Observations on a parallel universe

by John Quiggin on September 15, 2010

For your postmodern entertainment, a few stories about the social construction of reality on the political right

  • The standard ploy among anti-science amateurs has been to compare themselves to Galileo. But now Robert Sungenis and Robert Bennett have taken the War on Science to its next logical stopping place, with a work in favor of geocentrism, entitled Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right

A particularly interesting feature of all this is what might be called “cafeteria craziness”. I’m referring to the kind of person, common on the Australian right, who takes the anti-science line on climate change, DDT and so on, but is indignant about being associated with the (virtually identical) arguments of creationists. Or, even pickier, those who are embarrassed by Monckton’s claims of a plot to establish a communist world government, but still want to cite him as a scientific authority. At least American rightwingers seem willing to swallow the entire menu from soup to (in every sense) nuts.

{ 218 comments }

1

BrendanH 09.15.10 at 1:39 pm

To be fair to Conor Lenihan, he’s dimwitted rather than postmodern.

2

soru 09.15.10 at 1:46 pm

The best bit is one of the geocentrism guys supporters in the Amazon reviews being offended about being referred to as a ‘flat-earther’. Because obviously that would be anti-scientific nonsense, the Church has always said the earth was round. It’s just certain technical details of the solar orbit that those secular scientists are wrong about.

3

lgm 09.15.10 at 2:08 pm

To be fair without taking anything away from this post, there are plenty of dangerous “idiosyncratic” views on the left. One example is former South African President Mbeki, who did not believe AIDS is a communicable disease. Isn’t the anti-vaccination crowd mostly leftist?

4

P O'Neill 09.15.10 at 2:10 pm

Creationism could yet be the underestimated integrating force between Northern Ireland and the Republic, as former Minister for Culture and now Minister for Environment in NI Edwin Poots can attest.

5

Timothy Scriven 09.15.10 at 2:16 pm

No, the anti vaccination crowd, as I have encountered it, is more libertarian than leftist.

6

Marc 09.15.10 at 2:22 pm

Every single Republican Senatorial candidate this cycle – yup, all of them – is on record as believing that there is no such thing as human-induced climate change.

There are some anti-scientific folks on the left, but it’s truly a false equivalence to compare them with the wholesale rejection of the scientific method on the US right wing.

7

JP Stormcrow 09.15.10 at 2:35 pm

Pardon the bottom-feeding, but I can’t help noting that Jack Cashill at The American Thinker (“What D’Souza Doesn’t Get Quite Right” is using D’Souza’s hackery to try to re-launch his Bill Ayers ghostwriter craziness.

As much as I admire D’Souza, however, I must take issue with his argument. Yes, Obama does seem to espouse a certain inchoate anticolonialism, but the “dreams” do not come so much from his father as from his mother, and they have been given voice by Obama’s muse, terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers.

As long as we can all agree that he is Other.

8

BrendanH 09.15.10 at 2:40 pm

P O’Neill writes:

Creationism could yet be the underestimated integrating force between Northern Ireland and the Republic, as former Minister for Culture and now Minister for Environment in NI Edwin Poots can attest.

No, on right and left down here that sort of news generates “inmates-running-the-asylum” reactions.

Lenihan was motivated by clientelism rather than a desire to attach himself to that banner. And, as I said above, too dimwitted to realise that there was a conflict between May’s farrago and his own portfolio.

9

Norwegian Guy 09.15.10 at 2:57 pm

Speaking as someone from a country where you can find denial of man-made global warming in the right-wing populist Progress Party, but where creationism is virtually unheard of, I guess one reasons is that that anti-science rightist can be unsupportive of creationism is that it conflicts with Social Darwinism.

10

Andrew R. 09.15.10 at 3:12 pm

Nah, plenty of American conservatives take a “cafeteria crazy” approach as well. You have folks of a fairly secular mindset who are perfectly willing to believe that biology is not a massive conspiracy to disprove Christianity, but are perfectly willing to believe that climatology is part of a vast effort to undermine capitalism. Or, say, folks who don’t want to pay higher taxes but are perfectly willing to accept that the natural sciences are all part of a sinister cabal.

11

Keith 09.15.10 at 3:40 pm

lgm: Isn’t the anti-vaccination crowd mostly leftist?

One of the defining features of the anti-vax crowd is that they are all over the place with their secondary beliefs. Some are pro-global warming, others are anti. They tend to lean, as Timothy Scriven pointed out, towards Libertarianism, but it’s usually of the variety that overlaps with the pro-home school / anti-secular government crowd. They’re aware that taxes are bad, sure, but the threat of creeping secularism is worse.

They’re a very wobbly lot, many not even agreeing as to the exact reason why vaccines are bad. Some are part of the Mercury-in-a-syringe crowd, while others are of the vaguely New Agey, Mommy-knows-best-and-Doctors-can-suck-it crowd. Not a clean sample group, in other words.

12

Hidari 09.15.10 at 3:43 pm

#3: Mbeki is not in any sense a leftist.

To quote the CIA (and who better?): ‘South African economic policy is fiscally conservative, but pragmatic, focusing on targeting inflation and liberalising trade as means to increase job growth and household income.’

13

zamfir 09.15.10 at 3:44 pm

Here in the Netherlands, anti-vaccination people are all fundamentalist protestants. The funny result is that the local bible belt shows up in maps of voting rates for Christian parties, and then the exact same belt can be seen on disease maps.

14

roac 09.15.10 at 4:01 pm

Who here remembers the fight in the US over fluoridation of the water supply? (Which is what Kubrick and Sothern were making fun of with General Jack D. Ripper and his precious bodily fluids.) Aren’t the anti-vaccine people basically the same crowd?

15

y81 09.15.10 at 4:09 pm

Keith (@11) is probably right that the vaccination crowd is all over the map politically. However, the ones I have met are more leftist than libertarian: inclined to believe that vaccines are a plot by Big Pharma, perhaps with some assistance from its lackeys in the government, not that vaccines are being forced on us by pointyhead bureaucrats who could never hold a job in the productive sectors of the economy.

Of course, the leftist/libertarian distinction can be finessed by agreeing that it’s a plot by Them.

16

CJColucci 09.15.10 at 4:25 pm

Who here remembers the fight in the US over fluoridation of the water supply? (Which is what Kubrick and Sothern were making fun of with General Jack D. Ripper and his precious bodily fluids.) Aren’t the anti-vaccine people basically the same crowd?

No, their teeth rotted out and they all starved to death.

17

roac 09.15.10 at 4:25 pm

I should have taken a look online before posting @ 14. It appears that fluoridation remains controversial, and its opponents are more Left that otherwise.

18

Keith 09.15.10 at 4:32 pm

roac: the anti-fluoridation crowd are only Left in the sense that they haven’t changed their stance in 50 years, while the country as a whole has been dragged every further to the Right, politically. It’s one of the curiosities of American politics that you can change sides of the isle by simply standing in one place long enough.

19

JP Stormcrow 09.15.10 at 4:42 pm

17, 18: In the ’50s they really were often tied to right-wing anti-communist groups groups. See this flyer via Wikipedia. I did not recall the anti-vaccine linkage, but it is clearly true for the group putting out the flyer . The overall politics have in fact shifted.

20

roac 09.15.10 at 4:59 pm

19: Yes. The anti-fluoridation crowd may not actually have been univalent in the 50s, but that was certainly their public face (though I don’t recall that particular flyer). Whereas now opposition to fluoridation is part of the British Green Party’s platform, according to the Wikipedia article.

21

Doctor Memory 09.15.10 at 5:23 pm

You cannot, will not, shall not convince me that that geocentrism site isn’t one giant put-on.

22

The Modesto Kid 09.15.10 at 5:51 pm

Dr. Memory: it sure looks that way, right? But if you Google the headline speaker’s name you will find a lot of interesting stuff all over the web. In addition to believing that Galileo was wrong about the relative positions of earth and sun, he’s strongly opposed to ecumenical efforts to paper over the fact that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death, and fearful that the Catholic church will give up it’s efforts to convert the Jews.

23

Randy 09.15.10 at 6:03 pm

Is there any reason Americans should think anti-colonialism is a BAD thing? Sure, in the last century it was identified with Global Communism, but since the USA owes its origins to a group of colonies winning their independence only after a long war with an imperial power, I would expect a certain amount of sympathy.

24

Anderson 09.15.10 at 6:37 pm

fearful that the Catholic church will give up it’s efforts to convert the Jews

Apparently he hasn’t met many Jews then, because from my experience, BECOMING A TOTAL MORON is a deal-breaker for most Jews who might otherwise entertain conversion.

25

Red 09.15.10 at 6:40 pm

To Randy @23. Stop thinking rationally. Won’t get you anywhere.

26

Landru 09.15.10 at 7:26 pm

If you want to highlight widespread, anti-scientific dogma on the Left, I nominate anti-nuclear as the all-time winner and reigning champion. Anti-nuclear — as in, opposition to getting civilian power from nuclear fission — is basically the creationism of the Left: an idea so strongly held and reflexive that it is completely divorced from the realm of facts and serves more as a lodge pin or identity badge.

Say what you like about creationism or birtherism and how entertaining it is to ridicule them; but don’t forget that hysterical, irrational opposition to nuclear power is arguably one of the single greatest factors in worsening both resource wars and catastrophic climate change. So I think the Left has a great deal of anti-scientific damage to answer for as well.

27

John Quiggin 09.15.10 at 7:37 pm

@Landru, you need quite a few adjectives and adverbs there!

To give a quick reality check, Obama included expanded support for nuclear energy in his climate bill (his campaign position was “qualified support”). He received a bit of criticism for this (understandably, since it was classic pork-barrel stuff) , but not the kind of hysterical outrage you suggest. I’m not aware of anyone on the Left or in the environmental movement who opposed the bill because of the nuclear assistance, though doubtless there were a few.

The failure of nuclear power (outside places like China and Russia where it gets even more government support than elsewhere) reflects commercial reality. Even under very favorable Bush Administration policies, the “nuclear renaiassance” went nowhere. Most of the criticisms put forward in the 1980s have been proved to be valid. The problems can be fixed, but not at a commercially viable cost.

In fact, the situation is the reverse of your claim. Even the most strongly pro-nuclear analyses conclude that, without a carbon price, nuclear energy is doomed.

28

Kenny Easwaran 09.15.10 at 7:44 pm

I seem to remember reading recently that anti-fluoridation is a pretty mainstream position in Europe, even though it’s associated with anti-communism in the US.

29

Doctor Memory 09.15.10 at 7:53 pm

John: at least in my experience, a fairly religious anti-nuclear position is not at all uncommon in the rank-and-file in the self-identified American left. Whether that translates to anything at all discernible as a matter of policy among our elected representatives is of course another question.

(I’m not sure I agree with your assertion that the problems are unfixable at reasonable cost, but this is neither the time nor the place.)

30

Andrew R. 09.15.10 at 7:54 pm

Well, yes, John, Obama’s not opposed to nuclear power, but he’s a centrist technocrat that the actual left is denouncing as a Tool of the Man and a sellout.

31

John Quiggin 09.15.10 at 8:17 pm

This piece (criticising the bulk of the environmental movement as sellouts) makes it pretty clear that the great majority of the environmental movement, while rightly hostile to nuclear power, was prepared to accept concessions to the nuclear lobby as the price of a climate bill

http://www.truth-out.org/1222096

Responsibility for the fact that nuclear is going nowhere can be placed, in the first instance, at the feet of the Republicans in Congress.

Of course, even with big concessions and subsidies nuclear is a long-odds bet, as the reluctance of investors has shown.

32

Norwegian Guy 09.15.10 at 8:30 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_fluoridation

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control listed water fluoridation as one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century;[15] in contrast, most European countries have experienced substantial declines in tooth decay without its use, primarily due to the introduction of fluoride toothpaste in the 1970s.[4] The same study suggests that the use of topical fluorides (such as in toothpaste) to prevent caries among people living in both industrialized and developing countries may supersede the need for fluoridated water.[4] Fluoridation may be more justified in the U.S. because of socioeconomic inequalities in dental health and dental care.[16]

Water fluoridation is much less common in Europe than in North America. And I think anti-fluoridation is less common too. It could be that most European countries don’t fluoridate drinking water not because of their anti-scientific views, but because the benefits of doing isn’t that large.

33

Western Dave 09.15.10 at 8:53 pm

Last time I checked, the problem with nuclear power wasn’t so much the power plants as the production end and disposal of waste. As a guy who used to study nuclear history, the Rocky Flats, Hanfords, and train tracks to nowhere outside Grants, NM (they used to lead to a processing facility, that now has a mountain of dirt over it) leads me to believe that the whole opposition to nukes thing has a pretty fair basis in reality. Although the public focuses on TMI, all the really bad disasters were on the production or disposal end and make mountain-top coal mining seem positively environmentally friendly. The latest attempts to start a leech mine in Crownpoint,NM inside an old shaft mine promise to be safer since no people will go underground, but the water that’s in such rare supply in the desert? no problems says the company, it’s a closed system, it definitely won’t get into the groundwater contaminating the only drinking water supply for the locals and their animals. Yeah, and the Churchrock tailings dam was perfectly safe too, buddy. Now, is there a bridge you want to sell me?

34

PK 09.15.10 at 9:14 pm

Of course, even with big concessions and subsidies nuclear is a long-odds bet, as the reluctance of investors has shown.

http://www.itheo.org/bill-gates-invests-thorium-capable-reactor-venture

35

Gregory 09.15.10 at 9:15 pm

hysterical, irrational opposition to nuclear power

Who, me? I’m fine with nuclear power, under one condition: We store the waste in the houses of its advocates.

36

Marc 09.15.10 at 9:20 pm

In the US, at least, nuclear power is used as a club against environmentalists by people who tend to think that climate change is a hoax. It doesn’t help that environmentalists have, by and large, changed their opinions on the matter in the light of new facts about climate change…

e.g. exactly what you’d expect from a cohort that valued science. So the problem is?

37

Landru 09.15.10 at 9:22 pm

Without getting into a big brawl right here — though I’m up for it, if you like — I think it is worth making two points about nuclear power in the US:

1) When citing costs it is important — and only honest — to separate the real, physical costs of building a plant, ie paying for steel, concrete, pipes, pumps, etc., from the “non-physical” costs imposed by public opposition, ie excessive regulation, glacially slow approval processes, and the cost of added risk that some demagogic politician will raise the pitchfork crowd and make your $1B investment worthless. My claim is that the “high cost” so often cited as making nuclear power impractical is essentially all in the latter category: it’s not intrinsic to the technology, it’s an expression of the fact that the people, for better or for worse, don’t want it, and they will raise the cost through whatever mechanism to make sure it doesn’t happen. Investors are rational, but they’re rationally responding to what are essentially irrationally imposed costs.

2) When I mention “hysterical, irrational opposition” I’m talking about 30+ years of cultural mojo in the US, not just some particular recent transaction by particular politicians. The most important incarnation of the irrational opposition during that time has been the utterly paltry government investment in advanced nuclear R&D. Many of the problems you might worry about, including operating safety, high-level waste production, proliferation potential, terrorism vulnerability, etc., can be vastly mitigated or practically eliminated by better designs, really light-years beyond the standard pressurized light-water reactors still running today; I would call these “new” designs, except that some were actually in prototype as long ago as the 1960’s, so a great deal is actually known about these better designs. But, the R&D effort needed to bring these to full-scale practicality — which I hope/trust we can agree is a worthy function of the federal government — has simply been miniscule/absent over the last 30 years, as part of the same irrational opposition. We could have had a new generation of vastly improved nuclear power for a penny on the dollar of the cost of the Iraq war, but we simply chose not to, and I put the long-term-averaged blame primarily on the Left.

38

Russell L. Carter 09.15.10 at 9:36 pm

” … I put the long-term-averaged blame primarily on the Left.”

Help me out here. How does the say 5 years of solid Republican rule with no progress from your POV square with your thesis? I mean, it’s not like GE or Westinghouse were without influence in those years. Seems like if there was a buck to be made, especially contributing to energy independence in light of the ah investments required to maintain a stable oil supply, the Rs would have been all for it. So…

(I really really am only interested in that anomaly, not the broader fight)

39

Pascal Leduc 09.15.10 at 9:46 pm

Dont forget that the US like Russia is barred from recycling spent uranium due to treaties signed between each other (its either SALT or START, i can never remember which one) the reason for this is that recycling uranium produces plutonium as a byproduct and thus is a venue for clandestine (by treaty standards) weapons grade plutonium production.

