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Reynolds on Geoengineering.--

Glenn Reynolds examines technological solutions to global warming:

[W]hat if we could reduce greenhouse gases without impoverishing the world? That would be worth doing anyway, because along with those greenhouse gases come all sorts of other nasty substances we're better off without.

That point is catching on, too. Even some environmentalists are already looking to nuclear power as, ironically enough, more environmentally friendly than coal, oil, or natural gas, and we'll likely see more such sentiment in the future.

But nuclear power is just a stopgap - as more advanced technologies like nanotechnology offer much greater prospects via solar energy and reduced energy consumption.

MIT's Vladimir Bulovic calls nanotech a potentially "disruptive technology" in the solar-energy field, offering a complete shift from today's fossil-fuel environment. And famed inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil projects the current rate of progress in solar power forward and argues, "The power we are generating from solar is doubling every two years; at that rate, it will be able to meet all our energy needs within 20 years."

Solar research is progressing rapidly, and recent research suggests that "quantum nanodots" may offer dramatic improvements, perhaps on the order that Kurzweil predicts. . . .

Ultimately, we're probably better off putting our energies into promoting cleaner, more advanced technologies like these than in trying to get people to reduce the scope of their lives through "hair-shirt environmentalism."

Hair-shirts have always had their fans, but have seldom been widely adopted. On the other hand, most people would like to lead cleaner, better, more efficient lives. Why not give 'em what they want, and help the planet at the same time?

A focus on cutting energy consumption with today's technology isn't going to make much of a difference. Let's work on replacing current tech with something better, instead.

Once the cost of solar power becomes cheaper than electricity generated by burning coal and oil (which might well happen within a decade), the carbon footprint of developed countries will begin to change dramatically. Even if solar power becomes cheaper than the alternatives, given that the cost of solar panels must be borne up front, ultimately the spread of solar power to the developing world will depend on how rich developing countries are in 10-50 years.

If technology is the best route to environmental progress, any environmental reforms that impoverish people are likely to be unhealthy to the planet in the long run.

Thomas_Holsinger:

"Once the cost of solar power becomes cheaper than electricity generated by burning coal and oil (which might well happen within a decade), the carbon footprint of developed countries will begin to change dramatically."

Orders of magnitude make a difference.
4.22.2008 3:25pm
Morat20 (mail):
Any such problem needs to be addressed from multiple directions at the same time. It seems like a good idea to both reduce demand -- which doesn't equate to hair-shirts by ANY stretch of the imagination -- as well as working hard on broadening the energy supply base, with a heavy focus on renewables. (It makes no sense to trade an oil bottleneck for a uranium one, other than to buy time).

No one technology -- unless we somehow crack fusion, which I doubt is every going to happen -- is going to do it. But wind, solar, wave, tidal, hydro, thermal, biomass -- coupled with increased efficiency (again, NOT hair shirts for the love of god) seems like the way to go.

Why not attack from both directions? Broaden supply, reduce demand -- or at least make sure that external costs are included in price.
4.22.2008 3:38pm
Anderson (mail):
But nuclear power is just a stopgap - as more advanced technologies like nanotechnology offer much greater prospects via solar energy and reduced energy consumption.

Fantasy, sheer fantasy. On par with his foreign-policy competence.

"Argle bargle argle bargle NANOTECHNOLOGY argle bargle" is not a sensible alternative to nuclear power, which is pretty much all we've got to provide anything like the level of energy consumption compatible with modern civilization.

Reynolds might as well have said "fluorescent light bulbs."
4.22.2008 3:39pm
Happyshooter:
Has anyone noticed that America, England, and Greater Germany are killing Mother Gia by spreading carbon-- but all the crapholes like Mexico, India, and China can pollute at will and turn the sky black and to the ecos it is all fun and games?
4.22.2008 3:40pm
Deoxy (mail):
If technology is the best route to environmental progress, any environmental reforms that impoverish people are likely to be unhealthy to the planet in the long run.


Ah, but is this technology (or the lack of impoverishing people) healthy for the enviro-nazis true goals in the long run? That's the real question - the main leaders of the environmental groups are clearly not in this for their stated goals, or they wouldn't individually consume more than small countries (Al Gore, for just the easiest example among many).

