Monday, March 28, 2016

Partisan Snark

... can be amusing:


Figure 1: Attributed to Daily Kos, but I can't find it on their website. (h/t "Uncle Z")

If you squint hard enough, you might see folks on my side of the argument doing their level best to rearrange the deck chairs.

I'm still getting a good chuckle out of this one:


Figure 2: Credit R. McKee, Augusta Chronicle

Unrealistically bizarre as that might seem, I think this not-pretend argument is even loopier:
End the nuclear age
Greenpeace has always fought - and will continue to fight - vigorously against nuclear power because it is an unacceptable risk to the environment and to humanity. The only solution is to halt the expansion of all nuclear power, and for the shutdown of existing plants.
Apparently, someone didn't get the memo:

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How Deadly Is Your Kilowatt? We Rank The Killer Energy Sources

[...]

Energy Source                 Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
----------------------------  ---------------------------------------------------
Coal – global average         100,000    (50% global electricity)
Coal – China                  170,000    (75% China’s electricity)
Coal – U.S.                    10,000    (44% U.S. electricity)
Oil                            36,000    (36% of energy, 8% of electricity)
Natural Gas                     4,000    (20% global electricity)
Biofuel/Biomass                24,000    (21% global energy)
Solar (rooftop)                   440    (< 1% global electricity)
Wind                              150    (~ 1% global electricity)
Hydro – global average          1,400    (15% global electricity)
Hydro – U.S.                        0.01 (7% U.S. electricity)
Nuclear – global average           90    (17%  global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)
Nuclear – U.S.                      0.01 (19% U.S. electricity)

It is notable that the U.S. death rates for coal are so much lower than for China, strictly a result of regulation and the Clean Air Act (Scott et al., 2005). It is also notable that the Clean Air Act is one of the most life-saving pieces of legislation ever adopted by any country in history.  Still, about 10,000 die from coal use in the U.S. each year, and another thousand from natural gas.

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Immediate disqualification due to it appearing in Forbes, perhaps?  I once vetted the figures, particularly the coal death numbers and they look legit having derived from sources like the WHO and NIH.

One way or the other, I think rigidly line-in-the-sand ideologies are humanity's biggest existential threat.  Laughing at it seems the only medicine.

OTOH, at least more of the US public seems to be getting the right idea:

Figure 3 - US public opinion of the cause of observed warming over time.  Credit: Gallup.

35 comments:

  1. One way or the other, I think rigidly line-in-the-sand ideologies are humanity's biggest existential threat.

    Quite possibly. You only have to dare to suggest that the optimum pathway to decarbonisation must be inclusive, not exclusive to trigger some seriously irrational hate. Some of the ugliest threads I've been involved in came about because I argued for holistic energy policy because I am *sceptical* of the claims that an all-renewables world is possibly by mid-century. The treatment handed out by my own 'side' was eye-opening, to say the least.

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    1. I've all but been accused of being a nuclear industry shill for pointing to the stats above as evidence that coal is orders of magnitude more deadly than fission, and that AGW concerns aside, it would be in our best interest to migrate that direction sooner rather than later. Distressing when one considers that we may be screwed already, and certain loud contingents of the progressive side of the political spectrum are anything but. I really hate it because it lends legitimate weight to the contrarian argument that lefties are irrational fear-mongering doomsayers.

      [sigh] And this was supposed to be a humorous post.

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    2. I've had a similar but different problem in that, when I question nuclear I get ferocious pushback from nuclear advocates. All I say is that we should price carbon to level the playing field and let all technologies compete. The usual response is that nuclear is the only viable solution and that the market can't make effective decisions about energy.

      I've always said that, while I'm not a big proponent of nuclear, I think this is a crisis playing out and we will need all solutions on the table. But that comment is always greeted with derision from nuclear advocates.

      This baffles me every time.

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    3. RobH,

      All I say is that we should price carbon to level the playing field and let all technologies compete.

