Do we need to talk about climate change, in order to talk about energy?

This is one thing that changed for me during the course of researching and writing Before the Lights Go Out, my upcoming book about the future of energy. I used to approach conversations about energy from a climate-centric perspective. First, I have to help people understand the science of climate change and get them past the misinformation and blatant lies surrounding that issue. THEN, we could talk about energy solutions.

But now I think that perspective is dead wrong.

Polls show that a majority of Americans want to change the way we make and use energy. What we disagree on is why that change needs to happen. The good news: We don't have to agree on the "whys" to reach the same solutions.

My book comes out April 10th, but you can read the introduction online now. It'll give you a better idea about why I think that climate change—important as it is—is not the only way to engage Americans on energy issues.

“Climate change is a lie.” The man leaned back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest. “Climate change is a lie,” he said again. “It’s just something made up by environmentalists to scare us.”

I heard this story a few years after it actually happened, from Eileen Horn, one of the environmentalists who watched this man’s speech from the other side of a two-way mirror. At the time, Horn and her colleagues were about to launch a new nonprofit organization called the Climate and Energy Project (CEP), an environmental activism group based in the state of Kansas. The man was a participant in one of a series of focus groups that the CEP had put together in Wichita. The idea behind the focus groups: don’t be stupid. Too often, Horn told me, environmental activism started with what the activists thought the public believed. Focus groups were a nice way to get around the sloppy art of assumptions. Instead, the Climate and Energy Project could get a bunch of Kansans together in a room, lob some ideas at them, and watch how they respond. What did the intended audience already know, and what did they not know? What did the people of Kansas think about the future of energy?

It was a nice plan, but it wasn’t too enlightening at first. The participants talked about where they got their news—NPR and CNN on one side, Fox News and a handful of radio talk shows on the other. Opinions on climate change split right along the lines of favorite news sources. You will probably not be shocked to learn that the man who declared climate change a lie fell squarely on the Fox News side. Whether or not you disagree with him, his position was fairly predictable. You and I have met any number of people with the same background and ideas.

Yet Horn remembered that man, specifically, because he changed her outlook on the world. In a way, he changed her life. Not because of his position on climate change, but because of what she learned about him—and other people like him—as the focus group continued.

“No matter how the conversation started, whether they believed in climate change or not, the discussion always, eventually, turned to energy solutions,” she told me. “And when it did, it turned out that this guy drove a hybrid car and had changed all his lightbulbs out to CFLs.”

Read the rest at Just scroll down the page and you'll see the link.

Image: #431 Global warming get warmer houses, sweet, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from mikaelmiettinen's photostream


  1. Maggie, can I direct you to some research that is done at the Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen (Germany) where Nico Stehr (eminent sociologist) and others think along the same lines – co2 has to come down but what is broken with the communication thereof? Wonderful thinking, wonderful college – I should know my son attends and he is flying a wide eyed search pattern for the edge of knowledge. Grinning like a lunatic, bubbling on skype.
    You can enter the topic on or visit the token system of the Zepp at and work your way down. Be warned – rampant thinking at work!

  2. The link to the first chapter is broken (leads to what looks like a content-free page template).

    1. I thought it was broken, too, because “Read the First Chapter” is the same size as the heading, and below it is a big blank space — but actually all you need to do is click on “Read the First Chapter” and the text will appear in a pop-up.

  3. Glad to hear this being said. The two problems, energy and climate change, are interrelated but separate problems. While there is considerable effort being put forth to challenge the idea of AGW, almost no one argues with the fact that we will have to make a major change in our energy sources in the next few decades. If we solve that problem correctly, AGW becomes moot and the arguments about how much effect we have on global climate can become an academic one that doesn’t have the future of human civilization hanging in the balance. Go solar and wind!

    1. If one’s real concerns are AGW and peak oil, one could just as easily say “Go nukes and dams!”

      1.  The problem with solar and wind, from a corporate profits point of view, is that once the installation is done all of that juicy money that gets made now from feeding the power producing machinery is out the window. Same with hydroelectric, but it has other problems as well. The power companies desperately want to make sure that whatever the solution, it comes with them getting ongoing revenue from making it work. The “real concern” should be with building an energy infrastructure that best addresses our long term needs while producing as few ill side effects as possible. If that is done, concerns like peak oil and AGW, as well as ongoing environmental pollution of other types than CO2 should become irrelevant. 

