Why Renewables Can’t Save the Planet

When I was a boy, my parents would sometimes take my sister and me camping in the desert. A lot of people think deserts are empty, but my parents taught us to see the wildlife all around us, including hawks, eagles, and tortoises.

After college, I moved to California to work on environmental campaigns. I helped save the state’s last ancient redwood forest and blocked a proposed radioactive waste repository set for the desert.

In 2002, shortly after I turned 30, I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to addressing climate change. I was worried that global warming would end up destroying many of the natural environments that people had worked so hard to protect.

I thought the solutions were pretty straightforward: solar panels on every roof, electric cars in every driveway, etc. The main obstacles, I believed, were political. And so I helped organize a coalition of America’s largest labor unions and environmental groups. Our proposal was for a $300 billion dollar investment in renewables. We would not only prevent climate change but also create millions of new jobs in a fast-growing high-tech sector.

Our efforts paid off in 2007 when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama embraced our vision. Between 2009–15, the U.S. invested $150 billion dollars in renewables and other forms of clean tech. But right away we ran into trouble.

The first was around land use. Electricity from solar roofs costs about twice as much as electricity from solar farms, but solar and wind farms require huge amounts of land. That, along with the fact that solar and wind farms require long new transmissions lines, and are opposed by local communities and conservationists trying to preserve wildlife, particularly birds.

Another challenge was the intermittent nature of solar and wind energies. When the sun stops shining and the wind stops blowing, you have to quickly be able to ramp up another source of energy.

Happily, there were a lot of people working on solutions. One solution was to convert California’s dams into big batteries. The idea was that, when the sun was shining and the wind was blowing, you could pump water uphill, store it for later, and then run it over the turbines to make electricity when you needed it.

Other problems didn’t seem like such a big deal, on closer examination. For example, after I learned that house cats kill billions of birds every year it put into perspective the nearly one million birds killed by wind turbines.

It seemed to me that most, if not all, of the problems from scaling up solar and wind energies could be solved through more technological innovation.

But, as the years went by, the problems persisted and in some cases grew worse. For example, California is a world leader when it comes to renewables but we haven’t converted our dams into batteries, partly for geographic reasons. You need the right kind of dam and reservoirs, and even then it’s an expensive retrofit.

A bigger problem is that there are many other uses for the water that accumulates behind dams, namely irrigation and cities. And because the water in our rivers and reservoirs is scarce and unreliable, the water from dams for those other purposes is becoming ever-more precious.

Without large-scale ways to back-up solar energy California has had to block electricity coming from solar farms when it’s extremely sunny, or pay neighboring states to take it from us so we can avoid blowing-out our grid.

Despite what you’ve heard, there is no “battery revolution” on the way, for well-understood technical and economic reasons.

As for house cats, they don’t kill big, rare, threatened birds. What house cats kill are small, common birds, like sparrows, robins and jays. What kills big, threatened, and endangered birds—birds that could go extinct—like hawks, eagles, owls, and condors, are wind turbines.

In fact, wind turbines are the most serious new threat to important bird species to emerge in decades. The rapidly spinning turbines act like an apex predator which big birds never evolved to deal with.

Solar farms have similarly large ecological impacts. Building a solar farm is a lot like building any other kind of farm. You have to clear the whole area of wildlife.

In order to build one of the biggest solar farms in California the developers hired biologists to pull threatened desert tortoises from their burrows, put them on the back of pickup trucks, transport them, and cage them in pens where many ended up dying.

As we were learning of these impacts, it gradually dawned on me that there was no amount of technological innovation that could solve the fundamental problem with renewables.

You can make solar panels cheaper and wind turbines bigger, but you can’t make the sun shine more regularly or the wind blow more reliably. I came to understand the environmental implications of the physics of energy. In order to produce significant amounts of electricity from weak energy flows, you just have to spread them over enormous areas. In other words, the trouble with renewables isn’t fundamentally technical—it’s natural.

Dealing with energy sources that are inherently unreliable, and require large amounts of land, comes at a high economic cost.

There’s been a lot of publicity about how solar panels and wind turbines have come down in cost. But those one-time cost savings from making them in big Chinese factories have been outweighed by the high cost of dealing with their unreliability.

Consider California. Between 2011–17 the cost of solar panels declined about 75 percent, and yet our electricity prices rose five times more than they did in the rest of the U.S. It’s the same story in Germany, the world leader in solar and wind energy. Its electricity prices increased 50 percent between 2006–17, as it scaled up renewables.

I used to think that dealing with climate change was going to be expensive. But I could no longer believe this after looking at Germany and France.

Germany’s carbon emissions have been flat since 2009, despite an investment of $580 billion by 2025 in a renewables-heavy electrical grid, a 50 percent rise in electricity cost.

Meanwhile, France produces one-tenth the carbon emissions per unit of electricity as Germany and pays little more than half for its electricity. How? Through nuclear power.

Then, under pressure from Germany, France spent $33 billion on renewables, over the last decade. What was the result? A rise in the carbon intensity of its electricity supply, and higher electricity prices, too.

What about all the headlines about expensive nuclear and cheap solar and wind? They are largely an illusion resulting from the fact that 70 to 80 percent of the costs of building nuclear plants are up-front, whereas the costs given for solar and wind don’t include the high cost of transmission lines, new dams, or other forms of battery.

It’s reasonable to ask whether nuclear power is safe, and what happens with its waste.

It turns out that scientists have studied the health and safety of different energy sources since the 1960s. Every major study, including a recent one by the British medical journal Lancet, finds the same thing: nuclear is the safest way to make reliable electricity.

Strange as it sounds, nuclear power plants are so safe for the same reason nuclear weapons are so dangerous. The uranium used as fuel in power plants and as material for bombs can create one million times more heat per its mass than its fossil fuel and gunpowder equivalents.

It’s not so much about the fuel as the process. We release more energy breaking atoms than breaking chemical bonds. What’s special about uranium atoms is that they are easy to split.

Because nuclear plants produce heat without fire, they emit no air pollution in the form of smoke. By contrast, the smoke from burning fossil fuels and biomass results in the premature deaths of seven million people per year, according to the World Health Organization.

Even during the worst accidents, nuclear plants release small amounts of radioactive particulate matter from the tiny quantities of uranium atoms split apart to make heat.

Over an 80-year lifespan, fewer than 200 people will die from the radiation from the worst nuclear accident, Chernobyl, and zero will die from the small amounts of radiant particulate matter that escaped from Fukushima.

As a result, the climate scientist James Hanson and a colleague found that nuclear plants have actually saved nearly two million lives to date that would have been lost to air pollution.

Thanks to its energy density, nuclear plants require far less land than renewables. Even in sunny California, a solar farm requires 450 times more land to produce the same amount of energy as a nuclear plant.

Energy-dense nuclear requires far less in the way of materials, and produces far less in the way of waste compared to energy-dilute solar and wind.

A single Coke can’s worth of uranium provides all of the energy that the most gluttonous American or Australian lifestyle requires. At the end of the process, the high-level radioactive waste that nuclear plants produce is the very same Coke can of (used) uranium fuel. The reason nuclear is the best energy from an environmental perspective is because it produces so little waste and none enters the environment as pollution.

All of the waste fuel from 45 years of the Swiss nuclear program can fit, in canisters, on a basketball court-like warehouse, where like all spent nuclear fuel, it has never hurt a fly.

By contrast, solar panels require 17 times more materials in the form of cement, glass, concrete, and steel than do nuclear plants, and create over 200 times more waste.

We tend to think of solar panels as clean, but the truth is that there is no plan anywhere to deal with solar panels at the end of their 20 to 25 year lifespan.

Experts fear solar panels will be shipped, along with other forms of electronic waste, to be disassembled—or, more often, smashed with hammers—by poor communities in Africa and Asia, whose residents will be exposed to the dust from toxic heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and chromium.

Wherever I travel in the world I ask ordinary people what they think about nuclear and renewable energies. After saying they know next to nothing, they admit that nuclear is strong and renewables are weak. Their intuitions are correct. What most of us get wrong—understandably—is that weak energies are safer.

But aren’t renewables safer? The answer is no. Wind turbines, surprisingly, kill more people than nuclear plants.

In other words, the energy density of the fuel determines its environmental and health impacts. Spreading more mines and more equipment over larger areas of land is going to have larger environmental and human safety impacts.

It’s true that you can stand next to a solar panel without much harm while if you stand next to a nuclear reactor at full power you’ll die.

But when it comes to generating power for billions of people, it turns out that producing solar and wind collectors, and spreading them over large areas, has vastly worse impacts on humans and wildlife alike.

Our intuitive sense that sunlight is dilute sometimes shows up in films. That’s why nobody was shocked when the recent sequel of the dystopian sci-fi flick, “Blade Runner,” opened with a dystopian scene of California’s deserts paved with solar farms identical to the one that decimated desert tortoises.

Over the last several hundred years, human beings have been moving away from matter-dense fuels towards energy-dense ones. First we move from renewable fuels like wood, dung, and windmills, and towards the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas, and eventually to uranium.

Energy progress is overwhelmingly positive for people and nature. As we stop using wood for fuel we allow grasslands and forests to grow back, and the wildlife to return.

As we stop burning wood and dung in our homes, we no longer must breathe toxic indoor smoke. And as we move from fossil fuels to uranium we clear the outdoor air of pollution, and reduce how much we’ll heat up the planet.

Nuclear plants are thus a revolutionary technology—a grand historical break from fossil fuels as significant as the industrial transition from wood to fossil fuels before it.

The problem with nuclear is that it is unpopular, a victim of a 50 year-long concerted effort by fossil fuel, renewable energy, anti-nuclear weapons campaigners, and misanthropic environmentalists to ban the technology.

In response, the nuclear industry suffers battered wife syndrome, and constantly apologizes for its best attributes, from its waste to its safety.

Lately, the nuclear industry has promoted the idea that, in order to deal with climate change, “we need a mix of clean energy sources,” including solar, wind and nuclear. It was something I used to believe, and say, in part because it’s what people want to hear. The problem is that it’s not true.

France shows that moving from mostly nuclear electricity to a mix of nuclear and renewables results in more carbon emissions, due to using more natural gas, and higher prices, to the unreliability of solar and wind.

Oil and gas investors know this, which is why they made a political alliance with renewables companies, and why oil and gas companies have been spending millions of dollars on advertisements promoting solar, and funneling millions of dollars to said environmental groups to provide public relations cover.

What is to be done? The most important thing is for scientists and conservationists to start telling the truth about renewables and nuclear, and the relationship between energy density and environmental impact.

Bat scientists recently warned that wind turbines are on the verge of making one species, the Hoary bat, a migratory bat species, go extinct.

Another scientist who worked to build that gigantic solar farm in the California desert told High Country News, “Everybody knows that translocation of desert tortoises doesn’t work. When you’re walking in front of a bulldozer, crying, and moving animals, and cacti out of the way, it’s hard to think that the project is a good idea.”

I think it’s natural that those of us who became active on climate change gravitated toward renewables. They seemed like a way to harmonize human society with the natural world. Collectively, we have been suffering from an appeal-to-nature fallacy no different from the one that leads us to buy products at the supermarket labeled “all natural.” But it’s high time that those of us who appointed ourselves Earth’s guardians should take a second look at the science, and start questioning the impacts of our actions.

Now that we know that renewables can’t save the planet, are we really going to stand by and let them destroy it?

Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and president of Environmental Progress, an independent research and policy organization. Follow him on Twitter


    • Brittany says

      That was literally the one content-related statement I also wished to address. Priorities.

    • Saw file says

      I give the author a great deal of credit ( assuming what he has written is honest). He put himself out there, from that ‘sphere’. He’ll become a excommunicated heretic to most of them now. Stepping out of the ideological narrative is a big no-no. In this day and age, that takes guts.

      I work in the downstream energy industry in facilities construction. My chosen career. I have worked in almost every branch of it. A variety of: hydrocarbon, geothermal, hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, solar, inertial.
      It’s been my career passion for over three decades.
      Not a dreamer. I am a doer.
      (excuse the righteous rant, thx).
      I put my $ where my mouth is, and it is very difficult at times.
      Imagine going to work every day building a state of the art “new generation” power facility (with less: pollution/carbon etc emissions/environmental impact,/etc) and having a bunch of irrational lunatics, like the author may have been, using any foul method they can think of to try to stop you from doing your work and advancing the technology. It’s disheartening, but the only way that these barbarian’s will pass this gate, is by stomping across my corpse.

      • G Saw says

        I recently replied to a Slate article regarding global climate change suggesting that I believe the science of climate change and support actions to reduce our CO2 emissions but I took exception to the over the top claims of mass extinctions predicted to occur within the next decade or less. Part of my rational was we have been bombarded by claims of ice free poles by 2017, 20ft rise in sea levels by 2015 etc, etc. and these things have not come to pass, so be careful in future claims for sake of credibility.

        My mailbox was flooded with vile comments, F-bombs, obscene GIFs, responders would have physically attacked me if they could. Not one responder gave me any support.

        This guy has taken a huge risk in writing this.

        • Fernando Leza says

          Go to the REMSS site, and find the webpage where they compare the temperature measurements they make with NASA satellites with model forecasts prepared during the Fifth Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). These models were run forward in 2007 and by now we are seeing a significant drift, with the actual temperature running lower than the forecast.

          REMSS is one of two NASA contractors publishing satellite data, the other is the University of Alabama at Huntsville. They tend to agree, but REMSS has better graphics.

          I’m retired, so I have time to look at the actual data, compare it with the models, and I assure you the so called “Business as Usual” case used for most impact studies is a wild exaggeration. I won’t get into the technical reasons here, suffice it to say that it includes exaggerated CO2 concentration and the model structure and code itself is clearly exaggerating future warming.

          • Ardy says

            Fernando L: It is the data where all the problems lie!!! Cooling the past and homogenization. Deletion of cooler stations and including warmer ones. In Australia they have recently deleted the record from Charlotte’s Pass in the snowy mountains and included extra ones in western Sydney where it is hot.

            About 2/3rds of all recent land warming is due to adjustments of the data.

          • brettmcs says

            I don’t think Steve McIntyre ever got the code from Michael Mann that he used to generate the Hockey Stick graph. Climate Science is the antithesis of Open Science.

          • netprophet says

            Yes, spot on. Going back even earlier, James Hansen testified in 1988 that we would need to eliminate fossil fuels by 2000 to stop and “runaway greenhouse” effect of a 4 deg C (7 deg F) increase in temperature by 2060. Hansen revealed two other scenarios, a modest cutback and a zero emission scenario. What has occurred since from the UAH data precisely follows the zero emission scenario in spite of the fact that is not the scenario that has been followed.

        • Paolo says

          To reassure a bit, they wouldn’t have attacked you physically, in person. It turns out that people are much less vile and hostile in person. Online environment brings up the worse.

        • Robert Reynolds says

          You may be interested in delving deeper into the global warming issue by reading Joseph E Postma, a physicist, at

          He has 2 essential points. The first is that the use of the term ‘greenhouse effect’ is essentially deceitful. The function of an actual greenhouse, what he calls the ‘physical greenhouse effect’ is fundamentally different than the global warming greenhouse effect. He terms the latter the ‘radiative greenhouse effect.’ The physical greenhouse effect is the result of preventing natural convection so that air warmed by sun heated surfaces is not replaced by cool air. Needless to say, the atmosphere is not contained in a glass box.

          His second point is that the physics (mathematics) of the radiative greenhouse effect is simply wrong. To start with it assumes, for so-called simplification reasons, that the earth is flat. Consequently, the energy of the sun is spread over the total area of the globe, both day and night, with the result that the solar energy has a heating capability to only -18C. This is the heating capacity of the sun if the earth were situated much farther out in the solar system.

          But physics based on a distorted reality is only the beginning of the problem. When the sun heats the surface of the earth, the earth emits heat in infrared waves which interact with the atmosphere warming it. So far so good but the Global Warmers have a problem; how do you account for summer if -18C is the limit of the sun’s warming capacity. They have two solutions; (A) the warmed atmosphere radiates heat back to the earth warming it more, and/or (B) greenhouse gases block the emission of heat from the earth.

          Answer A violates the laws of thermodynamics, cool objects cannot warm warmer objects. The Warmers concept of back radiation or back inductions confuses heat and energy. Proposition B violates the Stefan-Boltzman law which derives the energy flux at the boundary of an object given its temperature. Energy flux is spontaneous and isn’t ‘blocked’ by externalities.

          There is a bit in his reasoning that I found quite humorous; besides water vapour, oxygen and nitrogen make up the bulk of the atmosphere. They are relatively poor emitters of heat. On the other hand, carbon dioxide and methane are high heat emitters so they would have a cooling effect. Too funny.

          Hope this is of use.

          • Dan Appleton says

            Where have you been for the last 15 years of brainless banter about solar and wind saving the planet? The nuclear solution is so obvious!!!… But, nuclear powered grids alone won’t save the planet since 80% of the planet’s energy demand is for heat and transportation, ergo, fossil power. I loved the Coke can metaphor, but until we can get nuclear power into a thimble, i.e., “personal nuclear power,” our struggle to save the planet will remain futile. Someone needs to kick our quantum physicists in the butt and tell them to stop worrying about the Higgs Boson and start inventing personal nuclear energy.

          • Chad Jessup says

            (A) is true, and does not violate any of the laws of thermodynamics. “…cool objects cannot warm warmer objects.” That is not what scientists claim. The science states that cooler objects can impede the loss of heat from a warmer object, a fact of life one witnesses at every moment, i.e. coats, housing insulation, socks, slippers, etc.

            (B) The LWIR is absorbed primarily by water vapor and significantly less by CO2, emitted back toward the earth, slowing the outbound heat, and thus causing a rise in temperature. No where does anyone claim greenhouse gases block the emission of heat from the earth.

          • Peter says

            Why is it that the only peer-reviewed research papers by Mr. Postma have to deal with telescope calibration and not climate science?

          • DrZ says

            @Robert Reynolds: I will see your interesting points and raise you one, the idea that CO2 leads warming has yet to be proven. Indeed, there are strong data that show just the opposite: It can be shown over more than one cycle that the earth’s temperature rises and then CO2 follows and it follows in mulit-century lags. If CO2 is the cause of global warming how could this be? Wouldn’t CO2 have to lead a warming trend?

            This concept backed by real data, temperatures and past CO2 concentrations extracted from ice cores, can be seen at

            I have presented this video to the rabid Chicken Little crowd and have politely ask them to refute the ideas put forth in this video to help me understand (some fake naivety on my part). I have yet to receive a response.

            If any of the points in this video ring wrong, please write about it so I can be informed (really).

          • DrZ says

            @Dan Appleton. I agree that we will always need liquid petroleum in the future. When you write that 80% of the planet’s energy demand is for heat and transportation are you factoring in that *if* nuclear becomes prevalent *and* electric rates drop that gasoline cars and hydrocarbon heating should be greatly reduced which would lower that 80% demand?

            I agree though that we will always need lubricating oil, airplanes will need jet-A, ocean freighters will need diesel and land shippers will also need diesel. But if electricity production through nuclear fission becomes cheaper, and we know it’s the cleanest, then the use of more things electric start to make sense such as home heating, water heating and perhaps more electric autos (assuming that front and back-end battery pollution is manageable and in-auto storage is adequate.

          • Lisa says

            Thank you for your post. Is it possible we engage in too much speculation and “overthink” regarding the concept of climate change? The climate will change…with or without humans. What’s our plan of action when a volcano erupts and spews ash into the atmosphere? How will we protect the environment and minimize impact on climate? Multiple volcanoes? A subsequent giant meteor that impacts the planet? I’m tired of thinking in terms of gloom and doom and speculation of what “might” happen. Could we have prevented the last ice age as human beings? Everyone thinks they are experts and have crystal balls into the planet’s future. We’re ants. We imagine we have more control over some outcome that’s not certain in any way. There’s freedom in ignorance! Where did our world view come from? Mad Max and Thunderdome? The 2654 apocalypse movies that entered our subconscious in the last fifty years that influenced our thinking? The book of Revelation in the Holy Bible? Perhaps Byron Katie is correct and life is just a projection. What if environmentalism is political control over the masses..designed to bankrupt you out of billions of your hard earned dollars and take away your land, property rights, public use of parks, and ultimately your country? What if it is a form of control based on FEAR? What if It is propaganda? Brilliant propaganda? Impassioned anger and resentment for those who dare question the popular consensus makes it so. Is HAARP real and is the environmentalist movement a cover for the testing of such a program? A way to fund the program in secret? Is it possible that much of the EPA’s stricter laws came as a result of the implementation of Agenda 21? Is environmentalism a way to enforce Agenda 21 world view and subsequent One World Order? If you agree with the concept of One World Order – why do you agree? If we’re all so emotionally attached to our thought processes regarding our world view is that not the basic tenet of propaganda? To accept without question? We all come to a thought that EVERYONE ELSE is a victim of indoctrination. Would we ever recognize indoctrination in ourselves?


          • Ardy says

            Dan Appleton, there is a young American kid who built a nuclear fusion engine in his garage at 14, about 20 now I guess.
            He wants to build micro nuclear devices to power homes, cars etc. I think this is the way forward.

          • Rick Jefferson says

            Dan — With plenty of clean energy from nuclear power, it is very easy to produce liquid fuels. The hydrogen can be taken from water and the carbon from CO2 and/or coal.

          • Amanda Wilson says

            Thank you for the link! It sounds like a good read. I just wish people really “read” anything. Most people just skim headlines and don’t even scroll down. Then they spout off as if they know everything there is to know from the headlines. I worry about our future,….soon, no one will actually know anything. We’ll have to “Google” everything.

        • Hunter K Praywell says

          There’s certainly a range of predictions on the timing of the earth’s warming, as well as the corresponding rate of atrophy of our polar caps and rise in sea levels. However, there is no credible dispute of the measurements of the earth’s warming and its consequences. There’s also no dispute about the human disruptions it’s causing, as we see entire island nations depopulate. The US is the top contributor to these problems, and needs act responsibly.

          Please post the source of the prediction of the 20′ rise in sea level by 2015, and ice free poles by 2017.

          • Fernando Leza says

            We are not seeing whole islands depopulate.

          • “However, there is no credible research on the measurements of the earth’s warming and its consequences.” Fixed it for you.

          • Serge Wright says

            This link contains the sources from James Hansen’s wild claims of a drowned New York City, heat and drought ravaged mid-west and ice free Artic. These predictions were made by Hansen as far back at 1988, obviously in an attempt to gain funding and help push his green socialist cause. Today, all of the outcomes have completely failed to eventuate. Sea level rose by a few mm and temperatures in the mid-west have fallen, due to increasing rainfall, instead of the predicted drought.


            There is one error in this link. Hansen said the west side would be under water, but in 40 years, not 20 years. Of couse in 8 years and 9 months the wather will only have risen slightly.

          • RickG says

            Your sentence on polar caps and sea level rise is confusing. What do you mean by atrophy?

            Also, by lumping both polar caps into one sentence with ‘sea level rise’, are you implying that melting ice in the Arctic is contributing to sea level rise? Repeat after me, “All Arctic Ice is SEA ICE.” That means it is floating so if it melts it has exactly zero effect on sea level rise. If you are and you graduated high school you should return your diploma – if you have a college degree you should demand a refund.

            How is the US the ‘top contributor’ to these problems? If your measure is CO2 emissions you are incorrect as China already emits more than the US by a rather large margin.

            And finally, to close the trifecta of “Huh?” in response to your post…which island nations have been depopulated? Heck, which island nations have been shrinking? Even Tuvalu – the once poster child for the ‘doomed Pacific islands’ is expanding.


          • hunter says

            Please tell us what island is depopulating due to climate change.
            And, by the way, there are substantial credible reasons to doubt the significance and reliability of the data and especially the claims of the climate consensus.

          • The US is not the top contributor, by far, as its CO & CO2 levels are far surpassed by China – and both on levels are on downward trends over the past 2 decades. Though no island nations are depopulating.

        • I am a sceptic. Many alarmists react that way. They are fully committed to their biases, and do not like being disturbed. I do not see any need for CO2 reduction in society. The warming will be proven as a natural event in another 10 years when global temps do not continue to rise, imo.

          It is interesting to see somelike like this author state the above. Bill Gates has also recently come up to speak about the futility of placing hope in solar/wind. Google gave up on trying to go 100% renewable several years ago. If they backed out despite the big money in their pockets, then that should be a clue.

        • Marilyn Krzus says

          Maybe it makes you question, then, the legitimacy of your AGW beliefs…? They’ve already lied about so very much. When we were growing up, we satat dinner listening to my dad. He taught physics and was a navigator (shot down over Germany, became a POW there) in a WWII bomber. A most interesting man.

          One time he read Stephen Hawking’s book and wrote to him about an error he discovered—we all saved the letter; Hawking thanked him for his input (without actually admitting to his error, LOL). Dad attended all the U of Chicago physics lectures.

          At any rate, back in the 1970s and 1980s when it was all about global cooling, all Dad could do was chuckle. The environmentalists wanted all the CFCs removed from hairsprays and other propelled chemicals. That was accomplished, yet the hole in the ozone continued to wax and wane. Imagine the environmentalists’ surprise, when Dad had been saying allalong that’s the way the ozone hole worked. After all, we were still in a period of glaciation (we still had glaciers), so we were already in a cooled period.

          But when it got nasty and became AGW, Dad went ballistic. He would talk about all the factors they weren’t even looking at. And that’s not science…in the least. Science is not settled until there is definitive proof it is—but there is no settled science in AGW, just the ravings of a lunatic fringe. After all, it wasn’t scientists who started the big tage—it was AlGore, the guy who got a “D” in Natural Sciences at Harvard! He led the chase.

          Then the EPA poisoned the Snake River, I believe it was, in CO. Not a peep from the environmentalists!

          That made me realize that AGW is a religion—no proof will be accepted to prove their god doesn’t exist. They believe on faith alone.

          Yes, some scientists (nowhere near all or even 97%) also believed. And, of course, those researchers who were supportedbybthe government believed…or said they did. Those that openly admitted they did not list their research funding. Wouldn’t YOU “believe”? And THAT isn’t science either.

