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Under A Green Sky
October 9, 2007 5:15 PM   Subscribe

Earth, 2100 AD. Atmospheric CO2 has doubled to 1000 ppm. From shore to the horizon, there is but an unending purple color -- a vast, flat, oily purple. No fish break its surface, no birds. We are under a pale green sky, and it has the smell of death and poison. Paleontologist Peter Ward's new book links past mass extinctions to global warming and shows, absent major changes, "Our world is hurtling toward carbon dioxide levels not seen since 60 million years ago, right after a greenhouse extinction." Maybe it's time for a heresy: nuclear energy's green, and renewables aren't.
posted by Bletch (168 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"DON'T BE LIKE US."
posted by tkchrist at 5:19 PM on October 9, 2007 [8 favorites]


That sounds well cool!

(hops in timemachine)

(Hmm... 50, 20, 10 years?)
posted by Artw at 5:26 PM on October 9, 2007


Muclear energy's green what?

I'm not sure considering nuclear power is a heresy; most people coming at the problem of power generation from a rational perspective rather than an ideological one realize that modern nuclear reactors are cleaner and safer than any reasonable alternative in the near or medium term future.

Who knows about the long term? Maybe we'll find something a lot better. But right now anyone serious about global warming should be pushing hard for new nuclear plants.
posted by Justinian at 5:28 PM on October 9, 2007


Is it heresy time already?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:28 PM on October 9, 2007


I beleive James Lovelock have been banging on about the Nuclear option for some time. It's an argument that makes some sense - radioactive polution is a problem, but more from the point of view that you wouldn't want to live next to it than it's damage to the non-human enviroment - the area surrounding Chernobyl being nice and green, for instance.
posted by Artw at 5:35 PM on October 9, 2007


FWIW, in the long term I am hoping for solar power satellites beaming power down from space. Yeah you should probably make sure you don't beam the power directly through the migration paths of birds or you end up with lotsa fried chicken, but as problems with power generation go that's a pretty lame problem.

Clean, always there as long as the sun doesn't explode, and absolutely safe.

You do run into the problem of Bondian villains threatening to burn your cities with their death sunrays, but hey, I suspect the US military has rather a lot more anti-satellite capability than is public knowledge.
posted by Justinian at 5:39 PM on October 9, 2007


Wait, is it time for Peak Oil, or Rewilding?
posted by fandango_matt at 5:40 PM on October 9, 2007


Not to worry, we've only got til 2012 anyway. And depending on what happens then (extraterrestrial encounter, nuclear war, killer robots, global consciousness expansion, etc.) there will be plenty else to think about, or nothing at all.
posted by Curry at 5:47 PM on October 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


It’s unfortunate that building more nuclear power plants has come to be seen by some as, well, the nuclear option. The meltdown at Three Mile Island was unsettling, but no one died or was hurt. The safety features at the generator worked exactly like they were supposed to. And that technology is about 40 years old now – modern nuclear power plants would be even more safe and clean.
posted by tepidmonkey at 5:54 PM on October 9, 2007


It'll seriously be great when, 100 years from now, all the hopes and dreams for a green, sustainable energy future come to pass. It'll only heighten the irony when the 10km wide meteorite shows up out of nowhere and slams into the planet, triggering the Yellowstone supervolcano to erupt and plunging the planet into millenia of nuclear winter.
posted by mullingitover at 6:03 PM on October 9, 2007 [6 favorites]


God, I'm such a downer.

It'll all be ok, folks, and humans will perfect intersteller travel and roam the galaxy. I promise.
posted by mullingitover at 6:11 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fear! Shame! Fear! Doom!
posted by nightchrome at 6:12 PM on October 9, 2007


I'm willing to consider nuclear energy as a viable option, although electrical power generation is only one part of the greenhouse gas problem.

I do have some questions, though:

I keep hearing from nuclear proponents that "pebble bed" reactors are the way of the future; safe, easy. Then I hear that a usable one is about 30 years away...which is it? What's the problem with pebble beds that we can't just roll them out?

I've also heard that the world's supply of uranium is by no means guaranteed; again, there are two messages here, one group of people who basically consider the uranium endless, and don't even consider the problem, and another group of people saying that if we converted global energy production to nuclear we would run out of uranium faster than we would run out of fossil fuels. Anyone have any idea who might be right?
posted by Jimbob at 6:22 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Bondian villains threatening to burn your cities with their death sunrays

If you've got the tech to build a net-positive energy output array of massive orbital solar satellites beaming energy back to earth, it would be trivial (and, to my mind, more fun) simply to divert a fraction of that lift & materials handling capability to accelerate a 10 ton slug of iron at any city that pissed you off. You could even make a competitive game out of it (the evil overlord version of golfs "closest to the hole").
posted by kjs3 at 6:32 PM on October 9, 2007


It's somewhat ironic that strident climate change stories like this run on US federally funded media like Voice of America, where 8 of 9 governors are directly appointed by the US President. Apparently, VoA is now one of the few truly global, non-partisan news media companies. I'd put it up there with BBC, Al Jazeera, and (maybe) CBC. It seems odd that, long after the Cold War ended, VoA is still officially forbidden to broadcast to US citizens.
posted by meehawl at 6:44 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


nothing to worry about here, when that 75 meter increase in the sea level wipes out all of those coastal cities there will be alot less demand for energy... it's self-regulating you see.

better start working on your marksmanship though, there's going to be some prime realestate on the new coast and the natives won't like a bunch of new yorkers moving into their territory...
posted by geos at 6:44 PM on October 9, 2007


most people coming at the problem of power generation from a rational perspective rather than an ideological one realize that modern nuclear reactors are cleaner and safer than any reasonable alternative in the near or medium term future.

Indeed. I mean, the industrialized world is pretty much operating at the bare minimum of enjoyable living standards as it is, and the potential of another Chernobyl is certainly a reasonable price to pay for our continued right to watch Big Brother whenever we bloody well please.
posted by poweredbybeard at 6:48 PM on October 9, 2007


I've also heard that the world's supply of uranium is by no means guaranteed; again, there are two messages here, one group of people who basically consider the uranium endless, and don't even consider the problem, and another group of people saying that if we converted global energy production to nuclear we would run out of uranium faster than we would run out of fossil fuels. Anyone have any idea who might be right?

The propaganda about running out of fuel for reactors comes directly from greenpeace. I don't mean that it sounds like something greenpeace would say, I mean that greenpeace are the people who popularized it... with no cites that I can find. As far as I can tell there is enough nuclear fuel (keep in mind that we can use things besides uranium, that's just the easiest for now) to last for a long, long time.

Hell, we can get a couple billion tons of uranium out of sea water if we have to.
posted by Justinian at 6:50 PM on October 9, 2007


and the potential of another Chernobyl

This is just abject ignorance. Do you know anything about modern nuclear reactor designs?
posted by Justinian at 6:52 PM on October 9, 2007


Nuclear hasn't been "heretical" in green circles for well over a decade. The US nuclear power industry is a disaster, of course, bloated regulations that don't really protect the public or encourage innovative designs, but other countries in Western Europe have done this extremely well for over a generation.

kjs3: If you've got the tech to build a net-positive energy output array of massive orbital solar satellites beaming energy back to earth, it would be trivial (and, to my mind, more fun) simply to divert a fraction of that lift & materials handling capability to accelerate a 10 ton slug of iron at any city that pissed you off.

This is brilliantly depicted in Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," which is a tremendous read in general.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:53 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Was that article actually published in a scientific journal? "Please, I beg of you, don't draw and quarter me for my searingly revolutionary ideas."

But the author's self-aggrandizement and kooky liquid-helium superconducting electrical delivery system aside ("If you amortize the construction of it over a century, it'll only cost ten billion dollars a year! No, really!") I do agree with the idea that nuclear power is a much more "green" way to produce electricity than any other. It has continuously confounded me over the years that there aren't more advocates for it.

Jimbob - Certainly, uranium is a non-renewable resource. But that doesn't seem like a good reason to continue generating electricity in coal-fired power plants, much less building new ones.

And as far as pebble-bed reactors - I don't know the specific engineering problems to be solved, but they seem to be real impediments, since China has a functioning prototype but they still aren't expecting to bring fully-fledged ones online for decades.

...the potential of another Chernobyl is certainly a reasonable price to pay for our continued right to watch Big Brother whenever we bloody well please.

Or post to MeFi whenever we please?
posted by XMLicious at 6:55 PM on October 9, 2007


Nuclear energy is also non-renewable and it creates some pretty unpleasant waste. It should only be viewed as a stop gap measure until technology and innovation (and unfortunately, capitalism) catch up to our renewable energy fantasies.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:02 PM on October 9, 2007


and the potential of another Chernobyl

This is just abject ignorance. Do you know anything about modern nuclear reactor designs?


I'm willing to admit I probably don't know enough by your standards, but I do I know a thing or two about the historical track record of technological optimism.

There are two very important words here: Precautionary principle. I honestly don't care if the likelihood of another Chernobyl are %0.000001, because the potential results of that one millionth are boggling - and simply not worth it, when the "problem" that's being "solved" through nuclear power is that of allowing a small number of wealthy people to maintain their lifestyles while the rest of us go on living wasteful, bored, lazy, exploitative, toxic existences.

The core question isn't one of power production, but of consumption.

And this is all independent of uranium mining's distinction as one of the most singularly unsustainable practices humanity's ever engaged in - or the matter of the utility militaries tend to find for so-called "depleted" uranium.

Nuclear energy is insane. Sorry.
posted by poweredbybeard at 7:04 PM on October 9, 2007


Oops - that should have been "utility in," not "for," shouldn't it? Sorry.
posted by poweredbybeard at 7:06 PM on October 9, 2007


ugh, so unsettling. it would be so typical of human nature for us to spend the last two or three decades arguing with each other as to what extent climate change is our fault while the chance to do anything comes and goes.

many people have said that nuclear power may be the only way to stop climate change. I consider myself a "greenie" in ideology but still rational enough to see the benefits of nuclear power. My worry, however, is that if you make that decision to switch to it, the idea of energy conservation goes out of the window for twenty years - nuclear energy is cheap, and our consumption soars in a large, arcing trend that lasts beyond our ability to maintain it. Kinda like what happened with fossil fuel, huh? And we are just trading one limited resource for another, one type of pollution for another.

It's still this damn conception of being seperate from our effects on the planet, and the idea that somehow the planet is ours to be shaped. That's what is stuck in the head of the governors of southern state #412, that we can do whatever we want, because the planet is ultimately our bitch.

For so much of human history, we were the insignificant insect thinking we had everything under our paw, and when we finally have developed technologically to where, in fact, we do have power - in the sense that we can cause some pretty catastrophic adverse effects we have little control over - we are arrogant enough still to think that there will be a technological solution that won't require us to change our society in a dramatic way, or at all. Call it sitcom syndrome - that no matter what happens, here comes the deus ex machina to put everything back to how it was the way before.

I think i've rambled enough, but there was an interesting quote by a green party politician here in NZ that i'll paraphrase - "capitalism and anything that relies on it is ultimately unsustainable" - because it involves taking something from the earth and transforming it in such a way that always leaves room for profit - inevitably by consuming intangible resources in the process.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 7:17 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


To the people who oppose nuclear power: What do you recommend we do instead?
posted by fandango_matt at 7:19 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Justinian: "and the potential of another Chernobyl"

This is just abject ignorance. Do you know anything about modern nuclear reactor designs?


Throwing around the pejoratives is uncalled for.

Any nuclear reactor, no matter what the design, has the potential to release as much radiation into the environment as Chernobyl did -- while a nuclear reactor is supposed to be solid enough to resist a direct hit from a 747, it will break and spill if there's a severe earthquake or a large conventional bomb; it can also be made to release radioactivity in large quantities by malicious individuals manipulating the reactor's controls; and even with all these other conditions ignored, you still can not guarantee me that some unforeseen combination of design failure, measurement failure, parts failure, materials failure and human failure will not allow the release of chemically or radioactively toxic materials in large quantities.