      The latter part of that does sound like something which would sell to those with more conservative fiscal leanings, but the tax part is off-putting. Wasn't it Exxon, though, who recently said that they don't oppose carbon taxes so long as they apply to all fossil fuels because that creates a more level-playing field for them?

      I've always said that, while I'm not a big proponent of nuclear, I think this is a crisis playing out and we will need all solutions on the table. But that comment is always greeted with derision from nuclear advocates.

      I take it you mean from climate contrarian nuclear advocates? I usually get it from the coal contingent who aren't hot on nuclear; which doesn't baffle me. There's a little of that happening right now over at Lucia's.

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    4. I take it you mean from climate contrarian nuclear advocates?

      Actually, no. These have been people who fully accept AGW. They get bent out of shape over the anti-nuke crowd saying they're "anti-science" for not accepting the superiority of nuclear. They don't even reject the idea of a carbon tax. They're supportive of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project which includes a lot of renewables, but also nuclear and CCS.

      It's been several people I've argued with who hold this position. But I don't really know how prevalent that position is. It could be just a few people globbing onto me because they know I'm from SkS.

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    5. RobH

      I've always said that, while I'm not a big proponent of nuclear, I think this is a crisis playing out and we will need all solutions on the table. But that comment is always greeted with derision from nuclear advocates.

      This baffles me every time.


      Me too. Nuclear advocates make the same step into dogma that they accuse renewables advocates of: trying to push viable low-carbon technology off the table in the face of a crisis. It's dangerous and stupid in equal measure. The only thing one can rationally advocate for is decarbonisation by all possible means, with rational geopolitical constraints applied to what goes where.

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    6. The one that really seems to set them off is when I show Jacobson's research suggesting that 100% renewables is possible. I always qualify it by saying I think that's a very unlikely pathway, but... it apparently is possible.

      That's about the time brains start exploding around me.

      Personally, if I were a fund manager over energy sector investments, I think I'd be betting on renewables and storage over nuclear. I also think it's quite appropriate that people with massive portfolios to manage, like Bill and Melinda Gates, should be investing in next gen nuclear. You have to have a very large fund with long time horizons to do that, IMO.

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    7. RobH,

      I've read some of Jacobson's works and have had critical things to say about it. I am dubious that some of it is even possible, or if so, on a timeframe which exceeds a ... reasonable ... planning horizon. This wants an example, so I'll provide one from memory. One of his proposals was for hybrid fuel/electric aircraft. It wasn't clear to me how much power he proposed to come from the batteries -- my recollection is that he offered very few details. I just don't think battery powered commercial flight makes any sense. Even assuming that the power density can be brought in line with present liquid fuels, when batteries discharge they don't lose weight. So it's an inherently less efficient design.

      I may be unfairly judging the whole of his works on the few problems I've picked out in them. I'm not opposed to thinking far ahead in principle -- it helps if there's a long-term vision in mind. On the other hand, if the argument is for urgent action now, we should press for the technologies which are most viable now. Nuclear power is one of those options from both a technological and economic perspective. I don't think it should be taken off the table just because we have a vision that it might be feasible to achieve 100% renewables in some far off uncertain future.

      This is not at all to say that I think we should do nukes to the exclusion of renewables. But they're only a potentially viable %100 percent option with storage. Which is an added complication and expense to technologies that are getting close to cost parity with fossil fuels.

      Nuclear power is already there without storage. I think they're the first best option for providing baseload power. Let solar and wind go in places where they're clearly most viable, and let existing conventional plants providing base power handle intermittency/peaking.

      I also think that's the most politically saleable option to conservatives and/or climate contrarians. Hence staunch, unyielding resistance from the likes of Greenpeace aggravates me because I feel like I'm waging a battle on two fronts instead of one.

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    8. BBD,

      The only thing one can rationally advocate for is decarbonisation by all possible means, with rational geopolitical constraints applied to what goes where.

      As usual you encapsulate my own views with a relative economy of words. It's appreciated.

      Side note: what's the carbon footprint of a single character transmitted via the Internet?

