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Climate Change, Climate Skeptics and Climate Fools

Even if we agree there's a problem, why should we focus on non-solutions?

Under the title “An Antidote for Climate Contrarianism” at the New York Times Green Blog, Justin Gillis reviews an updated primer on the subject by MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel, focusing on the book’s value in clarifying the climate change argument. But under eleven grafs of organic compost Gillis buries his discomfiting lede: Emanuel believes that unless we’re willing to get serious about nuclear energy, it’s all just talk.

I would guess a few Green readers had the experience, over the holidays, of arguing yet again about global warming with a parent or brother-in-law who thinks it’s all a big hoax. Maybe there’s some undiscovered substance in roast turkey that makes people want to pick fights around the dinner table.

Fortunately, the M.I.T. climate scientist Kerry Emanuel has provided us with a solution to this problem: an updated edition of “What We Know About Climate Change,” his 2007 book explaining the science of global warming.

Note that the “problem” is not Climate Change per se, but the difficulty that many believers have in winning holiday dinner table arguments on the subject.

According to Emanuel, conservatives and climate skeptics are guilty of “the irrationality of dismissing an entire branch of science as some kind of elaborate hoax” … notwithstanding the fact that that entire branch of science depends on a constant infusion of cash from power-hungry governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the U.N. But I digress.

Not to worry, greenies. Emanuel is bound to have extra credibility with the knuckle-dragging trogolodytes with whom you reluctantly share the Midwinter Solstice festivities:

… Dr. Emanuel spent most of his adult life as a registered Republican. He changed his registration to independent recently, but he told me that his convictions have not shifted much — he was driven out of the Republican Party by its embrace of global warming skepticism, among other recent positions.

Ah, then we get to fateful paragraph #11:

… [Emanuel] takes green groups to task on certain points, including their skepticism about nuclear power.

He sees nuclear energy as one of the few ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming, on a large scale. And he is doubtful that renewable energy sources like wind and solar power can be ramped up fast enough to meet the challenge.

Let’s assume, arguendo, that the earth has experienced “normal” average climate conditions over the period of human civilization (the last 10,000 years or so of 4.5 billion years of earth history). Let us further assume that human activity, notably since the Industrial Revolution 150 years ago, are responsible for increasing the atmospheric concentration of a non-toxic trace gas, carbon dioxide, from a “normal” value of 280 parts per million to 400 ppm, and that said increase is the primary cause of the climatic departure from “normal”. We need to also make the assumptions that a “cure” is possible and that the cure is not worse than the disease.

OK, given all that, isn’t it shameful that we would focus all of our attention and economic resources (read: tax credits and subsidies) on wind and solar power and electric cars, which have approximately the same (but opposite) impact on global warming as a little kid peeing in the ocean?

I’m a big booster of oil and natural gas, and I make my living in that industry. Hydrocarbon resources are incredibly valuable, but not infinite. There will be an end to the hydrocarbon age, but perhaps not as soon as King Hubbert predicted. I will remind the reader that Hubbert, the father of Peak Oil Theory, made his famous prediction of the end of the hydrocarbon age in a paper entitled “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels“, in which he predicted that nuclear fission would replace fossil fuels, and that the supply of nuclear fuel is practically inexhaustible. At some point, it will require more energy to extract fossil fuels than the fuels contain; simple economics will drive our search for alternatives.

Natural gas is the logical bridge to a nuclear future. Fortunately, we have an abundant domestic supply which can be profitably exploited for a century or more. We ignore nuclear energy, and focus on the losing bet on wind and solar at the peril of future generations. Frittering away resources on non-solutions will cost our prosperity first; later on, the cost of our folly will be measured in lives. Until the Green community is willing to acknowledge this reality, I see no reason to take their environmental hand-wringing seriously.

Cross-posted at stevemaley.com.

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