Realistic risk evaluation means being a grownup. The nuclear plant WILL release radioactivity every so often in "normal use." Any power system will occasionally kill humans.

Claiming this risk doesn't exist, that there is no potential for another Chernobyl, does not inspire a skeptical person such as myself with much confidence when it's a logical impossibility.

Risk evaluation means quantative evaluation of risk. How often will this plant release 1 rad into the environment? How often 1000 rads? 1 megarad? You'd say something like: "This plant will have a release event of 1 megarad happening every 100,000 years." For example, you might evaluate that there's a killer earthquake in your area every 100,000 years.

That sounds pretty good, right? But if you have 10,000 reactors all over the world, then there's going to be very roughly one of them releasing a lot of radiation every decade or so!

So no matter how in favour you are of nuclear power, you can never ever pretend that there isn't a small chance of some horrible accident happening. It's the price you pay for energy. People die in accidents involving electricity and gasoline every day; and people die and suffer reduced quality of life every day because they have to breathe polluted air.

People would die in nuclear accidents as well -- the hope is that we'd plan it out so well that we'd do a lot better on average.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:21 PM on October 9, 2007


I honestly don't care if the likelihood of another Chernobyl are %0.000001, because the potential results of that one millionth are boggling - and simply not worth it

Of course you don't care, because your position is clearly not based on reason. It's based on emotion. I, for one, don't think we should be setting public policy based on nothing but our feelings.

One fundamental mistake you are making is comparing nuclear power to some pie in the sky ideal 100% clean and 100% safe method that simply does not exist. In the real world your choices are burning coal and nuclear. People like you completely fail to come to terms with the fact that coal kills far, far, far more people than nuclear ever has and does it under normal operating conditions.

Let me restate that: Coal produces more radiation, more toxins, and kills more people under standard operating conditions than nuclear power does under catastrophic failure conditions.

Here's a hint: In China alone, 5000 coal miners died from mining accidents in 2006. That's one country, one year, killing 500 people just from mining the stuff to be burned in the generating plant. It doesn't take into account the long term health effects of the mining or the burning. It doesn't take into account the ecological damage from the mining or the burning coal.

So in one year, in one country there were more deaths simply from mining coal than there have been from every single catastrophic nuclear accident that has ever occured.

Being against nuclear is being for coal. How you can freak out about chernobyl while ignoring the very real and deadly human costs of the alternatives to nuclear is something I will never understand.
posted by Justinian at 7:22 PM on October 9, 2007 [9 favorites]


There are two very important words here: Precautionary principle.

Read this.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:22 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


That sounds pretty good, right? But if you have 10,000 reactors all over the world, then there's going to be very roughly one of them releasing a lot of radiation every decade or so!

But the alternative is not NO RADIATION, dammit. The alternative is the radiation released from other forms of power generation. How much radiation is released from burning coal under normal operating conditions?
posted by Justinian at 7:24 PM on October 9, 2007


Stop Your Sobbing
posted by rockhopper at 7:26 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


(note that I typed both 5000 and 500 for the number of deaths in China from mining in 2006. The correct figure is "nearly 5000".)
posted by Justinian at 7:27 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't understand statements like "...if another Chernobyl..."

Chernobyl directly killed less than one hundred people. Perhaps another hundred thousand received enough radiation poisoning to cause the cancers that eventually killed them. Could have been another cause, but it was probably the accident that did the original damage that ended up leading to cancer.

Those numbers don't even begin to compete with the death tolls that would result from using coal instead of nuclear.

Or to put it plainly, Chernobyl on its worst day is leagues better than coal power on its best day.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:34 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


An odd thought: if only we could convert global warming into electricity. Kill two birds with one stone: cool the earth, light our homes.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:37 PM on October 9, 2007


humans will perfect intersteller travel and roam rape the galaxy

Fixed that for you.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:38 PM on October 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


Hey, five fresh fish said what I said, only he said it 10% of the time.

I suck.
posted by Justinian at 7:40 PM on October 9, 2007


Let me restate that: Coal produces more radiation, more toxins, and kills more people under standard operating conditions than nuclear power does under catastrophic failure conditions.

And let me restate what I already said upthread: The core question isn't one of power production, but of consumption.

I mean, really, that's super keen how much you know about the evils of coal and all, but where was I suggesting continued reliance on fossil fuels?

In China alone, 5000 coal miners died from mining accidents in 2006. That's one country, one year, killing 500 people just from mining the stuff to be burned in the generating plant. It doesn't take into account the long term health effects of the mining or the burning. It doesn't take into account the ecological damage from the mining or the burning coal.

Um... replace every occurrence of "coal" there with "uranium," and you're making my argument.

Being against nuclear is being for coal.

Please imagine someone shouting "FALSE DICHOTOMY" at you for roughly twenty seconds. This will approximate my response.
posted by poweredbybeard at 7:41 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Amount of radiation" shouldn't even be the metric used in this discussion, anyway.

If one nuclear accident causes x amount of cancer over 20 years, but burning tons and tons of coal causes more than x amount of cancer over 20 years, then, obviously, nuclear wins out.

And that doesn't even take into account the environmental hell that is created by coal mining. Here, let's go for a swim. Uranium mines on the other hand are actually pretty okay, as far as I know, and you don't really need very much.

A lot of the world uses nuclear power without melting into zombies or whatever the fearmongers in this thread seem to think will happen. Avoiding nuclear is luddism at its worst. It is far better than our alternatives.
posted by blacklite at 7:41 PM on October 9, 2007


In the real world your choices are burning coal and nuclear.

And hydroelectricity. And wind and solar. And the real biggie, tidal power.

why the hell is this page "honking" every time I click the mouse? it doesn't happen on other sites. wtf?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:42 PM on October 9, 2007


Hell's bells, forgot to finish my message. Dang honking.

Regarding coal: I believe it's a huge emitter of mercury. I'd rather have the risk of a Chernobyl than the fact of mercury in my diet. The latter is nasty shit, because it unavoidably enters our food chain.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:46 PM on October 9, 2007




If only poweredbybeard were eponysterical.

But seriously, in France, 79% of the power is nuclear. If a plant melts down, it has features built-in to minimize the damage, and it’s likely that no one will get hurt. If another Chernobyl happened, that would suck really hard. But the daily damage of coal is worse.

Justinian is right on in mentioning opinions based on reason versus opinions based on emotion. Nuclear power has the potential to create dramatic one-off tragedies that the primary media would latch onto and report on for weeks. But rationally, it’s the better option.
posted by tepidmonkey at 7:52 PM on October 9, 2007


We have the world's largest reserves of fuel in the form of human fat. Fire up the rendering plants, I say.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:55 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


The question really is not coal or nuclear, at least for the affluent first world in the near term. There are a suite of opportunities that mean we do not have to make that choice.

Firstly, stationary energy (power stations) is about half the GHG emissions for Australia, so we're only talking about half the problem.

There are still substantial demand side management/energy efficiency measures that can be undertaken without impacting on precious lifestyles to reduce emissions. A few more taxes would help there.

Proven renewable energy sources available now or in the immediate future include wind, geothermal, tidal, solar thermal and biomass. Solar PV is realistically not going to be cheap enough soon enough for more than niche application.

Modernisation and efficiency gains in existing fossil fuel plants are another source of cheap wins. Geosequestration is probably a pipe dream, it will always be too expensive, but it allows investors in current assets to be seen to be doing something.

Nuclear power stations simply haven't been getting any cheaper or simpler, despite their boosters promising that for a long long time. While we could build safe and low emission nuclear plants, they haven't been designed yet (not much beyond concept studies) and would be at least 20 years from generation, and at great cost.

I'm not concerned about theoretical radiation risks (always irrationally overstated) or security risks (better to focus on arms reduction generally) or waste disposal (a political not an engineering problem). But it's true that the proven uranium reserves are limited and as we mine poorer grades the emission costs of those ores rises. But quite simply, nuclear reactors are too expensive and too late.

The industry will tell you otherwise, but they have a perfect track record in over-promising and under-delivering. For the past 50 years, nuclear power has been promised faster and cheaper than it has ever been delivered (and not just in the USA).

The only way nukes could be competitive would be through a carbon tax or levy. But if that was fairly applied across the generating sector, a mixed bag of renewables would kick the nuclear industry's butt. Only if they got special treatment would they ever get a look-in. Which is shit policy, but not unanticipated considering how the climate change debate has gone so far.

So no, nukes aren't the answer. Mind you, Bletch's original post framing wasn't great - these issues have been discussed at great length in recent years, and are hardly heretical.
posted by wilful at 7:56 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hydro is only viable in some places (most Canadian electricity is hydro, I think). Wind is too nascent to be considered a real-world solution at this point, and the long-term climate effects of wind-capture may be catastrophic. Solar and tidal and way, way too nascent to be considered a real-world solution.

Directed at poweredbybeard: no, there's no false dichotomy. Odds are, your computer is powered by coal. 57% of electricity generated in the US is coal-fired. The only real-world alternative to coal in the US is nuclear. You don't have another realistic option. Other than avoiding all electric use altogether. In which case, seeya.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 7:57 PM on October 9, 2007


By the way, does clicking the Amazon.com link (and then making a purchase) benefit Bletch materially, and if so, is this OK?

Just checking, not accusing.
posted by wilful at 8:00 PM on October 9, 2007


Oh, also: 51% of Ontario's electricity needs are generated by CANDU nuclear plants, and you are more likely to be killed by a falling windmill blade than by a CANDU leak.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 8:01 PM on October 9, 2007


re: false dichotomy:

Hydroelectricity now supplies about 715,000 MWe or 19% of world electricity (16% in 2003), accounting for over 63% of the total electricity from renewables in 2005.[1] (75% here in NZ)
Solar panels are getting cheaper and more efficient, as are deep-cycle batteries. Wind farms are becoming more common, I can't speak for other countries - but it's a political thing, duh! But it's also a cost thing - the thing that worries me is that cost vs. permanent environmental damage consistently frames the debate.

How much does *not* damaging the environment cost?
HOW MUCH?
What do you mean, change my usage habits?
No, without my ( ) I wouldn't be able to survive!
What do you mean, I created this situation?
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 8:01 PM on October 9, 2007


meehawl: It seems odd that, long after the Cold War ended, VoA is still officially forbidden to broadcast to US citizens.

What's odd? There's one set of lies for non-US citizens, and a different set of lies for US citizens. You wouldn't want them getting mixed up, would you?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:02 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


poweredbybeard:
I'm going to assume, based on what you've said, that you don't understand the basics of modern fission reactor designs, and try and provide a basic rundown:

To boil it down to a very very basic level: nuclear fission reactors work by initiating and perpetuating nuclear fission within radioactive ore - the byproducts of this fission are energy and neutrons. Those neutrons perpetuate the reaction, and in classical reactors when the fissile material is left to its own devices the reaction will produce so many neutrons that the core quickly spirals into a meltdown.

This is prevented primarily by neutron-absorbing (graphite) rods ('control rods') that are lowered into the fissile material in varying amounts to control the rate of fission. Basically, classical reactors are using a combination of complex moving-parts graphite rod control systems and coolant systems (which introduces radiated water into the equation) to control how hot the reaction 'burns', if you want to think of it that way.

When things go wrong with the coolant system AND your communist government has staffed your plant's night shift with coal miners AND is too cheap to build a radiation dome as a last-ditch containment measure AND that untrained staff is trying to conduct testing while being asked to boost regional power supply AND that staff ignores the control and coolant safety regulations, you get Chernobyl.

The great thing about Chernobyl was that it provided an all-things-considered pretty painless reminder of why you don't do those things, and the reminder has been taken very much to heart by the industry since.


