You Want It Darker?

Over at Pharyngula, PZ posted a link to the extremely depressing article about what the climate-change future looks like for humanity. [pha] It’s bad.

You can hit “play” on that beautiful song by Leonard Cohen while you think about this.

Generally, whenever someone starts the discussion of the global catastrophe, someone in the comments will chime in “we need to reduce the population by 90%!” or some number like that. If only.

I used to think about the problem thus: “Those who say ‘Malthus was wrong’ – are wrong.” But the problem is that, while Malthus is right, we’re wrong to think of humanity as a homogenous population. There are some of us who are pretty carbon-neutral (farmers!) and others who aren’t (capitalists!). We could get Malthusian and say, accurately, that our problem is not the population, it’s that we have apex predators within our population, and they’re the problem – they’re humans preying on humans.

In other words, the problem is not overpopulation – the problem is that we have a large population of Americans (and other elites living 1st world high-consumption lifestyles). We don’t need to drop the population 90% – we need to drop the population by 10%. It just has to be the right 10%.

The problem is that those 10% are the 10% with high tech militaries, jet airplanes, and offshore bank accounts. Those 10% are the hardest humans to eradicate, of all. In fact, they’re the ones that are prepared and preparing to eradicate the other 90%.

Which won’t help their problem, at all. Because the rich plan to keep getting richer.

Oxfam summarizes it neatly: [oxfam]

Climate change is inextricably linked to economic inequality: it is a crisis that is driven by the greenhouse gas emissions of the ‘haves’ that hits the ‘have-nots’ the hardest. In this briefing Oxfam demonstrates the extent of global carbon inequality by estimating and comparing the lifestyle consumption emissions of rich and poor citizens in different countries.

Strikingly, our estimates of the scale of this inequality suggest that the poorest half of the global population – around 3.5 billion people – are responsible for only around 10% of total global emissions attributed to individual consumption, yet live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Around 50% of these emissions meanwhile can be attributed to the richest 10% of people around the world, who have average carbon footprints 11 times as high as the poorest half of the population, and 60 times as high as the poorest 10%. The average footprint of the richest 1% of people globally could be 175 times that of the poorest 10%.

If you want to do something about global warming, Destroy America. Because that’s what it’s going to take. Those sons of bitches aren’t going to let go without a fight. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, the United States has been gearing up for exactly that, for some time. Just watch: they will stand by with their hands in their pockets while 90% of the population of the planet suffers – and blame them for their suffering the whole time. I hardly need mention that the dominant political party in the US’ ideology, right now, is that the poor should suffer for their poverty.

They are practicing for the global cataclysm they are causing.

------ divider ------

This is depressing, not a very good recording, Gwynne was not at his best that day, and more frightening than Jeff Sessions’ secret sexual fantasies:


  1. Dunc says

    The first problem with this argument is that it’s only (possibly) true so long as the bulk of humanity remains in abject poverty. Start raising the living standards of the global poor, and watch their carbon footprints increase to match. Bleeding-heart that I am, I’m not convinced that it’s OK to ignore the population issue on the grounds that it doesn’t matter as long as everybody remains poor and dies young.

    The second (and arguably more severe) problem is that climate change is not the only massive environmental problem we face, and most of the other ones (habitat loss, islandisation, the spread of invasive species, soil erosion, aquifer depletion, and so on) are not so clearly linked to affluence.

    The third problem is that, largely thanks to the phenomenon of shifting baselines, most people have absolutely no idea of what a truly sustainable human population looks like. It’s not 10% of current population. It’s probably not even 1% of current population. I realise that this is a minority view, but I’d argue that we’ve been in ecological overshoot (defined as the level at which a population consumes the resources essential for its survival at a rate higher than their replenishment rate) since at least some point in the Mesolithic, if not before.

    However, I’d certainly agree that the problem is not just over-population, and that to focus on population to the exclusion of the distributional issues is dangerously missing the point. I just think that the problem is much, much worse than this…

  2. komarov says

    Marcus, if you insist on going after the rich just because of their disproportionate impact, your best bet are autonomous cars and aircraft. A few delightfully over the top luxury models that promise travel in perceived style while also saving on some peon’s minimum wage should prove irresistable to the intended targets. They should also prove fatal when, on command, they start crashing. This could solve the issue without a single shot fired or head removed.

  3. cvoinescu says

    The third problem is that, largely thanks to the phenomenon of shifting baselines, most people have absolutely no idea of what a truly sustainable human population looks like. It’s not 10% of current population. It’s probably not even 1% of current population.
    It’s not just a question of numbers, though, is it? A small population hunting mammoths to extinction could be argued to be in “ecological overshoot”, but I think it’s possible to feed, educate and keep busy and healthy a good fraction of today’s population, if not all of it, without much further destruction. It would be enormously expensive and would require huge changes of lifestyle from everyone, so it won’t happen. The problem is not just overpopulation itself, but what we do. As with the mammoths, it’s “simply” a tragedy of commons, writ large. In the current system, it’s politically impossible to “internalize” even the most egregious externalities, so I think we’re doomed to carry on as we are, even well after the catastrophe becomes blindingly obvious to everyone.