        1. Absolutely correct. Opposition to the “free” energy sources by industry comes also from the issue that solar/wind is a move toward decentralized power generation; in effect everyone could potentially generate their own energy. Realistically this isn’t so, but industry likes the cost and profit structure of being the sole generator of power rather than dealing with the complexity of both competition and/or maintaining a dispersed system.
          I would characterize it as an informal opposition to policies rather than a concerted effort to derail alt-power, but does change what is considered viable options in the accepted discourse whether this opposition is acknowledged or not.

          1.  I work in electrical maintenance as an engineerin a 345kV, 1.2 GW pump hydro plant in upstate NY. I can get work at a wind farm about as easily, because it actually has more maintenance work to do (more moving parts, more distributed, more variable power.) I’m an engineer, but that also applies to electric service companies. If you think power companies are thinking of the supposed smart grid and renewables as anything other than a bonanza, you’re sadly mistaken. “Free energy” does not mean no maintenance or for that matter no profits. Perhaps you should focus your conspiracy theories at OPEC or Chesapeake Energy, which are fossil fuel producers and not producers of electricity.

          2. rndmtim

            As I said it is not a “conspiracy theory” or formal collusion, it is likely a more informal opposition, group think or bias. Even if there no vertical intergration between the extraction industry and the energy producers, it doesn’t take many logical steps to see how they consider their fates linked- it’s natural market forces. 

            Utilities pay for energy (as I understand it) based on negotiated, market-based contracts with extractors. Thus, while not directly allied with them, any policy or initiative that impacts the cost of those contracts are supported or opposed as well by the utilities due to the impact on their operating costs. Case in point is Utilities’ near unanimous rejection of a carbon tax policies to reduce the use of fossil fuels, and an obstinate foot dragging on setting a market price on carbon at all because it would affect costs to produce energy. Add to that general support of subsidies for energy extraction policies (think “Drill baby, Drill”, Mid-East, South American Stability) and you can see how Utilities interests shadow those of the extraction industy. 

            Additionally, as Rumsfeld famously said “You go to war with army you have”; utilities are reticent to incur the often enormous additional costs building new infrastructure unless there is a clear profit advantage; their profit models work with the systems they have and disruptions are to be avoided. Even if solar/wind had a 2 to 1 profit ratio or more, utilities would have no incentive to abandon existing infrastructure since it represents a significant investment with a well-tuned profit structure, which makes them much more Bearish on renewables than you would suggest.

          3. Are you supposing this is happening? If so, based on what? The opposition to a carbon tax is definitely there from utilities that are heavily tied to coal generation, and these do exist. However, they also have competitors who are delighted to see the coal producers taxed out of the market. An example is Entergy, which operates lots of nukes plants. They would love a carbon tax, because it wouldn’t affect them. In an effort to keep Vermont Yankee open they’re telling everyone that they’re not emitting any greenhouse gases (true if you discount construction and mining uranium.) It also would not affect anyone doing hydro.

            The way the market works in New York, for example (deregulated after California, learned some lessons from Enron) is that the highest accepted bid price per MWh is what EVERY accepted bid gets. So if you’re Entergy, and the only cost of your nuke plant was construction and you’ve already finished paying for that, you love the idea of a carbon tax. The coal fired plant sells its MWh pricing in the cost of the carbon tax, your sale price is the same, and you’re making lots of money.

            [There are good technical reasons for the market to work like this – many energy sources cannot ramp up or down quickly – conventional steam plants can take a day to start; nukes often have % capacity areas they have to be in for safety reasons. Other generators have capacity curves based on their design, and low percentages might not be possible. Wind power always gets bought regardless of price.]

            The carbon tax on nat. gas is likely to be minimal for decades (assuming there ever is one) so in many places you’d see a changeover to natural gas by many utilities, and this is happening through the northeast – there’s currently a surplus of gas turbine capacity available.

            GE builds a lot of the stuff we buy, and a sales engineer for GE wind told me that they are by far the fastest growing division in the GE power sphere, and that’s driven by the fact that unlike every other form of power generation on an industrial scale they can go from paper to producing power in 18 months.

            The utility industry is not monolithic. And what that means if the utility in Pennsylvania or WVa, you’re right, they’re  very likely to be pro coal, because they have it on hand (some plants are built near mines for lower transportation costs). The utilities there are indeed tied in with the major local industry. But where else is that true outside of coal country? What do you think the connection is between say hydrofracking, shale gas, and the move by utilities in those areas towards natural gas turbines?