Modern fission reactor designs - I'll be discussing pebble-bed for simplicity's sake - don't work that way. Basically they consist of a series of graphite 'balls' with a small fissile core running through them. These balls can be stacked until they reach the critical fissile mass needed to start and perpetuate a reaction, and you can scale the system as needs be. The great thing about pebble-bed reactors is that these mini-reactors are each embedded in a housing of absorption material that, to simplify, provides greater absorption the hotter the reaction gets - the system is inherently self-limiting and by its very nature is forced to maintain an equilibrium. Too hot, absorption increases, reducing neutron production, too cold and absorption decreases, increasing neutron production. At a systemic level these reactors seek balance, with no moving parts involved at all.

Other advantages are the use of helium gas for both coolant *and* driving the turbine, because unlike water it doesn't absorb neutrons or - being an inert gas - corrode piping. Because we can run the helium through the spaces between the 'pebbles' we can eliminate most of the piping needed by a coolant system at all, reducing system complexity and removing irradiated coolant liquid from the equation entirely.

For maintenance and dealing with byproducts the system is wonderful in that you can set it up as a vertical tube, pulling the old cores from the bottom of the tube, and adding new replacements to the top. Swapping out used material has never been easier.

In the works are reactors that are fairly fuel-agnostic, potentially capable of running on the remains of fissile material from scrapped nuclear weapons.

Are there legitimate concerns still? Yes in that we're still producing end products that we're going to have to bury very deep in uninhabitable, tectonically-stable areas.

But a meltdown? It just really isn't possible - the nature of the system inherently forbids it.
posted by Ryvar at 8:03 PM on October 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


wind is nascent? WTF? And climate effects of wind capture, are you serious? Evidence please...

Mind you, I accept that wind can only ever make up 15 - 20% of the total power mix, it's not reliable enough.
posted by wilful at 8:04 PM on October 9, 2007


The question really is not coal or nuclear

It is in SimCity!
posted by tepidmonkey at 8:04 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wind & solar & tidal energy is not enough to keep us going. Unless humanity invests a few trillion into supermassive solar sheets, it's not going to pull the weight.

Nuclear technology on the other hand has been proven in all sorts of non-Chernobyl situations. I don't think anyone in France has died of a panic attack recently due to nuclear power – and that's the most likely cause of death from a reactor near you.

A lot of developed nations use a mix of nuclear and hydro to provide the majority of grid power. I wonder when the US will fall out of the "developer" category...
posted by blacklite at 8:07 PM on October 9, 2007


er, "developed"
posted by blacklite at 8:07 PM on October 9, 2007


there's going to be some prime realestate on the new coast

No, Lex Luthor already owns it all. Otis.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:07 PM on October 9, 2007


Dillonlikescookies: What do you mean, change my usage habits?

Surely you’d admit that the best solution to any problem arising from energy usage would be for no one to have to change their usage habits?
posted by tepidmonkey at 8:10 PM on October 9, 2007


wind is nascent? WTF?

It supplies less than 1% of US needs right now. Would you not call that nascent? I am assuming that we're talking about the US, since we're talking about first-world nations moving away from coal as their primary energy source, which would mean...well, the US.

And climate effects of wind capture, are you serious?

Yup. Wish I could source it, though. I didn't imagine reading about it.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 8:11 PM on October 9, 2007


fandango_matt: To the people who oppose nuclear power: What do you recommend we do instead?

Hello. If I may.

That's a perfectly reasonable question (though sometimes when it comes up it feels like trying to stop someone from shooting a baby in the head, and having them say, "That's well and good, but what are we to do instead?"... But that's just me being difficult). Personally, I don't have solutions. But I do have some places I would start.

So, for starters, buy less, and buy local. Whatever you buy, electricty was used to extract its materials, make it, transport it, and often store it. And whatever you bought, with a few exceptions, chances are you didn't really need it in the form you got it in, or you actually didn't need it at all. The low hanging fruit would be to find packaging-free alternatives, to eliminate pre-prepared, single-serving foods and such, and to privilege reusable over recyclable (there are certain materials which are more power-intensive to recycle than simply produce anew).

Conserve water. Walk or cycle more. Live closer to where you work. In most municipalities, the greatest power draws are the water and transit systems.

If you're a homeowner, retrofit or design your home for passive heating & cooling, graywater recycling and stormwater catchment. Hand wash dishes rather than using a dishwasher. Accept - even enjoy - the fact that summer is hot, rather than running the AC all the time. Put on a sweater rather than turning the heat up (I don't have the figures handy right now, but home heating and cooling, iterated over the whole population, represent astronomical power draws). Use a clothesline. When a hand-powered alternative to a power appliance exists, use it.

Take an interest in your municipality's planning process, and advocate for more sustainable planning and building regulations. Insist that your local democracy be based in face-to-face interaction as much as possible, rather than tech-heavy bureaucracy.

Turn off the television, exit the video game, refrain from mindless web surfing, go outside, and meet your neighbours. Learn something new about your neighbourhood. Get acquainted with the rhythms of the natural systems around your home. Play a game. Pet a dog. Fall in love. Live your life, rather than living vicariously through the (increasingly big) big screen.

Take care of yourself, emotionally and physically. A significant amount of care being given in power-hogging industrial medical centres could be avoided if people felt free to live without stress, without toxins, without bottled emotions. Listen to your body, and treat it well. In cases where people aren't as free to do this because of poverty or other circumstances, take an interest in their well-being as being tied up with yours. It is anyway.

Stop being afraid of the world, stop thinking possessions will make you happy, stop working so much, stop deferring things. Start learning an ethic of sufficiency instead of entitlement.

Stop believing that creating newer technologies will forever solve the problems of the old ones. The track record of this belief is spotty at best. When technology is needed, make sure it's small, distributed, flexible and scalable solutions which address specific inefficiencies at point-of-consumption, rather than gigantic, technocratic, unaccountable "fixes" (which tend to require relatively massive power inputs just for the bureaucracies to keep them running and/or buffered from public oversight).

Think about everything you do (or neglect to do) in a day - everything - and think down or upstream for there: was there or will there be electricity, or some other form of unsustainable production, used as a result of this choice I'm making? Is that necessary, or is it using the planet's health to subsidize my laziness? Could I make another choice?

Simplify. Slow down. Enjoy yourself, rather than simply distracting yourself. Live life as if it were the only one you get, on the only planet we have - since, incidentally, it is. Every single other species has managed to make this work out pretty well for them. We're clever. We'll figure it out too.
posted by regicide is good for you at 8:13 PM on October 9, 2007 [11 favorites]


wilful, no benefit comes to me, though the URL's referrer ID makes me think that Metafilter might get something.
posted by Bletch at 8:15 PM on October 9, 2007


I don't think "nascent" is a big concern given it'd take over a decade to build a new nuclear plant. Put the same money into researching wind/solar/tidal and you'll have a commercial solution in less time.

Blacklite, why do you say tidal wouldn't supply enough energy? I'm having a hard time imagining anything on this earth that could supply more energy, save tapping deep geothermal energy.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:19 PM on October 9, 2007


"best solution to any problem arising from energy usage would be for no one to have to change their usage habits?"

No, I don't. The problem, and the reason we have so much trouble finding a solution we can all agree on, is the way we have framed it - "What technology allows me to continue my usage the exact way I am now, and will allow future generations to do so in as much is possible"

Okay, you might not have a problem with that - but I do. Knowing where your energy comes from, do you leave a light on at night? Energy is a resource, and if it comes from coal or a nuclear source, it's limited. Renewable energy is limited by scale and the size of the community - right? But we don't have a mindset fitting to that. Where does your power come from? The plug? It's use without consequence, and there is no concept of conservation for the sake of conservation!

If you don't follow me, try this. You're a road planner. Your city is growing. You could build new roads, motorways, and so on, or you could, for example, take the money and spend it on public transport for the same end, while achieving other advantages. The difference? Encouraging efficiency of use rather than constantly increasing scale to match consumption - a short term solution that is ultimately ignorant of human nature. You can talk about the cost of electricity, but the limitations of economic control are beyond the scope of this discussion, suffice to say, I don't personally believe it is enough.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 8:19 PM on October 9, 2007


Ryvar, you seem well versed to answer my question about "pebble bed" reactors - if we understand the principal so well, if they're all safe and self-regulating, why don't we have them yet?

This isn't a snark, I'm just interested to know. It seems like this technology has been talked about for a long, long time, but it's all still in prototype phase with decades to go before it's useful. What's missing from it? What's the hurdle they haven't overcome yet?
posted by Jimbob at 8:20 PM on October 9, 2007


er, and what regicide said.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 8:21 PM on October 9, 2007


Alright, thanks to everyone who learned me some on the meltdown thing. I humbly relent in the face of greater knowledge of the subject. Please stop now ;) .

Really, I wish I hadn't brought it up - it wasn't my main objection, just the nucleus (hah) of what I thought would be a one-off flippant comment.

I stand by my ethical objections to nuclear on numerous other grounds, including uranium mining, depleted uranium, the fact that nuclear power administration is probably the only thing that could possibly be less democratic than fossil fuel power administration, and the fact that maintaining the false dichotomy between nuclear or OMG COAL 4EVER allows us to completely ignore the fact that our consumptive patterns, independent of what powers them, are killing the planet. Global warming's the new kid on the block, frankly.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:23 PM on October 9, 2007


er, and, yeah, what regicide said.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:25 PM on October 9, 2007


Yeah I've seen some pretty amazing tidal technology, that if you believe the figures, is capable of generating seriously useful amounts of electricity from hectares of the ocean floor, and that double as a desalinization plant in the "off peak" period.

Basically you have floats connected to the sea floor. The ebb and flow of the waves and tides moves these floats up and town. The floats are connected to pumps that use the energy of the movement of the floats to pump water to the shore, where it runs through a turbine. The floats are tough, and I understand boats can still navigate through them with little difficulty. There is minor localized damage to the sea floor environment where the pipes and pumps are situated.

It's another one of those inventions where I think, goddamnit, why don't we just install a pile of these things?
posted by Jimbob at 8:27 PM on October 9, 2007


Every single other species has managed to make this work out pretty well for them.

No, they haven't. Predators outgrow their prey, hunt them to near-extinction and then die off in DROVES due to starvation.

Then the prey booms back thanks to the compound effects of less predators and rich food supply, the population explodes overnight until they outstrip their food supply and then themselves die off through a combination of starvation as well as the subsequent explosion in the predator population due to *their* food supply increasing. Then *they* die off as well.

This cycle of boom and bust occurs endlessly throughout every ecological level there is. If you try to push humans through it they will gladly decide to kill each other off through violence until there are enough resources for everyone again.

I don't want to be around when that happens, and neither do you.

We're clever. We'll figure it out too.

No, we're not, and no, we won't. The human race proves on a daily basis that it is not only collectively non-sentient, we in fact have a tendency to collectively act *against* our own best collective interest when given the choice. Our dietary habits, our education system, governmental system, our corporate bureaucracies are constant, daily proof that we honestly do not know what the fuck we are doing in any collective sense whatsoever.


If you pray, then pray that human ingenuity finds a technological solution to this problem because we are far, far too stupid to solve it any other way.
posted by Ryvar at 8:28 PM on October 9, 2007 [11 favorites]


That's a very nice sentiment, regicide, but I notice that you didn't actually propose a viable alternative for the production of electricity. Funny, that.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:33 PM on October 9, 2007


Jimbob: I honestly wish I knew. The only portion of the nuclear power industry I actively track the development of is fusion, and there won't be anything usable from ITER until 2050.

I think we know what several different ecological, economic, and consumption scenarios look like at that point, should trends hold.
posted by Ryvar at 8:35 PM on October 9, 2007


regicide plans to generate electricity through the pure power of human self-righteousness.
posted by Jimbob at 8:36 PM on October 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


poweredbybeard: on an ideological level, I agree with your standpoint on consumption completely. But realistically, if you were given two choices as to how you might improve the sustainability of our society and your goal was to pick the method most likely to pick results, would you try to get every person with an unsustainable lifestyle to change their habits, or would you make living that lifestyle easier on the environment?