  4. Raucous Indignation says

    @2 Chigau, while not rich by a US standard, I am quite well off. That makes me very rich when evaluated on a global scale. I am probably still quite tender and juicy despite my age. I imagine myself as mature but well marbled. I think I’d be delicious and nutritious if I was braised or slow roasted or barbecued. And the tougher bits would make a delicious Pho!

  5. Dunc says

    When taking about “the rich”, it’s worth remembering that, on a global scale, that means us. Every single person reading this blog is almost certainly in the top 10% globally. That bottom 50%, contributing less than 10% of global emissions? That’s the people living on less than $2 a day. People with empty bellies.

    cvoinescu, @#4: “without much further destruction” neatly encapsulates my point about shifting baselines – we take the existing level of not-quite-total ecological devastation as our starting point, hope that we can somehow manage to not make it too much worse, and call that a win. But I suspect that we have already done enough damage to set something roughly equivalent to the end-Permian mass extinction irreversibly in motion, and that even if every single human were to disappear tomorrow, the end result would not be too much different.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    This reminds me too much of doctrinaire leftists proclaiming that only the class struggle matters.

    An all-out campaign of contraception availability and education, while not sufficient to save the world, could only help.

  7. cvoinescu says

    Dunc, #4: the baselines are all fucked up to hell and gone, I give you that. But I doubt that the scale of the problem, at the moment, is anywhere near as bad as you make it — although that’s mostly because I believe that the Permian event was unimaginably cataclysmic.

    Pierce R. Butler, #7: Dictionary leftists. Fuck them.

  8. Dunc says

    “Unimaginably cataclysmic” is what I was going for. Same mechanism too – a shutdown of oceanic circulation, leading to anoxia in the deep oceans, ultimately resulting in the production (by anaerobic bacteria) of enough hydrogen sulphide to poison 97% of life on Earth. It will, of course, take thousands of years.

  9. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus
    As I wrote in a comment on that very same PZ blog post, your policy position is silly and wrong-headed.

    People in a living condition of farming in abject poverty have lots of children. If we want a sustainable approach for the future, we need to get populations under control. The only practical way to stop this population growth is to raise them out of abject poverty, and that takes energy.

    The poor farmers who don’t use that much energy are not magically constrained to not use energy. Those countries are fighting hard to increase their energy usage for the betterment of their citizens – I mean ruling classes, and they’re going to use coal to do so unless we provide a cost-competitive option. It may be that the US is the biggest carbon emitter per-capita, but the poor areas of the world are working really hard to catch up to the US.

    Further, except for carbon emissions, generally the rich countries do better to the environment than poor countries. You need to be rich in order to politically afford things like the clean water act, clean air act, endangered species act, etc. Poor countries don’t have the spare resources in order to spend them on protecting the environment like the rich countries.

    For example, worldwide, we’re not losing forests because of wood products or paper products. We’re losing forests worldwide because those poor farmers are slashing and burning forests for additional fertilized farmland, and the fertilizer only lasts a few seasons, leaving a relatively useless patch of dead ground, and so the farmers next year will just slash and burn another section of forest. Without modern fertilizer production, about 80% of the world would starve – there’s simply not enough land on the planet, and production of fertilizer accounts for about 1% to 2% of all energy use worldwide. The choices are 1- mass starvation, or 2- continuing to use lots and lots of energy to produce fertilizer.

    Thankfully for all of us, there is an obvious solution that we could be doing:

    1- Lots of nuclear to reduce carbon emissions for electricity production to near 0. This uses well demonstrated technology.

    2- Use nuclear electricity to convert CO2 from the air (or oceans) and H2 from water into gasoline. All of the steps except gathering the CO2 use well demonstrated technology, and there are lab-scale technologies for gathering the CO2 which might be able to scale to industrial scale. We need the governments to dump a few billion dollars immediately into this to reach commercial prototyping of various technologies as soon as possible.

    3- Negative CO2 emissions. I like the following “brute force” approach. It’s the best idea that I’ve heard.
    In short: Use nuclear heat or electricity in order to mine limestone and heat it to release CO2 and produce quicklime. Take this concentrated source of CO2 and pump it into basalt deposits with pressurized water, where one demonstration has shown that it will quickly form bonds with the basalt that will be stable over geologic time. Then, take the limestone, and distribute it over the ocean, where it will “absorb” CO2, and any CO2 pulled from the ocean will also pull CO2 from the air.

    The only problem to saving the environment are the environmentalists because of their anti-nuclear position. The green energy movement is led by liars and frauds (such as Mark Jacobson), and the followers have been duped – very much like any religion. Non-nuclear green technology is not going to work. Only nuclear has the ability to solve these problems with existing and near-future tech. It’s no surprise how much funding that the green energy movement receives from fossil fuels. The green energy movement is “useful idiots” for the fossil fuel industry because they are the best attack dog against the only real competition: nuclear power.

