The Green Fantasyland

By Keith Kloor | March 26, 2012 5:31 am

At Grist, there is a box with a rotating set of five images that highlights content from the site.  When I went over there recently, my eye gravitated to the colorful pictures in the box, including one with this subheadline for a blog post:

Germany aims to trade nukes for a fully renewable power system. Sane countries should follow suit.

What makes this especially insane is that it comes from a person who writes frequently about climate change as the biggest threat facing humanity.

In the actual world we live in, when a country scraps nuclear power, renewables aren’t an equal substitute.  The real tradeoff is higher CO2 emissions. That will remain the case for decades, while Germany’s grand experiment is underway. The Grist writer who worries deeply about climate change surely knows this. Yet he suggests that “sane countries” should follow Germany’s example.

Even Joe Romm, who is no fan of nuclear power, advises:

Given the need to keep climate forcings as low as possible, I wouldn’t shutter existing nukes until the clean energy replacements are online, and would prefer to spend big bucks to make them safer.

Anti-nuclear greens who are concerned most about global warming might want to think about something four leading UK environmentalists recently stated:

As writers and thinkers who are interested in and concerned with environmental issues, our job is to assess the technological and policy options on climate change as objectively as possible. Independently of each other, we have all reached the conclusion in recent years that the gravity of the climate crisis necessitates a re-examination of deeply-held objections still shared by many in the green movement towards nuclear power, including, until recently some of our own number.

On a related note, I’ll point out another highlighted image rotating at the Grist carousel. It’s also rather odd placement for an ad.

Advertisement

Like the nuclear/renewable swap, this is for people living in fantasyland.

UPDATE: Be sure to read this piece by Spencer Weart at Yale Environment 360, entitled “Shunning nuclear power will lead to a warmer world.It went up the same day as my post.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, Energy, nuclear power
  • Roddy Campbell
  • grypo

    This is really not quite as bad as made out to be here.   It is well known that this decision by Germany will cause increases in CO2 in the short term.  But science knows the real issue with CO2 is the budget over time.  There are also political dynamics over what Germany has control over that Roberts describes which show why they are doing what they doing.  One is using nuclear for baseload as opposed to residual load, which nuclear is not optimal for and that Germany does not control the coal fired plants.  The other is the economical factors play a role in choosing which path to take.It should also be recognized that Roberts said “Shutting down nukes may be a second-best solution, but it’s in service of a baseload-free, 100 percent renewable power system “” a laudable goal that, in a sane world, far more countries would share.”So the subheadline used in this post is not accurate, nor are the inferences about Roberts’ views.  The “sane” adjective is about the “laudable goal” of transitioning to renewable energy, not about shutting down nuclear power.I support nuclear power.  So it is worrisome when plans are accelerated due to meltdown fears, but Germany has been back and forth on this is issue for seven years now.   First it was 2020, then it was 2028, now it’s 2022. This will be adjusted to match energy needs as it was a few years ago.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Angela Merkel has had domestic political problems for a couple of years, losing ministers here and there and coalitions straining to set themselves free. Nuclear power has never been popular in Germany. Never. Greens are a powerful party there.And yet, Angela Merkel is a scientist as well as a politician, and so we all wonder about this decision… By coincidence I wrote this yesterday… “One reason that Angela Merkel may have felt able to throw nuclear under the bus is the fact that Germany’s population will decrease by 3 million souls between now and 2030. Fewer lightbulbs to power”¦ The same logic may permit Japan to pursue similar non-nuclear policies, as their population will decline even more, by over six million people.” http://3000quads.com/2012/03/25/two-thoughts-while-im-working/

  • http://arthur.shumwaysmith.com/life/ Arthur Smith

    Ironically enough, Keith’s new ads on this site are right now featuring “Domini Social Investments” with a message “It’s possible to invest for tomorrow without exploiting today” over solar panels and wind turbines, followed by “Do you know what your IRA is funding” over an ominously colored pair of what look like nuclear power plant stacks.Dan Moutal and I actually argued with Dave Roberts on this point over twitter after he posted this story. He has a good point on the mismatch between so-called “baseload” and renewables but we just didn’t get the reasoning behind shutting down nuclear now. I think his argument is that, if you have enough renewables on the near horizon, shutting down coal plants will be easy. It’s a matter of the politics of several two-way competitions, and not really a technical argument. I don’t entirely buy it, but Germany does seem to be going this way so I guess we’ll see how it works.