This is why france which dosent have this limitation produces far more of its power with nuclear plants and yet dosent find itself making plans to excavate a mountain in order to get rid of the waste. the other reason for the popularity of nuclear is that france isint sitting on what is most likely the largest reserve of minable coal in the world nor is it a direct neighbor and strong ally of a country with the second largest reserve of oil in the world.

40

Salient 09.15.10 at 9:56 pm

Across-the-board anti-nuclear power was a great way to [1] bypass NIMBY in-fighting over in which poor people’s backyard the waste would get dumped, and [2] set the default view of a nuclear power plant as ‘dangerous’ so that it’s on advocates to convince a heavily skeptical audience that a particular proposal is safe.

So I’m okay with a (fairly small) group of leftist people growing irrationally dogmatic against nuclear power, provided those folks don’t turn violent. They’re ultimately on the side of the angels.

And I’m not completely sure I wouldn’t join them, if nuclear became a Big Thing. Not to be too stupid about it, but to be a bit stupid about it: given the disaster of the BP spill, I’m not terribly inclined to accept reassurances about how safe and reliable the nuclear power generation system is, from any source. Which is somewhat dogmatic and stupid of me. And frankly, I categorically would not support the construction of a nuclear power plant run by private enterprise: it’s TVA or naught, in my book.*

We could have had a new generation of vastly improved nuclear power for a penny on the dollar of the cost of the Iraq war, but we simply chose not to, and I put the long-term-averaged blame primarily on the Left.

Wait, what? Do you believe the Left was at all determined to go to war in Iraq rather than spend money on infrastructure? (Otherwise, why bring Iraq into it? It’s not like any leftie thinks that was a better investment than nuclear infrastructure and R&D would have been.)

*My utilities/gas company has somehow found a way it can sell natural gas as a middleman for an unregulated supplier, bypassing all sorts of important regulation, and it offered me that choice because it makes more money per unit usage while I save money per unit usage. It’s exactly this sort of thing that makes me loathe utilities companies, and take no interest in privatized nuclear power. I don’t want for-profit entities controlling utilities (de)regulation, and nuclear’s the rare case where ‘we’ currently have the upper hand over industry.

41

Salient 09.15.10 at 9:58 pm

…lol @ Gregory. And let’s do the same for clean coal. :D

42

Omega Centauri 09.15.10 at 10:01 pm

23: “Is there any reason Americans should think anti-colonialism is a BAD thing? “
For one, the fact that the US has become the number one imperial power on the globe. Plus during the coldwar the Russians took advantage of indigenous anti-colonial forces to spread their influence. Decades of seeing anti-colonialists as commies, and friends of my enemy has clouded our judgement.

43

John Quiggin 09.15.10 at 10:08 pm

The claim about nuclear R&D is wrong. Even now nuclear is getting more than all the renewables combined, despite the fact that its net contribution to new generating capacity has been zero or negative for some time and is likely to remain so. And that ignores the decades of really lavish funding in the past

http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:UGKPdzFGMUUJ:www.aaas.org/spp/rd/rdreport2010/ch08.pdf+nuclear+R%26D+billion&hl=en&gl=au&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShbDnP7xTfOmZJcnsTp77actlrX_n1_a6510WabBYFQukCTlyO-sLcA7_FuXmva6vQpdO1Jb9v2BIIFhcztHHzL_Ow_gi0rpaB087q10pNMUM88QKa8276VIhdlf1f1W8pvbfBh&sig=AHIEtbQUzHzPnWhR5jmEVO8f1tg5SmKVEg

44

Keith 09.15.10 at 10:09 pm

Omega Centauri@42:

Combine that with American Exceptionalism and what you have is D’souza and Gingrich arguing that anti-colonialism is bad because we’re a different sort of colonial power than Britain, Spain and France were, as we would only be a benevolent force in those dark, backwards places, never abuse the native folk (well, only a little and then because it was REALLY profitable) and we know this because! that’s why.

45

Keith 09.15.10 at 10:13 pm

I’m convinced ol’ Newt really wishes America had a peerage system. He clearly thinks he deserves to be Lord Gingrich and that if he advocates all the other trappings of Victorian era colonialism, a knighthood will naturally fall across his shoulders at some point.

46

jre 09.15.10 at 10:14 pm

One subgroup of antivaccinationists seem to come by their beliefs through a combination of mysticism and paranoia, and may land on either extreme of the political spectrum. But programmatic antivaccinationists are almost exclusively batshit libertarian-right-wingers. See, for example, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which proclaims that “Since its founding in 1943, the AAPS has been the only national organization consistently supporting the principles of the free market in medical practice.” and serves as the publication of last resort for fringe anti-vaccine figures such as the Geiers. At the point where extreme left and right meet to form a perfect circle, this last article was cited approvingly by Dwight Meredith (of the Koufax Awards), who was able to find something good in Andrew Schlafly’s journal, so long as it said something bad about vaccines. So sweet is the call of the loon.

47

Merkin Muffley 09.15.10 at 10:44 pm

Randy ~ That was the first thing that occurred to me when I read Gringich’s statement: does this mean that he and all other Real Americans(tm) are pro-colonial? And by extension, of course, that the sainted Founding Fathers must also have been pro-colonial!

48

muddypaws 09.15.10 at 10:53 pm

re geocentric universe:

for many folks that’s a scalar up-step in their thinking…..don’t knock it…it’s progress

49

DCA 09.15.10 at 11:59 pm

Anyone care to comment on the political valence of the New Zealand anti-nuclear crowd? I know this is an issue from (to some extent) the past, but the road into Wellington from the airport still has a sign proudly proclaiming that you are entering a nuclear-free city.

50

sg 09.16.10 at 12:14 am

Opposition to nuclear is based on an unwillingness to trust government or private enterprise with something that we all know is risky when there are alternatives. It’s a cost benefit calculation that includes a judgement about the trustworthiness of the main agents.

On the other hand, opposition to vaccination is based on an unwillingness to accept the basic premise of vaccination (it prevents disease) despite the evidence.

The comparison would be more valid if leftist opposition to nuclear were based on claims that it didn’t generate power in the first place.

51

derrida derider 09.16.10 at 1:07 am

Well, I think opposition to nuclear power has overwhelmingly come from the left, and its ridiculous to try and deny it. How far that opposition was rational and how far it was not is beside the point (FWIW I think there have clearly been elements of both) .

Common sense and paranoid tribalism are both found across the political spectrum, though it’s true the latter is much more common at both extremes (indeed, it’s just about the definition of “extreme”).

52

iolanthe 09.16.10 at 1:44 am

Coming late to the party but FWIW I share the view that opposition to nuclear power is a leftist position and not scientifically based. But for a much stronger example, what about GMOs – with the exception of a few whacko survivalists who are concerned that GMOs will not be very useful after the collpase of civilisation, this is essentially a left wing concern and based on quasi religous beliefs about the natural state of things.

53

Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 1:51 am

John,
I am all for the Left ridiculing the Right because such rhetoric appeals to those that all ready agree with them but often puts off many of those in the Middle that are otherwise open to persuasion. Those in the Middle are more likely to think that the ridicule dished out by the Left is a sloppy attempt to cover-up a lack of substantive arguments to make on behalf of the social democratic case.

The Left is the first to criticize negative campaigning by the Right, such as Abbott on climate change as a great big new tax and stop the boats, but so easily slips down the same slope. The Left should lead by example in its quest for a deliberative democracy free of hatred and rancor.
p.s. Those on the Left (and the conspiratorial right) who think that 9/11 was an inside job and that Bush invaded Iraq to reduce the price of oil all belong in a Rogues Gallery of political buffoons.
p.p.s. Environmental alarmists such as Paul (there will be food riots in the 1970s in the USA) Ehrlich would be the no.1 ticket holders in this gallery. Julian Simon famously won a bet made in 1980 with Ehrlich on the price any basket of commodities of Ehrlich’s choosing in 1990. Erlich paid out $576 but continued to publish highly popular books forecasting as mistakenly as before environmental doom in the near future. Erlich still maintains his predictions of famine turned out to be true, at least for some in the 3rd world.
P. P.P.S. The leftovers of the zero population growth movement in the 1960s and 1970s would be the joint no.2 ticket holders in a Rogues Gallery of political buffoons. The population bomb turned into a demographic crisis inside a few decades. Ecological economists such as Kenneth Boulding (1964) and Herman Daly (1991) called for tradable individual birth quotas of 1.1 babies each in saleable in units of one tenth of a baby as the solution! See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birth_credit

54

sg 09.16.10 at 2:07 am

More arsehattery by Jim Rose. Comparing discussion of population policy with a critique of geocentrism? Profoundly stupid.

55

John Quiggin 09.16.10 at 2:07 am

DD, it’s obvious that opposition to nuclear power has been primarily on the left. But, as you say, much of that opposition is justified and, as I observe above, most on the left are willing to make trade-offs on the issue, reflecting a reality-based assessment of the relative risks of climate change and nuclear power.

Tour second point is a false equivalence. It implies that, on the right as on the left, delusional and tribalist thinking is confined to the extremes. But as the examples in the post, and in comments above indicate, these things are virtually universal in the US Republican Party ( some at least represent a majority view on the Australian right).

56

John Quiggin 09.16.10 at 2:12 am

Iolanthe, again a false equivalence. It’s true that most people who believe extreme claims about GMOs are on the left, but not true that most on the left* believe such claims. The dominant position in Australia, Europe and elsewhere has been to require labelling and safety testing rather than prohibition.

* Here I mean “to the left of the median”, rather than “self-identified as a leftist”. The former group, by definition, is half the population, the latter closer to five per cent in most places.

57

Landru 09.16.10 at 2:19 am

I don’t want to oversubscribe this thread, so I’ll see if I can confine to quick replies:

Salient@40: It’s exactly because of the BP spill that you should re-consider nuclear. A large (1GWe) nuclear plant burns one ton of fissionable metal per year; the ashes (ie fission products) would fit in a suitcase. The same energy content from hydrocarbons requires several million tons, and processing material on that scale is going to have proportionately many bad side-effects: oil spills, tanker crashes, trapped miners, resource wars, etc, and that’s _before_ talking about the waste products.

sg@50: “something that we all know is risky when there are alternatives”. What, pray tell, are the less-risky alternatives? If radioactivity disturbs you, go look up how much radioactive material (including uranium!) is dispersed into the air as a by-product of coal burning. It’s the million-to-one scale thing again, even trace concentrations result in large quantities when such massive amounts of stuff is processed. As for renewables, I’m sorry but wind and solar are smug eco-fantasies that just don’t scale at present. Maybe there’ll be some breakthrough on cheap, practical solar, but barring that your choices are (1) Fossil hydrocarbons, (2) Nuclear fission, (3) Scale back rich people’s lifestyles severely (aka “freeze in the dark”). Be honest about your choice.

Marc@36: “nuclear power is used as a club against environmentalists by people who tend to think that climate change is a hoax.” This does not describe me. I’m interested in the best, most practical way to mitigate or avoid disastrous climate change, and that’s exactly why I’m pro-nuclear (and in better company all the time, it seems, from James Lovelock to James Hansen).

Salient@40, again: The cost of the Iraq war sets the scale for how much the US is willing to spend to secure energy resources (does anyone here disagree?). The fact that we aren’t willing to spend a few percent of that amount more intelligently, to greatly reduce the need for foreign oil, shows how culturally demented we are. I wouldn’t blame the Left for starting the Iraq war per se; but the counter-factual remains that if the innumerate Left hadn’t irrationally (perhaps I should say “religiously”) opposed nuclear power in the 70’s and 80’s then it’s conceivable we wouldn’t have needed to engage in resource wars in the 90’s and 00’s. The better part of the blame probably goes to the fossil fuel industry and the politicians they own, but the Left did its work right along with them (including some anti-nuclear groups being secretly funded by oil companies).

John@43: The proper scale for advanced nuclear R&D is not to compare it to that for renewables, but to compare it to the size of the problem. The “Gen IV Initiative” describes a half-dozen advanced reactor designs; for one percent of the cost of hydrocarbon industry we could have produced working prototypes of all of them, but instead we have none and the Gen IV remains stuck in an eternal holding pattern of carrying out studies and issuing reports (my technical judgement is that the Gen IV process is actually stacked in favor of the status quo and against making progress, but that’s way beyond this thread).
But, let’s not be distracted from what is really the main point here, which is not about costs or schedules but about people. Do you deny or contest my claim that (1) through the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s the majority of people who vehemently opposed nuclear power in the US were innumerate, ie they didn’t base their opinion on facts that they knew but rather on what “felt right” and who their allies were? and (2) essentially all of these innumerates were leftists? That’s what we’re really talking about here, whether people’s stance traced back to fact or to faith.

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sg 09.16.10 at 2:54 am

landru, I’m not arguing against nuclear power. I’m just pointing out that debating the relative risks of different power forms – against a backdrop of known accidents, and nuclear proliferation – is a qualitatively different phenomenon to claiming that vaccinations don’t work and cause autism, against the scientific evidence.

i.e. the left-wing anti-nuclear stance is very different to the right-wing anti vaccination stance.

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ckc (not kc) 09.16.10 at 2:54 am

…GMOs … this is essentially a left wing concern and based on quasi religous beliefs about the natural state of things.

I suspect that some (much?) of the left wing concern is based rather on the downsides of intellectual property and commercialization of food source aspects of GMOs – as the natural state of most of our food sources is in the rather distant past.

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ScentOfViolets 09.16.10 at 2:59 am

Wow. This made me blink:

A particularly interesting feature of all this is what might be called “cafeteria craziness”. I’m referring to the kind of person, common on the Australian right, who takes the anti-science line on climate change, DDT and so on, but is indignant about being associated with the (virtually identical) arguments of creationists.

and this:

The best bit is one of the geocentrism guys supporters in the Amazon reviews being offended about being referred to as a ‘flat-earther’.

and this:

Nah, plenty of American conservatives take a “cafeteria crazy” approach as well. You have folks of a fairly secular mindset who are perfectly willing to believe that biology is not a massive conspiracy to disprove Christianity, but are perfectly willing to believe that climatology is part of a vast effort to undermine capitalism.

Oh noes! Ostensibly nonpolitical issues standing in for left/right markers, and people on “the left” almost uniformly against all of this nonsense, while those on the right have more “diversity”? And this makes all those on “the left” suspiciously more herd-like and farther from the norm than they will ever admit to?

Gee . . . where have I heard that one before ;-)

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Salient 09.16.10 at 3:01 am

Landru, I’d suggest that resource wars have less to do with need and more to do with jockeying. It’s not like we got 100,000 barrels more oil by doing what we did in Iraq, or whatever. We got an ongoing military presence in the region. That’s jockeying for power, and it happened in the absence of any intense short-term need. So I don’t agree that a more ambitious nuclear program in the 70s/80s would have led to the prevention of those U.S. involvements in the Middle East. I think it would have led to cut corners when building nuclear plants, a horrible method for processing and disposing of the waste, and a BP-style disaster here and there, which we’d have to hear blown off as just the inevitable cost of doing nuclear business. Maybe that’s me being counterfactually foolish. If so, ok. I’ll live with myself.

When you say, “It’s exactly because of the BP spill that you should re-consider nuclear,” you may very well be right. I am convinced nuclear power-based energy, properly managed and regulated, could be safer and saner than the hydrocarbon-dominated system we have now. But I’m not at all convinced that nuclear is inherently safer regardless of regulatory structure. So… that structure is really the important issue.

If I (or y’know, people as lefty as I) get to design and implement the regulatory structure, with some stability so it can’t be undone by dereg later (this is why I want nuclear utilities to be publicly owned), then I could and probably would get on board. But I’d be as much of a stick about it as possible in order to extract whatever concessions I can in favor of stability and regulation and public ownership of utilities, especially that. If we’re going to transition to nuclear-based power, I want to take that opportunity to transition to publicly owned and operated utilities.

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ScentOfViolets 09.16.10 at 3:08 am

@ 27:

The failure of nuclear power (outside places like China and Russia where it gets even more government support than elsewhere) reflects commercial reality. Even under very favorable Bush Administration policies, the “nuclear renaiassance” went nowhere. Most of the criticisms put forward in the 1980s have been proved to be valid. The problems can be fixed, but not at a commercially viable cost.