  10. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Zero emissions electricity and zero emissions gasoline account for about 87% of all human CO2 emissions. We probably need to do better, and I don’t know offhand how the rest of the 13% breaks down, but any real plan needs to start with that 87%. Further, we may also need negative emissions, and I described what seems to be the best plan above, and while it’s hard, it might be not impossible.

  11. cvoinescu says

    I don’t know offhand how the rest of the 13% breaks down

    One chart I found says 9% land use change, and 4% industrial processes (other than burning fossil fuels). I suppose the 9% includes agriculture.

  12. says

    As I wrote in a comment on that very same PZ blog post, your policy position is silly and wrong-headed.

    I’m not sure what my policy position is, actually. Other than that simplistic ideas like “reducing the population by 90%” are not going to really help with the problem.

    I do think that, when solving problems, it’s important to figure out what are the root causes that you’re trying to control. Spending a lot of time working on 10% of the problem only makes sense if the solutions are going to be universally useful – which, in this case – they wouldn’t be.

    Suggestions for hugely expensive technical fixes that can be undertaken have to take into account the political reality of the world as it currently is: it’s under control petro-nations that have demonstrated repeatedly that they are not in the slightest bit reluctant to use military force to secure their monopoly on fossil fuels and force. So, while I agree in principle with the idea of lots of nukes and using the ‘free’ energy to sequester carbon – it’s kind of a pipe-dream when the biggest fossil fuel users are holding the guns and control the nuclear technologies and are not going to contemplate allowing any such solution. That’s why my thinking is that no solution to this would no involve first displacing the USA from its position of power and control. And, since the USA is the world’s largest military power (by quite a stretch) you simply can’t get there from here.

    The only problem to saving the environment are the environmentalists because of their anti-nuclear position.

    That’s a problem, but it’s maybe problem #1,720 on the list of problems, way down from “getting the US to stop locking up control of fossil fuel production” FFS, the world’s petro-powers are still aggressively expanding fossil fuel exploration – they’re planning on mining out the arctic when the cost of oil justifies it – they are accellerating the problem; so it’s not worth talking about environmentalists being anti-nuclear: the USA’s vast fossil fuel interests are anti-nuclear and that’s a bigger problem. If it came down to it, the environmentalists would be rapidly brushed aside (with or without riot clubs and CS gas, as necessary) as they always are.

  13. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus
    Maybe. I’m not quite as pessimistic as you concerning the odds of a political triumph against the oil industry, but your words have merit.

  14. says

    “Unimaginably cataclysmic” is what I was going for. Same mechanism too – a shutdown of oceanic circulation, leading to anoxia in the deep oceans, ultimately resulting in the production (by anaerobic bacteria) of enough hydrogen sulphide to poison 97% of life on Earth. It will, of course, take thousands of years.

    That’s what it looks like, to me, too. I was just reading a report about methane bubbling to the surface in the arctic, in winter – the water circulating up there is warm enough that we may be seeing the long warned-about “clathrate gun” humanity has been playing Russian roulette with.

    Descriptions I’ve read of the Permian include things like gigantic clouds of unbreathable gas (CO2 or methane or combustion byproducts) slowly moving around, killing everything under them. Sort of like the “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico and Bay of Bengal are, right now – except on land. And the oceanic dead zones are already growing though, admittedly, they are relatively tiny.

  15. says

    I’m not quite as pessimistic as you concerning the odds of a political triumph against the oil industry,

    I really really hope I am wrong.

  16. says

    I think I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I’m going to repeat myself a bit.

    What does a “sustainable” high tech civilization even look like? I agree with EnlightenmentLiberal that we cannot simply roll back the clock to a better more harmonious time. Events may roll back our population to a smaller, more sustainable level, but that’s going to be really ugly. I’m not enough of an ancient historian but I don’t believe human population or technological level has been “sustainable” since Roman times or probably before then; though there have been some notable discoveries that dramatically change our idea of planetary carrying capacity. Fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere, high yield grains, bacteriology and virology … and all those breakthroughs didn’t result in humans getting more “sustainable” – on the contrary, they let us push things farther out toward a bigger Malthusian collapse when/if it finally happens.

    It seems so obvious to me that “all” we need to do is dramatically reduce our breeding, with an aim toward producing a small sustainable civilization, located in (let’s say) what is now France. Let the rest of the planet lie fallow and normalize the population at around 50 million humans. That’s a lot of humans! And we wouldn’t need to cull anyone – not even the rich – just stop breeding and let the population shrink in on itself, carpet what is now Spain with solar panels, and chill for a few million years. Of course that’s utopian! I may as well wish that the sustainable society be run like Badgeria. For one thing, global demilitarization (now that’s some wishful thinking!) would free up so much intellectual, social, and financial capital that suddenly projects like carbon sequestration do seem plausible.

    From a distance, it looks to me like we have a global problem, and our political tools are: nationalism. Nationalism tends to foster a local perspective, especially in service of parochial elites – I don’t see how we’ll effectively respond to global problems with an anti-global political toolset. Unfortunately, if that dooms us to failure, it also flat out dooms us to, you know, doom.