        2.  That’s actually a gross simplification. The power industry in deregulated states has a legal separation of bulk power producers, transmission operators, and distribution operators. My company (throughout NY state)  is a power producer (mostly massive hydro, some small hydro, and some natural gas turbines), and a transmission operator. My friend works for a distribution company in NYC. Neither of our companies would be negatively impacted at all by increased renewables in a time frame of less than 30 years. In fact, my company would benefit since we do grid regulation. What you’re saying might be true about primarily coal fired production producers… however my organization just killed a coal/oil plant in NYC and replaced it with nat gas. We also are sponsoring a lot of solar in our state.

          Power production companies are not going to have much of an issue since if there is still industrial or commercial activity since a lot of companies will want to outsource this just as they do lots of other things they need to run. Likewise, NYC is always going to be a net power draw because it lacks the surface area to produce its own power (I’ll be happy to work the numbers on this with you offline if you doubt this, but I did solar installation in NYC. ) That means there’s going to continue to be distribution and transmission companies.

          My overall point is, you’re pointing at the Grid as this monolithic entity, where in fact it’s made up of lots of moving parts, and a lot of them are having this conversation internally. Another point is “The power companies desperately want to make sure that whatever the solution, it comes with them getting ongoing revenue from making it work” is absolutely not a worry for us.

          1.  I should mention that as a state agency we’re allowed to be both production and transmission (that’s nearly unavoidable anyway) but the distribution companies – for example Con Edison in NYC – have actually been required to sell their power production plants. In case that wasn’t clear.

          2.  As to it being a gross simplification, well, this format forces some severe reductionism. I am not talking about the local utility companies that handle the distribution of electricity, I’m talking about the big players that sell all of those utilities coal and natural gas, as well as the entire petroleum industry that makes enormous profits off of everything that moves in this country. It is hardly a stretch to see that a company that profits from the distribution of energy stored chemically in hydrocarbons might not support a new system that largely eliminates their market.

          3. Fair enough. You shouldn’t overestimate their power in this situation, though. My employer (the New York Power Authority) voluntarily demolished a coal/oil plant built in 1985 (which could have run for another 10-20 years at least) and built a natural gas turbine plant next to it (gas was more expensive at this time). We’re also building some solar plants (I just supervised the installation of 125kW on our site which was mainly meant for PR, but is going to produce real power). As an operator of hydro plants, we like things with free fuel. If solar gets a little cheaper we’re likely to build large scale industrial solar (and this is in New York.)

            We’re the one of the gatekeepers for deciding power sources for the electric grid (Chesapeake can still mine the gas, but it doesn’t do them a lot of good if there are no buyers). Also, let me say that the folks in my organization are concerned about energy independence and especially a lack of power supply… so we think a lot about fuel supply problems.

          4.  And good on your folks and others like you doing the same. But at the same time, I am looking across the valley at a miles long coal train going from Wyoming to points south, one of several per day. I eagerly await the day they travel no more, but I’m guessing the coal mine operators don’t share my enthusiasm.

  4. I’m glad to see the idea of changing the conversation come up, because it’s been rattling around in my brain for a while.  The “climate change is a lie” crowd isn’t going to change its mind, but other ideas–like the fact that we will indeed run out of oil, and that pollution is bad for our immediate health–could be the better way to motivate the changes we need to make.

      1. Add in “and this will save you money”

        Well, yeah, provided that it’s, you know, true.

        Nuclear energy advocates told us in the ’50s that nuke generated electricity would be “too cheap to meter”….it did not quite work out that way.

        Alternatives to (say) coal and natural gas only “save you money” if they really do produce as much consistent kwh at a lower price, with all subsidies removed from both sides.

        One reason that climate change has dropped far down the list of contemporary American concerns is that the public is beginning to suspect that the pay packet benefits of green energy (and I’m not saying there are not other benefits) have been way, way oversold.

        1. I have solar PV on my roof. It’s saving me money (even excluding the feed-in tariff). It’s never going to supply all my electricity, nor is it going to pay for itself in less than about 10 years. But it has an expected life in service of over 25 years, and long term it is a better investment than putting the capital into a savings account at the interest rates currently available.