Unfortunately (in my very pessimistic view), this problem is a lot like AIDS: trying to solve the problem by attacking its sources is ineffective, unless you plan on gaining global dominion and applying your strategy by brute force.
posted by invitapriore at 8:39 PM on October 9, 2007


To restate: nukes are really really expensive and if price (a carbon tax) is the driver then all the other solutions are quicker and cheaper and will be contributing before any new design nuclear power plants do.

Don't believe that nukes are going to get any cheaper until they actually do. These promises have been made before and haven't been met.

One big bet, for Australia and the US, is hot dry rocks. generating now.
posted by wilful at 8:39 PM on October 9, 2007


Turn off the television, exit the video game, refrain from mindless web surfing, go outside, and meet your neighbours.

Reckless production of irony is a leading factor of wasted energy in the modern world.
posted by Mikey-San at 8:43 PM on October 9, 2007


so haughty and quick to criticize? it's funny how upset people get when you say to them, no, you can't have whatever you want just because you pay for it. You do not have a right to it. The objection is this: our lifestyle is unsustainable. Arguing how to best continue it is pointless, because the framing of the argument makes any answer unsatisfactory.

Not to get all socialist on you - but this is the true face of capitalism right here, and it shocks me to see people so rudely defensive of their non-existent right-to-buy and live as excessively as they want. This is what should be on the defensive here, not some guy who's told you to use a bike for once and maybe consider not living ten miles from your place of work.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 8:44 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dillonlikescookies, I follow you, and I know where you’re coming from. No need to treat me like I’m dense. Our premises are just very different.

My problem with the point of view illustrated by regicide is good for you’s comment is that it feels misanthropic. Especially sentences like, “Every single other species has managed to make this work out pretty well for them.” Every single other species is idiotic compared to us. Humans are awesome, and wonderful, and brilliant, and any single one of us is more valuable than all other non-human animals on Earth. Even George W. Bush, who I genuinely agree is a moron, to prove my anti-Republican cred.

The utopian solution to any energy crisis, whether it be the deaths and injuries caused by coal mining or global warming, would be for humans to continue on with the lives we’ve invented for ourselves. I don’t want to take shorter showers. I like standing there under the warm water when it’s cold in my apartment. So I should be able to.

I know there are pragmatic restrictions to this, but we should keep in mind that the only real resource on Earth is human ingenuity. Everything else depends on our ability to use science to our advantage.

On preview: ...their non-existent right-to-buy and live as excessively as they want.

It’s the other way around. I don’t have a right to buy. Other people don’t have a right to stop me from spending my money on available goods and services. Yes I like capitalism. Sorry.
posted by tepidmonkey at 8:50 PM on October 9, 2007


Yes I like capitalism.

Clearly...you display the capitalist's folly; the belief that humans are fundamentally rational and capable of acting in their own self-interest ;)
posted by Jimbob at 8:55 PM on October 9, 2007


poweredbybeard: on an ideological level, I agree with your standpoint on consumption completely. But realistically, if you were given two choices as to how you might improve the sustainability of our society and your goal was to pick the method most likely to pick results, would you try to get every person with an unsustainable lifestyle to change their habits, or would you make living that lifestyle easier on the environment?

I don't undestand the question, since, realistically, the two options you give can only be the same thing.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:56 PM on October 9, 2007


Oh, regicide. Would that I lived in that world, where people could be convinced to make sacrifices simply by being shown the good to come of it.

I live in America, which is still awash in cheap energy of many forms: petroleum, coal, and Mexican. I plan to consume as much of this cheap energy as possible, to the extent that it makes my life easier, simply because I can.

With love,

Part of the Problem

*eats a Mexican* Mmmmm! Spicy!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:00 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Jimbob, it all depends on how you define “self-interest”!
posted by tepidmonkey at 9:01 PM on October 9, 2007


This is what should be on the defensive here, not some guy who's told you to use a bike for once and maybe consider not living ten miles from your place of work.

Just so I understand you, you oppose nuclear power because you want people to ride their bikes to work? Is that what you're telling us?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:01 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ryvar: Every single other species has managed to make this work out pretty well for them.

No, they haven't. Predators outgrow their prey, hunt them to near-extinction and then die off in DROVES due to starvation.


Predators also don't have agriculture.
No, it's not a satisfactory answer. But I hope we can agree it's maybe not as simple as you imply (but yeah, probably not as simple as I imply either).

If you pray, then pray that human ingenuity finds a technological solution to this problem

Wind power? Solar power? Tidal power? These can't match the existing grid, that's true. But combined with our most powerful and idiomatic technologies to date - local democracy and mutually supportive communal social structures - a tenable process of simplification combined with renewable energy isn't beyond the pale.

Ingenuity isn't the problem. I'd say we already know how to make it work, more or less, and how to think about the parts we don't yet know. The problem is that dinosaur systems - figuratively and literally - are getting subsidized in the stead of reasonable alternatives. Democracy is the issue here. Overpopulation too, I guess, but let's not open that particular box tonight, eh?

I honestly don't think anything I suggested (and they're hardly original suggestions) is pie-in-the-sky. I honestly think that at this juncture in our history, comfortable reflexive cynicism and prayer for a technocratic magic bullet is not only the real pie-in-the-sky thinking, but is grounded in just the sort of "red of tooth and claw" assumptions about living in accord with nature that got us to where we are today.

Look. Given that neither of us have the answer, I'll go with hope. You're free to go the other way. I don't know which one of us is right. In the end it may be too late to matter anyway - though I don't see how that would change a thing.

On preview:
monju_bosatsu: That's a very nice sentiment, regicide, but I notice that you didn't actually propose a viable alternative for the production of electricity. Funny, that.

You noticed that, did you? Clever monkey. Maybe you noticed it because it was the basic, explicit, obvious premise of my entire post.

I honestly don't think there's a way to increase output of electricity without further, escalating harm to the planet, especially since, let's be honest, more electricity doesn't mean maintenance of our current destructive lifestyle. It means acceleration.

Look, I'm gonna put this in "strong" tags and everything: We cannot talk about electricty-related ecological damage independent of other forms of ecological damage. We are not producing electricity just for kicks. We are producing it to get things done, and we need to look at what it is we want to get done, and whether that is sustainable. We are producing it, "sustainably" or not, to maintain a standard of living that is killing our only planet. To look at nuclear power in the name of sustainability as completely separate from the society it drives is to only look at one side of the balance sheet. That's bad planning, plain and simple.

On further preview:
anyone who made a "hurfdurf you're on the internet too haha gotcha" comment: Really? Gimme a break. Look, either get in to the pool or don't. None of this one-toe-in nonsense.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:03 PM on October 9, 2007


Is he trying to claim that the K-T mass extinction event was the result of global warming?

What about the Chicxulub impact?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:04 PM on October 9, 2007


for the record, my comment earlier was directed at Jimbob and monju_bosatsu, not you tepid.

personally, i don't think it's misanthropic - i like to think it's just more realistic than "humans as saviours and masters of the natural world" which is the impression I get. I consider it a necessary knock back down to earth, but this is beside the point.

The part I have a problem with is, if I may - "I like standing there under the warm water when it’s cold in my apartment. So I should be able to."

I have a real problem with this. The should, if you will, implies a sort of right to it. I pay for this luxury, I should be able to enjoy it (read: continue enjoying it). This inevitably extends to I am *entitled* to it, and finally to the view that any energy policy that seeks to alter your consumption is fundamentally unworkable and contrary to base notions of personal liberty.

Well, I don't buy it, and what's worse, is that it is a dangerous and common mind set. We live in a society where consumption is seen as a good thing. It's not. It's neither good nor bad - but mindless consumption of any resource, by a whole society?

Attitudes shape habit, and habit, as you all know, is difficult to change, and in terms of energy policy, is shaping the decisions our governments make for us. Does it suprise you that renewable energy is not a big priority in the US, given consumption habits?
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 9:05 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


BitterOldPunk: Oh, regicide. Would that I lived in that world, where people could be convinced to make sacrifices simply by being shown the good to come of it.

We'll all live there soon enough - or if not us, our children, or grandchildren. Maybe greatgrandkids. I don't know, of course. I also don't presume to think I can convince many people who haven't already been convinced. But I'm pretty sure either the ecosystem or the economy will convince the rest, in a decidedly less gentle way, sooner or later. And I think that that the more of us who can start working toward simpler living ahead of time, the easier it will go on us when it's no longer an elective course.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:06 PM on October 9, 2007


You noticed that, did you? Clever monkey. Maybe you noticed it because it was the basic, explicit, obvious premise of my entire post.

Who the fuck actually says "clever monkey"? Would you honestly say this to a person in real life during a debate or argument? Ever?
posted by Mikey-San at 9:08 PM on October 9, 2007


please, lets keep it simple. he was responding to some snarky comments himself.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 9:10 PM on October 9, 2007


er, civil ;)
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 9:10 PM on October 9, 2007


Mikey-san: Would you honestly say this to a person in real life during a debate or argument? Ever?

Yes.

Sorry, what was your point?
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:12 PM on October 9, 2007



Is he trying to claim that the K-T mass extinction event was the result of global warming?

No (it's in the link).
posted by wilful at 9:13 PM on October 9, 2007


OK, that was a bit acidic, but seriously Mikey, if all you've got is snark, why are you here?
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:13 PM on October 9, 2007


This is a confusing debate, because I'm stuck on all sides of it.

I actually agree with regicide and you Dillonlikescookies; our energy consumption is completely linked to our lifestyle and vice-versa. Humans do have a problem with overconsumption. We don't have a right to our high-energy lifestyle - this lifestyle is a novel thing, really, burning ancient fossil fuels to power our lifestyle and nutrition is something that hasn't been tried on the planet before, by any species, and since it looks like it's all going wrong, why do we have the right to do it?

But, pragmatically, how the hell are you going to stop people? It's probably better to minimize the impact. It's like drugs. You're never going to stop people doing drugs. Might as well make sure they have clean needles, and can get treatment for their addiction.

I'm stuck two ways on nuclear too. The greenie deep inside is filled with the long distrust of it... I don't want to approve of it, but I'm afraid I might have to. But only if we spend as much time and effort and money on nuclear as on cleaner technology at the same time, not just give up completely. Attempting to moderate planet-wide ecological and climatic chaos is more important than worrying about point-source radiation and waste-disposal issues.
posted by Jimbob at 9:15 PM on October 9, 2007


The human race proves on a daily basis that it is not only collectively non-sentient, we in fact have a tendency to collectively act *against* our own best collective interest when given the choice.

Humans: The Species with a Net Negative Intelligence.

Humans: Dumber than an anthill.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:16 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think regicide is on to something. If I had to live the way he and Dillon and beard want us to for more than a week or so, I wouldn't give a shit whether humanity were wiped out or not. Problem solved.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:17 PM on October 9, 2007


The should, if you will, implies a sort of right to it. ... and finally to the view that any energy policy that seeks to alter your consumption is fundamentally unworkable and contrary to base notions of personal liberty.

That’s a good point, and I see the dangers of my mindset. I guess what it comes down to is that I have a probably unreasonable faith in humankind to work out our problems. People have warned about the nigh end of the world for centuries, but it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe this is it, and humans have finally done themselves in, and we’ll have to make huge changes or die. But I have the naive feeling that we’re going to be OK. And that if I have to give up my warm showers, it’ll be because somehow, against all odds, society lost the ability to provide them. I don’t see that happening.
posted by tepidmonkey at 9:18 PM on October 9, 2007


Today I learned that Plasma TV's actually consume significantly more power than traditional CRT's - to the extent that under an upcoming assessment of appliance efficiency in Australia, they might actually all be banned.

And Plasma TV's are the big consumer item at the moment. People are throwing themselves way into debt to get their hands on one. People just don't give energy consumption a second thought.

posted by Jimbob at 9:18 PM on October 9, 2007


Jimbob: But, pragmatically, how the hell are you going to stop people?