    All this stuff is “my feelings” and I don’t feel that, when we’re talking big picture stuff that’s utterly outside of my control, that anything I think counts for very much. It seems like, if humans had any sense at all, they’d have seen the writing on the wall and started aiming for sustainable civilization around about 1944. For sure, the writing was already on the wall by then, which makes me think we can’t read the writing. Or that “our” leaders – the global dictatorship of power – are pretending it’s written in a language they can’t understand.

    I imagine a rational “sustainable” civilization would do like the Badgerians do, and make some communal decisions about what level of ${whatever} is appropriate for what circumstances. What do I mean? Perhaps that civilization might decide to put twice as much apple trees in cultivation and accept the spoilage rather than use sprays. Perhaps that civilization would accept that apples are sometimes wormy and you need to look at what you’re eating. Perhaps that civilization would decide that a certain amount of R&D in core technologies (mostly sustainable energy?) was necessary but military research could be discontinued. Perhaps that civilization might decide that if you get certain types of cancers, your number has come up, and you get made comfortable while you die an inexpensive death – if you step back and look at what’s happening with insanely expensive medicine, it’s mostly life-extension for the rich and powerful. Perhaps such a civilization might decide that libraries were more important. Or that private vehicles were only for emergency hospital trips. The way I’d envision it would be an application of cost/benefit analysis for the entire community, that would have to be coupled with an understanding that quality of life was more important than quantity, and that, after all, none of us is really that important.

    That last message is the part that sticks with me: none of us really that important.

    Our civilizations are built on exactly the opposite idea; that everything has to keep growing bigger and bigger and better – there is no upper limit. Is that human nature? If it is, we’re doomed because Malthus is right.

  17. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus
    I would think that the only way to fix the mess is to convince enough normal people to elect enough representatives to enact the policies that I propose (the billions of dollars for research and commercial prototyping for nuclear and synthetic gasoline, and a carbon tax and carbon tariff).

    Maybe you’re right that if I could get enough of the population on board, then the oil industry would prevail via riot police and teargas, political corruption, etc.

    However, from my perspective, I cannot convince enough normal people as to the correctness and necessity of my proposals because they’ve been sold this swill by the green energy movement, and they actively fight against me. Maybe the environmentalists are not the #1 impediment to solving global warming, but they’re at least #2 with the oil and coal industry itself #1.

  18. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Marcus
    On that topic, I believe that no matter the population size, a sustainable civilization must have energy to support something like the European standard of living. The genie is out of the bottle, and no one will accept deindustrializing, because that means loss of things like safe drinking water (pumped water is safer than river water), indoor plumbing, internet, air conditioning, cars (transport), etc.

    With a small enough human population, I suppose they could burn coal without significantly affecting the environment. However, with the current and projected human populations, we cannot use coal for our energy, and the only thing that will work – barring some radical technological breakthrough – is nuclear.

  19. says

    and the only thing that will work – barring some radical technological breakthrough – is nuclear.

    You keep saying that but no-one’s buying your fiction. Nuclear is far too inflexible to compete with renewables plus storage, not counting that it costs way more too. Large centralized plants are more likely to cause massive disruption when they fail compared to a distributed grid with storage at every node. Maybe in another 50 years Nuclear will get more modular and cheap enough to compete.

  20. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Lofty
    The only fiction is the lies being peddled by the green energy movement, such as Mark Jacobson and his 100% Wind Water Solar plan. Again, I’m telling you that the entire green energy movement is a sham. I know it’s hard to believe, but your leaders and so-called experts are lying to you.

    They all cite Mark Jacobson as their foremost expert and being the one who has done the most work to create a plan to move away from fossil fuels and nuclear, but the man is a goddamned liar and fraud. The guy is such an asshat that he’s even suing other scientists for defamation for publishing peer reviewed papers that critique his 100% Wind Water Solar paper, which was published in the same peer reviewed journal. He’s even so much of an asshat that he’s suing the journal too!

    This is the person who the green energy movement cites as their foremost technical expert. If I can demonstrate that Mark Jacobson is clearly a liar and a fraud in his work, and he is and I can, then I have also demonstrated that the entire green energy movement is intellectually vacuous. Again, I know it’s a lot to take in, but it’s true.

    Nuclear is cost competitive in countries with proper policy, such as South Korea, where nuclear costs have been falling for like 30 years straight. Nuclear is only expensive in the West because of poor regulations and other poor choices. It’s expensive in the West because the West chooses to make it expensive. The evidence is there for all to see – as long as you avoid the green liars. If you take a look, you might find a paper by a certain Benjamin Sovacool; he’s a liar and a fraud too.

    The idea that nuclear will result in less reliable electricity supplies is a fiction that you pulled directly out of your ass, and an obvious fiction too, based on zero actual knowledge of engineering. You should feel ashamed. You’re just inventing bullshit that sounds good. You don’t know that. You just said it because it sounds good. Our grid runs just fine with “large centralized plants”, which includes coal, natural gas, nuclear, etc., and the grid is just fine, and it has been just fine. It’s not perfect, but it’s more than adequate. Replacing existing coal and natural gas with nuclear won’t change that at all.

