Climate v. Politicians

(Clockwise from left to right: Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of European Commission; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, American President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown).

Minutes before this picture was taken, Obama was meeting with China, India, South Africa and Brazil, when the main elements of his accord were stamped out in a humiliating slap in face for US and Europe. The above meeting during the final hours of the Copenhagen Summit on 18th December 2009 was not behind the closed doors. As the Daily Mail mused, Gordon Brown served the appointed note-taker for the group, scribbling away furiously, seemingly struggling to keep up with Merkel. Nick Clegg pointed out the above photo in this evening’s debate, saying Brown sat on the sidelines at Copenhagen. He is only partly right: Europe and Brown were pushed out to the side by Obama and China. But I thought I might begin with that photo before seguing into a political rant on an issue (I think) I am qualified for:

I agree with Clegg (and to lesser extent Cameron) on renewable portfolio standards. I was privileged to have been part of three commissions that complied the cost-benefits analyses of nuclear and wind power. As Clegg said, nuclear just doesn’t pay off, and government subsidies are just wasteful. Europe is trying to build third generation plus reactors in trial-and-error method, which is even less cost efficient. (In Finland, their reactor’s concrete shell had to be torn down after it didn’t meet standards and the reactors is already 37 months behind schedule 45 months into building).

Don’t let scientists and politicians fool you by saying nuclear costs comparatively the same as wind and solar. It is true ONLY if the construction finishes ontime (the industry has the history of 250% delays and bond defaults), and if all special material costs remain uninflated (which they don’t) throughout the construction. In addition, there is no waste fuel processing facility in planning, and nuclear plants have security precautions that force them to stop operating in hot days (24 C and above). They are harder to get back on the grid once shut down, and need entire restructuring of the electricity grid because their output doesn’t vary (though demand does). The world produces only a third of nuclear scientists needed every year and with big plans in China, the gap will become even greater. Yes, we can overcome all of this but it will make nuclear far more costlier than say a national initiative for carbon use efficiency, which I totally support.

On windpower, onshore windpower is be a political disaster–Natural Parks and marginal constituencies won’t wear it. Noise. Vast expenses of land wasted. Agricultural aircrafts redirected. High transmission costs (from Norther Scotland, where current onshore windplants are). It too need restructuring the grid to account for intermittency of wind. Offshore wind (the proposed London array) near quickly-developing Southeast is looking good, but all three parties have their own reservations and supporters for the project (foreign investments, diversion of resources from marginals in the North) and it is going very slowly if at all.

Please don’t comment on this post with “climate change is a hoax” comments. What I am advocating for is a change towards responsible living (insulation, solar panels on roof, less carbon footprint, cheaper bills, energy diversification, technological investment) which I believe is a good thing to adhere to with or without climate change.

… and I saw this when I was in Copenhagen for the conference and thought it was witty.

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