energy, but lately we ran into one that uses the recent disaster in West Virginia to extol the relative safety of nuclear energy. While we always appreciate positive press, this one – makes us – hesitate and we won’t share it.

Why? Perhaps because West Virginia sits close enough to Washington to make this a local tragedy worthy of communal grief and anger, perhaps because we find the history and experience of mining and miners a key to the American experience.

And perhaps it is because we find it personally troubling to use this misfortune to make any point at all about nuclear energy – or wind – or solar – or anything else. There are times, we think, when you have to clear space around an event and let it represent only itself. We want to know about the miners who died – and about Massey’s culpability, if any – and about the government response. Anything else we may be tempted to say about it here – can wait.

James Lovelock, with Gaia herself.

12 comments:

Joffan said...

Interesting to see that Lovelock's support for nuclear power attracted zero outrage in the comments. I'll take that as a positive.

Finrod said...

And perhaps it is because we find it personally troubling to use this misfortune to make any point at all about nuclear energy – or wind – or solar – or anything else. There are times, we think, when you have to clear space around an event and let it represent only itself. We want to know about the miners who died – and about Massey’s culpability, if any – and about the government response. Anything else we may be tempted to say about it here – can wait.

If you wait for very long, you'll have lost the opportunity to comment on it. The press drops these kinds of stories as soon as the immediate action is over.

Anonymous said...

I have followed Lovelock for years and have always valued his opinion. He shoots straight and he says when his environmental bretheren are full of @*it, and when they're right. However I cannot support his views that nuclear is a viable option to fossil fuel power generation.

Nuclear fuel is dangerous to handle, destructive to mine, and must be hidden in mines after it is used. Each plant costs $8 Billion each, and there has never been a plant ever built which is not a subsidy welfare case. All plants are terrorist targets and might I ermind you; Chernoble and Three Mile Island.

Fossil power is smoky, thats it. We don't want to bother fixing smoke stacks simply because it's old technology and not cool like nuclear. Well that old technology is safe, cheap to build, cheap to maintain, efficient, not a welfare case and not a terorist target. If we spent $8 billion to find solution to smoke stacks we'd save trillions and soldve the emissions issue but nope, the green herd have their bliders on and aren't thinking again. What else is new.

Sterling Archer said...

Well, Anon. there has a most unique version of reality. But it's good to know that world-wide carbon capture and sequestration will cost less than a single nuclear power plant. That had me worried. I was afraid humanity would have to make hard choices and spend money to fix the environment.

Kit P said...

Thank you for not trading on the tragedy of others to promote nuclear power. We are all in the difficult business of supplying electricity 24/7. Sharing the root cause of a tragedy when it is know is of course something that will help us all work safer.

Anonymous said...

Three Mile Island had zero fatalities and negligible environmental impact. Thanks for reminding us of TMI. Now just learn the right lesson from it.

Chernoble? No where comparable to western LWR technology, in terms of accident probability and source term.

Terrorist targets? Well, if you think they're an easy mark, you might be tempted to give it a try to prove your point, but I advise against it. If you do, better have your will made out and the suicide rider of your life insurance policy paid up.

Anonymous said...

"Terrorist targets? Well, if you think they're an easy mark, you might be tempted to give it a try to prove your point, but I advise against it. If you do, better have your will made out and the suicide rider of your life insurance policy paid up."

Yeah, because we all know that terrorists aren't willing to commit suicide.

Anonymous said...

No, I'm saying you try it if you think they're so easy to take. You're going to have to get inside to do any real damage. Crashing a plane probably isn't going to do it.

You're a smart guy, probably more so than a garden variety terrorist. Get back to us and let us know how it turned out. Anyone here good at conducting a séance?

Finrod said...

You don't need to know exactly what happened with the WV coal mine disaster in order to use it as an example of the general riskiness involved with the coal industry, nor should you be concerned about the coal industry's tender feelings. My advice is (as usual) diametrically opposed to that of Kit P.

Kit P said...

Industries do not have feelings. However, the spouses and children have feelings.

Knowing the root cause of a problem is important. For example, if the root cause is digital alarm system that failed to detect the hazard and warn miners, that lesson can be learned by the nuke industry.

We all have the same goals to produce the electricity the country needs and come home from work in the same condition we left.

Finrod said...

Kit P, have you just advised restraint in the criticism of coal by asking us to "think of the children"?

DocForesight said...

Anon #1, I encourage you to brush up on some general knowledge before posting again, anywhere.

Keep reading here, read the TCASE series on bravenewclimate.com (left hand side along border), cleanenergyinsight.org has some good stuff, nuclearfissionary.com, too.

Ignorance is a terrible thing.

May the miners R.I.P. and may we never forget the work they do.