Book review: The Flooded Earth – Our Future in a World without Ice Caps

This is a book review I wrote for the UK Times Higher Education Supplement, for the book “The Flooded Earth” by Peter D. Ward. You can read my original THE piece here. Click on the cover image of the book for details of the title.

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A chilling look at our possible destiny indicates the limits of human adaptability, says Barry Brook

Although some people may prefer to ignore the issue, climate change continues to make the headlines: in recent months, record flooding in Pakistan and an unprecedented heatwave in Russia. These impacts, which kill people directly and cause economic misery and severe environmental damage, are entirely consistent with the effects predicted by climate science.

While it is impossible to attribute any extreme event solely to human-caused warming, it has been said that “weather throws the punches but climate trains the boxer”. It is disturbing to consider that some of climate change’s heavyweight contenders may not yet have even entered the ring. According to Peter D. Ward, rapidly rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice caps could be about to step up and claim the 21st-century title.

Ward, a prolific populariser of natural science and University of Washington earth scientist, puts sea-level rise at the top of the list of dangerous climate-change effects we face. Billions of people live along narrow strips of land abutting the world’s coastlines. This includes great cities such as London, Mumbai, New York and Shanghai, as well as highly productive agricultural land and unique environmentally sensitive biomes that provide essential ecosystem services to humanity. Much of this human and natural capital is at clear risk of being swept away under a rising tide.

As Ward points out, when exploring climate change in deep time, sea levels are prone to change rapidly and with great magnitude. At the end of the last Ice Age, for instance, oceans rose 420ft over a few millennia, including one period when the process topped 15ft per century. Back then, 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors kept pace with the encroaching shorelines by simply moving camp and abandoning coastal rock shelters. Still, it must have been quite a sight for ancient people to have beheld, with the beaches and foraging areas of their childhood permanently inundated by the time they were adults.

Yet if such rates of sea-level rise started happening today – and Ward argues that this is nearly inevitable given the inertia in the climate system – modern society will not find it so “easy” to adapt. How do you move New York? Alternatively, how much would it cost to build massive concrete levees to keep Poseidon at bay? How do we replace lost agricultural land as it becomes salt-ridden and degraded by ever more regular storm surges, and eventually unusable as the once-rare inundation becomes a permanent flood? Ward spends considerable space describing such impacts, and his narrative is compelling and deeply worrying.

One of the major reasons that it is so concerning, beyond the obvious massive displacement of populations and livelihoods, is that once large-scale sea-level rise begins, it will be impossible to stop. Climatologist James Hansen famously remarked that “you can’t throw a rope around a disintegrating ice sheet”, referring to the accelerating melting of Greenland and West Antarctica. At some point melting becomes an irrecoverably “positive feedback”, because as bright, white ice and snow cover are lost, the dark rock underneath is exposed, which absorbs rather than reflects incoming solar heat. Ward does a good job of explaining in straightforward terms why such synergies are so critical.

An effective literary device used in the book is to recount future scenarios as if they had already happened. Ward develops hypothetical situations, set in an appropriate time and place, to play-act the resultant human drama and its probable consequences (a flooded Miami in the year 2120 with 10ft of sea-level rise, and Greenland in 2215 when carbon-dioxide levels have hit 1,300 parts per million).

These stories include descriptions of the “future history” preceding these events, allowing readers to understand how the situation evolved. I do not think he intends to offer any particular certainty in these visions; rather, I suspect he wants to convey the gritty “reality” of an otherwise rather nebulous scientific forecast. Indeed, he acknowledges that it is impossible for science to provide a precise prediction of sea-level rise at any given date. But that doesn’t mean that the bounds of the possible cannot be explored and their implications dissected. This is his intent and he does it very well.

The Flooded Earth is worth reading and recommending to others, especially those you know who have expressed sentiments such as “global warming might be real, but we can just adapt”. There are practical limits to adaptation, or at least the exponentially rising costs involved in coping with significant climate change. Extreme scenarios of sea-level rise frame this climate- adaptation problem in the starkest possible terms.

We would do well to heed Ward’s warning and act quickly to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels soon – before all the ice on the planet is gone and “Water World” becomes a grim reality.