The "hair-shirt" approach gives them control over people, which seems to be at least one of, if not the primary goal. This "technology" approach doesn't seem likely to do that, so I wouldn't expect any support from them on it.
4.22.2008 3:45pm
Dan Hamilton:
Solar and nano tech is all fine and good. I'm all for both.

BUT what are we going to do UNTIL they are working?

It takes years to build energy plants no matter what they use. We have to build plants NOW with todays tech or tomorrow we will have brown outs and black outs.

The Solar for the past 40 years has been pie in the sky bye and bye. Always just around the courner.

We cannot conserve our way out of the energy problems. We need more energy plants NOW not in 20 years.
4.22.2008 3:48pm
AntonK (mail):
Listen, Glenn Reynolds is a modestly interesting fellow, but he suffers from both a child-like fascination with technology (particularly nanotechnology), and a morbid fear of his own mortality.

I like his 'linking' blog, though...
4.22.2008 4:03pm
John425:
I hold no interest, financial or otherwise, in the following company that appears to already have a lot of the answers.

www.nanosolar.com
4.22.2008 4:07pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
"Argle bargle argle bargle NANOTECHNOLOGY argle bargle"

Just imagine the tizzy Reynolds will get in when they announce the first solar nano-technology powered sexbot. He'll give Dr. Helen the heave-ho for good.
4.22.2008 4:09pm
JB:
Happyshooter,
Occam's razor says it's about acid rain, not global warming. We pollute in Ohio, trees die in Upstate New York. They pollute in Hyderabad, nothing happens here.

It's the same reason why no one cares that we've outsourced all manner of polluting manufacturing to China. They wanted NIMBY, they got it, and they're not going to push too hard now that they have it.
4.22.2008 4:10pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Ah, but is this technology (or the lack of impoverishing people) healthy for the enviro-nazis true goals in the long run?

So do you actually know anything about environmental policy or know any real people who are actual concerned about the environment or do you just like parroting Rush Limbaugh talking points?
4.22.2008 4:13pm
Brett Bellmore:

"Argle bargle argle bargle NANOTECHNOLOGY argle bargle"


I've noticed that pretty much anything sounds like nonsense, once you replace most of it with nonsense. I'm not saying you're wrong, but do you have anything that resembles an argument?
4.22.2008 4:13pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
but all the crapholes like Mexico, India, and China can pollute at will and turn the sky black and to the ecos it is all fun and games?

It is the "ecos" that want environmental standards included in trade pacts. It is libertarians like Reynolds and Adler who insist that environmental controls are best left to the market to decided.
4.22.2008 4:15pm
pireader (mail):
Professor Lindgren --

To my knowledge, no mainstream environmentalist leader has advocated greenhouse-gas policies that would "impoverish" America or any other society. And no analytically-grounded estimates that I've seen for the cost of lowering greenhouse gas emissions would "impoverish" any society.

Moreover, the economic penalties on greenhouse gas emissions that are typically advocated would accelerate the development of solar and other "clean" technologies.

So could you make clearer what public policies you're actually advocating or opposing?

Thanks.
4.22.2008 4:21pm
A.C.:
Apparently pollution from China IS crossing the Pacific and ending up over here. Not in anything like the concentrations they have over there, but still...
4.22.2008 4:24pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
To my knowledge, no mainstream environmentalist leader has advocated greenhouse-gas policies that would "impoverish" America or any other society.

But if you say it enough, especially if you can imply it is some European plot grounded in jealousy of our SUVs and McMansions, people like Happy Shooter and DeOxy will accept it as the God's Honest Truth. And once it is true, we don't have to do anything about it because it will destroy our economy.
4.22.2008 4:30pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
I think the buzzword friendly reference to nanotech is a bit silly but the overall point is a lot closer to a reasonable answer than what I hear and see from so many self-styled environmentalists, especially out here in Berkeley.

I don't know about the term 'hair-shirt' but I find it utterly stupefying that many people seem to view environmentalism as a matter of personal responsibility/morality. Environmentalism is not about living up to some Thoreauian ideal of simplicity or about minimizing waste. It's about eliminating certain harmful effects on the environment, e.g., global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The anti-consumption orientation of many environmentalists' not only demands we give up pleasures we may not need to but it frequently doesn't work very well as it often ignore economics. For instance consider any kind of personal conservation of electricity. Sure, maybe I use X amount less gasoline if I carpool but this doesn't necessarily translate into a reduction of the corresponding amount of greenhouse gases. Rather, the fact that I used X amount less gas causes the price of gas to drop and other marginal users (trucking companies, other motorists) to increase their usage. Likely the net effect is a reduction in greenhouse gases but it may be a very very small one since most of my conservation just results in someone else's use.

