This move feels radical, but I don't see how we avert catastrophe without moves that feel radical. If we keep plodding down the course we're on we'll just sleepwalk into oblivion.
Why is this plant shutting down? Not because of some sort of hate of nuclear technology, as many would have us believe.
No, the real reason this plant is shutting down is because, like every other thermal generation plant, extending its lifetime past the original license means complying with environmental impact laws on waste heat. Once-through waste heat systems are no longer legal . So why not just build a waste heat system and keep it running? Because when the utility tried to come up with one, the cost of the cooling system alone ran into the billions of dollars!
Much better to just by a few billion dollars worth of batteries and site them on location. At current costs, today, $1B gets you 5GWh at 1.25GW, roughly. The very cheapest estimate for a cooling system was $7B and they ran to over $10B for a new cooling system . So even without the inevitable cost overruns, one could purchase 35-50GWh and 9-12GW of batteries.
A 40GWh/10GW battery would be a far better grid asset for California, and massive increase reliability far beyond what Diablo Canyon could ever produce.
When the mere cooling system for nuclear is more expensive than a better battery, the technology is dead, dead, dead. We don't need it and we have better alternatives.
Can't or won't?
In the UK, at Wylfa, it's more "won't", Hitachi just refused to go forward with a new build, since it couldn't find external investors despite very generous guaranteed pricing for its energy.
At least, it appears to be "won't", because who knows if a construction project that was started would ever be finished.
If the new nuclear startups come through, everything has changed. But the new small ones they are designing are not really anything like the nuclear reactors of yore, so we have to wait and see if they pan out on costs. And in the decades they need to come online, storage and solar and wind keep halving in price every few years.
But at the moment, pretend you're Jeff Bezos and want to buy $50B of nuclear reactors, however much that ends up in practice. Who do you go to? Toshiba, Hitachi? No. EDF? Hell no. Maybe South Korea? But they had their recent corruption scandal for inspections of nuclear plants. Rosatom? Feel like getting into bed with Putin? What's left of the industry?
UK is a world leader in finding particularly sadomasochistic ways of financing critical infrastructure. This is like the PFI debacle all over again. Interest rates are at zero, the government should take out the cheque book and finance the plant directly. You can absolutely just buy a reactor and they are being built in China at record pace.
Private investment contributes nothing of value to this type of project, because spesification, location, and everything else was already decided
It only accrues extra cost because of higher interest rates avaliable to private investors and risk hedging. All the current government is trying to do, is keep the cost of the powerplants off the book, and hiding it from the national debt.
It's not actually the cost - it's the politics of it, and all the very ugly surrounding externalities.
The reason, of course, is that nuclear is not very buildable, and nobody is willing to make a bet, even with very high returns.
If private investors would rather invest in offshore wind, or storage, why should the UK government be less wise with its money?
If the UK is going to take on billion debt for energy infrastructure (an excellent idea in my opinion that would benefit the UK greatly!) it should invest in more sound and reliable sources of energy like renewables, that have a proven track record of being built on time and in budget. And technologies where we learn when we build so that next year's project is even cheaper.
Look at electricitymap.org and compare the emissions of Germany (50% renewables) with France (70% nuclear). Germany is 7 times dirtier in its electricity sector.
I don’t understand why people keep repeating that non-sense that renewables reduce emissions at large scale, they don’t.
And building NPPs fast is no problem, look at China and Russia. Heck, Japan used to build new plants in just about three years.
Yes, most grids still rely on non renewable resources. But that is simply a relic of the fact that they were built that way. The existing examples prove it's possible.
>We estimate that GHG emissions from reservoir water surfaces account for 0.8 (0.5–1.2) Pg CO2 equivalents per year, with the majority of this forcing due to CH4.
That's between 2% and 3% of our global greenhouse gas emissions. About three quarters of greenhouse gas emissions come from energy production and about 15% of all energy production is hydro power if I recall correctly.
It's much better than fossil fuels, but not quite clean.
There are no countries running on wind/solar, which is the only renewable technology that can actually run everywhere.
Certainly the examples I have given are those that have the easiest path to renewables. It is entirely logical that they would be the first to transition. But it proves that it's possible.
If the backup is run infrequently enough then that becomes a non-issue. I can definitely forsee a future where the fossil backup is only used once a decade in particularly abnormal weather conditions.
There has been some research into this topic, but we're not there yet. First, the connectedness of e.g. EU grid is not that high. Second, it's a very political subject in a way (everyone wants to be energy independent on its own, without needing to import too much). Finally, IMO Europe is not that big to be sustainable on its own regardless of weather (which is often similar on large part of continent).
We’d need less “dirty” backups if we invested more in batteries.
Germany emissions don't come from the 50% renewables, they come from burning 50% coal. I'm not sure why you are blaming renewables for those coal emissions.
France is currently at 23% renewables:
Will you blame their current emissions on renewables? No because if you click on the "emissions" tab you'll see that it's almost all coming from gas, and second highest source of emissions are nuclear.
Does nuclear always require a fossil fuel backup? No, of course not, so there's no need to make up false rules about other sources. Wind reserves can come from hydro, geographically distant wind (offshore is running at insanely high capacity factors these day), batteries as we start to deploy them, and yes even from existing nuclear plants.
But having built nuclear many years ago, and Russia and China building some now, doesn't mean that France or Germany or the US will be successful when they try to build. However, the one thing they have been successful at is building more wind. I hope they lean into their strengths, instead of betting everything on something they have repeatedly failed at.
Germany coal percentage in electricity production in 2020 is 21% and 66% of electricity generation is 0 carbon (renewable + nuclear). Coal part in total production is decreasing year over year.
Of course Germany is using other country to import when wind is not blowing, but at the scale of a continent we can see that most west European countries can go soon to an almost 0% carbon electricity production.
I will say this: Europe has been decreasing its carbon emissions by replacing fossil fuels with renewables. Renewables reduce carbon emissions everywhere that they replace fossil fuels. This is just physics.
They should contract EDF to build it for a fixed price, job done.
In the US most contested have been for a fixed price, it's just that nobody meets that fixed price nor the schedule. And since nuclear front-loads 50 years of generation prices into the construction, Amy delay at all I'm starting service is a financial disaster.
The tech, research and regulations are '40 years old' stuck in an old era.
The 'existential risks' from Nuclear are partly fallout but that can mostly be managed.
It's really 1) waste and 2) proliferation.
The waste ... might possible to be dealt with. We can re-process and turn waste into something that can reasonably sit somewhere safe for '100K years' - that sounds like a challenge but I think it's possible.
Proliferation is the real problem. Nuclear requires 'very responsible systems' from top to bottom. Advanced nations, with transparency and oversight and scrutiny, can handle it.
But as soon as US, Canada, France starts building reactors, then Chile, Ecuador, Afghanistan will want to as well, and who is going to stop them?
Then it's only a 'small bribe' from 'very bad actors' getting a hold of nuclear material, enough to build a bomb, or much easier, just a dirty bomb, enough to very easily do some very bad damaage.
I can see contamination being released in NYC, which maybe only makes a few people ill, another few thousands with 'somewhat unsafe exposure' - but which requires evacuation of Manhatten and 200 years of 'no go zone'. This is the real risk.
So the UN, West, China, Russia would have to all perfectly align on 'the rules' and be very serious about enforcing them.
Because it's political, I don't see it happening. Russia has tons of Fuel they want to sell to Kazhakstan, a civil war breaks out there, baddies get ahold of a reactor, and 'somewhere someone takes a bribe' and some bad materials slip out the back.
We can definitely save the world with nuclear, we just have to act responsibly on a collective level. Not sure if we can, sadly.
It could definitely be used for a dirty bomb, which could, if nothing else, cause significant economic damage from the fear of radiation.
France currently recycles their spent fuel. They put the remaining good nuclear fuel back in their reactors in the form of MOX fuel and immobilize the remaining waste in vitrified borosilicate glass.
The US had a recycling program featuring the use of advanced fast reactors (which have not been deployed on any major scale yet) that was shut down because it created Plutonium, which could be used to make a nuclear weapon. Were some plutonium diverted in the recycling process, a non-nuclear entity could be one step close to building a bomb. However, under programs such as the (now stalled) GNEP [wikipedia], where only countries who already have nuclear weapons recycle, proliferation-free waste recycling can exist. Since the many of the largest energy users are already nuclear weapons states, a massive expansion of nuclear could be done there with no additional proliferation concerns whatsoever.
If all the electricity use of the USA was distributed evenly among its population, and all of it came from nuclear power, then the amount of nuclear waste each person would generate per year would be 39.5 grams. That’s the weight of seven U. S. quarters of waste, per year! A detailed description of this result can be found here. If we got all our electricity from coal and natural gas, expect to have over 10,000 kilograms of CO2/yr attributed to each person, not to mention other poisonous emissions directly to the biosphere (based on EIA emissions data).
If you want raw numbers: in 2018, there were just over 80,000 metric tonnes of high-level waste in the USA. Between 1971 and 2018, nuclear reactors in the USA generated 3000 GW-years of electricity to make this waste.
For comparison, in 2007 alone the US burned 948,000,000 metric tonnes of coal. This means that coal plants made 32 times more waste every single day than the US nuclear fleet has made in the past 45 years! Granted, coal made a higher fraction of the country’s electricity, but the numbers are still crazy impressive for nuclear."
Interesting: "2018 Nobel Prize for Physics-winner Gérard Mourou has proposed using Chirped pulse amplification to generate high-energy and low-duration laser pulses to transmute highly radioactive material (contained in a target) to significantly reduce its half-life, from thousands of years to only a few minutes."
I do not think nuclear waste and proliferation are a problem. Consider ITER, for example:
"Fusion reactors, unlike fission reactors, produce no high activity/long life radioactive waste. The "burnt" fuel in a fusion reactor is helium, an inert gas. Activation produced in the material surfaces by the fast neutrons will produce waste that is classified as very low, low, or medium activity waste. All waste materials (such as components removed by remote handling during operation) will be treated, packaged, and stored on site."
"Because the half-life of most radioisotopes contained in this waste is lower than ten years, within 100 years the radioactivity of the materials will have diminished in such a significant way that the materials can be recycled for use in other fusion plants. This timetable of 100 years could possibly be reduced for future devices through the continued development of 'low activation' materials, which is an important part of fusion research and development today."
Or to put it briefly: "No long-lived radioactive waste: Nuclear fusion reactors produce no high activity, long-lived nuclear waste. The activation of components in a fusion reactor is low enough for the materials to be recycled or reused within 100 years.".
Proliferation: "Limited risk of proliferation: Fusion doesn't employ fissile materials like uranium and plutonium. (Radioactive tritium is neither a fissile nor a fissionable material.) There are no enriched materials in a fusion reactor like ITER that could be exploited to make nuclear weapons."
Source: https://www.iter.org/mach/safety and https://www.iter.org/sci/Fusion
To repeat: waste is not much of an issue CURRENTLY, and in the future we will have ITER and the like, i.e. fusion reactors instead of fission reactors that solve the nuclear waste and the proliferation problem. It is sad how many people are misinformed about nuclear (other comments). There is no higher electricity consumption without nuclear, like... just forget about it. But then again, the future, that is fusion reactors, are pretty damn great. Just check out the last link in this comment.
This is purely a debt to the future generations, and as such we are very easily blue to take them, because we will not be around when it needs to be payed. If we ever realistically counted that stuff in nuclear would be completely and utterly unaffordable.
