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Shermer rides again!

Jesus. He’s written a climatological ‘Dear Muslima’ for Scientific American, defending Bjorn Lomborg. It feeds directly into a common Republican trope: ‘sure, climate change occurs, and maybe humans contribute to it, but it’s just too costly do what is necessary’. He lists a bunch of problems, and then does a “cost-benefit analysis”.

The ranking is based on a cost-benefit analysis. For example, an investment of $300 million “would prevent the deaths of 300,000 children, if it were used to strengthen the Global Fund’s malaria-financing mechanism.” Another $300 million would deworm 300 million children, and $122 million would lead to total hepatitis B vaccine coverage and thereby prevent another 150,000 annual deaths. Low-cost drugs to treat acute heart disease would cost just $200 million and save 300,000 people.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do more about climate change. But what? Both books posit technological solutions: Lomborg’s Copenhagen experts recommend spending $1 billion for research on planet-cooling geoengineering technologies; Oreskes and Conway have humanity saved by the creation in 2090 of a lichenized fungus that consumes atmospheric carbon dioxide. Whatever we do about climate, we should recognize that the world has many problems. If you are malnourished and diseased, what the climate will be like at the end of the century is not a high priority. Given limited resources, we should not let ourselves be swept away by the apocalyptic fear generated by any one threat.

I fucking hate “cost-benefit analysis” — it’s always accomplished by sweeping a lot of costs under the carpet to reach the desired conclusion. It’s such an easy way to create imaginary books that you can fudge without consequences. Do they factor in the cost of losing New Orleans and Miami? Wanna bet everything is lowballed?

The argument about other problems is bogus, too: if we could wrest government out of the control of goddamned Libertarians and Republicans, we could talk about rational policy making and trying to fund all of those projects. Does anyone really believe progressive politicians are arguing we can’t save those children because we’ve only got money for ONE project, and we can’t prioritize to support humanitarian goals? Does anyone seriously believe for one second that if we follow the Libertarian dream and spend less on carbon reduction (as if we spend enough now), that suddenly the wretched conservatives in congress will decide they can invest a few hundred million dollars to prevent the deaths of foreign children?

NO ONE is claiming that we need to stop everything else and deal only with climate change right now. But they are arguing that we need to carry out an appropriate, necessary, and immediate change in our carbon consumption habits — which we are not doing, thanks to obstructionists and pseudo-scientific rationalizers for the status quo, like Shermer. Pretending that climate scientists want everyone to be “swept away” to deal with “one threat” is simply dishonest. Reprehensibly dishonest. What they’re doing instead is explaining how the long term costs of climate change represent a far greater concern than phony ‘cost-benefit analyses’ allow.

And citing Oreskes and Conway…they wrote The Merchants of Doubt, which is all about how industry assholes have connived to lie to us about the scientific consensus on tobacco, ozone, acid rain, and climate change — Oreskes does not agree with Lomborg. Yet here Shermer lumps Conway and Oreskes into the same camp with Lomborg. And what is this nonsense about ‘lichenized fungus’ in 2090? Nobody can make that absurd claim now, nor give it a date of arrival, let alone a couple of historians of science. What are they going to do, switch to molecular biology and develop it themselves? Why should we trust magic bullet solutions to complex problems?

Simply citing the discredited conservative hack Lomborg is grounds for suspecting Shermer’s ability to judge the quality of the arguments. He might have been well off reading Scientific American’s 12 year old demolition of Lomborg’s credibility. I don’t know what has happened at SciAm that they continue to encourage a Libertarian crank to publish in their once respectable journal…and this after his bogus article on a liberal war on science, and his more recent lying with statistics to dismiss concerns about wealth inequity. Do they simply not care any more?

Comments

  1. moarscienceplz says

    Does Shermer think these are unobtainable levels of funding? One Koch brother could fund everything listed there with money from under his couch cushions.
    There was a cartoon I wish I had saved. Its caption went something like, “What if Global Warming turns out not to be true, and we discover we made the world a better place for nothing?”

  2. piero says

    The sad truth is that NONE of those projects will ever be financed. Not in a country whose military budget equals those of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, Germany, Japan, India and South Corea put together. And certainly not in a country which used vaccination campaigns as a cover for spying.

    Time is running out, and the necessary changes in American mentality will take much more than 50 or even 100 years. On the plus sisde, we’ll get to go on holidays at the Great Himalaya Seaside Resort. complete with Disney-Dalai Lama Theme Park.

  3. Mark Johnston says

    Can I have a vote? I’m fine with 5.7 less F35s to do the list he has. OK make it 10.4 less and lets research global warming solutions also.

  4. says

    The basic fallacy of Lomborg, which Shermer parrots, is that spending money on mitigating climate change must necessarily take precious resources away from fighting malaria, or filarial parasites, or unclean water in the 3rd world, or whatever.

    This is sheer nonsense. Such a tiny fraction of our resources go to fighting these things that we could easily triple our spending on them without noticing. Something like 1% of GDP in America, and somewhat more in other developed countries, goes to helping the 3rd world. We are nowhere near the limit of our resources when it comes to helping developing countries, and there is not one reason to believe that mitigating carbon emissions or the damage caused by warming will in any way reduce what few other resources we currently spend on making the world a better place. This is like arguing that taking your kids to the movies will force you to stop feeding and clothing them, even though you’re spending the bulk of your income on hookers and blow.

    In Lomborg and Shermer think we should spend more money on stopping worms or heart disease, then great! I’m all for that. In no way is it a legitimate argument for not spending resources to mitigate climate change (which are likely to be positive sum investments, and would be a good idea regardless). But what’s so ridiculous is that they come from a political culture that is against doing that sort of thing, so in addition to being stupid, they’re also raging hypocrites.

  5. says

    If you are malnourished and diseased, what the climate will be like at the end of the century is not a high priority.
    That is one of the most inane, ignorant things I have ever read.
    I mean, droughts won’t be a concern? Monsoons won’t be a concern? Increased desertification won’t be a concern? Loss of near sea-level arable lands won’t be a concern? Flood waters that cause explosions in mosquito populations and are inevitably followed by malaria outbreaks won’t be a concern?
    What utter bollocks.

  6. Al Dente says

    If the US government built one less Virginia class submarine that would free up $2.7 billion that would go a long way towards shutting Shermer up. But like most libertarians Shermer has no problems with supporting an over-large military.

  7. Jason Dick says

    Somewhat off-topic, but I’m pretty sure that New Orleans is doomed (or at least in dire straits) no matter what happens to the climate.

    The problem is that the more silt builds up in the Mississippi river delta, the slower the river becomes, which makes it more and more likely that the river will find another, shorter path to the sea. This has already started to happen, but was halted by the completion of the Old River Control Structure in 1963. This prevents the Mississippi from changing its course to follow the Atchafalaya River (for now). If the Mississippi delta dries up, so will a huge fraction of New Orleans’ economy. Climate change certainly makes the survival of the city even more tenuous.

    Anyway, back to your usual programming.

  8. HappyNat says

    Jesus, Shermer is an embarrassment to thinking. I’m ashamed he was one of the people who helped me get into skepticism 15+ years ago. I got tired of him and Skeptic magazine after a couple years. I guess I took the basic tools he and others taught me and realized he was full of shit. Now he isn’t even trying to look skeptical.

  9. says

    If you are malnourished and diseased, what the climate will be like at the end of the century is not a high priority.

    except of course that if you’re “malnourished and diseased” in today’s world, chances are AGW is fucking up your life RIGHT NOW, making the malnourishment and disease worse, causing resource wars, and making your home nation sink beneath the waves.

  10. says

    I’m fine with 5.7 less F35s to do the list he has

    I’m fine with cancelling the whole program. They’re shitty planes. Even if they were affordable, they’d be shitty. Flight models show that the fighters the Chinese are flying would eat them like popcorn.

  11. says

    I mean… it’s not like entire Arctic villages, Pacific islands, coastal strips, etc. aren’t already being washed away by the effects of Climate Change. Nooooo. That’s not happening, Climate Change is some vague future threat.

    A vague future threat that won’t at all make e.g. malaria an even worse (and therefore more deadly and more expensive to fix) problem or anything. A vague future threat for which the solutions can’t possibly also solve other current health and environmental problems.

    (sarcasm, in case that wasn’t blatantly obvious)

  12. says

    If you are malnourished and diseased, what the climate will be like at the end of the century is not a high priority. Given limited resources, we should not let ourselves be swept away by the apocalyptic fear generated by any one threat.

    translation: we have real problems to worry about right now, we can’t be concerned about bad weather in the future.

    or we’ve got our own problems to worry about right now, fuck the future.
    How does he not understand that society can work on multiple problems at once? Or does he understand that, and simply doesn’t think climate change is that big a deal?

    *

    The argument about other problems is bogus, too: if we could wrest government out of the control of goddamned Libertarians and Republicans, {…}

    Uh oh, you spoke ill of libertarians. That’s like saying ‘Bloody Mary’ 3 times.

  13. R Johnston says

    It’s long past time for all good secularists and skeptics to come to terms with the fact that libertarianism is just another faith-based religion and that a libertarian, by definition, can not be a secularist or a skeptic. Any organization that hires Shermer is ipso facto anti-secular and anti-skeptical, as he is a religious fundamentalist fanatic whose only purposes in life are to treat women as sex toys and to preach his faith-based woo. That his religion isn’t god-based makes no difference; he’s no better than any theocrat.