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58 Comments

  1. Barry,
    wouldn’t the sulfur gun reverse warming if we REALLY went with it? And it’s ‘only’ 50 billion. That’s peanuts to the world economy. That’s peanuts to the American economy. Australia could even go that alone if we abolished the State governments and ran a more streamlined National / Local model.

    I know there are possible nasty side effects, but we can’t rule out some nation deciding to do this alone, even if the consequences are global.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratospheric_sulfur_aerosols_%28geoengineering%29

  2. PS: I should have clarified that’s $50 billion a year. And if it has very nasty side-effects, we can always stop it.

    They model this stuff. Apparently just a nuclear war between Pakistan and India would throw us into serious cooling. They modelled about 50 devices the size of Hiroshima.

  3. EclipseNow’s sulfur gun proposal is just another attempt at great big new plans, when the solution is before us>

    If humans choose not to limit their destructive actions, if they/we continue to allow irrational raving loony so-called skeptics to pose as knowledgeable, rational citizens, if we fail to act in a united manner, then the result, sulfur gun or no sulfur gun, will be unacceptable change to many things which 20th Century Man valued, but took for granted.

    Sulfur guns would be like speeding. Put a crumple zone and seat belts and better tyres on the family car and, pretty soon, everybody is begging to be able to cruise at 140kph, because they feel that this is safe… just as safe as the 1950’s 50MPH (80kPh) speed limit.

    These measures are very frequently offset by the actions of billions of individual humans who believe that the threat to safety, or the environment, or world peace, or whatever public good is under consideration, has been “managed”, so allowing or even encouraging them to redouble their activities which then increase the threat which has been “avoided”.

    It boils down to a recognition that the world, if it is not operated within its means, will continue to run out of things which humans value.

    Jarred Diamond was right.

  4. Hey, it’s good old ‘drop dead’ John. Nice to hear from you.

    But have you got any studies that disprove the claims?

    Tom Wigley calculated the impact of injecting sulfate particles, or aerosols, every one to four years into the stratosphere in amounts equal to those lofted by the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991,[5] but did not address the many technical and political challenges involved in potential geoengineering efforts.[6] If found to be economically, environmentally and technologically viable, such injections could provide a “grace period” of up to 20 years before major cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions would be required, he concludes.

  5. Note: I’m all for going nuclear right now, ASAP. Fast rail, ecocities, New Urbanism, I love it all.

    But what if we don’t? What if politicians can’t get their act together, as appears to be the case? Isn’t it good to have a backup?

  6. Ok, It is nice to have a backup, of sorts.

    What I am saying is that the very existence of a backup removes the pressure to avoid the damaging activity which caused the problems in the first place.

    By removing the pressure, these activities may even escalate, making the end result delayed, but inevitable.

    Pep, I am a pessimist on this matter, but feel free to tout sulphur drugs for the atmosphere. At least that will give our surviving descendants something to play with as their world collapses.

  7. I was under the impression that the reason “respectable figures” entertain geoengineering concepts such stratospheric aerosol injection is more as a brake to keep present-day (or near-term) CO2 levels from leading to runaway feedbacks, rather than as an alternative to aggressive mitigation strategies. Realistically, even if fossil fuel burning ceased tomorrow, we could still be facing increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations due to positive feedbacks–but perhaps geoengineering (sulfur aerosols, space mirrors, etc.) could ameliorate this. Am I confused? Most material I’ve seen on geoengineering is either overwhelmingly hostile or overly credulous.

  8. The benefits of soaking up all that Co2 as timber are obvious and many. I’d back that over the sulfur gun, but for some reason just think the pollies will ignore it all until it’s too late and we have to try everything.

  9. The problem with ‘sulfur guns’ and other macro attempts to control climate change is that they may have unintended consequences. To my untrained eye, there looks like there is enough slop in existing climate models to raise serious doubts on the utility, or safety of such schemes.

    This is the “one big score” mentality that is a dangerous part of the Western mythos – the belief that one can pull off a win with one last spectacular play, with seconds left on the clock. The truth is that most of these efforts fail, but it’s only the time it worked that are remembered.