Sure thing, we could develope ways of reducing the half life time of the waste, building better and greater storage facilities that manage to stay functional 25 times longer than the pyramides, find newer cleaner ways of using the limited nuclear resources we have, etc.
This factor alone makes me unsure this really is the best way to generate energy. One thing many don't realise is that reducing production emissions alone doesn't cut it. We have to use less as well. Eat less meat, based on the methane the cows fart alone. All in all buy and produce less stuff. Which in turn would break capitalism, which we realistically won't carry through even if it would mean extinction.
Let's play with the sliders: https://en-roads.climateinteractive.org
Most people are way to optimistic about this. Technology alone will not safe us here.
Deforestation to make way for livestock, along with methane emissions from cows and fertilizer use, creates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all the world’s cars, trucks and airplanes combined.
The fertilizer has to be used for the life stocks food. If you eat 1 kJ of meat vs 1 kJ of the soy that is produced to feed it, there is less water usage , less CO2 emissions , less land usage etc.
If anything a move away from meat would help earth to accommodate more people. And that is only meat. What if you are able to buy one product that lasts a decade vs 10 that last a year?
This kind of "use the resources more efficiently"-stuff is what I mean when I say reduce consumption.
And that should by the way not be the task for individuals to tackle, we need higher standards when it comes to efficient resource usage, quality and lifetime of products, etc. This is not something that will be solved fast enough by consumers and their wallets.
Of course energy and transportation is a factor as well in all of this. If we don't want to move our planet into " lol maybe we go extinct"-territory, we will have to reduce individual transport and expand public transport and use renewable or otherwise more efficient means of converting energy.
The thing is: doing it later means we would have to do even harder changes. If we all started tackling this 4 decades ago we could have gone with a smooth, gradual change. Now even instantaneous change would be only amount to damage limitation.
The Greenlandic ice is over the tipping point. We cannot unmelt it. And heating 0°C ice to 0°C water takes the same amount of energy as it takes to heat 0°C water to 80°C water. This means thermally speaking our breaks are still working, but they will stop working any moment and we cannot stop them from loosing their function anymore.
The last year of reading up on climate science really made me realize that things are far worse than I thought they were.
 The waterfootprint of beef vs soy is nearly 15 times bigger: https://research.utwente.nl/en/publications/the-water-footpr...
 For CO2 it might be even worse: https://ourworldindata.org/less-meat-or-sustainable-meat
One NPP replaces millions of solar panels with a 90% capacity factor while solar has a 10-20% capacity factor.
How is that “obsolete”?
When building something new that lasts decades, and the current examples that have already paid off their capital costs are shutting down because fuel and maintenance alone is more expensive than newer tech, that is pretty much the definition of obsolete.
In India, the reason for coal and nuclear is that it's easier for local officials to take bribes. Not sure what the story is in China, as they are far more strict with the corruption penalties there. I suspect that it's mostly that there are old long term plans that haven't been updated for today's reality, a reality where renewables and storage got cheaper than even the most optimistic predictions.
See my recent comment here where you'll find 50 power reactors currently under construction in 15 countries.
Though I'll grant whether any of it turns out to be money wisely invested, either financially or environmentally, is a different matter.
Firstly, the evidence is that the Chinese are excellent at manufacturing and will likely be churning out high quality nuclear reactors.
Secondly, high quality energy production is a bad topic for nationalism. The West decided not to pursue nuclear decades ago. But it remains the most technically excellent form of energy production and we should be grateful that there are still nations in the world pushing technology and engineering forward. It isn't like there are a lot of choices; the obvious options the world has right now are either Chinese nuclear or Chinese solar.
But the answer is won't.
I submit to you that the economics and historical precedent are utterly irrelevant.
It's a simple choice: build more nuclear power plants..... or face extinction
A single cavity in that salt dome can store 150 GWh of energy, and there's room for 100 cavities.
I think we will be making lots of hydrogen for decarbonization of industrial processes, and maybe even for aviation or shipping, so as long as we can dump electrons to Utah and find the water, this sounds great.
There are lots and lots of other salt formations, both in the US and in the world. Also, aquifers and exhausted oil and gas fields can be used to store hydrogen.
The political environment being such that nobody wants to build them is the definition of won't not can't.
Unless there is strong support from government, Nuclear Plants can’t happen.
I’m really putting a lot of hope in the next generation of mini self contained nuclear plants. I think Bill Gate is also looking into that. These have the potential to be successful both for the planet (get rid of gas turbines for peak demand when renewables fail) but also economically (easier cheaper to build).
And that culture needed to change not now, but a while ago. If the whole world fully stopped emitting CO2 today, the latency till we could measure the first effect on climate would be roughly 13 years.
Most people I know are way too optimistic about what it takes to deal with this. A good way to get a feeling is to play with the sliders of this model here: https://en-roads.climateinteractive.org
Edit: this is btw. not something that I am happy with. Like at all. It stresses me out to think about it. People down voting a post that simply states the scientific consensus on that topic doesn't make it any better to be honest.
I was doing some research and practically all the sites in use today were built in the 1970s...
I think if you want to bring up a nuclear success story, Canada would be far better. Their CANDU has been really successful, and they haven't yet tried to build a new generation of reactors so they haven't yet failed.
The old reactors are the things nuclear advocates dismiss and say modern designs are better than on issues like safety and other concerns.
So the technology that looked good, theoretically, in 1970 may not have the same outlook in 2020.
In particular, France's failing attempt is the EPR. There have been construction starts at three sites, and all have been massive off schedule. For the three not in China, they have been massively over budget. The build in China was the third to be started, but is the only one completed; planned construction time was 48 months, but it ended up taking twice as long. I don't know how to judge the pricing of construction in China, but if the Western world could do it in 8 years and at the stated cost of $7.5B, it would be a fantastic deal.
What has changed since the last time? I don't know. Maybe different sorts of people go into the same jobs. Maybe executive culture is to blame. Maybe engineering culture is to blame. Maybe procurement and construction is to blame. Nobody has provided a solid explanation of X, Y, and Z with concrete examples.
Some will say regulations are different and the cause, but at the same time nobody says that these are unnecessary regulations, or that there's a smarter path that would make them cheap, it's always just vague accusations without any specific call to action.
Why would we remove a common sense environmental regulation, when we can build cheaper better things that have less environmental damage? Why the obsession with nuclear, at any cost? What is the benefit and gain when we have cheaper better alternatives?
What was considered "cheap" in the 1980s is no longer the cheapest option. We have better, cheaper technologies.
And on top of that the US can no longer build big things. We don't have construction management competence.
No we can't. The plans are to build nuclear plants that do exactly no environmental or social damage. Solar/wind/etc can't possibly compete to that standard. Try reliably isolating solar panel waste from the biosphere for even a century and see how much it costs. The figures would be too absurd to consider, which is why nobody is suggesting it.
I'd be happy to go with the cheapest thing if everything was to the same standard; but solar seems to getting a free pass that nuclear isn't, because people care about having to evacuate an area but have no fear of heavy metals poisoning. For reasons that continue to baffle the rationalists.
I'm not sure if you're serious with post. "No" environmental damage, when we have to mine uranium, iron ore, and massive amounts of concrete? Yet somehow they "waste" of old solar panels is hazardous to the biosphere and impossible to separate? Nuclear waste is far more hazardous and we don't seem to have much problem isolating that in France.
And then you say that solar is getting a free pass, when you invent issues for solar that are far more difficult for nuclear to handle?
How is this rational in any way?
If you include the mining that tips the scale even further in the favour of nuclear. A renewables-first strategy use substantially more iron ore and concrete and many more rare-earth metals (which are typically mined in China last time I checked, because they are environmentally damaging to produce). Less uranium with renewables, for obvious reasons, but you can power a country with a very small uranium mine. And again, uranium mines are typically held to higher standards than other mines because they are so small and relatively easy to manage.
> ... Nuclear waste is far more hazardous and we don't seem to have much problem isolating that in France. ...
You seem to be inching towards enlightenment. Keep following that thought.
> you invent issues for solar that are far more difficult for nuclear to handle?
I care about the environment when it is convenient. Nuclear remains hands-down the most environmentally friendly option. The only defence renewables have against it is economics (which is a compelling case, I must admit).
Renewables need fossile backup plants.
Go on electricitymap.org and see how Germany has among the highest emissions in the electricity sector in Europe despite 50% renewables in their electricity mix.
China and Russia are building new reactors faster and faster because in these countries nuclear never had a strong political opposition.
Of course the plans should be a lot more rigorous.
And then of course prices would go up. But cost overruns would go down.
Also, the fact that "the West" has stopped its building boom led to the construction industry atrophying. There is no efficiency, because there's no scale.
Also the mechanical safety standards are way stricter now, so you can't really just take an old design and add digital bus automation. You need more redundant safety systems, corium catcher and stuff. Not so easy.
It’s not a design problem, it’s a bureaucratic problem.
Is China planning any more EPRs? I can't find any evidence of them.
I would agree that it's a bureaucratic problem, but it's a bureaucratic problem of the construction industries in all Western nations. And nobody can even figure out what exactly the problem is, or how to change it.
The West just forgot how to build large projects.
Well, they've built them.
Even unsafe nuclear plants (at least historically) are higher frequency of still-rare but potentially-catastrophic failures, not regular failures that are likely to be obvious after a handful of years of a small number of reactors being in operation, its far from clear that they do so safely. (And, since neither of these regimes favors transparency, its not like you can easily externally analytically assess likely safety, either, and even the economics before considering safety may be less clear than they superficially seem.)
But, yes, getting things done that some currently-in-power faction would prefer is more complicatdd in systems in which the dominant faction is constrained by competing power bases rather than free to run roughshod over them. Though that's not something that has recently changed, its always been true, and those constraints have been a feature of the West for centuries, and most people in the West consider it a feature, not a bug; what is new in regard to nuclear power since the 1950s is that there are both more alternatives and more understanding that it has risks at all.
But man, I'd love a tap into that industrial quantity supply of "waste" heat piped just to my backyard. I'd heat my pool in the cold months, run my spa and sauna all the time, and use it to run an absorption chiller the rest of the time. And of course skim some for my hot water heater.
As far as district heating goes though, it could be an absolutely fantastic way to solve the fuel oil problem in the north east; if we could store heat generated in the summer underground in large stores for clusters of houses, it could provide a great way to heat all through winter with simple heat pumps.
France: 50 Grams CO2 per kWh
Germany: 400 Grams CO2 per kWh
Germany invested 500 billion Euros for its renewable program the past 20 years.
Flamanville 3 will probably cost 19 billion alone and won’t start regularly generating electricity by at least 2023 with construction having started in 2007.
The argument is "we could have avoided an apparently existential threat at any time with this tech, and there is evidence what we're actually doing won't avoid the thread" and the response is "nuclear isn't free". There is a mighty disconnect here somewhere.
You should check out the recently approved in the US nuclear reactor by NuScale. It is what everyone has been waiting for. A small (60MW electrical output) reactor built in a factory and shipped to the power plant site. This could be a real game changer.
They had to spend $500 million on just paperwork to get it approved, but they did it.
But they haven't built anything yet. It's fairly easy to design something and show that it's safe. The AP1000 got approval, but the designs turned out to be too difficult to build, with the builders saying that some parts of the design were "unconstructable", resulting them in building their own design instead, which then had to get reapproved.
NuScale's bet is that factory-based construction will drive down the construction cost to the level that it compensates for the lack of scale that the larger reactors' teams used as justification for going really big.