John, what sort of state support do places like Russia and China get that make nuclear power a viable option? Do you include France in this group, and if so, why?

As you probably know, I’m a firm supporter of nuclear power, and I would like to hear where you think the real costs lie that have been subsidized elsewhere.

And to the people who think opposition to nuclear power is a “leftist” thing: that just ain’t so in my personal experience. There’s a lot of people down in the bootheel, not exactly a flaming hotbed of leftist radicalism, who want nothing to do with nuclear power. I suspect that when people say that opposition to nuclear power is a “leftist” tribal marker, what they really mean is that organized opposition to nuclear power is, roughly, “leftist”. But that’s something else altogether different when talking about the type of people who oppose nuclear power and not really relevant.

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Jim Rose 09.16.10 at 3:10 am

John,
on GMOs, the Australian greens go a little further than labelling and safety testing rather than prohibition.

The Greens consider “genetically manipulated organisms (GMOs), their products, and the chemicals used to manage them, pose unacceptable threats to natural and agricultural ecosystems’ and want to:
• put in place a moratorium on the release of any GMOs into the Australian environment for trial or commercial purposes;
• remove as far as possible all GMOs from the Australian environment and food supply while the moratorium is in force; and
• require certification of all imported seed, food and other products as GM or GM-free and ensure facilities exist for stringent testing.
See http://greens.org.au/policies/agriculture-natural-resources/genetically-manipulatd-organisms

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Salient 09.16.10 at 3:12 am

Heh. I knew I’d end up being one of those people who fit every nutsy Left stereotype brought up on this thread. To nail the trifecta, I am hugely and categorically and loud-mouthedly against GMO food.

Why? Because GMO seed is modified so that the plants won’t produce viable seeds, ensuring the seed buyers will have to keep buying seed. And yes, it’s deliberate, and not at all secret or conspiratorial: it’s done to protect the “intellectual property” of the seed “manufacturer.” And I think intentionally crippling the plant is bullshit intended to f*** over desperate third-world farmers, forcing them to buy seeds every year, and if that’s what companies selling GMO seed need to do to get by, then I want them to go bankrupt and also to go die in a fire. It’s kind of an emotional issue at that point, and one of the reasons I take such a strong and peculiar anti-IP stance.

I could probably be ok with GMO food that is modified only to enhance the health properties of the food, provided the plant produces approximately the same quantity of viable seeds as an unmodified plant. But modifications e.g. to increase yield make me vaguely mildly queasy-uncertain, because there’s no telling whether the resulting food contains less of the variety of nutrients the unmodified food would have. Or maybe something else, like the food becomes mildly less digestible due to a change in fiber proportion. Or whatever. At the least, there’s some uncertainty. So I’d want those products and their derivatives clearly labeled. Then ok.

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ckc (not kc) 09.16.10 at 3:14 am

…whether Greens are left wing is rather a moot point

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Salient 09.16.10 at 3:15 am

The Australian Green Party’s stance on GMO-derived food seems completely reasonable to me. Less so if we somehow shut down the market on nonviable-seeds plants, but we’re sure not there yet.

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Bruce Baugh 09.16.10 at 3:33 am

I see Salient’s saying all the stuff I wanted to.

The actually existing nuclear power industry in the US, at least, isn’t to be trusted any farther than one could throw it, and the history of energy industries in general shows that the bigger piece of the energy-providing pie any part of it gets, the worse that part gets. Good people and good firms get driven out by greedy grafty SOBs, and there’s precisely zero prospect of substantial change on that anytime soon. In an environment of really pervasive corruption and corporate abuse, it’s at least desirable not to add a whole lot more snouts at the trough.

Likewise with GMOs as a significant part of our food supply. There’s nothing innately more dangerous or evil about that kind of work than a zillion other things. There’s a lot dangerous and evil about the actually existing firms who dominate the worldwide market for it. They buy liars and fools to cover for themselves, and abuse the laws going and coming to suppress competitors and just neighbors, and have zero expressed interest in changing any of that. So a sensible place for GMOs would have to begin with either the radical restructuring of major biotech firms or their wholesale replacement by more carefully supervised successors.

Jesus’ parable of the talents applies, as it generally does in situations like this.

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Omega Centauri 09.16.10 at 3:58 am

There is one thing which might make being anti-vaccine rational for an individual. The primary benefit of a high level of vaccination is public health, as fewer potential carriers mean that some diseases cannot reproduce on average enough to cause epidemics. As long as the degree of vaccination is above a critical threshold, those who aren’t vaccinated reap the same benefit as the vaccinated, without the inconvenence or risks of the treatment. So in a purely selfish sense, it can be rational to be anti-vac for one’s family.

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John Quiggin 09.16.10 at 4:03 am

Landru (and some others): People were opposed to nuclear power for both good and bad reasons. I agree that anti-science views and a more general tolerance for silly claims that pushed the appropriate tribal buttons were pretty common on the left until the early 90s. But that was a fair while ago. Anti-science views are now virtually compulsory on the US right (at least as regards global warming) and rare (confined to a few issues, and to relatively fringe groups) on the left.

As can be seen above, even where those on the left take policy positions that might once have been supported by anti-science arguments, they generally don’t use or rely on those arguments. Compare the political right, which routinely rejects science if it has the ‘wrong’ political implications.

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Substance McGravitas 09.16.10 at 4:56 am

Anti-science views are now virtually compulsory on the US right (at least as regards global warming)

Evolution and the nature of homosexuality should be mentioned.

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Salient 09.16.10 at 5:05 am

Ooh, I thought of a great zinger, which has the benefit of being true: I trust nuclear power utilities companies and sellers of GMO product exactly as much as I trust Phillip-Morris.

And for that reason, I can kinda-sorta-maybe-ehhhhhhhhhhh see why people wouldn’t trust pharmaceutical companies to provide safe and effective vaccines. I’m close enough to that particular rabbit hole to peek into it, and appreciate how comfortable its wholesale cynicism looks. But still. Not trusting for-profit corporations to perform scientific research in good faith or make good use of good science, is not the same thing as failing to trust science. Hm. I’m going to start calling that the Phillip-Morris Principle.

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sg 09.16.10 at 5:08 am

adding to what salient said, most left-wing (or, more correctly, environmentalist) objections to GMO are not anti-science. They’re based on a combination of a) the precautionary principle and b) recognition that world hunger is a distributional, not a technological problem.

As salient observed, people are suspicious that the rhetoric about increased yields and solving hunger problems is actually cover for an attempt to further enslave farmers. Claims of this sort have nothing to do with the science, and actually require that the objectors understand at least basically the science of the GMOs.

You won’t find, for example, much “mainstream” objection to GMOs on the basis that “they’re just not natural” or “they cause [insert disease tehy don't cause here]” or “they’re actually inedible.” If you did, the GMO objectors would be on a similar level to anti-vaccinationists.

Instead, you find much more reasonable defenses, like that roundup ready soy beans will increase the amount of roundup used, and that this will have environmental consequences outside of the farms. I’d say that’s a fundamentally scientific objection to GMOs, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong.

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.16.10 at 5:27 am

Without disagreeing at all with 64, it’s important to recognize that the nonviable seed issue is not new to GM crops. Locking farmers into annual seed purchases was a major, arguably the major, motivation in the development of hybrid crops. Today’s right-wing parallel universers have got nothing on the hucksters who invented “hybrid vigor”.

R.C. Lewontin is very good on this. Salient, if you haven’t read his stuff, you should; I think it would make you mad in a useful way.

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bad Jim 09.16.10 at 7:46 am

Landru #57:

I wouldn’t blame the Left for starting the Iraq war per se; but the counter-factual remains that if the innumerate Left hadn’t irrationally (perhaps I should say “religiously”) opposed nuclear power in the 70’s and 80’s then it’s conceivable we wouldn’t have needed to engage in resource wars in the 90’s and 00’s

That’s an astonishing assertion. I didn’t realize that we already had nuclear-based alternatives to petroleum. It was my understanding that, like coal, we use nuclear power strictly for electricity generation. Is your point that if it weren’t for the hippies we’d have switched to hydrogen a generation ago?

It’s my further understanding that France’s fuel reprocessing only fractionally reduces its waste disposal problem. It’s conceivable that this is something that technologies not yet in wide use will ameliorate, but for the nonce skepticism remains appropriate.

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Peter Nunns 09.16.10 at 8:07 am

Anyone care to comment on the political valence of the New Zealand anti-nuclear crowd?

Interesting that there’s not been more comment on this question, as New Zealand remains the only country to actually ban nuclear devices. (Technically, the ban only refers to nuclear weapons – one could, in theory, build a nuclear power plant, but good luck getting it past the resource consent process!) The nuclear-free policy began as a leftist aspiration that came out of the environmental movement of the 60s and 70s and found a home in the Labour Party.

As far as I can tell, the policy was motivated less by an ideological opposition to nuclear power than by opposition to the fact that nuclear powers (the French, in particular) were irradiating vast chunks of the Pacific in nuclear tests. In 1973 PM Norman Kirk sent navy ships to protest a French test; in 1984 the French Secret Service’s act of terrorism against a Greenpeace ship moored in Auckland Harbour provided the impetus for the ban. Frankly, I don’t think it’s dogmatic, leftist, or anti-science to want others to stop bringing things that explode and plaster radiation everywhere into our waters.

Since the ban in 1985, nuclear-free has been adopted, tacitly or explicitly, by all major parties. It’s really not a partisan or ideological issue at this point.

The other aspect of this is, of course, that New Zealand generates 73% of its electricity from renewable sources (mainly hydro, although wind and tidal generation will play an increasing role). With the right policies, 90% renewable energy is feasible within the next decade or two, so nuclear power is totally unnecessary.

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Antisthenes IV 09.16.10 at 9:10 am

sg at 50:
“On the other hand, opposition to vaccination is based on an unwillingness to accept the basic premise of vaccination (it prevents disease) despite the evidence.”

My observations suggest that opposition to vaccination is because parents regard the evidence of possible serious adverse consequences as indicating that the risk is too great. Much the same as the opposition to nuclear really. And GM food.

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Ollie 09.16.10 at 12:41 pm

Everyone continues the miss the clear import of Dinesh D’Souza & Gingrich’s line.

The colonialists overthrew a system of white European domination of black Africans. D’Souza & Gingrich are making a straight play for arguing that Obama is aiming to overthrow the system of white domination of America. The system John McCain & Bill O’Reilly once referred to as the “white male power structure”. It’s a straight racist play.

It was ever so clear that this was the import of their words, especially when D’Souza says Obama “grew to see the rich as an oppressive class, a neocolonial power within America”.

In other words, O ye (white) leaders of the establishment, the black African Luo ‘tribesman’ wants to drive a stake through thou!

Now that Newt Gingrich has taken up the mantle of David Duke, isn’t it time to drive him out of the American mainstream?

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JM 09.16.10 at 3:13 pm

When citing costs it is important—and only honest—to separate the real, physical costs of building a plant, ie paying for steel, concrete, pipes, pumps, etc., from the “non-physical” costs imposed by public opposition, ie excessive regulation, glacially slow approval processes, and the cost of added risk that some demagogic politician will raise the pitchfork crowd and make your $1B investment worthless.

I cannot budget for your hyperbole, but I can ignore your ignorance.

Welcome to the ignore list.

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JM 09.16.10 at 3:16 pm

Those in the Middle are more likely to think that the ridicule dished out by the Left is a sloppy attempt to cover-up a lack of substantive arguments to make on behalf of the social democratic case.

Is that why you had to go to the fringe and to the past in order to find false left-wing equivalencies for the present-day, mainstream, and very powerful anti-science cretins on the right?

Don’t mistake the stupid for “the middle.”

80

JM 09.16.10 at 3:31 pm

The difference between anti-science movements on the right and left, at least in an American context, is that right-wing anti-science movements are astroturf operations funded and directed by industry, whereas left-wing anti-science movements are made up of people who no longer trust regulatory agencies and the science they cite, due to a long history of corruption by corporate interests or government coverup. The former is a form of marketing, the latter is an example of confirmation bias.

Rather than use one to excuse the other, which I am disappointed but not surprised to find here, anyone who knows their ass from a hole in the ground should be able to see their common origins. Corruption has given rise to mistrust.

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Landru 09.16.10 at 6:31 pm

I cannot budget for your hyperbole, but I can ignore your ignorance.

Truly, I am blinded by the cogency of the argument and salience of facts that you choose to shower us all with. Please, give us more! Can I put you directly on my RSS feed?

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piglet 09.16.10 at 7:15 pm

“I seem to remember reading recently that anti-fluoridation is a pretty mainstream position in Europe, even though it’s associated with anti-communism in the US.”

As Norwegian mentions, European countries don’t fluoridate and so there is no counter-movement. Fluoridation in the US is a somewhat bizarre issue. I recently read an anti-pamphlet in the local weekly (alternative/hippiesque) and it was quite convincing. Apparently this is the only example of a medication that is mass-dispensed. Of course, this contradicts all the principles of scientific medicine: medications are never administered without consent, never without indication, and the dosage has to be adapted to the individual. No medication is without side effects, why would fluoride be different? Why is a one-size-fits-all long-term medication acceptable in the one case of fluoride? It seems that the defenders of fluoridation are the ones in need of explaining how their position is consistent with both scientific and ethical principles.

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piglet 09.16.10 at 7:25 pm

As a general observation, it seems that the naked anti-science propaganda of the American right has pushed many on the left into a knee-jerk defense of whatever claims to be scientific. That is a huge step back from the critical analysis of science, ideology and power that radical scholars developed in earlier decades.

84

piglet 09.16.10 at 7:33 pm

Pascal: “This is why france which dosent have this limitation produces far more of its power with nuclear plants and yet dosent find itself making plans to excavate a mountain in order to get rid of the waste.”

Tell us, what is France doing with the nuclear waste? You seem to suggest that La Hague takes care of that but what you call recycling isn’t recycling at all. It actually increases the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of.

85

piglet 09.16.10 at 8:04 pm

“New Zealand remains the only country to actually ban nuclear devices.”

Austria and Italy are both nuclear-free after popular referendums. Italy under Berlusconi has decided to start rebuilding nuclear power plants. It will be interesting how that turns out. So far, the nuclear renaissance, e.g. in Finland, has been characterized by delays and cost overruns, as predicted by the opponents.

When discussing the scientific merits of the anti-nuclear movement, it is important to remember that the case for nuclear power as it was presented by supporters in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, was fundamentally, scientifically, flawed. Supporters claimed that a major accident would never happen, that waste disposal was not a problem, that there were no adverse environmental effects, that the levels of radioactive radiation emitted were not harmful, that nuclear energy was cheap and unlimited, etc. etc. These claims, often made publicly by highly credentialed scientists, were all wrong, every one of them. The anti-nuclear movement started out having to fight the scientific establishment, which unsurprisingly contributed to suspicion of many left activist towards the science establishment, but in fact as the battle went on many scientific experts changed sides and started opposing nuclear energy. I wonder whether some posters here are too young to remember this but the view espoused here of science on one side and anti-science on the other side of the nuclear debate is ignorant and misleading.

And the situation with GMO is very similar.

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roac 09.16.10 at 8:06 pm

piglet@ 82: I have no investment of any kind in the fluoridation issue, but here is a question: One of the arguments against it is that the indisputable improvement in the incidence of caries since the 1960s is attributable not to the addition of fluoride to water supplies, but to its inclusion in toothpaste. No doubt you can find fluoride-free toothpaste, and a few people seek out, but I never see advertising in for it in general media, and I bet way over 90% of all toothpaste sold in the US contains fluoride. As a practical matter, how does this not violate the principles you raise in your post?

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piglet 09.16.10 at 8:51 pm

roac you have a point but it still is a difference if you can chose a non-F toothpaste. Also, I try not to ingest my toothpaste but I certainly ingest the water I am drinking. I wonder whether we really know whether F in either toothpaste or water is effective at all. I once heard that toothpaste is actually irrelevant and it only matters what you do with the toothbrush. I prefer toothpaste because of the fresh taste in my mouth.

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roac 09.16.10 at 9:08 pm

All I know is that after growing up in the 50s and 60s, I had fillings in most of my teeth by adulthood. My children might have had two or three apiece. So something was different.