So I find this article much closer to the mark than the standard 'we need to conserve' claptrap. However, the fact that technological progress is likely to be the best way our of this situation doesn't change the fact that we should internalize the externality to make the market react rationally to the harms of greenhouse gases. Sure it might happen that fossil fuels get replaced simply as a result of cheapening solar power but then again cheapening solar power might also cause a drop in the price of oil that keeps it competitive (or used in legacy power plants) for far longer than is optimal.

Thus to the extent the article seems to be advocating complacency rather than a rational response like a CO2 tax I strongly disagree. Of course we don't want to harm the economy with a CO2 tax but the obvious solution is to make the tax revenue neutral, i.e., balance the increase in the cost of gasoline and the revenue this generates for the government with tax reductions for individuals and businesses (Of course an international treaty would be needed to impose this on a worldwide scale with tariffs to punish non-compliant countries). But apparently the idea that we could tax gas in a revenue neutral fashion is too complex for most Americans to wrap their brains around and they simply associate higher gas prices with a cost to their pocketbook ignoring the fact that if they use less gas than average they will make up this money on their taxes.
4.22.2008 4:44pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
oops, the line in the second paragraph of my post that reads:

"For instance consider any kind of personal conservation of electricity."

Should read:

"For instance consider any kind of personal conservation of gasoline."
4.22.2008 4:45pm
Eli Rabett (www):
"Argle bargle argle bargle NANOTECHNOLOGY argle bargle" has got to be the best first sentence of a nonotechnology grant application Eli has ever seen. Anyone thinking that a miracle is gonna emerge in the next ten years owns a fine bridge collection.

There are important discoveries being made, but a wish is not a policy. Unfortunately several people are placing all their bets on wishes.

(and yes, I know it's nanotechnology)
4.22.2008 4:47pm
steveH:
Anderson might have bothered to actually read what Reynolds wrote, but I suppose it wouldn't have been as much fun for him.

Reynolds wrote that nuclear is a stopgap, something that can stand in until (or if) something better is available.

He didn't say that nuclear power shouldn't be used, and in fact he often says that it should be used a lot more than it is, or is likely to be used in the near term.

Which is not the same thing as Andersons "Argle bargle argle bargle NANOTECHNOLOGY argle bargle".

But I guess that reading with comprehension is not as much fun as reading to to raise (really flimsy) strawmen.
4.22.2008 4:49pm
autolykos:

The Solar for the past 40 years has been pie in the sky bye and bye. Always just around the courner.


Solar is economically feasible now, it's not some pie in the sky dream. As long as you're not conceptualizing solar as a traditional power plant (where the power generation is centralized and then disseminated), there's no practical reason we can't use solar in a cost-saving manner.

The problem is these NIMBY neighborhood restrictions that stop people from putting solar panels on their homes. The economics work, we're just not letting people implement them.


To my knowledge, no mainstream environmentalist leader has advocated greenhouse-gas policies that would "impoverish" America or any other society. And no analytically-grounded estimates that I've seen for the cost of lowering greenhouse gas emissions would "impoverish" any society.


Impoverish is certainly hyperbole, but the underlying point is correct. Any kind of cap-and-trade system is going to raise the costs of manufacturing - that's the entire point. That's probably not going to lead to the collapse of our economic system (especially in an economy like America where most is service based anyway), but it's going to make our manufacturers less competitive than foreign competitors who don't face the same restrictions. That much is almost axiomatic. Whether the job losses and plant closings that result are acceptable are what should be debated, not whether those will actually occur.
4.22.2008 4:58pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
In 1973, I went to an alternative energy seminar at Georgia Tech. Every alternative listed in this thread, and a couple that haven't been mentioned, was on the table then.

Today, how many have advanced to being able to compete with coal?

0

You want different and better? Pay up.

The idea that we are 10 years away recedes by about 364 days/year.

++++

'Apparently pollution from China IS crossing the Pacific and ending up over here. Not in anything like the concentrations they have over there, but still...'