  21. says

    EL, it never ceases to amuse me how religious in their thinking nuclear boosters are, just like creationists. Them and us, good and evil, yin and yang. For the record, I trained as a scientist and an engineer and have never heard of the people who you claim to be green movement gurus. I read widely and have a good idea of what is happening in the energy industry. I don’t actually mind nuclear power where it’s applicable but to imagine it’s the sole saviour of mankind is just barking.

  22. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    You’ve made several flagrantly ridiculous points about basic engineering principles which has led me to conclude that several other things that you have said are lies. I’ve called them out explicitly. You are a liar. — Specifically, it’s flagrantly ridiculous to claim that replacing coal and nat gas power plants will make the grid less reliable. You are no engineer – that much is incredibly obvious.

    If you wish to make actual concrete points that can be addressed, I’ll be welcome to do so, but your so-called expert opinions and cited sources are worth absolutely zero to me.

    For the record, I […] and have never heard of the people who you claim to be green movement gurus.

    Then you’re not paying attention. So, deluded, or a liar.

    For the record, I trained as a scientist and an engineer […]

    I believe this is a lie, or an gross exaggeration (which is dishonesty, which is about the same thing.)

    I don’t actually mind nuclear power where it’s applicable

    This is likely a lie.

    but to imagine it’s the sole saviour of mankind is just barking.

    If you care to present real informed opinions on why that might be, and actually address my real position, then that might be interesting. You’ve failed to identify any true reasons why it’s “barking [mad]”.

  23. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Correction: Your *uncited* sources are worth nothing. Also, I suppose that gross incompetence is also an option, or the possibility that you’re just behaving grossly incompetently now, e.g. you might be a fine engineer in your day job, but you’re not practicing the same skills now. Again, I stand by my assertion that your point about “nuclear making the grid unreliable (compared to coal and nat gas)” is a laughing-stock, a farce. Similarly, if you say that the current grid is unreliable, then that’s also a farce.

    I didn’t address this one yet:

    Nuclear is far too inflexible […]

    Presumably you mean that nuclear cannot load-follow. Why do fools like you keep repeating this demonstrably false nonsense? France is about 75% nuclear, and their nuclear plants are quite good at load-following. One can discover this with mere minutes of google, and yet every informed green fool keeps repeating it. It’s really quite frustrating and tiring. Again, the green energy movement is an echo chamber, led by liars and frauds, and filled with people who rarely practice even a modicum of honesty, integrity, and basic google skills.

  24. says

    Again, I stand by my assertion that your point about “nuclear making the grid unreliable (compared to coal and nat gas)” is a laughing-stock, a farce.

    Of course if you had any reading comprehension you would have noticed that I said nothing of the sort. I am comparing large, centralized plants against distributed generation and storage. A completely different animal you’d agree, if you could just step off your little hobby horse for a minute. A bit like the internet, which doesn’t follow a hub-and-spokes architecture either.

  25. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Lofty
    That’s still asinine. The current grid is incredibly reliable, with up-times measured in about 4 ‘9’s (IIRC about 99.97%). To disparage it as “unreliable” is absurd. You’re just digging your hole deeper.

  26. EnlightenmentLiberal says


    Large centralized plants are more likely to cause massive disruption when they fail compared to a distributed grid with storage at every node.

    This is just false. It’s pants-on-fire false. It’s fractally false.

    The failure of one large plant does not bring down the current grid. This is because the current grid is distributed. This sort of redundancy is the only way to achieve the incredibly high up-time (IIRC about 99.97%) that we achieve with the current grid.

    Further, in context, this was phrased as an attack on nuclear. That’s ridiculous. The current grid up-time is quite satisfactory, and replacing the existing plants with nuclear power plants will not substantially adjust the up-time. I assume you also agree with me that the up-time of the current grid is quite satisfactory, which means this attack on nuclear is nonsense. (Or you believe the up-time of current grid is not satisfactory, which would lead me to believe that you’re even more absurd, if that’s even possible.)

    There are plenty of reasons to attack nuclear, and not all of them are completely without merit. Instead, you attack nuclear’s biggest strength, it’s reliability due to lack of common mode failures like the intermittency of solar and wind.

    You should feel bad for making such a ridiculous statement, and you should apologize. Instead, I expect you to continue digging that hole.

  27. says

    Dear EL, if you want to be taken seriously, please stop nailing straw men to those crosses and setting fire to them. Anyway, I’m handing this thread over to you, oh fervent believer. Good night and dream of nuclear waste.

  28. cvoinescu says

    I’m with EnlightenmentLiberal on this one, for the most part. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the way the grid is set up now, with big generators and small consumers. All the talk about distributed, small generation is part pandering to those with a mistrust of central-anything, and part practical necessity — it’s easier to get people and businesses to put solar cells on their roofs than to build huge parks of them. Wind turbines are also inherently small generators too.

