Monday, April 17, 2006

Climate change 2

One of my correspondents takes me to task for swallowing the Climate Change Deniers Handbook. On climate change I am not an atheist, but an agnostic. I am not an expert on this, but I know enough about experts to take what they say with a pinch of salt. For true believers you might try as an alternative to the website I posted last time.

What I am sure about is that if there is a problem to be dealt with it will not be solved by self-denial. China and India and eventually Africa are going to want the same sorts of luxuries and mobility that we enjoy in the West. Better technology has to be the answer.

With that in mind I was interested to read the following article in the Washington Post yesterday.

Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace has joined James Lovelock, the inventor of Gaia, in calling for an expansion of nuclear power. He makes the cogent point that deaths from nuclear power are far fewer than from coal mining or drilling for oil. Even what might happen if a highjacked aeroplane flew into a nuclear power station has been greatly exaggerated.

I have been a long-term supporter of nuclear power - even to the extent of losing money by investing in nuclear power stations on ideological, rather than pecuniary, grounds. Of all forms of power generation I have long thought coal was the worst. I have seen chest X-rays from miners and been down a coal mine. One of my great heroes is Lord Shaftesbury, who got the women and children out of the British coal mines. I predict that one day Lord Hesseltine will be thought of in the same way. He was the politician who effectively got the men out of the Brittish coal mines. Just after the second world war there were close to a milion men who worked down the mines. Now that number is just a few thousand.

Working down a coal mine is a dirty and disgusting job that inflicts health problems on the miners but until recently gave them an unhealthy grasp on economic power. In the UK Mrs Thatcher was able to break that economic stranglehold by facinmg down Arthur Skargill. Those same economics have now handed that same power to a few unstable states in the Middle East. I have little doubt that were it not for the oil the West would take as much interest in who rules in Iraq as they do in who rules in Darfur. On the other hand I do not buy in to the conspiracy theories that have Bush and Cheyney personally enriching themselves; rather it is a case of the West being vulnerable to cutting off of oil supplies, and seeking to ensure that their supplies are secure.

When people ask why if regime change was the real reason for the invasion of Iraq, does not the Western Alliance march into Zimbabwe or North Korea, the answer is that those countries do not control our oil supply.

So you admit it is about oil?

Only in the sense that currently the world's economy depends on oil which thrusts it into an undeserved importance. The real solution is to divest ourselves of our dependence then we could allow Shias and Sunnis to squabble over the desert to their hearts' content.


James Aach said...

FYI: Stewart Brand, the founder of The Whole Earth Catalog mentioned in the linked article above, has also endorsed a thriller novel of nuclear power by a longtime industry insider (me). This story serves as a lay person's guide to the good and the bad of this power source. (There's plenty of both). The book is available at no cost to readers at - and they seem to like it, judging from their homepage comments.

Anonymous said...

Modern designs have made nuclear power plants much, much safer. Really, there have been few if any deaths linked to commercial generation of electricity by nuclear fission.

An interesting variation on the uranium-fueled plant is the 'Energy Amplifier' described in part by Carlo Rubbia, former director of CERN.

The basic idea is that you don't have a self-sustaining nuclear reaction; you must supply the neutrons via a particle accelerator. If you shut off the supply of neutrons, the reaction cycle just shuts down.

It also uses thorium, which is much more plentiful than the purified uranium in a conventional plant.

The radioactive waste products have a half-life measured in decades or centuries, not 10,000 years.

It is less likely to be a source of plutonium that can be used to make nuclear weapons, which is the goal of Iran.

We definitely need to move away from an oil-powered economy. That is one of the reasons the middle east is so unstable. Tons of money.

Anonymous said...

Your notion of regime change is a proper question. We don't march into these other countries because they are not a threat to the US, nor are they of strategic interest to the US.

That said, the evil that is inherent in these area is indeed ripe for removal.

The US will not do it alone, nor should it. I challenge the European Union to join with the US and other interested parties to intervene in these tragic conflicts.