    As for the impact of rising sea levels, humanity will cope, it always has, and things will sort themselves out. Frankly I would rather deal with that problem than have some massive attempt to control climate precipitate another Ice Age, or dry the planet up like a prune.

  10. I think that’ll be the problem DV8 – many terrestrial parts of the planet drying up like a prune, while we’re migrating from the (current) coast.

    Sure, humanity will cope to a certain extent (I doubt we’ll go extinct from it), but at the cost of how many individuals, nations, societies and cultures.

  11. Barry Brook writes: ‘I do not think he intends to offer any particular certainty in these visions’…’Indeed, he acknowledges that it is impossible for science to provide a precise prediction of sea-level rise at any given date.’

    A polite way of saying that Ward’s book is an alarmist fantasy with no scientific basis. I agree with Barry.

  12. The acceleration of loss of water in Greenland and Antarctica appears to be predictable and may be in the 8% per year range, i.e. the rate of change of loss of water at these locations may be increasing by about 8% per year. If this exponential trend continues at this rate its not out of the question for nearly all the Greenland ice to be gone by the end of this century. If CO2 continues to increase at the current pace of 2 ppm per year unchecked, get ready for a long term ocean rise from Antarctica ice melting. We could see slowly rising oceans for several centuries. This slow rise would make it difficult to establish cities along coastal lines for those centuries. I am having difficulty getting sufficient ocean rise forecast predictions from climatologists because they seem to be lacking in ice melting models in their climate models. Likewise land based geologists also lack the forecasting models for rapid change events we are currently beginning to see more clearly in the past few years. I think within a few years these ice melting forecasts will become better known and developed as new PhD students and others studying this issue sharpen their models and the input data becomes better. However keep in mind that the drivers on ice melting in a world with the positive feedbacks we now have going on will result in the acceleration being a constant, not the ice melting rates, which will not be constant from year to year. I think this book hits upon the most important and significant effects of climate change to humans and should be a primary driver and reasons we need to take action today to eliminate CO2 production world wide.

  13. A polite way of saying that Ward’s book is an alarmist fantasy with no scientific basis. I agree with Barry.

    (sighs) Another denialist that doesn’t like science.

    So which AGW conspiracy do you believe in John? Monckton’s conspiracy theory that it’s all about a SOCIALIST WORLD GOVERNMENT (Oh the humanity!) that is going to funnel funds from the rich world to Africa in the name of ‘green energy’ and ‘carbon credits’, or the exact opposite view pushed by Durkin’s “Great Global Warming Swindle” which put the case for an anti-Africa conspiracy. You know the one, they’re not allowed to develop using the all essential-coal (as if there were no cheap nuclear options instead!), and so of course they have to keep starving to death in the dark.

    Hang on… Monckton was on GGWS wasn’t he? You’d think he would have helped Durkin get his story straight. Geee, this AGW conspiracy business is as confusing as the X-Files, only it seems to involve less anal-probes. (Nevertheless, I recommend carrying some vaseline around John, just in case! You never know! ;-)

    Keep Africa poor, or make it rich through socialism? Hmmm. Could it be that the vast majority of climate scientists are actually telling the TRUTH instead?

  14. @eclipsenow
    The two principal claims of climate alarmism are human attribution, which is the assertion that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide are warming the planet significantly, and climate danger prediction (or projection), which is the assertion that this human-caused warming will reach dangerous levels. Both claims, which rest largely on the results of climate modelling, are unsubstantiated as Barry Brook says in his review. As shown below, similar and honest acknowledgement of deficiencies in the modelling is clearly made in the PSB.