    For the most part, more nuclear does not make the grid less stable or anything. However, there’s some risk with a more homogeneous generation capacity: when a flaw is found at one plant, similar designs will need to be inspected, and possibly shut down until “patched”. If those make a large fraction of the generation capacity, it could be difficult to cope with a bunch of them being offline at the same time, and it may even be tempting to keep some running in the now-known-to-be-less-safe-than-planned configuration to avoid disruption. This is a relatively minor objection, though — it just means that we probably need at least two different plant designs, rather than a single one.

  29. says

    Rickover’s nuclear navy perfected small power-plants that were extremely reliable. They just weren’t deemed cost-effective for energy generation at that time because coal was much much cheaper and easier to build. The construction of mega- nuclear power-plants made more sense because it aggregated the skills and capability, so small plant nuclear power has basically remained ultra-classified for extreme conditions use only. I have wondered periodically why we haven’t resurrected those systems for civilian power use – specifically portable emergency power – after all, a nuclear boat is basically a giant self-propelled power-plant. Remember, the Thresher‘s reactor is still sitting somewhere on the floor of the Atlantic, 40 years after the ship carrying it blew apart around it. It’s possible to make tough reactors. Or, at least, Rickover knew how, though the institutional knowledge he built was systematically dismantled by Lehman in the 1980s (I wonder if modern American nuclear boats have systems anywhere near as good as the stuff they were building in the 60s) – the US ought to have a few nuclear “emergency generators” that can be hauled to places like, say, Puerto Rico or Houston or New Orleans – we’re talking less than 100t.

    I see a lot of the nuclear debate as being fought on an implicitly tilted battlefield. The fossil fuels guys have taken advantage, for about a century, of not having to factor in the downstream costs (like losing coastal cities) into their cost/mw projections.

    A few years ago I read up on fusion and the current state of that, and I have to say it sounds un-promising, as yet. Though, given the magnitude of the problems humanity has placed before itself, it seems to me that we ought to be running multiple “manhattan”-style programs to see if we can overcome the challenges, no matter how huge they are. Or finally decide it’s impossible. Fusion power or ‘portable’ mini-nukes would go a long way toward powering some of the kinds of planetary engineering projects EL is talking about.

    I’m not too enthusiastic about planetary engineering projects, personally. I think humans are too stupid and incompetent – after all, look what we’ve accomplished with our current planetary engineering project. What we really should be doing (but won’t) is to give ourselves a great big gentle die-off and then restrict our birth-rate thereafter. That’s never going to happen. Malthus appears to have been right after all.

  30. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To cvoinescu

    To Marcus
    I definitely agree that we need “Manhattan”-style projects right now, including testing of a variety of commercial-ready small modular nuclear reactor designs (ThorCon is my favorite such design), and industry-scale methods to create synthetic gasoline from atmospheric or ocean CO2, and lots of detailed environmental impact tests for my geo-engineering proposal for pulling CO2 out of the air, and lots of research into alternative geo-engineering proposals. Like, maybe we should consider putting a giant sun shade into orbit in order to reduce incoming solar radiation to help control temperatures. Extreme, yes, but maybe workable and might be necessary.

  31. Dunc says

    Unfortunately, no government in the Western world is going to pony up that sort of cash for anything that doesn’t involve blowing up foreigners. We live in countries where the basic infrastructure is falling apart for lack of investment, and significant chunks of the political establishment apparently believe that AGW isn’t real. That’s really not a good recipe for spending a non-trivial chunk of GBP on solutions, even if they were absolutely 100% guaranteed to work perfectly and could be rolled out tomorrow.

    You might as well pray for divine intervention, it’s got about as much chance of happening.

  32. John Morales says

    Yeah, well Lofty and I both live in South Australia. Been a subject of interest around here, but nuclear was not even contemplated. Too much on the nose.

    (We got a honking big battery, instead)

  33. bmiller says

    I always understood that from a lifecycle perspective that nuclear is not all that carbon neutral? Especially if one considers all of the embedded energy in mining, constructing the very complex and sensitive power plant, and even some operating energy expenditures????

  34. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To bmiller

    I always understood that from a lifecycle perspective that nuclear is not all that carbon neutral? Especially if one considers all of the embedded energy in mining, constructing the very complex and sensitive power plant, and even some operating energy expenditures????

    The numbers vary wildly. As soon as you exclude outright liars and frauds who are masquerading as experts, it starts to become a bit more reasonable. (More on that later.)

    I’m shooting partially from the hip here. I invite corrections. IIRC, the primary sources of CO2 emissions in the nuclear lifecycle can be put into three categories:
    1- CO2 emissions from mining et al equipment.
    2- CO2 emissions from electricity consumption at various stages in the lifecycle.
    3- CO2 emissions from making concrete in the nuclear plant itself.

    Mining et al equipment is called out specially because it is currently powered by fossil fuels, and it’s hard to image an alternative. Stringing power lines to these things would be a pain because they’re always moving. Giving them batteries is almost a non-starter because of the incredibly poor performance characteristics of batteries compared to gasoline.

    Mining et al equipment is a problem for any technology. Wind and solar need it too. I don’t know how the amount of raw mining requirements compares offhand.

