In a previous post (part 1), I described some media reactions to my recent Energy paper (on how carbon pricing changes the relative competitiveness of low-carbon baseload generating technologies). The section of the media I covered in that post is often considered to be ‘progressive’ and environmentally focussed — and yet, their reactions to our recommending of nuclear power ranged from luke warm to hostile and dismissive. I was somewhat surprised by this, although, on reflection, that was rather naive of me! Ingrained attitudes are hard to shift.
So what of the more conservative and (putatively) economically focused media? In short, their reactions couldn’t have been more different — and yet, these are the journalists that often profess to care little about global warming or other human impacts on the Earth system. It’s a strange situation.
Let’s look at the reaction of my old sparring partner Andrew Bolt, a journo and popular blogger for News Ltd. In response to our paper and some other related reports that came out at the same time, he wrote an Op Ed in The Herald Sun, “Only nuclear will save Prime Minister Julia Gillard“, and two blog posts “Go nuclear, Julia” (note that I’m still a ‘warmist’ — some epithets refuse to die) and “Desperate Gillard deceives: nuclear not “economically efficient” on the topic. I think you might get a whiff of political undertones here (!) — less subtle certainly than that of the progressive media, but perhaps, in the end, no more or less real.
She must stop telling outrageous untruths about nuclear power, and especially this one, said this week to slap down some of her own MPs: “Nuclear power doesn’t stack up as an economically efficient source of power.” That’s either monumentally ignorant or a bald-faced lie. Either way, it may also be the signing of a death warrant. You see, it’s actually nuclear power — not same-sex marriage — that can save Gillard and Labor from destruction…
…Yet as Ferguson has warned, investment in new power stations has plummeted, because operators of coal-fired ones think the Gillard Government will bring in a carbon tax that will kill them, while operators of cleaner but dearer forms of power fear she won’t, leaving them uncompetitive. So everyone sits on their hands. It’s the paralysis that is killing our future, years before you’ll really notice. That’s in large part why Gillard abruptly declared last week that next year she truly ruly will finally announce what she’ll do to put a price on every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted by factories and power stations, to force the gassier ones to go green. Trouble is, her deadline means she could be promising a carbon tax next year just when Labor is forced to a new election, and won’t dare campaign on a new tax on your electricity. What a nightmare for Labor. And the last element in this great closing of the trap is the failure to find a workable technology to catch and bury the emissions of our existing coal-fired power stations, to make them “green” without having to scrap them…
…Or read it in the new meta-review of 25 studies of generating technologies conducted by warmist Barry Brook, Adelaide University’s director of climate science, and two co-authors: “The standout technology, from a cost perspective, is nuclear power . . . “Importantly, it is the only fit-for-service baseload technology that can deliver the 2050 emission reduction targets.” Again, Gillard contradicted. The review goes on: solar is absurdly expensive, wind too costly and unreliable; geothermal too doubtful. No one can yet fix a price for carbon capture technologies for existing coal-fired stations. New “clean coal” stations won’t be much cheaper than nuclear, but would be much gassier. And even “clean” gas is still, well, gassy. So, no, it’s nuclear or nothing, and I’d bet half Gillard’s Cabinet knows it, but dares not speak for fear of destroying her already shaky leadership.
Then there is Piers Ackerman, writing in The Daily Telegraph, “Nuclear power is the clear solution“. He does not care for my opinions on climate change, but he’s fully on board with my solutions:
THE scientists are lining up to give Julia Gillard a thrashing over her nonsensical claims about the cost effectiveness of nuclear power. The Prime Minister is, according to Professor Barry Brook, a leading environmental scientist, either “talking through her hat or lying”. Professor Brook, who holds the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and is also Director of Climate Science at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, is no stooge for any political party. Nor is Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Penny Sackett, yet both she and Professor Brook are at loggerheads with Gillard over her decision to rule out any discussion of the role nuclear power may play in Australia’s future…
…Drawing on his serious scientific knowledge, Brook states unequivocally that “nuclear is the way to go”. In a recent paper written with lead author Martin Nicholson and Tom Biegler, Brook and his colleagues defined and identified technologies capable of delivering baseload electricity and reducing the so-called greenhouse gas emissions…
… Gillard has exposed her own woeful ignorance about nuclear energy. Whether she has done this solely to placate her equally foolish independent and Greens partners or not, it is a particularly dumb look. But worse, in denying Australians access to cheap, coal-powered electricity and to the possibility of cleaner nuclear power, Gillard is destroying the economic heart of the nation.
