Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Climate change talk

This afternoon we were fortunate enough to have our annual Rorschach Lecture, delivered by Ralph Cicerone, president of the US National Academy of Sciences.  The subject was climate change and its interaction with energy policy, and unsurprisingly to anyone who isn't willfully ignorant, this was a scary talk.  The atmospheric CO2 data, the satellite-based measurements of accelerating Greenland and Antarctic ice loss, the amazing pace at which China is building coal-fire power plants (roughly 1 GW of electric generating capacity from coal coming on line every 10 days), are all very sobering.  The planet doesn't care, of course, but it sure looks like the human species had better get its act together, and the only way that's going to happen is if we come up with an energy approach that is cheap compared to coal (that includes the possibility of making coal more expensive, of course, but how do you persuade China and India not to burn their cheap, abundant coal?). 

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Especially after the US and Europe have burning coal for the past 200 years.

tom.metcalf said...

Further sobering: 1GW is also a good order-of-magnitude for nuclear power plants. So if one things that nuclear power is a/the solution for providing CO2 free electricity, then we'd need one nuclear power plant coming on line every 10 days just to match and replace what the Chinese are doing with coal. Does anyone think nuclear can scale like that?

M.Natelson said...

In the mid 80s a GW of nuclear capacity was brought on line ~ every 12 days. This was not a period of high demand, old orders were being completed. Never the less, new designs are simpler and ease construction. Some increase in manufacturing capacity I'm sure would be required, but a GW every 10 day world wide is achievable.

Doug Natelson said...

The issue re: nuclear here is, as far as I can tell, economics more than anything. Coal is just cheaper, and coal-fire plants are simpler (and therefore cheaper) (though of course very serious pollution controls + carbon capture/sequestration would make coal plants more complicated and expensive). Nuclear is (essentially) carbon-free, but unless it's as cheap as coal (including issues like licensing and waste on the nuclear side of the balance sheet, and not-yet-existing carbon costs on the coal side), it's hard to make major in-roads.

CarlBrannen said...

With current (and pretty much all possible) political structure, it's impossible for the world to significantly reduce its production of CO2. You may as well plan for the disaster.

However, before you scare yourself too much, you might go to the trouble of carefully reading this paper at CERN on the CLOUD experiment. Here's the latest progress report.

Elementary particle physicists know things about clouds that climatologists do not because cloud chambers are a traditional technique of obtaining elementary particle tracks.

Schlupp said...

What anonymous said: Considering than the average European still produces twice as much CO_2 as the average Chinese (and the average American even more), I do not see any way to justify preaching to the Chinese.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Schlupp..Nations (and of course that means people also) need to act before they preach.
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