I'm not pessimistic, I believe I'm being realistic. I was a child during the 1970s energy crisis and I remember it well. Back then, fusion power was just a few decades away. Here we are 30 years later and it's still decades away. The point isn't that research into new technologies isn't worth doing - the point is that it's foolish to bet the planet on breakthroughs that might not occur. In renewable energy, the breakthrough we don't have, and might not get, is storage. Up to about 10% the existing grid can absorb intermittent sources, beyond that some sort of scalable storage solution is needed. I emphasize scalable because there are existing solutions such as pumped hydro that, while effective, can't realistically be expanded to support the whole grid. I don't want to still be burning coal 30 years from now because we won't consider nuclear power and are still waiting for Godot on power banking. What you're likely to see is a very expensive strategy involving natural gas-fired stand-by plants. If you have such plants operating at less than capacity, it's obviously going to be expensive. Furthermore, you're relying on yet another depeleting fossil fuel that still produces emissions, albeit lower ones. The other concern is the sheer scale. At some point I expect to see environmentalists opposing the carpeting of our desert ecosystems with solar facilities. And, I have to say, I'd most likey find myself in agreement with them. Problem is, they won't support nuclear either. They'll end up opposing everything except, I suppose, a return to the 18th century.Comment Posted By Doug On 25.10.2009 @ 10:44
The source matters if you have reason to suspect their recommendations don't add up. The NGOs have distinguished themselves by opposing things rather than supporting them. About the only thing they consistently support is conservation. Sounds good, until you start wondering if that alone can meet all our energy needs. Once you admit that inevitably some power will still have to be produced, you're back to asking the hard questions about how. Lovins could be regarded as the prototypical spokeman for their point of view, and he's dogmatic, especially about nuclear power. Their plans simply don't add up. But hey, with the Democrats in their pockets and now running the whole show, I guess we'll find out. In the end, the laws of physics win. Here's my bet: we'll start relying more and more on natural gas as a bridge strategy until the renewable-powered utopia arrives. Meanwhile we'll continue to offshore businesses that consume lots of energy while continuing to import their production, but we'll be able to pat ourselves on the back that we've reduced our per-capita emissions even as world emissions have gone nowhere but up. It's California's energy policy on a national scale.Comment Posted By Doug On 25.10.2009 @ 10:35
Sorry, forgot to say that MacKay refers to professor David MacKay, whose book "Sustainable Energy Without All the Hot Air" should be required reading for all our political leaders and anyone else concerned about energy policy. He writes from a UK perspective (he's a physics professor at Cambridge) but does look a bit more broadly, and the basic issues and tradeoffs apply world-wide.Comment Posted By Doug On 24.10.2009 @ 16:01
Unfortunately, I feel that the Democrats' energy policies have been cribbed straight from interest groups such as Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and the NRDC, regardless of how realistic they may be.
It's unlikely we could run our present civilization on renewables such as solar and wind power, the things always put into the public's mind, nor is it likely that conservations efforts will yield much net savings in the face of continued population and (hopefully) economic growth. Nuclear power, the most obvious choice to displace coal and reduce emissions in the electricity sector, is off-limits because of the dogmatic opposition by the aforementioned NGOs. Hydropower, one of the few renewable sources that can provide baseload power and the largest single contributor to our renewable energy today, is already well-developed and there's environmental opposition to exoansion - indeed, there's pressure to dismantle some of it. What are never appreciated by the general public are that (a) the diffuse nature of solar and wind require construction on such a massive scale that it seems incredible we'd give over that much of our land to energy production, and (b) these sources produce power intermittently and (in the case of wind) unpredictably, and yet there is no large-scale, cost-effective way to bank power from them that we can scale out.
Numerous examples can be seen in Europe. For instance, Denmark, which gets up to 20% of its power from wind, relies heavily on being able to use the other nordic countries' ample hydro resources as a kind of bank - this clearly isn't scalable to the rest of Europe, let alone the US. Also seldom mentioned are the low capacity factors of these sources, which run at best at 40% or so, and typically much less. Again using Denmark as an example, only 10% of annual power production comes from wind. Germany is now coming to grips with the failure of their expensive renewables-only approach and now need to decide whether to bow to Green-party dogma and shut down nuclear plants, which means, incredibly if you believe climate change is a real problem, the construction of new coal-fired ones.
On oil production, it's true that the US can't realistically replace it's oil imports with expanded domestic drilling, but that doesn't mean it's not worth doing. Oil supply and demand are relatively inelastic over the short term, and therefore small changes in available supply can have a big impact on the price. Domestic production could help keep us out of the inelastic zone where prices skyrocket, thus helping us in two ways: (1) at least some of what we spend on oil would stay in the US, and (2) the lower prices apply to every barrel, including the ones we're still importing. As for the long lead times involved, this is a specious argument, as it could be made about doing almost anything. Certainly, our leaders in the next decade may be glad that we chose to put some projects in the pipeline. Unless one thinks we'll no longer be using any oil by the time these projects could be in production, they'll still make sense.