  • Jarmo

    Green is a lifestyle philosophy; organic food, recycling, green investments and anti-nuclear stance are as essential as Gucci and Versace to fashionistas. AGW is just a tool to spread green lifestyle and attitudes. If greens are facing a choice (fight AGW and compromise green credentials, or compromise fighting AGW and preserve green credentials), green credentials seem to win. 

  • OPatrick

    Keith you often criticise Romm, sometimes with justification, for using over-the-top language, but isn’t that what you are doing here? I went to look at Roberts’ piece and it seemed well argued and far from fantasy. Indeed he seems to be being pragmatic about the German government’s legal powers to control means of energy production. Is your use of “Fantasyland” somehow defusing the tensions in this debate? If you think Roberts’ is wrong, and I don’t know if he is or not, can’t you point this out constructively and build an interesting dialogue?

  • Keith Kloor

     Arthur Smith (4)

    The ads you see are determined by your own web habits–e.g., your “cookies.” Every reader sees different ads.

    While I think the ad ridiculously oversimplifies what an individual can do to combat global warming (somehow, becoming Vegan was left off the checklist), and fit right along with the fantasyland theme of this particular Grist carousel, I have less of an issue with the ad itself (it’s just an ad). I wouldn’t have noted it if it was clearly separated from editorial content, as most ads are. 

  • Keith Kloor

    OPatrick,

    I don’t regard as interesting (from a person who professes to be concerned about global warming no less) any argument that suggests nuclear power being taken offline in the short to medium term. I regard that as illogical. Roberts can tie himself in knots over Germany’s justification, but I’m not going to try and untie that knot.  

  • Dean

    Even many of us who are not fans of nuclear power would prefer to see coal plants taken offline before nuclear in general. Maybe the consolation in Germany will be that the pressure to not actually bring more coal online will provide the motivation to take renewables to new levels that would not otherwise be reached through more average pressures.

  • MarkB

    Poor Germany – they’ve made a mess of themselves. They’re talking about cutting their solar power subsidies to staunch the bleeding there. Their own solar panel factories have shut down, victims of Chinese competition – some of which was financed with German aid money(!). And their wind turbines are in the north, while their industrial needs are in the south. And good German environmentalist citizens are fighting against building the power lines needed to bring the power from north to south. In any case, developers have stopped building offshore wind farms in the north, due to costs. The North Sea is devilish to build in and maintain facilities. The truth is that Germany has gone out on an energy limb, and is now listening to the branch crack. Their energy bills have increased dramatically, and for all that, their CO2 production hasn’t even gone down! The Germans wanted desperately to be good – good citizens of Europe and the world. They bought into the hype as a way to wash the Nazi stink off – it’s always in the back of their minds – and what do they get? Greeks protesting with swastikas on their signs. Sometimes you just can’t win.

  • harrywr2

    #2 Grypo,
    Yes…it is well known that windmills are incompatible with ‘baseload’ generating technologies.

    In the US we have more then 1,000GW of generating capacity when we
    only need 500GW to meet ‘average’ demand. There has been plenty of
    incentive for a very long time to figure out energy storage,we could get
    by with 1/2 as much generating capacity.
    If I go over to google books and search on ‘Popular Science Energy
    Storage 1955′ sure enough there is an article on solar heated houses
    with an energy storage system… It goes on to state that the Federal Government estimates the market for Solar Heating will be 13 million by 1975.If I change the date to 1930 there is an article on ‘pumped storage’The May 1924 has an article on ‘harnessing tidal power’.The ‘dream’ of an all renewable world has been with us for a very long time.

  • BBD

    George Monbiot points out the lunacy of the anti-nuke greens in a recent article:It is plain that we cannot do both. Reducing carbon emissions to 10%
    or less of current levels in the rich nations, which is the minimum
    required to prevent two degrees of warming, is hard enough already. To
    do so while also abandoning our most reliable and widespread low-carbon
    technology is even harder. It’s like putting on a pair of handcuffs
    before stepping into the boxing ring.

    To suggest phasing out nuclear power when the world is faced with a
    climate change crisis is utter madness. It shows that some people have
    lost sight of which goal is the more important.
    [...]The environment movement has a choice. It has to decide whether it wants
    no new fossil fuels or no new nuclear power. It cannot have both. I
    know which side I’m on, and I know why. Anyone who believes that the
    safety, financing and delivery of nuclear power are bigger problems than
    the threats posed by climate change has lost all sense of proportion.
    Yup.