I live in Hawaii. The island of Kauai, famous for being green, gets so much rain that all the minerals are washed away. It turns out that without phosphorous deposited from dust clouds originating in China, Kauai would be a bare desert.

This has been going on for about 4 million years, at least.
4.22.2008 5:04pm
Curt Fischer:

MIT's Vladimir Bulovic calls nanotech a potentially "disruptive technology" in the solar-energy field, offering a complete shift from today's fossil-fuel environment. And famed inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil projects the current rate of progress in solar power forward and argues, "The power we are generating from solar is doubling every two years; at that rate, it will be able to meet all our energy needs within 20 years."


1. Oh, so we only need 2^10 = 1000 times more solar than we have now and we'll be all set! Sounds easy.

2. Am I the only who thinks that Prof. Bulovic's comment is totally unrelated to Mr. Kurzweil's? The new power being generated from solar has little to do with nanotechnology or other disruptive, new improvements to solar technology. It has to do with i) incremental cost improvements to long-existing solar technologies, and ii) heavy renewables subsidies, especially in Germany, that make solar installations economically attractive compared to coal.
4.22.2008 5:06pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
Morat20:

We will certainly figure out fusion. Heck, if we were willing to spend enough money on it we would almost certainly have it done now. Unlike more speculative advancements in power we might make fusion is purely an engineering challenge (admittedly a very hard one involving complicated magnetohydrodynamics). Also I suspect that the bigger the fusion power plant we are willing to build the easier it will be to achieve break even. The right question isn't whether we can achieve fusion power but whether fusion power is worth it. I mean fusion power plants require massive capital outlays and if they don't produce a huge amount of net power the initial cost and upkeep may actually make them uncompetitive.

Fusion isn't a magic wand that will just make energy problems go away but I'm sure we will eventually succeed in making energy positive fusion reactions. Heck, the best scientists working on this seem to think we will achieve positive net energy with ITER.

Besides, the real reason that fission power isn't the perfect way out of this situation (for nuclear nations) is public perception not a problem with the technology. As the MIT report makes clear fission power is cost competitive if we include even a relatively small cost for the effects of greenhouse gases and storage in Yucca mountain plus the new generation of reactor designs would make the expected loss of life per kilowatt hour on the order (if not substantially lower) than that of fossil fuels. Breeder reactors in nuclear nations and international fuel provision by those nations could deal with supply concerns and proliferation dangers. So whether or not fussion will be a good way out will depend a great deal on whether people perceive it as clean and safe or dirty and dangerous not it's actual characteristics.

pireader:

I agree the idea that the cost of reducing greenhouse gases will be overwhelming and impoverish us is pure bullshit. Indeed every serious proposal by policy institutes or similar organizations takes account of economic issues and tries to ensure that any fix won't cause businesses to flee to jurisdictions with fewer regulations.

However, to be fair there are definitely people out here in Berkeley who celebrate the idea that ending our dependence on fossil fuels will force us to give up our wasteful consumerist culture. They are wrong but it doesn't take too much googling to find people glorifying in the idea that we will all have to live simpler lives and go back to a time before we could buy cheap mass produced junk at walmart.
4.22.2008 5:08pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Reynolds wrote that nuclear is a stopgap, something that can stand in until (or if) something better is available.

But as much as he may pretend it is, it really isn't. Even if we threw out the entire regulatory process and just let companies build nuclear plants wherever and whenever they wanted, public opinion be damned (and didn't worry about where the waste would be stored), it would be a minimum of ten years (probably considerably longer) before the first new fission reaction boiled the first drop of water.

I just don't understand the libertarian obsession with nuclear power. For a bunch of people who hate government involvement in anything, you sure turn a blind eye when it comes to splitting the atom. Nuclear power has had over sixty years to prove it can compete in the marketplace and it has shown itself to be a miserable failure. It exists only because of massive government subsidies in every aspect of the process, from mining to disposal of waste.
4.22.2008 5:10pm
Anderson (mail):
I've noticed that pretty much anything sounds like nonsense, once you replace most of it with nonsense. I'm not saying you're wrong, but do you have anything that resembles an argument?

That would come in the rest of my paragraph after the final "bargle."

Nuclear power is a "stopgap"? When something's the only plausible primary power source for centuries to come, in the complete absence of any remotely plausible alternative, that is not a "stopgap."

