Saturday, November 22, 2003

Ration(al) Energy

As I contemplate the world that my children will inherit from us, it pains me to see the extent to which crucial decisions regarding the shape of that world are founded upon junk science and demagogue-inspired hysteria. If only scientific decisions could be made by the dispassionate consideration of science, rather than the emotional feelings of misinformed masses. So much single-interest politics decides so many debates.

But wait a minute! Am I not falling into the trap set by the leftie crowd, which believes that so many political questions could be resolved if only the rest of us would realize that the left is correct, and not ideological in the least? Is there really a right and a wrong, even in science? Specifically, can the Global Warming and Nuclear Energy debates ever be resolved by consideration of the science?

In Europe, Germany has begun a total phase out of nuclear power generation.
Germany disconnected the first of its 19 nuclear power stations Friday, beginning an unprecedented phase-out that underscores differences between some European nations and the United States on securing future energy supplies.
Germany is the first major industrialized nation to renounce the technology. Under a deal negotiated after years of wrangling between the government and power company bosses, all Germany's nuclear reactors are to close by 2020.
In October 1998 a coalition government was formed between the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party, the latter having polled only 6.7% of the vote. As a result, these two parties agreed to change the law to establish the eventual phasing out of nuclear power.
But the Greens, who were instrumental in pushing through this policy change, have no idea how the power generated by nuclear plants will be replaced. Presently about one third of electric power generation is handled by nuclear plants. Has anyone even considered how much extra air pollution will be created by this folly? And, aren't the Greens the same ones who are demanding that the German government comply with the Kyoto protocols? Consider:
Germany's other main fuel for base-load electricity is brown coal (which produces about 1.25 tonnes of carbon dioxide per MWh). Over half the country's electricity now comes from coal. Arising from the Kyoto accord, and as part of the differentiated EU "bubble", Germany is committed to a 21% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2010.
German public sentiment in the last few years has swung strongly in support of nuclear energy. A poll late in 1997 showed that some 81% of Germans wanted existing nuclear plants to continue operating, the highest level for many years and well up from the 1991 figure of 64%. The vast majority of Germans expected nuclear energy to be widely used in the foreseeable future. The poll also showed a sharp drop in sympathy for militant protests against transport of radioactive waste.
In November 1998 Germany's electric utilities issued a joint statement pointing out that achievement of greenhouse goals would not be possible without nuclear energy. A few days later the Federation of German Industries declared that the "politically undisturbed operation" of existing nuclear plants was a prerequisite for its cooperation in reaching greenhouse gas emission targets. Nuclear energy currently avoids the emission of about 170 million tonnes per year of carbon dioxide, compared with 260 Mt/yr being emitted by other German power plants.
But these are practical considerations. The fact that nuclear power is the cleanest and safest power generating technology has never been seriously refuted. The emotional effect, however, is the point of the exercise. Radiation is BAD. Children are in danger. Mean nasty capitalists will profit. Case closed. Who needs so much electricity anyway? We can conserve. Something else will be invented. Don't worry, better technologies already exist, but the bad capitalists have bought the patents and are keeping the technology off the market. When these greedy capitalists have no choice, all will be revealed. Power will flow. Air will be clean. Children will be happy.

The environmental movement today is some sort of an institutional Andy Rooney: All they have to do is complain. Their sole responsibility is to point out dangers. It will ever be someone else's problem to clean up the mess that these destructive policies create. In May the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service pointed out that "the Endangered Species Act is broken", due to the flood of litigation from environmental groups. These groups sue the government over the designation of habitat, even though there is plenty of evidence that this litigation hurts, rather than helps the animals they claim to support:
Faced with mounting numbers of court orders from six years of litigation, the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon run out of funds to designate critical habitat for threatened and endangered species, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Craig Manson said today.

More important, the flood of court orders requiring critical habitat designations is undermining endangered species conservation by compromising the Service’s ability to protect new species and to work with states, tribes, landowners and others to recover those already listed under the Act, Manson said.

In July, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will exhaust the funds required to meet its obligations to designate critical habitat under court orders and settlements for FY 2003.
“The Endangered Species Act is broken. This flood of litigation over critical habitat designation is preventing the Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting new species and reducing its ability to recover plants and animals already listed as threatened or endangered,” Manson said. “Imagine an emergency room where lawsuits force the doctors to treat sprained ankles while patients with heart attacks expire in the waiting room and you’ve got a good picture of our endangered species program right now.”
And so it goes. The Global Warming debate threatens to impoverish the developed countries, even as the science becomes more and more equivocal as to whether mankind-induced warming even exists, and there is no consensus that there is anything humans can do to affect global temperatures anyway. The Senate recently convened hearings on the subject, and before the hearings even began the Senators leading the inquiry, McCain and Lieberman, announced that the outcome was not in doubt, and the only reason that they were having the hearings was to decide on exactly what kind of legislation they would create. But then, most congressmen don't even believe that the place is on the level. But one thing is certain: over 90% of senators and congressmen are reelected come election time. And single interest politics trumps the science almost all of the time. As Spock once said: "Cry for the children."