          It’s a shame we have fallen prey to the political rulers—we should have always remained free thinkers and people of science. I am ashamed at Americans who fell so hard and ignored all the scientists who said the AGW folks were wrong. When they will not discuss it and call you a denier (of their god), that is not science. Science REQUIRES debate; in the AGW religion, debate is not allowed.

          It makes me very sad for America and how the true intellectuals could long ago debate (think our Founding Fathers), while today debate on a difference of opinion is considered heresy. Sad, sad days indeed… Intellectualism has died, and in its place is groupthink.?

          • DrZ says

            @Marilyn Krzus: you wrote “That made me realize that AGW is a religion—no proof will be accepted to prove their god doesn’t exist. They believe on faith alone”

            Some good points in your comment, but I have a quibble with the above that you wrote.

            My experience with the very religious, evangelists, has been favorable and I have had no bad experiences. I will look one in the eyes and say I support your right to believe what you believe, but it’s just that I don’t believe in what you believe and the evangelistic part of the conversation comes to an end.

            Every time this has happened, I have never had a religious person assail me like the AGW crowd would do. Most evangelists may not like they did not convert me, but they understand I have no wish to be converted, but not so for the “climate change crowd” who will insult me with words and possibly become violent towards me as others have pointed out.

            So, to me the CCC movement is not a religion, it is a political movement hell bent on changing the world into whatever it is they want and their pseudo scientific climate change claim is a tool for making that change. It is a weapon they are using to bludgeon industry, politicians and the rest of us into a “we have to do something now” state. Certainly, in the U.S., the religion has been adopted by too many politicians who see votes, not science.

            The part that makes me especially sad, perhaps depressed, is that this pseudo science is being taught in public schools in the guise of “environmental science”. What kind of scientists will our schools turn out given that students are not exposed to the scientific rigor that you mentioned in your comment.

          • Jay MacDonald says

            EPA spill was into the Animas River.

          • Mike Hanson says

            The greatest tool governments and institutions have is fear, look at history, I believe it will prove out my statement. Thank you for your insightful and enlightened observations. I was impressed by your succinct observations.

        • Ruth Henriquez Lyon says

          Actually the mass extinctions have already begun, and we’re in what is being called “the sixth extinction” (you can google that). The normal rate has been to lose 1 to 5 species per year, and we’re now losing 10 or so every day. There is data to back this up coming from field biologists. It’s good to be skeptical, but in deciding what to believe one needs the facts. The hard part is getting all the facts, though.

          Also, I’ve been reading about climate change since the ’80s in science magazines, and never did I once read about ice free poles by 2017 or 20 foot sea level rise by 2015. I’m not sure where you’re getting your info but you might want to stick to peer-reviewed scientific journals when learning about climate matters (or any other scientific topic). The news media is really bad at doing science journalism.

          • hunter says

            Please show us the evidence of extinction stats you refer to.

        • S Snell says

          Sorry about your experience. But that’s what you get for challenging The Narrative.

          At least they didn’t shoot at you, like they did with John Christy, of the University of Alabama, who had the sheer audacity to suggest that actual data does not align with scary predictions of imminent planetary immolation.

          Oh, you never heard about that?

          Here’s the link:

          Yeah, yeah, I know. Breitbart. But it and the UAH blog were about the only ones to actually run the story. Imagine the reaction had those shots been fired at Al Gore instead.

        • Riceinwa says

          I sincerely doubt that any of those flooding your mailbox were brave enough to actually confront you face-to-face. The anonymity of the internet makes fierce sounding warriors out of scared, piddle-in-their pants, little children. I wouldn’t worry about anyone screaming via ALL CAPS!

        • Francis Figliola says

          Slate is a “liberal” site and a misnomer! What you experienced is to be expected.

      • Marilyn Krzus says

        I am so proud ofyou for the courage of your convictions. We are all being herded into groupthink and must relearn how to think for ourselves. Happy to see others doing the same—that is, thinking for themselves after doing their own research.

      • Ardy says

        Saw file: I was surprised to learn that coal fired electricity generation, wind and solar were developed at the same time – in the 1890’s. Solar and wind were not used much due to intermittancy issues.

        I have no interest in going backwards in powering our life and nuclear is the only way forward at this time.

        The new Nuclear generators (4th generation?) trialing in China and India will be interesting. The problem is the approval processes, battles in the courts and population concern, stops many of them being built. The costs become prohibitive and the time wasted to get them started and then fighting to get them built is too much for most. The UK just had one cancelled due to huge cost blowouts.

        We are heading back to the dark ages – litereally!

      • Jay MacDonald says

        Saw File, I identify with your characterization of “irrational lunatics.” An engineer for 30 years in Oil & Gas, my last project was a clean cogen gas turbine unit to make power and lots of steam for process heat. Unfortunately, the lunatics scuttled the project because they rarely understand the realities of efficiency, safety and lower emissions brought by modern engineering and equipment vs. 70 year-old equipment. They convinced a judge that we were scary. We didn’t even get to order the turbine.

      • Micha Casazza says

        The article author commits many sins of omission and distortion. Did you notice he didn’t mention the German removal of nuclear, or the lignite/brown coal German powerplants that had to be restarted due to nuclear fear after Fukushima?
        He makes tortoise deaths seem inevitable after describing the very mistakes that made it so.
        Almost all species that ever lived on earth are extinct. It’s a sham concern.
        I’m degreed in physics. I’m in favor of nuclear power. Nuke waste? I don’t plan for 10.000 years down the line–that’s dopey.
        Look at a satellite view of the deserts–solar farms are a trivial speck on the landscape.
        Battery tech is advancing rapidly. See Australia and Tesla PowerPacks, inertial storage, hot sulfur flow batteries, etc.
        Read some of the industry journals, hydropower, cleantech, etc.
        This guy is just virtue signaling, mostly. No numbers, bad comparisons.

      • You didn’t say what kind of facility you work in. I am inferring it’s a nuclear power plant. If so good for you.
        What is your take on SALT Reactors?

    • Saw file says

      The big miss by the author (purposefully) is: the energy (renewable?) end resource costs ( $ ) of creating the giant wind turbines, solar panels, etc.
      How long does it take for a giant wind turbine to actualize it’s own cost, before it becomes profitable?
      What is the real carbon and environmental cost of the manufacturing of the turbine?
      Is it better to take those tens of billions of dollars, and put them into research for hydrocarbon pollution remittance?

      Yes, the answer to our future power needs are a network of city sized nuclear powered electric generating plants.The technology is here now. The electrical transfer infrastructure is already in place.
      Example:if you need water to use for urban and agricultural use, ala, ” A bigger problem is that there are many other uses for the water that accumulates behind dams, namely irrigation and cities. And because the water in our rivers and reservoirs is scarce and unreliable, the water from dams for those other purposes is becoming ever-more precious”.
      Build a ‘nuclear electricity generating facility’ at some ‘engineeringly’ safe place a bit downstream and off to the side. Feed into the existing power grid.
      In the mean time, invest in technology to capture and rationally dispose of the omissions from hydrocarbon fueled electricity generation.

    • Stephan B Feibish says

      This is old by now. They had a thorium reactor in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, USA over a half century ago. You don’t have to use uranium. And you can use a molten salt reactor where if the temperature gets too high the particles separate from each other and the reaction stops.

      • Sally Green says

        Good to hear somebody speaking about Thorium, when my son was an apprentice electrician about 20 yrs ago, they had to do a project on alternative energy and he chose Thorium. I had to print it out for him as there were not many colour printers around then, so I read bits and pieces & thought that it would not be long before this type of electricity production would be happening. Boy was I wrong, you hardly ever hear about it.

      • J Brooke says

        Show me a Thorium reactor making commercial power. Show me the liability insurance policy. Show me the bond assuring storage, recycle, or remediation of spent fuels. In a huge world of nuclear advocates and industry, they have not built one that a banker can finance. If you find it I will invest my money too. There is a world full of brilliant venture capitalists ready for this “sure deal”.

        • Sally Green says

          From memory I think thorium is used in conjunction with nuclear waste & it lasts for quite a long time. I may well be wrong as it was a long time ago when my son did his project on this, but here is an article about the process.

        • Duane says

          Thorium is just a nuclear fuel source, like uranium, or plutonium – it is not a “reactor”. The reactor power plant technologies that work with uranium work just as well with thorium. Thorium is actually much more abundant on earth than uranium.

          Gen four reactors are already a reality – they are already in development and will be producing power commercially within just a few years. Several technologies are involved with the Gen Four reactors – including fast reactors, and molten salt reactors, and small modular light water reactors.

          Molten salt reactors are not “new” – they were first developed by DOE way back in the 60s and 70s, then forgotten when the world turned against everything “nuclear” in the late 1970s and 1980s after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. MSR solve all of the safety problems associated with the common light water reactor, including the fact that they are fail safe and cannot melt down and they do not create long lived nuclear waste .. indeed MSRs use liquified nuclear waste as a fuel, so they actually eliminate existing stored nuclear waste. They also are impossible to convert the fuel into highly enriched nuclear weapons grade material, so do not pose a proliferation threat.

          In any case, the licensing is already underway, Congress just enacted two laws last fall and in January of this year that streamline and simplify and reduce the cost of licensing new reactor plans. Within a decade there will be a much larger base of nuclear power reactors in the United States.

        • Ardy says

          @J Brooke, a test system is running in the Netherlands and the Indians are building one and also have a 800Mw fast breeder system that is expected to be able to burn Thorium as well.

          Your questions are axiomatic, but would kill any innovation the human race has ever produced. There is a lot very devious about your post. The ‘world of venture capitalists’ would never go against all western world governments current group think, even they are not that risk receptive.

          You must admit that you appear a Luddite.

      • J Brook says

        Show me a Thorium reactor making commercial power. Show me the liability insurance policy. Show me the bond assuring storage, recycle, or remediation of spent fuels. In a huge world of nuclear advocates and industry, they have not built one that a banker can finance. If you find it I will invest my money too. There is a world full of brilliant venture capitalists ready for this “sure deal”.

        • Alasdair says

          Check out Terrestrial Energy in Canada and their Integral Molten Salt reactor. It doesn’t run on Thorium but the breakthrough isn’t the fuel it’s the reactor design. They have won various government grants and got through the first phase of licensing.

          It is a real technology, people are working on it.

          • There’s this experimental device called a “mirror”. It is a real technology, people are working on it. When aligned properly, the “mirror” reflects sunlight onto an object, say tower filled with a fluid, heating it to extreme temperatures. The fluid can then be used to drive a turbine and produce electricity. Someday soon maybe there will be breakthrough in this new “mirror” technology.

        • 196ski says

          The Price-Anderson Act is designed to ensure the availability of adequate funds to satisfy liability claims of members of the public for personal injury and property damage in the unlikely event of a nuclear accident. Through this program, the U.S. nuclear power industry has roughly $12 billion in liability insurance protection to compensate the public in the event of a nuclear accident. The Act was first passed in 1957 and has been extended by Congress several times and now won’t expire until 2025.

          Note, the Price-Anderson Act has never been invoked. For the wildfire PG&E is taking responsibility in California, they have booked 10.5 Billion potential losses and driven the company into bankruptcy.

          New nuclear designs will be using spent fuel for fuel.

          J Brook, if you want to see where venture capitalists make their cash, look no further than wind farms.

          “We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.” – Warren Buffett

      • John PAK says

        The obvious issue with molten salts is separating out the daughter radio-active products at the end. No-one has yet come to terms with the complex chemistry of separating these molten components other than building the reactors as small modules in rock holes in the ground and simply concreting over them afterwards.
        My preference would be to build a more conventional fuel-rod reactor for the Thorium fuel and use other r/a sources to get it fissioning. At the end you have separate fuel rods of depleted Thorium and your seeding fuels which can be cooled and dissolved in acids so it can be centrifuged out to reclaim all those potentially useful elements.

        • Duane says

          The fission products left from MSRs are short lived, requiring only a few hundred years of isolation to decay away to negligible activity … as compared to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousand for LWR fission products to decay away. This is a huge benefit of MSRs, in addition to all the other huge benefits of this technology over LWRs.

      • Steve says

        And if we go with a standardized plant design like the French instead of the one off boutique designs by GE et al the cost of construction would be greatly reduced.

        • augustine says

          @Steve, quite right. I read about the French designs back in the 1980s and their approach seemed eminently sensible. A replicable design as you note, also smaller size, and a failsafe (by gravity I think) cooling system.

          How did we ever end up with a quilt work in the U.S. where every plant is its own custom design? Whatever the causes I doubt the nuclear supporters had the present outcome in mind.

          We have to care and think over things that matter because funders and investors absolutely do not care if the return comes from rods or panels in the desert.

      • Craig WIllms says

        I read about thorium recently (brand new to me) and thought what the hell, isn’t this the answer staring us right in the face?

        What was the rub against thorium reactors? We all know why uranium is considered scary.

    • Growler says

      Interesting. This is what you took away from this article?

    • Amanda Wilson says

      Whatever. Did you get the point of the article???????

    • Samuel Clarke says

      Thank you!!! Glad almost dismissed this article. Jk. Great read though.

  1. As someone who is rather skeptical of the whole global warming idea, I’ve never been able to reconcile the fact that those who claim the world is going to end in 12 years are also so anti-nuclear power. It’s the most obvious solution to cutting down large scale carbon emissions, and if the world is going to end in slightly more than a decade anyways, the possible side effects of another Fukishima would be a wash, no?

    The other issue seems to be that most carbon released comes from developing economies in China and India, not western countries. However, both China and India are already nuclear powers, so as a grim bonus, we wouldn’t have to worry about nuclear proliferation in order to cut down on their emissions.

    • ghoul says

      Actually US is the second largest CO2 emitter in the world (after China), far surpassing India in total emissions. And neither China nor India are anywhere close to US by emissions per capita (only oil producing countries in the Persian Gulf emit more per capita then US, but with tiny population their total emissions are negligible). And EU is the third largest emitter in the world.

      • openloop51 says

        Interestingly Canada has a slightly higher per capita CO2 emmissions than the US. Travel distance and cold weather trump sentiment.

      • Saw file says

        I’m curious. Why would you babble such nonsense?
        Is it because that is all you have been told, or because that’s all you know?
        I am asking because you are factually wrong and you obviously need more knowledge.
        Total co2 emissions (or anything else) are a total. A per capita calculation is based on factors.
        The volume is what ‘counts’.
        China produces almost twice the volume as the USA.
        My country (CDN) is high on percapita, but very low on the total volume.
        How is who, what and why for.,… let’s reservd that for a different thrrad


        • geoffrey says

          @Saw file and zoolian
          You guys should not forget that China’s high emissions is due to products they produce for the western countries. Please imagine what would be the US emissions if Apple and all these US companies where actually making stuff in US soil. It makes me sick when you blame the Chinese for emissions at the same time that you take advantage of them for cheap labor. How hypocritical…

          • Saw file says

            There is nothing to “forget”.
            China’s “high omissions” (and catastrophic current plution problems) are not the product of western countries doing busy with/them.
            In fact, the West doing business with China is what has raised the atypical communist serf there out of poverty.
            Business agreements require co-/subcontractors to adhere to regulatory standards. Such is required within the trade agreements between the countries. China imports.raw materials that are generated with minimal impact. If the government of the supplier
            country lafs at the contractual regulations and refuses to legally enforce them, how is that resulting the fault of the receiving company? China (CCP) is willfully shitting in it’s own communiist back yard to funnel cash to the upper cadre.
            Just thinking about the filthy authoritarian autocratic repressive regime that the CCP has in China maked my head swell. and pissed off!

            Which reminds me….

            why isn’t there on running articles on Qullette about China? It is the poster child. I can’t recall a single post!

            I’ll apologize right now.

            Fkn CCP…….

          • Jay Salhi says


            “You guys should not forget that China’s high emissions is due to products they produce for the western countries.”

            Partially valid point. It is due mainly to having a massive population whose energy demands have grown with its economy over the past 40 years. A majority of that energy comes from coal, and their coal is dirtier than what we burn in the US.

            In a similar vein to your comment about manufacturing, China is heavily involved in manufacturing solar panels for export t the West and in mining the earth for rare earth minerals used in wind turbines. Both processes due considerable environmental damage.

          • stevengregg says

            How hypocritical is it to transfer blame from China to the US if any of our companies operate there? This is the old lefty rhetoric that blames America first for any problem, anywhere.

          • Paolo says

            Well you get sick a bit too fast. I agree that buyers of products are part responsible, in some indirect way, for the production and its externalities. But you shouldn’t be too fast in forgetting that producers and sellers reap their fair benefits from the deal, so cannot be assumed to be the ‘innocent’ party in the game!

          • Peter Schaeffer says

            @ geoffrey, Alas life for the ‘factually challenged’. Check out “Mapped: The world’s largest CO2 importers and exporters”. According to this source, 13% of China’s CO2 output is from exports. So much for “You guys should not forget that China’s high emissions is due to products they produce for the western countries”. Note that imports reduce U.S. emissions by 6% according to the same source.

        • China is building a large number of nuclear power plants (i.e. they are investing heavily to reduce their emissions). We are not.

          • Craig WIllms says

            I’ll take the U.S. pollution and emissions stance over China’s any day. The U.S. has been reducing carbon emissions per capita better than any other large industrial country. Our lakes, rivers and air are cleaner now than they were 25 years ago. China, not so much. It’s a literal environmental disaster. China has reaped massive rewards from dealing with Western countries, if they shit in their own backyard the blame is not on the West.

        • Very convenient to pick the lower of two numbers and say that the lower one is the one that “matters” ;-). We could lower your per capita volume by just bringing all of the Big Three automotive work back here to the USA :-). Problem solved :-).

      • Jay Salhi says


        The US emits 15% of the total. So even if we eliminated our emissions altogether (an impossibility), the world would still have an issue. India is only 7% of the total but it is a developing country with a massive population. As developing countries develop, they are going to emit more CO2.

      • The difficulty with places like India and Brazil is that their growth rate will eventually lead them to outpace the US and China in emissions. It’s a huge future problem. Plus, it would be immoral to stop them from advancing themselves out of poverty.

        • Peter Schaeffer says

          @PaulRoundyt, India yes, Brazil no. Brazil does not have enough people to (eventually) pass the U.S. in CO2 output. India does. India also has substantial coal resources whereas Brazil has essentially none. India will pass the U.S. in CO2 output roughly 15 years from now. Might be a bit sooner. Might be a bit later. Note that China’s emissions grew spectacularly after 2005. This was unexpected (in the US at least) at the time. Could a CO2 growth spurt occur in India? Unclear (at least to me). Could the reverse happen? Unclear (at least to me).

        • Jimbino says

          Brazil has roughly 2/3 the population density of the USSA. An Amerikan baby promises future pollution far greater than that of a Brazilian or even Indian baby. What we need to do is put a stop to all the Amerikan breeding, especially since it is the progeny of the breeders who stand to gain most from any sacrifices made by current populations, and especially by us non-breeders.

      • david of Kirkland says

        @ghoul – Per capita may make you feel better, but try breathing the air and drinking the water in the big cities of the USA vs. China or India. Just because you have a billion desperately poor rural folks and slums to aid your per-capita calculation doesn’t mean they are even close to being as clean per capita as we are.

      • Peter Schaeffer says

        ghoul, the U.S. isn’t even close to being the largest CO2 emitter (per-capita). According to Wikipedia, the U.S. ranked 11th in 2014 (least year available from Wikipedia). U.S. emissions were around 1/3rd of Qatar (number 1). China is (by far) the largest CO2 emitter in the world (around double the USA) and emits more CO2 per-capita than Europe.

        However, the most important statistic is that developing countries account for 63% of global CO2 emissions (and all of the growth). GHG debates in the U.S and Europe amount to conflicts about the number of angels on the head of a pin.

        • geoffrey says

          @ Peter Schaeffer
          You either do not know how to read a table or you deliberately lie and hope we will not notice. You start talking about per capita emissions and when you are about to compare USA and China you switch to total emissions.

          To get the important thing straight, USA is 11th in CO2 emissions per capita and China is 42nd.

          • Peter Schaeffer says

            @geoffrey, you have accused me of either lying or not being able to read a table. Alas, can you find any actual errors in my statistics? Probably not, because my numbers are correct. As for the China being 42nd in per-capita CO2… The atmosphere doesn’t care. Total CO2 output is what matters and China is #1 (by far) with fossil fuel CO2 emissions more than double the U.S. (Wikipedia 2015 data).

            Of course, we could include non-fossil fuel CO2 emissions (mostly from concrete production). That would make China’s lead considerably greater.

            We could also look at CO2 per-unit of GDP. China ranks 6th. The U.S. is not even in the top 30.

          • The important point about total emissions is that per capita/emissions mean nothing to nature.

        • geoffrey says

          @ Peter Schaeffer
          I see.. So the atmosphere does not care about the per capita emissions, but it cares about how big in size and population each country is (which is the most important factor for the total emissions) or what is the GDP of each country, right? Oh please..

      • Peter Schaeffer says

        @ghoul, I want to thank you for teaching me that Curacao, Trinidad and Tobago, Sint Maarten and Luxembourg are really in the Middle East. I didn’t know that. My ignorance was total. I am so ashamed.

      • Fernando Leza says

        Per capita emissions are irrelevant when we estimate the impact of a country’s CO2 emissions reduction policies. The US could ruin its economy adopting socialism as suggested by Democrats and that would indeed reduce its emissions. It would also create a worldwide economic crisis, and reduce emissions even more. But the world economy would not be able to afford the investment in new energy sources, so it would continue to burn coal, and of course the poverty caused by the economic ruin would lead to starvation in poor countries and huge refugee flows…caused by the adoption of socialism.

        • hunter says

          Actually, if history is a guide, socialism correlates very highly to degraded environment and health.

      • George Steele says

        Yes, but we’re efficient. We consume less energy per unit of productivity than these countries – so a rational analysis would say that all energy should be consumed by the US, for the good of the planet. The difference is that our emissions are decreasing faster than anywhere else in the world, whereas the two countries you cited are leading the world in emissions increases. Nothing the US can do would stop an increase in world CO2 emissions; nothing.

      • Tim says

        Not sure why per capita emissions matter, it is total emissions that matter. A two person country could theoretically lead the world in per capita emissions but rank last in total emissions.

    • Jay Salhi says

      “the possible side effects of another Fukishima would be a wash, no?”

      Misinformation about Fukishima is widespread, based largely on ignorance, fear mongering and the overreaction of politicians. An earthquake and a tsunami killed around 16,000 people. The nuclear reactor was not the cause of death.

      • Doctor Locketopus says

        Yes. At Fukushima, you had:

        1) Outdated reactor,
        2) Massive earthquake (magnitude 9!)
        3) Devastating tsunami.
        4) Fire that took all reactor control systems offline.

        Number of deaths from radiation exposure? Zero.

        Imagine what would happen if a similar scenario played out at (say) the Three Gorges Dam in China.

        • hunter says

          Don’t forget that Tokyo Electric had been warned about the under-need seawall. It was too short by multiple meters, and backup generators we’re low, where tsunami surge could ruin them easily.

        • Steven says

          0 ? even the officials says its about 20
          And they think 2000 irradiates, some “cleaners” are right now in court case agaisnt the state
          Check your facts.

      • Steven says

        but part of japan is empty from people for decades…. imagine if it went to tokyo ( and there was a for it ) ?
        I heard the ex prime minister of japan 3 days ago in a long interview, he was ultra pro nuclear before Fukushima accident.
        He has changed his mind when he understood what could have happen with a little less luck.

    • geoffrey says

      @ Saw file
      Dude, China has a civilization of thousands of years and you tell me that the “Western businessmen” saved them by transferring there the production of f**g iphones?

      • Doctor Locketopus says

        At least 15 million people starved to death in China between 1959 and 1960, “ancient civilization” or not. That’s if you believe the official government statistics, which no one does. Scholarly estimates are in the 30-45 million range.

        Marxism kills, dude.

    • It’s true that many people who support the anthropogenic warming hypothesis have political biases in the direction you describe, but this point says nothing about the truth of the global warming claim.

      • Christopher Dizon says

        …. AGW has been tested more than pretty much any other theory. It’s as much a theory as gravity. It stopped being a ‘hypothesis’ ~100 years ago.

        • D-Rex says

          @ Christopher
          Apart from scandalously flawed computer models, please inform us how AGW has been actually tested? In empirical terms, it hasn’t even started being an actual ‘hypothesis’ let alone a theory.

        • BrianB says

          As I noted regarding your other comment below, so what?
          The question is not so much does a thing happen, but what is its magnitude, is it detrimental or beneficial, what would it cost to militate, etc?

          The evidence more CO2 causes higher temperatures is relatively strong. After that the science and our understanding of the climate system, its feedbacks and mechanisms are incomplete and rudimentary, often politically driven, often of appalling quality, often very difficult to even measure [hence the reliance on models rather than repeatable experiment and direct observation] and subject inevitably to margins of error so great that often no reasonable conclusion can even be drawn from what numbers they do churn out.

          There is a great deal of evidence AGW is real. There is almost none that we are facing a catastrophe. But there is an entire planet full of arm waving, conjectures, politically and economically driven hysteria and propaganda and rent seeking.

          Until that changes the theory of AGW is interesting but of little to no concern to rational people.

          • S Snell says

            Global warming is real in that the planet has clearly warmed some in the last 150 years. However, how much of that is due to rebound from the Little Ice Age, and how much is due to a thirty-percent increase in the concentration of a rather minor greenhouse gas? IMO the former, not the latter is likely the dominant factor.

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > I’ve never been able to reconcile the fact that those who claim the world is going to end in 12 years are also so anti-nuclear power.

      That is because their agenda was largely written by the disinformation section of the KGB, way back in the Cold War. It’s not designed to make things better. It’s designed to make things worse.

      You can make a 100% reliable prediction as to whether “leftists” will support any given idea by simply asking yourself whether that idea will damage the United States, or the West at large.

      Most who support such ideas are simply gullible dupes, but the origin of nearly every “leftist” agenda item can be traced straight back to Dzerhzhinsky Square.