  14. microraptor says

    I’m fine with cancelling the whole program. They’re shitty planes. Even if they were affordable, they’d be shitty. Flight models show that the fighters the Chinese are flying would eat them like popcorn.

    It’s not like that would actually matter to the US- we’re too economically tied to China for either side to really want to risk a war. We’ll just wait a few years and begin selling surplus F-35s to some other country, and then China will sell its surplus fighters to some fourther country, and those two countries will fight and the US won’t care because it’s somewhere in Africa or Asia that we don’t pay attention to.

  15. PatrickG says

    In the About the Author(s) section, it says:

    His next book is The Moral Arc.

    This is simply too painful. Only a malevolent deity would allow Shermer to use this phrase. Its next divine intervention would be to design physical laws would allow us to flood the world through basic processes… wait a minute….

    Checkmate, atheists!

    * Is there any other kind of deity?

  16. numerobis says

    Europe in 1913 was too economically tied to each other to risk a war, and we know how that turned out…

    I’m all for cost-benefit. Too bad most people who say they are, really aren’t: they throw away benefits to the poor and only account cost to their rich friends.

  17. doublereed says

    All the money amounts he says are literally a pittance to the numbers we are talking about. Remember, we spend $600 billion/year on defense and aggressive carbon reduction would be $50 billion/year. We have a 17 trillion dollar economy ffs.

    He’s talking about solutions that cost $300 million as if this is a lot of money to our national budget. That’s fractions of percentage points. If anything it’s amazing how surprisingly affordable climate mitigations actually are.

  18. says

    It’s not like that would actually matter to the US- we’re too economically tied to China for either side to really want to risk a war. We’ll just wait a few years and begin selling surplus F-35s to some other country

    The F-35 is so bad it stands a good chance of being shot down by the F-16’s we’ve already sold to everyone who wants one. It’s the F-15 debacle all over again (the air force never let F-15s play dogfight against F-16s because they knew their vaunted “air superiority fighter” was a gold-plated pig with wings that the F-16 could out-turn and out-climb) The F-35 is possibly worse than the F-15 and the air force has been claiming its stealth capabilities will make up for its deficits elsewhere. Except that, unfortunately, its stealth has also been compromised by its mushrooming size. To “keep costs down” they dropped an engine from the design, so now it needs an engine made of unobtanium that must put out absurd amounts of power, which means it wears out extra fast and is less reliable. But that means the F-35’s vaunted ‘supercruise’ capability is gone, so forget long-range lightning strikes. Basically it’s a plane that’ll have to be hauled from hangar to hangar that’ll do OK as long as it’s up against Vietnam-era MiGs flown by 3rd tier pilots.

    It’s probably the last hurrah for the USAF, anyhow. The thing is going to be such a fucking dud that it will be entirely replaced with drones, and 20 years from now someone in the pentagon will wake up and the US won’t have an air force any more, except for some aging B-52s and C-130s (which will work just fine)

    As a pacifist, this amounts to the US Air Force bringing Voltaire’s prayer to fruition.

  19. ck says

    Tony! The Queer Shoop wrote:

    Uh oh, you spoke ill of libertarians. That’s like saying ‘Bloody Mary’ 3 times.

    Not like it matters. This post is saying bad things about one of their favorite poster boys, so they’re going to show up inevitably anyway. So, if they’re going to show up anyway, let’s go big: Libertarians like Shermer are the kinds of people who (with apologies to Oscar Wilde) know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Since they cannot appraise the value of anything, they merely assume their knowledge of the cost is an adequate substitute.

  20. says

    The Pentagon is preparing to spend $300bn over 10 years to upgrade the nuclear arsenal. You know, the one which – under the NPT we forced everyone to sign – we are supposed to be getting rid of? That’s enough money, right there!! In fact, not upgrading the arsenal would improve global security considerably by making it harder for the US to talk itself into using a nuke on someone. (the upgrades involve improved variable-yield weapons that would be more capable of, say, destroying deeply buried nuclear enrichment facilities, command bunkers, etc) Just wait, if the upgrades go forward, the monsters in Washington will start calling them “surgical nukes” or something equally obscene.

    If someone talks about the US economy, budget, or taxes, and doesn’t put the ‘defense’ budget on the chopping block they are not being honest or serious. If Shermer is talking about cost/benefit analysis without putting the ‘defense’ budget on the chopping block, he’s not being honest or serious. Simply because of this: which will we need more:
    – A shitty F-35 that won’t even work for another 10 years with a total program cost of $1t?
    – New York City above water

    New York City actually is currently valuable. The hurricanes will get worse and the storm surges higher, and it will become less so, but it will still be worth more than the F-35. or the nuke upgrade. Or the littoral fighting ship. Or the NSA’s data collection facility in Utah. Or the bases all over the planet. Or upgrading German and other NATO aircraft to be able to carry nukes. etc. etc. These are weapons for hypothetical wars that hopefully won’t happen, compared to a disaster that is already in progress. Someone who pretends to be doing cost/benefit analysis about that is not a serious thinker.

  21. says

    The trouble with “cost benefit” is that usually it means next quarter, or at best next year. Give it a longer reach, like 25 years or a century or 250 years, and include externalities. If what we do affects people in other parts of the world, then sooner or later those people will find a way to affect us. Plus, you know, doing the right ethical thing and stuff.

  22. says

    There is nothing wrong with cost-benefit analyses per se. The problem is that they are highly prone to GIGO, and disingenuous people use them to that effect.

    But the issue here is not bad cost-benefit analyses (they may be bad, but it’s beside the point), the issue is that we are not constrained by costs, at least not by the paltry $75 billion that Lomborg thinks will make the world a better place, and not when we spend hundreds of billions on wars that make the world a worse place and trillions more on frippery. If anything, the low cost of solving certain pressing issues is a strong argument in favor of solving more issues well beyond those with the current highest benefit/cost ratio.

  23. mildlymagnificent says

    There is nothing wrong with cost-benefit analyses per se. The problem is that they are highly prone to GIGO, and disingenuous people use them to that effect.

    Surely if you’re a “skeptic” or a “rational” thinker and you’re looking at a topic, say economics or climate change or even Gasp! the intersection of the two of them, you look around at a.l.l. of the work of the people who are known to have spent time and effort on that specific issue. Maybe, if you’ve got the work of one person who has claims in this area, you might choose to look at the work of someone else and balance the two.

    In this case, a brief reading of just the Press Releases from Nicholas Stern in the years since releasing his 2006 magnum opus on this specific topic would help a lot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_Review (I’m guessing that reading the whole thing, let alone the writings in the years following, is too much work for people who are far too busy with other far too important issues.)

    At which point you might realise that someone has put forward specific, explicit contestable $$$ numbers on the specific, identified separate issues that you’re considering. All you then have to do is to come up with real arguments for those. Lomborg’s arguments on this poor-people-need-stuff-now approach to the economics is at colouring book standard compared to the real work done by real economists, if not as many of them as we might like, on these particular issues.

    We would make sure that someone showing us a colouring book outline of a great master painting would get the chance to see a good reproduction that displays the complexity and depth and beauty of the original. In this case, Shermer’s looked at a yet-to-be-coloured-in simplified outline of a Rembrandt and hastily offered the very colourful painting on the family fridge that came home from kindy last week as the standard for comparison.

  24. otrame says

    From what I understand, Miami is the city that will be the first to go in the U.S. All the dikes in the world will not save it. Something like within 10-20 years the storm surges from even minor tropical storms will push into the city from underneath, because it, like where I live (San Antonio) sits on limestone riddled
    with caves. Nothing can be done about it. Already too late.

  25. says

    @27, otrame:

    That ought to be… interesting. I can’t decide whether to look forward to seeing a red state have to deal with a major disaster caused more or less directly by Republican pigheadedness, or cringe at the thought of the arguments we will hear from the ~2034 equivalent of Rush Limbaugh explaining how Miami collapsing is somehow the fault of liberals.

  26. says

    I suppose this is progress for him. A few years ago he wasn’t sure AGW was real. Now he’s skipped to it’s too late.

    The problems are happening now, and drought and disease will come along with it. By failing to deal with the long term problem, his plan will force us to spend more on the short term affects.

    As someone pointed out, why is he worrying about curing disease in other countries, when the party he supports doesn’t believe in helping other countries, let alone fellow citizens?

  27. A. Noyd says

    Naked Bunny with a Whip (#15)

    These cost/benefit analyses always start from the premise that doing nothing costs nothing.

    Someone should set up a site tracking, as best they can, the costs of climate change incurred so far. (Or maybe it already exists and I can’t find it.)

    ~*~*~*~*~*~

    cethis (#29)

    I suppose this is progress for him. A few years ago he wasn’t sure AGW was real. Now he’s skipped to it’s too late.

    Nah. Outright denialism was beginning to make him look a little too ridiculous, so this is the next best thing. It’s Denialism Lite. It looks slightly more skeptical on a superficial level but conveniently amounts to the same inaction in the end.

  28. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    @R Johnston- Speaking of faith-based…a great quote I saw the other day on Alicublog:

    “It seems to me that libertarians have just as much as faith, and the same kind of faith, in the perfection of markets as the born-again Christian dispensationalist has in the Rapture.