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    9. I don't disagree. I'm not the biggest Greenpeace fan. I understand their points about nuclear, and in a perfect world it would probably be better if we didn't need nuclear power. We don't happen to live in that world. I think climate change is enough of a crisis that we have to have nuclear.

      There are a lot of unknowns regarding how the energy mix is going to play out. I find it interesting even that Toyota and Tesla are taking such different approaches to personal surface transportation. Toyota says hydrogen fuel cells are the future. Elon Musk/Panasonic seems to be saying battery technology is the way. And that's from two partners, since Toyota holds a major stake in Tesla.

      The challenges with aviation is a pet fav of mine, since I've always loved flight and am a licensed private pilot. There actually are some electric 4-seaters hitting the market. They have about 1/2 the flight range/duration as a typical 4-seater. But they do have a huge advantage in that the cost of "fuel" is profoundly less for the electric. Right now these are being used as trainers, and training on an electric can actually cut the cost of getting a pilot's license by almost half for "dry rate" training (where the student pilot pays for fuel), or cuts operating costs for "wet rate" training (for schools that include fuel in their rental rate).

      A couple of years ago I had this idea that I thought might be patentable. I thought it might be possible to create structural elements of an aircraft that could also hold an electrical charge, thereby allowing the physical aircraft structure to double as the fuel storage. But when I did a patent search the idea had already been patented.

      There's a lot out there happening on the aviation front. It's an industry that accepts climate change and the implications for air travel. The challenge is that aviation moves very slowly and deliberately. My best guess is that it will be in the 50 year time horizon before aviation is fully decarbonized.

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    10. As usual you encapsulate my own views with a relative economy of words. It's appreciated.

      I'm just lazy, BG ;-)

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    11. RobH

      I find it interesting even that Toyota and Tesla are taking such different approaches to personal surface transportation. Toyota says hydrogen fuel cells are the future. Elon Musk/Panasonic seems to be saying battery technology is the way. And that's from two partners, since Toyota holds a major stake in Tesla.

      My understanding is that this is a deliberate hedge strategy by Toyota in the face of real uncertainty about the actual viability of fuel cells.

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    12. ...when batteries discharge they don't lose weight.

      This is exactly the point I always make to people about the challenges of electric aircraft. Although, I have this other idea related to that.

      A large portion of the energy expended in any aircraft "mission" (getting from point a to point b) is the climb to an initial cruise altitude. That altitude is not really that high. Usually, 15 or 20k feet. (20k feet is only 4X the distance of a typical commercial aircraft runway.) I think future commercial aircraft might be winch launched to their initial cruise altitude, thereby keeping that initial energy use confined to the surface.

      There would be a lot of engineering and infrastructure required to make that happen, but it would save immense amounts of energy over time.

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    13. BBD... Beyond a hedge, they both get a ton out of the deal. I do not think Tesla would be where they are without Toyota's assistance. The factory where Tesla is located used to be a Toyota/GM joint venture called NUMMI (New United Motors Mfg Inc.). Toyota got a lot out of producing jointly with GM at that plant, but when GM pulled out they didn't have the volume to produce there alone, and the plant closed. So, Toyota keeps a foot in that manufacturing location (even if Toyota cars won't be produced there), and Tesla gets access to Toyota's manufacturing experience and the labor network that was developed during the NUMMI days.

      There is another big thing that Toyota gets out of making sure Tesla is successful. Back in the 1950's and 60's when GM dominated auto sales in the US, laws went into place on a state-by-state basis that prevented car companies from owning car dealerships. Those laws were to prevent a monopolistic domination of the industry.

      Now those laws are antiquated and actually hurt the industry. While Toyota produces the highest rated cars, they have the lowest rated dealer network. But being an offshore entity, Toyota can't operate in a manner to get those laws amended. BUT that is something Tesla can, and clearly is, doing.

      Apparently there was also a lot of sharing of their respective patent portfolios in the deal.

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    14. Ach, it's just another capitalist conspiracy, I tell you ;-)

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    15. Brandon

      Been meaning to ask, but this otherwise perfect blog lacks only one thing: a 'most recent comments' sidebar. If it is possible to enable such a function, would you consider doing so? Tremendously useful for drive-by trolls such as myself, although serious commenters will probably benefit too...