    The currently authoritative source for these claims was produced under the direction of the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and is titled Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (PSB). You can view and download it by chapter on the IPCC Web site at http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/contents.html

    Extracts

    Climate Model Limitations in IPCC AR4 PSB
    Chapter Section Page Quotation
    6 6.5.1.3 462 “Current spatial coverage, temporal resolution and age control of available Holocene proxy data limit the ability to determine if there were multi-decadal periods of global warmth comparable to the last half of the 20th century.”
    6 6.7 483 “Knowledge of climate variability over the last 1 to 2 kyr in the SH and tropics is severely limited by the lack of paleoclimatic records. In the NH, the situation is better, but there are important limitations due to a lack of tropical records and ocean records. Differing amplitudes and variability observed in available millennial-length NH temperature reconstructions, and the extent to which these differences relate to choice of proxy data and statistical calibration methods, need to be reconciled. Similarly, the understanding of how climatic extremes (i.e., in temperature and hydro-climatic variables) varied in the past is incomplete. Lastly, this assessment would be improved with extensive networks of proxy data that run up to the present day. This would help measure how the proxies responded to the rapid global warming observed in the last 20 years, and it would also improve the ability to investigate the extent to which other, non-temperature, environmental changes may have biased the climate response of proxies in recent decades.”
    8 Executive Summary 591 “The possibility that metrics based on observations might be used to constrain model projections of climate change has been explored for the first time, through the analysis of ensembles of model simulations. Nevertheless, a proven set of model metrics that might be used to narrow the range of plausible climate projections has yet to be developed.”
    8 Executive Summary 593 “Recent studies reaffirm that the spread of climate sensitivity estimates among models arises primarily from inter-model differences in cloud feedbacks. The shortwave impact of changes in boundary-layer clouds, and to a lesser extent mid-level clouds, constitutes the largest contributor to inter-model differences in global cloud feedbacks. The relatively poor simulation of these clouds in the present climate is a reason for some concern. The response to global warming of deep convective clouds is also a substantial source of uncertainty in projections since current models predict different responses of these clouds. Observationally based evaluation of cloud feedbacks indicates that climate models exhibit different strengths and weaknesses, and it is not yet possible to determine which estimates of the climate change cloud feedbacks are the most reliable.”
    8 8.1.2.2 594 “What does the accuracy of a climate model’s simulation of past or contemporary climate say about the accuracy of its projections of climate change” This question is just beginning to be addressed, exploiting the newly available ensembles of models.”
    8 8.1.2.2 595 “The above studies show promise that quantitative metrics for the likelihood of model projections may be developed, but because the development of robust metrics is still at an early stage, the model evaluations presented in this chapter are based primarily on experience and physical reasoning, as has been the norm in the past.”
    8 8.3 608 “Consequently, for models to predict future climatic conditions reliably, they must simulate the current climatic state with some as yet unknown degree of fidelity.”
    8 8.6.3.2.3 638 “Although the errors in the simulation of the different cloud types may eventually compensate and lead to a prediction of the mean CRF in agreement with observations (see Section 8.3), they cast doubts on the reliability of the model cloud feedbacks.”
    8 8.6.3.2.3 638 “Modelling assumptions controlling the cloud water phase (liquid, ice or mixed) are known to be critical for the prediction of climate sensitivity. However, the evaluation of these assumptions is just beginning (Doutraix-Boucher and Quaas, 2004; Naud et al., 2006).
    8 8.6.4 640 “A number of diagnostic tests have been proposed since the TAR (see Section 8.6.3), but few of them have been applied to a majority of the models currently in use. Moreover, it is not yet clear which tests are critical for constraining future projections. Consequently, a set of model metrics that might be used to narrow the range of plausible climate change feedbacks and climate sensitivity has yet to be developed.”
    9 Executive Summary 665 “Difficulties remain in attributing temperature changes on smaller than continental scales and over time scales of less than 50 years. Attribution at these scales, with limited exceptions, has not yet been established.”
    10 10.1 754 “Since the ensemble is strictly an ‘ensemble of opportunity’, without sampling protocol, the spread of models does not necessarily span the full possible range of uncertainty, and a statistical interpretation of the model spread is therefore problematic.”
    10 10.5.4.2 805 “The AOGCMs featured in Section 10.5.2 are built by selecting components from a pool of alternative parameterizations, each based on a given set of physical assumptions and including a number of uncertain parameters.”

  15. John, which aspect of “human attribution” are you contesting? If you are disputing that humanity’s activities have raised the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, you are obviously wrong – see the precipitous rise of CO2 since the indutrial revolution in direct and indirect records. If you are disputing that additional carbon dioxide causes global warming, you are still wrong – basic physical properties of carbon dioxide ensure this.