  • BBD

    Oh FFS. Keith please light a fire under your web developer.

  • steven mosher

     It’s sad to see people waste money on renewable before its ready for prime time. Sunk cost. Non recoverable. It’s money we will need later.

  • http://arthur.shumwaysmith.com/life/ Arthur Smith

    It’s sad to see people think money is something that disappears from the universe when you spend it.

  • Lazar

    “this is for people living in fantasyland”

    Ya, but that number is diminishing as more and more prominent greens throw away the leftist anti-nuclear dogma when faced with reality. The trend is encouraging.

    On the other hand, there is not a glimmer of a movement among conservatives and libertarians against government subsidy of the fossil fuel industries, which prices nuclear out of the market. How and when did my side ever become so irrational.

  • Bobito

    “How and when did my side ever become so irrational.”  Both sides have become irrational.  Each side has been convinced by their leaders that the other side is the enemy and to concede any point to them is treasonous to your own side…

  • Nullius in Verba

    #16,

    The majority of libertarians are opposed to all subsidies, on principle. I’ve got no problem with stopping fossil fuel subsidies, and I doubt any other proper libertarian has, so long as the idea isn’t to selectively stop them on fossil fuels while continuing them on everything else.

    So far as I know the subsidy on fossil fuel – much of which is generic tax breaks available to many industries – is a relatively small fraction of the price. In subsidy/kWh terms, it’s minuscule compared to that provided to renewables. Losing it would probably not affect the industry much.

    The reason nuclear is priced out of the market is not subsidy, but that other bugbear of free-marketeers: regulation. The safety and engineering standards required of nuclear far exceed those required of the fossil fuel industry. If a comparable safety level was demanded (e.g. in deaths/kWh), it would be a lot cheaper.

    There are many other factors too. Economies of scale, upfront financing, regulatory uncertainty, disaster insurance, and so on that don’t necessarily have to be that way.

  • Sashka

    Arthur, similarly food doesn’t disappear after you eat it. Sad to see people think that it turns to shit.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    i just got back from bill nye’s and ellen’s ‘nigthmare with jamie lee curtis jeopardy show’ at epcot.  my forehead is still sore from all the smashing.  OTOH is it too much to ask that people actually discuss this issue intelligently without resorting to cheap shots by way of byline-point scoring?i’m disappointed if not surprised by your tribal post Keith.keep up the vacuous analysis.BBD, give me a cogent analysis of energy planning trade-offs at the system level and i’ll give you a pint (UK size) or two…

  • harrywr2

    #18The reason nuclear is priced out of the market…..In most of the world ‘new nuclear’ competes reasonably well with fossil fuels.A power plant that ‘paid for’ generally produces the cheapest power.

  • Keith Kloor

    @20 Another sterling rebuttal–this one from the other side. Hey, whatever keeps you coming back as a faithful reader… :)

  • kdk33

    As a proper free-marketeer, I second NiV.  I’ve no problem stopping subsidies for fossil fuel companies.  First you have to convince me that they are getting a subsidy.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @harry-coalbot & BBDremind me again what the implicit subsidies from decommissioning costs and liability caps are for ‘new’ nuclear are please.  as an Ontarian who is still living with ‘debt retirement charges’ i’m curious to hear your thoughts.  to be clear i’m not ‘anti-nuke’, but the idea that there aren’t substantial opportunity costs or hidden subsidies is disingenous IMO. of course maybe keith knows something I don’t and I’m simply being ‘insane’.  on a completely unrelated note, disney wifi blows.

  • Keith Kloor

    Marlowe,

    What exactly are you arguing? Are you even bothering to address what the point is of my post?

    Better yet, why don’t you leave a snarky comment over at the Yale Env 360 piece that coincidentally went up today. It’s by Spencer Weart, and it’s titled: “Shunning nuclear power will lead to a warmer world.”

    I guess he’s being tribal and vacuous, too.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    There is no contradiction involved whatsoever.Fukushima changed my mind about nuclear power from shakily favorable to decidedly opposed. I have not changed my mind about climate. Why should the one change affect the other?Consequently, I think we are in much deeper trouble than nuclear advocates who understand climate change think we are. That is surely unfortunate on my account, and unfortunate on everybody else’s if I’m right. But there is nothing inconsistent about it.

  • Keith Kloor

    I honestly don’t know what you mean. Then again, I’m told that my commenters are turning my brain to mush.