    The truth, which is far simpler, is that people will always get fucked over by economic powers bigger than they are without some sort of legal–i.e., governmental–protection. The funny thing here–and it is hilarious–is that if one is even a mediocre historian of political economy in this country, one rapidly realizes that virtually all of the most hated “intrusions” by government into the market came about because the markets were gamed by the biggest players and that workers and consumers were being hurt or killed in the process. What was happening, particularly in the Gilded Age, was precisely the opposite of how contemporary libertarians claim free markets behave. In essence, the government was forced into becoming a reactive body by the bad behavior of the riggers of the markets. The FDA came about because people were dying from tainted meat and snake oil full of arsenic and such. The SEC was created because the stock and commodity markets were rife with inside dealing and unregulated debt that destroyed the economy. OSHA happened because greedy fucking capitalists didn’t give a fuck about worker safety. The EPA was created because industrialists were happily, merrily, poisoning us all.

    That simple truth is that “the market” so trusted by Richman to always do the right thing never did the right thing, because its only interests were money and the power that accrued with money.”

  29. Anthony K says

    The day libertarians understand outreach to people who aren’t rich, white, bicycle-shorts wearing dilettantes is the day I worry they may be on to something.

    Thank goodness that day likely won’t ever come.

  30. unclefrogy says

    if this is to be the main thrust of the arguments about AGW then they are acting like they realize than AGM is real and happening even if they do not really come out and say it very loud.
    I guess that is an improvement they and this fool do economics about as well as they do science.
    I think a real cost benefit analysis that thoroughly looked in to the complete pictures with up to date data just might show show what an in depth .studies of the earth’s climate showed. it is real and it will change everything.
    We can not afford to do nothing.
    It is not a debate it is reality half assed thinking wont help at all.
    uncle frogy

  31. says

    But, but, but, if you give those kids things like healtrhcare, and free vaccinations, or heavens forbod feed them, they will become totally dependent on the government and you will deprive them of their precious chance to pull themselves up by their non-existent bootstraps. Also, I don’t want to pay for somebody else’s stupid decision to have kids when they can’t afford to feed them. They should use contraception or keep their legs closed.*

    *I will decidedly onle talk about closed legs, never about closed zippers.

    So, that should totally cover the libertarian bingo that is bound to follow

  32. Nick Gotts says

    The Orseskes and Conway reference is to a work of fiction The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From The Future.. I haven’t read it, but to judge by extracts, its message seems to be the exact opposite of the one Shermer appears to imply (the link to Shermer produces “ScientificAmerican.com is currently down for maintenance.” – one can only hope they have woken up and are removing all Shermer’s stinky offerings). Here’s a quote from O and C:

    A key attribute of the period was that power did not reside in the hands of those who understood the climate system, but rather in political, economic, and social institutions that had a strong interest in maintaining the use of fossil fuels. Historians have labeled this system the carbon combustion complex: a network of powerful industries comprised of primary fossil fuel producers; secondary industries that served fossil fuel companies (drilling and oil field service companies, large construction firms, and manufacturers of plastics and other petrochemicals); tertiary industries whose products relied on inexpensive fossil fuels (especially automobiles and aviation); and financial institutions that serviced their capital demands. Maintaining the carbon-combustion complex was clearly in the self-interest of these groups, so they cloaked this fact behind a network of “think tanks” that issued challenges to scientific knowledge they found threatening.

    The 2090 “lichenised fungus”, in that context, sounds like a MacGuffin to allow the story to continue past this century, not a posited “technological solution”.

  33. zenlike says

    PZ, OP:

    And what is this nonsense about ‘lichenized fungus’ in 2090? Nobody can make that absurd claim now, nor give it a date of arrival, let alone a couple of historians of science.

    I fucking hate the whole ‘we shouldn’t do anything about a problem right now because in a couple of years “magic technology that is not even considered right now but will totally become a thing anyway” will solve the problem.’ For me, it’s the clearest signal the person talking doesn’t have an actual point to make.

    4, Area Man

    In Lomborg and Shermer think we should spend more money on stopping worms or heart disease, then great! I’m all for that. In no way is it a legitimate argument for not spending resources to mitigate climate change (which are likely to be positive sum investments, and would be a good idea regardless). But what’s so ridiculous is that they come from a political culture that is against doing that sort of thing, so in addition to being stupid, they’re also raging hypocrites.

    You can be damn sure that if we were living in a world were there was a big highly public push to a global program to get rid of worms or heart disease, that Sherman would write an article pooh-poohing the idea, and whining that getting rid of those things would cost to much money and that it would be better spend on fighting long-term global catastrophes like global warming.

    29 cethis

    I suppose this is progress for him. A few years ago he wasn’t sure AGW was real. Now he’s skipped to it’s too late.

    He just follows the standard evolution of global warming denialists:
    Step1: claim it doesn’t exist;
    Step 2: accede that it does exist, but that it isn’t caused by humans;
    Step 3: accede AGW exists, but that the impact is negligible or not foreseeable, so we shouldn’t do anything about it;
    Step 4: accede it exists, that the impacts will be there, but that it will cost too much to do anything about is.

  34. says

    What strikes me is that Shermer has so little faith in his precious free market. He seems to think that if we give tax cuts to businesses, they will do all sorts of awesome things with it that will grow the economy. But somehow, if we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on climate change mitigation, a lot of which will likely be done by various contractors, that money will just disappear into thin air. Apparently, free markets will be unable to make asingle buck of climate mitigation efforts. Just one more way you can tell that Schermer’s arguments against climate change mitigation aren’t sincere: they’re not even consistent with his own professed ideology.

    And of course, we all know why: climate change would be the ultimate free market failure, the ultimate tragedy of the commons, and must be downplayed at all costs. Even if they have to point to several other major free market failures such as epidemics of curable diseases and malnutrition as a distraction.

  35. says

    #18, PatrickG:

    Yeah, it’s bad. His TAM talk this year was all about morality, and I had to unfollow a bunch of attendees who were gibbering happily on twitter over his presentation, simply because it was too ironic for my blood.

  36. Alex says

    A cost-benefit analysis has a probability distribution. Messing with a hellishly complex nonlinear system like the climate+biosphere can have very grave consequences which are maybe relatively unlikely, but off the charts of any cost-benefit analysis.

    Let’s say the estimated cost for so many degrees warming is x trillion. Let’s put aside the fact that this cost estimate might be partly based on ignoring important factors. Then, still, the biosphere being a nonlinear system and all, there is a chance the impact could suddenly become many orders of magnitude worse, say thawing or the dissolution of hydrates or whatever producing more methane than expected, or some other positive feedback loop that was overlooked. How do you account for these relatively low probability but highly apocalyptic possibilities in a cost-benefit analysis? Especially those who are weary of the ability of climate science to correctly model the environment should be aware that their criticism applies to uncertainty in both directions.

  37. says

    As my partner eloquently and rightly pointed out, if we continue to not really do anything about climate change, the world is going to be like the one described in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. Other considerations are secondary, unless you’re only concerned with the short-term.

  38. doubtthat says

    1) Shitty argument is also shitty pre-debunked argument:

    Climate action would mainly involve investment — especially investment in new or retrofitted power plants, replacing coal-fired plants with lower-emission sources. In good times such investment would mean diverting labor and capital from other useful activities. But in the post-2008 economy we’ve been awash in unemployed labor and capital with no place to go. This is an ideal time to be doing a lot about climate!

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/depression-economics-and-climate-policy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body&_r=0

    2) Other than being wrong and stupid, what I find most offensive about this class of argument Shermer is parroting is the transparent, sad attempt to distance that nonsense from straight-up climate denial.

    This is not “Tea-Party” denial, oh no, Shermer makes clear he accepts the science. This is a rational, considered position that is based on empirical evidence! Shermer would love to do something, but darned if it isn’t too expensive. Just a cost-benefit analysis, the most sacred equation of the sophist.

    Of course, it involves bold-faced lies or total ignorance about what the science says about the “cost” part of the equation. There are more important issues, like malaria. But wait, one of the more likely results of climate change would be an explosion of diseases like malaria as wider swaths of highly populated areas move into temperature zones where malaria thrives. Add in people from coastal areas being forced to relocate in unprecedented numbers…the result is obvious.

    So, if you really care about malaria and diseases throughout the world — and aren’t just using them to shut down the conversation or spew out some bullshit that allows you to condescend towards AGW activists while still claiming “science” for your side — you would do everything you could to stop global warming.

  39. ifthethunderdontgetya says

    # 37, Tony! The Queer Shoop:

    It takes 3 to do the Hivemind tango.

    ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD ROY EDROSO!
    ~

  40. says

    A cost benefit analysis that doesn’t emphasize the triple bottom line is not worthy of consideration. Costs are social and ecological as well as economic.

  41. jeffreylewis says

    Just to make the far right position explicit, here’s a plank from the Texas Republican platform:

    We oppose foreign aid except in cases of national defense or catastrophic disasters, with Congressional approval.

    If they had their way, even the few millions Shermet is talking about wouldn’t go to those issues.

  42. pacal says

    “Given limited resources, we should not let ourselves be swept away by the apocalyptic fear generated by any one threat.”

