Sunday, December 11, 2011

Where the Billion$ from Durban Should Be Going Instead

In the Washington Post's article on the agreement in Durban, they write:
Last week, researchers from the Wilhelm Bjerknes Centre in Bergen, Norway, gave a presentation in Durban projecting that the Arctic will experience a 2-degree temperature increase within one to two decades. The only way to limit the global increase to 2 degrees, the researchers said, was to have global emissions peak by 2020 and fall between 40 percent and 50 percent between 2040 and 2050.

“That’s the real missing element here,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There’s nothing that’s going to get the world to lift its game and close that gap.”
It seems to me there is one way, and only one way, that global CO2 emissions will be 1/2 of 2020 levels by 2050: if there is a cheaper alternative than burning fossil fuels. That's it. People want to be warm and comfortable and fly to SoCal in the winter and overseas to climate change conferences, and the heck with those living a hundred years from now.

So instead of establishing bodies to collect and distribute tens of billions of dollars a year to poor countries -- which we should be doing anyway, not because the climate is changing but because they're, you know, poor -- we should take those 10s B/yr and make a massive R&D effort to find ways to generate cheaper energy. Take 1% of it and hire the world's best PR agencies so they'll make it like going to the moon or defeating the Nazis. Build a few CERN-scale laboratories around the world, give the world's smart nuclear engineers and fusion scientists and nanotechnologists healthy grants, and have a yearly conference (run by technical people, not the UN) that reports on their progress. Include energy efficiency experts too, of course, and other smart people with ideas worth pursuing like wave energy and tidal power and more solar. Cut them loose.

That's what's going to work, isn't it, not hammering on people to reduce emissions when it can only make relatively small changes at best, and having the rich pay for the impact of their profligate lifestyle on the poor. It didn't work 20 years ago and it didn't work now, because after China develops India is going to develop, and after that will come the rest of south Asia, and then (hopefully) Africa, and the population is going to keep increasing in all of them. You can't stop people from wanting to live better. So you have to provide a less impactful way for them to do that.


charlesH said...

Wow David,

I could not agree more.

Spend the money on clean/cheap energy R&D (not production subsidies).

The problem is that many on the enviro left don't want clean CHEAP energy.

Follow China's lead.

China has officially announced it will launch a program to develop a thorium-fueled molten-salt nuclear reactor, taking a crucial step towards shifting to nuclear power as a primary energy source.

The project was unveiled at the annual Chinese Academy of Sciences conference in Shanghai last week, and reported in the Wen Hui Bao newspaper (Google English translation here).

If the reactor works as planned, China may fulfill a long-delayed dream of clean nuclear energy. The United States could conceivably become dependent on China for next-generation nuclear technology. At the least, the United States could fall dramatically behind in developing green energy.

“President Obama talked about a Sputnik-type call to action in his SOTU address,” wrote Charles Hart, a a retired semiconductor researcher and frequent commenter on the Energy From Thorium discussion forum. “I think this qualifies.”

David Appell said...

Charles: What person on the "enviro left" says they don't want cheap energy?

Steve Bloom said...

Well, Rush says so.

Steve Bloom said...

That said, David, I think you're quite off the rails on this one, it being the long-trodden erroneous path of Lomborg, RP Jr. and the Breakthrough Boyz.

You somehow managed to miss ~5 years of some rather intense discussion.

Here's the crux of the problem: As it stands, we are not picking the low-hanging fruit of conservation and efficiency. Understanding why that's the case will tell you why the whole Magic Pony thing is a non-starter.

riverat said...

At the rate solar PV prices are dropping they'll be the cheapest way to put electricity on the grid well before 2020.

But at Steve Bloom said the least expensive kWh is the one you don't have to generate because of efficiency and conservation.

David Appell said...

Steve, but with efficiency & conservation you run into Jevons Paradox. Look at what's happened to gasoline consumption in the US over the last several decades, despite more efficient cars.

I just don't think you can conserve and cut enough, and the looming factors of China + India + larger population + developing world are going to swamp any efficiency gains of 20% or so....

charlesH said...


"What person on the "enviro left" says they don't want cheap energy?"

Sounds like Bloom fits this. I'll find you more.

"Jevons Paradox" is real. I bought a 40mpg small car so I could travel more (in retirement) for the same gas budget.

charlesH said...


FYI, a post by me on finding common ground.

"Can common ground be found between “warmers” and “skeptics”? Can we identify energy sources that satisfy the concerns of both groups?"