Conversation. With as many people as possible. Being friendly. Being curious. Being outraged now and then. Writing letters. Writing articles. Calling in to radio shows. Putting up posters. Trying to work with others on projects that can be demonstrable examples of simpler, more locally-based options. Lobbying governments. Ignoring governments. Gumming up the works when necessary. Raising sane, loving children.

It's a challenge, sure. But humanity regularly sees itself as up to mounting all sorts of impossibilities of a destructive nature. This one seems especially worthy of our ingenuity.

Can it possibly work? I don't know at all. But I do know for sure that our current lifestyle isn't working, period. The choice seems obvious. I'll take possible success over definite failure, every time.

Anyway, I'm quite tired, and getting fossil fuels in Mikey-san's face by staying on the internet (wink), so I'll be going. I've enjoyed the discussion though.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:27 PM on October 9, 2007


Hmm, now not only will the US invade us for our fresh water, they'll then be coming at us for our uranium?
posted by porpoise at 9:28 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Conversation. With as many people as possible. Being friendly. Being curious. Being

Um... what about the rich? The ones both in power and using the most power? You know, the ones you can't just have a conversation with. Saying it's all a matter of individual choices ignores issues of class (and class consciousness), doesn't it? I mean, if you're looking to assign blame...
posted by poweredbybeard at 9:33 PM on October 9, 2007


a little background: there's been a long standing debate over whether NZ will one day have to resort to nuclear.

I have no problem with it being "on the table" and in many countries it's one of the best solutions, but I resent it being on the table, with it's associated costs (in the broader sense), without some sort of work to encourage people to consume power more efficiently, and with knowledge about what the costs of it's production are.

I'm lucky in that i'm aware of where my power comes from, and that it also comes from a renewable source (hydroelectric dam) and I can use with relatively little guilt. But, for example, our house it poorly insulated, and it's beyond my means to use electric heating in winter because of the cost involved. The option I would advocate would be insulation, of course - the efficient answer that decreases consumption of electricity and means I don't have to use firewood.

As far as shaping habits go, well, from a legistlative point of view it's usually pretty easy. Knowing full well there are only so many hydro sites in our country, the local government has given subsidies and interest free loans to people to insulate their homes, replace coal burners and fireplaces with pellet fires, and so on. There is where I would like to see "human innovation" directed.

-

As regards to my "faith in mankind" well, I think we've gotten this far partly due to luck and partly due to our own merits. No, I don't think it's going to be "the end of the world" but I think it's short sighted or intellectually lazy to say "oh well, if you're right we're screwed anyway" or "we'll pull through no matter what cos we always do" because neither are true. Yes, we are a resilient species with a lot at our disposal, but we can't assume anything, not least because inherent in the assumption is often an unwillingness to change problem behaviour.

To be completely honest, I don't know what the state of our climate is, so I err on the side of conservation. Taken to a society level, this sort of view will cultivate efficient living, and a wider awareness of the consequences of our lifestyle (ie, landfills) which IMO can only be a good thing.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 9:33 PM on October 9, 2007


The objection is this: our lifestyle is unsustainable. … Not to get all socialist on you - but this is the true face of capitalism right here, and it shocks me to see people so rudely defensive of their non-existent right-to-buy and live as excessively as they want. This is what should be on the defensive here, not some guy who's told you to use a bike for once and maybe consider not living ten miles from your place of work.

See, here's the problem: not to get all human-nature on you, but people like having stuff. They like having stuff a lot. And as a group, collectively, human beings are pretty stupid; we're "dumb, panicky animals," and that's on a good day. On an average day we're cruel, selfish animals, and the fact that our consumption patterns are going to doom us as a species isn't going to change individual behaviors significantly. If it did, we wouldn't have the problem in the first place.

If we don't come up with a better energy source, people aren't going to suddenly decide to play nice, buy locally, turn off the TV, and ride bikes to work. They're going to keep doing whatever they've been doing, as long as they can possibly afford to do it, and they're going to push as many of the costs off on others, by any means necessary.

And when the going gets tough, human beings will do what we're really, really good at: kill each other. And I don't just mean on an individual level (although that may happen eventually), I mean on the organized nation-state level. I firmly believe, based on all the available evidence, that the majority of the people on the earth who have tasted energy-intensive industrialization will kill each other to maintain it for as long as they can, rather than reduce consumption if that means a lifestyle change away from luxuries. (And in a way, we already do; we pump tremendous quantities of poison into the atmosphere in order to maintain our lifestyles, without much of a second thought.)

Perhaps I'm wrong. But do you really want to take that risk? Are you really so confident in your ability to get people to change their way of life, that you wouldn't prefer to take a path that avoids the confrontation between lifestyles and resources? At least if we transition to nuclear power, you have a few more generations (at least) to make your argument to the world.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:35 PM on October 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: If all you've got is snark, why are you here?
posted by Mikey-San at 9:37 PM on October 9, 2007


poweredbybeard: Saying it's all a matter of individual choices ignores issues of class (and class consciousness), doesn't it?

Yes. Fair enough.

I mean, if you're looking to assign blame...

I'm not.

And now I really am going to bed :)
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:37 PM on October 9, 2007


five fresh fish - An odd thought: if only we could convert global warming into electricity.

Stirling engines - put them top of rocks or man-made heat sinks, let them run during the night when the air is a little cooler and the rock/whatever retains heat.
posted by porpoise at 9:37 PM on October 9, 2007


Jimbob: You're right about tidal. I was using old information when I was bitching – it actually looks pretty interesting now.

Regicide, et al: I don't think any of your (admirably ecological) suggestions address what to do about large-scale industrial electricity usage, which is ... pretty much most of it.

In 2004, energy usage was about:
90 quadrillion btu for transporation (inc. non-personal, which is quite a bit, as far as I can tell)
50 quadrillion btu for household energy use
25 quadrillion btu for commercial services use
160 quadrillion btu for industrial use

I don't think you can blame all of that on spoiled people with energy-intensive lives, some of that industry is devoted to the military – probably a lot of it, since the US uses 100q btu all by itself. (data)

Also I'd like to say "hurfdurf you're on the internet too haha gotcha" because I like saying hurfdurf whenever I can.
posted by blacklite at 9:42 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Turn off the television, exit the video game, refrain from mindless web surfing, go outside, and meet your neighbours.

But I hate my neighbors.
posted by Avenger at 9:44 PM on October 9, 2007


But I hate my neighbors.

Kill them and take their precious electricity.
posted by Mikey-San at 9:46 PM on October 9, 2007 [7 favorites]


porpoise: I mean as in "extract two degrees of temperature energy from the atmosphere, to counter the effects of global warming."

Actually, tidal energy might do the trick there. Extracting energy from the ocean will cool it; it will extract heat from the atmosphere. But... it'll also extract it from our core, and that will cause something bad to happen, too. Damn!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:51 PM on October 9, 2007


refrain from mindless web surfing, go outside, and meet your neighbours.

But I already paid my MetaFilter rent, and I don't live in the U.K.
posted by Curry at 9:57 PM on October 9, 2007


inherent in the assumption is often an unwillingness to change problem behaviour.

It’s not problem behavior if I have faith that everything will turn out OK. :)

It may be intellectually lazy, but I’m not a scientist either, and I can’t solve the problem myself. Looking back on past human achievements, I comfort myself by believing we’ll pull through again. There’s no guarantee, but (1) I take offense to the notion that even under the best circumstances humans should change their consumption habits, and (2) in terms of technological advancement I wouldn’t know what to do if global warming really is our death knell.
posted by tepidmonkey at 9:57 PM on October 9, 2007


Jimbob: Actually, the big thing right now are LCD TVs, in most cases. Most new big flatscreen TVs are LCD, since it gives you higher resolution, and the current fad is "Full HD". LCDs consume very little power, as far as I can tell. OLED displays, coming out of prototype and into products you can actually buy right now, should be even better. Electronics are not really the problem, I think, people keep wanting them smaller and lighter and with longer battery lives, so they keep using less power.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:21 PM on October 9, 2007


If only poweredbybeard were eponysterical.

I only just now got this.
Good one, tepidmonkey.

And you know, I'm also a little suspicious, as others are, of the "just be nice and make sense to everyone" approach that regicide is advocating (doesn't have a great track record itself, that), but the main objection seems to be this:

If we don't come up with a better energy source, people aren't going to suddenly decide to play nice, buy locally, turn off the TV, and ride bikes to work. They're going to keep doing whatever they've been doing, as long as they can possibly afford to do it, and they're going to push as many of the costs off on others, by any means necessary

Right, because all of humanity has to change all at once (be it through Ecological Rapture or nuclear power)? Setting the bar a bit hgh, aren't we? Maybe we can be content to start with the few who will "decide to play nice."

Though I'm only up for that if we do remember what blacklite pointed out.

(Also, what Dillonlikescookies said.)
posted by poweredbybeard at 10:22 PM on October 9, 2007


well, i'd like to think that hindsight is 20/20, but now we're at an age where, for example, we have enough nuclear weapons to wipe most species off the face of the earth, among other things. to say we have survived up until now is one thing, but we have only had the capability to destroy ourselves, through ignorance, stupidity, poor decision making, bad risk management, or even intentionally - for thirty years or so (for that one example) assuming you believe as I do, that it is possible for us to destroy ourselves by inducing climate change, that is a possibility that has only risen to serious contention with the rise of, say, personal automobiles, and one that becomes increasingly likely as our rates of CO2 production continue to increase.

In short, we are still alive today because we have only had the technological capability to cause our own destruction recently, and other than that? Luck. Cuban missile crisis was a close call, the most prominent I can think of. There is nothing inherently indestructible about us or our biosphere. So we act cautiously, and look - respiratory problems are down, so are several cancers, diseases, and pollution. Not to mention it cultivates the idea of personal responsibility in citizens - I always thought it would be difficult to teach a child to bear in mind the consequences of their actions while driving around in a large SUV, not recycling, or so on. Not attacking anyone, I'm just saying, our society isn't exactly consistent.

This conversation is drifting, somewhat - but I think it's foolish to think we'll pull through without doing something to ensure it.

If someone appeared on the news tomorrow saying they had developed a new method of generating energy, that was both portable (could be used for transport and small electronics) and scaleable to quantities needed to power any city in the world - without any environmental impacts, well, great, we could rest easy - except for two things.

1. How many times has a wondrous new technology (out of the genuine ones) that would change everything later discovered to have significant side effects that prohibit it's use? The idea that something "amazing" will come and save us from problems that are caused by earlier technologies anyway is.. well, I can't think of a polite way to put it.

2. As someone pointed out earlier - even the "perfect" energy policy would have problems because it is only concerned with generation and not end use.

It's a valid and important point that consumer use is only a small share of electricity consumption - indeed, one smelter in New Zealand (admittedly a small country) uses 13 percent of our countries electricity, but that is no reason to shirk from responsible consumption. You can also talk about how trying to work against irresponsible consumption wouldn't touch the rich and powerful - but that's only true when something is limited and small scale. I can easily imagine, as I'm sure you can, that if responsible energy use took off, and was taken to heart by a community, people would fall in line with it. I stop short of saying everyone would, but most would.

I'm not doom and gloom, really I'm not. I think we can enjoy a luxury level of energy use in all forms, and continue to do so without doing harm to the environment - if we stop believing the environment, and we, will recover from any damage we manage to do each other.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 10:23 PM on October 9, 2007


Looking back on past human achievements, I comfort myself by believing we’ll pull through again.

Well, what things have we "pulled through" in the past?

The "Green Revolution" in Agriculture might be one example of the human application of technology to rapidly increase the amount of food we're able to produce, for example. Good job.