Now, that said, the whole problem is that of scale. There's no real money in building nuclear power plants. It's basically a few fanatics doing it at new and old companies.
If the US would announce a 2T USD new plant budget, there would be competition.
And even then, probably we would need to build a few very similar plants to have some sort of efficient design.
Also, you have to charge those batteries from somewhere...
I see the current solar panels generating tons of waste. Along with plastic this is terrible. Why are we so bad at building biodegradeable things?
France emits only 1/7 of the emissions of Germany in its electricity sector.
Reducing emissions with nuclear works extremely well and saves lives:
Oh, and plants can run well beyond 40 years:
You're ignoring the other 50% to make broad general claims about the first 50% not helping? That's not correct, on many levels. Moreover 'has in the mix' doesn't equal 'produces locally' so for all we know Germany is just importing all of it, and producing locally only using gas and coal. Which it isn't. tldr; you might have a point, but its way more nuanced than what you're presenting here (without evidence)
It's supported by the official 2020 Democratic Party platform: https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertbryce/2020/08/23/after-48...
Renewables (as well as storage) have reduced in cost (and continue to reduce in cost) much faster than has been expected by groups like the EIA.gov. While I fully support nuclear of all sorts, it's likely not to have a massive impact beyond the ~19% of electricity it provides today. It just takes too long to build, and proving a new design that'd be faster to build would also take a while, so it'd be supplemental to the energy transition, not the primary power source.
This is much different from 20 years ago when even wind power was still much more expensive than it is today, when off-shore wind was an expensive science project, when solar was literally over 10x (EDIT: more like 20x) the price as well as battery storage. At that point, yeah, I would've agreed nuclear was our only option for a rapid transition.
France produces 50 grams of CO2 for every kWh, Germany 400 grams.
If Germany hadn’t shutdown 11 nuclear power plants since 2011, emissions in the electricity sector would now be 50% to 70% lower.
That's the thing where you're very likely wrong, as you ignore the political situation where all of this happened.
Germany had a huge boost in renewables for a couple of years after Fukushima, which politically was closely tied to the (hugely popular) nuclear phaseout. This wouldn't have happened otherwise.
The alternative to the nuclear phaseout in Germany realistically would've been having no nuclear phaseout and much less ambition with renewables. Given that the German renewable energy program basically brought down solar prices for the world this would've very unlikely be a win even if you only look at CO2. The alternative of "Germany could've shut down coal earlier, keep nuclear longer and still have a massive development of renewables" is only theory, as that option was never politically on the table.
> Plus, the spent fuel has no place to go, it stays on site in concrete casks, potentially forever.
Great! Seriously, there are zero problems with that.
'In fact, the U.S. has produced roughly 83,000 metrics tons of used fuel since the 1950s—and all of it could fit on a single football field at a depth of less than 10 yards.' 
If by “regulated to death”, you mean, “heavily subsidized and granted special liability regimes to reduce individual operator risk exposure”, that would be true.
Nuclear power plants are money printing machines, not money pits.
This is a point on which nuclear advocates and the nuclear industry disagree.
I wonder which understands the economics of the situation better?
You can’t breath money.
How much have carbon emissions cost individuals in the form of negative health outcomes? Diablo Canyon cost 14b in 2019 dollars to build and has been producing carbon free energy for half a century. The state's total spending in 2017 -- State and federal funds -- was $256b.
The fuel could go to Yucca, or it could to go to Finland, which regularly takes nuclear waste. Or it could stay where it is just fine.
Did you just wake up from a coma?
Nothing will go to Yucca Mountain because it isn't operational. Obama terminated funding in 2011. Trump has opposed reactivating the project and Congress hasn't funded it. This isn't surprising considering Nevada doesn't want to be America's nuclear waste dumping ground. There is strong opposition from its residents, including Native Americans, and state government.
Finland doesn't take nuclear waste. It used to ship its waste to Russia (and the Soviet Union) for reprocessing. That stopped in 1996 due to legislation in 1994 that mandated domestic long term storage.
>Or it could stay where it is just fine.
Ah, not a coma, just stupidity.
Let's pretend that this is unequivocally true. Sometimes doing things for public health and safety costs money. It seems like the main question we should ask is "would switching to nuclear significantly save lives and improve the environment?". Most research says yes.
And since that's the case, then we can ask a new question: "Does your 'money pit' statement account for the benefits of reduced mortality and greenhouse emissions, or are you only thinking about the electric bill?"
I don't have to pretend, it is true. Not a single nuclear plant in the United States has opened on time and on budget. Not a single one. In the 1950s, nuclear power was heralded as the cheapest electricity possible, so cheap that it would be almost free. Electricity generated from nuclear is about four times more expensive than solar and wind.
>Does your 'money pit' statement account for the benefits of reduced mortality and greenhouse emissions, or are you only thinking about the electric bill?
I don't live in fantasy land, somebody has to pay for it. I am already on the hook for PG&E's misdeeds.
Having tens of nuclear graveyards, especially close to population centers is not a good idea when California is covered with active faults. Nuclear needs water and lots of it. Perhaps you are not familiar with California.
Well, I hear that the air force has so much extra money sitting around that they are working on yet another fighter jet. Maybe we could dig in the military industrial couch cushions a bit. "Somebody has to pay for it" is not the same as "we can't afford it". We absolutely could afford it.
> Having tens of nuclear graveyards, especially close to population centers is not a good idea when California is covered with active faults.
Given that California currently gets a third of its power from entirely outside of the state, clearly it's possible to build them not directly on top of the fault lines.
Looking at a map, it seems California is right beside a fairly large body of water, the Pacific Ocean. Maybe you could place your thermal power plants by the coast rather than smack in the middle of Death Valley? Perhaps not coincidentally, both Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear power plants are sited right beside the ocean, and use(d) ocean water for cooling.
Perhaps you should look at a fault map of California. Diablo, the only nuclear plant still operating, sits on an active fault that wasn't discovered until 2008. Not surprising, many new faults have been discovered recently. The Hollywood Fault was mapped in 2014 and many buildings in Los Angeles sit on it. Zoning was changed because of that discovery.
The coast of California is eroding through a combination of rising seas and sediment reduction. In 2010, an entire city block in Pacifica was red tagged because it was close to falling into the ocean. Many asked, why were these buildings allowed that close to the cliff? Well, in 1962 they were about fifty feet away.
Perhaps you should do some reading on the California Coastal Commission. The consensus is we need to retreat from the coast.
Let us imagine we can build magic nuclear plants. Where are we going to build them? Not Southern California. Well, maybe Camp Pendleton or Vandenberg, but that is federal land and they would be operated by the military. Maybe we can sneak one in the top of the northern coast near Oregon.
Says the person who was not aware California is right beside the biggest body of water on the planet.
> Perhaps you should look at a fault map of California. Diablo, the only nuclear plant still operating, sits on an active fault that wasn't discovered until 2008. Not surprising, many new faults have been discovered recently. The Hollywood Fault was mapped in 2014 and many buildings in Los Angeles sit on it. Zoning was changed because of that discovery.
Great. So when/if California builds a new nuclear plant, they can use the new information and not place it on top of a fault line. And earthquake-proof it as well, just to be sure.
> The coast of California is eroding through a combination of rising seas and sediment reduction. In 2010, an entire city block in Pacifica was red tagged because it was close to falling into the ocean. Many asked, why were these buildings allowed that close to the cliff? Well, in 1962 they were about fifty feet away.
How is that relevant wrt to siting a nuclear plant? Fifty feet in 50 years. So build the plant 500 feet away and make a tunnel for the cooling water.
> Perhaps you should do some reading on the California Coastal Commission. The consensus is we need to retreat from the coast.
If so, the incremental cost to build thermal power plants with dry cooling is not even a rounding error compared to the cost of moving cities with millions of inhabitants.
Does that cost comparison include the storage required to use the solar and wind at night, during dark winter days, etc?
Nuclear plants are highly economic, at least outside the US. Every plant in Germany so far has already financed itself.
For an existing plant, what are the marginal costs and benefits of keeping it running?
Your child comment: > Electricity generated from nuclear is about four times more expensive than solar and wind.
Again, you are badly mixing arguments about sunk costs versus marginal costs.
Since it was built in 1968, two faults were discovered, one a few miles offshore and another less than a mile inland. PG&E made structural changes to the plant in 1981. In 2011, PG&E told the NRC to hold the twenty year renewal permit until the company could do a seismic study in wake of the Fukushima disaster because coastal California suffers from both earthquakes and tsunamis. PG&E determined it was too expensive to continue to operate the plant and it could not take on the liability if a Fukushima type disaster happened at Diablo.
IMO the biggest problem with nuclear is the cost and time to construct. I don't think the energy industry would be so keen to shut them down if they were cost effective.
The nice thing about Nuclear is that it's boringly reliable. You buy a 500MW nuclear power plant, you're getting ~500MW from that maybe 80-90% of the time. Own a half dozen of those (3GW nameplate capacity) and you can have 2GW or more pretty much always.
You buy 3GW of solar panels obviously they don't do anything for a big portion of every day because the sun is on the far side of the planet, so then either you're also buying a lot of storage and more panels, or you don't have a replacement for the nuke plant.
Now, if you have 3GW of molten salt concentrated solar maybe you can hit that 80-90% reliability on the individual units and replace the nuke plant, but do Nevada and Arizona have any of those today? Are they expected to build a California nuke plant's worth any time soon?
Since then, the public bidding processes in Nevada and Colorado have revealed many more projects at similar costs. Since utility planning is typically on a five year timeline, bids are expected to be at the cost of storage at the time of delivery, and since the cost of storage is falling 20% per year, outsiders think that these projects are taking future cost drops into account. But if a three year old project is so affordable, anything delivered in the next six months will be pretty equivalent.
Maybe if sodium proves out then batteries will be acceptable. Right now, though, we don't have a viable technology that serves the purpose.
We don't need any big leaps in battery tech, just the current learning curve will serve us wonderfully.
As for environmental damage, I've never ever heard that strip mining is essential for any battery component. Could you clarify? Neither is child labor necessary.
Current grid storage has warranties longer than a decade of daily cycling. Fire suppression is greatly improving.
All the hurdles are easily surmountable. Certainly far more easily surmountable than the difficulty of building new nuclear. There are clear and easy paths for all of batteries, and we are going to be building TWh of them for cars anyway, so we may as well clean that up then use the same industrial process for grid storage.
You are seriously underestimated the required capacity to just store electricity for one day in an industrial country.
There is a reason why Germany is massively build new gas plants and building a second pipeline to Russia (Nordstream 2).
Since I did not estimate the amount of energy to store for a day, I don't know why you think I underestimated it. If you think we will turn off all generation for an entire day, ignoring solar and wind and hydro resources, and just run off batteries for no good reason, I'm not sure why you would think that.
What is the real resin that Germany is building gas plants? And how do they justify new gas plants, economically, in this day and age? They will be stranded assets in a few years, so it sounds like corruption or ignorance. Surely the economics can't be so different there than what exists in this Rocky Mountain Institute analysis of US costs, where we have super cheap gas?
> We find that the natural gas bridge is likely already behind us, and that continued investment in announced gas projects risks creating tens of billions of dollars in stranded costs by the mid-2030s, when new gas plants and pipelines will rapidly become uneconomic as clean energy costs continue to fall.
The only large storage systems are hydro storage and even those don’t have enough capacity to store energy for more than a few hours.
In Germany, all hydro storage plants combined can supply Germany with electricity for one hour at night before they’re empty (40 GWh).