    Now, in my plan, I hope that we can create gasoline using nuclear electricity, and H2 from splitting water, and CO2 pulled from the air or oceans. If we can do this, and if nuclear actually has very small CO2 emissions, then we get practically CO2 neutral gasoline. This is part of my plan that I spelled out above. If this doesn’t work, and soon, at industrial scale, at a roughly affordable price, then we’re hosed. CO2 clean air travel is basically impossible. Shipping becomes very difficult (unless we put a nuclear reactor into every ship, and that seems like a bad idea to me). Trucking is also difficult – electric rail can only do so much. The normal residential transport car could use a battery, but that’s not the interested bit – too many greens are ignorant and focus on what they know, residential, while ignoring the bigger parts of the problem that they don’t know.

    Next is CO2 emissions from the electricity for the various stages of the nuclear lifecycle. Again, if nuclear produces very little CO2, then the electricity we get here is basically CO2-emissions free.

    Finally is the concrete. CO2 emissions from concrete manufacture is hard to avoid. Still, with a conventional nuclear power plant, IIRC this amounts to somewhere around 1% of the total CO2 emissions compared to coal, for the equivalent amount of electricity produced (in joules).

    So, overall, nuclear does quite well. If we can produce synthetic gasoline from CO2 from the air or oceans and electricity at industrial scale, then the entire nuclear lifecycle will produce somewhere around 1% of the total CO2 emissions of the equivalent amount of coal. I’ve seen some reputable sources say about 3%.

    Now, on to the green fraudsters. There are many games that they like to play, and I’d like to address some of them, so that you know what to look out for.

    They like to assume that electricity comes from fossil fuel sources, and they use this to attribute more CO2 emissions to nuclear. They especially like to compound this with ridiculously inflated cleanup and decommissioning procedures.

    In particular, they like to assume that uranium is enriched with diffusion enrichment plants, which consume a shitton of energy, and then which they assume will be partially fossil fuels, which gives CO2 emissions. In reality, almost no one uses diffusion enrichment plants anymore. It’s all centrifuges. Green liars will also frequently use this lie as a false premise for many other lies, so be very careful here.

    Greens also like to play accounting games. The foremost green expert, I mean liar, gives reports to the public that nuclear produces vast amounts of CO2 emissions, “25 times more than wind” (not exact quote, but close),
    but when you look at his paper which supports this claim, he assumes a short time horizon, and assumes that nuclear takes a long time to build, and assumes that coal will be used in the meantime, and includes large amounts of CO2 emissions from coal under the “nuclear” column.

    Greens also like to lie in the most outrageous and dishonest fashion that I have ever seen. The foremost green liar that I cite above, in the same peer reviewed paper, assumes that there will be a nuclear war every 30 years, and calculates the CO2 emissions from burning cities from this periodic nuclear war, and puts these CO2 emissions under the “nuclear power” column. I am not making this shit up.

    Be careful, several other green so-called experts also do the same shenanigans, and even in peer reviewed papers. Benjamin Sovacool is another so-called expert who also seems to cook the books with various shenanigans.

    And I say this knowing full well that a few weeks or months ago, Mark Jacobson formally issued a lawsuit for defamation against a dozen scientists who published a peer reviewed paper debunking his most famous paper, which was published in the same journal. Mark Jacobson is also including the journal editors in the defamation lawsuit. Fuck Mark Jacobson. There is probably no one whom I hate more than this man.

    Believe nothing out of the green energy movement. It’s a complete sham, built on the lies of lying experts that even a high schooler could see through. I could go on for quite a while longer about the lies of these people, but I’ll stop for now.

  35. John Morales says


    Believe nothing out of the green energy movement. It’s a complete sham, built on the lies of lying experts that even a high schooler could see through.

    Thank goodness we have you to set us aright.

  36. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To John Morales
    When many of the respected leaders and experts of a movement cite a person as an expert for their expert work, and it can be shown that their so-called expert work is fraud, then those leaders and experts lose their expert status. See:
    > On Evaluating Arguments from Consensus
    > by Richard Carrier

    Mark Jacobson is regularly cited by many people in the green movement as the person who has done the most work on showing how it is possible to transition from fossil fuels to (non-nuclear) green energy sources. This work is fraudulent, for the reasons that I’ve stated here, and for the several severe errors in his 100% WWS paper. (Several other scientists published a peer reviewed rebuttal to he 100% WWS paper, and for their trouble, Jacobson is suing them for defamation.) The other experts and leaders are either in-the-know that Jacobon’s work is fraudulent, or they didn’t bother to check the work. Either way, the result is the same: the so-called expert consensus is worth jack shit.

    I haven’t bothered to give a list of the people who cite Jacobson as such, but it can be arranged, and it includes many big-hitters in the movement.

    For this reason alone, the entire movement is a farce, a sham, through and through. However, there is plenty of additional evidence which further supports this conclusion.

  37. John Morales says

    So, renewable energy would be good in principle, but it’s not worth developing because it’s not sufficient in itself. Greens who espouse otherwise lack expertise and are shambolic fraudsters and should be ignored.

    Also, doom will be upon us unless we build many and big nuclear fission power plants, ASAP.