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    16. BBD,

      You *are* lazy. :-) I don't know if it is possible, but I will look into it. Random aside: I have been wondering why I'm not using Wordpress.

      Almost perfect blog? [blush]

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    17. RobH,

      Nice to know I'm not the only greenie reluctant to fully embrace Greenpeace.

      If I had to choose between hydrogen fuel cells and batteries, I'd lean toward fuel cells with the requirement that the hydrogen was generated by an onboard reformer. That said, pure EV is probably the most "immediately" obtainable solution from a technological standpoint. I'm really lusting after the Model S. Too much car for me though.

      I had no idea that electric GA craft existed. So cool, and interesting that it works out more economically for training purposes. Sounds like they allow more than drilling around the pattern, but preclude cross-country flying of any significance. Well-suited for purpose.

      My aviation cravings are (almost) satisfied by flying R/C aircraft, mostly fixed wing electric prop foamies. Traditional built-up balsa gassers are awfully sexy (the noise, the smell, the overall appearance), but in all other respects my lithium-polymer battery powered models are so much less hassle. Plus, where I normally fly the noise would be a problem. Oh dear, I'm talking about model airplanes. I could go on for another ten paragraphs.

      One thing I'd like to see in commercial aviation is "electric taxi". Even FF powered tugs would be better. However, economics and logistics probably rule the day.

      Winch launch is an interesting thought. Linear accelerators might be an option. That's more the direction I'd like to see routine space launch go as well. The Rutan-inspired Virgin Galactic model, but with a LEO capable rocket stage. May not be the most energy efficient, but behemoth first-stage vertical boosters seem expensive and complex relative to an air-breathing "mother ship". If I had a spare billion bux under the mattress, I'd be all over it.

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    18. BBD,

      Recent comments widget added, set to display our ten most recent musings. Requests for adjusting the number will be considered.

      It required a very simple hack, the instructions for which are here if anyone is interested in that kind of thing.

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  2. Brandon -

    ==> ...because it lends legitimate weight to the contrarian argument that lefties are irrational fear-mongering doomsayers

    Can you add legitimate weight to an argument that is built upon fallacious reasoning?

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    1. Joshua,

      For that matter, how much does a non-fallacious argument weigh?

      Knee-jerk attempt at humor. To the extent that fallacious arguments can be effective, yes, especially fallacious arguments that are based on anecdote and stereotype to begin with.

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    2. Brandon -

      I can't agree. Fallacious arguments can be "effective" in the sense that they can be persuasive, and in that sense they might have weight - but I wouldn't consider that "legitimate weight." If fallacious arguments have "legitimate weight," what arguments have "illegitimate weight?" What arguments have both the condition of having weight and being illegitimate?

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    3. Joshua,

      You make a good point. How about perceived legitimacy? I'm approaching the problem from the perspective that people form opinions on the basis of fallacious reasoning.

      I believe that you are arguing that I am making a fallacious argument here in my own right. Or worse, that I'm attempting to impose my sense of what people should say in public discourse, which is an authoritarian attitude.

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  3. Brandon -

    ==> How about perceived legitimacy?

    Sure.

    ==> Or worse, that I'm attempting to impose my sense of what people should say in public discourse, which is an authoritarian attitude.

    That's a bit dramatic. I think that you are concerned about "legitimate" questions about the potential overreach on the left about the harms of nuclear. But IMO, assigning the condition of "doomsaying" to "the left," in contrast to "the right," is fallacious - so anyone using "the leftist" position on nuclear to attribute "doomsaying" disproportionately to the left isn't making a "legitimate" argument, IMO. No doubt, there is doomsaying on the left just as there is on the right. Doomsaying isn't, IMO, an attribute that is found disproportionately in association with political ideology.

    There is no need, IMO, to worry that potential overreach on nuclear from "the left" legitimizes the argument that "the left" can be differentially characterized as "doomsayers" - although I understand that worry as a reflexive, defensive, reaction.