I also remember many, many commercials like this one. They don’t make ‘em like that any more, because parents no longer look forward with dread to their kids’ trips to the dentist. (Until the braces come along, but that’s different.)

89

roac 09.16.10 at 9:16 pm

PS: It occurred to me after watching that to try and find out if Gardol really existed and if so, what the hell it was. Wiki knew — it was a trademark for this:

“Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate (INCI), also known as sarkosyl, is an ionic surfactant derived from sarcosine, used as a foaming and cleansing agent in shampoo, shaving foam and foam wash products.

In molecular biology experiments, sarkosyl is used as an inhibitor of the initiation of DNA transcription.”

Some other brand, I forget which, created an Invisible Shield which protected your teeth.

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.16.10 at 10:04 pm

As a general observation, it seems that the naked anti-science propaganda of the American right has pushed many on the left into a knee-jerk defense of whatever claims to be scientific. That is a huge step back from the critical analysis of science

This is a very good point.

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Norwegian Guy 09.17.10 at 1:14 am

I don’t think there’s much doubt that fluoride prevents tooth decay, and that it’s beneficial for public health reasons that the population gets the fluoride from somewhere. Whether it’s from the tap water or not isn’t important. For instance, France and Germany use fluoridated salt. In Norway, water fluoridation have never been used. But the government have certainly sought other methods to get the fluoride out. One of the first methods was through the schools, where the school nurses where distributing fluoride solutions that the pupils had to flush their teeth with. I can remember that this practice was abolished around 1990 when I was still in school, probably because other methods had made it superfluous. The public dental health system, which unfortunately only covers those under the age of 20, where putting some kind of fluoride paste on our teeth when we had our yearly checks. Fluoride chewing pills for kids are common. I don’t think I have ever seen toothpaste without fluoride, and fluoridated mouthwash are pretty common too. Most people probably get enough fluoride without additional fluoridation of the tap water. Though Wikipedia says that some Swedish cities tried water fluoridation, but that it was ended for essentially libertarian reasons – in the social democratic 1960’s!

Regarding the ethical issues, I have to wonder how the widespread availability of bottled water have affected this. It’s not impossible to avoid fluoridated tap water ant more, though it is of course more expensive.

What is perhaps more interesting is that libertarians are so upset by fluoridation, when after all it’s done by pubic water works that according to libertarian theory should not exist. Why focus on this side issue, and not on closing down the water works? I’d guess they would not have a problem with fluoridation if it was done by a privatized water supplier.

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Norwegian Guy 09.17.10 at 1:31 am

Some physicist think nuclear power should be allowed/expanded, some think it should be abolished/limited. They will probably still agree about atomic theory, perhaps disagree over string theory etc. These are scientific questions. Questions like whether to use nuclear power, GMOs etc. are not scientific questions. They are political. In the same way, whether there are man-made global warming is a scientific question. How to deal with it is political.

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Norwegian Guy 09.17.10 at 2:32 am

Dinesh D’Souza is really weird. What Ollie forgets to note is that the anticolonialists didn’t only overthrow a system of white European domination of black Africans, but that one of the first major victories of anticolonialism was when they overthrew a system of white European domination of brown Indians. In fact, D’Souza’s own parents moved from Goa, still a Portuguese colony at that time, into relatively newly liberated India.

And someone has to make the point, that while Barack Obama is 50% white, D’Souza is himself 100% non-white! In fact, while Obama was born in the USA in 1961, D’Souza was born the same year, with an Indian birth certificate. Is it unlikely that he is a secret Hindu and want to impose Hindutva on America?

It was ever so clear that this was the import of their words, especially when D’Souza says Obama “grew to see the rich as an oppressive class, a neocolonial power within America”.

If only! Wouldn’t many Americans have liked it if he indeed did see the rich as an oppressive class (economic royalists perhaps) instead of cozying up to Wall Street?

But think Gingrich & co. are to smart to see Obama as threat to the establishment. The faux-populist tea partiers certainly see him as a part of the establishment. I highly doubt there will be a joint Obama/Palin-ticket to vote for in 2012 under the slogan of “Down with the white male establishment!”.

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Landru 09.17.10 at 6:07 am

piglet@85

claimed that a major accident would never happen, …. etc. etc. These claims, often made publicly by highly credentialed scientists, were all wrong, every one of them.

Now, just so you can educate the younger folks, who exactly told you this? Can you name one highly credentialed scientist who was not obviously an industry flack and who actually used the word “never” publicly? Serious scientists and engineers almost never use the word “never” or “zero” without qualification, so I highly suspect you are arguing against an exaggerated straw-person for your own convenience.

The observation that any particular industry failed to live up to highly exaggerated, extremist claims like “never have a serious accident” or “no adverse environmental effects” is meaningless, because exaggerated claims with words like “zero” and “never” are understood to be childish. The grown-up criterion is, is this industry as good or better on health & safety than its competitors in the same business that society already accepts? The grown-up claim is not that nuclear power has “zero risk” or “never has accidents”, but that it’s at least as good as its competitors, particularly coal. And the answer is yes: from what I’ve read, fatalities and illnesses per energy generated (ie per gigawatt-year) are substantially lower from nuclear plants than from hydrocarbon plants. So by adult standards of safety the record shows that nuclear power is fine and even preferable to its practical, existing, accepted alternatives.

Now, what does the fact that an industry lied to you mean, really, in the end? Tell me, what industry that involves potential hazards has _not_ ever lied about its safety and efficiency? Chemicals? Pharmaceuticals? Hydrocarbon power? And yet, I don’t see you calling for these industries to be banned from the planet. If Three Mile Island means we shouldn’t have a nuclear industry (aka “the good fight”), then why doesn’t Bhopal mean we shouldn’t have a chemical industry? (after all, which was worse?) Or why doesn’t Lipitor mean we shouldn’t have a drug industry? Why does nuclear get singled out for special attention, if not for essentially religious reasons? If you’re going to use the fact that an industry lied and didn’t meet exaggerated claims as a reason to ban it, you should at least be consistent.

Circling back to the original topic, which was not about facts but about people who do or don’t know or reason from facts. I’m sorry, but the fact that some industry flack posing in a lab coat with a clipboard lied to you by making exaggerated safety claims in 1959 simply does not justify my having to listen in 1985 to a patently ignorant and innumerate Green who doesn’t know the first thing about radiation and can’t tell strontium from shinola go on and on and on about how “nuclear power can never be safe,” because, well, he’s just sure it’s true. I don’t dispute JQ’s statement that things are better now — I’m very glad to hear it! — but no one should deny that there was a significant period when a large number of Leftists in the US were proud to be ignorant about nuclear physics, while feeling sure that they could draw conclusions about it anyway.

(PS Just so this point isn’t lost completely, let me state that I don’t mean to draw a quantitative or practical equivalence between Leftist deliberate scientific ignorance and Rightist. The latter is clearly much more with us today, and to an extent that dwarfs the former at any time in history, IMO. Just so we’re clear about that.)

95

John Quiggin 09.17.10 at 6:39 am

The big problem was not industry flacks but the 1975 NRC Wash-1400 report (the “Rasmussen report”) which estimated the risk of a core meltdown at 1/20000 per reactor per year.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WASH-1400

It seems pretty clear that, for the reactors then in operation, that was a bad underestimate.

So, without denying that some people objected to nuclear power on irrational grounds, there were plenty of good (safety+proliferation) reasons to be opposed. Reactors are a lot safer now, but also a lot more expensive, so current opposition tends to be focused on the fact that nuclear is among the less promising candidates for a cost-effective response to climate change. Hence, the willingness of most environmental groups to accept a bit of nuclear pork if it will buy some votes for an effective carbon price,

96

Hidari 09.17.10 at 7:50 am

I might add that to create the (semi) fantasy of the ‘Left’ being against ‘nuclear power’ is to omit the influence of organised labour: surely even nowadays a ‘left wing’ phenomenon? My friend’s working class father (a leftist, indeed, a communist) was very strongly pro-nuclear for the simple reason that he worked in an NPP.

97

Zamfir 09.17.10 at 9:58 am

JQ, the green party here still uses videos of nuclear weapon tests to explain their position on nuclear power. This might be something that is different in Australia, but in many European countries organized green politics got a big impulse from a combined opposition to nuclear power and to (American) nuclear weapons in the 1980s.

98

Zamfir 09.17.10 at 10:05 am

Just to clarify: I didn’t mean to suggest that people did support non-American nuclear weapons. Just that the large-scale protests of those days were against placement of American missiles.

99

ejh 09.17.10 at 10:06 am

Why does nuclear get singled out for special attention, if not for essentially religious reasons?

Eh?

100

alex 09.17.10 at 10:52 am

A cheap crack, in which all even semi-consistent ideological positions are likened to the foundationless ramblings of authoritarian prophets.

Which is not to say that some Greens don’t appear to ‘worship’ certain aspects of their world-view somewhat uncritically at times… but then don’t we all?

101

tomslee 09.17.10 at 12:27 pm

Landru @94: Depicting yourself as serious, adult, scientific and rational and your opponents as childish, innumerate, irrational, and “religious” is not serious, adult, scientific or rational.

102

ScentOfViolets 09.17.10 at 12:27 pm

The big problem was not industry flacks but the 1975 NRC Wash-1400 report (the “Rasmussen report”) which estimated the risk of a core meltdown at 1/20000 per reactor per year.

This site says that there are 30,000 deaths/year attributed to coal-fired power plants. I’m surprised that it’s this low. AFAICT, nuclear power seems to be about the safest form of electrical power generation around.

Reactors are a lot safer now, but also a lot more expensive, so current opposition tends to be focused on the fact that nuclear is among the less promising candidates for a cost-effective response to climate change.

The question here is whether or not this risk you speak of has been mispriced. A lot of of math-oriented people say that it has, especially when you compare it to other forms of electrical power generation.

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ScentOfViolets 09.17.10 at 12:57 pm

Ah, here’s a little something about that most infamous of nuclear accidents in American history Three Mile Island:

A major independent review of disease rates around the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant has found no evidence that radioactivity released during the 1979 accident caused any increase in cancer incidence during the six-year period immediately afterward.

and:

The study focused on leukemias and childhood cancer, which Hatch said are the types of cancer most likely to occur after exposure to low doses of radiation. It found that people living in areas that received the most radiation from the plant were no more likely to develop either disease than were people living in areas exposed to the least amount of radiation from the plant.

and my special bugbear:

The incidence of childhood cancer in the heavy radiation areas was 1.06 times that in the low radiation areas, and that of leukemia in people under the age of 24 living in the high exposure area was 2.81 times that of the people in the low exposure area. But the researchers said these differences were not statistically significant because the number of cases was very low. Between 1980 and 1985, for example, there were only three cases of leukemia for that age group in the two highest radiation exposure areas and one case in the lowest exposure area.

I happen to believe these people got it right, but in general “statistically significant” doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means, which is a synonym for “significant”. The bottom line is that so far in the U.S. and Europe, nuclear power has a far better mortality record than coal. Oh, one more thing: the report says that people living near TMI were exposed to anywhere from 100 to 250 mrems (milli-rems) above the normal count. By contrast, the wiki says:

The average exposure for Americans is about 360 mrem (3.6 mSv) per year, 81 percent of which comes from natural sources of radiation. The remaining 19 percent results from exposure to human-made radiation sources such as medical X-rays, most of which is deposited in people who have CAT scans. However, in some areas, the average background dose can be over 1,000 mrem (10 mSv) per year. An important source of natural radiation is radon gas, which seeps continuously from bedrock but can, because of its high density, accumulate in poorly ventilated houses.

The background rate for radiation varies considerably with location, being as low as 1.5 mSv/a (1.5 mSv per year) in some areas and over 100 mSv/a in others. People in some parts of Ramsar, a city in northern Iran, receive an annual absorbed dose from background radiation that is up to 260 mSv/a. Despite having lived for many generations in these high background areas, inhabitants of Ramsar show no significant cytogenetic differences compared to people in normal background areas.[6] This has led to the suggestion that high but steady levels of radiation are easier for humans to sustain than sudden radiation bursts.

This just isn’t that big a deal, especially when compared with other technological waste products to which people are exposed all the time as a matter of course. Note also that according to these figures, any excess radiation people are likely to be exposed to is far more likely to be from some source other than a nuclear power plant; in fact, the energy content of the uranium contained in coal ash has three times the energy content of the coal from whence it came. So it goes.

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Substance McGravitas 09.17.10 at 1:14 pm

This just isn’t that big a deal

This still is.

105

ScentOfViolets 09.17.10 at 1:15 pm

Why does nuclear get singled out for special attention, if not for essentially religious reasons? If you’re going to use the fact that an industry lied and didn’t meet exaggerated claims as a reason to ban it, you should at least be consistent.

I blame the media myself. There have been all sorts of horrific effects attributed to radiation exposure, for example causing spiders or other bugs to grow to immense size. The people I personally know who have an out-sized fear of radiation and don’t think spider powers or third eyes are entirely implausible outcomes to exposure aren’t the lefties; they’re my rural relatives and their friends living in the Bootheel. Some of the older people in my area were actually afraid of “radioactive electricity” when the Callaway plant came on line and insisted that only clean, nonradioactive electricity be sent to them via the wires. They wrote to their congressman and to their local paper, and insisted on this in no uncertain terms.

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ScentOfViolets 09.17.10 at 1:29 pm

This just isn’t that big a deal

This still is.

Yep, Chernobyl was a bad one. Note also that your own source says that this was due to a very deliberate human error, as opposed to an actual accident:

At 11:04 p.m., the Kiev grid controller allowed the reactor shut-down to resume. This delay had some serious consequences: the day shift had long since departed, the evening shift was also preparing to leave, and the night shift would not take over until midnight, well into the job. According to plan, the test should have been finalized during the day shift, and the night shift would only have had to maintain decay heat cooling systems in an otherwise shut-down plant; the night shift had very limited time to prepare for and carry out the experiment. Further rapid reduction in the power level from 50% was actually executed during the shift change-over. Alexander Akimov was chief of the night shift, and Leonid Toptunov was the operator responsible for the reactor’s operational regime, including the movement of the control rods. Toptunov was a young engineer who had worked independently as a senior engineer for approximately three months.[14]

The test plan called for the power output of reactor 4 to be gradually reduced to 700–1000 MW thermal.[15] The power level established in the test program (700 MW) was achieved at 00:05 on April 26; however, because of the natural production in the core of a neutron absorber, xenon-135, reactor power continued to decrease, even without further operator action. And as the power reached approximately 500 MW, Toptunov committed an error and inserted the control rods too far, bringing the reactor to a near-shutdown state. The exact circumstances will probably never be known, as both Akimov and Toptunov died from radiation sickness.

There’s a good reason why people who make claims about reactor safety are usually pretty careful to restrict those claims to plants that are running in the West – Europe and the U.S., for the most part. If you wanted to cite, say, reactor safety in North Korea to justify construction in Poughkeepsie, I’d be pretty skeptical about those claims too.

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engels 09.17.10 at 1:38 pm

‘Why does nuclear get singled out for special attention, if not for essentially religious reasons?’

Many Iranians are asking the same question.

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Substance McGravitas 09.17.10 at 1:39 pm

to plants that are running in the West – Europe and the U.S.,

The Ukraine is in Europe.

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ScentOfViolets 09.17.10 at 1:39 pm

@ 101:

Landru @94: Depicting yourself as serious, adult, scientific and rational and your opponents as childish, innumerate, irrational, and “religious” is not serious, adult, scientific or rational.

I don’t see anywhere in Landru’s post where he’s done this. And I’ve got to say . . . amongst people on the left who considered themselves “politically aware”, there was indeed a great deal deliberate ignorance on the subject. And this is just straight-up the truth:

The grown-up claim is not that nuclear power has “zero risk” or “never has accidents”, but that it’s at least as good as its competitors, particularly coal. And the answer is yes: from what I’ve read, fatalities and illnesses per energy generated (ie per gigawatt-year) are substantially lower from nuclear plants than from hydrocarbon plants. So by adult standards of safety the record shows that nuclear power is fine and even preferable to its practical, existing, accepted alternatives.

I’m sorry if you take this as a personal attack, but this really is the only way to evaluate the merits of these sorts of proposals; it’s not risk that we’re concerned about so much as relative risks. And you know, there are fatalities associated with wind turbines and dams. I’ve never heard any serious person claim that there are zero deaths associated with any type of electrical power generation, be it solar, wind, biofuels, coal, nuclear, etc. That’s just the way these things work. Heck, I teach math, and there’s a nonzero risk of death associated with teaching, fer gosshakes.