Biofuels are a tragicomic example of political decision-making overrulling market decision-making to produce an idiotic result. The corn ethanol program produces very little net energy gain once you factor in the massive fossil energy inputs required to produce fertilizer and distill the fuel. It also comes with a huge environmental cost in the form of fertilizer run-off which has formed "dead zones" in some of our waters. Plants capture at most 1% of the available sunlight; in contrast, a photovoltaic solar panel with today's technology gets 15%, and up to 20% for ones now in the labs. This 15:1+ disadvantage simply can't be overcome, and this is before all the further losses attempting to refine the plant material into fuel. To the extent that waste biomass can be used for fuel one could make an argument for doing so, although frankly it is far simpler, extracts more net energy, and requires no new technology to simply dry the material and burn it in combined-cycle gassifiers to produce power. But certainly, if we are willing to give over land to energy production, it makes more sense in the face of the 15:1 up-front differential to build solar facilities rather than grow biofuels, with the added benefit that otherwise-useless (desert) land can be used and the food supply need not be impacted. Yet we continue with our failing biofuels programs - so much for an adminstration that was going to be governed by science.
Incidentally, MacKay estimates that it would take a solar facility the size of the state of Arizona to power the US (assuming a breakthrough in storage allowing excess power to be drawn down at night). This gives one the idea of the absurdity of not even looking at nuclear while persuing renewables at all costs.
In short, the NGOs and their allies in the Democratic party are selling the public a dangerous energy fantasy wherein conservation efforts and expanded renewables are going to get the job done. The result of these policies, aside from raising costs for all of us, will be slow energy starvation, continued reliance on coal for most of our electric power (with, regrettably, the attendand CO2 emissions), and very likely an increase in our reliance on natural gas (which still produces emissions) as a "temporary" measure for both power and, perhaps, for vehicles.
This is not to suggest that there aren't some among the Democrats, even within the administration, that are at least admitting we might need nuclear power for a while, or that have figured out, correctly, that vehicle electrification is a better bet than biofuels. Still, the Democrats have a hard time shaking off the dogma of the NGOs that are very good at getting angry mobs of protesters to show up when needed to block nuclear plants, drilling, etc. The Democrats' plan doesn't add up, unless you admit we're going to stick with goal and natural gas, damn the CO2 consequences.
This is an issue that I think conservatives, of which I consider myself one, could embrace. Rather than continue to attack the majority of Americans that are concerned about climate change, a reasoned argument about a better approach to dealing with it could be made, one that "adds up" per MacKay rather than advancing a fantasy. For those skeptical about climate change, the issues of energy security and resource depletion should still have some punch.Comment Posted By Doug On 24.10.2009 @ 15:42
I think race is a "real" issue for maybe 15% of the population, meaning race will be a factor in them deciding whether to buy, befriend or vote for a person. For the rest of us, I believe race is recognized then quickly falls away when we get to know that particular human being. Where is Pat Buchanan? All I know is that he's softened over the years and doesn't seem racist when he debates African American pundits on MSNBC.
If there are extreme racist attitudes in our country, I believe they would most likely be rooted in the upper 1% of wealth and are closely tied to their dislike of the under-classes. From this vantage point, I want to tell you where your critique is wrong.
In your last paragraph you state, "But from recent poll numbers, it is clear that even many of those who voted for Mr. Obama are feeling uneasy about what he is doing, that he is moving too quickly in some areas, without giving proper respect to the principles that America was founded upon or the “traditions” if you will that binds this nation as one." In my opinion, the reason many have turned from full support to a more guarded position with Obama is that he isn't moving quickly enough on the promised changes.
Americans have watched our infrastructure crumble, our environment savaged, the middle class ripped apart, manufacturing off-shored, education de-funded, etc., etc., while the ultra-rich laugh as we fight over the crumbs that fall from their mouths. What Americans voted for was an end to the free ride for the proponents of laissez-faire, market driven ideology. The people want to be paid for their hard labor, no matter what their race may be, and they want fat cats to be held accountable for the mess they've created..Comment Posted By Doug On 21.10.2009 @ 22:20
I remember looking for a new doctor in Upstate New York in 1968, and being asked if I were OK with seeing a black physician. Are we as a society regressing back 40 years?Comment Posted By Doug On 28.07.2009 @ 08:35
Your first scenario is the only one which is relevant to the discussion. The police officer shooting to protect an innocent is a no-brainer and not in dispute.
But even though your first scenario actually deals with potential torture, it's still a fantasy because it assumes three falsehoods:
1) We have perfect knowledge of everything but the information needed to save your family.
2) Waterboarding will produce only the needed information, and no false information.
3) There is no better way to extract data than waterboarding.
This is just a variation on the "ticking time-bomb" scenario, which is popular with those who confuse action movies with reality.Comment Posted By Doug On 17.04.2009 @ 12:59
What those leftists and liberals who disparage America's past for the crimes committed then do not understand, was well understood by the leftwing journalist I.F. Stone, who once said: history is tragedy, not melodrama.Comment Posted By Doug On 28.06.2008 @ 23:01
Thank God another conservative is speaking up for sanity. The lunatic fringe of the conservative movement is doing enormous harm to our credibility by their insane rantings about "Obama the Muslim".Comment Posted By Doug On 28.06.2008 @ 22:35
I can only hope that you and your brave brother Terry can rid the world of our greatest threat: left-wing bloggers.
Onward and upward with all things Bush!
May God bless these United States. And may God bless the Moran family!Comment Posted By Doug On 9.02.2007 @ 01:06