I am happy for people to make effective use of solar power where practical, same as wind power, water power, slave rowers on galleys, whatever. But the ONLY power technology that offers any reasonable prospect of keeping us going when the oil runs out is nuclear power.
4.22.2008 5:10pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
As the MIT report makes clear fission power is cost competitive if we include even a relatively small cost for the effects of greenhouse gases and storage in Yucca mountain plus the new generation of reactor designs would make the expected loss of life per kilowatt hour on the order (if not substantially lower) than that of fossil fuels.

Will it be too cheap to meter? Heard that one before.
4.22.2008 5:15pm
Anderson (mail):
Nuclear power has had over sixty years to prove it can compete in the marketplace and it has shown itself to be a miserable failure. It exists only because of massive government subsidies in every aspect of the process, from mining to disposal of waste.

This may all be true, but it just means that we need to get serious.

As "subsidies" indicates, much of the waste in the nuclear-power business appears to come from pouring tax dollars into private-sector pockets, rather than focusing on market solutions.

(Don't mean to sound libertarian, god knows I'm not, but I'm a good bit more capitalist than socialist ... like most Democrats. Where the private sector works, let it work.)

However, there's good argument for prospective gov't investment in nuke plants, profitable or not. The oil is not going to last forever, and before it "runs out," it'll be prohibitively expensive for lots of purposes.

As J.F. points out, it takes a long time to get nuke plants online. So it makes sense to build them in advance, even if they're not profitable, and gradually devote them to electricity generation &such while reserving oil for other things, like automobiles, that will be much more difficult to convert.
4.22.2008 5:16pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
Harry Egar:

The fact that no alternative power generation has made serious inroads is totally unsurprising since we haven't tried to pass along the cost of greenhouse gases to society in the cost of coal. In effect we are giving the people who burn coal/oil for energy a massive subsidy by letting them emit CO2 and having society bear the cost.

For instance take a look at some of the data from the MIT study on nuclear power. The issue isn't so much that coal/oil is the only technology we have now that can reasonably give us power, it's the fact that coal is reliably a few cents cheaper per kilowatt hour. Change that fact and you change everything.
4.22.2008 5:20pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
J.F. Yes, I've talked to enviros. They want to "make us change our ways". Knowing them, green is the excuse and making us change our ways is the goal.
You'd be suprised, or maybe not, how many things other people do that enviros don't like suddenly have environmental costs.
One report suggested that the claim that envirowackiness will destroy capitalism is just a recruiting slogan for gullible young folks who...want to destroy capitalism. IOW, the real enviros don't really mean it.
That's nice.
4.22.2008 5:44pm
Crust (mail):
On the geo-engineering front, the ultimate would be to find a cost-effective way to remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. Richard Branson "with Al Gore at his side" has offered a $25 million prize to anyone who can work out how.
4.22.2008 6:04pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
J. F. Thomas:

Read the MIT report on nuclear power. Yes, Nuclear power (like most large scale non fossil fuel options) is slightly more expensive than fossil fuels per kilowatt hour. However, if we were to charge fossil fuel users for the harms of the greenhouse gases they emit nuclear power would be cost competitive.

I mean do you want to throw out solar, wind, and geothermal too because they currently receive government subsidies? We already know that without market intervention coal is the most economical way to produce power on a large scale. So pointing out that nuclear power has needed subsidies when the market doesn't include the costs of CO2 emissions isn't any more an argument against nuclear than it is against solar.

Moreover, when you look at things like solar or wind power to take over producing the majority of the countries power you need to include not only the cost of making the power but the cost involved in producing regular baseline power. That might mean expensive pumped hydro power plants to store energy (pump the water up to higher elevation when you have the energy), a superconducting nationwide grid to average the power across the country, or many many rechargeable batteries (if they are even up to the task).

---

Is there some irrational bias toward nuclear power on some people's part? Sure. Nuclear power seems cool, hi-tech, and represents a triumph of engineering and know how over natural processes. However, it's no different (and possibly smaller) than the bias towards wind and solar other sorts of people have since they appeal to those who idolize the ideal of passive, low footprint coexistance with the natural world.
4.22.2008 6:14pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
The idea that we are 10 years away recedes by about 364 days/year.