      • Christopher Dizon says

        Nuclear is ~4x the cost of wind and solar. How is it understandable that an EV that is ~4x the cost of other cars is too expensive but it’s somehow acceptable for nuclear to be 4x the cost of other sources of clean energy? Nuclear is RIDICULOUSLY overpriced. ~10x more per kW and ~4x more per kWh!

        • BrianB says

          Granting your assertions for the sake of argument, so what?
          Because solar and wind are intermittent we still require an entire infrastructure of base load power plants to take up the slack when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. So as an inevitable part of a renewable energy system we get the cost of non renewables and on top of that the cost of renewables. When you then compare costs I’m thinking your figures no longer work, right?
          The typical answer is filling up dams or some magical battery innovation just around the bend that either eliminate the supposed cost differential, don’t exist or simply can’t be done.

          Here’s the basic problem with your argument; utilities like to make money. If solar and wind are actually that much cheaper they would be decommissioning all their old plants and putting up renewables. Energy costs would decline and they’d still make more money.
          But in fact, everywhere on the planet renewables increase as a share of energy production energy prices skyrocket.

          • Ardy says

            Brian B: In Australia the energy companies make more money out of renewables due to government subsidies. This has resulted in many coal fired generators being closed down or blown up as in one stupid South Australian piece of political madness.

        • augustine says

          Because the way we do nuclear in the U.S. has been horribly inefficient (possibly deliberately): absence of a national system of replicable, manageable size plants, failsafes, effective education and publicity campaigns, etc. (See the French idea, above comments).

          P.S. No one ever questioned the theory of gravity.

    • Alan Gore says

      Because weather is the result of a vast complex of interlocking feedback loops, it is not easy to correlate weather with climate. But to me the most convincing evidence for the greenhouse hypothesis is the melting of long-term ice. I have seen this happening in the far north, at Svinajokull, and in the deep south at Franz Josef Glacier.

      The US could lead in getting to zero net carbon emission by 2050. And the only way to do so in a country with large cities and heavy industries is to go nuclear.

      • Ardy says

        Alan Gore: Have a read of some papers from the 1930s talking about the loss of sea ice in the arctic. Then in the 70’s we had global cooling and the solution presented by some scientists was to burn more fossil fuels!

        Scientific prognostications are rarely if ever correct.

        Re CO2 it is a heating gas and nobody can argue against that as proven in the 1800’s. Then coal generation, wind and solar electricity generation was developed in the 1890’s and the stupid are trying to make solar and wind work today after they were dismissed as a major supplier of electricity over 100 years ago.

        Let’s move forwards not backwards!

    • S Snell says

      Hard-core greens don’t care that a full implementation of their grand plan would basically take us back to the 17th century, with a great deal of avoidable death and general misery along the way. That’s the whole point.They really don’t like their fellow humans very much at all.

      Here’s the plan:

      (1) Kill their energy supply, (2) let their societies collapse, (3) pesky humans go back to being just another life form struggling for survival. (4) Gaia’s happy. It’s eco-rainbow Utopia!

      • Ardy says

        S.Snell you should listen to ‘Nothing but Flowers’ by talking heads. They are talking about a post modern world. ‘Caught a rattle snake, now we have something for dinner’.

      • Ardy says

        S.Snell: noted that article was written 30 years ago! Most of today’s drum bangers were not alive when that was written So they have no context of how stupid they are..

        The Greens are still banging the same drum today. Eventually they will be right but we may have to wait until our sun goes nova or a large meteor strikes and sends it out of orbit.

  2. George. says

    Ironically environmental fundamentalism is rapidly becoming a major threat to the environment.

    • Simon Johnson says

      “Ironically environmental fundamentalism is rapidly becoming a major threat to the environment.”

      How so?

      • George. says

        Through the law of unintended consequences that results from the emotion inherent in years of unrestrained hyperbole. The rainforests, just like birds and bats, have already copped a hiding from these scare tactics but that’s nothing compared to the fallout that’s likely if they manage to collapse the global economy.
        “The ugly reality is that “green” fuels are destroying rainforests, accelerating climate change and condemning millions to poverty and hunger. … Skyrocketing demand is destroying delicate ecosystems as rainforest land is slashed and burned to make room for oil palm, soy and sugar cane monocultures.”

          • Doctor Locketopus says

            They won’t be if Western civilization abandons coal and oil for “renewables”.

            Note that, despite the constant propaganda about “vanishing forests”, there is more forested land in the Lower 48 now than there was at the turn of the 20th Century.

            One reason for that is that wood heating went from a commonplace to a niche over that period of time.

            One need merely look at the denuded landscapes in countries where wood fuel is still the norm to see a picture of the future if we go to “renewables”.

      • George says

        Not just birds and bats as in the article but unprecedented destruction of rainforests has occured on the altar of global warming. Unfortunately when you to the hyperbole to an hysterical extent as is happening at the moment the law of unintended consequences tends to kick in
        “The ugly reality is that “green” fuels are destroying rainforests, accelerating climate change and condemning millions to poverty and hunger. … Skyrocketing demand is destroying delicate ecosystems as rainforest land is slashed and burned to make room for oil palm, soy and sugar cane monocultures.”

        • Why are rainforests dwindling? In the Amazon, mainly because cattle owners are expanding and even get subsidies to plant grass instead of maintaining those rich forests, in SE Asia, it is the expansion of the oilpalm plantations. These processes simply are going on and on, I wonder whether there is any influence of climate change programs or manifests, though, investments in oilpalm for biofuel could be a factor (and this would be a big shame, unbelievable, unpardonable).

        • Peter Schaeffer says

          @Doctor Locketopus, Wow is that ever true. Without fossil fuels the environmental devastation from the cutting of trees would have been overwhelming. As early as 1500 AD, the UK was mining coal on a large scale to save its forests (that was the practical effect of coal production, not the intent).

          In Switzerland, the cutting of trees was moving to progressively steeper slopes in the 19th century. The Swiss weren’t stupid or crazy. They knew that cutting trees on steep slopes would result in devastating erosion. However, given Switzerland’s climate and growing population (back then), they didn’t know what else to do.

          As it turns out, the Swiss eco-catastrophe never happened. Switzerland found that it could import coal from Germany (and the USA) instead. The forests of Switzerland were saved. However, they were saved by fossil fuels (later Switzerland dammed its rivers for power).

          Note that I am not Swiss, but have lived and worked in Switzerland a bit.

      • Jay Salhi says

        @Simon Johnson

        The State of Vermont retired its only nuclear reactor several years ago. Bernie and the usual suspect cheered. The plan was to replace nuclear with wind. At the moment, there is litigation in the courts trying to block a wind “farm” because the farm will be in the heart of black bear habitat. It would take 59 wind farms to generate the same electricity as the retired nuclear plant once generated. And retiring the nuclear plant has resulted in higher CO2 emissions and higher electricity prices.

        So in the name of saving the planet, the citizens of Vermont are killing bears, emitting more CO2 and paying higher energy bills.

      • hunter says

        Fly over the vast areas littered with windmills or solar cells and ask how that is possibly good for the environment.

  3. PtCNT says

    Agree with most of this but the initial $ cost of nuclear builds Is simply too high. >$3k/kW with long build times just doesn’t attract investors (even scares off public funding).

    The industry needs to focus on their small modular reactor technology, that will allow faster return on investment and more grid compatibility through flexible capacity and demand/supply matching.

    And stop bloody closing down nuclear plants before their time, it’s one of the stupidest energy policies imaginable (happens in US and parts of EU).

    Australia could smarten up immediately by repealing the ban on nuclear energy and properly assess its low emissions options.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Most of the construction cost is due to government regulations over the fears they instilled in the citizenry.

      • augustine says

        Maybe, but the fact that each U.S. plant is designed from scratch has a lot to do with high costs also.

  4. PtCNT says

    Agree with most of this but the initial $ cost of nuclear builds Is simply too high. >$3k/kW with long build times just doesn’t attract investors (even scares off public funding).

    The industry needs to focus on their small modular reactor technology, that will allow faster return on investment and more grid compatibility through flexible capacity and supply.

    And stop bloody closing down nuclear plants before their time, it’s one of the stupidest energy policies imaginable (happens in US and parts of EU).

    Australia could smarten up immediately by repealing the ban on nuclear energy and properly assess its low emissions options.

    • mike87122 says

      The reason nuclear energy is so expensive is because of all the opposition from anti-nuclear environmentalists. There’s no reason it has to be so expensive.

    • As a nuclear-trained engineer no longer working in the industry, I can attest that the majority of nuclear plant construction costs (and operating costs) are regulatory-driven. None of these regulations improve safety, but have been imposed through the years as a sacrifice to the anti-nuclear activists. Smarter regulation (i.e., constructive not punitive) would dramatically bring down the cost of building and operating the next generation nuclear plants.
      As a side note, nuclear waste is a problem in the US but not France or Switzerland because Jimmy Carter banned the reprocessing of spent fuel. This increases the volume of waste by orders of magnitude.

  5. Good article. There are downsides for sure. But it is unclear how limited the author wants renewables to be. Clearly, there is no one solution and even with Nuclear energy.

    • Steve says

      “But it is unclear how limited the author wants renewables to be.”

      Perfectly clear: none.

      “Clearly, there is no one solution and even with Nuclear energy.”

      His entire point was that there’s one solution: nuclear energy.

      • I don’t think the author meant none, just that there are limits that technology can’t bridge in the short term, hence using nuclear to accelerate the transition. Saying no PV is as nonsensical as saying no nukes.

        • I heard an interview with Mike. His answer to the optimal number of PV farms I think would be “zero”. He noted that the best grid would be nuclear and hydro only. PV farms take up far too much land and are reliably unreliable–no power generation when it’s dark, which happens every day.

          • Fluffy Buffalo says

            “No power generation when it’s night” as a reason to completely reject PV? Really? That would be a daft point of view for anyone who realizes that electricity consumption during daytime is much higher than at night.

      • Tersitus says

        Maybe-/ but I still want a transportation bridge fuel— natgas. Cleaner relative to present tense, cheaper, energy dense, so abundant we’re wasting it, refitted internal combustion technologies current, storage and delivery technologies as well, recycled waste sourcing too. And the jobs & skills tie-in to current oil production, so much less restructuring disruption to businesses and lives.

        • Jay Salhi says


          “but I still want a transportation bridge fuel— natgas”

          The shale revolution is the best thing to happen to the US in decades. Cheap energy, economic growth and lower CO2 emissions.

          New York state sits on top of vast reserves that could be tapped. But the politicians say no. No to fracking, no to pipelines. Instead these green geniuses are encouraging freezing residents to stay warm by burning wood. Yes, wood which is worse than coal but somehow qualifies as renewable in green insanity land and gets marketed as “biomass” to confuse the public who might have been previously been informed that cutting down trees is bad.

      • @ Steve

        It isn’t clear. He brings up good points. But the article is low in actual evidence. We have built massive amounts of infrastructure – so why is putting down solar farms all of a sudden such a massive no-no?

        Imagine if you are in country near the equator where sun shows its face regularly… how is sticking solar panels to produce electricity is all that harmful to animals.

        US might not have such large-scale energy problems but many countries do. I don’t think putting solar farms in Indian dessert is all that damaging. Sure, in some places like UK, wind farms can only go so far.

        “His entire point was that there’s one solution: nuclear energy.”

        Well that is then outright silly. There is no one solution and never will be.

        • Jay Salhi says


          “I don’t think putting solar farms in Indian dessert is all that damaging”

          Desserts are not good locations for solar farms. Too much dust, which has to be cleaned from the panels on a regular basis, which requires lots of water and energy.

    • Jay Salhi says

      “There are downsides for sure.”

      All energy technology has downsides. We need to do cost benefit analysis and chose the best options. Nuclear is the best option. Solar and wind are wasteful distractions.

  6. I would not count batteries out. There has been great progress in reducing their cost, and there is no reason that this progress will not continue in the future.

    Every nuclear project runs into horrendous cost overruns. There are two half built nuclear plants abandoned when their contractor, Westinghouse, went bankrupt over the overruns. This is not just an American problem, projects in Great Britain and Finland have run into the same issue.


    • ga gamba says

      No, you can’t count batteries out, but you have to acknowledge that without recharge you’re screwed. You experience an extended period of cloudy days or little wind and your emission-free power generation sources aren’t recharging those batteries.

      Further, look at how lithium is gathered for lithium-ion batteries. A lot of the mineral is to be gathered at the 10,582 km² (4,100 miles², about 70 per cent of size of Connecticut) Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia – about 70 per cent of the world’s lithium is there if you accept the most optimistic estimated of 100 million tonnes, though the US Geologic Survey states 9 million. Bolivia hopes to be the Saudi Arabia of lithium, but it’s also a country that natlonalises businesses; it’s tough to attract investors who fear that their plants may be appropriated by the government once they’re built and running. Argentina and Chile are the two other major producers of salt-flat produced lithium. Australia is a top producer using conventional strip mining.

      The process requires the salt plain to be flooded, but this is an arid area with little water – 141 mm (5.5 inches) of rainfall on average annually. It takes approximately 500,000 gallons of water per tonne of lithium. Extraction vehicles cut horizontally through the salt crust to expose the lithium and other minerals found mixed in a salty mud sitting. To extract it, mining equipment pump the brine into massive ponds, where it is left to evaporate for months. Then a series of chemical processes, for example using lime and hydrochloric acid, are performed to separate the minerals and refine the lithium. For export it needs to be transported 500 miles to the nearest port.

      This is the next gotcha; Bolivia wants to be the centre of battery production too. Most batteries are presently manufactured in East Asia and the US.

      Two other key battery ingredients, cobalt and nickel, also pose a significant risk of creating a bottleneck in the move towards electrifying everything. Cobalt is found almost exclusively in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is very toxic.

      Ironically, the environmentalists now complain about the destruction of the salt plain and the pollution created as well as how cobalt miners are poisoning themselves and their land.

      All these problems may be overcome, but will it happen in the 12 years before the climate irrecoverably changes and we, together with the planet, all die? Unlikely. But if that happens, we won’t need to worry about challenges of black starting emission-free power plants performed to bootstrap the power grid into operation. There’s always an upside, even with the downsides.

      • Menicholas says

        Batteries also wear out. They have a limited life span, so after paying up hugely for them it needs to be spent again. And again, And again…forever.
        And what to do with those batteries?
        Few have stopped to consider the scale that a battery reserve of grid-scale power would have to be.
        All of the batteries made in the world last year would not store enough to power a single state for a day.

    • reader says

      hydrogen electrolysis is quite viable by now to store energy, tech wise. Cost is still not competitive for general purpose, but quite viable in many applications already.

  7. Good article. There are many downsides for sure. It is unclear how limited the author wishes renewables to be. Clearly, there is no one solution to the world energy needs, even with Nuclear.

    • Michael Robb says

      I hope someone has by now corrected the disinformation that atomic powered is so many times more expensive that alternatives. It is not more expensive.

      Atomic powered electricity can be produced for one cent pkwh and sold fora 3 cents plus.

      This price more than adequate to repay construction and investment costs and amortize the capital investment according to relevant acceptable accounting standards.

      References upon request.

  8. You can always tell those which “greenies” are serious, and possibly worth having a conversation with, by their attitude to nuclear.

    My understanding is that molten-salt reactors may possibly hold the key to dissipating the arguments regarding cost, size, meltdown risk and storage of nuclear waste.

    So why aren’t we committing vast sums to making those happen? They aren’t like fusion reactors – always 40 years in the future. Or false hopes, like solar and wind.

    Call me when the so-called Paris Accord incorporates those ideas; gets serious about who exactly is the problem, demands they take necessary steps NOW; and stops with the nonsense about forcing the West to surrender their oil, gas and coal within 10 years (else the sky will fall) – or is that just the “New Green Deal”?

    But scaremongering to achieve certain socialist goals is what “climate change” is all about. They don’t need to achieve those goals in the worst polluter of them all, so no need to bug China etc. about their emissions.

    Funny that none of these folk mention the FACT that even if the US switched to using renewables ONLY for the next 60 years, even their over-egged climate models predict it would make an unnoticeable 0.1 degree difference to world temperatures by 2080.

      • hunter says

        Please show us the conspiracy ideation.
        You seem more like a reactionary dismissing something you don’t want to addtrss.

    • Rendall says


      Thanks for this, and thanks to Quillette for allowing me/us to hear your perspective. It is the first time I have ever read a succinct, adult and rational explanation of what arguably could align with “climate-change denial”.

      I hear you saying that the current climate change discussion has an element of hysteria that is designed, not to solve the coming problems, but to push a specific political agenda. Alternative solutions are pushed out of the discussion.

  9. Screw the Ruling Class says

    Even if nuclear power is a faster, cheaper, better, and safer source of carbon-neutral electricity than solar and wind, fission fails to solve all our problems. For one thing the supply of uranium is limited–it may last till the end of the century at the present rate of consumption–less as we use more. (And true, there are fixes for that too — breeder reactors, thorium reactors etc., each with their own set of problems.)

    But whether we use sun, wind, nuclear, coal, gas, bullshit, or nothing, there is LESS in our future than we will like.

    There is no magic energy supply. Extracting our sustenance from the earth takes energy, disrupts environments, and will, if we aren’t very careful, totally degrade the soil, air, and/or oceans. We will produce waste which will refuse to disappear, and no matter what, we can not supply any amount of goods to an ever-growing population.

    Less people, less energy, less production, less consumption, less waste. Less is not more, and it will be all we will get. Stepping off the whizzy carousel of consumption will be a terribly jolting experience, but if we stay on it, the merry-go-round will eventually fly apart, and that will be worse than merely terrible.

    • Saw file says

      @screw the working class

      ” the supply of uranium is limited–it may last till the end of the century at the present rate of consumption–less”

      That’s what was said about “peak oil”. So how did that declaration turn out?

      More resources are just awaiting to be found. Nobody knows what is all out there.
      Waste can be minimized and controlled. Safely and environmentally soundly.

      “Less people, less energy, less production, less consumption, less waste. Less is not more, and it will be all we will get. Stepping off the whizzy carousel of consumption will be a terribly jolting experience, but if we stay on it, the merry-go-round will eventually fly apart, and that will be worse than merely terrible.”

      Ok then, you can lead the parade of lemming’s. There’s a cliff near you…

      • @”saw file”

        “That’s what was said about “peak oil”. So how did that declaration turn out?”

        It turned out as expected. We passed peak oil maybe… 2 or 3 decades ago. So why haven’t we run out of oil? “Peak oil” doesn’t mean “dry well”. The curve of the trailing edge of oil extraction resembles the leading edge. This profile of oil supply was worked out as part of the petroleum industry’s long range planning — before we started worrying about global warming.

        We probably have a century of oil supply that is obtainable at less energy than the oil itself contains. After we have drawn that out of the earth, oil will remain in the ground but it will not be worth the energy expenditure to pull it up, because the extraction energy will exceed the energy of the oil obtained, never mind cost in dollars.

        “Peak oil” means a diminishing yield as time passes. The ‘easy’ oil (in many areas) has been tapped out. The more difficult shale oil is extracted by fracking when the price of oil is high enough to justify the added cost. North Dakota’s oil economy has boomed and busted several times as the price has risen and fallen. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, still has a pretty large supply of ‘easy oil’.

        As for uranium, it has never been an abundant element, and it takes about 27 tons of refined uranium a year for a 1000 megawatt power plant

        “Ok then, you can lead the parade of lemming’s. There’s a cliff near you…”

        Sorry, but the cliff will come to you; deprivation will be obligatory.

        • Saw file says

          So what exists in the earth’s crust is all known now.
          The science is settled.
          I now kowtow. (/sarc)

          “We passed peak oil maybe… 2 or 3 decades ago. So why haven’t we run out of oil? “Peak oil” doesn’t mean “dry well”. The curve of the trailing edge of oil extraction resembles the leading edge. This profile of oil supply was worked out as part of the petroleum industry’s long range planning — before we started worrying about global warming.”

          There is no “maybe” about it. We didn’t.
          New hydrocarbon reserves are being found continually,all over the world.

          Plz post your graphs, and your conspiracy evidence.

        • Surreptitious Evil says

          it takes it take about 27 tonnes of refined uranium a year
          About 25 time less than that.

        • hinhun says

          No, peak oil did not turn out as expected at all.
          Just like the gresg fraudster, Ehrlich, it was a false prediction.
          Your defending it by repearing the deceitful platitudes and claptrap of eventually blah blah does not make you look brighter.

        • “It turned out as expected. We passed peak oil maybe… 2 or 3 decades ago.”


          1987 world oil production: 56.7 million barrels per day
          1997 world oil production: 65.8 million barrels per day
          2007 world oil production: 73.3 million barrels per day
          2017 world oil production: 81.1 million barrels per day

          “We probably have a century of oil supply that is obtainable at less energy than the oil itself contains.”

          Uh huh, sure. You obviously aren’t familiar with the readily-available history of world oil production, so I’m sure we can take your apocalyptic predictions about future production trends and economics straight to the bank.

          “Sorry, but the cliff will come to you; deprivation will be obligatory.”

          I hear cats and dogs will be living together too.

      • Screw the Ruling Class says

        @”saw file” That’s what was said about “peak oil”. So how did that declaration turn out?

        It is working out the way they said it would when it was predicted about 30 or 40 years ago. The profile of oil production is more or less a normal distribution. The leading and trailing profile are similar. It took 140 years to go from zero to peak production (a couple decades ago), and it will take another 140 years to go from peak production to zero. We will reach zero production when the oil left in the ground is too difficult to extract — that is, it will take more energy to get it out than the oil itself contains.

        In the post-peak meantime, oil production will decline over the coming century, everything else being equal). Peak oil NEVER meant “dry well”. Again, everything else being equal, the price of oil will tend to rise.

        “Ok then, you can lead the parade of lemming’s. There’s a cliff near you…”

        You will not need a leader because the cliff will come to you. Material deprivation will not be optional…

        • Saw file says

          ,@screw everything
          I’m not asking you to prove it , but at least show something to back up your opinion.

        • Tersitus says

          Screw— I’m broadly in agreement with you on much here— we’re on the declining side of peak fossil, our energy future looks to be more constrained, our current resources and technologies are inadeqste to long term future needs. Not sure that leads to the Malthusian scenario so many since him have long anticipated. I suspect a sensible “all forms practicable” approach and advancing ideas and technologies will stretch out the time frame far beyond my capacity to prefigure human social existence. But since all life is will to power in some form and fashion, I expect to be on my way to being someone or thing’s eventual fuel source myself by then. In the meantime, whenever I feel the warmth of the sun I’m reminded that the universe is energy-abundant, that all mass is energy-form, that even our little sun is a massive producer — and I imagine someone much smarter than myself finding a way to efficiently capture and channel it. It kind of a “space and time” problem.

      • Exactly. If the “found” reserves will last 80 years then there is no financial incentive to find any more right now, maybe in 50 years they’ll start looking. Meanwhile, the “threat” of running out of oil saw the US turn into the world’s leading oil exporter due to capital investment in research and extraction technologies.

      • Grant says

        You don’t need a lot of uranium. Bill Gates reactor design uses urainium for start up, but can burn existing waste, weapons etc. of which there are hundreds of years worth. Thorium can also be used which is quite abundant.

      • Ellar S says

        Saw file, I’d be interested to know where this inexhaustible supply of uranium may be found.

        • Saw file says

          @Ellar Es
          Isn’t “inexhaustible” kind of the same as ‘infinity’?
          Get serious, if you want to have a reasonable discourse.
          You obviously aren’t proficient at math and basic physics. Or geology.

          So your crystal ball has told you that all that can be found has been found.
          OK..I conceed. You win.
          You should be able to become a millionaire in the market now.

        • Doctor Locketopus says

          There are 4.5 billion metric tons of uranium in the ocean, which can be harvested at a net energy gain using today’s technology. No one bothers, because mined uranium is cheaper. But it will be there when we need it.

    • Jay Salhi says

      @Screw the Ruling Class

      “Less people, less energy, less production, less consumption, less waste. Less is not more, and it will be all we will get.”

      Thank you Chairman Mao for giving the plot away. A few questions:

      1. Less people. Who decides which of us gets to live. The enlightened ones like you I imagine.

      2. Less energy. Are you aware that less energy = more poverty? Billions of poor people live in energy poverty. Perhaps we should just exterminate them less they try to escape poverty and consume more energy. Helps out with question no. 1.

      3. Less consumption. Less consumption is a trojan horse for less freedom. Difficult to achieve other than by authoritarian means. But I guess that’s the whole point.

      • Ellar S says

        @Jay Salhi

        Do you actually think reducing the population necessarily requires tyranny and mass murder, or do you just prefer silly strawmen arguments to reasonable debate?

        If the former, perhaps you should look into the trend towards reduced fertility in developed nations.

        • Ellar S says

          Presumably Saw file is aware of an inexhaustible supply of uranium somewhere.

        • DeplorableDude says

          @Ellar S You should look into birth rates in “developing” countries. They keep having kids even when they have no idea how to feed them. Let me guess. it’s ok if there are bunch of poverty stricken people living in grass huts as long as they don’t consume a resource that’s bad for the environment?

        • Jay Salhi says

          @ Ellar S

          “Do you actually think reducing the population necessarily requires tyranny and mass murder,”

          No, I agree with you that fertility rates reduce when poor people get wealthier. A necessary condition for that to happen is cheap, abundant reliable energy. If you want to ban all the sources of energy that have been proven to work (like the Green New Deal contemplates), you will get the opposite result – increased poverty and higher population growth.

          The world’s population is expected to grow from about 7 billion to 10 or 11 billion before stabilizing. It is not going to be reduced in the lifetime of anyone reading this article.

          Moreover, some leading environmentalists are on record as saying the world should have no more than 2 billion people. There is no way to get to that number without Pol Pot-like tactics.

      • Phil Major says

        “1. Less people. Who decides which of us gets to live. The enlightened ones like you I imagine.”

        There are whole populations with no economic basis for their own survival, who live wholly off of foreign charity.

        Stop subsidizing them, and blam… a big chunk of the human population vanishes in a few years.

        Now, maybe they aren’t the big polluters, but if you want fewer people, there is a way to get fewer people without executions or war. Just stop giving them money.