    So Shermer opposed the war on terror and the trillions upon trillions spent on it – really? The fact is spending on the military spectacularily dwarfs spending on climate change etc. The co9mplaint about “limited resources” rings hollow when the same people seem to have no problem with flinging vast resources i8nto the military bottomless pit. If we significantly reduced military spending by say 1/3 we could probably easily afford to deal with climate change, poverty and world medical problems etc.

    I am constantly amused by people who claim we don’t have enough money resources etc., to do X but seem to have no problem with deploying massive amounts of money and resources for the military that usually dwarfs by several orders of magnitude the cost of X.

  43. doubtthat says

    When you get to the point that you’re trying to justify the costs, you’ve already conceded too much. In this current economic environment of depressed demand, government spending on renewable resources and other technology that benefits the climate is the economically responsible thing to do. This is not a cost.

    I agree with everyone who is pointing out that the expense Shermer highlights is laughable compared to seriousness of climate change, but it cannot be said enough that he’s fucking wrong about that, as well. Spending on the environment should not be put in the “cost” column until the economy has recovered to the point that government spending would actually crowd something out.

    But, of course, as many others have pointed out, put in the context of our absurd defense budget, the expense is pitiful. Just think about the amount of money and the millions upon millions of labor hours we dropped into Afghanistan and Iraq. If that money and labor had gone to building solar panels, repairing the country’s infrastructure, building efficient rail systems…etc., not only would we be in a much better position with regard to global warming, but we could kill this craving for Middle East oil.

    The entire argument from the right is incoherent: they’re wrong about the climate science, they’re wrong about the cost benefit analysis, assuming their concept of “cost,” which they’re also wrong about.

  44. says

    Never mind that the military is actually one of the few government organizations who take climate change seriously as a threat. Because they’re all communists, I suppose.

  45. ck says

    His logic only works when you assume the cost of doing nothing is zero. Except, hurricane Katrina cost $108 billion in 2008. Hurricane Sandy cost another $65 billion. The drought of 2012 in the midwest cost another $35 billion. How many climate change disasters are required before the cost of doing nothing is more than the cost of doing something in these people’s minds?

  46. anteprepro says

    I’m just surprised he didn’t call the article “The Myth of Accomplishing Things By Tackling Climate Change”. That’s gotta cost him a few Troo Skeptic points. Not nearly enough Sherm for my tastes.

    Shermer meekly Sherms

    Climate change is not our only problem, and we do not have unlimited resources.

    Yes, we do not have unlimited resources people! Oh sure, basically all of those resources are being dedicated to the Status Quo right now, and very little are being spent on ANY problems, but LIMITS! OTHER PROBLEMS! Therefore, let’s continue to do fuck all.

    Bjørn Lomborg reports the findings of a study sponsored by his Copenhagen Consensus Center 2012 project in which more than 50 economists evaluated 39 proposals on how best to solve such problems as armed conflicts, natural disasters, hunger, disease, education and climate change. Climate change barely rated a mention in the top 10,

    Economists evaluated 39 proposals on how to solve problems. On how to solve them. 39 problems, 39 proposals, one solution each. They didn’t evaluate the problems themselves, they didn’t evaluate every proposal related to how to solve them, they evaluated one proposal for the whole problem. One. That is some real fucking weak tea. It also does not give any indication that these economists accurately evaluated the real costs of climate change. Because it isn’t easy. It isn’t common sense. Increased storms and therefore storm damage would happen due to climate change. Ecological damage who could cause who knows what kind of damage would happen due to climate change. Floods, entire regions under water, desertification, desalination, and on and on and on. But the economists are saying that it isn’t worth trying to stop that. And yet what proposals are worth it?

    malnutrition interventions…..research and development to increase crop yields, early-warning systems for natural disasters

    Count on a Troo Skeptic to laud people for treating the symptoms and leaving the disease.

    For example, an investment of $300 million “would prevent the deaths of 300,000 children, if it were used to strengthen the Global Fund’s malaria-financing mechanism.” Another $300 million would deworm 300 million children, and $122 million would lead to total hepatitis B vaccine coverage and thereby prevent another 150,000 annual deaths. Low-cost drugs to treat acute heart disease would cost just $200 million and save 300,000 people.

    Okay, let me see if I have the economics right:

    $1000 = Prevent malaria death.
    $1 = Deworm a child.
    $813= Prevent Hepatitis B death.
    $666= Prevent heart disease death.

    So apparently it is just fine to save a life by throwing $1000 dollars per head. But what is over the line? What is spending too much on climate change?

    1 billion.

    Oh, big number, too much. I mean, sure, by Shermlogic, all it would take is for that 1 billion to prevent the deaths of 1 million people and it is just as good and economic as those other projects. Preventing climate change, preventing storms, flooding, drought, famine? Surely, that couldn’t possibly ever result in saving a million lives! I mean, what, it is not like people actually live near shores. Or in areas with unreliable agriculture. Or rely on species and ecosystems that could be heavily disrupted due to severe changes in climate? And even if they were, just fund other projects to save them. Duh. Stupid libruls and stupid scientists and their stupid wasting a billion on one project when we could have twenty 100 million dollar projects instead!

    Oh, and here is the kicker:

    Given limited resources, we should not let ourselves be swept away by the apocalyptic fear generated by any one threat.

    This article was originally published with the title “ClimeApocalypse!.”

    And fuck you, Michael Shermer. Smarmy fuckheaded shitstirrer. Amoral, walking and talking douchebag who wants the world to play Russian Roulette with him because that’s how he gets off. Worthless, arrogant, self-absorbed apathist who gets paid to tell people that they should not care about stuff that he doesn’t take seriously. Fucking pathetic excuse for a human being.

  47. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I fucking hate the whole ‘we shouldn’t do anything about a problem right now because in a couple of years “magic technology that is not even considered right now but will totally become a thing anyway” will solve the problem.’ For me, it’s the clearest signal the person talking doesn’t have an actual point to make.

    Fully agreed.

    So why aren’t we building out current gen nuclear plants like candy, and throwing money at all of the promising next-gen plants? Throw some more money at synthetic gasoline from atmospheric CO2 such as from the Green Freedom method, and/or improving our grid to support electric cars. Voila: global warming solved. Additional benefits: No more money and lives spent on foreign wars for oil.

  48. says

    ck

    Libertarians like Shermer are the kinds of people who (with apologies to Oscar Wilde) know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

    You’re giving them too much credit; they’re really really shitty at calculating costs too.

    doublereed

    All the money amounts he says are literally a pittance to the numbers we are talking about. Remember, we spend $600 billion/year on defense and aggressive carbon reduction would be $50 billion/year. We have a 17 trillion dollar economy ffs.

    He’s talking about solutions that cost $300 million as if this is a lot of money to our national budget. That’s fractions of percentage points. If anything it’s amazing how surprisingly affordable climate mitigations actually are.

    A fundamental part of libertarian thinking is that government finances are in all respects identical to personal finances, so if it looks like a big number to you personally, if must be a big deal if the government spends that much.
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    So why aren’t we building out current gen nuclear plants like candy, and throwing money at all of the promising next-gen plants?

    Because fissiles aren’t in infinte supply either, the plants take years to build and cost an arm and a leg, and centralized generation has serious efficiency problems anyway. We’d be far better off focusing on measures to reduce usage (including, but not limited to, retrofitting existing buildings and strict codes for new buildings, shifting zoning codes, and investing in mass transit infrastructure), a flexible smart grid, and distributed wind, solar, and where possible geothermal generation (along with some other possibilities, but this is getting long already). Centralized plants to take heavy load would include large geothermal installations at volcanic sites, tidal generators, and existing large hydro plants. Total conversion would still take years, but the benefits would start immediately.

    Throw some more money at synthetic gasoline from atmospheric CO2 such as from the Green Freedom method,

    There’s no way in hell that the energy equations work out; you’d be pissing away vast amounts of generating capacity for not much return. The algae-based biodeisel people have a much better process for turning atmospheric carbon into liquid fuels, with the added advantage that you can use the algae to help process sewage.

    and/or improving our grid to support electric cars.

    Personal automobiles are pretty much not a viable thing in a setting that takes energy seriously. The amount of added infrastructure needed to support them causes a lot of problems on its own. There’ll still be some need for trucks and the like, and those should definitely be electric (or possibly fuel cell), for a lot of reasons. Diesel hybrid is a good transition techology though.

    Voila: global warming solved.

    Not really; there still needs to be something to address methane emissions from various sources, and a few other industrial byproducts with a high warming index. That’s easily solved by serious regulation, though. The technology to reduce or eliminate most of them already exists, it’s just not cost-effective by the standards of people who only think of the next quarter and have no conception of externalities. Also, we would need to do something about carbon sequestration, to deal with already existing warming which neither the Green Freedom, if it were viable, nor the biodiesel issues address.

    Additional benefits: No more money and lives spent on foreign wars for oil.

    That’s definitely true.

  49. says

    53, Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Because fissiles aren’t in infinte supply either

    The estimate I’ve seen is that if we switched over completely to fission plants right now, we would run out of fuel in around 2040. So, basically: if you want to build more fission plants, you are not trying to solve any problems. (You’re also actively advocating for an increased amount of a waste product we still don’t know how to store properly in the long term, created by buildings so dangerous that no insurance company is willing to issue indemnity at any price. And the shiny new technology which is supposed to render it all safe “if only you’d let us build a new plant” is being produced by the same people who have been lying about how safe the existing technology is since it was created. But that’s a whole other kettle of stupid.)