        2.  Right, that is the argument, but it depends on if you price in all of the costs. Right now we transfer about $1 Tr /year to other countries for our oil, and some of us believe that might also have been responsible for some rather expensive wars we’ve been involved in (not a straw man – as electric vehicles become more prevalent transportation fuels and electricity become a single market).

          Right now, some people also believe that the amount of natural gas that is available through hydrofracking has been vastly overestimated to push people to use gas for electricity – to create plant equipment lock-in – so that once the true costs and supply constraints are obvious, we’ll be locked in for the life of a plant (which luckily is only about 15 years with the semi-disposable no-maintenance plants we’ve been building.) If that’s true, then the $/kWh of solar is locked in at say $.18 but the grid cost of power may increase steeply in the future. In that case as a cost hedge solar has great benefit.

          Btw, cost per watt installed is currently about $3.50 for equipment and other stuff you need to get done (concrete for poles, changing your service panel, etc.) At 3.5 Wh per watt installed (average production over a year, low estimate), 365 days a year, 25 years expected life, you get $.11 a kWh. In other words, if you self install now you are beating the market electricity price in a lot of places. Professional installation cost varies, but if you take say $5/w installed you still get $.16 (and I’ve seen lower). My market cost for electricity is higher than that. Add batteries at a system cost of say $.04/W and you also are off grid and don’t need a generator (which is a concern for those of us far from the city.)

          1.  And I forgot to add the equipment Federal tax deduction of 30%… so that $5/W usually comes in at less than $4 within your first year anyway. It could be lower. If you live in a state like NY ($1.75/W equipment rebate) or New Jersey (around $250-400 credit each year for each MWh generated) then the costs are even better. Soooo…. your argument about solar is already provable wrong with existing installations.

  5. I firmly believe that a month, or even a couple weeks spent living in a well designed passive solar, thermal retention house with passive air exchange (breathing walls), solar water heater, thermal mass stove, and cold storage will convince most people of the efficacy of alternative energy futures. Taken away from the hum of common consumer electronics (fridges, forced air, furnace, hot water heater, etc), suffocating air control systems, and cold seeping walls and floors, a living person can find time to think and relax.

    Sadly, the inertia of prior investment has us north americans in the bind of spaceship houses that – though they will need to be replaced far quicker than any prior european housing – a few generations will be forced to outgrow before the reality of the situation grips the majority.

  6. It’a a matter of degrees (no pun intended….)

    I suspect you could get almost 100% of Americans behind the idea of reducing/eliminating our dependency on foreign energy sources, doing “whatever it takes” as apparently Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama now both agree.

    You could probably get a working majority of Americans behind the idea of reducing dependency on petroleum as long as the alternatives are competitively priced.

    I doubt that you could get a sufficient majority to get behind reducing use of all hydrocarbon fuels given that the low cost of coal and gas gives them a massive price incentive over any possible alternative.

    Finally, the number of Americans who would support massive restrictions in hydrocarbon use when not shared with our economic competitors such as China, India, and Brazil, perhaps slightly exceeds the number of Americans who would line up for root canals sans anesthesia.   The poorly hidden secret about convocations such as Kyoto and Copenhagen is that they are only partly about “mitigating climate change” but significantly about “transferring wealth from the US and Europe to everyone else”.  The two agendas need to be separated in order for the former to have a chance of success.

    1. The poorly hidden secret about convocations such as Kyoto and Copenhagen is that they are only partly about “mitigating climate change” but significantly about “transferring wealth from the US and Europe to everyone else”.  The two agendas need to be separated in order for the former to have a chance of success.

      Or maybe it’s about slowing the transferring of wealth from everyone else to the US and Europe? Since that is the status quo and has been since (at least) the 19th century.

  7. I think you’re right on. There is, unfortunately, a point at which an issue becomes so loaded, so full of opinions, that mentioning it will bring any discussion to a screeching halt. And yeah, the thing we *do* agree on is that energy conservation and clean energy generation are worth working toward.

    When my pastor approached the subject from the pulpit, he didn’t touch “climate change” with a ten-foot pole. Instead, he reminded us that (as we believe) God wants us to be good stewards of this planet he’s given us, and take care of it. Which includes things like reducing waste, and farming sustainably, and protecting fragile ecosystems. Given how many people at my church listen to Fox News, I thought that was wise of him, as well as theologically sound.

  8. Back in the 1990s, some of the mainline enviro groups started talking about a “no regrets” strategy, doing things that improved energy efficiency, saved money, and, as a bonus, reduced greenhouse gas emissions.  It didn’t get very far and you don’t hear about it any more.  I don’t know why the enviro groups never pushed it farther.