      • Phil Major says

        “1. Less people. Who decides which of us gets to live. The enlightened ones like you I imagine.”

        There are whole populations with no economic basis for their survival, who are wholly supported by foreign charity. If you want fewer people, simply stop giving them money.

        Now they might not be the big polluters, but if you want fewer people just stop giving them money and a massive chunk of the human population will disappear in a few years.

        • Jay Salhi says

          @Phil Major

          “There are whole populations with no economic basis for their survival, who are wholly supported by foreign charity. If you want fewer people, simply stop giving them money.”

          The poorest countries on earth have the highest birth rates. Whether or not foreign aid does more harm than good is open to debate, but the idea that you can starve off billions of people is ludicrous. Increased poverty will lead to higher birth rates.

    • Perhaps you missed that there have been successful demonstrations of extracting uranium from seawater. They have made yellowcake from seawater. The supply is many times that from land mining. Where there is a will there is a way. Human ingenuity is our greatest resource.

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > For one thing the supply of uranium is limited–it may last till the end of the century at the present rate of consumption–less as we use more.

      Not true. With breeder reactors, there is sufficient uranium for billions-with-a-b of years.

      And that’s just with the uranium cycle. There are also thorium cycles.

    • Farris says


      “Peak Oil” is based upon fossil fuel estimates using current extraction methods. Some reservoirs are considered as cost prohibitive and are not considered in oil supply calculations. When technology improves the estimates of “Peak Oil” are altered. Typically natural gas is not calculated in “Peak Oil” but if engine designs change or CNG or LNG becomes practical “Peak Oil” estimates would have to be recalculated. Coal gasification could become cost efficient. “Peak Oil” may exist but attaching a date to it requires Nostradamus type calculations.
      Fossil fuels are utilized not because oil companies are evil but because they are the most reliable, cost efficient energy source available. Nuclear power may supplant fossil fuels for electricity production. Electric cars charged with power from nuclear or hydroelectric plants may supplant fuel burning vehicles but then we may be discussing “Peak Cobalt or Lithium” which will once again be predicated upon stagnant technology.

      Regarding your statement: “There is no magic energy supply.” That depends on if one believes cold fusion is a realistic possibility or a pipe dream.

    • Sean Michael Bearly says

      Nonsense. From any point in time it always looks like we are running out of something. Have you noticed that weird capacity humans have to figure out solutions to problems? Remember when we were going to run out of food? Oil? The answer is to boldly move forward using the most cost effective fuels we can at the present time and adapt as needed. We must ignore false fears of running out of resources, of ruining the planet. The world is not full of evil people wanting to ruin the planet. It is full of people who want to live and live fuller lives and are willing to work hard for that possibility.

    • Stephanie says

      @Screw the Working class

      There’s a ton of hydrocarbons in space, and likely all kinds of mineral resources on other planets. As long as we don’t destroy our economy with socialism, there’s no reason to think our innovation and exploration won’t match our needs.

      • Sounds great! Now all we have to do bring them back to Earth and burn them! Of course we’ll have to pump lots more, TONS of Oxygen from our Oxygen wells!
        And, also- those stars out there are full of HYDROGEN! We can use this to refill all our hydrogen-powered cars! BTW, I’m still waiting for my 2008 hydrogen-powered car that BMW promised me fifteen years ago!

    • claude says

      No one has mentioned the real solution to our energy problem. The answer in three words: Fusion, Fusion, Fusion. We need to be fast tracking the development of a workable fusion reactor. Fusion reactors have minimal nuclear waste and are fail safe in case of an earthquake. It is my understanding that the fusion reactor stops working if the plasma hits the reactor wall.

  10. Given nuclear power’s enormously safe record, I think nuclear costs could be significantly reduced by lowering the regulatory burden. Why is an industry safer than wind have high regulatory costs?

    • david of Kirkland says

      And all that regulation focuses on solving to the regulation rather than improving performance. A market never got established so competing ideas and novel solutions that only occur under liberty, not central planning.

  11. Jimmy says

    You know what’s reliable? The tides. If the united states invested in the development of tidal power stations it could provide consistent renewable energy to its costal states. Incidentally California, Florida, Texas and new York, the 4 most populous states are coastal.

    • Screw the Ruling Class says

      Unfortunately, most of Florida won’t be coastal for too much longer. As New York City drowns, I guess we could probably put tidal generators between the buildings on the E-W streets. I don’t know what can be done for the low lying Texas coast. The Central Valley of California is below sea level. They’ll be able to make lots of power by putting generators under the Golden Gate Bridge and opening up a channel to fill the Central Valley. Death Valley is 282 feet below sea level.

      • Doctor Locketopus says

        > As New York City drowns

        Oh, please. Even the most extreme predictions (by actual scientists, not by Internet communists) estimate something like a six inch rise over the course of a century. OMG! It’s rising at 0.06″ year! Run! It’s a tsunami!

      • Farris says

        “Unfortunately, most of Florida won’t be coastal for too much longer. As New York City drowns, ….”

        Predictions such as you are making would be amusing, if they didn’t lead to harmful policies.

        “During the 2011-16 California drought, politicians and experts claimed that global warming had permanently altered the climate, and that snow and rain would become increasingly rare in California. As a result, long-planned low-elevation reservoirs, designed to store water during exceptionally wet years, were considered all but useless and thus were never built.
        Then, in 2016 and 2017, California received record snow and rainfall — and the windfall of millions of acre-feet of runoff was mostly let out to sea. Nothing since has been learned.”

        • Grant says

          I had conversations with people who told me ‘well now that we’re in a permanent drought’. They same people 3 years later are saying that we’re going to gave permanent flooding. Unfortunately you can’t easily convince people who think any weather event slightly out of the ordinary is climate change. They will be, by the way, to toss a fit when their electricity bills triple and demand other people pay it.

      • Jay Salhi says

        “most of Florida won’t be coastal for too much longer.”

        In 1988, James Hanson predicted parts of NYC would be underwater by 2008. Funny how failed predictions like that do no damage to a man’s reputation. Nor do they cause the press to show any skepticism about the latest doomsday predictions.

      • JWatts says

        “Unfortunately, most of Florida won’t be coastal for too much longer. ”

        That’s a ridiculous comment. Current worst case projections are for sea levels to rise around 10 feet in the next century. Mid level predictions are roughly 3 feet. Florida isn’t disappearing.

        • @Jwatts
          The average elevation of Florida is 6 feet, at a three foot increase that is roughly a quarter of the state underwater within the century. Not exactly an end to coasts but likely dangerous for a number of coastal cities

    • Saw file says

      I agree.
      The the potential of energy from the ocean is enormous.
      Transportation of the energy is the problem.

      • Jimmy says

        Most of the population of many countries is concentrated on the coasts. 23 US states have ocean coastline. even if its only used for coastal cities and settlements it should be able to make an enormous impact. And due to the article mentioning California already sends power to other states the infrastructure is likely already in place to serve many more inland communities.

        • david of Kirkland says

          Indeed, most big business is around ports. And those wishing for a single magical solution should give it a rest and realize it will be a suite of solutions just as we have a suite of solutions for energy today.

  12. Two quibbles with the article: The wind mills I have seen are generally sited in the middle of fields with a small margin around each mast. I don’t see that as terribly disruptive land use. Granted, solar takes up more space. Transmission wires? No matter what form of generation is used, there will be — there must be — transmission lines from source to user, and interconnecting lines to even out supply and demand.

    A point Michael Shellenberger didn’t make: It is too late to avoid some consequences of global warming. It may be too late to avoid worse consequences. If we don’t get our collective carbon-reduction acts together pretty damn quick, it will be too late to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. In which case, sic transit gloria mundi.

    • RadixLecti says

      The more distributed the sources, the more power lines necessary. Think of several hundred wind turbines replacing one power station. They will also require a comprehensive switching and distribution system for capacity control and isolation.

      As for your point about land use, I don’t know which country you live in, but chances are that wind produces a tiny percentage of your power. I believe the author is making the point that generating all or even a significant amount of the national requirement will require the commandeering of an area of land which most people would find unacceptable. This applies to both wind and solar.

      This video is a brilliant summary of the issues with an all-renewables plan.

      • david of Kirkland says

        That’s one point of solar is that you keep power generation local. No, it can’t provide it all, but then electricity doesn’t provide all our power needs, nor does fuel. We can also use the power from other sources to fill in the gaps.

  13. Farris says

    Can the American taxpayers get their $150 billion back. The vast majority of these problems were forecast long before 2009.

    • Craken says

      That article is quite a find–the absolute worst article I’ve ever seen on
      Every single bullet point is false (except the one on proliferation). That Professor Abbott can’t possibly be that stupid. He’s a shill, probably for fossil fuels. It’s beneath rebuttal.
      Either we will achieve some energy miracle this century (like fusion or cheap energy storage) or we will massively scale up fission power or we will see CO2 in the atmosphere continue to rise rapidly. To oppose fission is to gamble on a miracle.

      • hunter says

        Abbott is much more like to be shill for so-called renewables.

  14. Optional says

    You can almost always tell you are dealing with a leftist (the author) because they believe “the answer” exists somewhere (and often God has already told it to them and they will then scream it at you, as the author used to.)
    And “the truth” is that life doesn’t come with any pat answers.
    Nuclear or otherwise.

    Because of transmission costs, nuclear typically is near where it is used, and that means near people. And it is no fun to live next to. I have. I like nuclear fine – but not near me. I was very happy when it closed.

    Wind can be put offshore to save all the bats and most of the birds, and all of the land.
    Maybe solar as well. Solar can be put in space. But it would have to built there and not carried up.

    Load leveling is a real issue. Nuclear takes days to start up. It is useless for supplying the variable daily load. And renewable is almost just as useless, because it is unreliable.

    Coal is probably the best of the bunch,in terms of ability to supply what is demanded, at reasonable cost. And we used to use it a ton (literally). But it is very much in the environmentalist doghouse with the nuclear. Even though it is possible to clean a fair amount of it now.

    There are no perfect answers. But one thing that is historically proven is that the more the Federal Government is “involved” in the solutions – the worse they will be.

    • Daniel says

      Why didn’t you like living next to a nuclear plant? I imagine it was probably ugly, but were there other reasons?

    • Daniel says

      Why didn’t you like living next to a nuclear plant? I imagine it was ugly, but were there other reasons?

    • DumbNuke says

      As I work on a nuclear powered ship that varies its load constantly underway with swings of RX power all over the map based off of operation, I’m highly confused by the statement “It is useless for supplying the variable daily load”. Also though they “could” take days to start up once they’re up they stay up other than for maintenance takedowns and things as such. During such evolution in the case of a carrier the other reactor carries the load. So thats not much of a strong point.

    • JustADumbNuke says

      I’m fairly confused by the statement “It is useless for supplying the variable daily load” as I currently operate on a nuclear powered aircraft carrier that has swings of power all over its ability to meet operational demands in minutes. Also as a statement of “days to start up” that could be true for commercial plants but as in the case of the ship. If you take down one plant we have the other carry the load. Which is highly achievable in a commercial atmosphere.

    • Grant says

      Eh? Nuclear is ideal because it is reliable and constant, it’s perfect for base load. Electricity is transported long distances and can be situated in rural areas, although it’s not necessary.

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > Because of transmission costs, nuclear typically is near where it is used, and that means near people.

      This is patent nonsense. Nuclear plants produce electricity, which is routinely (and with high transmission efficiency) used many hundreds of miles away from where it is generated.

    • Obscure Canuck says

      “Wind can be put offshore to save all the bats and most of the birds”

      There are plenty of birds offshore. Sea ducks; seabirds such as gannets, auks, petrels, shearwaters, and albatrosses; migrating sandpipers, plovers, gulls, terns, and jaegers. Many of these are already declining due to overfishing or habitat destruction on their breeding grounds.

      People are doing research on this, such as Marbled Murrelets off the coast of Washington and California; the flight patterns of White-winged Scoters, Common Terns, and Piping Plovers off the coast of southern New England; and trying to determine how high different species of seabirds fly, so hopefully we’ll have some understanding of the risks soon.

  15. Karthik Karthik says

    I believe the most important step would be to lower our need for electricity in the first place. Not sure where the world is heading by consuming so much energy for little useful activities.

    • Steve says

      Yeah you go first, KK. Maybe your activities aren’t useful, but for most people heating and lighting their homes and transporting goods are the very definition of useful.

    • Left or right, if you're stupid I hate you says

      Yes, let’s all go back to the dark ages. That’s the answer.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Karthik Karthik

      We all seem to be doing our best to ensure that the people of the developing world have MORE electricity, not less.

      Do you want us to stop helping them?

      • Are you serious Morgan? Do you want the Africans (now producing an average of less than 1 ton CO2/p/yr) to also that ridiculous 10 ton or more of the West and China? You may say, why shouldn,t they have the same rich life as we have! But, isn,t that a little bit old fashioned, out moded, is it the idea that we all go together (soon some 10 or 12 billion) faster and faster towards the apocalypse?? You can’t mean that!

        • Doctor Locketopus says

          There is no looming apocalypse.

          Not unless the Marxists and Marxist dupes get their way.

        • Jay Salhi says


          “Do you want the Africans (now producing an average of less than 1 ton CO2/p/yr) to also that ridiculous 10 ton or more of the West and China?”

          It is an interesting question because if we answer “no”, it means we favor keeping them in poverty to lower energy consumption. This is the logic of the green movement no matter how much they might profess to care about the poor and the most vulnerable. It’s an elitist movement.

          • dirk says

            – keeping them in poverty-, of course, that’s how almost everybody looks at it, Jay, but is that correct? I have worked 10 yrs of my life in development projects (meaning: more mechanisation, electricity, irrigation, import of inputs, transports, in short, much more fuel and CO2 emission), and long thought that this was the only way to take (as a Hegelian).
            Funny thing always: we did that not because we were asked by the people or the politicians, but because of something else, missionary ideology I think it was, and western finance available for the purpose. The people themselves often told us: why run so fast, put everything in an agenda, talk so succinct on thechnical details, plant crops in rows with fertilizer etc etc. Now, I still don’t know whether we were, or still are elitist. Doesn’t matter anymore, I’m old now, and only good enough to reflect and write here on Quillette. What I realise reflecting: overpopulation is for 95% our western fault.

    • There you are so right Karthik, all these completely useless (though comfortable) activities: very common here, premises heating their terrraces, even where it is just above (or below) zero, doors open allday even at freezing, etc etc. In fact, whereever I look around, I don’t see any effort or tendency to do a first step towards saving energy, it’s just going on and on and on, it’s too ridiculous! Where is this ending??

    • Tersitus says

      I’m not particularly useful myself, but I sure like warm toes in the winter as a read the “comments” section.

      • dirk says

        I have a suggestion there, Tersitus, put on warm socks, and don’t heat large rooms just to have your toes warm. Same thing for airco: once, people built houses with natural cooling, natural breeze by strategic openings ( I’ve lived 15 yrs in such houses, very nice), now every car, mall, office, room or even complete palace is airconditioned at almost freezing temperature. It’s really too bad.

    • hunter says

      KK, who appointed you tsar of determining what’s useful?
      Life, health, education are all up.
      Famine, disease, destruction are all down.
      Energy increase correlates directly to better life.
      The elephant in the room is the social mania obsessed either sciencey sounding apocalyptic claptrap.
      Crush the claptrap.

  16. 370H55V says

    I remember my first trip to the desert too, after growing up in a large urban area. There were plants and birds and rocks and things and sand and hills. It was really hot and the ground was dry, but it felt good to be out of the rain.

  17. Don O'Leary says

    being seeing sane articles like this since the 70’s, but the loopy-doops just get louder and louder.

  18. Daniel says

    Thank goodness for this article. Any energy “solution” involves a trade-off, and the benefits of nuclear outweigh the potential problems so much it’s not even funny.

    One clarification question: “a Coke can’s worth of fuel”… Is that a measure of volume? Or the same weight as an empty Coke can? A full Coke can?

    I suspect it is the weight of an empty Coke can because I saw an exhibit at the visitor’s center at the Liebstadt nuclear power plant in Switzerland. The yearly electricity requirements of a family of four are such that, if generated using coal, would require a stack of coal crates totaling the size of about four full-size refrigerators. In terms of enriched uranium, it would be two pellets, each the size and dimension of a mechanical pencil eraser. Tiny. The visual discrepancy between the two was stunning.

    One thing the author didn’t address enough was the radiation emissions from nuclear power plants. There are essentially none. They’re so safe and so shielded from radiation that coal plants emit more radiation than nuclear plants. Think about that for a minute. Wow.

    The problem with nuclear plants is consequences of dispersing nuclear technology. There are bad guys in the world who would make terrible use of their power if they had a nuclear bomb.
    But as far as the developed, politically stable countries go — especially those who already have nuclear technology — build them power plants! Slash carbon emissions! Make energy cheaper, safer, and more reliable! This is a solution to the problem, and one in which the trade-off is worth it.

  19. Doug F says

    I truly am not trying to be mean or flippant, but this has been obvious for over 50 years. See if you can find a very old book named “The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear”. It been evident for a long time that renewables would only make up a small portion of the solution and that they would carry with them their own unintended negative consequences – especially as they were scaled to economic viability. They rely heavily on battery technology which continues to progress incrementally with indications that this is just the nature of power storage. On an actuarial assessment of damage per kilowatt nuclear outperforms renewables by a wide margin.

    It is sad that the emotional responses and fears so far out-weigh the facts. This has been sitting in front of our faces for a very long time.

    • Tersitus says

      Doug— you’re right, we’ve made sorting this out harder, more fraught with conflict than it needs to be. Maybe our greatest inefficiency is in our public information and education institutions.

    • Jay Salhi says

      @Doug F

      “this has been obvious for over 50 years.”

      You are correct. The Paul Ehrlich “population bomb” crowd opposed nuclear precisely because they feared it would work too well, increase prosperity and make the world’s population too large for their liking. They had the economics completely backwards (increased wealth = lower birth rates not the other way around) but they understood that nuclear would work and didn’t want that.

    • Craken says

      Nuclear is the simple and sane solution.

      But, the Left wants a solution that they can use for political purposes.

      Also, the elite as a whole is paid off by groups (fossil fuel and “renewables” companies) that have a financial interest in eliminating the nuclear industry.

    • Petr Beckmann, author of the above-mentioned book, send me a free copy, which includes several quotes from my writings about nuclear power. I was surprised and flattered that he felt compelled to include me in his book despite my critical stance on nuclear power. Unfortunately his book falls far short of rebutting my criticism. He self-published it, not surprisingly. The reference to the book above is the first time I have
      actually heard about it since I received the book back in 1976. This is also not surprising inasmuch as the intervening years have produced numerous books by qualified credible scientists, journalists and activists such as Daniel Ford, Dr. John Gofman, Harvey Wasserman, Karl Grossman, to cite only a few. Today self-styled
      experts like most of the commenters on this blog gush over nukes in a loud display of self-importance and what they consider irrefutable facts, otherwise known as
      opinions and wishful thinking. If anyone is as open-minded as to consider reading
      dissenting opinions they can consult my web site (www.lornasalzman), some of whose articles were published in leading journals years ago.My most amusing story is about a radio debate on nuclear power (Sherry Henry Show) with a scientist from Scientists and Engineers for Secure Energy (SE2). After it was over, walking to the elevator, he said to me: You are very good. Why don’t you come and work for us? Apparently he couldnt conceive of the possibility that was sincere.

  20. jimhaz says

    We need limits on energy production mainly to force us to limit the population of the human race and robots. The latter requires generated energy, we don’t.

    Bring on higher and higher energy prices ASAP.

  21. Clark Magnuson says

    I was designing and building solar and wind power in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
    I have been in power conversion since for medical and aerospace.
    I have looked into the eyes of many people who are afraid of nuke power or global warming.
    I am more of a calculated risk person, than a perceived risk person.
    When I was in college in 1971 we were taught that by 2000 that 20% of the earth’s population would be dead from pollution, per the best computer models.

    • david of Kirkland says

      What does “20% of the earth’s population would be dead” even mean? 100% of people die. Nobody counts population as including their dead.
      Today, perhaps 10 million people die each year from air and water pollution. That’s no small matter, suggesting a Tokyo or NYC die each year as a result.

  22. Electricity generation is only about 1/5 of our energy use. The rest is for transportation, heating and manufacturing. Whether we use renewables or nuclear for electricity generation doesn’t affect these other fuel uses, the other 4/5th.

    If we want to be totally off fossil fuels by 2030 as the UN advocates, electricity will be the only acceptable form of energy, so all the 4/5 now consumed will have to be replaced by electricity.

    Imagine all of our homes entirely heated by electricity. Imagine electric aircraft, trains, trucks, etc. How much land would be required for renewables? How many nuke plants would we need? How could we afford to throw away all our furnaces and ducting and replace all these with electric heating and AC, in all homes, offices and schools, throw away all our cars and replace them with electric cars, etc. And with rapidly rising electricity costs how much heat and AC and light could most of us afford?

    • Jay Salhi says


      “Electricity generation is only about 1/5 of our energy use. The rest is for transportation, heating and manufacturing. Whether we use renewables or nuclear for electricity generation doesn’t affect these other fuel uses, the other 4/5th.”

      You left out agriculture but your point remains valid.

      Nuclear is only a partial solution. Fossil fuels are going to remain a necessity for the foreseeable future because there are no viable liquid fuel alternatives. Increased electrification powered by nuclear is only a partial solution.

      It is not politically popular to admit this but it is a reality we will confront whether we admit it or not.

      • dirk says

        Agriculture is a good factor to mention here. Nitrogen fertilizer costs a lot of fuel to produce (has to be made at high pressure) and is good for one third of total enery costs of grains and staples (others for transports and machinery). Without that nitrogen, 3 or 4 billion of the world population would not possibly have been there even, and the amount is growing. This nitrogen production was, before the invention of the fertilizer, completely provided by nature itself, rotation crops that bind air nitrogen and birds producing guano. However, we now rely on this CO2 emitting process, where will we all end up? We have to look at nuclear power, and some solar, water and wind where possible. And save more, of course, helps a lot.

        • dirk says

          This night reflected more on this one. In fact, nitrogen as plant food (first element needed for proteins) depended for ages on solar energy: sun and CO2 make vegetal sugars, these sugars and sun energy bind air nitrogen by microbial action and make it available for incorporation in animal and human proteins. Now, instead of working this further out and develop better natural nitrogen binding, men decided to do away with this useful process altogether and choose for the cheaper (but energy devouring and CO2 emitting) and somewhat higher producing process of nitrogen fertilizer. China did away with all their nitrogen binding rotation crops quite recently and went on with the nitrogen binding factories as got from Nixon, and now also heavily fertilize their rice and grain with that stuff. This avoiding to work with nature is the great improvement of modern man, but…..for how long any more??

        • Jay Salhi says


          Excellent point about nitrogen. Along with the fossil fuel industry, “big agra”, biotech and “big pharma” are among the most maligned industries in the world. It often seems that the industries that to do the most to keep us alive and improve our health and well-being are the most hated.

          • dirk says

            Are you also agronomist maybe Jay? What I,ve seen and noted, agriculturists have another look at these things, because, agriculture was, until quite recently, for 100% a renewable, recycling business. We were taught (in theory and practice) how to keep this machinery at work and sustainable, until let’s say the 1950s. All history now, in the meantime, the times they are a….changing. It’s really horrible, detesting, ones guts protest loudly, but……. we have to live with it.

    • Craken says

      Nuclear (and solar) can be used for chemical reactions that create liquid fuels (synfuels) from water and air. That’s currently expensive (about $6/gallon for diesel equivalent), but it will probably get cheaper.

      Beyond that, most of the replacements you mentioned wear out. When their natural life is over, they can be replaced with electrified equivalents. This amortization process will take decades–but so will building new nukes.

  23. Erik P says

    It’s a sad that in our modern world researchers and scientists have so little coverage, whereas activists do. I wouldn’t outright disagree with him, though I’d make the points (i) cheap energy isn’t necessarily the answer.. we can reduce energy usage too (ii) nuclear is not safe: wait until we have a terrorist attack (iii) nuclear is not renewable.. uranium will increase in price if we adopt it globally as an alternative (iv) new grid systems are built for any new power plant (v) having looked at studies of wind turbines he seems to be exaggerating the effect on high value birds and also, like farmland, the areas may not be natural but it doesn’t mean nature doesn’t thrive there.. Spain and Portugal have been very successful with wind power (70% of energy supply). (vi) dams are problematic but they can be planned better than he suggested (vii) hydro, especially ”run of river’ hydro not even mentioned, neither was biogas (viii) nuclear decommissioning costs and problems ignored

    I heard these same arguments about nuclear 20 years ago, and I still don’t feel nuclear is in any way a solution as it is fundamentally a dangerous and unsustainable alternative. Renewables are in their infancy and completely new methods of capturing light energy are being developed. Grid systems are built around processing solid fuels, but they don’t have to be. In Europe the trans national transfer of electricity happens with or without renewables. In reality the energy balance depends on the geography, economy and urbanisation of the country, but nuclear is certainly regressive.

    In the end, I wish we simply listened to academic studies more than we listened to journalists and activists, particularly in the environmental sector.

    • Jay Salhi says

      @Erik P

      (i) cheap energy isn’t necessarily the answer.. we can reduce energy usage too

      Cheap energy is a necessity for economic growth and lifting people out of poverty. Higher energy prices are the enemy of the poor. You can reduce energy consumption by making it more expensive but that comes at a steep cost and the burden hits the most vulnerable the hardest.

      (ii) nuclear is not safe: wait until we have a terrorist attack

      Irrational fear mongering. Nuclear reactors cannot explode like nuclear bombs.

      (iii) nuclear is not renewable.. uranium will increase in price if we adopt it globally as an alternative

      10,000 years is close enough. Wind turbines and solar panels need to be replaced every 20 years or so (if not damaged earlier by the elements).

      (iv) Spain and Portugal have been very successful with wind power (70% of energy supply).