As battery prices fall, entirely new markets open up. Right now batteries beat the cost of natural gas peaker plants. In Arizona, where solar is so cheap, batteries are becoming economical for correcting the duck curve in the evening.
Germany has plenty of wind overnight.
It's not like an entire country's grid will ever be powered by a single source of energy, so I'm not sure what the point of comparing hydro capacity to total energy consumption is.
South Australia would like to have a word with you.
The primary purpose of that Tesla battery is to manage short-term discrepancies, it can do 200MW power output for ten minutes without problems and that's enough time for relatively slow standby systems to spin up.
To give a comparison hydro storage systems of 10GWh (almost two orders of magnitude more) are totally a thing. Why didn't Australia buy one of those? Well the problem is geography, the hydro storage needs a mountain because what it's really storing is gravitational potential energy, and er, that bit of Australia is a bit flat.
You might as well just issue bonds and invest money directly.
With civil service employees, management overhead costs are usually way lower. Corporate management usually gets overpaid.
Deals like this one are unacceptable because they are a Frankenstein monster - state guarantees profit, so the state bears all the risk. The normal market mechanisms don't work, inefficiencies and wastefulness is not punished, but profits are still private. It encourages the worst possible behaviour.
Where that doesn’t happen and regulation doesn’t exist, utilities will happily operate a 100 year old depreciated coal plant forever.
It's almost a truism at this point, to say that a look large infrastructure project is going to go over time and over budget. But when nuclear is in the picture, this seems to be wheeled out like its somehow a fault of nuclear alone.
There is plenty of energy in renewables that is far cheaper and safer than nuclear.
Diablo Canyon is over 50 years old. It's not considered a particularly safe design. Stretching a few more years out of it isn't going to make a significant impact, certainly not relative to the auto regulation under discussion.
I mean, look, sure. I "support" extending Diablo Canyon in principle. But that takes a ton of money, and I'd like to see numbers showing that isn't better spent on a bunch of wind farms.
My understanding is that, at least depending on your goal, this isn't nearly radical enough. Some experts think we not only need to stop selling gas-powered cars _immediately_, but also actively remove existing fossil fuel cars/appliance from the economy.
I found this podcast helpful in understanding the level of effort needed to decarbonize in the near future: https://www.vox.com/podcasts/2020/8/27/21403184/saul-griffit...
Unless there's actual measurable promises made by politicians that can be falsified before their next election, it's mostly puffery. Make hard, publicly verifiable 6, 12, and 18 month commitments otherwise it's just fluffy words to get votes.
Also this can't be a politics-only solution. We have to dip into ye olden term of "political economy" - that second term is integrally tied to the first. The restructuring has to happen at how the politics And economy operates otherwise it doesn't work - there's no way to do anything meaningful, it's just words on paper if we only look at politics.
Personally I think profit maximization for the energy sector has to go. It's not how we run our fire, parks, library, courts, postal service and it can't be how we do energy, at least not right now. Greenhouse gas minimization has to determine things.
It's possible. The best universities for instance, aren't determined by the highest profits and the best police aren't the ones that hand out the largest fines and the best parents aren't the ones that extract the highest value labor from their children. We can restructure how energy is done as well.
Living in California over the past month feels apocalyptic.
This year isn't isolated and it's likely to repeat, refreshing in voters minds why this policy was put in place.
The Arctic was 65 degrees above average this summer with days reaching over 100.
The temperature difference between the latitudes that governed the jet streams and global sea circulation has been fundamentally disrupted
That's why you're getting muggy 80 degree nights in California now.
Meanwhile that cooling system has wobbled lopsided like a melting hat bringing arctic cold weather and crop failure to a bunch of northern latitudes.
In the mid-latitudes, the tropical glaciers in places like the Himalayas that are the water supply for over a billion people are in an accelerating decline causing unprecedented flooding, soil erosion and soon, starvation.
Meanwhile ocean acidification is making the bottom of the food chain unable to survive and thus causes a cascading effect leading to a global ocean dieoff.
At the same time, the ice sheets are breaking up so rapidly that glaciologists can't even keep up with it and at least one fell to his death this year because things are happening to quickly to survey.
And then there's that insect apocalypse. All the while humans are making bold proclamations and patting themselves on the back while they point fingers at the "other countries" as if it's a game.
Global feedbacks due to the emissions have chains of effects that can be mapped out over decades. If we magically stopped all emission right now, there's still years of warming and disaster baked in until any kind of stability (reversal in our lifetime is frankly out of the question)
We're not doing that though. Instead, pipelines slated to last 40 years are being constructed as I type this. Exploratory missions for drilling that wouldn't even start until years from now are still being done. More coal power plants were funded and greenlit just last month. They won't even start until years from now.
We're still committing ourselves to an oil future despite all of this. Over half the greenhouse gases were emitted After we started the annual global climate summits. It has done effectively nothing.
So yes, things will be getting worse. These are the good days.
Look up "alien resurrection deleted ending"... Except for the space crafts, I don't think the depiction is inaccurate unless we take major life altering action immediately. The window to start an "ambitious" 15-year transition closed somewhere around 1990.
The world will eventually recover. The carbon dioxide emitted from the car that just rolled down the street, 90% of it will finally be gone in 100,000 years. The coral reef will recover in 2,000,000 years from the ocean acidification since 1950. We'll get to a level of biodiversity equal to 1930 by about 10,000,000AD. Even the amount of fossil fuels we burned in the past 200 years will eventually come back in 400,000,000 years --- but that's only if we somehow stop today. We're not doing that.
There is literally nothing we can do to stop what's going to happen over the next hundred years. Elimination of emissions and massive investment in CO2 capture over the next hundred years might make the next hundred less terrible?
So my philosophy is to try and enjoy what we have as much as I possibly can and vote and support what little change I can.
Sadly, as climate declines, I suspect there will be a negative feedback loop. Economies will decline and the capability & willpower to invest in the future will decline along with the funds needed to improve the world.
I wish for future generations to look back at our time and say it was humanity's finest hour.
It's our duty to be nothing less. Our time is now, we are our only hope.
Finest hour? It's 90 seconds to midnight... if we're gonna shine, we don't have an hour!
I'm with you though.
> These are the good days.
Yep. I'm beginning to feel this is true. 2020 has been a crap year in many ways. But I expect 2020 will be one of the better years compared to what is coming.
Even if you reverse all carbon output today, if you do not change the forest management you will still have massive fires, and if you do not improve infrastructure maintenance you are still going to have brown outs and black outs in summer
Cool let's look at US only, because that will be your reply. We have the 2004 Alaska fire, the 2017 Montana wildfire or the fires in Idaho and Georgia in 2007 that were over 500,000 acres. Are those also meddling Democrats and Environmentalists?
What about the largest fire in Kansas history that went into Oklahoma in 2016. The largest fire in Utah was in 2007 as well.
When doing a proper survey, there's literally not a shred of empirical evidence to back your claim. This is a global phenomena exhibiting exactly zero bias towards any particular political party.
We're at the anger/bargaining stage of denialism with some people. Which is fine, but it shouldn't be used as a basis for public policy.
It is a GOVERNMENT problem, both parties are terrible.
>>We have the 2004 Alaska fire, the 2017 Montana wildfire or the fires in Idaho and Georgia in 2007 that were over 500,000 acres
Isnt that kinda of the point, the claim is that Climate change is the cause, but fires of this kind have been happening for decades
Fire happen in forests, and proper forest management will lessen their impact (it will not prevent them)
Forest fires have been happening since before humans existed on this plant, and they will continue to happen long after we have killed ourselves with our own stupidity
This is a matter of frequency, ferocity, and number of locations, that's why it's "instability"; the 60 degree change in Colorado over 8hrs for instance.
Or the multiple hurricanes at once phenomena recently almost like they're lined up in a queue. Or that crazy one in New York, or that disastrous one in Houston, rare extreme events are increasing in frequency due to climate disruption.
The statement "hurricanes happen" is about as valid as saying "people die" in order to dismiss the health concerns of cigarettes.
Nobody is claiming they don't. The claim, to use cigarettes, is that statistically speaking, a significant amount die when they usually wouldn't. Early deaths dramatically increase in frequency. Also pointing to the climate equivalent of the 100 year old smoker doesn't discredit things either. This is a statistical argument, not an absolute one.
If a better sports team has an upset defeat, they're still the better team because of their statistical performance.
The claim here isn't that these things didn't exist but that they're more numerous, more dramatic, and occur more often, globally, in every country. The numbers clearly back that story.
There are many things I think can be done for Climate change, Banning gas powered cars is not one of them
Yes, this is meaningless unenforceable pablum to curry votes prior to an election.
A serious effort would be to do say, an enforceable statewide boycott of imports from nations that are still building fossil fuel plants the same way the abolitionists got rid of global slavery in the 1800s.
A seizing and decomission of all state fossil fuel power production and a disbursement of the war chests to the laid off workers the same way we got rid of global whaling could help too.
There's lots of precedence for this, but we'd need to do some command economy level actions to achieve it.
You'd also need a bunch of political leaders willing to kamikaze their careers to achieve it. I don't see it happening tbh.
The abnormally hot and dry summer was absolutely a root cause of the fires.
> if you do not change the forest management you will still have massive fires, and if you do not improve infrastructure maintenance you are still going to have brown outs and black outs in summer
"Forest Management", the classic euphemism for "Aggressive Logging" is at least partially responsible for the explosive spread of the Holiday Farm Fire and many of the fires which have been part of this year's disastrous wild-fires in Oregon. In the Holiday Farm Fire, 76% of the lands burned were previously clear cut, most of it was private forest and heavily logged BLM land. The national forests adjacent which have a far lighter "management" burden, less logging and much more healthy 1st and 2nd growth trees didn't burn near as much. The difference is so stark, the fire line almost ends at the boundary between heavily managed land and the National Forest.
Honestly, we do need a more aggressive approach, but climate won't be the catalyst for totally changing the economy that many on the left hope it will be.
That's targeting the wrong side of the supply/demand equation. Which is also why this initiative of California's will not work.
Just keep building better power sources!! You will never reduce demand, you can only make a better supply.
Nuclear nuclear nuclear. There's nothing else that can do it fast enough.
If California actually cared about the environment that's what they would do, instead it's only lip service.
Even today, where we haven't done all that much with electric efficiency, US power generation has been virtually flat for over a decade since the last recession: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=38572
Considering how much low-hanging efficiency fruit there is still lying around, reducing demand is a perfectly valid strategy for reducing carbon emissions.
The entire difference is due to heavy industry moving to other countries.
In the second graph, industrial sales flatline then decline after 2000, which doesn't match up with the peak electricity generation in 2007. Both residential and commercial slow or stop growing after 2007.
Maybe in theory, but not in practice. How much new nuclear generation has been brought online in the last decade in the US? How much solar/wind?
Clearly, the only carbon-free power generation that is actually actively being brought online is solar/wind. With batteries, we'll actually get somewhere with the decarbonization of our power generation.
It still won't be fast enough at the current pace, though...
Isn't that exactly the point? Nuclear could be fast enough, solar wind can't.
Of course we'll need to bring down nuclear costs, not a lot, but at least some.