    Personally, I have no prob with nuclear power nor with its waste — where I live, South Australia, could cope with both handily. I actually advocated for it back in the 80s and 90s, but times move. And nuclear is really on the nose.

    A bit under a million square kilometres, a bit over 1.7 million people. Plenty of insolation and wind. Affordable.

    We don’t need nuclear power, handy as it may be, even though you might.

  38. says


    > by Richard Carrier

    And we all know what a shithead RC has been lately. Honestly, try finding someone credible, why don’t you?

  39. says

    Oh and I broadly agree with John Morales on the subject of nuclear plants. 10-20 years ago I could see a clear benefit of siting a nuclear plant at Port Augusta, which was until quite recently the site of a significant brown coal fired power plant. The locality has both water for cooling and an excellent connection to the grid. There is a vast amount of flat desert to the north and west with particularly stable bedrock that would suit the disposal of nuclear waste. However the world has moved on and what makes Port Augusta attractive to a new nuclear power plant also makes it suitable for large amounts of solar PV, molten salt solar and wind farms, also pumped hydro. Industrial ports close to the desert also suggest that the export of synthetic fuels derived from intermittent energy sources could be a valuable export to more densely populated countries to the north. No, we don’t need any nuclear plants in our locality any more, thank you very much. We’d rather spend our time developing export opportunities to be a net exporter of carbon neutral renewable energy products.

  40. says

    Specifically Re: nuclear plants, but on a tangent, Charles Stross wrote a pretty cool piece about touring one in the UK. [stross]

    In 2011 (before it became a tourist destination) I got to wander around inside of the reactors (the wander-about-innable ones) at Chernobyl, and the Soviet engineering of the time does not at all sound like what Charlie saw. I run out of words for how big everything about a nuclear reactor is.

    Looking down into the reactor pit at #6 in Chernobyl: (photo by mjr)

  41. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To John and Lofty
    Wind and solar are intermittent. You cannot run a modern society on intermittent power. A continent spanning grid won’t solve the problem sufficiently. Energy storage technologies are not sufficient to solve the problem either, with or without a continent spanning grid. Mark Jacobson tried to do exactly that in his 100% WWS paper, which many people cite as the foremost work on this topic, and Mark Jacobson failed very badly on this topic.

    Assuming that we can make synthetic gasoline via nuclear electricity, CO2 from the air or oceans, and H2 from water, then we could eliminate practically all CO2 emissions from the sectors of industry, transport, and residential, more or less. That is about 87% of all CO2 emissions from human sources. We could do that comfortably in 40 years, and we could do it in substantially less time with enough money behind it.

    I haven’t seen a proper alternative plan which does not rely on massive, massive nuclear rollout, and the only things that I have seen put forward are jokes, like Jacobson’s 100% WWS paper. This leads me to the firm conclusion that such a plan is impossible, and that fools like you two are part of the group that will be primarily responsible for ensuring that the planet’s biosphere goes to hell in a handbasket. You’re going to ruin the world because of your willful, obstinate ignorance.

  42. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Lofty, I see that you’re adding ad hominem to your list of arguing tactics, in addition to bald-faced lying and doubling down. Have you no shame?

  43. says

    EL, I’ll stop trolling you when you stop squeaking “Liar, liar!!!11!!11” every time you disagree with something I’ve written. OK? My thoughts and observations are all mine and I have absolutely zero reason to lie about them.

    Have a nice day!

  44. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I’m not calling you a liar because I disagree. I’m calling you a liar because there is conclusive evidence in this thread that you have lied, several times at least, and in your second most recent post here, you basically admitting to trolling me, which generally involves dishonestly goading, aka lying.

    The most obvious may be this:

    I don’t actually mind nuclear power where it’s applicable

    Good night and dream of nuclear waste.

    Nope. Poking nuclear obsessives with a sharp stick is my kind of fun.

    At first, you pretend to have nothing against nuclear power, but over the proceeding posts, you display your true colors. Pretending to have nothing against nuclear power at first is a bald-faced lie.

    There’s also the issue that you claim to be an engineer who has looked at these issues in detail, and yet you claim to never have heard of Mark Jacobson, the foremost expert in the green energy movement on the particular issuing of transitioning away from fossil fuels and towards (non-nuclear) green energy. So, you’re either a liar, or grossly incompetent. Take your pick.

    You also claim that nuclear would make the grid less stable, and you claim to have experience and training in this discussion. So, again, you’re either a liar, or supremely incompetent and deluded. I don’t believe that you’re actually this extremely incompetent and delusional, and so I believe quite firmly that you lied here.

    Then, you claim that I’m strawmanning you by stating that you stated that nuclear power would make the grid less reliable. First, fuck you again. Second, this pathetic attempt at moving-the-goalposts, coupled with denials and false accusations of strawmanning, is extreme dishonesty of the highest kind.

    Go fuck yourself.

    Braindead shitstains like you are why we’re not going to stop CO2 emissions and save the bio-sphere, because you’re too ignorant and obstinate to pull your head out of your ass and see that almost everything that you know about green energy and nuclear is a lie.