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ScentOfViolets 09.17.10 at 1:44 pm

to plants that are running in the West – Europe and the U.S.,

The Ukraine is in Europe.

Sigh. Hence the capitalization of “west” and “for the most part”, which you snipped from what I wrote and I will include again: “restrict those claims to plants that are running in the West – Europe and the U.S., for the most part.

That was just childish. Do you have any substantive objections? Or are you going to continue on with the “you didn’t say your words right” game along with selective snips?

111

Substance McGravitas 09.17.10 at 1:52 pm

this was due to a very deliberate human error

Which plant operates without humans?

112

ScentOfViolets 09.17.10 at 1:55 pm

What is your point? Do you even have one?

Or is this just an attempt to deflect attention from the very real fact that nuclear power is actually safer than coal-fired power plants?

Given that you haven’t actually addressed the point, I’m guessing that you don’t dispute this.

113

Substance McGravitas 09.17.10 at 2:01 pm

What is your point?

My point is that you’re not very good at making your case. Weak qualifications that involve handwaving very real disasters out of Europe – because PFFFT it was a HUMAN that made a mistake! – are not useful.

114

tomslee 09.17.10 at 2:01 pm

What engels said.

Given the Canadian history of exporting “safe civilian technology” to North Korea, India and Pakistan, I hope everyone who is in favour of nuclear power is also in favour of nuclear power for all states. Like many others, I’m not.

115

Salient 09.17.10 at 2:04 pm

Now, what does the fact that an industry lied to you mean, really, in the end?

It means I don’t want to grant them any additional power, whether political or financial, unless I absolutely have to.

Tell me, what industry that involves potential hazards has not ever lied about its safety and efficiency?

You’re making my “take a rigid hard-line stance against private ownership of utilities” point for me.

Yep, Chernobyl was a bad one.

And its consequences were orders of magnitude worse than any one disaster of any one coal-powered plant anywhere in the history of the world.

116

Substance McGravitas 09.17.10 at 2:06 pm

On the other hand of the Canadian coin, the Chalk River reactor supplies isotopes that help keep people alive. The reactor has had some recent problems.

117

Substance McGravitas 09.17.10 at 2:07 pm

Take note: coins have hands.

118

ScentOfViolets 09.17.10 at 2:10 pm

My point is that you’re not very good at making your case. Weak qualifications that involve handwaving very real disasters out of Europe – because PFFFT it was a HUMAN that made a mistake! – are not useful.

Well no, actually, it looks as if you are making a terrible case, especially when you have to dishonestly snip what people say and compare shoddy construction and practices that simply have not been the case in the West. It also looks as if you don’t understand basic risk management. Sorry, nothing personal, but until you can address the actual points I’ve made, you don’t have a leg to stand on.

119

Substance McGravitas 09.17.10 at 2:13 pm

dishonestly snip what people say

Write things that childish people like myself can’t find easy fault with and you’ll have no problems at all.

120

Zamfir 09.17.10 at 2:20 pm

No one is suggesting to build more Chernobyls. There were deep problems with Chernobyl at every level. Concept, detailed design, emergency preparations, operation, unprepared experiments, management, regulatory oversight, everywhere. But very few, if any of Chernobyls problems applied to the situation in the West, or even to the current situation in the former second world.

TMI is a different case. Its concept, design procedure, operation, overall social environment are reasonably comparable to the current situation for new builds. People have improved on all these fronts, but it is a still true that the people who say that core melts are extremely unlikely now said the same thing in 1978. On the other hand, TMI was bad beyond people’s worst expectations, and still did not harm anybody.

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ScentOfViolets 09.17.10 at 2:32 pm

Write things that childish people like myself can’t find easy fault with and you’ll have no problems at all.

Chuckle. It is because I write things that you can’t find easy fault with that you have to resort to the childish dishonesty of selective snippage (my 16-year-old daughter would think something like that beneath her.)

I’ll believe you can “find easy fault” with what I write when you actually address my points. What’s that about coal being more dangerous than nuclear again?

122

Lemuel Pitkin 09.17.10 at 3:18 pm

Personally, I’m terrified of climate change. So I want to see lots more nuclear power, ASAP. Lots of people on the left feel this way.

But! lots of people on the left feel otherwise, as evidenced by this thread. And I don’t think they are unreasonable to do so. The key issues are (1) how to think about tail risk and (2) how much weight to give to expert opinion.

As a statistical matter, it is of course true that the expected health effects of a coal plant are much greater than those of the average nuclear power plant, even without considering carbon emissions. But the problem is, there’s a distribution around that expected value, and the distribution for nuclear plants goes a lot farther to the right than for any other power source. Imagine the 10% worst outcomes the 1% worst, outcome, the 0.1%, 0.01%, etc. At some point out there you are going to encounter an outcome that is orders of magnitude worse for nuclear than the equivalent point on the distribution for fossil fuels.

Now, the badness of those potential outcomes has to be weighed against their unlikeliness; it’s impossible to plan for literally the worst case scenario, and foolish to try. But one thing we do know is this kind of tail risk is very hard to evaluate ex ante, since we can’t be sure we have enough data to see the full distribution. (Didn’t the world financial crisis remind us of that?) So it is absolutely rational to consider nuclear power more dangerous than a straightforward reading of the historical record would suggest. Personally, again, I am still in favor of it; but the critics of nuclear power have a better grasp of statistics than they are often given credit for.

As for expert opinion — well, this comment is long enough, so I’ll just say that we know for a fact that dangerous industries have been aggressive, and often successful, in bending the scientific consensus in their favor on other issues. Of course general skepticism doesn’t give us any grounds for a positive assertion that nuclear power is dangerous. but it is a perfectly valid basis for a general Burkean small-c conservatism when it comes to new technologies with potentially large impacts.

123

roac 09.17.10 at 3:23 pm

Taking it as true that the TMI meltdown did not kill anybody, the fact remains that the accident converted a billion-dollar asset into a billion-dollar liability. So how could it not destroy the willingness of investors to sink their money into future plants with the same design?

(It came out in the aftermath that Admiral Rickover’s people had concluded that something like TMI was inevitable, as the fragmented nature of the US power industry had put nuke plants in the hands of people without the necessary qualifications and training to run them. I personally am not necessarily against the revival of nuclear power generation in the US, but only if all the plants are put under the control of a centralized technocratic agency (as in France). AFAIK there is no prospect of this.)

124

Norwegian Guy 09.17.10 at 3:41 pm

Antivaccinationists in Norway tend to be associated with the private Steiner schools (Waldorf education) and/or alternative medicine, especially homeopathy. They don’t really have any particular political character, but those of them who lean toward the left are more of the steroetypical cultural middle class liberal/green variety and not the working class/trade unionist/socialist one.

As for environmentalism generally, I don’t think it should be seen as necessarily left-wing. Though most left-wingers are certainly more environmentally conscious than most right-wingers, the same are often the case with more centrist people and parties too. Many European Green parties are hardly on the left, but are more centrist. One the other hand, many left-of-centre parties with strong connections to trade unions and the labour movement generally, are only moderately interested in green issues, especially when such issues are conflicting with industrial interests. A heavy emphasis on environmentalism are usually found among the educated middle classes, while many working class people are much less interested.

125

Lemuel Pitkin 09.17.10 at 3:47 pm

the fragmented nature of the US power industry had put nuke plants in the hands of people without the necessary qualifications and training to run them. I personally am not necessarily against the revival of nuclear power generation in the US, but only if all the plants are put under the control of a centralized technocratic agency

This is another very good point. Those of us who support nuclear power need to engage more seriously with the reality that a large share of power generation in this country is in the hands of companies with neither the incentives nor the capacity to maintain adequate safety standards.

126

Landru 09.17.10 at 5:47 pm

JQ@95

“The big problem was not industry flacks but the 1975 NRC Wash-1400 report (the “Rasmussen report”) which estimated the risk of a core meltdown at 1/20000 per reactor per year.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WASH-1400

It seems pretty clear that, for the reactors then in operation, that was a bad underestimate.”

What’s your standard for a “bad underestimate”? To order of magnitude, one TMI-scale (partial) meltdown out of four hundred reactors running worldwide for thirty years is a rate of 1 per 10,000 per year; when the numerator is (thankfully!) very low statistics, this history seems perfectly consistent with the Rasmussen estimate (it’s only fair to exclude Chernobyl, since Rasmussen was not looking at that type of operation). Predicting low-statistics outcomes — how often do saviors from God appear on Earth? — is always fraught, and numbers can certainly be cooked — recall Feynman’s description of NASA greatly low-balling the risk of the Shuttle. But I really don’t see your basis for complaint here, quantitatively.

The main spin of the Rasmussen report, apparently, was not so much to estimate the likelihood of a nuclear plant meeting disaster as to quantitatively compare the incremental risk to an individual’s safety emanating from the US nuclear industry to other risks encountered in daily life. The main conclusion was that the increase in your personal risk from living in a nuclear-powered country is tiny compared to other dangers — and this conclusion doesn’t change even if the meltdown chance were raised by an order of magnitude. Nowadays, of course, we have to compare the risks of adopting nuclear power to the risks of not doing so, the latter including either suffering global warming or freezing in the dark.

(PS I should point out that I find nothing to disagree with in your comment at #69, just for completeness.)

127

Zamfir 09.17.10 at 7:18 pm

@ Lemuel (and others): a technocratic government operator is not necessarily the safest option either. It easily leads to a situation where regulatory bodies consider themselves on the same side as the operator, part of an overall system to deliver power. Arguably, France and Canada came too close to this before they staretd to pull their regulators away from industry, and the Soviet Union definitely came too close.

Germany for example keeps a clear separation between operators and government, and this allows the government to be much more demanding if deemed necessary. Germany’s safety record is absolutely excellent, even with all private operators.

I don’t know much about the US, but my vague impression is that people think it has its affairs in order. France’s current setup (with a privatised EDF and stronger ASN) is closer to the US than it used to be, and safety was at least among the reasons to move that way.

128

Substance McGravitas 09.17.10 at 7:36 pm

129

Jim Rose 09.18.10 at 1:37 am

To add more balance, consider these crazies to the Left of me:

• James Lovelock considers democracies are incapable of adequately addressing climate change and it may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while; and
• Pentti Linkola wants to end the freedom to procreate, abolish fossil fuels, revoke all international trade agreements, ban air traffic, demolish the suburbs, and reforest parking lots.

See http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2010/sep/16/authoritarianism-ecofascism-alternative

Other devotees of eco-fascism want to ban:
• 747 airplanes (Rifkin, 1980, p. 216),
• automobiles(Sale, 1989, p. 33),
• eyeglasses (Mills, 1989, p.
• 106),
• private washing machines (Bookchin, 1989,
• p. 22),
• tailored clothing (Schumacher, 1973, pp.57–58), and
• toilet paper (Mills, 1989, pp. 167–168).
See Environmentalism and Economic Freedom: The Case for Private Property Rights, by Walter Block.

Political participation is mostly for expressive reasons. This is because few have any chance of making a decisive individual contribution. Views that are entertaining, provocative, and self-reassuring but factually and logically cut adrift are therefore likely to be not uncommon across the political spectrum. no standpoint is immune nor should it pretend to be immune.

130

piglet 09.18.10 at 1:33 pm

I am afraid the thread has derailed with back-and-forth about nuclear power. I doubt it is very useful to get deeper into that question but I’ll reiterate one point. It is a time-honoured propaganda tactic of any industry to paint environmentalist concerns about its activities as irrational fears and appealing to scientific authority to claim that there is nothing to worry about. Some here seem to live in a fantasy world where real flesh and blood scientists would never lend their names and reputations to that kind of propaganda. Well they have and they do, whether it’s nuclear scientists claiming that “our reactors are safe”, or the AAPG claiming that hydrofracking could never contaminate drinking water, and that the toxic chemicals used are not to worry about because they constitute less than 1% of the fluid (1% out of millions of gallons, that is). The scientific issue is usually whether there had been adequate risk assessment before a new technology started to be widely deployed and the answer in most cases is that there hadn’t, until environmentalists started raising hell and forcing regulatory action.

Again to nuclear energy, the fact is that we have been relatively lucky so far with only one major accident and a number of near-accidents happening. There have been however numerous cases of contamination, many of which due to carelessness and poor oversight. Sure they could have been prevented but they haven’t. (http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/09/12/a-catalogue-of-idiocy/) Vermont shut down its nuclear power plant because of unexplained radioactive contamination in the ground. It is hard to argue that that decision was not a scientifically sound one. Also, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tricastin_Nuclear_Power_Center#Incidents, google Schacht Asse II etc.) We may disagree about the evaluation of these incidents but to say that it is irrational to oppose an industry with that kind of safety record is not very helpful.

Btw the German government wants to give the countries old nuclear plants, which were scheduled to be shut down over the next ten years, a new lease on life of about 15 years but quietly dropped the requirement for costly security upgrades. This is the most frightening part: the only economically viable nuclear power plants are old ones that have already been amortized. Every additional day they are kept in operation means profits for the industry. But they are also the most dangerous, and security upgrades would wipe out the profits. The world being as it is, the relationship between regulators and the industry being as it is, we can look forward to old junk reactors being operated until they fall apart.

131

engels 09.18.10 at 1:50 pm

Another time honoured propaganda tactic is to portray the environmental movement as divided on the issue. Yes, you can find find fairly prominent environmentalists who now favour NP as a solution to climate change but afaics the consensus among leading environmental organisations is still a resounding ‘NO’.

132

engels 09.18.10 at 1:54 pm

Btw there are plenty of reasons for being against nuclear power that have nothing to do with safety, which include pollution, waste disposal and nuclear proliferation.

133

ScentOfViolets 09.18.10 at 2:33 pm

We may disagree about the evaluation of these incidents but to say that it is irrational to oppose an industry with that kind of safety record is not very helpful.

But no one is saying that. Taken in and of itself, opposition because of the industry safety record is not irrational, though others may disagree with your judgment.

What’s irrational is opposing an industry because of it’s safety record but not saying anything at all about a similar industry that has a much worse safety record. And no matter how you slice it, coal-fired power plants have a far, far worse record than nuclear. When people who oppose nuclear power because of safety/pollution concerns start to oppose coal with as much determination and single-mindedness, I’ll believe that they’re actually behaving rationally. Not before.

134

ScentOfViolets 09.18.10 at 2:36 pm

It is a time-honoured propaganda tactic of any industry to paint environmentalist concerns about its activities as irrational fears and appealing to scientific authority to claim that there is nothing to worry about.

What about the time-honored tactic of actually looking at the numbers, which are heavily against those who oppose nuclear power but coal a pass?

135

sg 09.18.10 at 2:47 pm

SoV, Nuclear was opposed when it was being established, which is about 200 years after the coal industry. By the time people were even aware of safety and environmental issues coal was well-established.

There’s nothing irrational about opposing the introduction of a new industry with a bad safety and environmental record, rather than deciding to fight one that’s already well embedded and an essential part of the modern energy industry. Also, coal is a much more prolific industry than nuclear; it’s reasonable to suspect that such a duplicitous industry would be very very scary if it were as widespread as coal.

Picking your battles and being irrational are different things.

136

engels 09.18.10 at 2:55 pm

And who is attacking nuclear here and giving coal a pass?

137

ejh 09.18.10 at 3:00 pm

The Ukraine is in Europe.

Well, Ukraine is.

138

Substance McGravitas 09.18.10 at 3:09 pm

It’s a habit I can’t let go of. FWIW, I’m the product of Ukrainian immigrants, have Ukrainian relatives, have been to the Ukraine, and just can’t stop writing “the Ukraine”. Also I put the period outside the quotes and stuff.

139

Jim Harrison 09.18.10 at 4:14 pm

Important quantitative point: critics of nuclear power often raise the issue of the disposal of spent fuel, but nuclear power plants produce a tiny amount of waste relative to the mountains of junk generated by coal-fired plants. In the last 40 years, the American nuclear industry produced something like 62,500 metric tons of spent fuel while the coal plants produce 130 million tons of ash and slag a year. Obviously spent fuel is more dangerous stuff than fly ash, but there just isn’t that much of it.