    I’ve said for years that climate change is moot which deal directly with this approach to energy and the environment.

    These days, I start from the standpoint of Solar IS Civil Defense , which is the perfect way to introduce people to the applicability and affordability of solar electricity, if only on a small scale.

    “An Inconvenient Truth” pissed me off because it was all about scaring people into compliance without any coherent vision of a positive and possible future.   It left people helpless and hopeless.  I understand Gore’s new book is going to be all about solutions but I have doubts about what solutions will be presented.

    We have to do it ourselves because our “leaders” are not able or willing to stand up and do it for us.  At least, they haven’t so far.

    1.  Well, a lot of this stuff did get implemented, just not always very publicly. On the industrial side (say roughly 1/3 of power use) it made sense economically and cogen is now a very common industrial application. Energy conservation also got done – sometimes unevenly, but a lot of the low hanging fruit was taken because it saved companies money. With Energy Star, again most of the savings already got baked into our current cake (my $700 Kenmore fridge consumes 1/7 the power of what my family had in the mid 90’s.) There’s certainly more to be done, but it’s not an infinite well, and the efficiency gains that remain gets smaller as we go… and then you get into things that really require behavioral change. Building retrofits are the most expensive part, and they primarily save on fossils used for heating. 

  9. A couple years ago I was an intern at a big environmental non-profit, and after many arguments with people on the street I started wondering why we didn’t just change the conversation. Glad someone is, I’m excited to read your book!

  10. Too bad driving  a hybrid car  changing light bulbs out to CFLs aren’t going to make a difference in the long run.

  11. Maybe this is a good way forward, but it still makes me despondent. Of course you don’t need to talk about climate change with energy conservation, but since it’s well-established and relevant, why would you want to avoid it?

    Oh, right, because professional liars have poisoned discourse so thoroughly that it’s just better to talk around certain facts. If we want to move forward, it has to be on their terms. I guess it’s nice they happened to leave a way for this issue, but it’s not something I’d want to rely on.

  12. Maggie’s argument is not new, it’s fairly common knowledge that it’s easier to gain consensus around “energy independence” and “home-grown renewable energy” than it is to directly address greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.    Even Obama knows this:  after 2009 he stopped talking about climate and GHGs and has focused instead on the politically easier path of boosting clean energy alternatives.   

    The problem is that this approach is not going to result in enough GHG reduction to avoid really bad outcomes, according to our best available science.   You can’t just add 20% or 30% renewables to the electric supply.  You’ve got to phase out conventional coal completely over the next 25 years (as well as squeeze out most gasoline use) and that’s not going to happen w/o GHG regulation of some sort.   A carbon tax type of approach will take us to the very low carbon energy mix we’re going to need with the greatest economic efficiency (i.e., lowest total cost), but that tool is not going to be available unless people face up to the threat of climate change.

    The fact that disbelief in AGW has become an identity issue for many Republicans is a real obstacle to progress, but the solution is not pandering to that mindset.  Facts and logical arguments aren’t working with this politicized opposition, but I believe that a values-based campaign would be successful.    Picture visuals of melting glaciers and flooded cities and a voice-over asking, what kind of a person would risk this type of human disaster to score short-term political points?  

    1. what kind of a person would risk this type of human disaster to score short-term political points?

      I hate to be the one to tell you, but this kind of person is the kind that is currently holding most of the political offices in this once fair land. They are the kind of person that would counter your melting glacier ad with one that somehow equates environmentalism with kiddy porn if it would help them get elected.

      1. As someone who holds political office, I “resemble” that remark . . .  
        You’re right, they will respond.  In fact, they are already doing it – only it’s communism (not porn) that they are equating to environmentalism and climate change activism.    They do this because appeals based on identity, values, and emotion are effective.    Contrasting the clean energy industry’s approach with that of its opponents, I’m reminded of the cliche about bringing a knife to a gunfight.

  13. It’s just something made up by environmentalists to scare us.

    Along with the fossils put into the ground by Satan to trick us.

  14. I was always a bit surprised by the advent AGW as an impetus for addressing the energy problem. It has not been, however, for want of concern or awareness on my part regarding human induced climate change — I acquired my first compendium of articles about paleoclimatology in the late 1970s, and my notes as an anti-war organizer 1990/91 refer to climate change. Rather, I had always seen depletion of oil resources as a far more imminent threat, and one that would eclipse all other concerns.