  • John F Pittman

    There are costs and subsidies to any modern process. There are other externalities as well. I can not think of a modern system where even one is so well known and researched that no assumptions other than the cost inflation can be made to determine its total true cost. From corporate tax breaks to individual tax breaks, much less “subsidies”, one can argue all sorts of “costs” should be included. Thus I think worrying about some of the hidden costs of coal a bit moot, until the accounting is changed. Like the data that supports or or does not support the IPCC, it is the data we have. If you do not include nuclear, what does an analysis of the energy and monetary systems of the world indicate the result based on current knowledge. The article presents this as well as can be expected for the media publication it is. However, do those who would support wind or solar, have an idea of the subsidies and external pollution costs such as solar can produce GHG’s about 2000 to 10K worse than CO2, that ever larger amounts of radioactive material are being thrown into the ecosystems by rare earth mining, that at present, 1 GW of wind and solar costs about  5 to 7 times as much as current record low NG prices, with NG having the best known rate of GHG emmissions and radioactive emmissions, and much lower than coal? Whether large scale mining, NG production, or even widmill farms, large means large impacts. If one takes it to the individual level, the industries become a focal point, but far greater potential impact comes form now having potential pollution sources literally whereever man exists. Nothing is without cost or without effect. in this regard, I have to agree with the proponents of nuclear, if you do believe that CO2 production is dangerous and costly, what choice are you actully offering? Wind and solar have the potential to be worse than nuclear for pollution based external costs, much less the environmental damage of the structures themselves. So, what is really being offered that is not fantasy land? I have not bee able to determine that. Not with the arguments that are lined up against the article this thread is about. All energy production except animal power, and passive wind or water has problems offered to support reduced or cancelled nuclear.

  • harrywr2

    #24 Marlowe,In the US decommissioning costs are reserved as part of the operating budget. US NRC Fact-sheet on decommissioning

    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/decommissioning.html

    Decommissioning costs are part of the Columbia Operating Station Budget.http://www.energy-northwest.com/who/documents/2012Budget/Final%202012%20CGS.pdfThe UK is different…decommissioning costs were not set aside over time. The UK nuclear industry was ‘nationalized’ and as is frequently the case with ‘nationalized’ industries they don’t set aside money for future costs.US NRC Fact sheet on how nuclear plants are insured. The current ‘limit of liability’ is $12 billion.http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/funds-fs.htmlThe ‘Price Anderson’ insurance pool paid out all of $71 million for the TMI accident…which was then assessed to the various nuclear plant operators.

  • jeffn

    Michael Tobis is about to get his wish, will his team be able to make it stick?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/epa-to-impose-first-greenhouse-gas-limits-on-power-plants/2012/03/26/gIQAiJTscS_story.html

    Of course, the reality is that they should just call this the natural gas expansion act, because Europe proved “renewables” don’t work, Canada proved energy taxes are the sure path to electoral defeat.

    Or the feds will treat this like Obamacare and just hand out waivers like keg cups at a frat party.
    20 years from now, the US will consume more energy than it does now- that will come from natural gas, nuclear power or “grandfathered” coal.

  • TonySK

    Gentlemen and Ladies,

    Tony Kimberly from Spotted Koi here, aka ‘Guilty Web Guy’ – I am jumping in to address some of the problems with the commenting system.

    First, I’d like to apologize for the trouble we’ve caused.  I’m sorry to anyone who is having problems, I’d like to hear about them so I can get them fixed.

    A little background – over the past couple of weeks we’ve seen some problems with hackers, after a LOT of research it was determined that the old commenting system was the likely problem.  In a hurry we replaced it with what you currently see, in hind-sight we should have slowed down.

    From what I’m reading it seems there are some remaining problems with the current system.  I would appreciate some specific problems you guys are seeing. You can post them here or email me at tony@spottedkoi.com.

    I hope to get this wrapped up quickly and I’ll monitor your responses here.  Thanks for giving us the chance to fix this, and again, sorry for anyone who has a headache because of this!

    Thanks,

    Tony Kimberly

  • Lazar

    NiV,

    “The safety and engineering standards required of nuclear far exceed those required of the fossil fuel industry. If a comparable safety level was demanded (e.g. in deaths/kWh), it would be a lot cheaper.”

    Yes, that is one of the items I call a subsidy, you call regulation. If not included in the above, storage of nuclear waste, whereas avoidable deaths due to fossil fuel air pollution are variously estimated at 1,000′s – 10,000′s per year in developed nations. Bribery and military engagement in the ME. That’s enough without considering climate change.