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    1. Joshua,

      That's a bit dramatic.

      I know myself to have a controlling personality, and a certain intolerance to things not being done "just so". Plus, I can be a harsh self-critic. Since I hate authoritarianism -- duh, people telling *me* what to do and precisely how to do it! -- I'm mindful that I need to watch for that tendency in myself. In all seriousness, I think the authoritarian model is morally wrong.

      No doubt, there is doomsaying on the left just as there is on the right.

      Yes. I maintain that if one doesn't smell at least a whiff of something rotten on one's own side, one's nose may need a checkup.

      Doomsaying isn't, IMO, an attribute that is found disproportionately in association with political ideology.

      That's my sense as well. Only the bogeymen differ.

      ... I understand that worry as a reflexive, defensive, reaction.

      That's mostly what it is. Historically it's been my instinct to defend "my team" no matter what the charge because ... well for a lot of reasons, one being that's so often how partisan politics operates. It's taken some time for me to learn that when the opposition attacks some sacred cow that I think is anything but, it's perfectly ok for me to say, "You know what, I don't agree with their position either and here's why."

      More and more I find that I feel better and have better discussions when I allow myself the choice of doing that.

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    2. Joshua

      Your parsomatic concern concerns me ;-)

      I *understood* what BG was saying when he wrote this:

      Distressing when one considers that we may be screwed already, and certain loud contingents of the progressive side of the political spectrum are anything but. I really hate it because it lends legitimate weight to the contrarian argument that lefties are irrational fear-mongering doomsayers.

      And the words were directed at me. So no problemo. Let's not get carried away.

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    3. It's worth noting that no matter how tempered, mild or dispassionate we make our language -- e.g., simply suggesting that there may be future problems we might want to think about addressing now -- someone is going to gripe that we're trying to scare the piss out of them just so we can wreck the economy and eat their children ... or whatever their nightmare of the week is.

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    4. I find all the alarmism about alarmism to be quite alarming.

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  4. It's tough. It's easiest to assume other people understand your position because after all we understand our own positions. We take pains to be clear. If only people would actually read what the heck we actually say they'd understand. But often people do not; they assume from the tone or from a few key words in a comment or any of a bunch of other shortcuts that they know where you stand. It's a mess.
    I used to think that way about Joshua. I still make this mistake today, look:
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/dangerous-gw-sooner-than-thought.html#116603

    I honestly thought (and I'm a little embarrassed to have to admit) that most at SkS would agree with OPOF. And there's Tom Curtis no less, reading OPOF the riot act. I wonder how often I've made mistakes assuming the regulars on a blog agreed with some fool when in reality the regulars on a blog disagreed but didn't take the trouble to say so. I wonder how often I've contributed to that misunderstanding.

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    1. Mark,

      That's a lively thread. I'm thinking I should read more Tom Curtis myself. Two things he said resonated with me in particular (I paraphrase):

      - we don't need perfection to take action (every bit helps)
      - we don't need radical transformation of the world gov'ts or economies, incremental steps toward a long-term goal will suffice

      Just skimming through, I agree with a lot of what OPOF is saying in spirit, but a lot comes off as emotionally overwrought or impractical. I try to be as pragmatic as possible within the limits of what I (think I) know about, and Tom there seems to have the more reasoned and credible position.

      I wonder how often I've made mistakes assuming the regulars on a blog agreed with some fool when in reality the regulars on a blog disagreed but didn't take the trouble to say so.

      I hate it when I say something potentially idiotic and someone on "my side" doesn't tell me about it.

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    2. You agree with OPOF in spirit? Oh dear, hold on, let me ring my alarm bell:
      ALARM!!!! ALARM!!!! HEAD FOR THE HILLS, BRING GUNS AND WATER ALARM!!!!
      ;)
      .
      No seriously, I think the idea of radical political changes are alarming to lots of people, me included. If that's what we're talking about, count me out. If we're talking about the science, great! If we're talking about policy changes within our existing framework, sure! Otherwise maybe not so much.

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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