Monday, March 26, 2007

Forget About Using Nuclear Power to Stop Global Warming

This blog began last September with a post titled “Nuclear Power Not Answer.” It was about the views of antinuclear activist Helen Caldicott who wrote a book in which she gave many reasons why nuclear power can not be used to solve the problem of global warming. A new report by the Oxford Research Group titled “Secure Energy, Civil Nuclear Power, security and Global Warming” also tosses cold water on the idea that building more nuclear power plants should be a key strategy for combating global warming. An article in Reuters said the report points out that a major problem with building the thousands of nuclear power plants that would be needed is that the amount of uranium needed to run the plants is in limited supply and therefore, the only feasible way to do it would be to reprocess the spent fuel in order to obtain plutonium as a fuel. This would create many opportunities for terrorists and criminals to obtain material for making nuclear weapons. Also, as Helen Caldicott emphasized, although the nuclear plants don’t release greenhouse gases the entire process from mining the uranium to building the plants requires lots of energy and therefore large amounts of greenhouse gases would be released anyway.

Despite the drawbacks of using nuclear power to fight global warming many conservatives are embracing the idea and an explanation for this has been offered by Jonathan Chait in the Los Angeles Times. Chait says the following:

You can tell that some conservatives who want to fight global warming understand how the psychology works and are trying to turn it in their favor. Their response is to emphasize nuclear power as an integral element of the solution. Sen. John McCain, who supports action on global warming, did this in a recent National Review interview. The technique seems to be surprisingly effective. When framed as a case for more nuclear plants, conservatives seem to let down their guard.

In reality, nuclear plants may be a small part of the answer, but you couldn't build enough to make a major dent. But the psychology is perfect. Conservatives know that lefties hate nuclear power. So, yeah, Rush Limbaugh listeners, let's fight global warming and stick it to those hippies!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dakotas Step It Up

A few weeks ago it looked like every state in the United States except North and South Dakota would have Step Up Events on April 14th, National Day of Climate Action. However, both Dakotas have now joined in the fun. In North Dakota there are events planned in Belcourt and Fargo and in South Dakota events are planned in Big Stone City, Rapid City, and Vermillion. According to the Step It Up 2007 website there are now 1,022 events planned in the United States.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

China, the US, and India Lead Global Coal-Burning Binge

According to an analysis by the Christian Science Monitor of plans around the world to build coal-fired power plants during the next five years, pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will reach new levels, with these plants adding another 1.2 billion tons of this greenhouse gas each year. Coal-burning plants are being planned in 37 countries including eight in the European Union which has taken the lead in fighting global warming. China, the US, and India in that order are planning on building the most new coal-fired generating capacity. According to the Monitor, if all these plants in the 37 countries are built by 2012 there would be 7,474 coal-fired plants in the world pouring out 9 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, a healthy slice of the predicted 31 billion tons from all sources. One ominous note pointed out in the article is that this amount of carbon dioxide exceeds the “business as usual” projections of most climate models. Considering the catastrophic consequences of the business as usual predictions for climate change already being churned out by the models this is worrisome indeed.

It hard to come to any other conclusion that we are on a reckless course to disaster. Nevertheless, many conservatives are still clinging to an outdated ideology that opposes government regulation of industry and the need for tax increases (carbon tax) to shape public policy and hence refuse to acknowledge the obvious. Without a political consensus in the US the path out of this mess appears to be blocked.

Monday, March 19, 2007

US Sinks Environment Ministers Conference on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The G8 environment ministers who gathered in Potsdam, Germany March 16th and 17th to set new limits on greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to fight global warming accomplished absolutely nothing thanks to the opposition of the US on key issues. The Inter Press Service News Agency reports that according to German environment minister Sigman Gabriel only the US opposed consensus on a global carbon emissions trading scheme and that industrialized counties should assist in achieving a “balance of interest” between economic growth and environmental protection in developing countries.

Since everyone already knew the position of the US before the meeting one can only wonder why this special meeting of G8 environment ministers was even held. Usually these ministers meet during the G8 summit which this year will be held in June. What was the rush to accomplish nothing? Clearly there is an urgency to replace the Kyoto Protocol which ends in 2012, but with George W. Bush at the helm in the US everyone knows that trying to take action on this issue is futile.

Monday, March 12, 2007

India Poised for 25 Years of Increased Coal Burning

While scientists in the US are calling for a moratorium on the building of coal-fired plants to limit greenhouse gas emissions India has plans to quadruple its burning of coal during the next 25 years according to a report by Reuters. To make sure his country has enough coal to burn the minister for coal in India says that India is acquiring “coal properties abroad.” Based on India's plans, world climate scientists apparently have even less influence in India than they do here in the US. According to the UN, India is already number four in the world on the list of greenhouse gas emitters. With about 150 coal-burning plants in various planning stages in the US it hard to see how we are in position to urge India to change its plans in order to prevent possible catastrophic climate change.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

China on Verge of Becoming Number One Greenhouse Gas Polluter

Less than a year ago we were told that China would surpass the US as the top emitter of greenhouse gases by 2020. Several months ago the date was surprisingly revised to as soon as 2009. It has now been revised again. According to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle, China will become the world’s top greenhouse gas polluter as early as this year or perhaps in 2008. Thanks to China’s booming economy consumption of fossil fuels grew by over a whopping 9% last year, a typical figure since 2001. In the US, which is no slacker when it comes to burning fossil fuels, the growth rate was a mere small fraction of China’s rate, 1.2%. For those optimistic about the ability of the world’s nations to reduce greenhouse gas emission by a sufficient amount to avoid potential catastrophic climate change, hearing the figures coming out of China has to be a reality check. What could be less comforting than to realize the fate of the world might be in the hands of a country with 1.3 billion people governed by one party that is hell-bent on attaining a level of prosperity that is comparable to that of Western countries and without the technological know how to try to achieve their goal without very heavy reliance on burning coal, the fossil fuel that creates the most carbon dioxide when burned. Something has to take the place of China’s building about one new coal-fired power plant a week as they have been doing if the global warming problem is going to be successfully addressed. The question is, exactly what?