      Learn the difference between energy and electricity. Spain gets about 10% of its energy from wind and solar.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says

        “Learn the difference between energy and electricity” – ha! Good point! So far, the other fields where energy is consumed (heating and traffic, mostly) rely heavily on fossil fuels… EVERYWHERE, even in the countries with the largest share of nuclear power. So we’ll have to restructure our energy infrastructure either way to get rid of fossil fuels.
        Speaking of which, the demand for electricity varies during the day – at noon, the demand is roughly twice as high as in the night. Which is not something nuclear plants can handle without additional infrastructure. It’s not as bad as with renewables, because you need to compensate for a day, nor weeks or possibly months, but it shouldn’t be glossed over.

        • Jay Salhi says

          @Fluffy Buffalo

          “So far, the other fields where energy is consumed (heating and traffic, mostly) rely heavily on fossil fuels… ”

          Transportation and agriculture are completely dependent on fossil fuels and that is not going to materially change any time soon. It is a sobering reality few people want to confront. Electric vehicles can address only a small part of the problem.

    • Grant says

      The only reason nuclear might be regressive is because of the lack of research and new design. It certainly can made, cheaper and even safer. It’s currently the most feasible way to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions by 2050. The Chinese are doing it, building a molten salt reactor.Gate’s Tera Power has been blocked from building their test reactor here or in China.
      Germany, after all their massive expenditures on renewables hadn’t made a dent in their CO2 output because they closed their nuclear plants.

    • Grant says

      Spain’s total renewable percent of use, all forms is about 20 percent. Meanwhile, the cost of electricity has jumped over 60 percent, they’ve incurred huge debts and electricity is subsidized, all for a minor reduction in CO2.

    • Craken says

      The safety risks of nuclear relate to proliferation and poisoning, not terrorist attacks. These risks have been contained so far, and better security is coming.

      Nuclear is, strictly speaking, a renewable energy source. See:

      Pro tip on global warming solutions: always think of how your ideas work in China/India. If they don’t work there, they don’t work.

  24. You say ” A bigger problem is that there are many other uses for the water that accumulates behind dams, namely irrigation and cities.”

    This is not a valid argument against hydroelectric pumped storage. The dams do not consume water, it only stores it for some time. We will therefore not get less water for consumption because we have some hydroelectric storage stations.

  25. You say ” A bigger problem is that there are many other uses for the water that accumulates behind dams, namely irrigation and cities.”

    This is not a valid argument against hydroelectric pumped storage. The dams do not consume water, it only stores it for some time. We will therefore not get less water for consumption because we have some hydroelectric storage stations.

    • I just wanted to write down what you noted here above Jan, twice even, so, no use to come with it a third time. You are very right, I wonder how somebody can say such things, water is a peculiar something, even in plant water use, you actually don’t use it, it just transpires and rains down somewhere else again. So different with carbohydrates! There it is: once consumed, no more replenishing, consuming the work of millions of years in just hours.

    • Craken says

      The more important point the author forgot to mention is that such storage is entirely inadequate to compensate for the intermittency/seasonality of “renewables.”

      Also: hydro generates methane emissions.
      Also: damming up rivers is high impact environmental destruction (which has been normalized).

  26. Fickle Pickle says

    Hands up for those who have heard of the book Atomic Suicide by the remarkable (polymath) duo Walter and Lao Russell?
    Their work is introduced here

    Check out an essay titled The Nuclear Black Hole by Mae Wan Hoe the author of The Living Rainbow, and The Rainbow and The Worm.
    It is available on the Institute for Science In Society website.

  27. Morti says

    Well, Poland’s future looks even more dire now because of that. Poland will be doomed to import expensive electricity from hostile Russia (and maybe some from less hostile Germany) leaving it at Moscow’s mercy in the future.

    Even building ONE nuclear plant vastly exceeds the potential of the country.

    That’s also why nuclear sucks: it’s extremely difficult and expensive to build and maintain. It’s far too centralized and if one plant goes down, millions of people are without power supply. We need something smaller scale, cheaper and simpler. Something that countries not being major economic powers can afford and sustain.

    • Daath says

      Finland has two nuclear plants (with fifth reactor finally finished) and Sweden three (10 reactors). Both are much smaller nations than Poland, and certainly not major economic powers.

      Besides, nuclear power is one of the cases where “extremely difficult to build” means “difficult, built by people without experience”. The construction of nuclear has been so anemic for a long time that West lacks workers and engineers who’ve worked on several projects before. This also makes the cost overruns inherent in any complex constructions much worse. The maintenance costs per kW aren’t bad at all, though. “Cheaper and simpler” just doesn’t automatically translate into the system needing less money and work-hours to maintain, though the people won’t need the same degree of specialized training.

      Reactor accidents also don’t mean that entire plant is out of operation – even at Chernobyl, the other three reactors were gradually shut down during the next 14 years. Serious reactor accidents are also extremely low-probability events, and so far have involved only the older generation reactors (Chernobyl was a particularly risky RBMK-1000 type as well). Prolonged periods of low winds or cloudy skies, on the other hand, are common. Barring serious technological breakthroughs in areas like battery technology or jet stream wind power, I don’t really see renewables breaking beyond a supplemental role in energy production. I’m all in favor of investing more in R&D, but unfortunately reality isn’t a computer game in which investing X gold will reliably give you Y research points.

      • John PAK says

        My father helped design the first electricity generating nuclear reactor at Calder Hall, UK. He read the reports that came out of Russia on Chernobyl and his assessment was that appalling design and sloppy operators nearly caused a catastrophic disaster. By that he meant, they could have sterilised thousands of square miles of Russia and exterminated millions of local people and that region would have become off-limits to all life-forms to this day.
        He realised that most nuclear accidents arise due to incompetent operation so he was working on a more idiot-proof design where the inherent physics meant that the reactor could not over-heat if all the operators died.
        When the Brits dissolved the UK AEA they shredded all his work but that’s politicians for you. He had numerous friendships with German, French and British engineers/scientists but he described an invisible sound-proof glass window slowly closing when talking with politicians.

  28. Whilst I get the neatness of the nuclear option there are a couple of issues with this argument. First a single nuclear meltdown on the coast if the US would ruin the deaths comparison for ever. Second the German investment doesnt complete for another 6 years! Im not sure when the grid reaches full output and am unclear if the capital costs have been front loaded on consumers but the facts are missing and so how can we accept the case for renewables is poor?

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > First a single nuclear meltdown on the coast if the US would ruin the deaths comparison for ever.

      Maybe you should try getting your information from engineers rather than Jane Fonda movies.

      • Bob says

        Well said Doctor. I live within 5 miles of the site of the first commercial core meltdown in US history, Santa Susanna Field Laboratory. Half a million people live within 10 miles of the site where much of the material has yet to be accounted for. It is about a dozen miles to Beverly Hills and I don’t see it hurting too badly.
        Now the methane accident at Porter Ranch Oil Field is a different story. SoCal gas has refused to name the chemicals besides methane that were released. But the former Gov’s sister sits on the parent companies board of directors so that leak did not harm anyone. No health study, no nothing.I had to pay to be tested by an independent lab. I seem to have an abnormally high level of benzene and some other oil by products in my system. Hmmmmm.

  29. E. Olson says

    Good article from another Quillette author who has seen the error of their Leftist perspective. Now imagine millions more like him who haven’t yet seen the light, and are doing everything in their power to stop fracking, stop new pipeline construction, shut-down nuclear plants and prevent new ones, tear down existing hydro dams (so the fish can swim upstream naturally), and even slow or stop new wind farms (birds, view destruction), new solar farms (wildlife habitat destruction), and grid expansion to connect everything together. Of course many of those same people lobby and push for high speed rail and electric car subsidies, but apparently don’t consider that they are trying to ban or reduce every possible source of power that is needed to make them run.

    Quillette also published another article today about taxing the Western rich and giving the money to the world’s poor to make everybody more equal. This is another Leftist dream that doesn’t work, but it is often accompanied by such comments as “global warming is most damaging to the poor”. What results from this erroneous and delusional thinking are Western aid prohibitions against any power generation that isn’t renewable, which means they expect the poor to rise out of poverty via solar panels and windmills the provide unreliable and extremely expensive power as California, Germany, Denmark, Australia have painfully found for themselves. Of course those are very rich places that can almost afford sky high electricity rates, and can import power from neighboring states when the sun stops shining, but poor countries and people don’t have that luxury, and yet that is what the Western tree-huggers expect them to do.

    The most dangerous and destructive people in the history are Leftists who want to help the unfortunate and save the environment.

    • Aylwin says

      Is like to suggest, to you E Olson and to others, that perhaps this could be one topic that we don’t deteriorate into “Leftists” vs rightists – that’s one sure-fire way to get sides to dig in their heels and stop reasonable discussion.

      • E. Olson says

        I appreciate your sentiments Aylwin, but I don’t see how the topic of renewables can be divorced from Left vs Right discussion, since the entire industry is entirely dependent on massive government interventions into the energy market, with the Green New Deal proposal being just the most recent and aggressive example.

        • K. Dershem says

          I agree with Aylwin. Also, it’s worth noting that the nuclear industry (both existing plants and new construction) is completely dependent on federal subsidies and loan guarantees. In contrast, wind energy is cost competitive with fossil fuels and the cost of solar continues to drop. I’m not ideologically opposed to nuclear energy — I think that decisions about energy should be guided by science, not ideology — but it’s not clear to me that its benefits outweigh its costs.

          • Jay Salhi says

            @K. Dershem

            “it’s worth noting that the nuclear industry (both existing plants and new construction) is completely dependent on federal subsidies and loan guarantees. In contrast, wind energy is cost competitive with fossil fuels and the cost of solar continues to drop.”

            Good grief. The history of wind energy in the US is that whenever the subsidies dry up, investment stops. As Warren Buffet has explained, take away the tax incentives and investing in wind makes no sense. And solar is subsidized more heavily than wind.

            If you want to compare subsidies, you have to compare subsidy per unit of energy produced. Wind and solar are by far the most heavily subsidized.


          • E. Olson says

            K – nuclear subsidies are far lower than renewables on a per KWh basis, but the renewable industry never reports on a per KWh basis, only on raw subsidy expenditures. DOE levelized costs of energy production by type also never consider the need for backup power for renewables, thus while solar and wind costs have dropped over time, the true cost needs to include the cost of maintaining coal/gas/nuclear backup power for when the wind and sun are not blowing/shining. On the other hand, a nuclear, coal, or gas electricity generation plant does not need any renewable backup, and actually run much cleaner and more efficiently without the intermittency interference from renewables. If nuclear is so expensive, and solar and wind so cheap, why do ALL the countries and states (CA) with the most renewable energy have the highest electricity prices? Why did heavily nuclear France get increased electricity prices when they started to boost renewables?

            The Manhattan Contrarian is an outstanding site for analysis on the true cost of renewables and the politics of trying to cover them up – the links below are just a couple of examples:



          • K. Dershem says

            Jay and E.: it’s possible to find sources which support almost any conclusion you want to reach. You both oppose renewables and support nuclear energy, and you’ve linked to sites which share that agenda — at least one of which (the Texas Public Policy Foundations) receives funding from fossil fuel companies. As I’ve said, I’m not categorically opposed to nuclear power; I think an “all of the above” energy strategy make sense, at least in the short term.

          • E. Olson says

            K – you need to look at the underlying sources of data for the subsidy information provided in the links offered by Jay and myself. For the most part they are from DOE and other government sources that if anything are big proponents of renewables. And of course the other aspect is to look at the actual electricity prices paid by consumers in markets with lots of nuclear vs lots of renewables – its ALWAYS much higher with renewables.

        • Scott says

          I do think gov. incentives have sped the construction of wind turbines, but in plains states from Texas to the Dakotas, the case for low cost of the electricity and the case for them being profitable is pretty strong. The farmers love them because they can lease portions of their farm fields giving them multiple sources of income.

        • D-Rex says

          I have to agree with E. Olson on this (someday I won’t agree with him on something just for the shock value), all of the crazy environmental and weak scientific arguments are predominantly pushed by leftists. They swallow loony ideas lock stock and barrel because they fit their ideology and then claim that rational opinions are science denial. The number of people I read in comments who accuse others of not understanding ‘the science’ , who themselves have no scientific knowledge or understanding is astounding.

  30. Tim B. says

    I am an American expat that has lived in Germany since 2001, with a 3 year residence in Nebraska in the late 2000s. I pay 29 EUR/ct. per kWh, the highest in Europe. When you drive around, you can see solar farms, wind turbines and rooftop panels galore. I would love to make my house greener but it would cost more than my house is worth. With external insulation, new windows and solar panels, that’s easily 100,000 Euros or more. Not to mention, a 15,000 Euro solar panel set up would only save me 30% on my electricity bill on average throughout the year. Plus, when I put power into the grid, I would make about 12 EUR/ct. per kWh. After 17 years, I would make nothing.

    To add to this, Germans absolutely hate nuclear power. You will even see cars with bumper stickers that say “Atomkraft? Nein, Danke!” But nuclear power is reliable, efficient and carbon neutral. Sure it’s unsightly, a beautiful vista smudged by steaming double-cooling towers. I guess that it’s a case of NIMBY-ism.

    In the meantime, I try to do my part by replacing light bulbs with LEDs and making sure appliances are switched off, much to the chagrin to all in my home and I have earned a reputation of being the “Electricity Tsar” as I go around chastising my kids for leaving lights on.

    Renewables are a nice idea, but the tech isn’t there year and neither is the price. Until then, one might save a few Euros, but it’s more about being able to brag that your house is green.

    • johno says

      Off subject, but this reminds me of a comment I read. Jacob Beser, a Jewish crewman on the Enola Gay, was asked if he had any regrets about dropping the atomic bomb.

      He said he regretted not dropping it on Berlin.

    • Jay Salhi says

      @ Tim B.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Is there any sign that public attitudes in Germany might change causing politicians to come to their senses? They got rid of nuclear and now rely heavily on coal to back up unreliable wind. Now they are talking about getting rid of coal.

      Is the public at all aware that this will make them heavily dependent on importing natural gas, much of which will come from Russia?

  31. “cats kill common birds” cats kill what moves whether that’s a house sparrow (invasive no one cares) to grasshopper sparrow (endangered). Oddly worded at best, meant to trigger birders seemingly.

    • Obscure Canuck says

      Yep. “As for house cats, they don’t kill big, rare, threatened birds. What house cats kill are small, *common* birds, like sparrows, robins and jays”
      This is innaccurate. Cats have caused numerous small bird species extinctions, most famously the Stephens Island Wren.

  32. geoffrey says

    Yes nice promotion. Two things the author “forgot” to include in his biased statistics. What are the costs, emissions and environmental impact of extracting Uranium? What do you do with nuclear waste that remains radioactive for thousands of years? Do you suggest that we leave this s**t for the future generations to handle?

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > What do you do with nuclear waste that remains radioactive for thousands of years?

      Long half-life = less radioactive. By definition. You’ve been sold a bill of goods.

      • geoffrey says

        @ Doctor Locketopus
        What about an Earth full of “less radioactive” sites ? What if each generation creates 100 new sites of nuclear waste in order to meet the energy demands?
        Btw other factors matter also besides the half life of the isotope. It is also the type of the radiation and how effectively it is absorbed by organisms.

        • D-Rex says

          @ geoffrey
          An obvious solution for nuclear waste is to mix it back in with the ore that is was mined with and shove it back into the mine that it came out of in the first place once that mine was spent. That way the mine would actually be less radioactive than before it was mined and it would effectively have zero additional radiation impact on the environment.

    • Scott says

      All sources have costs and impacts of extraction. Look at pictures of neodymium extraction in china that gets used to make wind turbines. I think you are missing the scale of radioactive waste compared to waste from all other sources of electricity. Fly ash from coal burning is quite awful. Tailing ponds from coal mining have dams that fail after 50-90 years and destroy river ecosystems. If you want to create one underground storage facility in the middle of nowhere the only real risk is transporting the waste. At least in a single facility we have control over the impact compared to burning things that affect the habitability of the entire planet.

      • geoffrey says

        @ Scott
        I know that wind turbines and solar panels are not built out of thin air. If nuclear waste is to generate power for the whole world, one facility is not enough. You will have to add up the waste of many generations also. You also need to be able to impose universal safety standards all over the world. And you know how hard that is; we cannot even persuade all the nations of scientific FACTS!
        Anyway, my main point is, the author wrote thousands of words promoting nuclear power without spending a second sentence on the single biggest problem of it.

  33. Peter says

    What I don’t understand is why the greens persist in chasing after Wind and Solar despite the obvious problems to the exclusion of other possibilities.

    I still don’t understand why every weir and water wheel in the country doesn’t have a small turbine on it. While admittedly it’d be a relatively small energy income from each turbine they’d practically never stop working (except in floods) and the aggregate power output ought to be relatively impressive.

  34. johno says

    One has to remember that the mantra of global warming has little to do with actual global warming, which has been highly exaggerated. It is a vehicle for a redistribute the wealth political agenda.

    I can think of several very good reasons to curtail the use of fossil fuels, that have nothing to do with global warming. Balance of payments – send less of your money out of your country. Fewer wars – most of the major wars fought by the western nations in the last 30 years have involved the global oil supply. That’s why they intervened in Libya, but did nothing when a million Rwandans were slaughtered. Rwanda has no oil, and no impact on the global economy. Less reliance on ME oil means a more prosperous global economy, if it wasn’t dependent on the most politically unstable region on earth. And… not funding terrorism.

    These are reasons that anyone of any political persuasion can appreciate and support without argument.

    Yet, the greenies never bring that up, because it would mean people would use less fossil fuel without caving in to their point of view. It’s all about bending others to their view.

    As for electric vehicles… actually, the capacity of li-ion cells can be at least doubled with low polymer anodes, if they can figure out how to mass produce those. Imagine an all electric vehicle with a 500 mile range, for under USD$25k. It would be a best seller, not because it’s ‘green’, but because it’s a better deal than a gasoline vehicle. Fuel costs about 1/10 of gasoline, and maintenance costs much lower – most auto maintenance involves the gasoline engine or drivetrain. Unlike fuel cells, the infrastructure to fuel electric cars is already in place – the current electric grid. And charging typically happens in off peak hours, so the current grid could handle a lot of electric vehicles.

    Even if one fueled electric cars from coal plants, we’re still ahead. It’s an axiom in power generation that the larger the plant, the more efficiently it operates. You’d be replacing half a million small gasoline engines with one large engine. And, it’s far simpler to contain or control the emissions from one large plant than half a million small ones.

    But, then again, we’d have a lot of people owning electric cars without paying homage to the greens. And that just won’t do. Their motivation is bending others to their will, as evidenced by their failure to bring up these very practical advantages that have no political agenda behind them.

    Meanwhile, very real and un-exaggerated ecological problems fester, such as the garbage islands in the oceans.

    I find California to be a study in hypocrisy. They claim to be ecologically conscious, yet they burn more hydrocarbons per capita than anywhere in the world. Suggest to a Cali resident that they not drive their car, and you get a blank stare… inconceivable. They only have sidewalks to go jogging. And mass transit is all but nonexistent. Do as I say, not as I do…

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      “Greenies” have been making the arguments you’re making forever. Your second paragraph – stopping foreign wars based on oil – is fundamental to the left (the real left, not the corporate left). I have no idea what you’re talking about with this point. Why mention the potential of electric vehicles when that potential hasn’t been reached? Who’s opposing more efficient electric cars (except big oil)? You seem determined to frame this as an us versus them argument, even at the expense of common knowledge and common sense.

      What’s your problem with California? Why pick that fight when the entire country in based around ICE vehicles and sorely lacks mass transit? California is much better at protecting the environment that most other states, when the federal government is trying to undermine us, that it.

      • Jay Salhi says


        “Why pick that fight when the entire country in based around ICE vehicles and sorely lacks mass transit? California is much better at protecting the environment that most other states”

        Yes, the rest of the country follow the example California set with the amazing success of its high speed rail project. And they can teach us a thing or two about forest management as well.

  35. What’s missing here is: do we need to bother?
    The greenhouse effect was an unquantified assumption in the 29th century. They didn’t even know what an atom was then. Recent evidence strongly points to the GHE being insignificant.
    Science changes with new evidence. NASA’s 2009 DIVINER data of lunar surface temperatures provided empirical evidence of an effect (the Diurnal Smoothing Effect) that displaces the GHE on Earth. Now we have quantum mechanics to enable us to evaluate the GHE isis insignificant – less than 0.2C with CO2 contributing about 0.01C. for technical details for an overview

    Coal can be as clean as you’re prepared to pay for. Nuclear is the future but at the moment choice of technologies is difficult, with PWR suppliers muddying the water, and little long term evidence for newer technologies adding economic risk. Coal can supply reliable and clean energy till matters resolve. The African Development Bank recently backing coal was a valuable advance. China and India are going gang-busters, which will protect the bulk of the world’s population in the coming cold period. We’ve passed the maximum of the Modern Warm Period.

    • D-Rex says

      @ dai davies
      Just read your first article and partway through the second. I’m riveted but want to know if they have been critiqued by the likes of Judith Curry or Steve Macyntire or Spencer? I’m teaching year 12 chemistry and the first chapter of the texbook is primarily on the greenhouse effect but is so full of errors and spurious graphs, tables and assumptions that I can barely stand it but I have to teach it.

  36. Peter Pehlivan says

    Just another article saying that global warming “isn’t so simple” and “renewables aren’t worth it.” Probably in the service of an agenda, as I’d usually expect.

    It’s quite clear much of this article is misrepresentation and cherry-picking. I checked some of the books this guy’s authored or coauthored; much of it is about “exposing the failures of environmentalism and the left wing agenda.”

    While I know some worse examples of misrepresentations, I recommed people be skeptical towards articles such as this one. Climate pseudoscience runs on two levels:

    Level 1: Climate deniers.
    These are your William Happers, Roy Spencers, Richard Lindzens, etc. These are people who doubt basic science and would do basically anything for money. They deny either that the climate is warming, or that we’re the dominant cause, or that it’ll have negative consequences. They heavily distort science and are usually easy to spot.

    Level 2: Climate delayers.
    These are your Bjørn Lomborgs, Jordan Petersons, Michael Shellenbergers, etc. These guys are usually quite intelligent and good at scientific deception. They do admit the realities of global warming. The way they misrepresent science is by claiming that renewables won’t work, that the consequences won’t be so bad, that electric cars are bad, etc. The end goal is always less tax, even though we can easily tax carbon while lowering overall taxpayer load. They usually have a political bias, or are funded by the Koch brothers or conservative think tanks, or are unknowledgeable conservatives who are quick on their feet (e.g., Jordan Peterson), etc. They’re somewhat harder to spot, though. You’d have to check their sources and examine their methods to notice distortions. They normally aggregate cherry-picked snippets of science to paint a picture that fits their agenda.

    Global warming is an existential threat to organized human life, as well as animal life. Sure, there are many other problems that need fixing, but they’re of a kind that can wait and is localized. Climate change waits for nobody and affects everyone, so we have to take actions to prevent it.

    • Jay Salhi says

      @Peter Pehlivan

      “The way they misrepresent science is by claiming that renewables won’t work, that the consequences won’t be so bad, that electric cars are bad, etc.”

      World total primary energy consumption by fuel in 2015:

      Coal (30%)
      Natural Gas (24%)
      Hydro (7%)
      Nuclear (4%)
      Oil (33%)
      Others (Renewables) (2%)

      Do you have a scientifically proven solution for turning 2% into 92% Or even 22%? Or 12%? Despite all the investment in solar and wind, the 2015 numbers barely moved from 1990 and the Obama administrations projections for 2040 forecast only minimal increases.

      Solar and wind have serious limitations. Good sources of energy should be dense, always available, easy to transport, easy to store. Fossil fuels tick those boxes (some better than others). Solar and wind, by contrast, are dilute, intermittent, difficult to transport and extremely difficult to store. Solar and wind are not good sources of energy.

      Where is the scientific evidence that wind and solar work at scale? Which countries get a majority of their energy from wind and solar? Zero. How many power grids in the world run on wind and solar alone? Zero. They are worthless without a reliable backup (fossil fuel, nuclear or hydro). And they are dependent on fossil fuels from cradle to grave.

      The countries that have invested heavily in solar and wind have little to show for it in terms of reducing CO2 emissions. Instead, they have higher energy bills and less stable grids (Australia is an example the author did not mention).

      If you want to get rid of all of the world’s reliable energy you better have a proven alternative. No such alternative exists (nuclear is a partial alternative). Wind and solar are just wasteful and redundant.

    • Grant says

      Still waiting for signals that a doubling of CO2 will result in a dramatic increase in world temps. There’s very little evidence of it. The temperature rise from about 1900 to 1940 is about the same as from 1980 through 2000. What was the cause? No one knows, but it wasn’t CO2. Temperatures have not significantly risen since 2000 even though there’s been a dramatic rise in CO2. Sea level rise remains constant over the past 150 years. It’s always 10 years out for you folks, and when your dire predictions don’t materialize, it’s in ten more years.
      The only denying going on is that you can do something meaningful by building more wind turbines and solar panels.

      • dirk says

        The Swedish scientist ( I know, science is no longer priority) Arrhenius calculated a temperature increase of 5 degrees at the doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. This concentration has now increased by 1/3, and the temperature about 1.0, so, not bad, because, the oceans can absorb about 50%. Yesterday, we had again the warmest 28 februari of all time, and the first lapwing egg laid 3 days earlier than ever, I am old and don’t mind so much any more, but where will we end? I think, if really something dramatic will occur (Bangla Desh flooded), we will awake, but don’t expect this in the next 10 years, so, no problems, so far!

    • K. Dershem says

      @Peter, excellent analysis. When this article was first posted I expected the climate deniers (who are very vocal on Quillette) would come out in droves. To my surprise, most of the comments have accepted the reality of anthropogenic climate change and debated the relative merits of nuclear energy vs. alternatives. Personally, I think the author overstates the virtues of nuclear and undersells renewables, but I’m not opposed to nuclear in principle. An escalating carbon tax would allow the market to determine the optimal approach.

      • Jay Salhi says

        “I expected the climate deniers (who are very vocal on Quillette) would come out in droves”

        What is your definition of climate denier?

        • K. Dershem says

          I think Peter (the OP) provided a pretty good definition.