    Given the United States’ extraordinary dependence on oil, and its exhaustion of its reserves, trouble is certain to arrive sooner rather than later. As Dmitry Orlov pointed out, the United States is paradoxically more vulnerable to oil supply interruption than the Soviet Union was. Curiously, he observes, centrally planned economies, with their ubiquitous urban electric rail networks, were able to stagger along during the Soviet post 1986 crash in oil production, albeit not at a level sufficient to prevent collapse of empire.

    It’s not that the US will run out of food — fertilizer requires less than 7% of US natural gas (I think the actual number is between 3-5%), and fuel to run automated farm equipment can be provided by a small fraction of farms’ biomass.  It is also important to note that the mechanical farm revolution predates the oil era entirely. Thus, there is little threat to industrial food production by the end of abundant oil. We also will have enough energy to move food from farm to city. If we can build an interstate highway system, we can easily electrify the entire rail freight system.

    The problem lies in the urban distribution of food: short haul trucking and automobile based retail will fail without adequate liquid fuel. Workers are, in addition, extremely dependent on autos to get to work. We can probably make substantial energy saving in every sector of the economy — heating, lighting, etc. — but not in the urban, liquid fuel sector. We’re in big trouble there. Given that, it seemed clear to me that the US wouldn’t have time to address climate change.

    I think what will happen is what happened to Germany after WW I, and to South Africa during Apartheid. They turned to the only resource that can keep an industrial economy supplied with liquid fuel on the scale that is required — coal. And note that they had to do so despite that they lacked the extreme suburbanization of the US. So that’s what I think the US will do. It will, in desperation, begin to liquefy coal, only it will do so on a gargantuan scale.

  15. This is so true. I’ve been trying to get people to install solar for years. When my environmentally active friends protest both the Indian Pt nuke plant and hhydrofracking, I say “All well and good, but that power has to come from somewhere. If you’re not going to be a hypocrite you should really install solar panels.” My point being that if there was considerably less power demand in the state grid there would be a lot less impetus to hydrofrack or keep Indian Point open. The reply was usually that they didn’t own their own place, and they had no roof space.

    So I came up with a loophole in NY state law – you can have two meters in different locations net meter together (have your apartment in one building, your panels on another) as long as both are served by the same ESCO (energy service company). I offered to do the engineering, and organize this for people to assemble under my supervision, so that the main cost would just be materials, which would be very cheap (relatively). This would also make the system portable if you change locations (as long as it was within NYC) and would probably allow the system to be sold later to someone else if you moved. I was on a list of 1000 people (New York City Burning Man list) and this was met with deafening silence, and I’ve gotten a similar reception from other supposedly environmentally/lefty minded groups. Thinking that the issue was a lack of desire to do the hands on work, I put out the idea of “solar condos” – you’d simply pay to own a meter on an array in a space that had dozens of people’s panels. The response was the same.

    Meanwhile, I work at a power facility in upstate NY, and I’ve talked to people here who are wingnut birther conservatives, true tea party types. I talk about solar in terms of energy independence, and disconnecting from the grid. Got two of these guys looking to take the NABCEP test to become installers, and they and a few other people in my rather small facility are looking to do solar this year. So on the one hand I’m pleased… and on the other kind of pissed. I’m actually using the upstate tea party people as an example to talk to people in the city about how maybe they should STFU about what they supposedly believe, stop protesting for a little while, and build something that concretely affects the problem.

    Let me also mention that the typical Brooklynite has lots more financial resources that the typical semi-Appalachian person I’m talking to up here. My lesson learned – a survivalist impulse gets people to open their wallets.