I’m not promoting new nuclear plants, by the way, since new construction may not make sense from an economic point of view even if environmental problems are manageable. It just seems to me that we should introduce a sense of scale into our thinking about these issues.

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piglet 09.18.10 at 6:46 pm

Part of the practical political issue is whether to allow the nuclear industry to piggy-back on anti-GW efforts. While we all agree that coal is bad and needs to be phased out, many environmentalists incl. yours truly believe that the best chance is to invest in efficiency first and renewables second, and not waste any more money on a speculative nuclear panacea technology. There are some very nuanced arguments about this point between environmental “factions” if you will, a good example of which is George Monbiot, but I think what is closest to a consensus view is that even if nuclear might be better than coal on balance, it isn’t likely to make dent anytime soon and meantime is taking resources away – both financial and political resources so to speak – from the immediate task.

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piglet 09.18.10 at 8:39 pm

“What’s irrational is opposing an industry because of it’s safety record but not saying anything at all about a similar industry that has a much worse safety record. And no matter how you slice it, coal-fired power plants have a far, far worse record than nuclear.”

You may be aware that environmentalists have recently opposed new coal plants wherever they were proposed, with some success although not enough (http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/fighting_goliath_texas_coal_wars/, http://arkansasnews.com/2010/05/13/supreme-court-upholds-decision-that-voided-coal-plant-permit-2/). I would also like to remind everybody that environmentalists have been pushing for an energy transition away from both nuclear and fossil fuel for the last 20, 30, 40 years. If the public subsidies poured into fossil and nuclear during only the past 20 years had been invested in alternatives, I’m convinced we would be in a much better position now to solve GW without resorting to nuclear power and we wouldn’t be in the situation to have to chose between pest and cholera. Tragically, energy policy has hardly moved an inch during those 20 years. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that there hasn’t been anything resembling a coherent energy policy, either in Europe or in the US. Governments left it to “the market” or more accurately to the big industry players to shape our energy landscape, despite the widely acknowledged need and actually quite popular demands for a new energy paradigm. All we got were tiny subsidies for producers of solar panels. Business as usual is so entrenched that even in the wake of the biggest oil spill in US history it is politically unthinkable, completely out of the question, to revoke billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for the oil industry. As long as this doesn’t change, expect the worst.

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ScentOfViolets 09.18.10 at 10:54 pm

And who is attacking nuclear here and giving coal a pass?

Uh-huh. Looking up above, I don’t see so much as a peep out you about coal. Oh, wait – I’m supposed to comb through everything you’ve ever posted to show that you’ve never said a word against coal, and then, I have to do the same for every other person who’s anti-nuclear.

One of us is much, much smarter than the other. Or more honest. I won’t say who ;-)

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ScentOfViolets 09.18.10 at 10:54 pm

There’s nothing irrational about opposing the introduction of a new industry with a bad safety and environmental record, rather than deciding to fight one that’s already well embedded and an essential part of the modern energy industry. Also, coal is a much more prolific industry than nuclear; it’s reasonable to suspect that such a duplicitous industry would be very very scary if it were as widespread as coal.

This makes no sense.

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ScentOfViolets 09.18.10 at 10:57 pm

I would also like to remind everybody that environmentalists have been pushing for an energy transition away from both nuclear and fossil fuel for the last 20, 30, 40 years. If the public subsidies poured into fossil and nuclear during only the past 20 years had been invested in alternatives, I’m convinced we would be in a much better position now to solve GW without resorting to nuclear power and we wouldn’t be in the situation to have to chose between pest and cholera.

What do the numbers say about energy from non-nuclear sources to replace fossil fuels? You can’t just magic tech into existence, especially magical tech.

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engels 09.18.10 at 11:17 pm

So it’s a will-you-condemnathon?

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ScentOfViolets 09.18.10 at 11:24 pm

No. It’s a consistathon. And since you won’t admit that demanding I prove that you never made certain statements, or that large numbers of people never made certain statements is exactly bass ackwards, I’ve got no problems dismissing you as too small to admit you’ve made a mistake, and therefore unable to argue in good faith.

You wanna admit you made an extremely stupid mistake? And then carry the water for proving your own assertions? If not, why should I bother talking with you?

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engels 09.18.10 at 11:32 pm

I’m not demanding you prove anything. I’m just a bit puzzled as to why you think I have ‘giv[en] coal a pass’.

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ScentOfViolets 09.18.10 at 11:37 pm

And where have I said that you did? Should be easy enough to quote me on this one, right?

Now, about that admission of error . . . are you really that small and that stubborn that you can’t admit you made such an obvious mistake? Evidently so.

149

engels 09.19.10 at 12:03 am

Sure, but what am I being accused of?

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 12:11 am

For starters, why don’t you admit that I never said that you have “‘giv[en] coal a pass’.”?

You being big on admitting when you made a mistake, this shouldn’t be a problem for you, right? Now, let’s hear it – and no weaseling.

151

tomslee 09.19.10 at 12:59 am

Well there go several minutes I’ll never get back.

152

Substance McGravitas 09.19.10 at 1:01 am

One of us is much, much smarter than the other.

People keep using this one on Superman and it never has the desired results.

153

piglet 09.19.10 at 1:03 am

“Looking up above, I don’t see so much as a peep out you about coal.”

SoV, if you missed the beginning of this debate, go back to 26.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 1:22 am

People keep using this one on Superman and it never has the desired results.

Chuckle. Now, where’s that admission of error?

SoV, if you missed the beginning of this debate, go back to 26.

I’ve been here for the entire thing. I don’t see where I’ve accused Engels of hypocritically not condemning coal-fired power plants. Nor do I see Engels condemning coal-fired plants either. In fact, if you had been paying attention, Engels said this:

Another time honoured propaganda tactic is to portray the environmental movement as divided on the issue.

Which seems needlessly snarky, and to which I replied:

What about the time-honored tactic of actually looking at the numbers, which are heavily against those who oppose nuclear power but coal a pass?

No two ways about it; Engels was and is substituting snark for discussion with this sort of rhetoric. And, oddly enough, seems curiously reluctant to admit that he’s made any mistakes – despite a professed openness to doing so of course ;-) Yet another case of someone who thinks it’s a weakness to admit they’re wrong, apparently. Plenty of that going around on the internets.

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engels 09.19.10 at 1:32 am

So who here do you think is ‘opposing nuclear and giving coal a pass’? (Glad to hear it’s not me!)

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 1:37 am

Uh, engels? Don’t you have something to say to me?

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piglet 09.19.10 at 1:42 am

Well if you have been here, you should know that the discussion started because somebody claimed opposing nuclear power was “anti-scientific dogma”, the equivalent of “creationism” etc. We then wasted too much time patiently explaining that there are very rational reasons for opposing nuclear. Then you stated in 133: “But no one is saying that. Taken in and of itself, opposition because of the industry safety record is not irrational”. So the thread should really have ended there. I don’t care whether you think engels was “needlessly ” snarky, I just want us to agree that we can disagree about nuclear power without insulting each other.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 1:46 am

And that statement was in response to:

We may disagree about the evaluation of these incidents but to say that it is irrational to oppose an industry with that kind of safety record is not very helpful.

In any event, I think we can all agree that Engels was (a) being snarky, (b) made a mistake, and (c) is now unwilling to man up and admit it. I think that’s worth a comment or two on the character of someone who behaves that way. I’m surprised you don’t find his behaviour less than laudable, actually.

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Substance McGravitas 09.19.10 at 1:54 am

Chuckle. Now, where’s that admission of error?

What admission of error are you looking for?

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 2:01 am

What? Still nothing from engels?

Why am I not surprised? If you want to really be different from right-wingers, as opposed to merely holding another set of beliefs equally dogmatically, I’d suggest you actually live up to your professed beliefs and admit you made a mistake.

Not going to happen, of course.

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engels 09.19.10 at 2:11 am

A mistake about what?

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 2:24 am

Chuckle. As I said, for starters, accusing me of saying you were against nuclear power without also being against coal. You know, like right here: So who here do you think is ‘opposing nuclear and giving coal a pass’? (Glad to hear it’s not me!) Also you’re insistence that I was implying that there were people here who did when I said quite clearly: against those who oppose nuclear power but coal a pass?

Looks like you’re trying to draw this out until I say something you can maliciously misinterpret as a mistake and claim “we’re even”. Why don’t you just say, “I made a mistake, and I was being snarky, and I apologize”?

Oh, but that would be “losing” wouldn’t it? Jeeze, want to sink any lower?

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Landru 09.19.10 at 4:18 am

“We then wasted too much time patiently explaining that there are very rational reasons for opposing nuclear. “

No, that’s exactly what no one here has done, despite your wish to believe it. To be specific (since I started the exchange) the anti-scientific idea that I equate with creationism is the blanket statement that “Nuclear can never be safe, and must always everywhere be opposed.” This pretty well encapsulates IMO the left/green view of the 1970’s through the 1990’s, and it is certainly irrational, as well as simply wrong for any adult definition of “safe”. One can debate the varying levels of skepticism and caution that are appropriate and called for, but the blanket statement “can never be safe”, which I (and everyone else) heard over and over ad nauseum for decades, is wrong: self-serving, sloppy, and proudly ignorant, which is a pretty good parallel to creationism. I haven’t seen one thing mentioned on this thread, beyond proofs by fact-free assertion, that should persuade any reasonable person otherwise.

Strangely, perhaps, I myself started as an anti-nuke in the late 1970’s, though not of the green coloration. I was opposed to conventional nuclear fission power not because it was dirty or dangerous, but because it was boring. I wanted to see new and more exciting technology, particularly fusion or hydrogen (it wasn’t until I understood thermodynamics better somewhat later — which GW Bush apparently never mastered — that it dawned that hydrogen as an energy storage medium doesn’t by itself solve the problem of energy production). So I was ever on the lookout for alternatives, from solar to wind to tidal to geothermal, all the way up to orbiting solar power satellites beaming power back to the Earth via microwaves (raise your hand if you remember that one). I wanted to believe in them all at various times, but cold-eyed analysis revealed that they all failed, ie none can credibly meet our present-scale usage needs. Breakthrough solar might have been achieved in some alternate past where a lot more research effort (ie money) had gone that way, and we’d all be better off now. But that counterfactual possibility, or the existence of renewables/alternatives generally doesn’t change the basic logic: the blanket statement “Nuclear can never be safe” was irrational and wrong in 1970, as it is today, and those who pushed it were sloppy and anti-scientific.

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engels 09.19.10 at 2:37 pm

SoV I apologise for not being able to follow what you are arguing. Doubtless it is because you are smarter than me. However you could assist greatly by giving a straightforward answer to my original question: who do you think you are arguing with here when you attack the position of being against nuclear power and in favour of coal power?

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 3:21 pm

Sigh. That’s not an admission of error. And this is stupidity incarnate:

who do you think you are arguing with here when you attack the position of being against nuclear power and in favour of coal power?

Where did I say that I was arguing with anyone here? Specifically. You’ve got this into your head, so it shouldn’t be a problem to show the words that gave you this impression, right?

Although I’m wondering now . . . can you in fact show anything you’ve ever written where you’ve acknowledged that coal-fired plants are far more dangerous than the nuclear kind? My original post attacked no one and seemed to me to make an obvious intellectual point, but your behaviour since leads me to suspect that in fact you haven’t said any such thing, ever.

Because of course, the burden of proof isn’t on me to show that you haven’t written any such thing (uh, just how am I going to do that?); it’s on you to show that you have. that being the tack you seem to want to take here.

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piglet 09.19.10 at 4:12 pm

Seems hopeless.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 4:20 pm

I agree; it seems that some people want to have their cake and eat it too. There is a bit of irrationality with regards to nuclear power on the left after all.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 6:37 pm

Hmmm . . . I see that no one is going to come clean on this one. So:

Can we at least agree, all of us, that someone who opposes nuclear power for safety/pollution reasons is being irrational if they refuse to explicitly admit that coal is much more dangerous, and causes much more pollution?

I’m sorry if anyone took that assertion to be a personal attack – it certainly wasn’t intended to be such – but I think that as a statement of fact what I said is pretty noncontroversial.

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Substance McGravitas 09.19.10 at 6:42 pm

Can we at least agree, all of us, that someone who opposes nuclear power for safety/pollution reasons is being irrational if they refuse to explicitly admit that coal is much more dangerous, and causes much more pollution?

Doesn’t follow.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.19.10 at 6:55 pm

Can we at least agree, all of us, that someone who opposes nuclear power for safety/pollution reasons is being irrational if they refuse to explicitly admit that coal is much more dangerous, and causes much more pollution?

Is that really true? I mean, if that old movie with Jack Lemmon was right about one bad accident being capable of making Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable, that seems a bit more dangerous than – what was it, 30,000 people? – having their life shortened by a few of months each.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 6:56 pm

It doesn’t follow? Why not? If you mean to say that they explicitly disagree with the figures showing this to be the case, that’s one thing. But the have to explicitly disagree and give some sort of reasoning as to why those figures are wrong, and produce some of their own. But if they refuse to explicitly disagree with the figures, I don’t see how my assertion doesn’t follow.

So which is it?

172

engels 09.19.10 at 6:57 pm

Will-You-Condemnathon

Sporting Pursuit

Amusing internet pastime, in which several Decents quiz a pro-fascist, repeatedly demanding denunciation of a vast range of randomly-chosen murders, atrocities, war crimes and military actions in an increasingly hectoring tone.

“I agree, Guantanamo Bay is an affront to democratic ideals. But Will You Condemn Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli restaurants?…

Yes, well, Do You Condemn Jihadist chlorine-bomb attacks?…

Okay, I knew you would be too sly to openly support such acts, but Will You Condemn terrorist attacks upon the American military?

What about the Battle of Teutoberg Forest, then, Will You Condemn that? …I see.

…Oh, fuck off, Nazi.”

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 7:21 pm

Uh-huh. So, Engels, will you explicitly admit that coal is much less safe and produces much more pollution than nuclear? Or do you have some good figures that explicitly say otherwise?

Failing that, you are indeed being irrational.

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Substance McGravitas 09.19.10 at 7:42 pm

will you explicitly admit

Will you explicitly admit that supervillains are cool?

175

Lemuel Pitkin 09.19.10 at 7:42 pm

SoV-

You are missing two key points here.

First there is a much longer tail of low-probability but high magnitude bad outcomes from nuclear power. So one can’t reliably infer future risks from the record to date. of course we absolutely need to look at the historical record, but deciding how much weight to give to potential tail outcomes is a matter of judgment, not simple inference. For instance, the Indian Point reactors are located on the Hudson 20 miles north of New York City. What is the probability of some disaster at the pant contaminating New York’s water supply? Well, it’s certainly very, very low. But on the other hand, the potential costs involved would be very, very high — much higher than any possible disaster at a coal plant. It’s really hard to know how much weight we should put on this kind of tail outcome. But the beginning of wisdom is to recognize that while most of the damage from fossil fuel plants is from high-frequency, low magnitude events, the danger at nuclear plants is from very low frequency but high magnitude events. So the claim that coal is more dangerous is not nearly as straightforward as you’re making it out to be.

Second, it’s not clear how sharp the tradeoff is between nuclear and coal. Alternative power sources, particularly wind, are becoming increasingly commercially viable. Fun fact: In 2008, fully 50% of net new electricity generation capacity added in the United States was wind power. Unless the tradeoff at the margin is largely between nuclear and coal, saying “coal is worse!”, even if it’s true, is irrelevant

As I said before, I’m inclined to agree with you on the substantive policy question here. But the kinds of arguments you are making do not help the case.

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Substance McGravitas 09.19.10 at 7:45 pm

Where I live there are no coal-fired plants, and the last one proposed was successfully opposed thirty years ago.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 8:20 pm

You are missing some key points here:

First, you can’t dismiss the best figures we have to date with just “we don’t know if those figures are correct”. That is, again, wanting your cake and eating it too. If you think the figures are wrong, say so, say why you think so, and give us what you think are the better figures. You’re not allowed to suggest these numbers might be wrong and then go ahead and proceed as if they are wrong.

Second, yes, it very much is a case of coal vs nuclear; no other sources of energy now known can take up the slack, and this will only get worse as Peak Oil comes and goes. I notice, for example, that only 8,000 megawatts was added to the grid which could be attributed to wind power. This is a minimal amount, in fact as of 2006, wind accounted for only 1.08% of the total generating capacity, whereas something on the order of 80% of total capacity was due to fossil fuels.