          • dirk says

            He didn’t come with a definition K.D., but mentioned a few climate change deniers by name. In fact, what I realised yesterday, this climate denier of course came in vogue after the existence of holocaust denier, also by a section of people that have a radical and minority agenda, in the face of reality, whereby I always must think of a pasage in Alice in Wonderland: – you can’t deny it, even where you try with both hands-. Everybdy knows more or less what it means, but literally it is nonsense of course. -Climate change sceptic- would be a better description, “things are not as bad or extreme as is depicted by press and science. No need to do something” (as we see now in the NL where we try to stop the winning of natural gas (houses are crumbling) and lean towards wind, underground warmth winning and solar, but who is going to pay? An outcry of the citizens (voters), and the politicians admitting that costs are much higher than what was calculated at first, this is how democracy works, no more sensible actions, they are blocked effectively). Where are the dictators, please?

          • Jay Salhi says

            Peter listed William Happer, Roy Spencer, and Richard Lindzen” as deniers.

            Those are three prominent scientists who express serious doubts about various aspects of the prevailing narrative. They could be wrong but to call them deniers is ridiculous.

            The climate models predict the earth should be warming at .3 degrees C per decade. People like Lindzen and Spencer point out that the actual temperature data show this isn’t happening and all of the models over predict warming.

            One could just as easily argue that the people who favor the models over the data are the deniers. Or perhaps we should just stop slandering people with the “denier” label and allow open debate instead of insisting that the debate is over because 77 of 79 scientists answered “yes” to two simple questions on a grad student’s survey (the source of the false 97% consensus claim).

    • D-Rex says

      Level 3: People who blindly accept the CAGW narrative without question and resort to misrepresenting the abilities of actual scientists who are way smarter than them and claim they are fossil fuel funded hacks.
      These are people like Peter Pehlivan, K. Dershem and Nakatomi Plaza.
      ‘Global warming is an existential threat to organized human life, as well as animal life.’
      You do understand that we are in the middle of an ICE AGE!?

      • dirk says

        D-Rex: BTW, are you also holocaust denier? I wouldn’t be surprised.

    • vince porter says

      A response headlined by slurs, as in “climate deniers” and “climate delayers”, and not a number in sight. But lots of political predictables – “we have to take action” because climate change is an “existential threat”. It probably is, but, opting in favor of the delusional solution rather than the reasonable solution merely delays the reasonable solution. By the time we replicate the German experiment in every developed country on earth, it may be too late for the reasonable solution.

  37. Erica from the West Village says

    It’s always a good thing when someone becomes “woke” before we all go “broke.”

    The banners and placards Michael and his environmentalists should be tugging around from protest to protest should declare “Open Yucca Mountain!!!”

    If Democrats would relent, the nation would be thrilled to call it The Harry Reid National Nuclear Waste Depot.

    After all, we’ve spent nearly $20 billion in taxpayer money to build this facility. Since it was Harry Reid who always blocked its opening (while gladly accepting the $ going into his state for development of the site), it’s only a fitting tribute it be named after the soon to be departed Senator from Nevada.

    Also…..Michael? As we’ve learned from the Japanese….best not to build reactors on or near geological fault lines. Californians often believe themselves to be immune from the laws of Nature, but this advice should be heeded.

  38. Anonymous says

    An excellent article. Intellectually, I have no doubt that nuclear makes the most sense – however, catastrophes such as Fukushima and the Ukraine are still scary.
    Maybe it is a phobia, but phobias are real.

    Who wants to move their family right next to a nuclear plant, regardless of the statistics ?

    • Ted Talks says

      How cheap is the property? For the right price I would.

    • Jay Salhi says

      “Who wants to move their family right next to a nuclear plant, regardless of the statistics ?”

      The French and the Swedes have managed just fine.

      Nobody wants to live near wind farms either. They are popular only for people who live far away. As more get built, opposition will grow. Unlike the fear of nuclear (which is completely irrational), wind farms are a horrible nuisance.

      • Doctor Locketopus says

        Yes, if nothing else the nuclear plant is going to be far less noisy.

    • E. Olson says

      Anonymous – 1 person died from radiation at Fukushima, 45 died at Chernobyl, and 0 died at 3 Mile Island. I was unable to find death figures from Cobolt or Lithium mining and processing, but I highly suspect the annual deaths are higher than total nuclear reactor deaths since 1945. I would certainly rather live next to a nuclear plant than a coal plant or wind farm (low frequency vibrations are very disruptive to central nervous system). Given how often Tesla batteries go up in flames, I am not sure it will be very safe to live next to the massive batteries that would be required to store excess solar or wind power either – especially since the battery fires are near impossible to put out.

      • D-Rex says

        @ E. Olson
        Hah! Finally something to disagree on! That one person who died at Fukushima committed suicide, so there!

        • E. Olson says

          D-Rex – thanks for the correction, although I expect that person did commit suicide because they were fearful of dying from radiation exposure in 30-40 years.

      • dirk says

        Let me wonder, how many people died (or die per year, per ton of product) in mining: coal, beauxite, coltran, gold?? And how many just for collecting swallow nests for Chinese soups (100 dlrs/cup)? All these human considerations only made in the modern West. In other countries just only risks to be taken, and ordinary casualties . No food and progress without deaths of some.

    • Tersitus says

      “Maybe its a phobia, but phobias are real.” Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone’s not nuking you.

    • annonymous says

      No one wants to move their family next to ANY energy source, including nuclear, wind, coal, natural gas or a hydro plant. Why would they? The biggest concern is setback distance. The windustry insists on setbacks of 900 ft to 1400 ft from homes. Opponents want that setback distance closer to 2000 ft or more from PROPERTY LINES. Hence, the arguments. Opponents to wind energy, like opponents to the other energy sources want common sense setbacks————-and not the setbacks demanded, yes demanded by the wind energy companies.

  39. Has the Auther Looked into Viktor Schauberger and his experiments/inventions using the energy of implosion ?
    I believe there is currently a massive internationally Cooperative project building a Nuclear Fusion plant in France

  40. Fluffy Buffalo says

    Meh. A very one-sided take on things, to say the least.
    First off, yes, renewables harvest fairly low-density forms of energy, and therefore require land. It’s important to make efficient use of that land, so for example growing corn to convert it to bio-fuel is horrendous bullshit, because you can get hundreds of times more energy per area from solar panels. But we will have to get used to the thought of using a few percent of our area for generating energy, just as we use a few percent for living, and for traffic, and a large percentage for agriculture. (Combination uses are possible – like building a solar roofing over highways, and partially covering fields with solar cells mounted a few meters above the ground to reduce excessive solar radiation to the plants.)
    Second, yes, renewable energies are intermittent. They have to be coupled with some form of energy storage system. The most likely candidate IMO is power-to-gas – using excess electricity to generate hydogen and/ or methane, which can be stored, transported and used with the existing infrastructure for natural gas, and processed further to have high-density fuel for cars and planes.
    Third, nuclear is not the answer. Yes, you need only a little fissible uranium… but you have to mine a boatload of toxic, radioactive uranium ore to get that. And then you’re left with more-or-less radioactive waste that’s highly toxic and needs to be stored and guarded quite literally until the end of days. Germany has been searching for a site suitable to store that crap for decades… without success. If you’re worried about exporting defunct solar cells to the third world, guess where our nuclear junk (including the plants, when their lifetime of 30 years is up) is likely to end up? Seeing how the waste will generate costs indefinitely, the claim that nuclear energy is only expensive upfront is ludicrous.
    Oh, and evacuating something like an entire county in the case of a catastrophic failure is not an appealing prospect either.

    So, yeah, renewables will have to do the job in the long term, otherwise we’re screwed.

    • Craken says

      Hand waving with no numbers. Your post is useless.
      “evacuate whole countries” = you have zero credibility

      • Fluffy Buffalo says

        Cannot tell the difference between “country” and “county” = doesn’t bother to read before writing angry comments.
        And you want numbers? What numbers do you want? Some that prove that renewables are more than competitive with nuclear power? Okay: estimated cost for power from a new nuclear power plant in the US: 77.5 $/ MWh. Photovoltaics: 60 $/MWh. Wind, onshore: 55.9$/MWh. Source:

        • Craken says

          Fluffy: Comparing baseload power with intermittent power again proves you have no credibility. Since you don’t understand the meaning of these numbers, maybe you were better off without any.

        • “And you want numbers? What numbers do you want? Some that prove that renewables are more than competitive with nuclear power? Okay: estimated cost for power from a new nuclear power plant in the US: 77.5 $/ MWh. Photovoltaics: 60 $/MWh. Wind, onshore: 55.9$/MWh.”

          According to your own source, the costs for wind and solar aren’t comparable to nuclear, due precisely to their intermittent nature.

          From pages 8 and 9:

          “The duty cycle for intermittent resources is not operator controlled, but rather, it depends on weather that will not necessarily correspond to operator-dispatched duty cycles. As a result, LCOE values for wind and solar technologies are not directly comparable with the LCOE values for other technologies that may have a similar average annual capacity factor”

          Which means your numbers are garbage.

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > And then you’re left with more-or-less radioactive waste that’s highly toxic and needs to be stored and guarded quite literally until the end of days.

      You’re either ignorant of physics or lying. Which is it?

      “Long half-life” = “less radioactive”. By definition.

      From your “reasoning”, something with an INFINITE half-life should be SUPER dangerous. In reality, a half-life of infinity means that it’s not radioactive at all.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says

        Okay, my man, then tell me, if I’ve got a nice mixture of Uranium 238 (half-life ‎4.468 billion years, eventually decays into Radon, which tends to seep through containers), Uranium 239 (703.8 million years) and Plutonium 239 (24110 years, considered particularly toxic), plus a bunch of shorter-half life isotopes which keep the stuff above boiling temperature for a couple decades at least… after how many years would you be willing to store a bucket of the stuff under your bed? After how many years would you be cool with it to seep into your groundwater supply?

        • Doctor Locketopus says

          Still on the “half-life” idiocy, I see.

          U-238 having a half-life of 4.468 billion years means that it’s hardly radioactive at all.

          Dangerous radioisotopes are generally the ones with the SHORT half-life (i.e., highly radioactive).

          After a couple of hundred years, reactor waste is no more radioactive than the rocks from which it came

          > after how many years would you be willing to store a bucket of the stuff under your bed?

          U-238? Indefinitely.

          Don’t look now, dude, but there are billions of tons of U-238 already in the environment. It’s a natural substance that’s all around you, “my man”.


          • Fluffy Buffalo says

            So you don’t have a problem with having a constant source of radon under your bed? Cool. And you’re the one who rounds down “long half-life” to “not an issue”, and call me innumerate? Okay, if I haven’t miscalculated, Uranium 238 has an activity of 1.8E7 Bequerel/kg. Multiply that with the number of elements in the decay series for the total activity in the long term. Your turn, Mr. Numerate: at what level is the stuff harmless enough to let it seep into the environment?

        • Doctor Locketopus says

          > Okay, my man, then tell me, if I’ve got a nice mixture of Uranium 238 (half-life ‎4.468 billion years

          Which means it’s barely radioactive at all. By definition.

          It is a natural substance that’s found everywhere. There are billions of tons of it out there, “my man”. It’s all around you! Run! Hide!

          You are an innumerate who views “radiation” the way a savage views “evil spirits”.

          • Fluffy Buffalo says

            Are you daft? Uranium is “all around us”… in minuscule concentrations, embedded in rocks, that’s why such large amounts of ore have to be dug up. And even then, it’s not harmless – environmental radon that is created by uranium decay causes several percent of lung cancers (the vast majority being caused by cigarettes). When it’s concentrated, it’s radioactive enough to be a problem.
            Also, you didn’t answer the question. How long until the stuff becomes safe enough that you don’t have to worry about it anymore?

        • charles says

          Well, I don’t keep it under my bed and I don’t let water seep in, because it is chemically toxic What do I do with it ? I keep it in a well aerated place (to avoid radon accumulation), burn it in reactors (first thermal reactors, then later in the century or next century, fast reactors) and then what is left is only made of
          – short and medium lived fission products
          – long-lived fission products, and
          – transuranics,( I.e. Neptunium and above in the elements table).
          I wait 300 years for the first part to decay away, (building vaults that last 300 years is something that even Egyptians from antiquity knew how to do) and then I send the remainder is space towards the sun using the 24th century space technology, for which it will be a trivial problem (actually, the second half of the 21st Century rocket technology would suffice from a cost and performance standpoint).

          Oh, and of course, the few thousands of rocket flights needed will use Hydrocarbons produced by PTG technology…

          • D-Rex says

            I wouldn’t bother sending it to the sun. Worst case just bury it back in the mine it came from, best case, in 100 years time I’m sure we would have technology that could make use of every last gram of left over material.

    • charles says

      PTG infrastructure is made of expensive assets (about 1$ to 2$ per Watt of electricity source :üren/dena_PowertoGas_2015_engl.pdf). It is the same order of magnitude than building a power plant. If you are the owner of such an asset, what do you prefer, feed it a few hours a day with intermittent power or maximise the output 24/7 with constant power ? PTG assets must go way down in price to make the above effect negligible. Another obstacle is that most large scale machineries don’t work very well intermittently (create materials fatigue for instance) ; from the same source as above : “Crucial for operation and efficiency of the process, however, are the peripheral components of an electrolysis system such as lye pumps, pressure regulators and product gas separators. Frequent load changes and full shutdowns stress these mechanical components by unsettling the heat balance, thereby shortening the system’s service life.”
      Last but no least, using Gas produced by PTG to produce electricity again when intermittent power is down is an inefficient proposition, as you have efficiency loss first when producing the Gas for Electricity (about 30% loss) and second (about 40%loss) when producing the electricity from Gas : that is about 60% loss from that battery !

      There is a place for PTG in transition from fossil fuels though, not as a battery, but as a way to create “carbon neutral” hydrocarbon for applications for which there is no alternative (for instance flying planes or rockets). This is for instance what the US Navy tries to do. (see

      • Jay Salhi says


        First, thanks for your posts on PTG, something I know little about that sounds promising.

        “There is a place for PTG in transition from fossil fuels though”

        The question is scale. For example, geothermal has a place but geographic limitations mean it will never play a large role. In terms of percentage of of global energy, can you put an estimate on the potential capacity?

  41. Daniel Rirdan says

    If you want to see the real deal, you are welcome to download an excerpt of my book that lays down the most detailed continental 24/7 plan of renewables: It include amount of concrete, steel, area, it models fluctuations, and more.

    • Craken says

      Even if N America can go full renewable, will it work in India/China? If not, then America has a role to play in developing better nukes for places that can’t do the renewable thing 100%. I’m very skeptical even America can do it.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says

        FYI: China and India have cranked up their efforts at rolling out renewables considerably in the last years. Will they be able to go 100% in the next decades? Probably not, considering how much their energy consumption is rising at the same time… but that’s not an excuse for the west to avoid doing its part.

        • Jay Salhi says

          “FYI: China and India have cranked up their efforts at rolling out renewables considerably in the last years. Will they be able to go 100% in the next decades? Probably not,”

          1. No country in the world has any chance of going 100% renewable in the next decades, least of all China or India who are building hundreds of new coal plants.

          2. In Paris in 2015, China pledged to limits the increases its CO2 emissions to 100%, which was a sacrifice compared to the Indians who said they needed a 200% increase.

  42. David Schnarr says

    Nobodybmentioned thorium reactors as an alternative ton uranium….no meltdowns, no plutonium forcbombs. ……cheap and plentiful.

  43. Econo says

    Well, I see the author likes nuclear, and the main argument against renewables seems to be the added cost from intermittency. But there are options to deal with that.

    What the author decides to downplay, if not outright omit, is that the true cost of nuclear is much higher than he lets on. Nuclear only exists through direct public subsidies, free public insurance against disasters, and public money for decommissioning. Once these are factored in, nuclear is simply not cost-competitive.

    But don’t take it from me, take it from one of the leading economics journals:

    “Nuclear power has long been controversial because of concerns about nuclear accidents, storage of spent fuel, and how the spread of nuclear power might raise risks of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These concerns are real and important. However, emphasizing these concerns implicitly suggests that unless these issues are taken into account, nuclear power would otherwise be cost effective compared to other forms of electricity generation. This implication is unwarranted.”

    Davis, Lucas W. 2012. “Prospects for Nuclear Power.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 26 (1): 49-66.

    • Craken says

      Nuclear was cheap before it became overregulated. The price of building a nuclear plant roughly tripled (after inflation) from the mid 70s to the mid 80s in America. This price pressure is exacerbated by the rarity of new reactors in most countries–each reactor is bespoke, instead of mass produced. Both of these problems can be fixed–we know this because of history and because China currently has neither problem.

      You do have a point about public insurance, but it is impossible for the private sector to insure nukes. On the other hand, the insurance payouts have been minimal in the West. And new plants are safer than the very safe old plants.

      Nuclear is the only currently available tech that is demonstrably sufficient to eliminate most forms of GHG emissions.

    • Grant says

      The decommissioning costs are built in and would be much less if they were just kept open. New designs can burn waste and dramatically reduce risk. 104 US nuclear plants have been producing huge amounts of clean, safe energy for 50 years without a single fatality. If you think that CAGW is a high probability, then you must be pro nuclear, otherwise you are deceiving yourself.

  44. Caligula says

    “You need the right kind of dam and reservoirs” to store energy by pumping water uphill.

    1. And you need to use the power you’ve stored within a reasonable time, otherwise your stored energy will evaporate. Which makes this type of storage more suitable to flattening the daily or weekly demand curve than storing energy in the off-season for use a half-year later. Let alone using this to store energy against uncommon adverse events such as draught.

    2. And as always, you get out less than you put in. Overall power-out/power-in efficiency for this type of storage depends on climate and terrain, but 60% might be typical. Which is certainly better than zero, but you’re still leaking away a lot of energy.

    BUT the primary risk of renewables remains grid instability, in part because the sources are intermittent but also because the distances between energy production and use tend to be large, thus requiring more and longer transmission lines, which create an inherently more complex system that must deal with the long delays between when a power source goes offline and when that reduction in supply affects a distant load.

    For ultimately a power grid is a negative feedback system in which adjustments are constantly being made to balance power inputs with outputs. And time delays between inputs and outputs always degrade negative feedback control systems. For example, imagine trying to drive a car where visual information was not presented through windows but through cameras, such that the images from the cameras were delayed by just a few seconds …

  45. If I was going to write something that long about something I thought that important I would proofread it.

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  47. Foyle says

    Renewables can work and be a total solution now at competitive prices. Middle east has PV plants producing power for $0.025/kWh, undercutting all other forms of electricity. They can make liquid hydrogen for about $1.5/kg – that can be transported anywhere in the world to run through fuel cells (or in far future power ships and planes and earthmoving equipment) to make electricity for $.08/kWh – similar to existing wholesale electricity prices. That provides all the cheap energy storage and transportability of energy required to make the world’s power production entirely renewable.
    We can then use home or utility scale PV and a few kWh of batteries per person for the day/night cycle. Huge additional capacity of electric cars will make it possible for people to go off grid – their (autonomous) car goes and charges up at a grid connected station if their home power system battery gets depleted (cloudy days or winter months).

    The economics are viable now, and will only continue to improve. Home batteries are currently ~$600/kWh, but big manufacturers will get that down to <$150/kWh in a few years. Cost of utility scale PV will continue to drop as more efficient (automated) installation methods are developed.

    I love nuclear power – particulalry floating reactors sitting over the horizon offshore and built in specialist shipyards (which fixes Nimbyism and high costs of moving skilled construction workforce around), but it is becoming less and less necessary.

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > They can make liquid hydrogen for about $1.5/kg – that can be transported anywhere in the world

      What kind of disasters do you foresee if we start shipping billions of tons of liquid hydrogen all over the place?

      As for shipped liquid hydrogen ever being cheaper than fossil fuels (much less nuclear-generated electricity), that seems highly unlikely. Liquid hydrogen has to be transported in cryogenic containers. Gasoline doesn’t.

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > They can make liquid hydrogen for about $1.5/kg – that can be transported anywhere in the world to run through fuel cells (or in far future power ships and planes and earthmoving equipment) to make electricity for $.08/kWh – similar to existing wholesale electricity prices.

      Sorry, I simply don’t believe this.

      Liquid hydrogen has to be transported in cryogenic containers. Gasoline, coal, and uranium don’t.

      There’s no way that shipping liquid hydrogen around is ever going to be cost-competitive with those technologies. Not to mention the risks involved with shipping billions of tons of liquid hydrogen all over the world. Yikes!

    • Foyle says

      Liquid Hydrogen (LH2) shipping is quite feasible and not particularly expensive. There are already many bulk cryogen transports ships in service for LNG. LH2 ships to carry the same amount of energy would be about 50% bigger than the LNG freighters, but would weigh far less. Supertankers already ship vast amounts of fuel around the world, so that is not a big difference or change, an LH2 tanker spill or crash is not going to do any environmental damage – just as you don’t heart about problems with LNG tankers. LH2 can also produce electricity with nearly 70% efficiency, higher than the 60% possible with natural gas.

      Liquid hydrogen in an accident evaporates nearly instantly and rapidly rises into the air, it doesn’t accumulate in low places the same way that heavy hydrocarbon gases do. Sure it will burn if ignited but it is generally conflagration not detonation and it is actually less dense as an energy source than hydrocarbon fuels. There is no reason to ever bring it into close proximity with large populations if it is used as a seasonal/annual store for energy. It can be held in large isolated cryogenic tanks and be distributed to generation by gas pipeline (the same as natural gas).

      I don’t see this happening in the next 10-20 years as natural gas is such an easy and cheap option for the time being, but when we need it it is economic. The post-fossil fuel energy future of the human race is quite secure, can be entirely renewable, and need be no more expensive than today.

      • Doctor Locketopus says

        > Liquid Hydrogen (LH2) shipping is quite feasible and not particularly expensive.

        What does “not particularly expensive” mean? Cheaper than crude oil? Cheaper than coal?

        Yeah, gonna have to ask for some hard evidence there. There’s no way that a cryogenic vessel is ever going to be as cheap as a plain steel hopper car or ocean-going tanker.

        > There are already many bulk cryogen transports ships in service for LNG.

        Methane (i.e., natural gas) liquifies at -161 C. Hydrogen liquifies at -252 C. Different temperature range.

        Also, hydrogen has a bad tendency to embrittle any metals with which it comes in contact. Bad news for a pressure vessel. While this can be gotten around for small scale tanks (up to say, railroad tank car size) by using special alloys or exotic materials (e.g. aluminum tanks wound with Kevlar fiber for strength) building a supertanker out of that stuff is not going to be cheap.

        > . LH2 can also produce electricity with nearly 70% efficiency, higher than the 60% possible with natural gas.

        What you’re ignoring here that natural gas comes out of the ground ready to use, but hydrogen has to be made, incurring a loss at that stage. Typical PV solar cells are about 35% efficient, so the total cycle efficiency would be 0.35 x 0.7 = only about 25%

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  49. Doctor Locketopus says

    Sorry for any duplicate comments…. the commenting system appears to have some issue where comments don’t appear for a while, even if one reloads the page.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Doctor Locketopus

      Possibly related, but several days ago a comment of mine appeared with colored text attached from – someone – saying that my comment was being “moderated” and would soon appear. After it had, in fact, appeared.

      Perhaps we’re being a little more closely supervised?

  50. Peter Rowe says

    Thank you for an excellent article. Ten years ago, I stated at my work place that the only solution to the climate change issue was nuclear but that it would take a real crisis before it was accepted as the obvious solution. I was pretty much shut down by the younger staff members when I said this (and I was the boss). Sadly I think we are still decades and trillions of wasted dollars away from recognizing the absolute inevitability of the nuclear solution.

    • jimhaz says

      Yet I’m sure at the same time you would be 100% for capitalistic competition – and the trillions of dollars and resources lost via multiple business agencies working for a goal, but against each other.

      One thing I see is that the nuke rampers, like Shellenberger fail to properly sell the apparent safety aspect of the new forms of generator (nor include the projected supply/demand price of uranium). I wonder why.

  51. Conner M. Steacy says

    Nuclear power has been knocked on its ass for the past fifty years. Fears of radiation have been stoked by The China Syndrome(movie), Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukishima and even Godzilla.

    As a result work on improving the technology has been lacking. Currently Light Water Reactors (the norm) use only about 5% of the useable uranium in the rods before they are sent to long term storage. People are working on ways that could actually retrieve the unspent fuel of all those rods.

    That is just one idea from many that haven’t been explored. We have no clue what capacity nuclear power might be at now if it had been pursued fully for fifty years.

    • ROD SANDERS says

      “People are working on ways…”

      I’ve heard this for 50 years. Still waiting. Ever hear of putting the cart before the horse? In this case, the consequences are potentially far too high to justify the risk of doing so intentionally. Let’s see the tried and true solution to the nuclear waste issue before aggravating the potential harm. We’ve heard enough about people “working on it” and how technology will provide the answer at some future time. Pie in the sky.

  52. Pedro says

    This is about the most encouraging news I’ve read in a long time, in spite of the fact there are so many evil and idiot forces out there trying to suppress, discredit or simply deny this truth. We’ve all been brainwashed about nuclear energy ever since Hanoi Jane Fonda did her little fright spectacle movie, The China Syndrome. Man, oh man have we all been duped.

  53. Ronald Kesslar says

    Very good article. I’ve been a pro-nuclear energy advocate for some time now. Getting people to understand that “the bomb” and nuclear power are two different technologies is one hurdle we need to overcome. Others are the fear created by old movies ie “The China Syndrome”. I hope our government would look at this as a possible solution for now until there is something we have not invented. Conner M. Steacy is on the right track for the unused fuel.

  54. Thomas Johnson says

    The problem with nuclear is that you can NEVER escape the waste…. and this problem is far more pervasive that anyone will admit. Moreover, in the event of an accident, the land is rendered useless… FOREVER! And land is our most precious resource.

    Idea for a nuclear bumper sticker… Go Big – Move to Mars

    • jimhaz says

      That is a view I hold, particularly as we would appear to be due for some form of major natural disaster, such as a Yellowstone explosion.