  16. Joffan, I’m not disputing anything. I’m pointing out that the climate models contain too many assumptions to provide reliable long-range forecasts, exactly as Barry Brook says in his review and exactly as the IPCC state in their PSB document. Therefore the scenarios depicted in Ward’s book are little more than lurid conjecture.

  17. All this static is all but drowning out the message of this article – Sea level rise has been happening for some time and is happening at an increasing rate.This is measureable scientific fact.At this stage we can’t accurately predict the outcome because of the complexity of the system.Such is life.

    The book reviewed is just trying to draw the attention of the herd to this fact using some artistic licence – a legitimate and long standing technique in literature.So what is the problem?

    To all those deniers,geoengineering fadists and the like techno warriors,get real.

  18. gallopingcamel, on 21 October 2010 at 12.31 — The coummunity climate model from NCAR works jus’ fine, as do 21 of the 23 big AOGCMs. You simply fail to understand how the models are tested, nor why I left out 2 of the 23.

    John McEvoy, on 22 October 2010 at 4.38 — One doesn’t require (or even need) a large GCM for pronostications in the longer term. Rather, one needs to know how to read the record of the past, which Peter D. Ward certainly knows how to do. I recommend his “Under a Green Sky”.

  19. …puts sea-level rise at the top of the list of dangerous climate-change effects we face…

    I’d be interested to see how Ward came up with that. For mine, drought is the biggest worry, particularly from an Australian perspective, as David B Benson has suggested. Even though I may have issues with the particular (NCAR) models he pointed to.

  20. I don’t see how anyone can overlook accelerated species extinction from climate change as being by far the largest threat to humanity. Afterall, our biological requirements are the single most important aspect of survival and prosperity.

    The synergistic effects of rapid climate change with habitat destruction, fragmentation, invasive species and over-exploitation aren’t likely to be pretty, especially if left completely unchecked.

  21. I believe we are so time poor DV8 and the chance of early international adequate arrangements so improbable that I’d be prepared to look at the feasibility of some of these active geoengineering measures.

    Adding a small quaintity of sulphur to jet fuel as Crutzen suggests might be worth trying. It would be cheap and as the So2 is not long lived and could be released very high in the troposphere, the effect on the land/sea below would be minimal.

    If this measure (and perhaps some others) bought us 30 years of stasis, saved the arctic permafrost, loss of albedo though loss of sea ice extent, protected snowpack, prevented rising heat in the world’s oceans etc while we retooled for a decarbonised world economy, then I’d say it was worth it.

    Fixing a problem is better than delaying it, but delaying it is better than suffering its full impact, especially if time can get you a solution.

  22. Fran, the issue I have is that there are no real guarantees that this will be effective, or that such steps will not exacerbate the problem, because poor modeling failed to predict just what was going to happen. Even if such a program did nothing to the climate, the damage done by adding sulphur to the fuel of modern gas turbine engines would shorten the live of the hot end considerably, and that cost too would not be trivial.

    But mostly I dislike these schemes, because it would give the powers that be an excuse to conduct business as usual, while claiming something was being done, whether it was working or not, and this will do more harm to the move away from carbon based energy

  23. DV8

    But mostly I dislike these schemes, because it would give the powers that be an excuse to conduct business as usual, while claiming something was being done, whether it was working or not, and this will do more harm to the move away from carbon based energy

    That’s a concern I regard as very serious and what gives me pause. I’d like good science to show that the measures would work, how well they’d work, for how long and the likely ecological impacts before going ahead.

    OTOH the other ugly reality is also there. The powers that be are not going to do anything like enough. They largely don’t care what we think and they are only answerable in their minds for the next three years at most. We are going to need people in power on the same policy page for 25 years on a world scale and I just don;t see that happening. If we had 50 years, then they might be nudged into doing just enough in that time to avoid catastrophe, maybe.

    Unless we can return concentrations of CO2 to about 280, the world will continue warming and since we have already warmed enough to largely lose the permafrost and its store of CH4 and CO2 by 2030, failing stasis … we need a circuit breaker.