    I would rather see the health and safety risks of fossil combustion improve, and costs internalized, than let worsen deaths/kWh in the nuclear industry, and sustain a fantasy price.

  • BBD

    Marlowe @ 24: The analysis is very, very simple: the costs of nuclear will be lower than CC. Nuclear is the only proven, scalable low-carbon baseload technology. We *must* decarbonise baseload as fast as possible. There is no alternative. Cost is not a valid objection to nuclear. We are talking about CC. CC. CC.

  • BBD

    TonySK: unless things have changed, the input widget is mainly non-functional. The most irritating bit is that line and paragraph breaks disappear. Although I think the smiley converter function is gone too :-) . Strikethrough never worked, but I think bold and italic do still work. Links to selected text do work. Beyond that, I have not really explored.

  • BBD

    Well, I stand corrected. Strike and smiley are good! Let’s try underscore and some line feeds: LF.LF.

  • BBD

    Okay – underscore is broken and the disappearing line feed is still very much the top issue. Thanks for looking in. And I appreciate the efforts in keeping the hackers out. Perhaps KK has made a few enemies somewhere.

  • Nullius in Verba

    TonySK,

    The primary problem is the paragraph breaks. There may be others, but I haven’t really tried to explore the new functionality. There’s a rough workaround if you switch to html view, and then separate the </p><p> tags with a couple of linefeeds, which suggests it may be to do with code to clean up the html, removing redundant tag pairs or unrecognised tags. <br> seems to get lost as well. Or possibly the tag pair gets removed but the linefeeds put one back.

    * This line ends with a </p>-space. * This line is followed by several <br>s.* This line is followed by the usual </p><p> with no gap.* This line is followed by a couple of linefeeds, no </p>.

    * End line.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #37,Hmm. Looks like the </p><p> tags and <br> tags are getting stripped out completely, but a blank line in the html puts one back in.

    Line 1.

    Line 2.

    Line 3.

    Simply writing in the html editor and using double linefeeds to separate paragraphs might work.

  • TonySK

    BBD & Nullius,

    Thanks for the clarification on the problems you’re seeing, I’m going to list them out with my notes about them.

    1. Line and paragraph breaks – For me, when I hit ‘Enter’ to go to the next line in this editor it creates a paragraph break. Is that what you guys get?  Or is it only working for me?
    2. Underscore doesn’t appear to be working (I tested this whole thing as underscored, if it’s not then it is definitely broken!)
    3. Disappearing line feed – BBD, I’m not familiar with that terminology, is there another term for what you’re talking about?  Is it a button in the top of the editor box?  Is it a ‘Horizontal Rule’? (testing that below)

    And on a separate but related question, are either of you typing in Word then pasting your comment in the box?  I know sometimes that can cause formatting problems.

    Thanks for the help guys, I really appreciate you two pitching in to make this better!

    - Tony

  • BBD

    TonySK: sorry about the confusion over terminology. Line feed =  Enter = paragraph break. The problem occurs both with text directly entered into the comment box *and* with text pasted from Windows Notepad (I don’t bother with Word for offline comment composition). The paragraph breaks disappear from cut and pasted text.

  • kdk33

    This is my first line and I will hit ENTER now.This should be the start of a new paragraph – it looks that way in the comments window.Another paragraph, but bold.Another paragraph, but italicsAnother paragraph but underlinedAnother paragraph, but strikethrough.And it all looks nice and proper in the editor.

  • kdk33

    But looks like dookey when uploaded.  Also, there is this annoying “enter comment here” texts that appears in my editor that I have to delete so I can actually enter a comment.ps.  it would not be fair to fix BBD’s editor and not mine.  Just sayin’

  • Nullius in Verba

    TonySK,

    1. When I hit Enter, it goes to a new line in the wysiwyg editor, and creates a </p><p> pair in the html, but when I submit the paragraph tags disappear and it all comes out in one paragraph.

    2. I’ll give it a go.

    Underscore

    Strikeout

    Bold

    Heading 1

    Heading 2

    Heading 3

    Superscript123

    Subscript123

    Centre justify

    Right justify.

    I don’t know if it’s relevant, but I’m using Firefox. Anyone using anything different and still getting problems?

  • Nullius in Verba

    TonySK,

    Those all looked fine in the editor, but as you can see, most of the formatting has disappeared when it’s been submitted. Only the bold, italic, and strikeout work.

  • BBD

    TonySK: I’m using FF too (v11.0)

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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