    • Doctor Locketopus says

      > The problem with nuclear is that you can NEVER escape the waste

      Sheer nonsense.

      > Moreover, in the event of an accident, the land is rendered useless… FOREVER!

      Umm… Hiroshima has over a million people living there, dude, and Nagasaki has over 400,000.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says

        Hiroshima bomb: 60 kg of uranium. Nuclear power plant: 100 tons of uranium in the core, plus who-knows-how-much in the cooling pond. See a difference there, Doctor Numerate?

    • Craken says

      Maybe if you tried researching ACTUAL nuclear accidents you would be less hysterical.

      The choice is between nuclear or climate change. The risk is the occasional nuclear accident (until we perfect the technology) or destruction of the biosphere. It would appear that the anti-nuclear forces prefer to risk the biosphere rather than risk 1% of 1% of 1% of the planet’s surface.

  55. jimmbbo says

    The fallacy of the efficacy of “renewable energy” were obvious to ANYONE with an IQ above room temperature LONG before it became the battle cry of the Globull Warming Gestapo…

    • jimhaz says

      I am presuming your IQ is less than 100 then, if one considers that over the longer term renewables can be the ONLY answer to the human need for generated energy.

      I take the view that
      a) As a life form we do not change on big picture issues until we sufficiently suffer.
      b) Renewables will give us more time to change.

      • D-Rex says

        Current wind and solar technology is only transient and has NO chance of becoming the main supplier of energy on a global scale. Lomboorg has the most sensible ideas for those that feel that global warming is actually an issue. For the rest of us non-hystericals, meh.

  56. Angus Robertson says

    The answer is electric cars, 2 way charging and a variable consumer electricity price market. When electric cars have more range than a person needs and 2-way charging they can be used as an electricity storage device. Car owners can set their cars to only charge beyond 50% if price drops to very low levels and then sell the energy back to the grid if power prices rise above a high price. This way when the wind blows and the price falls the power is absorbed and when the wind stops blowing the power is available.

    This will become common place, because people buy cars with more range than they need on a daily basis for the time they need to take a once yearly trip away.

  57. Gary D. says

    It’s the money, honey.

    Governments have found a new cash cow in the environmental movement.

    For example, British Columbia’s “carbon tax” is at about 112% of the cost of the natural gas used. Then they turn around and hand money to very wealthy people who are able to buy electric vehicles. (It’s an “incentive” to buy electric vehicles, you see.)

    If governments gave a rat’s behind about the environment, I’d be surprised.

    Governments and environmental organizations are just licking their chops.

  58. Roger Lauricella says

    I’ve spent my career nearly equally between Nuclear (20 yrs) and wind/solar (18 yrs) and believe both are complementary. But I also believe in natural gas and even coal. It’s all about electrical inertia and the difference between synchronous generators (nuclear , gas, oil, coal, hydro) and asynchronous ( wind). Grid operators can call upon synchronous sources to support voltage and var contributions up and down to the grid. Wind for one needs the grid to start up (it consumes power first before reversing current and becoming a generation source) and regardless of internal controls or even storage cannot be counted on to provide large electrical inertia when the grid needs it. Texas stayed on the grid during a hot 2018 summer not because of record wind and solar generation but because of two twin nuclear reactor sites (one near Houston, one SW of Dallas). Those units provided grid stability (the electrical inertia) needed. But Nuclear is being shut down primarily by political forces in the USA. After 2022 the Dual Unit Indian Point Station North of NYC will be shutdown which is 25% of Southern NY power. There will be brownouts and blackouts in NYC either on hot summer days or cold winter nights because that inertia will be gone when some grid event occurs. The Politicians will promptly blame the utilities who will not be at fault.

  59. Rick says

    Interesting article that deserves consideration. With new advances in the area of nuclear technology that improves efficiency, cost, and safety, I don’t see how we can exclude this as part of the total solution. Bill Gates and his company, TerraPower (, was working with China to build a demonstration reactor but sadly, that project has been put on hold. A January 2019 article at Popular Mechanics discusses some details. Nuclear must be part of the climate change solution.

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  61. Hollywood Mark says

    I remember researching this author and his father a few years back when he began his first attempts to revive nuclear power favorability. His father is retired CIA and while I could find no evidence that the son works for the CIA I must assume there is similar connection until proven otherwise. Just my own rule.

  62. I would love to see a nuclear renaissance, but even if we had a radical reform in the regulatory framework, there simply aren’t enough trained engineers and operators to build at anywhere near the scale that would be needed. Beyond that, even in countries that are aggressively pursuing nukes, like South Korea and China, the capital costs per unit capacity are quite high. Nowhere near as high as they are in the US and Europe, but still high enough that the amortization makes for expensive electricity. And beyond even that, the irreducible unit of capacity that comes from a nuke is a couple of gigawatts, which makes that capital outlay a risk that only a few investors will tackle.

    In contrast, while I share Mr. Shellenberger’s reservations about renewables and the storage that’s needed to make each unit of capacity added reliable enough, they do have the nice property that they can be built at a variety of scales, and attract investors with a variety of risk tolerances. That’s a recipe for a system that can be built out, by a lot of people, fairly quickly.

    A quick note about storage: It should be possible to determine how many joules of storage you need per watt of renewable capacity to make the system reliable. From there, you can figure out the capital, operational, and charging costs well enough to determine what the levelized cost of energy is for a renewable-intensive grid that isn’t a complete fantasy. If you need 4 J/W, things are pretty reasonable. But if you need 12-16 J/W, you’re looking at LCOEs well north of $200/MWh, which simply isn’t feasible. Figuring out that key metric is essential if you want to know whether renewables will actually be reliable enough that we won’t have massive outages due to occasional bad luck.

    I’m hopeful that some new technology will come along just in time. It could be nuclear fusion (much easier to scale safely than fission nukes, and there’s a materials revolution in high-temperature superconductors that makes things look pretty good), or a real revolution in battery technology, or even the ability to dig a stable 5 km-deep shaft anywhere where we might need geothermal power. We could wind up being able to fabricate solar cells out of extraterrestrial materials and wind up making satellite solar power affordable. (The key to this one is launch costs, which are dropping precipitously. Instead of being 5 orders of magnitude too expensive, they may soon be only 1-2 orders of magnitude too pricey.)

    The good news is that human beings have recently been pretty good at finding ways to avoid extinguishing themselves, albeit at the last moment. With a little luck, in the near future we’ll look back on our hand-wringing about fossil power the same way we look back today at the city planners of the 1880’s, who were sure their cities were going to collapse because they didn’t have a way to clear the horse manure from the streets. Technology usually finds a way.

    • Craken says

      Only people who do not consider climate change the threat that the mainstream claims it is would suggest gambling on future tech miracles instead of building out fission at large scale.

      Engineers/operators can be quickly trained. There’s this resource out there called “young people.” It takes 6 years to properly train an engineer, less for other workers.

      China is a middle income country on a nuclear building spree. They wouldn’t do that if the $ numbers were unfavorable.

      Storage costs have been calculated many different ways–at full renewables even the richest nations would find them unaffordable. Even without storage costs, Germany shows what the costs look like for high renewable levels.

      Fusion is a proliferation risk, just like fission.

      • I’m optimistic that something better will come along, but I agree that we can’t count on it. The problem is that nuclear doesn’t solve the problem.

        The problem with the nuke industry now is that its workforce is aging and shrinking. Can more engineers and operators be brought in? Of course. Can they acquire the institutional memory necessary to operate plants efficiently and safely? That’s a much bigger problem. Best practices and all the little tips and tricks that don’t get written down need to be mentored, not read in books. There simply aren’t enough seasoned pros out there to scale the industry up quickly. It’ll take a generation.

        China’s “building spree” from 2014-2020 averages to about 5849 GW of new capacity per year. That’s very impressive. But that’s a country that is pretty much going flat-out, as fast as they can, on nuclear, and here’s how much of a dent that makes in their net capacity over the next 30 years. That should pretty much tell you everything you need to know about the prospects for nuclear being the major solution to de-carbonization.

        IMO, storage costs haven’t been calculated at all–at least not in any coherent way that can tell you what the LCOE of a grid-wide solution would be. That’s exactly why I’m advocating using the joules/watt metric. That number should be stable enough by region to do a decent estimate of what a majority-renewables grid will cost for each independent system operator.

        Similarly, you can figure out the LCOE of nuclear if it had Chinese and South Korean overnight costs and construction periods. (I haven’t done this, although it sounds like a pretty simple project to do…)

        With those numbers, you can make a decent comparison between generating technologies–and you can estimate the capacity deployment rate. Those are the key metrics we need for policy.

          • Craken says

            This gives more accurate numbers on China’s nuclear power production (4%):
            At their current build rate, they’ll have about 120 reactors by 2050, which would provide about 6% of electric power. But, why wouldn’t their build rate accelerate? There are no shortages of manpower, materials, or money. America built reactors more rapidly back in the 70s–and China has 5 times the population of 70s America. Also, with small modular reactors becoming available, the costs will likely decline.

            The LCOE numbers I do not have at hand. But, I’ve seen them. There are two intermittency issues with renewables: the short term fluctuations (daily, hourly) and the seasonal patterns. It’s the latter that create the major cost problem. The numbers I’ve seen indicate that storage becomes a major cost once renewables rise above 30-50% of the electric grid during peak season–the range reflects different degrees of seasonal fluctuation. At 90% renewable penetration, adequate compensatory storage becomes unaffordable for any nation (cost curve goes vertical). That’s what the models say. But, the models idealize. Germany, as a test case, derives 27% of electricity from solar/wind–and this has created the highest electricity prices in Europe.

            I think an intelligent policy process would result in America’s 2050 electricity mix being about 25% wind/solar, 60% nuclear, and 15% hydro/natural gas. If a miracle happens upon us, then adjust the mix. One “miracle” that I hear little about, but which is a distinct possibility: creating clean synthetic fuels from nuclear or renewables to replace oil and natural gas. These could also be transported globally by pipelines and supertankers–which might mitigate the severe seasonal fluctuation problem.

          • @Craken:

            You’re projecting 6% nuke penetration in China 30 years from now, but you want 60% in the US, even with an aging fleet? And with the regulatory situation so out of whack?

            As for why the Chinese rate wouldn’t accelerate: They’ve been going flat-out since the “third wave” construction started 12 years ago. If they could have accelerated, they would have. If anything, fourth wave construction is a bit slower than third wave.

            I favor significant nuclear regulatory reform, but only a crazy person would de-regulate the industry. The Chinese aren’t crazy; they understand the consequences of an accident, and they’re going to proceed as quickly as possible, but not so quickly that things go sideways on them. That requires not only increased engineering and operator capacity but also regulatory capacity, overseen by people who know what they’re doing.

            Remember that the person who oversees a Chinese nuke that goes INES 5+ probably gets shot. It’s a powerful incentive to be fairly cautious.

            I agree that renewable seasonality is a big deal, but the real problem is 3- and 4-sigma events in the good seasons.

            It’s fairly cheap (i.e., something like 4-6 J/W) to handle 1- and 2-sigma bad luck. But if you want a grid that doesn’t collapse every 5 or 6 years from a 4-sigma event, you may easily be looking at 12-18 J/W.

            One of the things that I discovered when I modeled this was that the capital amortization and O&M costs scale pretty linearly with storage size, but the charging costs are highly non-linear. That’s because, in addition to powering the grid, the capacity also has to be able to re-charge the storage following a bad event. If it can’t, then you’re pretty much vulnerable to the same kind of 3- or 4-sigma event that caused you to draw down in the first place. That means that you have to significantly over-plan your capacity, which is expensive and likely drags your renewable capacity factor down.

            We’re in violent agreement on the problems with renewables, I suspect. I just don’t see nukes being a viable solution. We need something else.

            If I had to guess, it’s going to be fusion, which is actually making major progress for the first time in about 30 years. The beauty of fusion is that, while the apparatus is complex, it’s manufacturable at scale and the permitting and deployment can go very quickly. I suspect that we’re still 5-10 years from a compelling demo and 15 years from early deployment, but it can catch up very, very quickly. (And yes, I know the old joke about fusion being 30 years away and always will be. But 10 years away makes it quite a bit more likely.)

            I agree that fusion is a proliferation issue, but proliferation and safety aren’t the same thing. Furthermore, blanket design for fusion systems turns out to be surprisingly hard. Nobody’s gonna swap the Li-6 blanket for a U-238 blanket without somebody noticing that something hinky is going on.

          • Craken says

            I didn’t project 6% penetration of nukes in China. I projected that for their current build rate. We disagree about their potential build rate, which I think is much higher. They scaled back their plans post-Fukushima (which was wise). But, I project 20% penetration in China, as they rise out of the recent rut–400 reactors by 2050. That is still a slower build rate than America’s in the 70s, adjusting for population size. As in so many other areas, China benefits from learning from others’ nuclear mistakes.

            I think we largely agree on renewables.

            I’m more skeptical of fusion in the medium term than you are. The main underappreciated problem with D-T fusion reactors is that too much tritium escapes unburned. And tritium is the rare element of the two. We can only produce it in fission (small quantities) and fusion reactors. Currently, if we had a D-T fusion reactor, we’d need to supply it with tritium from fission reactors since it could not produce enough for self supply.

            The best skeptical take I’ve seen on fusion:
            I discount the problems he enumerates as inconveniences–except the tritium problem, which is a showstopper.

  63. Gary Denton says

    He claims to be an environmentalist but is actually recognized as a pro-nuclear activist.
    Some of the biggest claims in this article are lies.
    Just an example: Chernobyl did not kill less than 200 people and Fukushima none. Both incidents caused thousands of additional cases of cancer deaths.

    • Craken says

      Denton: You are a liar–and not a good one. That’s a telltale sign of Leftism.

      • D-Rex says

        Craken, a bit harsh perhaps but not inaccurate.

    • charles says

      The problem is that to reach these numbers, you first have to apply a differential statistical methodology together with a health modelling assumption (the so called “Linear No Threshold” model). That is already quite debatable.
      But, even if you pass that hurdle, what most environmentalists miss is the second step to achieve consistency : apply such methodology for EVERY risk factor and ONLY THEN, rank the lethality outcomes. This is where their head explode, because then nuclear risk is way down the list, way below smoking (even marijuana smoking…), drinking sugary water, eating bad fats, being exposed to PM 10 particles or aromatic compounds from household cleaning product in indoor environment, or being downstream of a power generating dam that can break, just to name a few.

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  65. drew says

    This guy is also a moron.

    He estimates 200 people dying due to Chernobyl radiation – fully 1/10 the lowest estimate ever made by the USSR. Generally accepted cancer incident rates related to Chernobyl are much higher, even according to the current Russian administration.

    Also, turtle moving technology has evolved quite a bit since he was in college – we can save most of them now.

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  67. thomas fletcher says

    Your article underscores some of the underappreciated or neglected ramifications of the popular renewable energy sources. Sometimes policies that make us feel good turn out to have ugly unintended consequences. Quantitatively oriented environmentalist use the economic metric of energy return of investment to evaluate the deeper implications of various energy sources. The literature, peer review or otherwise, on the topic of EROI provide numbers all over the map. Given your knowledge of the energy industry and your capacity to think rationally, could you write another article reviewing the objective, no-nonsense data on the real costs of renewable energy sources?

  68. Joe Tie says

    Interesting how advancements in battery tech and turbine design stopped yesterday when this was published. Better tell the folks at MIT, NASA, the military, etc so they stop their research. Also interesting how nuclear waste will somehow be transferred safely and securely hundreds of miles to underground facilities without costing the taxpayers and the rate payers a dime.

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  70. Sean S says

    Deal with Climate Change, how? and why? Climate changes no matter what you do. The problem is you don’t understand: what’s wrong with climate change, it changes anyway, and it changes no matter what you do. It is like you try prevent time from moving forward, why?

  71. Tay says

    It seems the author has written this piece of propaganda to give people an excuse. People who are looking for any excuse to be lazy and not change their ways already.

    “Solar roofs cost more than solar farms” – so… money isn’t any use when you can’t breathe or drink or eat. Get a grip.

    “solar and wind farms require long new transmissions lines” erm… like roads and so do non renewable energy plants. Just get some ecologists to go ahead of the line and check and divert ?. The solar farms can be built in places where there is minimal affect on wildlife. If that’s true about the endangered tortoise that shouldn’t have happened. I’m sure it could have been built elsewhere but probably wasn’t because it would have cost more.

    We need to just make all buildings, cars and pavements out of solar panels. Offshore wind farms have been found to increase biodiversity also (as algea grows on it and attracts reef building species who create microhabitats which bring larger creatures)

    Regarding nuclear plants, what do you do with the waste? Surely it is more human hating to put all those who work in the plants or those having to monitor the waste in jeopardy?

    Displacing wildlife on the small scale is much better than poisoning a whole ecosystem with pollution from fossil fuels. We are in the midst of the planet’s sixth major extinction. We literally dont have time to continue as we are while waiting for better alternatives. We need to improve our output now!

    Life will adapt and find a way to carry on without us. We just need to stop making things worse on our way out. Before you call me a misanthropist, I love all animals including Homo sapien, I just hate the human tendency towards selfishness and apathy.

    You don’t have to be a biologist to see that in any closed system, when an object/ organism takes in more energy than it gives out then it soon uses up all it’s resources and starves.

    • Lennard Brett Pattinson says

      Can’t breathe? Why can’t you breathe? Or drink and eat?
      By the way, Effect is spelt with an EFT.

      • Lennard Brett Pattinson says

        Hah, hoist by my own petard (and Spellchecker). E!

    • D-Rex says

      @Tay, your whole comment was basically moronic but some statements stood out.
      ‘We need to just make all buildings, cars and pavements out of solar panels.’
      So when the solar panels break down after (I’ll be generous) 30 years, we have to demolish and rebuild all of the buildings and roads? You’re not actually Ocasio-Cortez in disguise are you?
      ‘Offshore wind farms have been found to increase biodiversity also (as algea grows on it and attracts reef building species who create microhabitats which bring larger creatures)’
      This is just technically incorrect, so not as dumb, biodiversity increase means an increase in the number of different species, not simply an increase in number of organisms already there. That’s an increase in biomass, which is also a good thing.
      ‘The solar farms can be built in places where there is minimal affect on wildlife. ‘
      So can nuclear waste dumps but that hasn’t stopped environmentalists from throwing hissy fits about it.
      If you took off your ideological glasses and did some genuine research, you might find that the problem of ‘global warming’ is not as great as you imagined.

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  73. ROD SANDERS says

    After seeing Mr Shellenberger on Tucker Carlson last night, I had to take Carlson’s advice and read this. The main reason I needed to follow up by reading his essay is because I was shocked to hear him state his 3 reasons why people oppose nuclear energy when Carlson asked him. The reasons Shellenberger offered were total BS.

    Since both Shellenberger and Carlson are too young to remember the early days of the environmental movement, I guess I can understand how both of them don’t remember. However, since Shellenberger presents himself as an environmentalist and is now campaigning for nuclear power, he has no excuse. I can only deduce that he is somehow benefiting from promoting nuclear energy.

    Here’s how Shellenberger authoritatively answered when Carlson asked “Why are they against nuclear”:

    “There’s three gig reasons why people are against nuclear.”

    1. “…they associate it with the bomb….”

    2. “…there was concern that too much cheap energy – too much nuclear energy – would result in over-population – over-consumption.”

    3. “…just a really strong desire to use energy to harmonize with the natural world….”

    He calls the third one “in some ways, the most powerful.” I have never heard such a bunch of crap in my life. And Carlson, so anxious to diss the “new green deal,” ate it up! He was actually fawning over the “science” displayed in this Quillette essay and encouraged viewers to read it at the beginning and again, at the end of the interview.

    Before Shellenberger ever got to these “3 BIG REASONS,” the interview was already a cornucopia of misinformation. I can’t believe this guy presents himself as an expert. I kept thinking he was going to address the elephant in the room, but no. He even managed to change to topic from renewables to fossil fuels in answering one question. Carlson didn’t even notice. Then he cites “natural resource” as an argument against solar and wind power. It makes no sense. I transcribed the entire interview.

    It’s worse than this essay. Both are nonsense. With biased scientific claims that could only bamboozle people who seek confirmation of views based on politics. Birds? Really? Wasting our deserts with windmills? OMG! What a whack job!

    He mentions the problem of radioactive waste disposal in this Quillette essay almost as an aside. But somehow it didn’t even rate a mention on national TV when listing his 3 BIG BOGUS REASONS. I haven’t forgotten why people opposed nuclear power in the ’60’s. It’s always been the #1 problem with nuclear for many of us. It had not been solved in the ’60’s and it isn’t solved today. Every nuclear power plant is generating tons of it and it’s scattered all over the planet just waiting for someone to do something stupid like drop a bomb on it. It’s seeping into ground water all over the planet. It lasts for millions of years. It’s not pollution – It’s RADIOACTIVITY!

    No other form of energy carries this hazard. By the time people recognize its true threat, it will likely be too late to do anything about it. That’s because “environmentalists” like Shellenberger are ignoring it. They are willfully ignorant. And media like Quillette and Fox News are helping disinform us so its backers can make money. In addition, nuclear power will never be cheaper than renewables. I cringe when I pay my utility bill knowing that part of it goes to the STNP. Austin tried to back out soon after committing to it. Nobody will take Austin’s 16% share because nobody wants the expense. Shellenberger is selling the most dangerous most expensive form of energy known to man.

    • Tony Starkly says

      This comment is utter nonsense. There is no radioactivity seeping into groundwater. Nuclear power has killed few people. Explosions of fuel has killed thousands. There was no elephant in the room. Shellie Berger is absolutely correct. You’re absolutely wrong. There’s not enough land, resources, or consistency to make renewables viable. The only joke here is you.

      • ROD SANDERS says

        Just like Shellenberger, you conflate fossil fuels with renewables to make your non-point. Exactly how many people have been killed by renewables? How many by nuclear power? You don’t know, just like Shellenberger. He and you have no science – Just opinions based on biases. Preservation of land and resources (or as Shellenberger calls them, “resource”) are about as stupid a reason as anyone could possibly imagine to oppose renewables. I didn’t even get into some of the other asinine statements Shellenberger made. There are many in a short interview. The closing ad hominem is an indication of your logical prowess.

  74. V 2.0 says

    How much uranium do we have lying around and won’t we run out of it at some point? We won’t run out of solar energy until the sun implodes and at that point we’ll have much bigger problems than having power to run our AC on hot days. Is there a way to make solar cell more efficient so we’re not covering the earth with them? I plan to get some for my backpacking trip that will apparently work great even on cloudy days (gotta test’em out).

    Too bad we can’t harness the energy stored in fat. That way we could solve our energy problems and the obesity crisis at the same time without having to give up the Cheetos. (Hey…if the Matrix can run on human generated electricity…)

    • charles 2 says

      >How much uranium do we have lying around and won’t we run out of it at some point?

      4 billion tons in the ocean, 100 trillion tons in rocks. If we extract Uranium from Seawater (possible with today’s technology with only a modest increase in electricity price), several thousand years, by which time rocks dissolve in the ocean and replenish the Uranium inventory. With this effect, we have enough for a billion year, when earth is vaporised by a growing sun. See

      So answer to your second question : No we won’t.

      • Craken says

        @Charles I just want to add one clarification to what you said, which is otherwise correct. For nuclear to be essentially renewable, we must use the energy in uranium efficiently. This means switching from current light water reactors to fast or thermal reactors. The switch is not urgent, but ought to be made within a few centuries.

  75. Oh for Pete’s sake people. Stop the over analyzing pshychobabble BS. Climate Change is a fraud, why do you think they changed the packaging from global warming to climate change? There isn’t any manmade climate change (global warming) going on now just like there wasn’t any global cooling in the 1970’s. Get a grip on reality, willya? And yeah, it really is just that simple.

    • K. Dershem says

      Chip: do you think there’s a massive conspiracy on the part of tens of thousands of climate scientists who have manufactured and are perpetuating this supposed threat? The conspirators are brilliant enough to fool almost every government and most of the corporations in the world, but their plan is sufficiently transparent that you can see right through it? What’s their motivation? Do they hate capitalism? Do they want to get rich? — or, ironically, both? Of course, if they were truly motivated by financial gain, they could make FAR more money working for fossil fuel companies (which have poured tens of millions of dollars into a P.R. campaign to “create doubt” about climate change, following the playbook of cigarette companies regarding the dangers of smoking) than they do working at universities, nonprofits and government agencies. The basic science underlying climate change has been understood for well over a century. It’s neither complicated nor controversial, except to people who are wearing ideological blinders.

      • D-Rex says

        @ K,’do you think there’s a massive conspiracy on the part of tens of thousands of climate scientists’
        News flash, there arn’t tens of thousands of actual ‘climate scientists’. The term didn’t even exist a few decades ago but now everyone in a field slightly related to climate or the atmosphere or environment calls themselves a climate scientist. True climate scientists are called ‘atmospheric physicists’ and there aren’t that many of them and a lot of them are skeptics.
        And yes, a lot of these so-called ‘climate scientists’ are after fame and fortune, just like most academics would like.

        • Jay Salhi says

          Around 1,500 scientists contribute to a typical IPCC report but one analysis found that 53 scientists did most of the work and had control over the final text of the report. Ten of them worked for the same university.

      • Jay Salhi says

        @ K Dershem

        “The basic science underlying climate change has been understood for well over a century. It’s neither complicated nor controversial, except to people who are wearing ideological blinders.”

        The uncontroversial idea is that, all other things being equal, increasing CO2 will have a warming effect. The problem is is that nature is complex and all other things are not equal. So the people doing the computer models have to make numerous assumptions about things they don’t know. Are the assumptions correct? Well, the track record of the models (all of which have over predicted warming) suggests there is still a long way to go.

        The observed temperature increase from the late 19th century is 1 degree C. In common parlance (as presented by the media and activists), this is all blamed on fossil fuels. People get called deniers for asking the following questions:

        1. Over half of the increase occurred during the first half of the 20th century before fossil fuel use took off. How can this be explained?

        2. Does natural variation account for any of the increase? If so, how much?

        3. With regard to warming caused by human activity, what percentage is caused by fossil fuels and what percentage is caused by other activity such as land use?