"Warmers want energy that does not emit CO2 because they look at the climate data and conclude that CAGW is a credible threat that needs to be addressed. Their energy sources of choice are typically wind and solar.

Skeptics look at the same climate data and conclude the evidence for CAGW is just too weak to justify accepting the current high cost and unreliability of wind/solar. They look at Europe and notice that nuclear has given France the smallest carbon footprint and wind/solar has not been effective in any European country in keeping energy both low cost and low carbon.

What about nuclear? Some warmers support it (e.g. Dr. James Hansen) but others do not because of toxic waste streams, lingering concerns about safety, cost, and the potential for proliferation.

What if we could have nuclear power that was far “greener” than current technology, cost considerably less, was even safer and more proliferation resistant? What if this “greener” nuclear technology had already been proven in working prototypes?"

charlesH said...

"Charles: What person on the "enviro left" says they don't want cheap energy?"

Barack Obama: "Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." (January 2008)

I'll find you more.

David Appell said...

Obama isn't saying he doesn't want cheap energy. He's saying the cost of electricity should reflect the cost of its damages in addition to its cost of production and delivery. Does any reasonable person not believe likewise?

Try again.

David Appell said...

In other words, Obama is saying it's time to stop trash socialism.

"Trash socialism" is the socialism that capitalists and free-market types approve of.

Privatize profits, socialize trash.

charlesH said...

Basically most enviros believe if energy was cheap then all those poor Indians, Chinese, and Africans would be able to afford more stuff.

"What if energy suddenly became very cheap, and to boot it was non-polluting?"

"Is there a drawback? Yes. Even if the energy was non-polluting it would be bad for the environment. Why? People all over the world would suddenly be able to buy things they couldn’t before because all things would be more affordable as the price of the energy inputs used to make them decreased. In the US, we already have most of the material goods we need, but for the majority of the planet an increase in buying power means they want STUFF. They want a house; they want clothes; they want a TV, a car, etc."

David Appell said...

Charles: Granted, this one guy, at least, doesn't want cheap nonpolluting energy (CNPE). Nice find.

But I disagree with him. First of all, we can't have TVs et al and deny them to poor people because of their other environmental impact. That's just pure hypocrisy, I'm sure you'd agree.

Let's assume CNPE exists. Then what's wrong with people having more TVs? Yes, there are negative side effects -- disposal of electronic components, disposal of plastic pieces, etc. These are already problems and they'd be exacerbated. But would we really run out of basic resources? That's not really happening, is it, except for oil and uranium and phosporous, and CNPE would solve the peak oil problem. The answer can't be denying people stuff -- stuff makes life healthier and convenient and comfortable and enjoyable and fun.

CNPE would give more people more wealth, but they would spend it on much more than TVs et al -- they'd spend it on cleaner water, better disposal systems, health care, education, etc. They NEED these things -- I think this author fails to properly acknowledge that. I don't think the author has thought this through.

What do you think?

charlesH said...

"What do you think?"

I'm in total absolute agreement!!!!

FYI, I think most CAGW skeptics would also completely agree with you. They don't believe the evidence for CAGW is strong enough to condemn the world's poor to high cost energy (wind/solar...). Thus the resistance to carbon taxes to make solar/wind .... economically competitive.

CAGW skeptics love the idea of "green" nuclear (LFTR et al) being cheaper than coal. If solar is cheaper than FF I'm for that too. Just as soon as solar makes economic sense I'll install then at my home.

Kellio99 said...

Hi all I'm the guy that wrote this post; they one that doesn't want cheap non-polluting energy (CNPE) =)

I mostly agree with what you guys are saying for what it is worth: CNPE is the best way to reduce CO2 emissions. (I'm not an expert on the composition and source of current CO2 emissions, but the proposition of CNPE reducing them is reasonable so I agree.)

I am saying that while CNPE might help CO2, I'm not sold that it would help the environment long term; it would hurt it.

Modern civilization requires throughput of resources (from the environment). As countries develop the throughput increases, regardless of CNPE. CNPE (as I pointed out in my post) will INCREASE throughput of resources, not decrease them.

Charles points out that I haven't thought it through, and not everyone will buy new TVs; they'll en masse likely lead better lives. I agree.

I wouldn't dream of arguing against CNPE; who would?

I will argue that CNPE will cause a significantly increased demand on the environment. Anytime technology advances, throughput increases (

Stimulating discussion; thanks guys!

charlesH said...

Lomborg just said it again.

"We will never reduce emissions significantly until we manage to make green energy cheaper than fossil fuels. We must focus sharply on research and development to drive down alternative energy prices over coming decades."