August 10, 2005

W VS. THE REACTIONARIES:

Why do greens hate machines? (Michael Hanlon, 8/06/05, The Spectator)

When George W. Bush last week stunned the world with his plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions, no one was more surprised than the green lobby. Human psychology being what it is, no one was more furious. It is not so much the scale of the planned reductions that have offended the eco-warriors: how could they possibly quibble with a proposal — supported by China, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia — to reduce greenhouse emissions by 50 per cent? No: what gets the greens’ goat is the methods that Mr Bush proposes to employ.

What drives the greens nuts is the boundless technological optimism of Washington, and they have dismissed the plan in withering terms. [...]

The most obvious technofix for global warming is, of course, nuclear power. Atomic power stations look very Buck Rogers and sinister, but in effect they are nothing but giant steam engines — kettles that make electricity rather than consume it. The process of generating electricity using nuclear heat is CO2-free. Yet Britain’s greatest bulwark against global warming is set to crumble. By 2025 or thenabouts, we will have only one functioning nuke in this country — Sizewell B. If the greens were serious they would immediately call for a massive programme of reactor construction across the country.

In the longer term, we cannot exclude the possibility that nuclear fusion may be the answer to our problems, even if it has been ‘about 40 years away’ ever since it was first mooted as a power source —in the 1940s. In June it was announced that the most promising fusion project to date — the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor — will be built in France. Costing more than £6.5 billion, this international project might finally crack the conundrum of how to turn seawater into limitless energy.

Even if we need to carry on burning fossil fuels, there are big steps that can be taken — and which are integral to the Bush plan — to make the process cleaner. Like any gas, CO2 can be liquefied. An ingenious suggestion, which has been doing the rounds for a few years now, is called carbon capture, or geo-sequestration. Earlier this summer Britain’s energy minister Malcolm Wicks authorised £40 million to be used for funding research into a plan to trap the CO2 generated by a conventional power station, compress it into a liquid, and pump it into old North Sea oil and gas strata, replacing the fuels pumped out. In fact, the Norwegians have already been doing this for some time, and to date the experiment has been successful — the stuff seems happy to stay put and has not found its way back into the atmosphere.

And what about biofuels, for which Bush has recently become the world’s number one evangelist? Grow plants (in this case soy) and process them to produce hydrocarbons that can be burnt by trucks and cars. Of course, burning a biofuel produces CO2, just as does burning petrol, but the difference is that this CO2 was previously sucked out of the atmosphere by the plant when it was growing. So if you put shrubbery into your fuel tank and burn it, your net contribution to the atmosphere is zero.

This won’t solve the global warming problem overnight. Cars and trucks produce only 20 per cent of our CO2 output and even switching to biofuel on a massive scale will have no more than a few percentage points impact on total emissions. Nevertheless it is a start, and a good one. Three solutions, then, which if adapted with gusto may — if they work — allow us to not only nudge our Kyoto targets but go crashing through them. But, of course, the environmentalists won’t have any of it.


Whatever else one may think of George W. Bush, it's enormously entertaining to watch both the Left and the Right driven to the edge of insanity by the extraordinary prospect of progressive conservatism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 10, 2005 10:23 AM
Comments

The problem for the Greens is that they desperately want any solution to hurt rich people more than poor people (and especially more than the moderately rich people they are themselves).

Dream on, guys.

Posted by: ZF at August 10, 2005 1:36 PM

We greatly appreciate the correct use of the word, "progressive."

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 10, 2005 1:39 PM

While I whole-heartedly support the safe, sane, and effective use of nuclear (learn to pronounce it, Bush) energy, I have major objections to using tax dollars to subsidize energy companies, whether they be nuclear, oil, solar, wind, or whatever. The energy sector is one of the most profitable in this nation. They don't need subsidies.

Posted by: flaime at August 10, 2005 1:41 PM

Right on, flaime. The recent run up in oil prices will do more to fund and drive innovation than another century of energy industry subsidies. There's not much the federal government does that's a more pure form of pork.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at August 10, 2005 2:47 PM

of course, it was the government that ended nuclear development as wel, so this is just a corrective.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2005 2:52 PM

Go flaime!

Say nooclur however you want, Mr. President, just let's get started. I want to live to see the Saudi's drinking their oil.

Posted by: erp at August 10, 2005 5:28 PM

"progressive conservatism

DIdn't El Gran Blanco Mexico Del Norte once have a left-of-center political party with a name like that?


Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 10, 2005 5:35 PM

Considering the the trial lawyers will have many of the "energy" companies tied up in court for the next 25 years arguing about MBTE, perhaps the subsidies are fair. And remember, Bennett Johnson said in the WSJ (the day after the MBTE shield was dropped from the energy bill) that it was specifically anointed as the additive of choice.

On the plus side, Bill Lerach might just be facing indictment by Uncle Sam for fraud. Sweet.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 10, 2005 7:51 PM

What drives the greens nuts is the boundless technological optimism of Washington...

An optimism that is VERY well-supported by history.
Betting against technological progress is simply stupid - although one can legitimately quibble over predictions of when some marvel or other will become available.
The nuclear fusion mentioned in the article is Exhibit A for that.

The most obvious technofix for global warming is, of course, nuclear power. [...] If the greens were serious they would immediately call for a massive programme of reactor construction across the country.

Assuming that they're pebble-bed reactors, of course.

Earlier this summer Britains energy minister Malcolm Wicks authorised 40 million to be used for funding research into a plan to trap the CO2 generated by a conventional power station, compress it into a liquid, and pump it into old North Sea oil and gas strata, replacing the fuels pumped out.

Wouldn't it be a lot cheaper to just plant some forests ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 10, 2005 8:55 PM

Wouldn't it be a lot cheaper to just plant some forests ?

Not only that, but old growth forests are in a near equilibrium state, while young forests are carbon sinks. So ideally you want to clearcut the old forests, turn that wood into houses and other wooden products that aren't going to be burned (so to not release their carbon), and plant new trees.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 11, 2005 1:43 AM
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