...except that population has rapidly kept up with that ability to produce food, the "Green Revolution" relies on energy and chemicals from fossil fuels, intensive agriculture has rapidly depleted freshwater supplies, destroyed native vegetation that provides essential services to the planet, and has led to salinity and other forms of soil degradation...
posted by Jimbob at 10:25 PM on October 9, 2007


2. As someone pointed out earlier - even the "perfect" energy policy would have problems because it is only concerned with generation and not end use.

Yup. I have to reiterate what I said upthread: global warming is the new kid on the block. Carbon aside, we're still deforesting, etc. at an alarming rate.
posted by poweredbybeard at 10:28 PM on October 9, 2007


I think I’ve been confusing the problems of energy generation – coal, oil, nuclear, etc. – with the problems that result – global warming, radiation, etc. My original question was simply, If there were a perfect source of energy that had no deleterious effects, should humans still have to change their behavior? Because I get the feeling that a part of energy-related moralizing comes from a dislike for the kind of person who’d drive a Hummer.

In the real world, where are there are no perfect solutions, I don’t know enough except to say that nuclear energy sounds appealing, and, if at all possible, people shouldn’t have to alter their consumption habits. Sustainability depends on humanity’s ability to innovate.
posted by tepidmonkey at 10:41 PM on October 9, 2007


I don’t know enough except to say that nuclear energy sounds appealing, and, if at all possible, people shouldn’t have to alter their consumption habits.

I think any indigenous community living near a clearcut/mine/megadam/etc. would disagree.
posted by poweredbybeard at 10:43 PM on October 9, 2007


You can't argue with Greenpeace dogma. I quote verbatim from an argument I had with a GP liberal studies lecturer way back.

GP Lecturer : 'There is no solution to the problem of nuclear waste'

Me : 'Woaah! What about when we get space flight sorted out and safe - we could just lob the waste into the sun!'

GP Lecturer : 'Now Simon, I don't think we even want to think about contaminating the sun with nuclear waste, do we?'

'Duh?'
posted by surfdad at 10:44 PM on October 9, 2007


Actually, tidal energy might do the trick there. Extracting energy from the ocean will cool it; it will extract heat from the atmosphere. But... it'll also extract it from our core, and that will cause something bad to happen, too. Damn!

Also occurs to me that with the Arctic about to disappear, the Atlantic deep ocean cycle is toast. The Atlantic is going to turn into a stagnant cesspool of algae and jellies. And they're going to be rotting and releasing a lot of methane...

...Which we can burn for energy, thus solving the geothermal crisis we caused by using tidal energy! Whoo-hoo, we win again!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:45 PM on October 9, 2007


If there were a perfect source of energy that had no deleterious effects, should humans still have to change their behavior?

Yes. We would still have to reduce emissions from other processes. We might also wish to preserve those alternative energy/fuel sources that have greater value for some other, long-term viable, use. We probably wouldn't (all the now-unneeded gasoline would be converted into plastics in a heartbeat) though, because long-term thinking has never been our specie's forté.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:51 PM on October 9, 2007


Me : 'Woaah! What about when we get space flight sorted out and safe - we could just lob the waste into the sun!'

Building a spaceship is sustainable now?
posted by poweredbybeard at 10:55 PM on October 9, 2007


If there were a perfect source of energy that had no deleterious effects, should humans still have to change their behavior?

Oh hell no. Consumption is what we do. It's our pre-programmed imperative. It's why capitalism coincides so nicely with resource depletion. We'll figure out how to mine this planet to a husk, and only then will we begin thinking outward. Stupid monkeys only got one thumb up on dinosaurs. Next iteration: solar-powered monkeys. Universe will get it right eventually.

Yes, I believe we're doomed.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:02 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


On regicide:

A site called Worldchanging described his scenario as the Mythological Universal Conversion Event:

That's the real problem with the strategy of voluntary simplicity: it depends on the entire planet, or at least nearly the entire planet, agreeing spontaneously to all forgo the myriad pleasures and enticements of modern wealth and live in a simpler, perhaps truer way. This is what I think of as the Mythological Universal Conversion Event. Needless to say, the Mythological Universal Conversion Event hasn't yet arrived. If you still believe it's coming, that's fine: I don't.

In fact, all the evidence suggests that quite the opposite is happening. That what I think of as the Baywatch Effect has already taken hold (though it might more realistically be called the Bollywood Effect these days).

See, while it's true that the average ecological footprint is 2.3 hectares per person (when it should be 1.9) some of us have bigger feet than others. Those resources aren't used equally: the average American uses nearly 10 hectares, the average Chinese uses only about one and a half, while the average Pakistani has only about 6/10 of a hectare.

And there aren't a lot of teenagers around the world clamoring to live like Pakistanis. No, what the kids want, from Novosibirsk to Capetown and everywhere in between, is to live like Americans, or at least Italians. They want stereos. They want refrigerators. They want cars. They want computers. They want better lives.

posted by zabuni at 11:03 PM on October 9, 2007


fff, emissions from other processes, as in, cars and factories? Those processes involve energy-generation too, which I was including in my hypothetical question.

Also, alternative energy is a relative thing. Compared to the time when people had to burn wood for heat, coal was an alternative.

On preview, the part of zabuni’s quote about living “in a simpler, perhaps truer way” is my problem with this whole thing. How is wanting to go back to nature a truer way of life? Humans should fight natural selection, not give into it. The thought sounds silly but curing malaria and building nuclear power plants fall into the same category for me. I said it before and I’ll say it again: sustainability depends on the ability of humans (individual ones, successively) to innovate.
posted by tepidmonkey at 11:13 PM on October 9, 2007


Jimbob, Joakim Ziegler. re televisions, you'd be interested in this (actually i suspect you've already read it Jimbob). By the way, LCDs are somewhat similar to good old CRTs for consumption, it's plasmas that are the baddies, but LCDs are not entirely guilt free.
posted by wilful at 11:13 PM on October 9, 2007


How is wanting to go back to nature a truer way of life? Humans should fight natural selection, not give into it.

Well I guess that's a fundamental ideological division.

Some folks put humans at the top level of importance. There's actually nothing wrong with that - it's perfectly natural.

Others look at the sum-total of other life on the planet, and conclude that as a whole, it might be a bit more important than ensuring humans maintain their lifestyles. I think that's a valid point of view as well. Some people don't just dislike cars because they produce greenhouse gasses; some dislike cars because the highways they run on, and the mining for the minerals that they're made of destroy elements of the natural environment that help us survive and provide us with joy.

Sure, it's not rational to care more about Spotted Owls than your neighbours. But neither is it rational to live a destructive lifestyle that could destroy or drastically alter humanity before we have the solutions.

Rationality doesn't enter into it. Either the sum-total value you place on "humanity" as a whole, or the value you place on "the planet" as a whole, is greater.

Then, of course, you have the added complexity of how much faith you have in humans to innovate, how much faith you have in the ability of nature to survive change. And you've got the fact that natural systems do provide us services. Any idea when we're going to build some kind of device that can make us as much oxygen as the Amazon Rainforest or the seagrass beds?

Personally, I don't think you can isolate humans from the natural environment, and think only in terms of solutions to aid our own survival.

There's a famous story about, I think it was someone in Regan's cabinet, addressing the issue of the hole in the ozone layer; "People can just wear sunscreen!". But we can hardly put sunscreen on all the cows we eat, standing out in the sun all day, can we?
posted by Jimbob at 11:37 PM on October 9, 2007


Others look at the sum-total of other life on the planet, and conclude that as a whole, it might be a bit more important than ensuring humans maintain their lifestyles. I think that's a valid point of view as well.

Yyyyyeah, you might say that... since it's the planet that makes our lifestyles possible in the first place.

Sure, it's not rational to care more about Spotted Owls than your neighbours

I don't know about that. If you mean three or four specific Spotted Owls, you are correct.

If you mean the entire species of Spotted Owls, you are incorrect. Taken as a whole, the world's population of Spotted Owls has a more important niche in the ecosystem than my neighbours do, and it's the ecosystem that allows me to eat - or, in its infinite patience, watch Adam Sandler movies, or absolutely anything else we could name.
posted by poweredbybeard at 12:12 AM on October 10, 2007


for those who see technology as the answer to our current problems, i can only say that it was technology that brought us here.

for those who see the conquest of space as the answer, i can only say if we couldn't make it here what makes you think we'll do any better there?

want to make a personal, obvious, and meaningful impact on global warming? Euthanasia
posted by altman at 12:16 AM on October 10, 2007


How fucking depressing you fucks are. Selfish bunch of fucking head-up-your-arse cunts. Fucking smug fucking western fuckwits - it's times like these I wish there was a punitive God, and they came on down and flayed your stinking selfish fucking wasteful flesh with ants dipped in acid.

Fuck you for making me a total misanthrop (for a day at least).
posted by strawberryviagra at 1:14 AM on October 10, 2007


'for those who see technology as the answer to our current problems, i can only say that it was technology that brought us here'

Here doesn't seem too bad. Technology lets us sustain a population of billions instead of millions - who you gonna make dead?

for those who see the conquest of space as the answer, i can only say if we couldn't make it here what makes you think we'll do any better there?

At least we'd get away from the tree huggers.


Building a spaceship is sustainable now?

It will be when it gives you access to off-planet resources.
posted by surfdad at 1:15 AM on October 10, 2007


How fucking depressing you fucks are. Selfish bunch of fucking head-up-your-arse cunts. Fucking smug fucking western fuckwits - it's times like these I wish there was a punitive God, and they came on down and flayed your stinking selfish fucking wasteful flesh with ants dipped in acid.

Somebody needs to ask their doctor if Paxil is right for them.
posted by Justinian at 1:19 AM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


ten pounds of inedita, I need you to source that more likely to be killed by a falling wind turbine blade stat.

The wind climate change paper you are looking for is Keith, DeCarolis et al, The influence of large-scale wind-power on global climate (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101: 16115-16120). You should read Keith's comentary on the paper too before making statements about it.
posted by scruss at 5:14 AM on October 10, 2007


I mean as in "extract two degrees of temperature energy from the atmosphere, to counter the effects of global warming."

But when you used the energy to do work, that would make heat, and you're back to square one. See also, Sax's Magical Wind Generators.

I suppose you could, if you really wanted to, use atmospheric or oceanic thermal energy to generate electricity that you then used only to power a multi-terawatt microwave transmitter that blasted the energy out into the void.

Have an array of the fuckers and maybe you could heat Mars with them...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:16 AM on October 10, 2007


Earlier in the thread someone said if you put a carbon tax on electricity generation nuclear would be more expensive than renewables, in which case there is no argument for nuclear. But then I've also heard that nuclear is stacks cheaper than the non-fossil fuel alternatives. At this point I've heard so many different opinions that I'm guessing no-one knows. So why don't we just introduce the carbon tax and find out?
Seems to me that would solve all the problems raised in this thread. Am I wrong?
posted by greytape at 5:54 AM on October 10, 2007


I've also heard that the world's supply of uranium is by no means guaranteed

In the very long-term, there's plenty of uranium to last a long time. It will get more expensive once the easy stuff is gone, but no real worries yet.

Short-term, like within the next 50 years, it's more complicated, and some deficit of supply was forecast as possible by the IAEA in the case of high demand. That was with demand in 50 years very approximately double what it is today, iirc. The rate at which supply can be increased is one limiting factor for the rate at which the world can increase nuclear power generation.

At a rough estimate, if the US were to double its nuclear power generation over the next 30 years, which seems a rather optimistic goal, it could reduce its CO2 emissions by some 10% or less compared to present levels. More probably, emissions would increase by that much less, as the reduction would be less than the recent rate of increase compounded over that time. So yeah, I'm all for nuclear power, but it's not by itself going to fix all our problems.

Also note that the CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power as its presently done seems to be a bit controversial, but it's certainly not zero.
posted by sfenders at 6:14 AM on October 10, 2007


sustainability depends on the ability of humans (individual ones, successively) to innovate... intelligently.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:48 AM on October 10, 2007


You should read Keith's comentary on the paper too before making statements about it.