  24. Fran said:

    The powers that be are not going to do anything like enough.

    The powers that be are not going to do anything useful while a large proportion of the population is opposed to the most economically viable solutions tand the ones that would have the greatest effect on reducing emissions.

    While this section of the community (you know who I am referring to) want to prohibit the technologies that could make a difference, economically, or put so many hurdles in the way that those solutions are not economically viable, then nothing substantial can be done. “The power that be” will have to wait until the community comes to its senses.

    The group that is preventing progress (and has been for >30 years) and happens to be the same group that is most strongly advocating urgent action, need to lead the way in removing the barriers to the economically viable solution.

    While they oppose rational soltions it seriously damages the credibility of all they argue for.

  25. Trying to practice “gentle persuasion”, I should turn my statement above into a question. Here goes:

    Can any signifcant progress be made in cutting emissions while one large block of the community is detemined to do whatever it can to block economically viable solutions?

  26. Can any signifcant progress be made in cutting emissions while one large block of the community is detemined to do whatever it can to block economically viable solutions?

    Are they really large? Or are they just loud?

  27. “Can any signifcant progress be made in cutting emissions while one large block of the community is detemined to do whatever it can to block economically viable solutions?”

    There are many blocks of the community who oppose viable solutions to climate change mitigation. For example, on the <a href=http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/10/18/who-crippled-the-murray-darling-basin/<previous thread on BNC, several commenters made it clear they aren’t interested in taking action on <a href=http://bravenewclimate.com/2008/08/11/australias-most-powerful-climate-forcing-agent-its-not-coal/<the largest contributor to climate change in Australia.

    Then there are the swaths of climate change deniers, many of whom are active in, or heavily influence our political system(s).

    There are also those who believe it is perfectly okay to knock down our remnant and old-growth ecosystems, with the lunatic belief that short-term financial gain is more important than the long-term ecosystems services – inlcuding carbon retention and sequestration – they provide.

    Then there are the anti-nuclear crowd.

    So in answer to the question, no. But it’s not just one block of society blocking progress.

  28. Tom Keen,

    If nuclear was allowed to be competitive with coal, it would have broad support.

    It is the fact that it is more costly that makes the vast majority reluctant to consider it (I am not talking about the small band of anti-nukes; they will always oppose it; I am talking about the broad mass of voters).

    There has been almost unanimous support on BNC for maintaining the impediments that make nuclear more expensive than coal.

    There is broad support here for demanding that nuclear must be much safer than is required of any other generator. That is irrational. IMO. It is making it higher cost.

    While this continues we cannot get the support of those who are concerned about the economy. And that includes me. I do not support what I regard as wrecklessly damaging the economy, especially when we don’t have to and especially when the reasons for advocating such policies are purely ideological.

  29. Tom Keen,

    I should have said, I am not ignoring your point about meat and dairy products. I am trying to make the point that if we allow solutions that will lower costs and improve the economy, as is possible, we will get the support, not opposition, of the vast majority.

    If you want to tie policies for cutting emissions to policies that implement a whole host of other ideologically based agendas as well, and damage the economy, then there will be strong resistance.

  30. Woops,

    Back to trying to practice the “gentle art of persuaion”:

    Do you think the government could gain broad support for policies to cut emissions if these policies offered:

    1. lower cost electricity over the long term (and no additional increase to the costs of electricity in the short); and furthermore, this solution would:

    2. cut CO2 emissions at lower cost than any other option (that can make large cuts)

    3. reduce water, land and atmospheric pollution which would lead to improved health of the population over tth long term

    4. reduce the demand for fresh water used for electricity generation

    5. reduce the amount of mining and environmental damage in many ways

    6. get Australian industry and research involved in a technology which will be important this century and which all other G20 countries have already adopted, or are planning to adopt.

    Do you think such a policy would gain broad community and political support?

  31. @Lang and Montreal Man in the Sin Bin:

    this just happened by from Greenpeace; can you not mail them in your best native French and English respectively that only ideologues want safety standards?(joke)

    (did you notice that if Greenpeace is saying that Angar 3 is dodgy, this could imply that some NPPs are not?)