* 28%/41% - transportation
* 27%/15% - electricity
* 22%/24% - industry
* 12%/12% - commercial & residential
* 10%/ 8% - agriculture
58% of US transportation (~16% of the US total) is passenger cars and light-duty trucks, the focus of this announcement. CA accounts for about 6-7% of US CO₂e (carbon dioxide equivalents), so this action targets roughly 1% of our national emissions, not nothing but certainly more symbolic than impactful (even considering spillover effects). electricity and industry must be tackled as well, coordinated among a majority of states.
the US, ~4% of the world's population, produces about 15% of the world's emissions (2nd to china, EU together is 3rd). this is why it's even more critical that the US, china and the EU especially come together on climate change (e.g., the paris accords) rather than giving the middle finger like we americans did recently.
However if you start outlawing entire segments of a product that does not mean that Ford is going to stop making Gas powered F150 that 49 other states Love, they will just stop selling them in CA and many CA Truck owners will drive to NV to buy one. I have a feeling the border will have a Nice Big Truck Dealership in short order
We already see that in some markets where for example my Tractor can not be sold in CA, but I bought it just fine in my state
I would guess CA would still have a very large number of ICE vehicles in 2060 with this legislation.
At that point, the profitability of owning a gas station would go way down and people would start finding better uses for the land. Within 10 years, gas stations would be driven out of bigger cities.
Now people get "range anxiety" thinking about buying EVs, but people can charge an EV cars at home. When gas stations get harder to find, the biggest advantage of owning an ICE car vanishes.
If (and it's a big if), you can't sell new ICE cars, they will be uncommon 10 years later. After 25 years (your 2060 number) it will be difficult to do a road trip without careful planning around for gas stops.
25% of cars are 16+ years old. So by 2051, you'd expect 25% of cars to still be on the road.
For light trucks, the average age was 19 years old.
There is a whole economy around keeping ICE vehicles on the road. Without a constant supply of new ICE cars that economy gets trashed.
There will be a big enough market for ICE cars and gasoline for a while.
No doubt we'll see ICE cars disappear, but I just don't think it will happen that quickly.
Gas stations are already on decline in SF as more profitable businesses (and housing) find better uses for the land. If there are even 10% fewer gasoline cars cars on the road, that puts a huge dent in profitability those stations.
People may want gasoline cars, but owning one is going to be a hassle, particularly in places where real estate is at a premium.
> These folks can't afford a new ICE car, let alone a new EV car (they don't have garage to charge anyways).
The cost of EVs is coming down fast and will continue to decline. The cost of used EVs will also come down quickly, particularly since right now newer models are quite a bit better than EVs just a few years old.
> No doubt we'll see ICE cars disappear, but I just don't think it will happen that quickly.
There is nothing quick about it. We're talking about 25 years in the future as opposed to 50 years in the future. It's just your idea of cars driving around for a 15 years with no gas stations and increasingly hard to find mechanics that I question.
California's cars, like it's people, are concentrated near the coast where salt air shortens vehicle lifespan.
As a nation, we're not making radical moves. Most of our proposed policies are slow-walked or rolled back before they ever make a difference.
400ppm is actually a level when it starts having measurable effects on humans (generally dumbs you down slightly).
Meanwhile, we are being pounded in Canada with extra taxes to discourage burning of fossil fuels even though we only emit 1.6% of the worlds GHG's. And a large part of that comes from home heating by natural gas, to which there is no viable alternative, so its not discouraging anything, its just another cash grab.
We can't make everyone happy and keep the world habitable for life as we know it.
The time to make tough decisions was yesterday at least this is better than tomorrow.
Plenty of other countries already discuss bans for 2030.
> This move feels radical, but I don't see how we avert catastrophe without moves that feel radical. If we keep plodding down the course we're on we'll just sleepwalk into oblivion.
One of the most frustrating things for me in the global warming debate is the total lack of interest in the scientific truth on BOTH sides of the issue. The truly odd scenario it sets-up is one where both sides are, well, to be kind, confused.
It's weird, deniers don't know what they are talking about --because it is most-definitely real-- and advocates are confused because they are ignoring the most basic science on the subject.
What is the truth?
There is nothing whatsoever we can do about it. Plain and simple.
This is a planetary-scale problem that cannot be solved in thousands of years even if the entirety of humanity and our technology left this planet at once.
If we all left earth immediately, at best, it will take somewhere in the order of 50,000 to 100,000 years for atmospheric CO2 levels to come down by 100 ppm.
That's the truth. And it requires everyone leaving earth right away. A consequence of this is that no partial measure anyone can cook-up can even begin to make a dent. In fact, we have years-long research findings concluding that, even if we converted the entire planet to the most optimal forms of renewable energy not only would atmospheric CO2 not go down, it would continue to grow exponentially.
And yet everyone ignores the most basic of scientific analysis that confirms this reality. Scientists don't want to speak-up because it would mean losing grants and likely having their lives and careers destroyed. Nobody wants to go against something politicians and others are too happy to use to gain votes and make money. And so, the scientific truth is suppressed and lay-people believe nonsense.
OK, so, what is this simple analysis that proves this idea that it would take 50,000 to 100,000 years for CO2 levels to come down by 100 ppm if we all left earth?
We know EXACTLY how quickly natural processes reduce atmospheric CO2 through historical ice core sample records going back 800,000 years. In case it isn't obvious, this means we know the rate of change for a planet without humanity.
Here's were you will find the 800,000 years of ice core data:
Here's a paper that explains why it is that atmospheric CO2 will continue to rise exponentially even if we switch the the most optimal forms of renewable energy world-wide:
Take that graph into your favorite image editor and fit lines to it for the decline phase in every cycle. Measure the slope for each cycle. Take the average or median, your choice. The number is in the tens of thousands of years. Not hundreds. Tens of thousands.
Then read the paper and understand how a transition to clean energy is an exercise in futility.
I challenge anyone to show how anything short of all of humanity leaving earth can produce a rate of change dramatically better than tens of thousands of years per 100 ppm. No magic hand-wavy stuff. Whatever anyone proposes must include analysis of energy and resources needed to execute a planetary scale solution that is able to force a change at a rate up to a thousand times faster than the natural "no humans on earth" rate.
This is not to say there aren't a lot of good reasons to clean-up our act. There are. Of course. We just need to stop lying to ourselves, understand reality and start talking about how to adapt for the sake of future generations. We must also free-up our brilliant scientists so they can deal with this issue factually without fear for the destruction of their careers and loss of funding. The current path will lead nowhere. Converting California to all electric vehicles in the name of climate change is farcical at best and potentially detrimental.
There isn't anyone alive who can solve a scientific problem by ignoring evidence and data.
We cannot stop it" much less reduce it. The amount of energy and resources this would require is far more likely to kill everything on this planet than fix anything.
You have to think in terms of planetary scale. California is a rounding error. Switching every car in CA to electrics is a rounding error. Switching everyone to solar and wind power is a rounding error.
The comparison is to every human being not being on this planet* and our technology shutting down. And in that we know we are looking at tens of thousands of years for a 100 ppm drop.
Look, I don't like this reality any more than anyone else. I just want us to stop lying so we can look at this issue from a far more honest perspective. We cannot fix this. We cannot create an artificial solution for a planetary scale problem that would take longer to solve without us around than humanity might survive.
Look at the massive forest fires we've had just this year in CA. Care to guess how much CO2 these fires released? I've done the numbers for other fires in the past. It's hard to estimate but I think it is very safe to say that these annual fires easily release YEARS of equivalent transportation CO2 into the atmosphere every year.
In fact, that's how the planetary system works!
If you go back to the 800,000 years of CO2 data there are two obvious questions anyone inquisitive enough should be asking:
How did CO2 increase without humanity around? Massive continental scale fires across somewhere in the order of 25,000 years.
How did CO2 decrease without humanity around? Weather. Rains. Hurricanes. Cyclones. Water precipitating CO2. And, yes, trees and plants growing back after the massive fires.
Destruction is always easier and faster than reconstruction. These are basic principles. If you curve fit the charts you'll come up with about 25,000 years for a 100 ppm increase due to massive fires and 50,000 to 100,000 years for a drop of the same amount due to weather.
Another question that comes up is: Well, we were able to increase it by 100 ppm in a few hundred years. How does that make any sense?
Good question. Easy answer.
We did it by burning through billions of years in accumulated energy in the form of petroleum". When we burn one gallon of gasoline in a car or one ton of bunker fuel in a cargo ship we are burning something that took an exceedingly long period of time to "manufacture". It took energy in the form of solar energy and an unimaginably large amount of raw materials (plants and animals) to produce the black goo we pull out of the ground and burn. So, yes, in a few hundred years we were able to burn energy that took millions of years and, again, unimaginable amounts of biomass, to produce.
And that's another reason for which fixing the problem is impossible. I challenge anyone to name one problem that can be solved with less* energy than that which produced it. If we start with the premise that nothing can be 100% efficient and add to that the sheer scale of the energy and mass that went into what caused this problem the answer, which is right there in the graphs, is beyond obvious. It's high school physics.
We need to stop lying if we want a chance to understand the future and make it a better one.
It's a direct consequence of "There is nothing whatsoever we can do about it."
We're at 400ppm right now. For there to be "nothing we can do", there would have to be no appreciable difference between keeping our current trajectory (1000+) versus slowing emissions down to 600, or 500, or 400.
If what you're actually saying is that "nothing we can do will bring us down to 300ppm", then that might be true, but that's a statement about a hundred times weaker than what you actually said. Being stuck at 400 would not be a tragedy. 400ppm is not what people are extremely worried about.
Go through the very simple exercise I describe in my original comment.
Pull-up the 800,000 year ice core sample CO2 chart.
Determine the natural "no humans on earth" rate of change for the reduction of atmospheric CO2.
Then explain how anything we do --anything-- can deliver a 1000x improvement on this rate of change.
Even a 100x improvement on this rate of change would mean, at best, 500 years and at worst about 1,000 years.
This isn't very complicated but people seem intent in ignoring it.
I have yet to find someone, anyone, from lay persons to PhD's who, when forced to argue against the data we have don't go "Oh shit. You are right".
The problem is people read the words and never really take the time to engage in a simple high school geometry exercise that, from my perspective, represents a mind-bending revelation for most folks. It was for me. I set out to understand the subject and ran into this irrefutable wall. I am still looking for someone who, having honestly looked at the data, is able to honestly explain why the conclusion is wrong.
Have you looked at the data?
Ignore me. I'm just some fool typing words. The data is what matters here. My words don't. Argue against the data. That's how you prove me wrong. I don't think anyone can. And that's a pretty serious statement.
The problem with the down-votes on something like HN is that they are a cheap, low-effort and no consequence to muzzle opinions in the laziest of ways. It eliminates any degree of engagement and does not promote dialogue or learning. Having just watched "The Social Dilemma" this seems par for the course. Radicalization by "cancel culture" rather than dialogue.
At least you are engaging with me.
Now I am asking you to stop focusing on my words and please take some time to go look at the data, just the data, nothing more, nothing less. And then answer the question yourself and refute my conclusion if you can.
BTW, I am DESPERATE for someone to actually tell me how my conclusion is wrong. I don't like this conclusion. I would very much prefer to be wrong and learn how.
Again, can you?
If we are talking hypotheticals here, if humankind managed to shift all energy production to renewables and effectively reduce their carbon footprint to zero (this is pretty much an impossibility with current technology and culture), all carbon capture schemes would in fact be increasing the rate at which co2 was sequestered (faster than just natural processess alone).
We are talking about technologies like bio-engineered trees that grow incredibly fast and are then harvested and stored safely. And there will likely be a myriad of technologies we can not even fathom right now to directly pull out and sequester greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Are any of these things likely to happen in the next 20, 50 100 years? Maybe, maybe not.
