Loose Ends

A couple of stories that couldn’t be elaborated into an entire post:

I met Elizabeth May (the leader of the Canadian Green Party) not long ago when she came to my local university. We had a chat about their emission reduction plans – a 30% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020, and 90% by 2050. (However, they couple this with a “say no to nuclear” plan, so I’m not sure how plausible it is).

Then she said, “So are you a student here, or a professor?” And I was like, “Umm, I’m still in high school…..”

Then, today, someone asked me what I wanted to do after high school. I said that I wanted to study climate change, and followed that with, “Maybe modelling.”

Then I suddenly realized that perhaps not everyone automatically associates the word “modelling” with climate modelling like I do. Perhaps I gave her the impression that I was choosing between a career in climatology and a career as a fashion model. Definitely not my style. I tried to talk my way out of that, fairly unsuccessfully.

And finally – I will have six climate change videos posted within the next few weeks. They were a public education project that I worked on this summer, with an organization named Climate Change Connection. They’ll be posted on YouTube and then I’ll embed them here. Keep your eyes open!


16 thoughts on “Loose Ends

  1. I never understood the whole “say no to nuclear” mentality. Sure nuclear wast is a huge issue, but given the corner we have painted ourselves into on the climate front nuclear seems like something that must remain on the table.

    That being said, cost and production issues will likely prevent nuclear from being the magic bullet some claim it to be. Still we shouldn’t discount it outright.

    [I don’t know a lot about nuclear, but I do know that it isn’t a perfect source of energy. Still, comparing the risks of nuclear with the risks of continued burning of fossil fuels…..it’s obvious that it’ll have to be part of the solution, if only to buy us more R&D time. -Kate]

  2. Hmm, maybe fashion modeling won’t be such a bad career choice after all? (-:

    Or you may want to consider researching into the dynamics of the global warming denialism lobby (following Oreskes) and global warming denialism in general, if science history research / psychology / sociology is your cup of tea. I don’t really know that much about the research scene in these fields, though.


  3. Regarding nuclear power: I second Scruffy Dan, nuclear power is one of the technolgies which might allow us to overcome the twin problems of a finite supply of fossil fuels and the need to make drastic reductions in our carbon dioxide emmisions.

    I found Gwyneth Cravens’ book, “Power to Save the World: the Truth About Nuclear Energy,” of interest. I have not vetted her book, but the introduction is by Richard Rhodes who has written books on the history of the invention of the nuclear bomb, as well as of the hydrogen bomb. I have enjoyed reading a number of Mr. Rhodes’ books. As such, I am inclined to think that she is factually OK. Although I am not ready to give the nod to some of the waste disposal ideas in the book.

    Mr Rhodes also wrote a book on the nuclear arms race, entitled “Arsenals of Folly.” That book, “Arsenals of Folly,” has a tangential relation to the global warming problem, because Mr. Rhodes offers information on the astounding amounts of money spent tooling up and producing H-bombs. This information is usefull when considering the critiques of those who claim that rebuilding the worlds energy infrastructure is not possible for economic reasons.

  4. To the extent that the full nuclear life cycle creates carbon pollution is the degree to which it isn’t a solution to GHG challenges.

    [Very true, unless we used nuclear power for all aspects of the nuclear life cycle – such as transporting the materials in vehicles run by nuclear-powered electricity. Maybe not feasible right now, but certainly not impossible. -Kate]

  5. I don’t normally do this, but as I’m sort of “the psych guy” here, in the spirit of improving climate communication, I present this as something everyone might be interested in.

    [Wow, Brian, that looks fantastic. I’m going to sit and pore over it. -Kate]

  6. >Very true, unless we used nuclear power for all aspects of the nuclear life cycle – such as transporting the materials in vehicles run by nuclear-powered electricity. Maybe not feasible right now, but certainly not impossible. -Kate]

    That certainly reduces the carbon footprint, and can be feasible in certain places. Or perhaps you can use solar power at those uranium mines in Niger.

    Even without that, you have a power source that leads to a substantial drop in carbon emissions, and people are not interested. Most of the carbon calculations assume the plant will only be online for 40 years, which is not realistic.

  7. >a 30% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020, and 90% by 2050. (However, they couple this with a “say no to nuclear” plan, so I’m not sure how plausible it is).

    Not very plausible. Since 1990, Canada has increased GHG emissions by 26%, according to the first Google link.