  50. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Dalillama, Schmott Guy
    Politely:
    “Because fissiles aren’t in infinte supply either” – Yes they are. With new technologies like the IFR, we have enough uranium already mined to last for thousands of years. With new technologies like the IFR and LFTR, it would be cost effective and energy positive to mine literal granite rock – the most common constituent of the continental crust – for nuclear fuel. Granite contains more useful and extractable energy than the same volume of coal. We’re never going to run out of nuclear fuel because we’re never going to run out of rock. There’s also seawater extraction, although I’m less sure on that one offhand.

    IFR, LFTR, and some other concepts are not pipedreams like fusion. IFR had most of the full scale prototype build and all of the processes demonstrated in 1994. LFTR is less far along, but all of its basic chemistry and physics is well known. We just need to build the things. Experts can tell you what to build right now, unlike fusion, and other mythical technologies like grid scale energy storage.

    “the plants take years to build and cost an arm and a leg, ” – Yes, and? So will any other solution. Need to do proper cost-benefit analysis, and not the shitty ones of Shermer.

    “reduce usage”, “a flexible smart grid,” – That’s nice. No complaints. I’m just addressing how we’re going to provide the other 50% that we cannot reduce.

    “distributed wind, solar, and where possible geothermal generation (along with some other possibilities, but this is getting long already).”, and “tidal generators,” – And here is the point of contention. Hydro is great, but all of the good spots have already be tapped. Tidal could work, except for the incredible expense. Biomass is already maxed out for many areas, or close enough that we cannot scale it up. I am for preserving our western standard of living, and you cannot do that with unreliable electricity generation. Solar and wind are unreliable, and the energy storage technologies for grid scale to turn these unreliables into reliables simply do not exist, and are unlikely to exist any time soon.

    Combining many solutions which are inadequate on their can sometimes work. However, combining many woefully inadequate solutions does not produce an adequate solution. The scale of the problem is so massive that it’s hard to understand. I agree that nuclear costs an arm and a leg, but so do all of those proposals, and at the end of the day, the nuclear program will be far safer, environmentally cleaner, including less CO2 or comparable CO2, kill far less people than alternatives, uses effectively limitless fuel, and will be generally comparable or better in every way.

    “There’s no way in hell that the energy equations work out; you’d be pissing away vast amounts of generating capacity for not much return. The algae-based biodeisel people have a much better process for turning atmospheric carbon into liquid fuels, with the added advantage that you can use the algae to help process sewage.” – Yes of course you put more energy in than you get out. I’m not suggesting we break physics. Your algae scheme is also net energy negative once you factor in sunlight, and it also comes with its own problems, as I’m sure you know. As you yourself note, some transportation, such as trucks, ships, and planes, cannot be done with current battery tech, and arguably never will. Arguably, they need a good hydrocarbon fuel cell or conventional hydrocarbon internal combustion engine. Now, whether those hydrocarbons come from something like the Green Freedom method or algae – whatever works.

  51. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @The Vicar
    All of that waste is literally fuel for IFRs. The waste that IFRs produce is magnitudes less in volume than a light water reactor, and only radioactive for a few hundred years. (Goes down to background levels in that time.) A thermal-spectrum LFTR cannot consume existing light water reactor waste, but its waste also remains radioactive for only a few hundred years and the volume is magnitudes less than a light water reactor. Nuclear waste is not a problem.

  52. says

    This figure of 300 million. I can’t be arsed to go read Shermer’s article, but anyone who has, does he show any awareness that that is the population of the USA? So, $1 from each American would deal with each of those problems he mentions. One stinking dollar. It’s not exactly going to break the bank, is it? There’s probably about that much hidden under the seat cushions of the whole of the nation, and in those odd pockets of suits that haven’t been worn for a while. Fuck, distribute the required amount relative to earnings and send the gnomes out to steal it and nobody would even notice.

  53. mildlymagnificent says

    Apparently, free markets will be unable to make a single buck off climate mitigation efforts. Just one more way you can tell that Schermer’s arguments against climate change mitigation aren’t sincere: they’re not even consistent with his own professed ideology.

    QFT

    If these free markets and entrepreneurs were as innovative and energetic as proponents proclaim them to be, where are they? Pick up on an idea that’s got some traction in the public mind, then go for it!

    I simply cannot understand why these vaunted go-getters aren’t elbowing each other out of the way to get first dibs on contracts for anything and everything. Retrofitting double glazing or insulation or whatever, building and installing wind and solar generation facilities – anything, everything. These are the people who know how to persuade governments and local authorities to permit and expedite and support, maybe even subsidise, all manner of economic activities.

    Anyone who wonders about why these people, who claim to be innovative and forward-looking folks interested in making money above all else, seem like such stodgy stick-in-the-muds when you look at what they actually do and invest in would benefit from reading a bit of John Ralston Saul. Start with The Unconscious Civilisation, maybe Voltaire’s Bastards as well, then think about why these people insist that the very best thing to promote competition is to privatise and/or dismember public utilities rather than risk anything on a new activity that doesn’t have a gold-plated guaranteed customer base supported by infrastructure that somebody else paid for.

  54. spamamander, internet amphibian says

    Just a heads-up… don’t try to argue with EnlightenmentLiberal on the topic of fission plants. It’s his hobby-horse and no amount of persuasion will knock him off of it. Then again I admit my bias living almost on top of the worst radioactivity-polluted site aside from maybe Chernobyl.

  55. says

    @59, spamamander, internet amphibian

    Just a heads-up… don’t try to argue with EnlightenmentLiberal on the topic of fission plants. It’s his hobby-horse and no amount of persuasion will knock him off of it. Then again I admit my bias living almost on top of the worst radioactivity-polluted site aside from maybe Chernobyl.

    Pro-fission folks are eerily similar to Libertarians. They’re absolutely certain that they’re the smartest guys in the room. They’re sure that they have The Answer To All Our Problems, if only we were smart enough to listen to them. But literally every time they have been trusted in the past, they have turned out to underdeliver; their preference is to produce a lot of toxic material which Other People — preferably Other People They Themselves Will Never Have To Meet — will have to deal with, potentially forever. And, of course, whenever there is an investigation, it turns out that the official representatives of the system they advocate not only are lying now, but have lied at practically every turn in the past. That’s when they trot out No True Scotsman.

    “Sure, past generators create toxic waste which will never go away! That’s the old technology! If you’ll just give us one more chance, despite the fact that this is exactly what we said every previous time and we were always lying, we’ll have it absolutely perfect! GE absolutely promises that if we just trust their engineers, there’s no way this will turn out like their Fukushima reactor did! Really!”

    How is that so incredibly different from the usual “if we just did away with regulation and government, everything would work just fine despite the fact that we have regulation and government precisely to deal with the disastrous conditions caused by the last time we didn’t have them”? How does “the new technology won’t have that problem, we swear!” (followed by a demonstration that yes, the “new” technology has exactly the same problem) differ so much from “well, sure, Ron Paul is a racist misogynistic science denialist lunatic, but he’s not a real Libertarian, the real Libertarians don’t have those problems!” (followed by a demonstration that yes, the “real” Libertarians have exactly the same problems)?

    I have an idea: let’s build a bunch of nuclear plants. But let’s put them on the dark side of the moon. We’ll beam the power back to earth using these amazing particles which are made of pure energy, called “photons”. With the New Technology reactors, we’ll be generating so much power that we won’t even have to concentrate the beams; we can just shine the results on the earth and build lots of collectors. Since the collectors convert photons into volts of electricity, we can call them “photovoltaic panels”. We can just coat a lot of the surface of the inhabited world with them — you know, so that clouds can’t interfere — and get all the electricity we need, from the moon, with no downside! Even if something goes dreadfully wrong, as keeps happening over and over again with nuclear plants on earth, there will be no contamination down here! In fact, a friend of mine did some calculations, and he says that those panels might even be able to collect energy from other sources. Too bad there aren’t any big free sources of energy spraying all over the earth. If there were, and it were constantly sending many hundreds of times as much energy as we actually use, that would mean we could even skip the reactors on the moon!

  56. Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

    Wait wait wait… the cost is too high?
    When the cost of doing nothing about it is quite literally the planet becoming unfit to sustain human life? How exactly do a lot of small pieces of token paper with arbitrarily-defined worth stack up against the probable extinction of humanity? I mean, even with a very, very large amount of those little pieces of paper you’re still not going to be able to use them if you can’t breathe.

  57. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @spamamander
    Yes. I admit it. It is a pet hobby. I evangelize for nuclear. I’m an evangelist. However, I can be reasoned with. A good starting point would be showing how I’m wrong on something.

    @Vicar
    Could you engage with the substance and not ad hom and poison the well please?

    You are ignorant of nuclear power technologies. You see (IMHO overblown) problems with one or two technologies, and you foreswear all of them. It’s like saying because a hydrogen filled blimp called the Hindenburg once blew up, all human flight is unsafe, including modern aeroplanes. The different fission technologies have as much in common as a blimp does to an aeroplane, and it’s ignorant or dishonest to lump them all together.