Kind of like the "next six months in Iraq will decide whether we win or lose" that we hear every, I don't know, six months.
4.22.2008 6:35pm
Anderson (mail):
Kind of like the "next six months in Iraq will decide whether we win or lose" that we hear every, I don't know, six months.

Yes, I think that probably sounded better in the original German ... or was it Japanese?
4.22.2008 7:01pm
pireader (mail):
autolykos wrote at 3:58 pm -- "Impoverish is certainly hyperbole, but the underlying point is correct. Any kind of cap-and-trade system is ... going to make our manufacturers less competitive than foreign competitors who don't face the same restrictions. Whether the job losses and plant closings that result are acceptable are what should be debated, not whether those will actually occur."

That's a very legitimate concern. But I suspect that whatever cap-and-trade program emerges from Congress will include a field-levelling tariff on goods imported from countries without adequate greenhouse-gas restrictions. (The European Union is considering such a tariff right now.) So it's questionable whether there would actually be substantial job losses and plant closings.

TruePath wrote -- "[T]here are definitely people out here in Berkeley who celebrate the idea that ending our dependence on fossil fuels will force us to give up our wasteful consumerist culture."

Fair enough. Every mass movement has its wackos; if Professor Lindgren was just giving the enviro-wackos a thrashing, then well and good. But he seemed to hinting some serious public-policy positions. I'd like for him to make them explicit.
4.22.2008 7:53pm
Smokey:
[W]hat if we could reduce greenhouse gases without impoverishing the world?
When the article starts off with a false premise like that, then its conclusions are bound to be false.

The canard that carbon dioxide is evil has been repeatedly falsified through the peer-review process. Since the connection between a rise in CO2 and a corresponding rise in temperature has also been falsified, it makes no sense to keep digging that hole.

This chart shows the beneficial effects of increased atmospheric CO2. In fact, CO2 levels have routinely risen well beyond current levels -- without ever triggering Gore's "planetary catastrophe." Today's CO2 level is under 4/100ths of one percent. In the past, CO2 levels reached many times that amount -- for millions of years at a time. Runaway global warming never occurred. Even over the past couple of centuries, CO2 levels exceeded today's level.

By losing the central pillar of the global warming/AGW alarmists -- the discredited hypothesis that carbon dioxide causes global warming -- climate deceivers like Al Gore had no choice but to move the goal posts. So now they call their latest scare tactic "climate change." Heck, with that scam they've moved the goal posts out of the stadium and into the next county.

Next, regarding the cost of various types of energy production, see here.

Finally, there is something that affects the Earth's climate; and it isn't CO2.
4.22.2008 10:13pm
Curt Fischer:

TruePath: Unlike more speculative advancements in power we might make fusion is purely an engineering challenge (admittedly a very hard one involving complicated magnetohydrodynamics).


I think this statement depends on what you mean by "engineering". No engineering students in any common engineering discipline study magnetohydrodynamics as a core component of the discipline. Engineers don't know how to analyze or design magnetohydrodynamic systems, in general.

The problems between here and easy, doable fusion will need to be solved mainly by physicists. In fact, I'm no expert but it seems to me that even the physics itself is far from tractable. How easy is it to correctly model large-scale, high-temp, high pressure plasma systems like those envisioned for fusion reactors?
4.22.2008 10:43pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
TruePath, the true cost of greenhouse gases is $0.00, so no unfair advantage to coal there.

The medical effects of burning coal are costly, though less so than 40 years ago.

I notice, however, that in 35 years of reporting about energy costs and alternatives, not one person has ever volunteered to pay more per erg. They all believe in the Clean Free Energy Fairy.
4.23.2008 2:13am
Randy R. (mail):
Sorry Smokey, but your figures have been debunked on previous threads. You need a new argument.
4.23.2008 7:30am
lucia (mail) (www):
Engineers don't know how to analyze or design magnetohydrodynamic systems, in general.

The problems between here and easy, doable fusion will need to be solved mainly by physicists. In fact, I'm no expert but it seems to me that even the physics itself is far from tractable.


Why do you think this topic would be dominated by physicists when currently magneto-hydrodynamics mostly studied as a research topic in engineering or applied math? (With some frequency, it's people with joint appointments in math and engineering, which is relatively common.)