So wind power isn't just a clean energy alternative but might also produce climate changes in it's own that reduces the impact of the current global warming? Fund this research asap!
posted by mnsc at 7:50 AM on October 10, 2007


I've read about halfway down so far and couple points come to mind.

1). No new technology will ever come out as long as the money to be made off the old technology is greater than the new technology. Or if the old technology is directly threatening the rich people that own it. Gotta love capitalism!
2). Right now there is no 100% clean and renewable power source. In the future I would love to see homes run off of their personal solar panels, I would be the first in line. But again we got those rich jerks who are making tons of cash off the old bad for you stuff.
3). All technology is made out of necessity not want. The first power plants were designed using coal and whatnot because it was the easiest way to get it done. We needed power and this supplied it. Simply just because we want new sources of power isn't enough to get it done. Case in point, look at oil. If we can make missles to blow the planet up 1000 times over, put a man on the moon, send spacecraft to far (in our minds) reaches of space, are you telling me we can't make a car that lasts longer than 10 years and runs off something other than oil? BS again rich jerks making money = pooch screw for us.
4). The only way a change will happen is if a. we screw the planet up so bad that it becomes a necessity to change or b. someone with enough money says Fawk it! I am going to spend my fortune for the benefit of humanity. or lastly c. someone comes along and says fawk it I am going to make changes in the way things are so I can be the first to make money when everyone has to switch over... gotta love capitalism again!

Lastly I will leave you all with a quote I like....

True strength is not who has the most money, power, etc but the one who can adapt to change.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:11 AM on October 10, 2007


WRT to the Uranium supply, it's plentiful in both Australia and Canada-- friendly hands compared to, say, the Middle East. Despite its problems at Cigar Lake, Cameco has huge reserves and a nice ore body. Much of the Aussie supply is greenfield, as the provincial governments, wanting coal revenue, have banned Uranium mining. This would change, of course, with sufficiently high Uranium prices. The seawater argument is true-- we could extract Uranium form seawater and still have a meaningfully positive energy balance.

Of course, Thorium makes almost all of this moot, anyway.

Oh, Uranium mines are pretty safe when you make the comparisons using proper yardsticks, and attitudes like poweredbybeard's are extremely dangerous.

And, mastercheddar, you're a crank.
posted by Kwantsar at 8:29 AM on October 10, 2007


There is very little in the way of technological developments that are actually beneficial to the human race overall. Once the parasitic technologies are cut back or eradicated we can start to live in a more sustainable way.

Computers are already being developed to run on lower power, as one example.
posted by asok at 10:10 AM on October 10, 2007


regicide plans to generate electricity through the pure power of human self-righteousness.

I hope your just trying to be funny, otherwise that is a sincerely dickhead thing to say to a guy that was being genuinely sincere... and essentially he was right.

BTW. The answerer is not either/or. The answer is we should build more nuclear plants AND we should be looking to alter our consumer lifestyles.

One way or another most of us, or our children, or our grandchildren, are going to have to do that anyway. Unless you endorse surrendering to the barbarism of the past. Your "love" of the present system is irrelevant. I'm sure those at the top of the 10th century Aristocracy loved being there, too. I'm sure slave owners said the same god damned thing.

In order to sustain the rate of growth in our consumer lifestyles in the west there is only one other choice - and that will be to abandon many of our notions of justice, human rights, and compassion. Because we will HAVE to exploit the shit out of the developing world in order to compete. Wars? We have to have MORE of them. Your massive consumption is not a birth right. You (or your children, etc) will have to fight for it.

It is insane how many people in this thread (and in others) pile on people simply telling you the facts. It's like getting defensive and angry over somebody telling you the sky is blue.

Stop it. Think.

Nobody should be getting angry over facts. And for once can we avoid the Reductio ad absurdum, appeal to ridicule, an informal fallacy in these arguments. IOW: Yes. I realize I am not typing this on a computer made of sticks and I don't live in a cave. But what I am saying is none the less true.

And the fact is six billion people cannot live like we live now. Five billion can't. Three billion can't. 2 billion can't. Not for any great length of time. Not without some truly miraculous breakthrough in clean energy creation... and that is not likely before we hit the tipping point.

And the tipping point, itself, is not the end of the world. See. this is the problem. People view not living in a 8,000 sq ft house, owning three cars and having every conceivable consumer gadget as the end of the world.

It's not a sacrifice. Those things were bonuses in the first place. Life can be every bit as full filling with out tons of "stuff." You have been brainwashed to think this. They have so terrified you from considering the impact of your life style you can't imagine living without eight pairs of jeans, and ten pairs of tennis shoes.

Why thinking about the impact of your lifestyle means somebody is taking away your iPod! Oh noes! Which is not true.

What we are saying is you don't need five iPods. You don't need a new "thing" every six months to replace the old "thing." I mean really. How hard is it to buy energy efficient appliances, compact fluorescent, or find ways to use mass transit? For fuck sake.

If we don't examine and consciously alter our way of life — economics and nature will. And it won't be pretty.

The world will survive. Human civilization will survive. People need to stop clouding the issue with that sort of rhetoric. But what cannot be understated is the effect continued massive consumerism will have on social justice.

You don't have to love the planet, or whatever trite shit you think this about.

It's about you loving your children. Or their children. It's about humanity. The planet will go on just fine without us.

If you have any sense of justice and compassion, and an understanding of history, you would realize what happens when people HAVE to fight over resources.
posted by tkchrist at 10:30 AM on October 10, 2007 [6 favorites]


I wonder, if all the self-righteous people in the west, instead of sitting around wasting valuable resources, making futile attempts to change basic human nature, just off'd themselves, how much energy that would save. Think of all the net traffic e-savings alone.... Seriously, I suspect the most effective method for an individual to impact the human footprint is to remove the human altogether, and since the selfish people aren't going to, I'm look at you, mister and missus I'll-do-anything-to-save-the-planet.
We see cults that manage to convince their members to off themselves for the greater good, how about someone following thru on their own less-is-more rhetoric? If you have access to the net, you really aren't doing much to reduce your footprint.
posted by nomisxid at 11:08 AM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Back to the first post: is Peter Ward's theory of anoxic extinction plausible, or just speculative? Because that would bring a whole new urgency to the global warming issue.

tkchrist: The planet will go on just fine without us.

Actually, if Ward is correct, it wouldn't. Almost all forms of life would be wiped out.

Previous Scientific American article by Ward.

Oceanic Anoxia and the End Permian Mass Extinction, by Wignall and Twitchett.

The tempo of mass extinction and recovery: The end-Permian example, by Bowring, Erwin, and Isozaki.

Extinction, by Richard Cowen. There's still an ongoing argument about the possible causes of the end-Permian extinction, but the scenario described by Ward sounds like a strong possibility.

Burnt Coal From Dinosaur Age Sheds Light On Today's Global Warming.
... a new theory holds that [oceanic extinction events] – in particular the Toarcian OAE, which occurred about 183 million years ago during the age of dinosaurs – are triggered by the burning of vast underground coalfields. These coalfields were set ablaze by the intrusion of molten rock from the Earth's crust....

Although OAEs are not universally accepted as models upon which an understanding of modern climate change can be based, this new research sheds light on the possible consequences of the current level of consumption of carbon-based fuels.

"If the incredibly high global temperatures that occurred during the Toarcian oceanic anoxic event were caused by burning a significant amount of the Earth's coal deposits within one hundred thousand years, it doesn't take much imagination to realize what will happen if we burn most of the Earth's remaining fossil fuels over the coming century, which is what we are in the process of doing," McElwain said.
I guess we'll have to wait to see reviews of Ward's book from the scientific community--but it sounds like a significant risk.

Previous post on climate change policy. Besides nuclear power, the main contenders are conservation, renewables, and clean fossil fuels (e.g. through coal-burning power plants with carbon capture and storage).
posted by russilwvong at 12:39 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Obviously there needs to be a multispectrum answer - conservation as well as energy alternatives, but I think this applies to the political/social realm as well.
Certainly you can be nice and incentivize business such that it’s more profitable to go into more renewable sustainable ventures. You can also be tough and penalize business that don’t. And this could extend to the personal level, you can work with your neighbor and put through a community infrastructure plan (bike paths, etc) and the neighbors that just want to sit on their ass and watch their plasma t.v. you can put through a wall.
Nice - and tough.
(Sometimes the best way to make folks of one mind is to smash their heads together)

...I wonder if Bono is going to do a new song.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:30 PM on October 10, 2007


There is very little in the way of technological developments that are actually beneficial to the human race overall.

Hey! Ned! Ned Ludd! Long time no see buddy, how you been?

Anyway, I disagree so completely with your premise that I honestly can't see how you possibly came to it. It's like you are asserting with a straight face that the sky is red or something. If you truly believe it, what the fuck are you doing posting to a website using a computer that runs on electricty while sitting in a home built using modern technology surrounded by other such homes.

Practice what you preach, brother.

But when you used the energy to do work, that would make heat, and you're back to square one. See also, Sax's Magical Wind Generators.

hurf durf hurf durf, Red Mars.
posted by Justinian at 1:57 PM on October 10, 2007


I've also heard that the world's supply of uranium is by no means guaranteed

Well, it depends on political factors.

You see, nuclear power reactors are commonly designed to run on Uranium-235. And global supplies of U235 are limited.

But there is a nifty invention called a Fast Breeder reactor. It burns Uranium-235, and also transforms worthless Uranium-238 into more nuclear fuel. And there are vast quantities of U238. Problem solved, right?

Not so fast. The fuel it produces is Plutonium. And many of the powers that be do not want large quantities of potential nuclear weapon material accumulating.
posted by Nyrath at 2:03 PM on October 10, 2007


nomisxid please feel free to start with your selfish idiotic self.
posted by tkchrist at 3:20 PM on October 10, 2007


If you truly believe it, what the fuck are you doing posting to a website using a computer that runs on electricty while sitting in a home built using modern technology surrounded by other such homes.

And again it comes to this sad reductio ad absurdum and appeal to ridicule.

If I say you should use a CFL light bulb I have to live in cave for you to take it seriously? WTF?

Get this through your heads people: A rejection of mass consumerist culture and waste is NOT a rejection of a technological society.

Sure some people talk like they want to live in tribes and shit like that is the solution to the worlds problems. Well. Ok. Those people are morons.

But every time this topic comes up some asshole has to say "well... uh... YOU don't live in a cave... so practice what you preach... hurf durf!"

Like THAT is an argument. Like that alters the fabric of reality.

Why. Golly, I DON'T live in cave! So I guess wasteful consumerism is okee dokee smokee. It isn't a problem at all! YAY!

If this is your argument, guys like Justinian and nomisxid, then EVERY time we have ANY debate on MeFi every body including you has to produce Bona Fides and a CV so they won't be discounted based on some sort of simple minded reductio ad absurdum "hypocrisies" standard.

Let's say I do outline what I personally have done to "reduce my foot print" Would it be enough for you to listen? No. You would pick it apart. Or you would further scream "self righteous!"?

Okay. Here you go and for future reference:

I used to live in a 6800 Sq Ft house. I downsized, willingly and happily to a 1200 Sq Ft condo. My condo has a green roof and uses modern water and energy conservation technology. I sold or gave away about 40% of my possessions and will not ever "replace" them. I moved my business at great expense to where I could walk to it and to where it would conserve space and energy. I bought a bio diesel vehicle that get 55 MPG. I bought all energy conserving appliances. I eat mostly organic locally grown food. I recycle. I don't spend frivolously. I rid my self of of most my non-business debt.

Gee. Aren't I special.

Remember. Shooting the messenger has more to with your cognitive dissonance and your own sense of guilt than any refutation of the facts.
posted by tkchrist at 3:59 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


And yet your lifestyle is still "unsustainable" by the metric you propose. So you're just, what, less hypocritical than other people?
posted by Justinian at 4:18 PM on October 10, 2007


By the way, I ahve no cognitive dissonance because I reject the notion that I was responding to, that most technological advancement isn't good for humanity. Which is a ridiculous assertion.
posted by Justinian at 4:18 PM on October 10, 2007


Yeah, I was actually just trying to be funny, tkchrist. I actually agree with regicide's points. In fact, I pretty much agree with everone's points in this thread, but I probably shouldn't continue the discussion because I'm a pessimistic misanthropic bastard.