    <>

  32. oh: adding some complexity, the republican party in the senate almost uniformly rejects climate science (not sure they’re much better on evolution) while being pro nuclear.

    The democratic party largely accepts the science, is largely anti nuclear, with neither party doing anything worthy of notice to solve energy or environmental problems.

    but if the world were like our commercials, we’d be a green planet–without nuclear power too!

  33. See what I mean. They just don’t get it.

    If we always do what we always did we’ll always get what we alwys got.

    The group I’m taling about has been blocking nuclear for about 4 decades.

    If they hadn’t, w’e have cheaper cleaner electricity now, burn less fossil fuels, electricity would have a larger share of energy. Emissions would eb lower and we’d be accelerating the rate of cutting GHG emissions. And it would be doing for economic reasons as well as environment, health and safety reasons.

    But they refuse to see. It is denialism to deny this. But deny it they do.

  34. I expect the underlying reason for their scepticism is they do not believe the extreme alarmist’s claims, do no trust the agenda of those pushing the claims, and they do realise the cost to the economy of implementing the policies these groups are advocating. I expect that is the real reason for the opposition. If those advocating for stopping climate change could back off tying the reduction of emissions to their other agendas, and could allow an economically rational approach, I expect progress could be made. Otherwise it is just becoming a more deeply entrenched Left versus Right battle.

    I am strongly opposed to a carbon price except as part of an international agreement and until the impediments to least cost clean electricity are removed.

    I do not believe a carbon price in Australia will change the climate in the slightest.

    I do not believe a carbon price in Australia will reduce world GHG emissions (in fact I believe it may increase them over the long term by delaying the rate at which developing countries adopt clean electricity generation).

    I believe a carbon price will delay taking the actions we need to take to remove the impediments to low-cost, clean electricity. Furthermore, I believe it will entrench many of the impediments so they will never be removed; the cost of electricity in Australia will be notched up forever. This will permanently damage our economy.

    I do not trust what governments will do with the revenue they raise from the tax or with the revenue from selling emissions permits and the charges for administering and policing an ETS.

    I urge the contributors to consider these points as perhaps an indication of how another large part of the community feels (i.e., a part of the community that is absent from BNC and generally is less involved in on-line discussions). I’d urge that we need to address the concerns of this part of the community not just keep on bashing away with the same arguments about ‘deniers’ etc. Strident advocacy of the policies the Left want to tie to reducing emissions is not going to facilitate reaching a broadly supported, lasting, robust solution.

  35. I think Peter, in this comment is exactly right in pinpoint what motivates/influences the vast majority of climate change ‘sceptics’ out there. I’m just surprised that more people have not come to this realisation.

    And as we’ve now all seen from the commenters on the Quiggin blog, denial ain’t just a big river in Africa. It’s rife in all walks of life (sorry Al, that includes you, and I think in the issue of nuclear energy, it rises to a similar public influence (and frustratingly ear-clasping inanity) as it does for climate change.

  36. Peter,

    I agree with this statement:
    “If nuclear was allowed to be competitive with coal, it would have broad support.”

    So my answer to your question “Do you think the government could gain broad support for policies to cut emissions if these policies offered …. lower cost electricity over the long term (and no additional increase to the costs of electricity in the short)” is a simple yes.

    The only point I was trying to make in my previous post was that there are many issues standing in the way of climate mitigation progress, many more than I mentioned.

    I must say I strongly disagree with this statement:
    “It is the fact that it is more costly that makes the vast majority reluctant to consider it”

    I’d hazard a guess that if you took a random sample of, say, 100 Australians and asked them their opinions on nuclear power, cost would be the main concern of fewer than 10 of them. I’d almost guarantee most would be primarily concerned with fuel availability, waste and safety (in no particular order). Which is why I think nuclear advocates need to keep the public properly informed on the fundamentals – as most are actually doing, in my opinion. More people are swaying towards it, once given the facts.

    So, conversely, i’m going to say that polarised politics and ill-conceived perceptions are the most important factors slowing the adoption of nuclear energy.