Just to check my memory, I googled "magneto hydrodynamics". The first link to a list of conference participants I found was this. I checked the people at American universities: most are engineers. Some are mathematicians who do computational fluid dynamics. None are physicists (though I'm sure there are physicists who work on this topic too.)

Of course this isn't an undergraduate topic. But it isn't an undergraduate topic in physics either.
4.23.2008 8:18am
Randy R. (mail):
Harry: "I notice, however, that in 35 years of reporting about energy costs and alternatives, not one person has ever volunteered to pay more per erg. They all believe in the Clean Free Energy Fairy."

That, of course, it not at all true. Several power companies offer clean energy to their customers at a slighter higher price, and many customers agree to pay it.

However, the bigger point that you keep refusing to consider is the externalities of fossil fuels that aren't accounted for in it's price. Coal and oil burning causes pollution, no two ways about it. Pollution is bad for the environment, and bad for our health. We pay for it in increased incidences of asthma, cancer, parkinsons, and many other chronic illnesses. Those engender higher health care costs. Then there is the cost of cleaning up that pollution. When a river runs foul because of the waste from those plants, it destroys fishing habitats, and therefore fishermen can't reap the profits that they would have without that pollution. That's a cost. Then if we decide that we don't like to live in a cesspool of pollution, there is a cost with that too.

None of these costs are included in the price of coal. When it comes to wind and solar energy, there is little or no external costs -- no pollution, little or no degregation of the environment, no fisheries or other habitats destroyed, and so the external costs are minimal. The TRUE cost of wind, solar, and georthermal energy is there much less than coal or oil.

But you just don't like that so you ignore it.
4.23.2008 9:10am
A.C.:
Well, there are costs to wind and solar. There's the land, for one thing -- you can get a lot more energy per acre with a nuclear plant. Of course, there are many parts of this country with lots of cheap land that isn't very useful for other things. But that land doesn't tend to be near the large population centers that need power.

And solar panels and wind turbines don't just grow, they have to be manufactured. In large numbers, if you are talking about generating a lot of power. I don't know that this is any worse for the environment than making all the pipes and turbines in any other power plant that produces the same output, but you still have to do a resources in/resources out calculation. It may be that solar or wind comes out better than even in some places, but worse in others.
4.23.2008 10:31am
shawn-non-anonymous:
J.F.Thomas:

Nuclear power has had over sixty years to prove it can compete in the marketplace and it has shown itself to be a miserable failure. It exists only because of massive government subsidies in every aspect of the process, from mining to disposal of waste.


I worked for the Yucca Mountain Project for 13 years building and administering administrative and scientific databases. I am not a scientist. (IANAS?)

Nuclear power has had a great run in countries that don't artificially limit it (France, UK, Japan, etc). As an example, the US has a policy of leaving the waste rods intact to deter the theft of plutonium, which is one of the waste products. Roughly 80% of the fuel in the rod can be re-used to make another rod, leaving only 20% of it as actual 'waste'. Other countries reprocess their fuel, we do not. So we have to store the whole thing.

Most, if not all, of the money used to fund Yucca Mountain comes from a rate-payer tax and not the general fund. Supposedly this fund is far larger than the 200-300 million a year the project costs. If you get nuclear power, as I do, you pay a small fee to fund disposal as part of your monthly bill. So at least part of the cost of disposal is paid directly by the consumers.

New nuclear technologies, many of them coming out of India these days, greatly reduce the risk of meltdown (pebble-bed) and other issues people are concerned over.

Nuclear has "failed" in our marketplace because we americans have bought into the worst-case scenario fears sold to us by environmentalists these last many decades. We have made sure nuclear fails by artificially increasing its cost via unnecessary regulation and litigation. A spectacular success for the 1970's environmental movement. Today's environmentalists appear to be backing away from that belief. They seem to think they goofed.
4.23.2008 11:04am
IB Bill (mail) (www):
I wonder about geothermal.

I mean, the world is pretty much a giant, molten ball of lava, covered by a thin crust of mostly water. It's practically a steam engine already. Now, obviously, engineers have thought of this.

Do we simply lack the drilling and materials technology to dig down deep enough to boil water and put a steam turbine down there? There must be a key engineering problem I don't know about.

I mean, there's probably a billion-year supply of heat down in the earth, the power supply doesn't require combustion, and the exhaust is steam. Heck, put a drilling rig in the ocean, and we'd have an electrical power station/water desalinization (sp?) plant all in one.