You did mention that scientists should be freed up to work on aiding humans in adapting to this inevitable future, and these kinds of technologies would likely be researched in parallel to that effort, in order to bring the Earth back into a more hospitable condition for us.
I very much doubt it will take thousands of years to reverse the course we find outselves on, once there is enough political capital available to actually make change.
No, sorry. That's not what I meant. What the ice core data gives us as a baseline is what will happen if humanity and all of our technology leaves the planet. Let's call it 100K years for 100 ppm reduction.
This is a real baseline based on highly accurate scientific data. The first thing I did when I reached this conclusion was to try to invalidate ice core sample data. It turns out this data is extremely accurate and, I think I can say, irrefutable.
And so, this is the baseline from which, I propose, we need to evaluate any proposal that says: Eliminate X and we save the planet (fix the problem, stop climate change, etc., pick one).
In other words, I propose it proves a simple idea:
We cannot fix this problem by eliminating anything.
We can say this because we know that if eliminate humans and human technology --let's call that "everything"-- it will take 100K years to drop 100 ppm.
Every such proposal should be measured from this baseline.
Eliminate cars? Nope, you can't just do that and fix it faster than 100K/100ppm, if at all.
Eliminate cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships? Nope, that is still less than humanity evaporating. It's still, at best >100K/100ppm.
Eliminate all fossil fuels and all of the above? OK, now we are getting stilly and it still isn't going to be any less than 100K/100ppm. Because for 100K/100ppm by elimination of human sources of CO2 we have to leave the planet.
If you haven't I urge you to read the paper I linked to in my top comment. The researchers had enough and were convinced that the solution was a world-wide shift to renewables. They say so in the paper. And --thankfully-- they are also honest enough to say that they were astounded to discover that what they knew to be true was, in fact, false. We need honest scientists that are isolated from the consequences of looking at the truth of these issues.
Their conclusion, paraphrasing, was something like: Even if we switched the entire world to the most optimal and efficient forms of renewable energy (yet to be invented) atmospheric CO2 levels would continue to rise exponentially.
That is a sobering though.
As to solutions like bioengineered trees, etc. From what I've seen the main issue (other than the potential for horrific unintended consequences) seems to be that when you look at the energy and resources it would require to develop, manufacture, deploy and manage such technologies you realize they would cause more harm than good.
I don't know the answers. What I think I know is that we need to stop lying because the narratives being pushed are false and dangerous (because they prevent our scientists from working on the real problem).
If we eliminated 30 gigatons annually, yes the earth would recover at the rate you describe.
If we increase above 30 gigatons or reduce emissions, we shorten the time dramatically.
Growing trees or grasses, pyrolizing them into syngas and biochar, and sequestering the char could, in theory, supplement natural processes.
It's a process that can be run with an energy surplus, but it does require a lot of labor and land.
You'd need hundreds of thousands of square miles wholly dedicated to the effort.
DACCS facilities are expensive, but achievable. You'd need roughly three major industrial DACCS facilities for every coal fire plant worldwide, which would be incredibly challenging but not impossible.
It's a planetary scale problem, which means the numbers are very large no matter what anyone suggests.
I have no clue how much CO2 t-shirt manufacturing produces when you consider the entire supply chain and human footprint. If you add-up t-shirt manufacturing world wide, the number likely isn't trivial. And yet, even if we stop making t-shirts the need for clothing does not evaporate. I would be willing to bet that t-shirt manufacturing is now optimized almost as far as one could go and the providing an alternative form of clothing to billions of people around the world would be dirtier and consume more resources than just making t-shirts.
This is frustrating to me because I can't find a path. The minute one includes the pesky little reality of conservation of energy things become real.
I can't think of a single problem --regardless of the domain-- that can be fixed with less energy than that which created it in the first place.
And so, if that's true --and I think it is true without dispute-- this idea of being able to control atmospheric CO2 concentration at a planetary scale is in a range between hubris and lunacy.
Another way to put it is: We cannot fix it by subtraction.
This means we cannot fix it by simply going down to zero CO2 generation, no matter what the approach might entail. That, at best, gets us to 100K years for a 100ppm reduction in CO2.
I admit, this is a defeatist view. Yet, I believe this is reality and what is being pushed out there is fantasy. My fear is that, yes, we need to start doing a number of things to make human life better (the planet will do fine without us) but none of this work will begin until we frame it from a truthful baseline.
As I have said before, there are tons of reasons to cleanup our act globally --and we should-- but let's not lie to ourselves and pretend that this is to save the planet or reverse climate change. We can't. We won't.
And we won't because, even if we go to zero CO2 the planet itself will not cooperate. If you look at the charts for the 800,000 year ice core sample CO2 data one of the questions should be: How did CO2 increase, we were not around to make it happen?
The answer is, for the most part, massive continental scale fires.
So, we go CO2 neutral and cover the planet with trees.
And then fires, massive fires, fires we cannot control, contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere than we ever contributed before with our non-carbon-neutral technologies. Just look at what happened this year in California alone:
It is hubris to think we can control this at a planetary scale. We can't control it in a US state that recently surpassed the entire United Kingdom to become something like the fifth largest economy in the world...and we can't stop massive forest fires. From the article:
"The fires have already generated more than 91 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is about 25% more than the state’s annual emissions from fossil fuels."
I wish I had answers. All I am able to do is point out that we are lying to ourselves in hopes that, if enough people stop to think and understand this reality we will switch tracks and empower our scientific community to look at this from a different perspective. Maybe then someone with a unique perspective might discover a way to deal with it. We don't need to fix it, I don't believe we can, we need to understand how humanity can survive the cycle we are on.
Thanks for engaging.
I can't think of a single problem -- regardless of the domain -- that can be fixed with less energy than that which created it in the first place.
Accelerated silicate weathering is one approach that takes less energy than turning carbon dioxide back into carbon and oxygen . Natural silicate weathering has a low thermodynamic cost but is kinetically hindered. Accelerated silicate weathering only spends energy to accelerate the kinetics of natural silicate weathering and needs much less energy than combustion-in-reverse.
Iron ocean fertilization is also possibly another case where the required human energy input for drawdown could be much smaller than reversing combustion. I say "possibly" because it has not been tested with enough rigor and scale yet.
You can see from my comment history that I agree with you about how slowly natural processes alone can bring atmospheric CO2 levels back down to pre-industrial levels: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24297363
 e.g. Project Vesta https://projectvesta.org/
The real question is what it will cost in terms of energy and CO2 to mine, produce, prepare, deploy and manage such processes.
I have a very hard time accepting that we can use less energy to reverse something than the energy it took to create it. I have to admit it would take a lot of research on my part to fully break down these processes and quantify them from start to finish. I am just going to trust physics and say that I suspect perpetual motion machines are still impossible.
What truly scares me about ideas like iron ocean fertilization is the massive potential for causing a disaster that could damage sea life and ecosystems for hundreds of years. It's one thing to run an experiment on one beach or two. It's quite another to do this at a scale sufficient enough to affect things at planetary scale.
That's where, frankly, my brain short circuits a bit. I can't imagine some of these things done at a planetary scale without expending massive amounts of resources and producing equally massive amounts of pollution, CO2 and potential ecosystem damage.
Now, here's a twist. If the thought is that we can deploy any one of X approaches and deliver results a thousand times faster than the natural rate of change (100KY/100ppm) we have to be truly scared about what the unintended consequences might be. It's almost like that story about when they detonated the first nuclear weapon and thought there was some probability of the entire atmosphere igniting. I am not sure if the story is true, but it illustrates the point well enough.
I think we (and anyone who truly stops to look at the data and apply critical thinking) agree that this is a difficult problem that is being made far more complex by a narrative that is patently false (or distorted) all both extremes. This is a sad reality. Science should not work this way. Scientists should be free from political forces.
There is a big difference between "this approach is impossible according to physics" and "this approach might work but I'm worried about the side effects." It seems like for iron ocean fertilization you're asserting something more like the second statement than the first.
I'm interested in active atmospheric CO2 removal approaches because emissions cuts alone aren't enough to get back below 400 ppm CO2 on human time scales, as you have noted. Shying away from mitigation approaches because they could have unknown side effects at large scale is just committing to suffering the unmitigated brunt of AGW. Anything effective will have to be large scale.
I need to go learn more about silicate weathering, don't know enough.
> thermodynamics and kinetics, in the context of chemical reactions
I regret not having paid more attention in university during chemistry class. Paid lots of attention during multiple years of physics (it was more interesting to me at the time).
Wait a minute...isn't chemistry just applied physics? :)
In general terms, I think we need to take this perspective on the problem:
1- We can't fix it on a human time scale (let's define that as a number between 100 and 1000 years)
2- We need to free-up our scientists (and fund them) to start thinking about and working on this implications and the solutions we will actually need
3- We need to start working on having to live with the reality of more intense weather events
4- We need to start working on mitigating effects for food supplies and other essentials
5- We need to be super careful about the potential for unintended consequences. I always think about what happened in places like Australia, New Zealand and others when we dared to think we could exercise control:
When compared with trying to produce a planetary scale effect, these ecosystems are but a rounding error. This is what worries me the most. We can't "fix" something on an island and we have the hubris to think we can actually "fix" the planet and not kill everyone on it as part of the process.
This, BTW, is why I tend to be a proponent of learning to live with it while cleaning-up our act to the extent possible without being so arrogant as to think we can do anything about it on a human time scale.
5- We violently remove politics from this. I do not mean this in terms of physical violence, I am using the term to mean "faster than fast". In other words: Go sit in the corner while the intelligent adults in the room have a conversation.
This isn't a simple problem and we need to be exceedingly careful not to be led by the nose by political and other forces into something that could destroy more life on this planet than we can possibly imagine.
The geological carbon cycle based on silicate weathering is what will naturally neutralize human CO2 emissions on a time scale of hundreds of thousands of years.
The reason it takes hundreds of thousands of years is that the chemical kinetics -- rate -- of the natural reaction are very slow, being limited by the available reactant surface area. This is the same reason that e.g. a steel hammer left outside in a rainy region takes years to completely disintegrate to rust, while steel wool under the same conditions will disintegrate to rust in under a year. The thermodynamics are the same in both situations: iron oxidizes spontaneously. But the kinetics are much faster when the material has a large surface area exposed.
Most of the exposed weatherable silicates on Earth are in the form of huge chunks: boulders, mountains, and region-spanning plateaus. The idea behind accelerated silicate weathering is to crush huge chunks of silicates down to sand-size particles so that the surface area and reaction rate increase dramatically. If the crushed material is dumped into shallow ocean water near shores, wave action also provides additional "free" mechanical grinding to further accelerate the process. Using these silicates to neutralize excess soil acidity on agricultural land, where limestone would normally be used, is another way to further accelerate the chemical transformation.
The human energy input required for accelerated silicate weathering is still large in absolute terms, but much smaller than trying to turn CO2 back into carbon and oxygen. It might take 5% of a coal plant's electricity output to crush enough silicates to offset its CO2 emissions. (Though ideally you would run the process on renewables, since crushing can be scheduled flexibly and only annual throughput really matters.) The process reverses ocean acidification effects of CO2 as well as reversing warming effects from CO2 in the atmosphere. It doesn't require artificially concentrating CO2 out of the atmosphere.
I believe that accelerated silicate weathering can bring atmospheric CO2 back below 300 ppm in less than 1000 years, though still more than 100 years. That's assuming that anthropogenic emission rates decline over time, mind you.