    For example, the IFR. It cannot melt down. When all power is lost, it shuts off automatically with no operator intervention. The physics prohibits meltdown. The experiment has been done. The IFR also uses existing waste as fuel. The waste it produces is 100x less than a conventional reactor, and lasts for only a few hundred years. IFR also uses existing waste as fuel, reducing its volume by 100x and reducing its lifetime to only a few hundred years.

    There’s also LFTR, which is behind in terms of development, but most of its fundamentals have been demonstrated too. It also cannot melt down. The physics prohibits it. It also produces waste that’s about 100x less in volume than a light water reactor, and the waste lasts for only a few hundred years.

    Compare that to Chernobyl, which had a positive coefficient of reactivity. It was made to blow up. We have never built a reactor in the west like that. That’s why ours have not blown up like Chernobyl. It’s very analogous to building a blimp with hydrogen and being surprised when it blows up. Comparing the hydrogen blimp to the helium blimp is simply unfair.

    Saying a IFR or LFTR can melt down is like saying that a helium filled blimp can burn / explode like the Hindenburg.

    When you realize the real risks and real options of competing technologies, then nuclear is a clear winner. Coal kills millions of people every year! Nuclear has killed a few thousand in the last 60. Less than a thousand if you exclude the “designed to blow up” Chernobyl. Coal produces IIRC a hundred times more radioactive waste compared to a nuclear plant, and releases that directly into the air as part of normal operation. A nuke plant keeps all of the waste contained and quite safe. Coal is a major contributor to green house gases. Nuclear is more or less tied with the lowest CO2 production for electricity production.

    Solar and wind are non-options because we do not have a grid-scalable energy storage solution. Biomass cannot scale – the land required would be too much. All the good hydro spots have been tapped. There’s no other option if you want to avoid economic collapse when oil runs out (assuming no magic technology that’s invented in the future). I’d also rather avoid global warming too.

    I consider myself to be responsible citizen. I’d rather fix the global warming mess, and ensure the lives of the next generation is better than mine. That’s why I evangelize for nuclear. Fix electricity, and everything else follows nicely.

  58. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Meh, @Vicar
    About solar.

    Do you want power during the night? Do you want power during winter and high latitudes? Do you want power during cloudy weather? Then solar is not for you. Our modern economy cannot afford to simply shut off when fickle solar decides to not work.

    Take Germany as a case study. They’re trying really hard to get solar and wind going. They’re planning on building more coal. They’re going to build so much coal, that just the new coal that they’re going to build in the next decade is going to be more than the entire amount of solar capacity they will have in a decade. That’s right, just the new coal will produce more electricity than all of the old and new solar put together.

    Let’s also look at winter for Germany. The solar panels produce about 1/100 daily average of their nameplate capacity. What are they going to do then?

    Solar is a pipedream without storage, useful only for niche applications.

    If you want to quote some numbers, we can start haggling over numbers. Please note that it’s unfair to compare reliable electricity numbers to unreliables without backing storage, in addition to what I’ve already wrote.

  59. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    Solar thermal stations with salts to store energy are already able to provide 24 hour power so I guess you only research your own hobby horses. The main problem is that you are advocating for a single One Right Answer and the actual solution is likely to be a mix of a lot of things. Improved storage, demand management and appropriate matching of energy supply technologies to needs.

  60. Lofty says

    EnlightenmentLiberal, you do understand that coal plants can be turned down or off over summer thereby reducing the total amount of coal burnt? Energy companies can read weather forecasts and easily predict the mix of energy inputs that will be available on any single day. A coal plant doesn’t need to run flat out all the time. Natural gas peaking plants provide the flexibility to deal with daily fluctuations.

  61. zenlike says

    First of all, EnlightenmentLiberal, there are different types of energy production, and no single one of them can be put in place to provide an entire production solution. The solution we can argue about is for an optimal mix of different energy production capabilities. I tend to dismiss idiots who don’t know shit about energy production and make false ‘solar vs coal’ or ‘nuclear vs coal’ dichotomies.

    Second of all, pointing to Germany as a failure for solar power? Yeah, you really are a tool.

  62. texasaggie says

    It is gratifying to note that the responses to Shermer’s article point out the same difficulties that Dr. Myers points out.

  63. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Lofty
    Yes, and if we’re serious about solving global warming, energy security and independence, and the million deaths per year from coal, that’s not enough. I’d rather get it closer to 0 than something like half a million deaths per year.

    @zenlike

    First of all, EnlightenmentLiberal, there are different types of energy production, and no single one of them can be put in place to provide an entire production solution.

    Why? How do you know that?

    Second of all, pointing to Germany as a failure for solar power? Yeah, you really are a tool.

    Want to quote numbers? I asked that before. They are going to build more coal capacity in like 8 years than the combined solar capacity they have built in the last 100. The actual production of solar is still around … what … 5% yearly average? Maybe closer to 10% now?

    One of my favorite links on the topic:
    http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/green-energy-bust-in-germany

    @Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD
    Solar thermal is not ridiculous on its face. It purports to solve the biggest problem of solar and wind – intermittency – but in the end we find the cost is comparable to other known impractical “alternatives” like sodium-sulfur batteries.

    In high latitudes, such as Germany, insolation in winter is about zero. Solar thermal plants will not contribute. Even in California, actual production of the SEGS solar thermal plant in winter will be 1/3 of its annual average. (At least according to the best sources I can find – which is not saying much. I welcome better sources.) So, either we overbuild, with all of the cost multipliers that go with it, or we use some other technology to cover it in winter.

    Keep in mind that the cost of most electricity plants is the cost of the plant itself and not the fuel. (Nat gas is an exception.) Thus, when we compare using solar thermal plus some reliable backing technology vs just the backing technology, the money cost saved is merely the fuel, which is a rather small portion of the overall cost. Further, designing the backing reliable plant to load follow makes it more expensive, meaning that by pure money costs it’s often not even worth building solar thermal.

    I’ve found data on SEGS in California and Solana in Arizona. For both, about a levelized cost of 14 cents per kwh. That number on its face is competitive and practical. However, I’ve found that Solana has a thermal storage of only 6 hours. The thermal storage cannot even cover a single night, let alone a week with clouds. Of course, I see no reason why the thermal storage cannot be increased, but that would also add significantly to the cost. Energy storage is not cheap – my central premise.

    So, in the end, I don’t see the point. In one of the best case scenarios – California and SEGS – it’s already more expensive than nuclear, and that’s before you factor in building sufficient storage for nighttime and cloudy weeks, and before you factor in whatever solution for winter. Overall, I would not be surprised if a total solution was 5x to 10x more expensive than the cited number of 14 cents per kwh. At that point, we’re starting to get competitive with our next best option, sodium-sulfur batteries. However, at that price, it’s close to if not entirely impractical.

    I remain open to being shown I’m wrong, but the numbers never add up.

  64. madscientist says

    I’ll put it down to climate change not being in the libertardian interest. Unfortunately there are enough idiots out there that virtually nothing has been done in the past 25 years. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the oil and gas to dry up – after all, the scientists and engineers will miraculously deliver a solution to the energy problem despite the fact that no one will put any money into investigating the options.

  65. zenlike says

    69 EnlightenmentLiberal

    First of all, EnlightenmentLiberal, there are different types of energy production, and no single one of them can be put in place to provide an entire production solution.

    Why? How do you know that?

    Really? You really think there is one type of energy capable of providing all our energy needs? Please point out this one magic source, o wise one. I’ll hold my laughter until afterwards.

    Second of all, pointing to Germany as a failure for solar power? Yeah, you really are a tool.

    Want to quote numbers? I asked that before. They are going to build more coal capacity in like 8 years than the combined solar capacity they have built in the last 100. The actual production of solar is still around … what … 5% yearly average? Maybe closer to 10% now?

    In the years before, they build more solar power capabilities. By your logic, that means all other forms of energy were a failure at that point. Of course, that was not the case. In contrast with an ignoramus like you, the German government and power companies understand that different types of energy production cover different needs.

  66. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Really? You really think there is one type of energy capable of providing all our energy needs? Please point out this one magic source, o wise one. I’ll hold my laughter until afterwards.

    Going by recent history, the following has worked pretty well: Coal for electricity. Gasoline (and diesel and jet fuel) for cars, planes, ships. My ideal world with plausible current tech would be nuclear providing electricity. Electricity would create gas (and other hydrocarbons) from atmospheric CO2. That seems pretty safe, sufficient, and robust. Throw on some electric cars if they make more sense for personal transport over gasoline ICEs.

    I’m not sure if I’m violating your maxim or not. Am I? That maxim seems to imply that no one technology can produce all of our necessary electricity, and we need to rely on different sources. I’m challenging that notion. I’m sorry if we’re talking past each other. My apologies.

    Overall, Germany is still pretty early on the path. The path is to failure IMHO, but of course I agree that being early on the path does not entail that the path leads to failure.

    Rather, I would note that Germany seem to be going backward rather than forward. Currently, it’s one of the biggest CO2 producers per capita in Europe, which can attribute partially but largely to shutting down its nuclear. It’s destabilizing the European grid to some degree; there have been several voltage fluctuations that have damaged industrial equipment. With more solar and wind, that is only going to get worse. The only reason Germany has gotten this far with this insanity is that other nations are providing dispatchable power to cover for Germany’s unreliables.