That's got to be the future.
4.23.2008 11:23am
Randy R. (mail):
AC: "Well, there are costs to wind and solar. "

Well, of course there are costs -- it's not free power. But what I meant by costs are the external costs, the ones that are not calculated in the price of electricity generated. When you buy electricity from a coal burning plant, it does not pay for the pollution cleanup. With solar and wind, there is no pollution clean up, or very little.
4.23.2008 12:51pm
Anderson (mail):
You can't really expect someone called "Smokey" to be worried about greenhouse gases, etc.
4.23.2008 1:00pm
Smokey:
Randy R.:
Sorry Smokey, but your figures have been debunked on previous threads. You need a new argument.
That, folks, is the usual liberal globaloney argument by people like Randy R. No facts, no figures, no charts, no peer-reviewed articles. Just vague claims and uninformed opinion.

Al Gore's True Believers never seem to provide references that have emerged from the peer-review process intact, because those claims, such as the UN/IPCC's 'hockey stick' temperature chart, have been falsified through peer-review [it turns out that the computer model that produced the hockey stick always produces a hockey stick pattern -- even when completely random numbers are plugged in. As a result of falsification, the UN has been forced to delete its hockey stick charts]. Every link in my post above has withstood peer-review.

In addition, in the real world, temperatures have fallen significantly over the past decade even as carbon dioxide levels have risen. Those pushing the AGW scare base their entire premise on their always-inaccurate computer models. In fact, the hypothesis that CO2 causes any more than very slight, insignificant warming has been thoroughly falsified via the Scientific Method. Anthropogenic global warming is a failed hypothesis, yet the frantic arm-waving by the climate deceivers continues to ratchet up, getting more shrill by the day.

Of course, it is understandable why Randy would want to stifle any discussion regarding the falsifying of the failed hypothesis that a rise in carbon dioxide will cause a "planetary catastrophe." The reason is simple: if the global warming alarmists lose the central pillar of their argument -- that an increase in CO2 causes runaway global warming -- then their entire argument fails. So they resort to baseless statements like "your figures have been debunked," when in fact it is the CO2/AGW hypothesis that has been repeatedly falsified.

But thanks for playing, you've been a fun contestant, and we have some wonderful consolation prizes for you on your way out.
4.23.2008 1:13pm
Smokey:
Anderson:
You can't really expect someone called "Smokey" to be worried about greenhouse gases, etc.
Aren't you a clever boy. So, where are your references?
4.23.2008 1:18pm
A.C.:
Randy R. -

I'm not so sure about the "no pollution to clean up" issue. Maybe it's not at the point the power is generated... the next kilowatt off a solar array or wind farm has no new emissions. The environmental costs are in setting up the solar array or wind farm in the first place, and whether those costs are built into the rate the generator charges is an open question. Maybe there is pollution from manufacturing the solar cells that is not factored in, for example. And there's always the "how much land" question. I'm not sure how you figure that in, especially in smaller countries that don't have a lot of plains and deserts to put this stuff in.

I still support wind and solar, but I don't think they are going to save us in any major way. I suspect they will always be supplemental sources. Small-scale, local solar power in particular is likely to be most useful at just those times when air conditioning demand peaks. That's a good thing. But I don't really expect a wind farm alone to power the heavy industry needed to construct the equipment for... the next wind farm.
4.23.2008 1:24pm
Smokey:
Worth reposting: click
4.23.2008 1:28pm
Anon1ms (mail):
"any environmental reforms that impoverish people are likely to be unhealthy to the planet in the long run."

I would be interested in knowing what "environmental reforms" you are referring to that will "impoverish people."
4.23.2008 6:52pm
Smokey:
Anon1ms:
I would be interested in knowing what "environmental reforms" you are referring to that will "impoverish people."
Using food to power vehicles, a typical environmentalist idea that has caused the price of food to more than double in the case of rice, corn and other cereal grains.

According to the latest issue of the Economist, over one billion people subsist on less than $1 a day. The skyrocketing cost of food will literally kill millions. That's a lot worse than impoverishing people, no?

But then plenty of libs think the Earth has too many people, so they probably like the idea of mass extermination. Sort of like when the potato famine eliminated millions of those pesky Irish.
4.23.2008 11:07pm