It makes sense that the vast majority of the discussion around AGW mitigation is still about cutting emissions. While emissions are still growing, even ambitious plans like large scale accelerated silicate weathering can't offset them. Still, if you look at the IPCC reports and other scholarly literature, scientists are looking ahead beyond emissions cuts. The term they use is "negative emissions."
One way I am thinking about what you are saying is the concept that a block of ice melts at a much lower rate than the same mass of ice in small cubes. The principle being that a greater exposed surface area produces a higher rate of heat transfer from warm air to ice, accelerating melting.
I am trying hard to frame this issue in the simplest possible terms so that it is easy to consume the information by those who might not have the scientific background. I don't think the effort to shift the conversation will succeed if it is framed by equations impenetrable by the average person.
What you highlight --that the limit rate of CO2 "consumption" is a function of available reactant surface area-- is a valuable tool with which to communicate the idea that this process is beyond human time scale. In other words, the natural rate of change is what it is due to physical realities of this planet. It cannot be a thousand times faster just by installing solar panels or banning IC vehicles. I can see a YouTube video using the simple example of ice melting as a way to explain this.
I'll do a bit more reading and shamefully steal some of your insight. Like I said, I regret not having paid more attention during Chemistry class in college. The good news is, it's never too late to learn.
The simplest analogy I might try to use is that table sugar crystals stirred into water dissolve in seconds while a piece of hard candy will take minutes to dissolve.
The people discussing mitigation are talking about decreasing the release rate of new CO2, so the peak value or the value a hundred years from now can be smaller.
Your math is right but you're solving the wrong equation.
If humans all disappeared right now and CO2 stayed at 400ppm approximately forever, you're treating that as the "failure" case. Everyone else is treating 400ppm as a mild success, and their "failure" cases are far far higher levels like 1000ppm.
If your goal is a binary "not get punched in the face" then it's too late after you get hit a couple times. But it still makes a big difference whether they stop after a few punches, or keep going until you're in the hospital!
I realize that geoengineering poses its own dangers. I just don't think we're going to have any choice.
Humans could never fly. We could never destroy entire mountains. We could never drain an entire sea or make an island. We could never split an atom. We could never walk on the moon. We could never have an international network sending live video around the world at near light speed. We could never burn so much fuel that we heat up the earth in a measurable degree.
Yet people did all of these things.
Just because it seems impossible now doesn't mean it won't be possible someday.
> I challenge anyone to show how anything short of all of humanity leaving earth can produce a rate of change dramatically better than tens of thousands of years per 100 ppm
If a single person right here, right now, could do that in an economical fashion, they'd be a trillionaire before the decade is over. Nobody in 2001 was single handedly making pocket-sized GPSes that played games, streamed video, and had AI facial recognition in the sub-thousand dollar price range either, but that changed fast. Anybody who proposed using solar panels and windmills as a main power source for cities in 1910 would've been called a kook just as well. It's incremental change.
Go back and read my top post and go through the exercise I delineated. I provided everything you need to verify the claim. It is so simple a high school kid with a ruler could do it.
That's what's so frustrating about this. People like to say things like "well, just because cows don't fly today". Well, no, that's not a counter-argument. This is about physics. What's interesting is that it is about physics so simple the answer can be discovered with a printed chart, a ruler and a pencil.
If you bother to go through the exercise, the baseline you should discover is that, in rough terms, it takes 100K years for a 100ppm reduction in atmospheric CO2. 100KY/100ppm.
What does that mean?
That's the baseline for any subtractive approach to "saving the planet".
It's the baseline that says: We know it's 100KY/100ppm if we eliminate EVERYTHING.
It's simple logic to understand that if we engage in partial elimination the rate of change will not be better than 100KY/100ppm. It cannot.
If you erase the entire United States from the face of the planet, will the rate be better than 100KY/100ppm. No way. Impossible. And we just erased the largest economy on the planet.
Meanwhile, the governor of California is virtue-signaling by trying to eliminate IC cars in 15 years? How is that going to even make a dent?
He is far more likely to trigger an industrial shift that will result in far more CO2 being produced to retool and shift to manufacturing and support electric vehicles than IC vehicles ever produced.
Simple logic: Do anyone have any idea how many high power charging stations a fully electric-car CA would require?
Well, there are over 10,000 gas stations in CA. I am going to say we likely need at least twice that many high power charging stations. Why? Because you can fill your gas tank in 5~10 minutes and it takes 75 MINUTES to charge a Tesla at a Supercharger station. So, yeah, 2x might actually be a low number.
Any idea of the resources and industrial mobilization required to build 20K, 30K, 50K charging stations? Any idea how much CO2 this construction process would entail?
And then we have the small issue of powering them. Current Tesla Supercharger stations consume about 1.5 MWh PER DAY. This means that 20,000 stations would consume 30,000 MWh PER DAY. This assumes the same utilization level (about 50 sessions per day). Anyone visiting a gas station knows this number is laughable.
Let's put 30,000 MWh into some context: A typical nuclear power plant produces about 1,000 MW. This supercharger network would consume the output of THIRTY nuclear power plants. We would have to build one nuclear plants per year for thirty years to be ready for full scale electrification of transportation in CA. If we extend this to go nationwide we would likely end-up with, I don't know, a thousand nuclear power plants.
And don't even think about saying "solar". I don't even want to imagine the pollution China would generate if tasked with producing 30 GW in solar panels, not to mention the CO2 produced to ship and install that infrastructure...and it only covers part of the day...which means you now have to manufacture and install massive battery banks...etc.
Where is your CO2 footprint now?
This is all very simple logic and very simple math. All it requires is a bit of critical thinking applied to pencil and paper. Not that difficult. We are being sold barrels of lies right and left (I mean that politically).
People need to wake up.
I think you can get something like 3 tons of CO2 per acre per year with switchgrass. There's around 1 trillion excess tons of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Let's say we use around 200 million acres of land, that works out to:
(1 trillion tons / 3 tons per acre per year) / 200 million acres = 1512 years.
But that's just the US. If other countries help with land, we could probably get 1 or 2 billion acres involved, so that drops it to 150 years.
That's a lot, but not as bad as your picture.
Growing trees is precisely how the planet regulated CO2 levels over the 800,000 years of data we have. And we can see precisely how long it takes to come down by 100 ppm. The answer is 50,000 to 100,000 years.
And so the question becomes: How are we going to deliver results 1000x faster than that? On a human time scale rather than a geological scale.
Because of the third dimension: Energy.
You can't get something for less energy than what it took to create the problem in the first place. The energy that created this problem is unimaginably large and it was deployed over a scale of millions to billions of years, consuming a staggering amount of material to store it in the form of petroleum.
We can't magically grow enough trees to "fix" it 1000x faster without energy and resources we likely do not have.
And then there's the question of what happens with so much vegetation. Which, again, is answered by the 800,000 year ice core record: Huge continental scale fires that load-up the atmosphere with CO2.
Here in California we have probably put so much CO2 in the atmosphere in the last several months that you would have to shutdown the economy for a year to compensate.
Nature is violently heartless. It does not care about us and our toys. Plant a trillion trees and see what happens when a major forest fire burns across thousands of miles without us having any ability to control it. Not a simple problem.
Here's a good article on the reforestation idea:
The roots of plants to end up donating some carbon content to the soil, so it’s not just the above ground part that’s part of the equation.
Fermentation might not be a problem, I'm hoping the switchgrass would be harvested when very dry, to cut down on that. Grass for silage, (which ferments) is cut when green, but hay is dry and does not ferment.
Transportation and resources would be something, yes, but if you take a look at what we've built to make use of hydrocarbons, I think we could manage.
This is a shitty conclusion but I have yet to find anyone who, after having had an honest look at the data can explain how the conclusion is wrong.
BTW, even if we go back to pre-industrial levels it will take tens of thousands of years for levels to come down.
That's the point. If it takes 100,000 years to come down by 100 ppm without humanity on earth how can it possibly take less than that with 8 billion people on the planet?
Even worse, how can the reduction in CO2 happen a thousand times faster?
How can it happen that much faster without expending so much energy and utilizing so many resources that we are far more likely to kill everything on the planet than to "save it"?
With regards to what you say about not adding any more CO2 to the atmosphere. That's also a nonstarter. I understand how it might be easy to think in those terms by creating a simple mental model of reality. However, anyone who understands the industrial economy that makes it possible for nearly eight billion people to live on this planet understands that we cannot eliminate CO2 production to the extent necessary to have an impact.
Put simply, if we erased the United States from the planet on Monday, the output of countries like China and India would continue to grow CO2 at alarming rates.
Erase them from the planet. CO2 would continue to grow.
Erase all of humanity and in 100,000 years CO2 levels will have dropped by approximately 100 ppm.
And that's the problem.
The way I would put it is this:
First we need to start by not lying. I think that almost 100% of the crap out on this subject are lies. We have religious camps that deny it all and religious camps who think we can fix it with magical pixie dust.
We need to free-up our scientists --who are genuinely scared to speak-up-- so they can start to think about reality rather than this fantasy they need to push in order to receive grants and have a job.
Next, with real conversations happening, we need to also understand that there are very compelling reasons to clean-up our act. And these reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with saving the planet, because we can't.
A simple example of this is the ridiculous fleet of container ships (some 15,000 of them on the oceans) burning the most horrific fuel available: Bunker fuel. This stuff is horrible across all axis. And nobody talks about it.
While the governor of California scores virtue-signaling points by banning IC cars by 2035 (doubt it will happen) he does and says NOTHING about bunker fuel pollution that produces, by some accounts, more contaminants in a single day than the entire transportation system of the US (cars, trucks and plans) in one year.
This is why I think the dialogue based on lies is just crazy. We are ignoring issues at scale to focus on things that are politically valuable (and likely financially too) that will deliver questionable results, if that.
So, no, I don't have an answer. I am just yelling out loud "This is wrong". Just like I was years ago about Facebook's algorithms and today there's a documentary on Netflix highlighting precisely what I predicted 8 to ten years ago. I mean, people in my own family were saying I as crazy. Now they are calling me to tell me to watch this documentary on Netflix that is saying the things I was saying years ago. Interesting how the world works.
In my research I also discovered cargo ships are responsible for other forms of pollution nobody talks about. One of them is what's called "species pollution". As they fill and empty their ballast tanks they suck in, transport and expel wild life from one location to another. In this fashion invasive species damage ecosystems not prepared to receive them.
That said, CO2 from container ships represents somewhere in the order of 3% of total world-wide emissions. For reference, this is greater than the CO2 output of all of Germany.
As you said, too few people are having conversations about the realities of these matters. The issue has been politicized to a ridiculous level on both sides of the spectrum and we are wasting time focusing on nonsense.
I do not anticipate any foreseeable feasible scenario where the economic political structure will allow scientists to lay out the facts without fearing for their livelihood to meet their basic physiological and safety needs. So turning on its head the question of how to change the economic political landscape, assume their basic needs are met, what exactly do the scientists and engineers need to gather the data and analyze it, and to what end?
I'm a little confused about the thesis chain for that matter. I see at the beginning the "we cannot save the planet" thesis, but I'm not clear on what follows other than an ambiguous "clean-up our act" thesis. Clean-up what, specifically? By what metrics?
