Tuesday 2 November 2010

GE, nuclear and climate

Karl Smith at Modeled Behavior counts himself as a climate dove:
The issue in my mind is that there are actual existing problems in the world today. Yet, the hawks of various breeds are arguing that we should take actions which will make those problems worse in the hopes that we will prevent some larger problem down the road.

As always I question their ability to foresee the real problems that will occur down the road and think that people are generally overconfident their long range forecasts.

Are you sure Iraq is going to use weapons of mass destruction because this could go very badly in the short term and we need be fairly confident that there is a long term win here. We saw how that worked out.

Again, I don’t doubt the sincerity of the hawks. I think they really did believe they were making the world a better place. However, I think there was a tendency to focus on this big PowerPoint-ready existential risk as opposed to the small on the ground risks that were more likely and closer at hand.

Here we have to ask, are you sure that reducing carbon emissions is necessary to forestall the negative effects of climate change. Because, this could turn out very badly in the short term and we need to be fairly confident that there is a long term win here.

I have people telling me that using current technology they could rig up devices to cool the planet at a much lower cost. Are they right? I don’t know. But if they are not insane then are we certain that 100 years of active research into the subject won’t yield low cost solutions?

People are also telling me that the greatest risks are flooding and the necessity of relocating hundreds of millions of people. However, we built housing for 5 billion people over the last century. Can we not do the same over the next?
Count me also as a dove. To the extent that we in NZ ought to be doing anything, we ought to be funding research in ag sciences for breeding lower emission livestock and pasture grasses, then releasing the results via creative commons patents to allow broadest possible uptake.

The environmental movement seems not to be coming around as well, or at least parts of it are:
Stewart Brand, an American activist and former editor of Whole Earth Catalog, said: "I would like to see an environmental movement that says it turns out our fears about genetically engineered food crops were exaggerated and we are glad about that. It is a humble and modest stance to take to the real world.

"Environmentalists did harm by being ignorant and ideological and unwilling to change their mind based on actual evidence. As a result we have done harm and I regret it."

Patrick Moore, one of the founding members of environmental campaign group Greenpeace, added: "We were right that the nuclear industry had problems, but that didn't mean we should be against nuclear energy completely.

"We have caused extra gigatons of greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere by being so precious about nuclear."

The activists feature in the Channel 4 documentary What the Green Movement Got Wrong, which will be broadcast this week.

They say that by successfully lobbying against the building of new nuclear power stations, environmentalists forced governments around the world to build new coal fired power stations instead, resulting in billions of extra tonnes of carbon dioxide and pollution being poured into the atmosphere.

Mr Lynas, who along with other activists ripped up trial GM crops in the 1990s, said that GM food had now been consumed by millions of people in the US for more than 10 years without harm, and this had convinced him to change his views.

The campaigners say that since they expressed their change of position, they have been vilified by traditional sections of the environmental movement.
I've seen some argument that coal-fired generation releases more radiation into the environment than does nuclear generation.

Nuclear can't compete with the low costs of hydroelectric generation in New Zealand, at least until some of the lower cost modular options start hitting production. Making things earthquake proof would also seem rather important. But neither of those seem here to be the binding constraint; rather, it's ideology.

What happens to the purported NZ "clean green" image once folks start putting the correct sign on anti-nuclear and anti-GE stands?


  1. it certainly is about ideology. the clean green image of NZ is nothing short of nature worship

  2. The "green and clean" is certainly image more than anything else. New Zealand has similar environmental problems to a number of not-so-clean countries. Here you have a nice example of an almost perfectly circular native forest, everything else was cleared for pastures.