Friday 24 April 2009

Infinities, infinitessimals, and imponderables

Thirty years ago, the case against nuclear power was framed as the “Zero-Infinity Dilemma.” The risks of a meltdown might be vanishingly small, but if it happened, the costs would be infinitely large, so we should forget about uranium. Computer models demonstrated that meltdowns were highly unlikely and that the costs of a meltdown, should one occur, would be manageable—but greens scoffed: huge computer models couldn’t be trusted. So we ended up burning much more coal. The software shoe is on the other foot now; the machines that said nukes wouldn’t melt now say that the ice caps will. Warming skeptics scoff in turn, and can quite plausibly argue that a planet is harder to model than a nuclear reactor. But that’s a detail. From a rhetorical perspective, any claim that the infinite, the apocalypse, or the Almighty supports your side of the argument shuts down all further discussion.

From a discussion by Peter Huber in the City Journal on carbon realism which nicely lays out the problem but I'm not sure yet finds the solution. Oceanic sequestration looks less promising than it once did; rising acidity would also be a problem. Nuclear power is still more expensive than coal as best I'm aware. Only so much of the midwest can be turned into forest; tropical forests are far more useful than those in the sub-tropics (and Canada's boreal forest, on a carbon basis, ought be clear cut to get savings on albedo). More prizes for solving sequestration or achieving workable fusion?
HT: Arts & Letters Daily

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