    So to get 70% from 126%, you have to reduce by 45%, not 30%, and do so in 11 years. I don’t know much about Canada, but that doesn’t seem likely.
    I don’t know why they stick to the 1990 baseline 20 years later. Mostly it is so certain countries get a favorable count, for example Eastern Europe had some economies crash and got rid of big polluting plants built by Communism.

  8. Hi Kate,

    Nuclear power is primarily used for electricity generation. Electricity generation is less than a quarter of global GHG emissions. If you double nuclear power over, say, the next 20-30 years – you will reduce global emissions only by around 5%. It is hard to see this as a “solution”.

    To replace all current electricity generation, and then increase electricity generation to provide energy for transport (plugin and electric vehicles etc), then the uranium reserves aren’t really there over any extended period. You are primarily relying on thorium (and breakthroughs with deuterium) to make up shortfalls in net energy availability. One is then relying on technology breakthroughs for the nuclear solution to be truly GHG effective. Certainly look at it as a possibility – but it may not be wise to bank on it as a definite probability.

    When compared to known energy mix possibilities, that don’t rely on technology breakthroughs (such as a mix of energy efficiency, wind, solar, and natural gas), there are better options, potentially, on the table.

    There is finally the issue of storage over hundreds of thousands of years and potential energy costs associated with clean ups associated with spills over this very long time frame. No one really knows what the true life cycle energy cost of this may be. Again, this could be low – but who is going to guarantee it over thousands of years?

  9. Iain, the interesting bit with nuclear is that it can displace coal. There’s a reason Hansen’s up in arms over a coal moratorium. I’m curious as to where you got your 5% figure from; it seems low.

    For what it’s worth, I’m critical of nuclear power as it’s been presented so far (we all agree it’s pretty much a non-starter in terms of cost and GHG displacement), but cautiously optimistic over the newer generation 4 reactors (proven technology, unproven economically so far), such as the integral fast reactors.

    If any of your readership is in Alberta, I’m also involved in organizing a discussion panel on this very subject – specifically, the role of nuclear power in Canada’s (especially Alberta’s) energy future – on November 24. The speakers have consented to having the panel recorded; I can make the video available here if people want.

  10. 5% global GHG reduction figure?

    I thought I was clear enough – double current global nuclear power and assume 100% replacement of coal fired power stations (with this new nuclear power).

    Nuclear power provides around 13% of global electricity. Global electricity accounts for less than 25% of global GHG.

  11. Alternatively – just read the science:

    Click to access FS03%20Nucl%20Power%20Clmt%20Chng.pdf

    “Electricity is responsible for less than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Uranium Institute, the figure is “about 30%”. That fact alone puts pay to the simplistic view that nuclear power alone can ‘solve’ climate change. According to a senior energy analyst with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Alan McDonald: “Saying that nuclear power can solve global warming by itself is way over the top”.

    Ian Hore-Lacy from the Uranium Information Centre (UIC) claims that a doubling of nuclear power would reduce greenhouse emissions in the power sector by 25%. That figure is reduced to a 7.5% reduction if considering the
    impact on overall emissions rather than just the power sector. The figure needs to be further reduced because the UIC makes no allowance for the considerable time that would be required to double nuclear output. Electricity
    generation is projected to increase over the coming decades so the contribution of a fixed additional input of nuclear power has a relatively smaller impact. Overall, it is highly unlikely that a doubling of global nuclear power would reduce emissions by more than 5%.”

  12. Ah, I misunderstood: For some reason I didn’t read “doubled” in there the first time and as a result assumed you were allocating 5% GHG to all electricity production. Totally my mistake, objection withdrawn.

    (According to the World Resources Institute, electricity and heating (combined) are responsible for some 24.9% of global GHG emissions. Looks like the “about 30%” wasn’t too far off. This data was from 2005, and while it’s a bit out of date, they do have thisspectacular chart to illustrate the point for a lay audience.)

  13. The Dec. Scientific American is advertising an excellent film from “Nature”:


    “Nature Video presents five short films on chemistry plus a special film feature on climate change.

    Each year, hundreds of young researchers from around the world meet with Nobel Prize winning scientists on Lindau Island in Germany. In 2009 it was the turn of the chemists, and we were there to capture moments of this unique meeting of minds.

    Join Laureates and young researchers as they discuss the future of medicine, consider the ethics of nanotechnologies, plan new collaborations, and seek ways to avoid dangerous climate change.”

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