  16. Also, I gave a talk on the pro-side of nuke power to what essentially amounts to the Brooklyn cacophany society these days (a group of people organized by Jeff Stark who also started NYC Santacon and other events) at picnic just north of Indian Point nuke plant, where I gave the following argument – “How many of you believe in global warming? Because if you don’t I’m just going to be wasting your time here.” Pretty much every hand went up. Then I said, “ok, so one of the impacts of global warming is famine and disease – for example malaria moving to places it never existed before. There will also be wars in southeast Asia as water supplies from the Himalayas disappear and so does food. The main impacts of these will be on poor people, many of whom have never had electricity. The main source of this warming is coal fired electric plants. 40% of your electricity comes from coal. About half of your electricity comes right now from nuclear [true for NYC]. I can’t say for certain that this plant is safe. I certainly have no idea what to do with the nuclear waste long term. But I can tell you that a choice to shut down this plant is one to avoid perhaps hundreds or thousands of deaths in a terrible but unlikely accident in the NYC area, vs the certainty of increasing the effects of global warming which will kill hundreds of millions of poor people. This is the rich moving a small risk inherent in their lifestyles away, so it kills poor people. Until you don’t need the coal plants you should not be pushing to shut this place down.”  This also was met with a certain… indifference.   Some were actually hostile. The great part about this is, I have solar panels, I’m off-grid, and I use biofuels that I’m learning to make myself from local biomass (I also cut my own wood for winter heating, from wood on my own land – inherently carbon neutral). I grow a lot of  my own food. I had just volunteered a month of my time building solar for a public education arts project (the Waterpod.) I was insufficiently committed to the cause for a lot of these folks… because they were activists against nuclear power. It was… awesome.

    Now, as I said above, I think nuclear has some very big and real problems, but they are less immediate that our other problems… and nukes also emit less radioactivity (not to mention heavy metals) than mining and burning coal. I am not a fan of nuclear power, but we do need some transition power, and we have to choose which sources are going to be there as we solve the technical problems and build the infrastructure for renewables. But this has gotten beyond logic.

    1.  1. Paragraphs.
      2. There are legitimate reasons for even believers in AGW to oppose nuclear power.  If you don’t think it’s worth listening to those reasons why should opponents of nuclear power listen to you?  If you don’t respect their point of view, why should they respect yours?  Reasonable discourse is a two-way street.

      1.  I acknowledge their reasons. They’re good ones. I said it here, and I said it there. However, absent some eco-Khmer Rouge year zero, they’ve got to live in a democratic society which has chosen to consume a large amount of power… a great deal more than other advanced countries. Shutting down Indian Point, if they were successful, would increase substantially the amount of coal being burned for NYC.

        If they want to do it knowing the consequences, and their main motivation is to move this hazard away from them, well I guess I should respect their (in my mind) morally reprehensible opinion. See, they are not denying global warming or its consequences, and they can’t deny that the power lost at IP will be made up somewhere else,  from coal or gas (they also are opposing hydrofracking). They may be riding bicycles in Brooklyn, but that doesn’t cancel out millions of people around them with pool heaters. It also doesn’t run their iPads.

        My real bone to pick with them is that I think people should first implement the solution themselves, then go out and protest and proselytize, because until they have they’re not proposing a viable alternative . They hadn’t, and I believe they still haven’t. They aren’t forgoing electricity. It’s not like they can’t do something about this that is real – it’s not only possible, it’s actually economically viable.

        So if you’ve got a good reason to oppose nukes while admitting AGW is happening, and you’ve not built a solar power system, I’d really like to know it.

        1.  1. Five-year-old laptops consume less power than 100-watt lightbulbs and iPads use even less than that.  For someone who’s already swapped out incandescent for CFLs or LEDs (and doesn’t use AC) the most significant uses of energy are: cooking, hot showers, and transportation.  Nuclear power won’t help with any of that.
          2. Nuclear power has one failure mode: catastrophic.  The fuel is rather rare and expensive and there’s very little of it in the U.S.A.  Nuclear power in the U.S. is administered by profit-motivated corporations that are obviously going to cut any corner they can afford to cut.  If worse comes to worse, they can simply declare bankruptcy and put all the costs of cleanup on the American public.  And there’s still no long-term solution for the waste and I doubt there ever will be.
          3. You can’t hold me responsible for the boneheaded shit my neighbors do just because we live in a “democratic society.”

          1.  1. I agree. Except that there are electric stoves, electric (heat pump) water heaters, and (esp. in NY) electric public transit. Most energy use can be electrified, and therefore decouple from any particular energy source.
            2. A rare catastrophic failure mode vs. a certain and still bad one- that’s what quantitative risk assessments are for. We’ve had nuclear power for 50 years, there’s plenty of data.
            About rare and expensive uranium, we don’t produce it in the US because we aren’t looking for it, and we can get it cheaper elsewhere. At present market prices, uranium costs half as much per kwh as coal.
            And yeah, they can put the cleanup costs on the public- just like coal, oil, gas, finance, and insurance companies do routinely. That’s a problem for regulation- and we already hold nuclear to much tighter standards than those other industries.
            As for long-term waste: the solution is to not treat it as long-term waste. Reprocess the fuel (or build breeder reactors) until the plutonium and uranium are used up, and the resulting waste will last a few centuries, rather than tens of millennia.
            3. I agree completely- as long as you remain engaged and do your best to be part of the decisions made in your community, in your lifetime.