I believe climate change is an issue.

I believe we aren't going to be able to fix the problem. It's too late.

I believe we aren't going to have the technological advancements in time. I believe we aren't going to suddenly change human behavior on mass. I believe the political and economic inertia will continue to hold us back from doing the radical things that need to be done. I believe things probably will disintegrate into violence as the realities of our civilization come home to roost - not just climate change, but everything else as well, resource wars, overpopulation, economic inequality. Humans probably won't do well out of it all.

I take some comfort in my knowledge that natural systems, as a whole, are resilient. Species will go extinct. Ecosystems will be lost. New species will radiate. New ecosystems will form. It gives me some comfort that the world will keep ticking even if humans are fucked.
posted by Jimbob at 5:15 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Some more than others, it would seem.
posted by strawberryviagra at 7:31 PM on October 10, 2007


...I also take comfort in the fact that when it comes to straight-out resource conflict, the third world has the numbers...

Kwantsar: Much of the Aussie supply is greenfield, as the provincial governments, wanting coal revenue, have banned Uranium mining.

Well that's one way of looking at it; the Labor party, that currently controls all of those "provincial governments", had a longstanding policy of "Three Mines" - only allowing the operation of three Uranium mines in Australia at one time - publicly out of concern for nuclear proliferation, but you're right, protecting coal was likely an alternative motive. In any case, in the last year the Labor party has altered it's policy, and it's now full-steam ahead with more uranium mines.
posted by Jimbob at 8:12 PM on October 10, 2007


tkchrist, your reduced footprint is still, what, 10,000 starving africans? You seem to care more about being able to look down on other people, than you really do about 'the planet'. The planet is a big ball of rock. We've seen that life can live in places where we can't, in environments we would consider toxic. You aren't saving the planet, you're saving yourself. You are just as selfish as those you deride.


It's funny how you rant and rave at how everyone else is sticking their heads in the sand, completely ignoring the fact that you're so far in, only your feet are showing anymore. If you paid any attention to history, you'd know just how unrealistic your idealism is. Not admirable unrealistic, patheticly self-important unrealistic.

Look at all the things you think you did that helped, "at great expense I moved my business". Yeah, sounds like a real foot print reduction. All that money you spent went to feeding the consumer culture, you didn't save anything, you just spent a bunch of money all at once, so other people could put it back into the consumer culture for you. You didn't drop out and stop feeding the beast, you put it on an 4000 calorie Atkins diet. You haven't reduced your footprint, you've just concentrated it, shifted it to the people you bought your conscience from. All those energy saving appliances cost more energy to produce.

You aren't special, you're just like every other short-sighted person who thinks your lifestyle will somehow matter to a bunch of rocks, in a million years. No matter how many people you convince to go organic, they all will die. Their children will die. Every species on this planet at this moment, is doomed, no matter what you do.

There's many positive lessons to be learned from a religion, even one that one doesn't believe in. One of the messages christians are supposed to be sharing is that the best missionaries aren't the self-righteous guys shouting on the street corners, it's the people that make their lives a testament to the power of the values they believe in. You don't get religioun hammered into you, you notice your neighbor seems so much happier than you, and ask him why. You don't get people to stop living a consumer lifestyle by preaching on a website, to which your ability to post proves you still live in the consumer world, you do so by living so happily without, that people want to copy your lifestyle to share the joy.
posted by nomisxid at 8:16 PM on October 10, 2007


oh, and tkchrist, I'm not starting with myself, cause I didn't stand up and say, "hey look at me, I'm sooooo much better than everyone else". You did. And it's not reducto absurdum, it's a serious question, if you really care so much, why did you stop at 40%? Do you REALLY think you're that important and influential that your preaching will save the other 60%? really?
posted by nomisxid at 8:25 PM on October 10, 2007


Shut up.
posted by strawberryviagra at 9:16 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


who's talking to you strawberry? I'm talking to the guy who works in advertising, that thinks he's a model of anti consumerism.
posted by nomisxid at 10:12 PM on October 10, 2007


When you type your screed into a web form and publish it on a community website you're addressing everyone in that community - I think your attitude and reasoning with regard to someone who is at least making an effort, is bankrupt and is merely a defensive reaction to mask the fact that you lack the imagination and conviction to attempt change or limit your otherwise selfish and irresponsible consumerist bahaviour (assuming of course that you're not living in a cave yourself).

From little things, big things grow. Change starts with one person - et fucking cetera.
posted by strawberryviagra at 12:27 AM on October 11, 2007


If anyone is still watching this thread, I suggest they read Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood.

Also: hurf durf
posted by blacklite at 1:57 AM on October 11, 2007


tkchrist writes: Let's say I do outline what I personally have done to "reduce my foot print" Would it be enough for you to listen? No. You would pick it apart. Or you would further scream "self righteous!"?

nomisxid writes: One of the messages christians are supposed to be sharing is that the best missionaries aren't the self-righteous guys shouting on the street corners...

lol.

nomisxid does bring up a good point about the structure of our economic system making energy saving measures moot... every dollar saved is a dollar invested in someone else's cheap low-insulation suburban development, every joule of electricity saved reduces the price and increases consumption. Idealogically driven conservation is fucked, because what you conserve, others will gladly squander. And free trade means no hoarding. And if you do hoard, they will come with lawyers, and then guns.

So what to do as a concerned environmentalist (and not a nihilist like nomisxid?)

Going back to that predator/prey relationship, some say it's harmonious, some say it's an example of how nature is just as mean as us. Whatever your emotional response to this, systems modelers see it as chaotic oscillations around more or less stable points. It's when the dynamics shift to amplify the positive (or negative) oscillations that the system shifts to a new equilibrium. In the toy deer/wolf model, the deer go extinct, and the model settles to a new extinct equilibrum. Of course, in the real world, the response is quite different, and we don't know what it will be.

I guess at heart I'm a malthusian, and share the dim opinion of human nature as it applies to not fouling our own nest. The good news is that as we grow richer and more industrialized, agape (the yearning for quiet, peace, death) begins to be more appealing than eros (fucking, big family, drama), and population declines. So, if we can possibly sustain a similar standard of living at drastically reduced resource consumption, maybe humans might end up all right after all.

I've just started research on ways to support regicide and dillon's society, from an engineering / technological point of view. As an example, any dumbass (read: intelligent, non-technical citizen) can drive a car. Few smartasses (read: quasi-autistic engineers like me) could successfully use a solar car to replace a gas one, because the need for planning, optimizing, and troubleshooting is so high. One absent-minded misplanning of your day and you're stuck in the dark with a dead battery. So some of the challenge is in supporting non-technical people in dealing with the complexities inherent in more renewable energies. This is going to mean finding ways to break the expectation of being able to flip a switch and get instant electricity/power, hopefully without making life a total pain in the ass.

If you're in washington DC, check out the Solar Decathlon this week. I'd like to know if life in one of those houses looks to you like nomisxid's hell.
posted by anthill at 7:49 AM on October 11, 2007


"hey look at me, I'm sooooo much better than everyone else"

Nobody here said that, dip shit. Except you, ironically enough.

But your nihilistic arguments were compelling.

I have know re-converted back to wanton consumerism.

I now have moved back into a 40,000 square foot house.

I now wipe my ass with platinum toilet paper and hit my many recently purchased consumer electronic products into the swimming pool with my polo mallet just to watch them spark.

Though. Not before dumping gallons of gas on the ongoing tire fire in my back yard— the kids enjoy that.

Speaking of kids— I'm busy at working seeing to it my children will enslave yours. Which will be easily accomplished since they will obviously come from inferior idiot stock too stupid and lazy to even run.

Thanks for setting me straight.
posted by tkchrist at 10:52 AM on October 11, 2007


anthill: Ideologically driven conservation is fucked, because what you conserve, others will gladly squander.

Actually, no. Voluntary conservation at an individual level doesn't work that well, but you can use a tax to increase the price (and hence reduce consumption).

In Canada, voluntary measures and subsidies haven't worked very well. A detailed policy proposal from Jaccard, Rivers, and Horne.
posted by russilwvong at 10:54 AM on October 11, 2007


By the way, I ahve no cognitive dissonance because I reject the notion that I was responding to, that most technological advancement isn't good for humanity. Which is a ridiculous assertion.

Wait. First. He didn't SAY "advancement", he said "developments."

I could be wrong. But I take that to mean technology as it applies to goods and gadgets. The vast majority of "technology" is used to get you to spend money. To buy things. Not to solve problems.

Again. Rejecting wanton consumerism is not a rejection of technology. At least it shouldn't be. It's not even necessarily a rejection of the concept of capitalism.

It's more about living cautiously and consciously.

It's not a rejection of buying and selling. It's a rejection of compulsive buying and selling. Rather we should examine carefully how goods are produced, distributed, and of course, marketed.

Yes as many idiots love to point out one day everything we know will die. Wow. A high school sophomore revelation if ever there was one.

The point is people SEEM to care about issues of social justice, right? I mean your against slavery, right?

We certainly talk a good game about it, anyway. But the fact is the consumer life style, as we move forward into a GLOBAL consumer lifestyle, is driving a regression back to barbarism in many parts of the world. As we compete for more and more resources we tend to turn a blind eye to how those acquired.


What I do or don't do is irrelevant to the facts. The fact is it will take momentum to change things for the better. What ever little things can be done should be done.

Sitting around being a cynical asshole like nomisxid will serve no one.
posted by tkchrist at 11:09 AM on October 11, 2007


Thanks for the link russilvwong, I'd be very interested in any other links. I definitely misphrased my statement - voluntary was the word I was looking for.

Handling this at a national level is better, but similar effects will happen at a global scale (see USA, Kyoto).
posted by anthill at 11:16 AM on October 11, 2007


The Jaccard/Rivers/Horne proposal is the most detailed one that I've seen, but there's a few more links in this previous post on climate change policy.

By the way, nomisxid, there's a saying: the best is the enemy of the good. If tkchrist's willing to cut his consumption and reduce his material possessions by 40%, why condemn him for not going farther? Reminds me of the Neal Stephenson quote. Is it better to have moral standards, while failing to fully live up to them, or to have no moral standards at all?
posted by russilwvong at 9:48 AM on October 12, 2007


Is it better to have moral standards, while failing to fully live up to them, or to have no moral standards at all?

Russ. I'm not failing to fully live up to MY moral standards (for the sake of this argument, anyway). I'm apparently failing to live up to nomisixid's idea of what he thinks my standards should be. Like "living in a cave" etc.
posted by tkchrist at 2:07 PM on October 12, 2007


Good point. The strange thing is that nomisxid seems to feel morally superior by making no attempt at all to reduce his environmental impact. Huh?
posted by russilwvong at 3:31 PM on October 12, 2007


Hunh, all this those years when my per annum was a good jot below the poverty line and living in downwardly mobile NorAm squalor don't seem so bad now that it turns out I'm just living a relatively environmentally sustainable life!

*Whips out carbon footprint, shakes it towards nomisxid*
Mine's smaaaaaller!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:08 PM on October 13, 2007


An odd thought: if only we could convert global warming into electricity. Kill two birds with one stone: cool the earth, light our homes.

Well if we could get some mechanism to produce electricity that way it would be nice to replace fossil fuel but the actual energy would still be in the earth's system so it would do nothing to address the warming we alreayd have. Global warming happens becasue rising CO2 acts to keep more heat in the atmosphere and stop it being emitted into space than would be at lesser levels. At lesser levels there is a balance between the energy that enters the system from the sun and the energy reflected away.
posted by biffa at 3:46 AM on October 18, 2007


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