I'm okay with accepting the premise that we will experience the worst-case scenario. I've yet to be convinced we as individuals need to wait for broader and deeper consensus to study and make large-scale decisions as a civilizational whole before taking effective action ourselves, like move towards the poles away from the equator, secure essential localized supply chains, secure potable water production, identify and practice essential skills like various disciplines of tech tree repairs, etc. I can see a need for scientists like entomologists to help identify which insect populations will shift with the bands of increased temperatures, or identify more closed-cycle and efficient permaculture without external industrial-reliant inputs. But until there is perceptible change in leadership to grasp reality, I'm not clear on the benefits of advocating for top-down change, though I certainly welcome any insight on this that I'm missing.
For me personally, the thesis that follows from "we cannot save the planet" is "decentralize and decouple myself from a happy-path-bound grid", take what accidental happenstance cooperative opportunities arise, and hope for the best on the broader economic political scale.
I believe RCP 8.5 will not happen.
One more time, I go back to the 800,000 year ice core CO2 data. The earth obviously has a regulating mechanism that brought CO2 down from the 300 ppm range to 200 ppm. The way it did it is brutal and simple: Weather.
It is my hypothesis that the planet is reacting to the increase in CO2 right now by activating that mechanism. I think I can say that we are seeing more and more violent storms, hurricanes, etc. Which, in turn, precipitates more CO2 than we could ever dream of capturing through artificial means.
And so, what I am saying is that we need to start thinking about living in a world with massive powerful storms, "finger of god" class storms. The climate change problem isn't a problem for the planet, it's a problem for humanity.
> I'm a little confused about the thesis chain for that matter. I see at the beginning the "we cannot save the planet" thesis, but I'm not clear on what follows other than an ambiguous "clean-up our act" thesis. Clean-up what, specifically? By what metrics?
Frankly, I think this is precisely the reason we need to make a push for stopping the lies and allow our brilliant scientists all over the world to focus on real solutions to real problems.
If I may offer a second hypothesis, it is that, if we stop the lies and allow them to do this work the remarkable genius of our global scientific community will reframe the problem in the proper terms and, with time, deliver relevant solutions, not to "save the planet" but rather to save humanity.
And no, there is no evidence that temperature has ever increased that fast.
And even if you keep denying the impact of climate change, think alone of the change in AIR QUALITY in a place with so many cars like Los Angeles. The increase in air quality alone in big urban centers is worth it on its own. It's already been improved quite a bit in recent years (at least in the west) and this can only get better. I live next to a big road here in my city and I just can't wait to have less emission vehicles on the road.
Also, people should buy electric cars. FACT: a bad electric car is outright better than almost any ICE car.
Source: I own a Nissan Leaf. And it’s no Tesla. Still leaps and bounds above any gas car I’ve ever driven.
They salt the roads where I am and the winters tend to bounce between frigid and just cold - so there's often consistent freeze/thaw cycles from December to March. The amount of wear that puts on exhausts and piston rings would blow your mind.
It's also conducive to EVs - my Leaf is pushing 70k and hasn't lost more than 2% of battery capacity (and possibly less - it's capacity loss is a rounding error) in the time that I've had it. It's active cooling is just how blooming cold it is here for a lot of the year.
The other issue is that here diesels are much more popular than petrol/gasoline. And diesels are just an unreliable nightmare of sunk costs. The amount that can and does fail on a modern diesel and costs four figures to get fixed is scandalous (and that's not even counting DPFs and flywheels).
The most that's ever gone wrong with this car is a bulb going out. I fully expect to get 100k out of the car while I have it, and I'd be astonished if it doesn't do 200k or more in it's lifespan.
Compilation of 300-450k mile Teslas.
900,000 km (559,350 miles)
1 million km (621,000 miles)
You are right, and I want to add more perspective that in your proposal there are now 2 cars on the road. Your electric and your used ICE car. The better situation is to drive your ICE car to its end, and only then replace it.
Our over consumption is a part of the problem as well.
If half of the world immediately upgraded to electric cars, sure there would be a temporary surplus of vehicles, but it would only last until the old ones broke down.
Exactly. There'd be a temporary surplus of (newer, better-condition) ICE vehicles. And people who are otherwise faced with a $1500 bill to repair their old one "kinda needs repairs, burns some oil but a quart a week isnt too bad", will instead buy a more efficient ICE. Most new BEV will get an old shitty ICE off the road.
Modern electronic engine controls have slashed emissions so effectively that the exhaust of a modern car running there is actually be cleaner than the ambient air of that time - Yes, a modern car running in LA in that era would actually be cleaning the air!
If you want to clean up the air, go after all those Chinese container ships burning bunker oil that is literally one step up from tar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_fuel_oil
Fixing these filthy ships would make orders of magnitude more difference than eliminating all fossil-fueled cars from the road.
Famines didn’t suddenly stop because of global warming.
Quality of life and length of life have increased depending on which metrics you use, but in any case wealth inequality has never been greater, and length of life has increased due to medical technology, not increased atmospheric carbon.
What constitutes a “marginal”difference in temperature? Keeping the rise below 1.5c is still far too much and too much to ask (apparently).
Quality and length of life increased, again, primarily because of modern agriculture, with vaccination and obstetrics as a second and third factor.
Wealth inequality is up because of the unimaginably vast amount of wealth available, which has disproportionately accumulated at the very top. Poverty, as measured in simple material terms, has never been lower, except in the absolute sense that, again due to modern agriculture, we're able to sustain such a vastly greater population.
How to solve the climate crisis, without a massive dieoff and collapse to a pre-industrial standard of living, must always be the question. Remember that it's always an option, and that cure would be worse than the disease.
We can imagine a world with electric tractors, made with steel coked with biocarbon in solar-thermal furnaces, where the Haber process is run with hydrogen derived from clean electrolysis. But we don't inhabit that world at the moment.
Then 100% when the solutions devised to get rid of the other 99% of use are adapted to agriculture and make the use there obsolete too.
Also, the advantages of 'farming tech' may not be of the same scale as 'climate change'.
Specifically 'forest fires' are a pop culture issue, we're not ever going to be threatened by them.
Regular temperature increases will likely yield 'systematic problems' that go far, far beyond 'possibly more fires' but the issues is different because of the 'risk profile' and the 'existential' nature of climate change. It's not like 'a chemical in some food products' we can get rid of. It's an issue that affects 'everything' with potential catastrophic outcomes at the riskier end of the scale.
All of that said I would much more prefer 'Mr. Face' Governor to be investing more heavily in solutions rather than just happy legislation.
Newsom+California bureaucracy is an inefficient, bloated mess, Cali could save itself 2x more quickly if they did their jobs well.
They haven't, EU countries cannot do that since it is against EU law. Instead there have been several proposals for phasing out fossil fuel cars that are still discussed, but nothing is decided. That is how politics and regulations are usually done.
Also you have to adapt to changing conditions and then take actions accordingly. This is true generally, and possibly even more so for politicians and governments.
Some people are blaming the wildfires on global warming, but many (on the left and the right) are saying forest maintenance has been the primary cause. 
Also, the recent rolling blackouts have shown the risk of relying too much on solar and wind power. I'm not sure that the specific timing makes too much sense, unless the goal is to have this largely overshadowed by the presidential election and recent passing of Justice Ginsburg.
I’m not talking about stock speculators (gamblers gonna gamble, whatever) but just generally I thought it was very encouraging that Tesla’s main goal right now is to dramatically drive down the cost of energy storage while driving up the density and production capacity.
Is it enough? Not on their own, but if others can adopt their methods to produce more batteries then it’s effectively printing money for those companies for the next thirty years (as even the laggards are forced to move to zero emissions across their grids).
It would be nice if this creates the kind of fierce competition E.M. set out to do with Tesla originally. We need more energy storage than we have now by several orders of magnitude.
Also, I'm not sure anyone has ever characterized representative democracy as: politicians campaign on certain issues, and then after getting elected — and with no material intervening factors — they enact sweeping regulations that they never even hinted at during their campaign (or decades-long prior political life).
California has direct democratic elements. It is not a direct democracy.
There is a lot of writing and research on why direct democracies are probably not a good idea for all questions, from antiquity to the modern era. One field that dies with proximity to democracy is law, e.g. the ancient Athenian system of trial by popular assembly. Another is the management of commons, e.g. fisheries, forestry and, I would argue, our atmosphere.
Note that such delegation doesn't mean usurpation. It just means the elected leaders negatively consent to, and constrain, rule making. This is the basis of the agency-driven civil service model, which first–to my knowledge–flourished in China before making it West by way of the Middle East.
A related question: wouldn't a representative democracy always perform more poorly than a (benevolent) technocracy?
The mistake here is assuming that just because you don’t see a reason, that must mean there is no reason.
Maybe you should visit California next time we are in peak firestorm mode and then you might see.
> In terms of loss of life and damage to property, the data shows the worst fires have all been in the past 10 years or so - except for one fire in 1991 in Alameda County.
> And this year, there have also been unusually strong winds combined with periods of drought across parts of the western US. Six of the largest fires recorded in California have all happened this year.
> Prof Doerr says a combination of drier, hotter and windy conditions is the key factor in these recent fires.
> He adds that even in areas where there have been attempts to reduce flammable material in forests, it's not clear how much difference this would have made.
> "The bottom line remains that the extreme meteorological conditions are the main drivers for these extreme fires."
Here's a survey of articles covering the West coast fires (CA, OR, WA) that make this clear:
- https://www.npr.org/2020/08/24/899422710/to-manage-wildfire-... mentions that before 1800, several million acres were burned every year through indigenous burning and also lightning-caused fires. In 2019, California committed to burning just half a million acres a year, but is far from reaching even that modest goal.
- https://www.npr.org/2020/09/10/911592361/are-recent-wildfire... mentions that California needs to address 20M acres every year (through thinning or burning). In 2019, $160M was spent putting out wildfires in CA, but the economic damage was $80B - and yet preventative measures are not being taken.
- https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/19/us/california-today-100-m... notes that California's focus on fire suppression has led to mass quantities of dead trees resulting from a lack of smaller fires and increased infestation (due to increased forest density enabling transmission of pests/disease)
- https://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2020/09/did-global-warming-pl... mentions that the wind patterns that caused recent wildfires in Oregon is unlikely to have been caused by climate change
- https://katu.com/news/on-your-side/lack-of-forest-management... notes that in Oregon, a lack of forest management has led to a buildup of dense fuels
- https://www.washingtonpolicy.org/publications/detail/to-stop... notes various policy failures that have caused Washington forests to grow out of control, unharvested, and with high density.
- Both the WA state Department of Natural Resources (https://www.dnr.wa.gov/StrategicFireProtection) and WA timber industry (http://www.wfpa.org/sustainable-forestry/reduce-wildfire-ris...) have been increased investment/assistance/regulatory support in thinning forests and conducting prescribed burns. Despite these calls being made for over a decade, despite ever increasing state budgets, and despite a consistent single-party rule, the governor and legislature have done little to respond to those calls for help.
The reality is that all three West Coast governors - Newsom (CA), Brown (OR), and Inslee (WA) - are operating in states that have left-leaning legislatures, judiciaries, and executive leadership. The failure to prevent wildfires or manage them effectively is entirely their fault. It's much more convenient however, to blame an externality like climate change, than to be honest about their own failures. And at the same time, the political theater of blaming wildfires on climate change allows them to forward their political/ideological agendas through far-reaching proposals like Green New Deal, which are much broader than just environmental issues.
It does seem to me that blaming the whole situation on climate change is an exaggeration. However, it is a politically savvy move from Newsom et al. as west coast states are solid blue. They are pandering to their audience. It also happens on the right with different issues.
Also we have known about climate change for decades, there has been no huge revelations about it the past year, there was no reason this couldn't have been a part of his campaign.