Trying to suggest that alternative energy technologies such as wind and solar can take up the slack without explicitly stating so – and why you think so – isn’t really good arguing technique.

And no, saying that the technology isn’t there . . . but it could be with enough investment isn’t a cogent reply. If you want to argue like that, you could just as easily say we should wait and see if tabletop aneutronic fusion is doable with some extra research. Iow, blue-skying isn’t much of an argument.

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engels 09.19.10 at 8:38 pm

What about reducing consumption? Example: we produce 50% less, we consume 50% less, we work 50% less, we live a lot more. Also, banning cars and private washing machines, as (apparently) suggested by Murray Bookchin (cited in someone’s ‘eco-fascism’ rant above)?

179

geo 09.19.10 at 8:51 pm

Landru: none can credibly meet our present-scale usage needs

Tangential-to-the-present-argument point: if we (especially in the developed world) don’t scale back energy usage drastically — no matter what conceivable mode of energy production is employed — environmental catastrophe and convulsive interstate (as well as intrastate) conflict are likely. Not certain, but likely enough. Which means we shouldn’t — mustn’t — take our “present-scale usage needs” for granted. It’s not enough to advocate for or against one or another mode of energy production. We simply have to start advocating a much less energy-intensive lifestyle: fewer and smaller cars, less living space per person, less air conditioning, fewer home appliances, less airplane travel, far less consumption of meat, and of course, much more economic equality to make these sacrifices conscionable.

Fuggedaboutit, you say. Not gonna happen. Oh all right, then, let’s go back to accepting present levels of energy usage as given and just accept the likelihood of resource wars and environmental disasters (especially in the less developed world, which is least able to prepare for them).

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 8:56 pm

So, engels, just how are you going to enforce this 50% reduction in energy use? Why would you think such a thing is even possible? Speaking as someone who grew up with no electricity and no running water, whose big chore was splitting wood and keeping the fires stoked, people like their air-conditioning, their TV’s, their cars, and their hot water.

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engels 09.19.10 at 8:59 pm

Why don’t you tell me how 7 billion plus people living life the American way is supposed to work?

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 9:04 pm

Sigh. You aren’t a terribly honest fellow, are you? As if that’s not blindingly obvious by now. Since I never said anything about “7 billion plus people living life the American way”, I don’t have to prove bupkas. You, otoh, suggested:

What about reducing consumption? Example: we produce 50% less, we consume 50% less, we work 50% less, we live a lot more. Also, banning cars and private washing machines, as (apparently) suggested by Murray Bookchin (cited in someone’s ‘eco-fascism’ rant above)?

So it’s entirely appropriate to explain how think this can be done. Please. Act like an adult.

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.19.10 at 9:34 pm

ScentofViolets:

I tried to write a respectful response to you. I even indicated that I *agree with you* on the main issue here. I’m a bit disappointed by the adversarial tone of your reply.

“we don’t know if those figures are correct”.

What I actually said was, “most of the damage from fossil fuel plants is from high-frequency, low magnitude events, the danger at nuclear plants is from very low frequency but high magnitude events.” That’s a completely different claim. But perhaps the distinction isn’t clear, so let’s try again.

There are lots of things that have never happened in the past, but which we believe could happen in the future. When deciding how much weight to give such possibilities, we cannot simply rely on the observed distribution of past outcomes, but have to use our judgment. This is an absolutely conventional, non-controversial point in all kinds of settings. E.g. in economics Keynes talked about “fundamental uncertainty”; others call it Knightian uncertainty.

Never mind nuclear power. How about nuclear weapons? How many Americans have been killed by nuclear weapons? Well, a few in tests and so on, but really very, very few. So is it irrational for me, as an American to, be concerned about the dangers o nuclear weapons? Of course not. But in assessing the risk, I can’t rely on simple historical statistics on the historical numbers of nuclear terrorist acts, global nuclear wars, etc. per year, because those are all zero. Deciding how great we think the danger is is very tricky, but knowing that it is greater a naive reading of the historical record would suggest, is easy.

as of 2006, wind accounted for only 1.08% of the total generating capacity, whereas something on the order of 80% of total capacity was due to fossil fuels.

I’ve never understood why people go to wikipedia for things like this when the official numbers are so easily available. The EIA breakdown of generating capacity is here. As you can see, the output of coal plants was lower in 2008 than in 2001. The biggest increase is in natural gas, followed by wind and other renewables. Wind is now up to 2.5% of generating capacity (altho still only about 1% of actual generation). But the key thing is that nearly all that capacity was added in the past 5 years. As far as I can tell, there is no reason to expect the rapid growth of wind generation to stop. So at the margin (which is the relevant issue), the contribution of wind and other renewables is clearly much larger than in the aggregate.

And no, saying that the technology isn’t there . . . but it could be with enough investment isn’t a cogent reply.

But I didn’t say this, I said the just the opposite. Wind technology *is* there! That’s why it’s growing so fast.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 10:09 pm

Lemuel, your original post was not courteous. No you cannot dismiss these figures with a “we don’t really know”. That is completely noncontroversial. It’s also exactly what you’re doing, and both of us know it. Now, do you have any information to the effect the the probabilities in these long tails are wrong? Yes or no? That’s not a tough question. I’d also add that no one is doing this either:

But in assessing the risk, I can’t rely on simple historical statistics on the historical numbers of nuclear terrorist acts, global nuclear wars, etc. per year, because those are all zero. Deciding how great we think the danger is is very tricky, but knowing that it is greater a naive reading of the historical record would suggest, is easy.

So you can drop that straw man right now.

Your other claim is equally specious: there’s enough wind power to replace all the electricity generated by hydrocarbon fuels?[1] Really? Where are your figures for this one?

So we’ve come around again to my initial point: do you dispute those safety figures? Not, “how can we know this for sure” nonsense; you can either agree with them, or disagree with them. Pretending that you’re doing neither and then acting as if the latter is de facto true is – dare I say it – dishonest. And if you do dispute those figures, what are your alternative figures? I might also add that people in the biz really do know what “long-tail” events are, and that they are routinely calculated. Pretending that this is some insurmountably difficult art isn’t going to cut it either.

[1]Note that I didn’t say “coal”, I said “hydrocarbon”.

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.19.10 at 10:44 pm

Note that I didn’t say “coal”, I said “hydrocarbon”.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 10:50 pm

?

187

Lemuel Pitkin 09.19.10 at 10:51 pm

In fact, you said “coal” at 102, 103, 109, 115, 121, 133, 134, 142, 154, 165, 168, 173, and 177. This comment is the first one where you’ve changed the comparison to hydrocarbons in general.

I don’t know what you think you’re doing on this thread, but it doesn’t seem to be a conversation. So I’m signing off. I suggest you do the same.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 11:14 pm

This comment is the first one where you’ve changed the comparison to hydrocarbons in general.

Sigh. That’s not true. From a previous post:

as of 2006, wind accounted for only 1.08% of the total generating capacity, whereas something on the order of 80% of total capacity was due to fossil fuels.

And that was only because you used a misleading statistic about the amount of wind-power coming online: There simply isn’t enough to take over from fossil fuels – and you know it. Saying that 50% of the new power is wind without noting that in the absolute sense it’s less than one percent, and can never hope to be more than a marginal source of energy is dishonest.

What’s truly odd here is that I’m all for alternative, non-nuclear power at the margins, where it makes economic sense. But to suggest that, say, my home town of Columbia can get all it’s electricity from wind farms is nonsense of the highest order. And that’s not even including the cost of such power.

I don’t know what you think you’re doing on this thread, but it doesn’t seem to be a conversation. So I’m signing off. I suggest you do the same.

It’s not a conversation because you want to score talking points. Suggesting that the risks of nuclear power haven’t factored in “long-tail” events is just silly; suggesting that they have but we don’t know how accurate they are so we have to pretend these events are much more common (and more dangerous) is just dishonest. And anything but courteous, whatever you may think to the contrary. Hopefully in the future you won’t behave this way, and won’t be surprised if someone else expresses as much displeasure with this sort of maneuver. You may not realize this, but what you tried to do get’s used an awful lot as a rhetorical tactic in hard science and engineering circles. I don’t pretend those risk estimations are the be-all and end-all in terms of accurate assessments. But I refuse to go along with the logic that because we don’t absolutely know, we have to automatically behave as if those figures have no value whatsoever, and that we have to assume that they’re a thousand times or a hundred-thousand times worse than they seem to be at this point. Iow, the “how do you know” non-attack attack is passive-aggressiveness of the most noxious sort; particularly when the one using it then goes on to behave as if their own pet scenarios are the correct ones and beyond reproach at that.

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.19.10 at 11:31 pm

Nobody wants to repalce all hydrocarbons with wind. That’s just silly. Natural gas is lovely, nobody here has said a word against it.

The question is, can we reduce our use of nuclear power without increasing coal power pro tanto. You explicitly said the answer is yes, writing “it very much is a case of coal vs nuclear; no other sources of energy now known can take up the slack.” I disagree; it seems to me that everything we see going on in the industry indicates that the actual alternatives to nuclear power are much safer and cleaner than coal.

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.19.10 at 11:41 pm

I should be clearer: I think it’s very important that we reduce carbon emissions as much as possible. That’s why, for what feels like the thousandth time, *I support expansion of nuclear power*.

My disagreement with you is on two grounds. First, I think that if it weren’t for climate change, there really would be no argument for nuclear power, because the realistic alternatives are cleaner, safer and cheaper sources, i.e. increased conservation, natural gas and increasingly wind, and not coal. And second, I don’t think that everyone who disagrees with me on this issue is a zealot or an idiot; I think it’s a difficult question where reasonable people can come to different conclusions.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 11:45 pm

No, natural gas is not lovely; it’s a finite, irreplaceable fossil fuel that also has some serious greenhouse issues. But in any event: are you seriously maintaining that wind power can replace coal? Or are you saying that wind power cannot replace coal, but natural gas can? That’s a different claim altogether. I will certainly confess that when I said “alternate energy” I was thinking along the lines of wind or solar or geothermal; the idea that people like you are considering natural gas to be an “alternate energy source” was a real jaw-dropper. As I said, it’s an irreplaceable fossil fuel with it’s own safety and pollution issues . . . though admittedly (except for greenhouse emissions) not as bad as coal.

So let’s be real clear here: are you saying that alternative energy schemes that are not reliant on fossil fuels have enough oomph in them to handle a switchover from coal? Yes or no?

And will you acknowledge that your original post – whatever you may have originally thought – was not courteous? Seriously. What you were doing is considered a real no-no.

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ScentOfViolets 09.19.10 at 11:58 pm

I should be clearer: I think it’s very important that we reduce carbon emissions as much as possible. That’s why, for what feels like the thousandth time, I support expansion of nuclear power.

Let me be clear as well: I support the expansion not only of nuclear power, but of other and renewable energy sources as well. I just don’t think they have the capacity to replace coal, oil – and yes, natural gas.

My disagreement with you is on two grounds. First, I think that if it weren’t for climate change, there really would be no argument for nuclear power, because the realistic alternatives are cleaner, safer and cheaper sources, i.e. increased conservation, natural gas and increasingly wind, and not coal. And second, I don’t think that everyone who disagrees with me on this issue is a zealot or an idiot; I think it’s a difficult question where reasonable people can come to different conclusions.

First, that’s not the world we live in; and in any case the figures on projected energy usage simply don’t support your claims. Heck, I’ll even throw in that I wish they did. My position is not the nuclear fission is good, but that it is the least bad realistic alternative barring either another millennia of technical development or some weird physics breakthrough.

Second, I don’t suppose that people who disagree with me are automatically blinded by zealotry or idiots; that’s why my claims have been very narrow. You’re free to dispute the figures, you’re free to offer up your own and defend them. But you’ve got to be (a) consistent, and (b) you’ve got to be honest. To that second part, “how do you know these figures are right?” without much in the way of specificity is most definitely a dishonest way to question someone else’s figures. If someone were to ask me how do I know Einstein’s theory of special relativity is right, I’d be forced to concede that I really don’t know whether it is or not. The best – the very best I can do, ever – is to simply say that it hasn’t been wrong (at least in sins of commission rather than omission) so far. Whether you intended it or not, that’s the category your criticism fell into.

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Lemuel Pitkin 09.20.10 at 12:57 am

I will certainly confess that when I said “alternate energy” I was thinking along the lines of wind or solar or geothermal

Now you are just lying. What you wrote was,

it very much is a case of coal vs nuclear; no other sources of energy now known can take up the slack.

Not hydrocarbons, not coal plus natural gas. Coal. If you want to retract that now, fine.

And will you acknowledge that your original post – whatever you may have originally thought – was not courteous?

No, because I have no idea what you are referring to. Can you q

I support the expansion not only of nuclear power, but of other and renewable energy sources as well. I just don’t think they have the capacity to replace coal, oil – and yes, natural gas.

Replace is your own invention. The goal is as much reduction as possible. I think the huge growth in wind power suggests that much more is possible there than anyone would have guessed a few years ago.

OK, I really am done now.

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ScentOfViolets 09.20.10 at 2:07 am

Now you are just lying. What you wrote was,

You really are a tosser aren’t you? And you’re initial post really wasn’t courteous, and you damn well knew that.

Well, I’m finished with you now as well, other than to note that you really didn’t have any intention of being a dishonest git from the git-go. Christ, and you wonder why “liberals” get tagged with the irrational anti-nuke meme.

Thank God I’m not a “liberal” such as yourself.

195

Tim Worstall 09.20.10 at 9:34 am

“Why don’t you tell me how 7 billion plus people living life the American way is supposed to work?”

Well, I’d go and look at the “scientific consensus” on this, the IPCC reports. I would note that the A1 family (which includes within it one of the two lowest emission scenarios) assumes global GDP of $550 trillion in 2100. That the poor countries grow faster than the rich, that we get convergence, the average global living standard in 2100 is around and about the average US living standard in 1990. And 7 billion living at around that standard.

Rapid technological advance means that there are more resources available (their words, not mine) and the only problem forseen is that climate change thing. Which, if we get on with the carbon tax we should be having won’t be a problem either.

Given that there is this big report out there which we’re all supposed to be taking note of it does seem sensible to take note of the big report that is out there.

As to where the energy is going to come from I think it’ll be some combination of wind and solar plus a (local) storage system. I’m extremely biased on this point (my customers include various of those developing this technology) but I think that the storage technology will be solid oxide fuel cells running on hydrogen. Use multi-junction solar cells (40% efficiency isn’t a problem), electrolyse water, run the hydrogen through the fuel cell when you want ‘leccie. In fact, if you rig up the fuel cell the right way (something like the Bloom Box) you can run the ‘leccie through the fuel cell to get the hydrogen when the sun’s shining and run the H2 back through it when it isn’t.

Getting from here to there is going to be expensive and a bit of a wrench but there isn’t any fundamental technological or economic reason why such a system wouldn’t work. Not even the long averred “you can’t put hydrogen through pipelines” thing is a problem: this would be a dispersed, not concentrated, system. Solar cells on your roof, fuel cell in the basement (as combined heat and power systems they’re really rather efficient) and the hydrogen tank in the garden where the natural gas tank is now.

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engels 09.20.10 at 11:00 am

Yes, Tim, that’s an alternative strategy to reducing consumption in the West, and a separate reason for doubting SoV’s view that coal and nuclear are the only alternatives.

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Tim Wilkinson 09.20.10 at 12:43 pm

‘Cafeteria Crazy’ seems to be having your small slice of cellophane-wrapped cake and eating it. If you are going to call people crazy, it’s a bit rich also to criticise them for not being crazy consistently enough. I’m reminded of this:

“…Kaplan and Lööw extend ‘cultic milieu’ to cover non-cultic groups and even individual beliefs. In a hilarious passage, they marvel at the lack of interconnections or collaboration between disparate members of the invented ‘milieu’:

The sole thread that unites the denizens of the cultic milieu – true seekers all – is a shared rejection of the paradigms, the orthodoxies, of their societies. Beyond this element of seekership, the cultic milieu is a strikingly diverse and remarkably tolerant ethos. Ideas unacceptable to the social, cultural and political mainstream flourish. This is not to say that they find acceptance. Most, indeed, are heard and rejected, many are criticized, most are ignored. But they are heard and exchanged and passed on from belief system to belief system, from leader to leader, and from seeker to seeker. [16]

The final sentence seems almost an afterthought, as though Kaplan and Lööw had suddenly realised that they were describing nothing more than that discontinuous section of the population who are inquisitive and open-minded and hold, or are receptive to, ‘non-mainstream’ beliefs or ideas – though not necessarily the same, or even overlapping, ideas.”