    I think the path is leading to failure, for all of the reasons mentioned earlier, specifically lack of plausible energy storage technology, and relatively high cost of solar PV, wind mills, and solar thermal, and lack of some other so-called “renewable” that could scale.

    PS: “So-called renewables” because by any reasonable definition, nuclear is renewable, yet it is often considered not. The sun is going to run out one day, so solar is not infinite. It’s quite arguable that the remaining supply of rock for nuclear fuel is going to last about that long, or at least within the same ballpark.

  67. microraptor says

    Did you really just suggest that the supply of fissionable fuel on Earth was sufficient to provide human energy needs for the next billion or two years?

  68. zenlike says

    72 EnlightenmentLiberal

    My ideal world with plausible current tech would be nuclear providing electricity.

    All of it? Including peak power?

  69. says

    @55
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    Solar and wind are unreliable, and the energy storage technologies for grid scale to turn these unreliables into reliables simply do not exist, and are unlikely to exist any time soon.

    Eh? Check out: flywheels, solid or liquids lifted against gravity. I don’t know any cost analysis, but these simple technologies are (I think) practically limitless in scalability ^^

    I will have to look into this IFR stuff though…it sounds too good to be true!

  70. says

    From <a href="http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2014/05/18/why-the-gop-is-going-anti-science/"what I've read, EnlightenmentLiberal is very, very, very pro-nuclear and contemptuous of solar and wind. I don’t doubt their honesty in believing that they’re open to and can be persuaded by contrary evidence,* but I do doubt that it is in fact the case.

    The sun is going to run out one day, so solar is not infinite.

    *peers over glasses*

    * OK, I do somewhat doubt it. To be perfectly honest.

  71. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @microraptor

    Did you really just suggest that the supply of fissionable fuel on Earth was sufficient to provide human energy needs for the next billion or two years?

    I admit that I have not run the numbers. Maybe it’s only tens of thousands of years or hundreds of thousands of years. Depends on population in the future and other details. But we’re talking about running out of rock. I think it’s plausible that our rock supply will last billion years. There’s a lot of rock.

    @zenlike
    I’m sorry. Let me retract and clarify. Hydro frequently makes economic sense, so I’m for using that. AFAIK, it makes for excellent peaking capacity hour over hour and day over day. Other technologies can be useful additions.

    @SC (Salty Current), OM
    What’s wrong? Do you think the universe is eternal and unchanging? No energy source is infinite. Entropy and all. As I said, I haven’t run the numbers, but it looks like our supply of rock will last a long, long time.

    @brianpansky
    Indeed. Flywheels and gravitational pumped water storage are both used in the real world. However, the numbers don’t look good.
    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/11/pump-up-the-storage/
    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/08/nation-sized-battery/
    As the articles say, even reaching 1% of the needed amount would be an impressive and monumental achievement. On the order of 2500 Hoover dams? Yea, about that… Flywheels are just worse. (And traincars up hills as suggested in the earlier thread is just … indescribably bad.)

  72. says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal

    Yes, I linked to those, and skimmed the pump one. It definitely looks like the variable power sources are unlikely to be able to be our sole sources of electricity with those storage methods (not that I saw any analysis of flywheels, but there are real world projects I could read about for that).

    These methods look best for simply smoothing out some variability, not storing an entire day’s worth of all electricity needs.

    Since proportion is such a deciding factor in this topic, it would save me some time if you could point me to the sources of this information in your post #55:

    With new technologies like the IFR, we have enough uranium already mined to last for thousands of years. With new technologies like the IFR and LFTR, it would be cost effective and energy positive to mine literal granite rock – the most common constituent of the continental crust – for nuclear fuel. Granite contains more useful and extractable energy than the same volume of coal.

  73. says

    @64
    Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD

    Though I doubt you are still around reading this (which is too bad):

    Solar thermal stations with salts to store energy are already able to provide 24 hour power

    This is a meaningless statement. We need to know how much power it can provide over a 24 hour span. Particularly with regards to the storage method during the night. And again, the statements in this thread would be SO MUCH MORE USEFUL if they linked to citations.

  74. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @brianpansky
    I’ve been looking for some better citations on IFR myself. I’ve been meaning to but the book Prescription For The Planet and read that, hoping it has some citations.

    Here’s one of the scientists talking about it:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/interviews/till.html

    I’ve been looking long enough that I’m very sure it’s not a hoax. google and you’ll find plenty of questionable looking stuff, but also some reliable stuff.

    IFR is the leading candidate in the US for next-gen research. Part of the problem may be the purported hush order that Clinton et al ordered on the scientists at Argonne National Lab when they shut down and dismantled the reactor in 1994.

    PS: I’d post more citations, but the stupid auto-filter will eat any post with more than 2 links, right? Put into a moderation queue from whence it may never return.

  75. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    About getting uranium and thorium from granite. First, note that conventional ores will last a while, and then there’s more sources that are less dense than conventional ores but still better than the few ppm of granite. It’ll be a long time before we actually consider mining granite for its uranium and thorium content.

    It’s difficult to find some seeming authoritative sources on this. It’s an old concept, dating back to Los Alamos and the birth of nuclear power. For example:
    http://energyfromthorium.com/energy-weinberg-1959/

    I also see other references from hobby blogs such as here:
    http://www.nuenergy.org/theres-atomic-energy-in-granite/

    I’d personally like a better citation on this, but everyone I’ve talked to says it’s quite easily doable. I suppose I can’t find hard citations on this because no one is doing it because we’re so far from needing it.

  76. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Multiple posts to avoid auto-filter because of additional citations.

    This seems to be a good recap:
    http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/2010/02/will-we-run-out-of-uranium.html

    That blog and Weinberg both refer to “Brown and Silver” from 1955. It’s possible that no one has looked into it since then. I should see if I can find this paper.

    I’m no industrial engineer, but the process sounds easy enough. Grind up the granite, leech it with acid, take out the uranium and thorium compounds, and then change it to a useful form, such as pure metal uranium and thorium. I suspect that you could use electricity from the nuclear power of the recovered uranium and thorium to reform the waste back to the original acid chemical which you could use on the next chunk of granite.

  77. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Hmm… running some numbers. In the ORNL doc, they cite one particular mine site that has 21 mil tons of thorium. By my back of napkin calculations, that site alone would produce all of the energy used by the entire world for thousands of years when used in a LFTR.

    I was honestly hoping for higher. Total reserves lasting billions of years is stretching it. Perhaps if we scaled back the human population by a lot, which should be done anyway for lots of other reasons. I have more research to do.

    Regardless, it’s a no-brainer to solve our problems now. Maybe in the seeming minimum of hundreds of thousands of years that our nuclear fuel will last, we can think of something better. I would think it amazing if humanity survived for that long anyway.

  78. says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal

    Electricity would create gas (and other hydrocarbons) from atmospheric CO2.

    Congratulations, you’ve just solved the storage problem of solar and wind. In other words, you don’t get to rely on technology to turn electricity and CO2 into fuel as part of your ideal energy solution, and at the same time claim that solar and wind aren’t viable due to storage issues.

  79. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Deen
    How do I explain…

    Let’s try a short version, then a long version.

    Short Version
    Converting electricity to gasoline and back to electricity has energy losses around 66% or worse. Thus you would need to overbuild the solar, wind, or whatever, by a factor of at least 3x. I’m guessing more. That’s before you factor in the cost of the facilities to create gasoline from electricity, the facilities to store the gasoline, and the facilities to burn the gasoline again. I expect we’re starting to get closer to 10x.

    In other words, consider some solar PV facility with no storage. It’ll produce X watts daily average. If you want to calculate how much you would have to spend to change that from mere “X watts daily average” to “X watts reliable power all day”, it is in the neighborhood 10x the dollar price.

    At this money value, it’s compared to the next best storage solution, sodium-sulphur batteries. However, I suspect the actual price for this gasoline energy storage scheme is even worse than 10x.

    Long Version

    Let’s start with basics.

    Nuclear power is like nearly all other forms of electricity generation. You get a heat source – in this case fissioning material – and you use it to heat water or some other working fluid, which spins a turbine, which spins a magnet in a coil of wires, which induces an electric current. (PV is an exception. It uses a completely different physical process to generate electricity.)

    The conversion from heat to electricity is not perfect. Not all of the heat is transformed into energy. For example, good nuclear designs only transform about 50% of the heat energy to electrical energy. The rest of the heat energy is dissipated into the surrounding environment, lost.

    Now, one of the fundamental things we do in our economy is we take things we dig out of the ground, or capture from the air, or otherwise take from nature, and we repurpose it to our own ends. For example, we can dig up gasoline from the ground. Gasoline from the ground is an energy source. Solar radiation we can also capture, and it’s also an energy source. Uranium and thorium from the ground is also an energy source from nature. However, we cannot dig up charged lead batteries. Lead batteries are not an energy source from nature. Lead batteries are merely an interim storage medium of energy that we do capture from nature. This distinction between energy inputs and mere interim energy mediums is very important to this conversation.

    Now, if we use the Green Freedom method to produce gasoline from electricity, then that gasoline is not an energy source like the gasoline we dig out of the ground. Instead, the gasoline from the Green Freedom method is instead much more like a lead battery. The generated gasoline is just an interim energy medium and not an energy source.

    Currently, a lot of our cars run on gasoline from the ground. We are powering our cars from the energy source of gasoline from the ground.