    Just gonna throw this out there too – France still has the cheapest (or close to it) electricity in Europe. Cheap, clean electricity can obviously be produced in the developed world, and there’s no reason Australia couldn’t adopt the French approach once the public has accepted nuclear power. In fact I think the french example is one that is not given often enough, in terms of the price of electricity, the low carbon “footprint” of the nation as a whole, and the speed with which (once committed to) these things can be rolled out. While saying this, I must admit that I don’t know the $$ situation of new nuclear power proposals in France.

  37. Peter & Barry,

    I also agree that this is probably a common influencer of climate change skepticism.

    I believe political association is also a part of the problem contributing to skepticism of nuclear power. I.e. it is often touted by the “right wing”. For those in the middle (the majority who aren’t politically motivated), and hear promotion of nuclear power uttered under the same breath as some other radical right wing ideologies, people get turned off.

    It seems it’s very difficult to get proper, rational debate on issues once they have been polarized, by both the media and by the loudest people at both ends of the political spectrum.

    This actually reminds me a bit of this comment made a little while ago on BNC. Specifically, this part:

    “right-leaners tend, as a group, to be reflexively pro-nuclear, without the level of thought of most participants on this blog. Similarly, left-leaners tend, as a group, to be reflexively anti-nuclear, also without very much thought. People are unable to be masters of all subjects and consequently form opinions by looking to the norm among people with whom they generally identify. This is a problem for nuclear, but is becoming less so, I hope.”

  38. The French experience while laudable was driven by France’s lack of coal and gas,Pas de charbon, pas de gaz, pas de choix, as De Gaulle said.

    Unfortunately a lack of coal is not the case in Australia

  39. I have attended yet another Zero Carbon Australia talk on their stationary energy proposals – transport and infrastructure to come. I agree with the arguments on BNC and elsewhere that their audacious plan won’t cut the mustard, but I have to admire their enthusiasm.
    But at $170 billion there is just no way they are going to sell it to governments even though delay in action on AGW will probably mean such sums will have to be contemplated some day.
    My argument is that the pro-nuclear lobby ought to be trying hard for an invitation to the party. Sure you/we won’t be welcome but that doesn’t mean we should not be applying a nuclear angle to their grandiose scheme of wind, solar and biomass on a new national grid. A major argument for an invite ought to be their claim that only proven renewable non-carbon technologies currently available were chosen. NP can surely make that claim for all the arguments (4th gen in particular) on BNC and elsewhere.
    Assuming ZCA’s plan as it currently exists – and it seems to be an all-or-nothing scheme – does not get up, other alternatives or refinements could get a look in. Those refinements should have a NPP ‘add-on’ ready to go when Canberra faces up to the great moral challenge. Is it worth a try?

  40. Something-for-everybody is why I like the Nullarbor coast as a low carbon energy hub. Reasons include
    1) it needs a large desal regardless
    2) joining the WA and eastern grids
    3) ZCA and Desertec like that area
    4) taking pop. pressure off Adelaide
    5) Terry Krieg’s ideas on the Officer Basin
    6) docking for nuc waste ships
    7) future hi tech smelting of zirconium and rare earths
    8) general lack of NIMBYs.

    If they could find the money for major transmission then it might improve the standalone economics of the separate projects. NP enthusiasts happy, greenies happy.

  41. Peter Lang.
    Agreed Peter no invitation likely. But my suggestion is that we let it be known that the base electricity doubts and the inadequacies of future demand exemplified in the ZCA plan could be filled by a few NPP’s at strategic locations along their trans-continental grid. JL has suggested as much in comments. Work on those pollies that are persuasive.

  42. DV8,

    Your comment shows that human ingenuity can get the job done even when resources are lacking.

    I hope this does not mean that we have to exhaust our fossil fuels before anyone will get serious about fission power.

  43. @gallopingcamel – I think the point here is that France had no large indigenous energy supply. This meant that not only were there no alternatives, there were no large concerns that would oppose it.

    It is obvious,(in non-command economies) that countries with large gas and coal enterprises, have the most active resistance to nuclear power. This is no coincidence.

  44. Pingback: Energy and climate books I read in 2010 « BraveNewClimate

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