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engels 09.20.10 at 1:29 pm

Fwiw

‘people like their air-conditioning, their TVs, their cars and their hot water’

I like life just fine with one out of those four (which, I admit, I wouldn’t want to give up.)

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ScentOfViolets 09.20.10 at 2:17 pm

Use multi-junction solar cells (40% efficiency isn’t a problem), electrolyse water, run the hydrogen through the fuel cell when you want ‘leccie.

Efficiency of solar cell conversion isn’t the usual figure of merit. It’s the cost per Watt. A 40% efficient solar cell that cost $2,000/m^2 simply isn’t economic. A cell that 3% efficient but costs $2/m^2 is. And those cheap solar cells have been coming Real Soon Now since at least 1978 or thereabouts. They’re kinda like fusion that way.

plus a (local) storage system.

This has been the traditional killer for diffuse renewable energy (and there isn’t any other kind, really, except for extremely localized hot spots.) Yes, there’s plenty of sunshine in the American Southwest. If it was just a matter of collecting lumens and converting them into electricity, what you’d probably do is just build a bunch of solar units out in the desert (which carries it’s own environmental costs) and pipe the product elsewhere. But that’s simply not possible. (Cheap ) room temperature superconductors have been coming Real Soon Now for a while, which is what you’d need to make this idea feasible. I can remember in the 80’s when researchers were confidently predicting some suitably doped polymer would do the trick, and cost pennies to the meter to boot. Didn’t happen, of course. Likewise with the super-battery: a lot of buzz in the non-technical literature with words like “breakthrough”, followed by a few months of desultory reports, followed by complete silence, followed by new buzz about another “breakthrough”. But the fact of the matter is, some fairly basic physics (actually, mathematics) constrains the performance of battery technology to the point where they can’t be improved much more – I’ve heard about 1ox present capacity (and at far, far greater than 10x the cost) as the most absolute best that can be done in that regard.

Of course, the word “battery” takes a real beating in the popular literature; it’s not – again popularly speaking – just used to refer to an electrochemical cell any more. And so you have cheap, economical fuel cells which have been coming Real Soon Now since the 60’s, super caps, which have been coming Real Soon Now since the 90’s, etc.

I get the sense that a lot of non-technical types don’t realize just how much effort has gone into developing these sorts of gadgets, or just how far short of the mark they fall to make such renewable schemes successful; the best I’ve heard are schemes to sell electricity back to local utilities when rates are high and then draw current from them during off-hours when the rates are low. Of course, this also goes along with the sense of non-techies of just how “primitive” internal (or external for that matter) combustion is. To the contrary, there is nothing that beat these systems in terms of energy density, cheapness, and ruggedness. And nuclear is the only thing that beats them in energy density.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to have cheap solar cells, cheap super-batteries, etc. I’d also like to have people by the thousands working and living in space and exploring the Solar System, a cure for the common cold, etc. But that sort of stuff will get here when it gets here, and that can take quite a while, where “quite a while” could easily be measured in centuries. We need to do some sort of switchover on a time frame of decades.

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ScentOfViolets 09.20.10 at 2:19 pm

Yes, Tim, that’s an alternative strategy to reducing consumption in the West, and a separate reason for doubting SoV’s view that coal and nuclear are the only alternatives.

Sigh. You don’t do numbers or tech, do you? Why don’t you try doing a few BOTECs some time to see how workable this idea is, and how much it would cost?

201

ajay 09.20.10 at 2:28 pm

And so you have cheap, economical fuel cells which have been coming Real Soon Now since the 60’s, super caps, which have been coming Real Soon Now since the 90’s, etc.

Is it just me or is the argument here “people keep making new discoveries in this field, therefore obviously it will never come to anything”?

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ScentOfViolets 09.20.10 at 2:30 pm

‘Cafeteria Crazy’ seems to be having your small slice of cellophane-wrapped cake and eating it. If you are going to call people crazy, it’s a bit rich also to criticise them for not being crazy consistently enough. I’m reminded of this:

This goes to consistency of world view. Let me quote something from Shtetl Optimized:

San Francisco to Philadelphia is a five-hour flight, and the conversation ranged over everything you might expect: the age of the earth (Kurt was undecided but leaning toward 6,000 years), whether the universe needs a reason for its existence external to itself, etc. With every issue, I resolved not to use the strongest arguments at my disposal, since I was more interested in understanding my adversary’s reasoning process — and ideally, in getting him to notice inconsistencies within his own frame of reference. Alas, in that I was to be mostly disappointed.

Here’s an example. I got Kurt to admit that certain Bible passages — in particular, the ones about whipping your slaves — reflected a faulty, limited understanding of God’s will, and could only be understood in the historical context in which they were written. I then asked him how he knew that other passages — for example, the ones condemning homosexuality — didn’t also reflect a limited understanding of God’s will. He replied that, in the case of homosexuality, he didn’t need the Bible to tell him it was immoral: he knew it was immoral because it contradicted human beings’ biological nature, gay couples being unable to procreate. I then asked whether he thought that infertile straight couples should similarly be banned from getting married. Of course not, he replied, since marriage is about more than procreation — it’s also about love, bonding, and so on. I then pointed out that gay and lesbian couples also experience love and bonding. Kurt agreed that this was true, but then said the reason homosexuality was wrong went back to the Bible.

What fascinated me was that, with every single issue we discussed, we went around in a similar circle — and Kurt didn’t seem to see any problem with this, just so long as the number of 2SAT clauses that he had to resolve to get a contradiction was large enough.

It’s okay to be crazy. But you’ve got to be consistently crazy :-)

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Substance McGravitas 09.20.10 at 2:34 pm

Is it just me or is the argument here “people keep making new discoveries in this field, therefore obviously it will never come to anything”?

A relative of mine is currently jetting all over the world doing the geological work on potential sites for geothermal plants. It seems that drilling technology has advanced to the point where such plants could be reasonable in many more areas. We’ll see.

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ScentOfViolets 09.20.10 at 2:35 pm

Is it just me or is the argument here “people keep making new discoveries in this field, therefore obviously it will never come to anything”?

Sigh. It’s just you. More simple answers to simple-minded questions. The argument here is that the development of these sorts of technologies takes a long time – if they can meet your required specs at all. If there was some sort of trend where batteries were holding more energy per kilogram as time went by, for example,that would be one thing. But that doesn’t really seem to be the case; the graph of this characteristic seems to follow what is euphemistically called a “sublinear” trend.

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Tim Wilkinson 09.20.10 at 2:59 pm

No it doesn’t ‘go to’ anything of the sort. ‘Consistently’ was the wrong word, because ambiguous in context. I should have written ‘thoroughly’ or ‘comprehensively’, though there is also the accusation of inconsistency attributed to arbitrary groups of people (this is commonly seen in discussion of ‘conspiracy theories’, and is exhibited by K&L in the extract quoted).

To spell it out (you are not as clever, well-informed or generally infallible as your consistently high-handed and patronising style suggests you think you are):

1. Demarcate a class of people on the basis that they hold views you consider defective (possibly rightly in some or all cases).
2. Wank on about how silly they are.
3. Add that they don’t even agree with each other, as though the fact that they have been corralled into an intellectual ghetto should make them confer and agree a common position.
(Optional: 4. Wank on a bit more about how silly everyone else who doesn’t agree with you is.)

Your use of a religious fundamentalist as exemplar, as though attitudes to global warming or the feasibility of various alternative power sources are somehow of a piece with various religiously-inspired or -buttressed views, is an excellent specimen of the nasty, sneaky and supercilious approach that I would expect, and which lies at the extreme end of the cake-and-eat it approach described.

On energy sources, an esoteric riddle: we are entering a New Age, when the powers of the Moon and Earth are in the ascendant over the Captive Sun, and probably even its Living Rays.

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Salient 09.20.10 at 4:32 pm

Good God, we’ve all seen a lot of trolls on CT, but no bullies come to mind that managed to be as unabashedly aggressive as Scent-of-Violence on this thread. Sheesh, dude, you were fine until about comment 111 or so. Let the anger go. And if you’re not actually uncontrollably angry, then stop acting like it.

[Aside, thank you to LP for the suggestion of Lewontin.]

207

bread & roses 09.20.10 at 6:00 pm

Well, I thought I had quite a few observations to offer on this thread, but I certainly won’t while someone as discourteous, uncharitable, score-keeping, aggressive, dishonest, and childish as Scent of Violets in his/her current mood is around to police the discourse. It seems that the scent of violets sucks all the air out of the room.

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Tim Worstall 09.20.10 at 8:32 pm

“The argument here is that the development of these sorts of technologies takes a long time – if they can meet your required specs at all.”

Agree entirely….and then, just sometimes, you get to a lift off point. The current production cost of a solar PV cell (of a given efficiency) is falling at 4% a quarter. You just don’t need all that many years of that compounded to make a serious difference.

I’ll happily agree that I’m possibly too close to all of this: whether I have a pension or not depends in part upon how the solar/fuel cell technology works out.

But I would (and do) argue that basic silicon solar cells are analagous to the car in , say, 1915, 16. We’ve got the basic technology OK (ICE, four wheels, etc), we’re now arguing about who can produce them most efficiently. And that “argument” about efficiency, about mass production, is going to end up with it being much cheaper than many seem currently to assume.

I’d also argue that multi-junction solar cells, solid oxide fuel cells, are more like autos in, say, the 1890s. We’re still unsure about which of the basic technologies (diesel, petrol, steam even) will be the best. But, looking at that historical record, we are fairly sure ( I would say absolutely but so what?) that once we’ve found out which variation is indeed the best, that a couple of decades of applying what we know about mass manufacturing will make it, what we all want it to be, *cheap*.

Just as an example of this 1890s bit: one major problem with solid oxide fuel cells is that they crack. Moving them from room temp to operating temp (600-800 oC) and back again can make them crack, reducing their useful lifetime. There is a solution to this, I helped fund the finding of the solution….but not all the people making sofcs have heard of that solution.

Yet.

But they will, just as they will of all the other innovations going on.

BTW, I’m not arguing that my preferred solution (see pension above) is going to succeed. Only that scientifically, at the level of basic technology, solutions are available. And I am unshakeable in my belief that what modern manufacturing does is make what is possible, cheap.

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ScentOfViolets 09.20.10 at 10:59 pm

To spell it out (you are not as clever, well-informed or generally infallible as your consistently high-handed and patronising style suggests you think you are):

Sigh. You might also consider the possibility that you are not as clever, well-informed or generally infallible as your consistently high-handed and patronising style suggests you think you are. And here you go on to demonstrate why you should consider the possiblity:

Your use of a religious fundamentalist as exemplar, as though attitudes to global warming or the feasibility of various alternative power sources are somehow of a piece with various religiously-inspired or buttressed views, is an excellent specimen of the nasty, sneaky and supercilious approach that I would expect, and which lies at the extreme end of the cakeand-eat it approach described.

The point, since you obviously didn’t get it the first time is that there are some people who want their worldview to be consistent, and there are people who don’t care if their worldview is inconsistent (or else they can’t see that it is), so long as the inconsistencies are greater than “n” inferences apart. Here’s the relevant part in what I quoted: What fascinated me was that, with every single issue we discussed, we went around in a similar circle — and Kurt didn’t seem to see any problem with this, just so long as the number of 2SAT clauses that he had to resolve to get a contradiction was large enough. In this specific example about homosexuality, it took Kurt maybe four steps to get to a contradiction (do you really need me to tell you that the fundamentalism doesn’t have anything to do with opposition to nuclear power?); but because – apparently – this was more than three steps or two steps away from the original proposition this contradiction “didn’t matter”.

That was the point of my post, namely that consistency is often a preference that overrides being right – and since you didn’t get it, I strongly advise you to adopt a humbler attitude and consider that if someone is exasperated with you, it might, just barely conceivably be because of something you’ve done.

Capisce?

210

Substance McGravitas 09.20.10 at 11:02 pm

if someone is exasperated with you, it might, just barely conceivably be because of something you’ve done.

Here we get a whiff of the Scent Of Bananas.

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ScentOfViolets 09.20.10 at 11:08 pm

Good God, we’ve all seen a lot of trolls on CT, but no bullies come to mind that managed to be as unabashedly aggressive as Scent-of-Violence on this thread. Sheesh, dude, you were fine until about comment 111 or so. Let the anger go. And if you’re not actually uncontrollably angry, then stop acting like it.

Looking up at the posts as they are presently numbered, I don’t know what you’re talking about. But what I see is some nastiness that was started by engels and picked up by one or two others, together with – since you seem to desire bluntness – people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, but persist in doing so anyway and are getting huffing when this is pointed out to them.

The sad thing here is I’m nowhere near an expert, and I don’t pretend to be . . . but at the same time, I know a lot more than others who think they have some sort of authority. And who are playing some stupid passive-aggressive games rather than actually try to argue the merits of their case. Sorry, but them’s the facts.

I’d also suggest – because that’s the kind of guy I am – that if you’re going to accuse me of some sort of bad behaviour, you should be very specific with regards to incident and why it was an example of such. Pointing out, for example, that the figure of merit for solar cells is not overall efficiency, but cost per Watt of electricity, is not bad behaviour. It’s how things are really done in the real world.

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John Quiggin 09.20.10 at 11:15 pm

SoV, however you may see things, you are clearly disrupting the conversation. No more from you on this thread, please.

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Tim Wilkinson 09.20.10 at 11:56 pm

wow.

214

ajay 09.21.10 at 8:43 am

210 justifies this whole thread. And I’d like to withdraw (or at least moderate) my previous criticisms of Worstall, who on this subject is producing a lot of useful comment. Nice one Worstall.

Another point that I’ve made in previous discussions: the wrong way to look at this question is “over the next 25 years we’ll have to build terawatts of renewable power generation – this is a terrific project of unprecedented scale and cost”.
Over the next 25 years all the current generator fleet will reach the end of its operating life. We’re going to have to build terawatts of generators at huge cost anyway (just like we did over the last 25 years), whatever we decide to do about climate change. The question is what kind of generators.

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Tool of Sorrow 09.21.10 at 4:13 pm

Grignr’s emerald green orbs glared lustfully at the
wallowing soldier struggling before his chestnut swirled mount.
His scowling voice reverberated over the dying form in a tone of
mocking mirth. “You city bred dogs should learn not to
antagonize your better.” Reining his weary mount ahead, grignr
resumed his journey to the Noregolian city of Gorzam, hoping to
discover wine, women, and adventure to boil the wild blood
coarsing through his savage veins.
The trek to Gorzom was forced upon Grignr when the soldiers
of Crin were leashed upon him by a faithless concubine he had
wooed. His scandalous activities throughout the Simarian city
had unleashed throngs of havoc and uproar among it’s refined
patricians, leading them to tack a heavy reward over his head.
He had barely managed to escape through the back entrance of the
inn he had been guzzling in, as a squad of soldiers tounced upon
him. After spilling a spout of blood from the leader of the
mercenaries as he dismembered one of the officer’s arms, he
retreated to his mount to make his way towards Gorzom, rumoured
to contain hoards of plunder, and many young wenches for any man
who has the backbone to wrest them away.

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Tim Worstall 09.21.10 at 4:19 pm

“who on this subject is producing a lot of useful comment”

How annoying, Does this mean that in future I’ll have to limit my comments to areas where I really do know what I’m talking about?

Darn.

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dsquared 09.21.10 at 4:27 pm

Worstall, who on this subject is producing a lot of useful comment

ie, on the subject of “Observations on a parallel universe”. I think that’s about right.

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Tim Worstall 09.21.10 at 7:19 pm

D2,

Yes, I know, we don’t get along, however, what is it that you think I’ve said here (and I emphasise the *here* bit) that is from some parallel universe?

The cost reductions in solar cell manufacture? That sofcs can be seen as a battery, or at least fulfilling the function of one, of storing energy? The observation that mass manufacturing makes things cheap ?

I even haver and caveat that I’m biased…but I’m really not sure what I’ve said here that is from some parallel universe at all. They’re just observations from someone actually involved in what’s going on in this part of industry after all…..

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