    Other cars run on lead batteries, but lead batteries are not the energy source from nature. Instead, those cars are effectively run on coal in coal power plants, with the interim mediums of electricity and lead batteries.

    I suggest that it is probably practical to run our cars on gasoline generated from the Green Freedom method. In that case, the gasoline is not the energy source. Instead, the gasoline is a mere interim energy medium. The energy source can be coal, nuclear, solar, or whatever energy source we choose.

    Now Deen, let’s talk about what you suggested. You suggested that we take electricity from solar in the day, use the excess electricity to create gasoline with the Green Freedom method, and then burn that gasoline at night to generate electricity for the grid. The problem is each of those energy conversions involves a loss of energy due to inescapable inefficiencies.

    There will be an inescapable loss transforming the nuclear heat to electricity to use in the Green Freedom method, around 50% at best. Some of the nuclear heat will be used directly in the Green Freedom method without going through an interim form of electricity. The conversion from direct nuclear heat plus electricity to gasoline will also have efficiency losses. Then, that gasoline when burned at night will have efficiency losses. Diesel generators (which I expect are similar) only have a 60% efficiency.

    Overall, you will lose at least 66% (approx) of the energy by going to gasoline and back to electricity, than if you just use the electricity directly without the interim of gasoline. As I mentioned above, that means you need to overbuild the energy sources to make up for the round-trip conversion losses of 66% lost. You also need to pay for the energy storage systems itself. This is not a trivial amount.

    Now, on to the actual flaw in your thinking. I’m sorry it took so long to get here. Current gasoline in cars is an energy source from nature. We dig it up from the ground. We could also use that energy source, gasoline, to power the grid with gasoline generators.

    However, we don’t do that now at scale. Why is that? It’s because gasoline is so much more valueable in transportation. Gasoline has value for being portable and usable in (relatively) efficient, small, contained internal combustion engines. Coal, solar, wind, nuclear, and most other sources cannot compete with gasoline in this use case. Gasoline is amazingly energy dense, and the engine to produce locomotion is small. Coal, solar, wind, nuclear, all require much more mass for the engine and fuel, which is killer for a portable engine.

    We can go from electricity to gasoline for cars, because we are willing to pay more per useful energy in cars than we are for electricity off the grid. Energy from the grid is priced less per unit than energy to power a car. This is so because the energy to move a car costs more. If we tried to price electricity off the grid according to the value of gasoline, you would find electricity rates skyrocket, like in the neighborhood of 10x more expensive – probably more.

    Why does this matter? The cost of electricity is fundamental to nearly all goods and services in our modern life. It affects the prices of all goods because electricity is used in the mining of materials, its manufacture, transport, sale, etc. It’s questionable if we could maintain our western standard of living with electricity prices at such drastically higher prices.

  80. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS: At the purported 10x, that still only covers a single night. If you want to be sure you can handle weather patterns on the week and month scale, bump up the solar capacity by another 7x for a total of 70x.

    And it still does nothing for seasonable variations. You’re still screwed in winter. For example, Germany in winter would need fossil or nuclear sources, or to overbuild its solar by a factor of 100x, plus another factor of 10x to deal with nights, plus another factor of 7x to deal with week-long weather patterns. Net result: 7000x more solar than the amount for a mere yearly average! That’s not 7000%, but 7000x! I doubt there’s enough land area available for that amount solar. The price would be obscene. The amount of available raw materials might start to become an issue too. To make solar deal with winter is ludicrous for countries like Germany.

    Anything not near the equator has the same serious problems, although not to the same degree as Germany. However, note that even California in the deserts experience some big seasonal variation in daily average solar radiation.

  81. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Correction: I confused cost and solar capacity.

    For Germany in winter: That would be 7x to deal with weekly weather variations of solar radiation, about 3x to deal with nightly gasoline storage inefficiencies, and 100x for German winter. Only 2100x. That’s the amount of extra solar capacity you would need on top of whatever “yearly average” numbers you see. Not quite as bad as 7000x, but still ridiculous.

    If you want to talk money cost, the cost would be even higher because it doesn’t take into account the cost of producing gasoline, storing gasoline, and burning gasoline. That’s where the 7000x number came from.

    Example: Southern California desert: 7x to deal with weekly weather variations of solar radiation (perhaps arguably less because less weather patterns in the Californian desert), about 3x to deal with nightly gasoline storage inefficiencies, and 2x for winter. Still 42x. Again, that’s the extra solar capacity you would need on top of whatever “yearly average” numbers you see. Even if we assume absolutely no weather, that’s still 6x, and I’m probably being generous on round-trip gasoline conversion efficiencies.

    Also again, talking about money cost, the cost would be even higher because it doesn’t take into account the cost of producing gasoline, storing gasoline, and burning gasoline.

  82. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Meh, I’m mixing up (winter vs nameplate) and (winter vs summer), but you get the idea. It’s amazingly bad either way.

  83. says

    Still trying to have it both ways. If your miracle technology to create gas from CO2 isn’t viable for energy storage, it’s also not viable to power cars. By the same logic, running cars directly on electricity is always going to be cheaper than converting electricity to gas first. Or vice versa: if electricity to gas to motion is viable, according to you, and some hybrid cars on the road today already viably convert gas to electricity to motion, then electricity to gas to electricity to motion is viable too – and hence the round-trip would be viable. Hey, this whole “let’s convert electricity to fuel” thing was in your master plan, not mine. Not my fault if it doesn’t work.

    Also, for example hydro and wind energy work fine at night and in winter. Who is arguing for a 100% solar solution? Then why are you arguing against it?

  84. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Still trying to have it both ways. If your miracle technology to create gas from CO2 isn’t viable for energy storage, it’s also not viable to power cars. By the same logic, running cars directly on electricity is always going to be cheaper than converting electricity to gas first.

    There are efficiency losses when you take electricity to charge an electrical battery like a lead or lithium battery. There are efficiency losses when you drain a chemical battery. There are efficiency losses in the electric engine. It’s exactly analogous to the energy losses when you make gasoline from electricity (and atmospheric CO2), when you burn gasoline to produce heat and kinetic energy in an internal combustion engine.

    As I said again, it may be practical to use electrical batteries and synthetic gasoline for transportation because we are willing and capable to spend more on transportation per unit energy. It does not follow that we are able and willing to spend that much per unit energy on electricity from the grid.

    We can use synthetic gasoline for roughly the same cost of current drilling of in-the-ground gasoline. We cannot use synthetic gasoline for energy storage for the same cost of electricity from conventional sources like nuclear and coal. The energy losses from storage would be at least approx 3x, probably more. That would be 3x the cost to the end consumer of electricity, whereas the end consumer of gasoline would be paying about the same for synthetic gasoline as they would for in-the-ground gasoline. I don’t know how I can drive this simple fact into your thick skull. (Then throw on some more huge multiples to cover solar in winter.)

    You have no clue what you are talking about. You should read a book, take a physics class, etc.

  85. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Also, for example hydro and wind energy work fine at night and in winter. Who is arguing for a 100% solar solution? Then why are you arguing against it?

    Missed this.

    All the good hydro spots and geothermal have been tapped. Several kinds of new geothermal is not a renewable resource in the sense that “wells” will “dry up” and lose their excess heat pretty quickly. Waste biomass is near the cap, and cannot be significantly expanded without cutting into food production or forests. Tidal is still too expensive by a factor of 10. Solar thermal is about as expensive and reliable as solar PV, and as you add on reliability, it seems to be about as expensive as sodium-sulphur batteries.

    When you add up hydro, geothermal, biomass, and geothermal, it does not add up to a big enough fraction of the daily load. Thus something else has to cover that daily load reliably, and these technologies will never be sufficient on their own to cover it.

    Solar does not work in the night. There are periods month-long where solar production might as well be non-existent for many latitudes. It’s called winter. Thus solar cannot cut it on its own.

    Wind does not work when there is no wind. Every few years, there are times when it’s basically windless across an entire continent for weeks at a time. Thus wind cannot cut it on its own.

    When you add it all up, you are still going to have long periods where all of that will not produce electricity on the grid. Winter is killer, and those doldrums of wind are killer.

    When you add up the cost for energy storage just to even out the fluctuations of wind and solar over weather patterns on the week-scale, it adds like a 10x cost multiplier at least.

    When you add up the cost for overbuilding to cover winter, the cost multiplier depends on latitude, but even for California it’s easily 2x, and probably more. It’s even worse for Germany.

    In the end, when you take this all into consideration, without fossil fuels or nuclear you are going to either have no power for extended periods of time every few years, or the cost of electricity is going to be at least 10x more depending on latitude, and probably much more than that.

    I am not and have not addressed a strawman solution of only “technology X and Y”. I’m looking at the big picture. I’m looking at the whole picture.

    That means the developing nations are going to use coal, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it unless you offer something competitive with coal.

    Even then, the amount of concrete and steel needed for your plan is roughly 10x needed for nuclear, while all of the uranium and thorium we need has already been mined or is the byproduct of other mining. Your plan will be the one that leads to massive strip mining. It will also lead to more conventional pollution as well.

    Overall, it’s a lose-lose-lose. Only when you magnify unreasonable the risks of nuclear accidents and the problems of waste, while ignoring the problems of alternatives, can you come away not favoring nuclear.