          2.  Well, I’m only talking about people who protest nuclear power without being instrumental (very much within their power) in creating the alternative. But hey, of course you’re not responsible… after all, the first lessons of ecology and permaculture is that every man is an island, and atomic unit whose actions have no impact on anything or anyone else.

          3.  Oh, and as to the failure modes of nukes… well, as I mentioned before, I’m not a fan. I’m less of one after hearing all of the stories of my coworkers – one previously was a navy nuke and the other worked at Peachtree and another plant. There are _tons_ of failure modes at nuke plants. You just don’t know about them. And if you did, you wouldn’t like it. However, I’ll also say that the radiation detectors at Indian Point were regularly set off by a power facility just north of there that burns garbage…

  17. Aren’t you the least bit concerned that, disregarding AGW, the obvious solution to the “energy independence” problem is a new coal rush?  Besides that, the problem isn’t that people aren’t believing one particular thing (AGW).  It’s the reasons they don’t believe in AGW because those reasons can lead to those same people believing all kinds of other crazy things.

    1.  On the issue of  SHTF personal power independence, residential solar beats everything else (no fuel for a generator needed if you have batteries). So I’ve found that this works great with conservatives – and the more conservative the better, the ones you would expect to be hardest to reach with an AGW argument – since they tend to want something they can do themselves under their own control.  If the conservatives install solar on their houses, who cares why they do it? And I’ve gotta say, I’m having a lot more luck with conservatives than progressives at this point.

      1. I distrust your anecdotal evidence and think you’re only looking at the least significant uses of household energy, uses that barely contribute to the huge amount of energy our society as a whole uses.

        1. [Don’t think you’re replying to me here, but I’ll answer what you are replying to]. I imagine they have refrigerators. If they’re urbanites, they very likely have elevators. They certainly have heat, and that is fired by electricity, both gas and oil. If they live over 6 stories up in NYC, their water is pumped to the roof, without which their home would uninhabitable (NYC water is gravity fed but only has enough pressure for 6 stories.) I live off-grid, and I can tell you that without electricity you have probably have no water, definitely have no hot water, probably have no heat (I’ve got a wood stove), have no internet, and very likely have no phone. The typical American household consumes 900 kWh/month. They typical household in Brooklyn and Queens still manages to consume over 500kWh/mo. This is not my anecdotal evidence. It’s IEEE data that I used for load modeling for off-grid battery systems for a New York agency called NYSESRDA. They are using nuclear power. They are very much dependent on it.

    2. This is my concern as well. Remember, in WWII Germany had a shortage of oil. Their solution was to convert coal into liquid fuels- which is exactly what many conservatives in this country are pushing for today (this is not intended to be a Godwin’s law comment, just a relevant historical analogy about energy economics).

      Remember, in the absence of AGW, given our best estimates of global fossil fuel supplies and energy demand growth, we’ve got about a century to move completely to renewable fuels+nuclear. Given AGW, it’s likely that hundreds of millions, possibly billions, will die if we take that much time.

  18. I suspect that with a small amount of education people could be persuaded that Climate Change is important. But ameliorating the effects fo greenhouse gases will take action at the national (and obviously international) level. People will need to call for carbon taxes to curb use, but their individual actions will not have an immediate effect.

    The thing is, gas (and other energy fuel) prices are going up no matter what, so both conserving and switching to/adding personal solar and wind can save people money. If energy prices go up naturally or because governments are trying to lessen the effects of Climate Change, it doesn’t matter which when you go to save money. That you are helping the plant is only an added bonus, it doesn’t have to be the primary reason.

    1. We change our minds less often than we think. Even a brief glance at the state of the US should demonstrate that provable truth is not a sufficient condition for belief.

  19. These issues relate but seeing as solving them requires so much change of view, heart and action and all the emo that comes with, they can be presented distinctly to progress on many fronts sort of like many projects under one program that program being survival.  But don’t present the program to the majority or more freaking, rejecting, paralysis will occur.  Nonetheless, there is something each of us can do now; just do it.

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