There are many other ‘choice quotes’ in the article — and let’s just say that it pulls no punches. But perhaps the ‘debate’ in Australia has reached a point where this is required?
Then there was some positive coverage in The Australian, “Emission cuts ‘hard without nuclear power’“:
A review of international studies, published yesterday by Australian researchers in the journal Energy, has also backed the option, identifying nuclear as the cheapest technology able to help keep global temperature rises below 2C. Study co-author Barry Brook, the director of the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, said coal and combined gas turbine systems combined with carbon capture and storage could be effective. But Professor Brook’s team concluded that CCS would first require “rapid major advances in technology”.
… as well as articles by Anthony Cox of The Climate Sceptics, “The New Year’s resolution: deliver on energy” on ABC The Drum, a discussion stemming from my interview with 3AW radio, and even a ‘pub debate’ on the Big Footy forums!
Congratulations to Angela MacDonald-Smith for her well-researched “Will the Lights Really Go Out?” (November 27-28). Yes, power prices are going to go up whatever we do but the least-cost solution to emissions mitigation has to be the way to go.
Betting on wind and solar power will be far from least-cost, as she says, but worse, there is no evidence that wind or solar has closed a single coal plant anywhere in the world. Relying on geothermal energy seems like a very high-risk strategy. The industry has been trying to make this work on commercial scale for several decades without success.
What was lacking in the report was any mention of what will probably be the lowest-cost baseload solution, at any likely future carbon price – nuclear power. At long last, the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism has released a consultants report that includes costs for nuclear power. This could be a change of attitude in Canberra on how best to address low-emission, baseload energy demand, rather than hoping for technology-risky solutions like carbon capture and sequestration and hot rock geothermal.
So, what’s the upshot? On the one hand we have the ‘environmentally conscious’ media who (generally) plead with us to do something about climate change, yet turn out to care more about being anti-nuclear and trumpeting its perceived ‘problems’ than they do about actually fixing the carbon emissions problem and effectively eliminating fossil fuels. Then, on the other hand, we have the ‘climate sceptic’ media (generally) who don’t even believe that human’s are having an impact on Earth’s climate, yet are strong and vocal supporters for nuclear energy.
Part of the underpinning of this is no doubt tied to the ‘we must drastically reduce our energy use and consumerism‘ versis ‘economic growth at all costs‘ attitudes of the folks engaged on these different socio-political sides — but it’s clearly deeper than this. For instance, it also entails the psychology of people who like to see themselves as close to nature and ‘sustainability’ (irrespective of how real this proximity is), and how enthralled others people are by high technology, gadgets and perceived measures of prosperity (however real these are)… and so on. [Incidentally, I'm an environmental scientist and ecologist who happens to love high tech and has grand visions for humanity's ultimate destiny in space, so I'll leave you to figure me out, but there is a rationale to it all].
The bottom line is this: we need to embrace the common ground if we’re going to get anywhere. It goes something like this:
Environmentalists want to deal with climate change.
Nuclear power deals with climate change.
Climate change sceptics want nuclear power.
That’s the basic chain of logic. Accept it, promote it, tweak it — but above all, use it to our collective advantage. In short, let’s work together on this! The climate system, and the prosperity of future human society, will thank us is we do — or else curse us if we don’t, and instead continue to put petty partisanship and closed-minded ideological agendas in front of serious solutions to major global problems.
The choice is simple, and it’s ours to make.