        4. Hasn’t the earth been warmer in the past such as during the Medieval Warming Period?

      • Jay Salhi says

        @K. Dershem

        “Chip: do you think there’s a massive conspiracy on the part of tens of thousands of climate scientists who have manufactured and are perpetuating this supposed threat?”

        You seem to think a complex topic can be reduced to a single true/false question.

        The so-called consensus comes from the work of the IPCC, which has from its founding been an activist body with a political agenda. A former head of the IPCC admitted he only invited scientists who supported the narrative and excluded dissenting voices. This does not mean the work the IPCC does is automatically wrong or that there is a conspiracy. But it should give you pause before you label anyone who questions any aspect of the prevailing narrative a “denier”. On a topic like this, you cannot separate the politics from the science. That applies to “true believers” and “skeptics” alike.

        The alleged consensus is nowhere near what it is claimed to be in the mainstream press.

        • S Snell says

          Most of the top-shelf scientists of the IPPC have departed, often in protest, as that body has sunk deeper into self-serving political mire. Now more than ever the IPCC is a political body with a political agenda, dominated by second-tier bureaucrats and set-asides.

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  77. A. O'Connor says

    The author brings up some seemingly logical arguments, but they don’t justify a shift away renewable energy sources, away from finite sources. Couple of things that immediately spring to mind – the environmental impacts of coal mines on local flora and fauna is massive. Here in Australia the Indian-based mining company Adani has been trying to get another call mine off the ground (in the ground), but is being bitterly blocked by the local people based on Adani’s fairly dismal environmental record. Massive land clearing and water contamination that affects natural systems are just a start – how are wind farms or solar farms worse? In relation to the comment about storing power generated from renewables – South Australia installed a Tesla battery system that has continually outperformed the outdated coal-powered systems in place elsewhere in the country. No black outs and incredibly quick load adjustment to the network. This came after South Australia had rolling black outs in a heat wave that cost lives. That one piece of technology saved lives this summer and continues to outperform expectations. These technologies are fixing problems and are making our world a better place. Are they free from impact on our lives and environment? No, but they are better than what we previously relied upon for our energy BY FAR! As for nuclear, well it’s safe until its not and then – Fukushima. Nuclear has proven to be largely very safe, but it has a cost that we pay for generations when its goes wrong.

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  79. Mike says

    Great article. One thing I’d add (btw I was born in early 70’s as well, and have been an engineer in the commercial nuclear power industry for much of my career) is that nuclear and solar and wind are all dependent upon and derivative of, fossil fuels. They simply provide leverage atop those fossil supplies to one degree or another, and certainly nuclear is the biggest lever by far, and you’ve done a brilliant job illustrating that here. When you view the entire cycle, fossil energy is a key player in mining, constructing, transporting, etc. all along the value chain. In my mind this is the perspective the public, and therefore political representation, lacks.

    • charles says

      >When you view the entire cycle, fossil energy is a key player in mining, constructing, transporting, etc. all along the value chain.

      You confuse “fossil energy” with “hydrocarbon energy”. Hydrocarbon don’t need tocome from fossils, they can be manufactured from clean energy sources (including nuclear)

      • Jay Salhi says


        “Hydrocarbon don’t need to come from fossils, they can be manufactured from clean energy sources (including nuclear)”

        1. How much energy is required to manufacture hydrocarbons?

        2. Can it be done now (or in the near future) on a commercially viable basis?

  80. John Evans says

    Great article. One aspect not covered by such articles is the fact that the so-called “renewables” aren’t actually renewable in the true sense. Whilst the energy might be claimed to be renewable (there will always be more wind) but those claims don’t recognise that the raw-materials needed for much of the technology are just as finite as coal. The blades for wind-turbines are made out of fibre-glass or carbon-fibre. Apparently neither can be recycled beyond being minced up and used as fill under say roads. The lithium used in batteries is similarly finite – old batteries aren’t recycled so we will eventually run out. So the criticism of coal in that it is finite can also be applied to much of the “renewables” technology and so it is just as bad.

    • charles says

      > so it is just as bad.
      I agreed with you until you said that. No, it is not just as bad. We have to address our limited capacities one by one, starting with the most urgent, NOT saying they are all equivalents. Material necessary for fiber-glass or carbon composite will run out in thousands of years even longer (we are talking of sand and one of the most common element in planet earth here !). The limits in Lithium recyclability have been barely scratched.
      Today, our most urgent limits are :
      1 (by far) : capacity to release CO2 in the atmosphere and the ocean,
      2 : inventories of high EROI fossil fuels, taking into account 1 above
      3 : fertile soil availability,
      4 : fresh water availability,
      5 : phosphorus availability
      6 : capacity of the biosphere to absorb human pollution (for instance micro plastics).
      Solve the above, and humanity is good to go for a thousand years at least. Enough time to find “out of the box” solution for many problems.

  81. cnbc says

    Petr Beckmann made these arguments (in a much more scientific manner) in the 1980’s. Why is this “expert” author just now coming to this conclusion?

  82. Rick Phillips says

    The only thing I know for sure is that there seem to be strongly held and somewhat contradictory beliefs that will make reasonable outcomes difficult to achieve. My modest contribution a link to an assessment of nuclear safety by someone who seems eminently qualified to make it.

    Nuclear Accidents: Lessons Learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Presented by Dr. Brian Sheron, Director (Retired) Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research

  83. Rick Phillips says

    QuilletteComment Renewables 190228
    There is a lot of discussion about nuclear safety in this thread. My modest contribution to that discussion is a link to an assessment of nuclear safety by someone who seems to be eminently qualified to provide one. It is relatively reassuring.

    Nuclear Accidents: Lessons Learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Presented by Dr. Brian Sheron, Director (Retired) Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research

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  86. Bob Candelaria says

    As a retired nuclear power plant operator I feel like I can comment with some knowledge on this. Although the human condition is one of imperfection, in spite of inevitable errors, I still see nuclear power plants as operated safely. Since the Three Mile Island partial meltdown, I’m not aware of any errors made of that sort of consequence or even close to it. My biggest concern is that going on 60 years are we still don’t have a good solution to high level Radioactive waste disposal/isolation. The Coke can size of uranium fuel mentioned in the article has to be put in a fuel assembly making it hundreds of times that size. The entire assembly becomes highly Radioactive creating much more waste than implied in the article. Although I believe nuclear power is a necessary major part of our future I’ll feel a lot more comfortable about it once they resolve the radioactive waste issue!

  87. Richard Poore says

    The most devastating damage done by wind turbines isnt even mentioned here.

    Bats are being killed in huge numbers by wind turbines. Bats arent as sexy as raptors, eagles and owls but they are play a larger role in maintaining our ecological environment. Biologists have been concerned about the US bat population because of white nose disease, but the impact of wind turbines is now dwarfing that problem.

    Each bat eats hundreds of thousands of insects every year, wind turbines are removing a major part of the insect predator food chain.

  88. Jean Cripteau says

    ctrl+f “Elon Musk”… right so no mention of the modern day Thomas Edison who devotes half of his considerable efforts to transitioning the world to renewable energy generation, storage and transport solutions, who also says that a solar plant of the same surface area as a nuclear power plant with accompanying greenbelt produces more energy?

    Anyone care to comment?

    • yarpos says

      There is no “transition to renewable energy” especially on supposedly driven by Musk. That is pure fantasy. Look at where the worlds real energy usage is sourced, renewables are and can only be a rounding error.

  89. Mike Donnigan says

    “Elon Musk…says that a solar plant of the same surface area as a nuclear power plant with accompanying greenbelt produces more energy?”

    Citation, please.

  90. He makes good points about the proven value of nuclear power. But he only mentions solar and wind for generation, and using an old dam for power storage. He’s making the standard mistake of assuming the world will be swapping fossil fuels for just solar and land based wind farms, and wow, who’d have guessed it?! These sources are intermittent!

    There are many, many other predictable methods of renewable generation which are finally getting investment – geothermal and tidal are completely predictable for instance. Or consider Spain’s solar tower thermal generation outside Seville, which can store energy for around 30 mins. And there are many ways to overcome intermittence; use excess renewables to make hydrogen; or extract hydrocarbons from the air for cleaner synthetic petrols; electric cars are mobile battery packs which can stablise the grid with smart/bidirectional charging (Nissan/Renault EVs and VW’s ID have this capability); or the slightly surreal Ares Nevada gravity train. There isn’t one solution to intermittence, it’s likely to require a range of smaller scale solutions. And that requires something that’s been lacking across the world – government planning to work on renewable energy stability, instead of just building yet another coal or gas plant.

    And perhaps he’s right and there won’t be a battery revolution. Maybe there won’t be a revolutionary breakthrough battery. But there is continuous improvement – Tesla have just bought a company called Maxwell Tech whose batteries have a lower cost, higher power density (around 15% on both counts). That’s a significant improvement, and it changes the economics of building and using batteries.

    The political and economic answer I believe is a carbon dividend scheme – tax carbon at a realistic level and give all the revenue back to the citizens to offset any price rises. This will shift the investment out of fossil fuels into renewables, and that includes nuclear.

  91. Nic says

    Good article.
    Two points, first a minor correction:
    “At the end of the process, the high-level radioactive waste that nuclear plants produce is the very same Coke can of (used) uranium fuel.”
    Not entirely correct. Each type of fission reactor produces a different profile of radioactive isotopes as waste, the bulk of them NOT from the base fuel, but from shielding, tamping rods, and other surrounding materials.

    However, it doesn’t take a PhD in nuclear engineering to calculate the waste amounts, what they are, the volume, and the half life involved.
    The shorter the half-life, the more dangerous generally.

    However, the answer is easy: You dig a deep hole in a subduction zone, bury them there, and let the generations around in about 30-200 million years worry about it.
    At which point there is no issue.

    Second point is more important, and is addressed in Michael Shellenberger’s article..

    I was trying to run an MECE business analysis on who benefits from the current global climate hysteria.
    The usual list of suspects are all in there, but only in sufficient quantity to keep the juggernaut going, not initiate it or accelerate it.

    Who has both means, motive, and opportunity?

    Well, we know that energy (and that means fossil fuel mostly, but also large proven fission, and HUGE experimental tokamak type fusion reactors) interests are massively contributing to not just solid research (of which i HIGHLY approve – falls under civil defence in my book) but also to the hysteria.

    OK, but they can easily manage a four decade amortised swap from fossil to uranium/plutonium fuel sources. The entry barriers are too high for any entities other than governments or MNC sized corporates to play.

    So they have means, opportunity, and there is evidence that they haven’t been shy about using that opportunity.

    The motive is however missing.

    Unless you are interested in an engineering fashion in advances in fusion power.
    Not too many years ago, it seemed that we we not too far from cheap, small fusion reactors taking up the kind of square meterage a double garage can provide.

    Now that is a game changer, disruptive in the extreme.
    The net result to every human on the planet is incalculable and hugely positive.

    The short term net result to any party invested in the status quo is also huge, but here, its about massive capital losses.

    So every single country with a energy supply based economy.
    Russia, Venezuela, OPEC, the USA, etc
    Every corporate with a first order (in the business of supplying or using current fuel) or second order (mining, manufacturing, transport) interests.
    That’s about half of the top 50 (using just this admittedly bad list –

    But when it is time to railroad, people railroad.

    IF (and this is a big IF admittedly) cheap fusion power is a likelihood within the next 5-10 years, AND it’s within the reach of a company which can come up with <10m USD CAPEX… then these interests have a gigantic short term problem, UNLESS they can come up with a way for someone to pick up the hit to their balance sheets, capital losses, and effectively underwrite them over the 1-4 decades they need to transition.

    Now that would provide a motive par excellence.
    And leave only one party standing with means, motive, and opportunity.

    Even if and when the degree of manipulation is clear, people with new-found prosperity will be forgiving in the extreme, as "it all worked out OK!"

    And not notice it would all have worked out OK for everyone anyway. Except the guys doing the manipulation, who would have lost their shirts.

    A heck of a lot of people would rationally actually agree to bail out these companies oddly, although a lot would not.

    Given just ONE assumption (that fusion is closer and cheaper than the general population thinks) this scenario makes more sense than anything else.

    And, it doesn't worry me that much. I could even justify it ethically in some ways.

    Thoughts would be appreciated.

    Rgs. Nic

  92. Reziac says

    I’ve been saying this for a long time. Solar projects produce a scorched-earth level of ecological destruction — not only their own footprint, but because the heat column changes the climate for miles downwind, and this has a particularly negative impact on the deserts usually chosen as sites. I personally observed this when I was living in the SoCal desert. We’d formerly had very little blowing dust (in part due to good ground cover), and reliable cooling from distant but significant onshore winds, starting about 2pm every day. A solar-mirror facility was built about 10 miles directly upwind. Within a year or so we had gobs of blowing dust, and daily cooling was either delayed til evening, or didn’t happen at all (meaning reduced or absent nighttime condensation — the water a lot of desert life relies on to survive). And this was a permanent change that impacted everything. What had been a thriving desert ecology began degrading into wasteland. And this wasn’t even an especially large project (about 140 acres, IIRC).

    And the projected lifespans of 20-30 years? Very funny. Any desert dweller knows what desert grit does to shiny surfaces. Plexiglas is opaqued in as little as 3 years. Tempered glass gets pitted within about 10 years. Microdust coats everything in short order. Yeah, gonna last long enough to pay for itself, sure thing!

    • Jay Salhi says

      ” Any desert dweller knows what desert grit does to shiny surfaces”

      This desert dweller wholeheartedly agrees. Dust is the enemy of solar panels.

  93. ROD SANDERS says

    Just keep ignoring the elephant in the room, ye Nuclear Nutcases. From Wikipedia:

    High-level waste (HLW) is produced by nuclear reactors. The exact definition of HLW differs internationally. After a nuclear fuel rod serves one fuel cycle and is removed from the core, it is considered HLW.[35] Fuel rods contain fission products and transuranic elements generated in the reactor core. Spent fuel is highly radioactive and often hot. HLW accounts for over 95 percent of the total radioactivity produced in the process of nuclear electricity generation. The amount of HLW worldwide is currently increasing by about 12,000 metric tons every year, which is the equivalent to about 100 double-decker buses (~200 single-decker buses) or a two-story structure with a footprint the size of a basketball court.[36] A 1000-MW nuclear power plant produces about 27 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel (unreprocessed) every year.[37] In 2010, there was very roughly estimated to be stored some 250,000 tons of nuclear HLW,[38] that does not include amounts that have escaped into the environment from accidents or tests. Japan estimated to hold 17,000 tons of HLW in storage in 2015.[39] HLW have been shipped to other countries to be stored or reprocessed, and in some cases, shipped back as active fuel.

    The radioactive waste from spent fuel rods consist primarily of cesium-137 and strontium-90, but it may also include plutonium, which can be considered a transuranic waste.[32] The half-lives of these radioactive elements can differ quite extremely. Some elements, such as cesium-137 and strontium-90 have half-lives of approximately 30 years. Meanwhile, plutonium has a half-life of that can stretch to as long as 24,000 years.[32]

    The ongoing controversy over high-level radioactive waste disposal is a major constraint on the nuclear power’s global expansion.[40] Most scientists agree[41] that the main proposed long-term solution is deep geological burial, either in a mine or a deep borehole. However, almost six decades after commercial nuclear energy began, no government has succeeded in opening such a repository for civilian high-level nuclear waste…

    • Craken says

      You are worried about a minor *potential* problem and privilege this worry over a major known problem that threatens the entire biosphere. Your priorities are badly misplaced.

  94. Except for Rod Sanders, all of the commenters are blowing smoke from inhaling from the Big Bong. They are prime examples of Confirmation Bias: people with uninformed opinions with no substantiation whatsoever. Shellenberger has no scientific or environmental credentials whatsoever. He is the darling of the right wing and pro growth maniacs; see my demolition of two of his and Nordhaus’ reports ( Their answer to the energy crisis? PROSPERITY! the precise thing that CREATED the crisis! Overconsumption.
    I spent most of my professional career debunking the pathetic rationalizations for nuclear power. Forget 4th gen thorium; it’s a fairy tale. Forget fusion. Forget our pocketbook; new reactors would cost over $13 billion, for which sum we could smother the entire country in wind and solar farms. You can’t forget nuclear waste by the way. “Wind turbines kill more people than reactors”: surely you jest, Mr. Shellenberger. What is going on here is quite simple: people who want to continue their overconsuming polluting life styles without impediment and at minimum cost. They rightly understand that with renewable energy, the vast industrial superstructure of capitalism gone rogue WILL have to diminish and eventually disappear. To imagine anything else is profoundly upsetting to most people, hence their desperate embrace of anyone and any opinions that confirms their own biases. What is depressing is discovering how many deluded and uneducated members of the public refuse to consider the views of anyone who dares to doubt the dominant paradigm of untrammeled economic growth and consumption. That Quillette chose to publish the rantings of a completely
    unqualified promoter of Prosperity rather than a healthy planet is commmendable and in keeping with its policy of encouraging free speech and dissent. But sadly, this particular piece does not meet any honest rational impartial criteria as a credible opinion. The BreakThrough gang are raking in millions for heir acquiescence to Business as Usual and More So, and their
    contrarian (and unsubstantiated) views. I doubt that any Quillette commenters have the integrity to do research on the nuclear issue much less actively seek out other opinions than those which make them feel comfortable. This is the most depressing thought of all: the conformity and lack of interest in actually educating themselves. No wonder the world is in trouble.

    • Craken says

      You remind me of those people who come late to a party because they’re busy getting drunk beforehand. “Onward to poverty!,” cries the drunken socialist as she staggers across the threshold.
      Have you ever heard the saying: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good?

      So long as the logic of strategy applies in geopolitical affairs, your dreams of deindustrialization and disarmament will remain dreams. Within the inescapable confines of this logic, massively proliferating nuclear energy is indispensable to the energy system. The alternative is not hippie fantasyland; it is environmental wasteland.

  95. Dennis Shelton says

    I retired from the electric power industry in 2004. Everything the author says in this article was known then – and before then – but no one would listen. I take exception to a misleading statement about dying from standing next to a nuclear reactor. This is true if you are inside the containment structure, but not if you are outside it. I assume the author knows this, but his readers may not. Kudos to the author for having and being willing to use the bully pulpit. May the rest of the world wake up to the truth about energy sources!

    • Jonah James says

      Yes, DS all of this information is a revelation only to the previously uncurious or indoctrinated.

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  97. Chuck Berger says

    A thoughtful and provocative piece, from an author with integrity and intelligence. I think his basic insights – that renewable energy generation and storage are industrial-scale installations, and that reliance on future technological change to fix the problems with renewable technologies is a gamble – are well put.

    I do think the critique of renewable, and advocacy of nuclear energy, are overstated in some respects.

    – Large wind and solar projects are industrial-scale, and they shouldn’t be placed just anywhere. But like anything, there are better and worse places, and rigorous site assessment can reduce if not eliminate site-specific impacts.

    – Site specific impacts of renewable projects are very real, but their overall footprint is still pretty small compared to, say, urban growth or forestry or mining projects.

    – Yes, some renewable energy is not available 24/7. (Geothermal and hydro generally are suitable baseload.) But this is well-trod territory. What is important is grid-wide total availability, and often wind and solar are complementary – ie, wind is blowing when sun isn’t shining, and vice versa. And solar often peaks when we need it most, which is when air conditioning load peaks. Nor are fossil fuels or nuclear necessarily completely reliable baseload. In Victoria, maintenance on old plant has meant coal generation seldom gets anywhere near 100%. Finally, big centralised generation is vulnerable – nuclear and coal plants can get knocked out by natural disasters for months or years (Fukushima, Victoria bushfires), distributed solar and wind much less so.

    – Yes, nuclear energy requires only small quantities of fuel, but getting that fuel requires uranium mining. And scaling up nuclear would mean more mines, from increasingly lower-quality deposits. I’ve seen first hand the impact of uranium mining in Australia’s Kakadu national park (including a great many tailing spills over the years), and it’s not pretty. I can only imagine what it must be like in even worse-regulated jurisdictions in Africa, etc.

    – Battery technology isn’t just pumped hydro. Molten salts are very interesting and viable here, as is energy storage via hydrogen fuels production for transport use.

    Still, I don’t necessarily disagree with the overall conclusions. I do think the author, in his zeal for nuclear energy, has missed an opportunity to discuss demand management and energy efficiency technologies. Smart grids, better product design, public transport investments and other such policies have the opportunity to vastly reduce our energy demand without sacrificing quality of life. These remain among the best investments, dollar for dollar, in reducing pollution.

  98. Poor Denn says

    I enjoyed the article and have wondered what is the plan for recycling all these solar panels. Has this even been considered?

  99. John F Bramfeld says

    Enjoy as always a conversion to common sense. The author’s next epiphany will be that most of his cohorts are primarily driven not by the environment, but by hatred for corporations, technology and Western Civilization. Plus him.

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  101. Mark says

    The article is biased towards promoting nuclear energy as evidenced by many of the lame arguments about renewables. Extremely poor logic.

    In any case, if the U.S. were to embrace some kind of small scale nuclear designed for safety and containment with guaranteed waste disposal methods, then I would support nuclear. As it is now, the nuclear waste just builds up at the sites and I think that is untenable.

  102. pat childs says

    Thank you for telling the truth. These grand, silly schemes are mere diversions from real environmentalism and species propagation and safety.

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  113. Briefly skimmed the article. Not a deep read. My thought: The “all or nothing” binary framing of “save the planet…or else” around energy is narrow, insufficient and “dumbs down” the discussion. I am an advocate of the advancement of renewable energy on a broad scale because of specific, localized benefits…cleaner air, cleaner water, less noise pollution. “Global effects” are externalities. Let them happen. I live in Greater Los Angeles. We still battle for clean air here (there is still a smog layer). If 100% of transportation became electrified…say in the next 50 years…air quality would improve substantially…and noise pollution would abate substantially. These are positives. Technologically, it is entirely feasible and over time, I believe this will happen.

    Finally, to repeat my initial thrust. The “global impact” “debate” framework around energy sourcing is…in and of itself…part of the problem. Once upon a time, all politics was local. Local solutions that meet the specific needs of local communities with demonstrated benefits have resonating impact beyond their local domains. More intelligent “thought leaders” need to emphasize this line of reasoning.

  114. Timm John says

    Was refered to this article by a article with link in it. It’s all coming together now. (Libs even your strongest efforts won’t stop this, and is also a total waste of time money and energy, ironically enough. eg. Russian collusion)

    Got a letter recently from waste management, need to raise costs, (I use energy to make money, gas food etc) because China is the biggest buyer of recyclables, and they’re cutting back because of trade war. Seems like most my recyclables come from… Libs will never understand, too emotional/sociopathical.

    But yeah it feels so good to put dirty plastic I mean plastic I used a gallon of hot perfect water to clean in the recycle!!!

    Leave lib crazies in the dust, they’re going to stop breeding anyways, they’re definitely not stupid.

    I’m the stupid one. I need to keep using my hot perfect water to clean of my yogurt cups then pay someone to ship it all the way to China so they can either use it as leverage against my country or make it into a cheap piece of crap that breaks anyway and becomes useless and put back into the Cycle! Absolutely brilliant, plus makes me feel good for taking care of the planet and giving jobs to another country. Winning!

    PS I got a little sarcastic there.

    PSS we are winning.

  115. Timm John says


    Is the current president of the USA a thought leader?

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  120. Jety says

    “The most important thing is for scientists and conservationists to start telling the truth about renewables and nuclear.”

    Scientists have lost credibility because they have been lying. Good luck getting it back.

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  122. Kevin says

    So, some dude spends his entire life fighting everything rational in the power generation world, and pushing everything irrational. Then, he wakes up at the eleventh hour and realizes that what he believed was wrong.

    The damage is already done; it will never be undone. Like the name given name Adolf, or the surname Hitler, very rare to see those names because of one guy 100 years ago. Like the guy who built Greenpeace but went apostate, the humanity killing machine has been set loose on auto pilot. Al Gore will never stop using private jets, or stop using the electricity of an entire city to power his lifestyle, while hectoring the rest of us to go back to subsistence farming and use less.

    The world is run by people like this guy used to be. People who do not believe the cost of diesel has anything to do with the price of bread or milk; it just comes from the grocery store. People who push things like diesel exhaust fluid, that is now killing all the plants in all the ditches beside every road in the world.

    THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS RENEWABLE POWER; THERE ARE RELIABLES, AND UNRELIABLES. Choose. Reliables make energy cheap, plentiful, and reliable; Unreliables do the opposite, make energy expensive, scarce, and unreliable.

  123. Geoffrey Pounder says

    Shellenberger’s essay is highly problematic. Disorganized and not well-thought out. He circles around again and again to the same issues.
    Many of his claims are unsubstantiated. He frequently fails to cite his sources.
    When he does cite sources, he frequently links to articles he’s written himself. Citing oneself as an authority is a definite no-no. Or he cites articles from his own foundation’s website. Or he cites op-eds, like his, from Forbes magazine. Peer-reviewed articles from authoritative science journals, not so much.

    For people/communities not connected to the grid, nuclear isn’t an option. Renewables are the best option.
    If you have a roof, putting a solar panel on it doesn’t take up any extra space.

    All-or-nothing thinking. Renewables don’t have to replace conventional energy sources 100% overnight to be useful. It’s going to be a gradual transition as the technology continues to improve and fall in price.

    Who says we have to build solar farms in wildlife habitat? Why not in already developed or degraded areas (brownfield land)?

    Are we really running out of room for renewables?
    Yet we have seemingly endless space for urban sprawl, industrial parks, shopping malls, hotels, big box store megacomplexes, golf courses, all sorts of frivolous things… Funny, Shellenberger doesn’t complain about them.

    Costs savings in renewables are not “one-time”. Prices continue to fall thanks to scale of production and efficiencies.

    Shellenberger cherry-picks his examples. Other jurisdictions are introducing renewables much more cheaply than early pioneers.

    Does Shellenberger have a cell phone? TV? Computer? A car? Does he worry about e-waste from the consumer items he likes to use? Or only about e-waste from renewables?

    Lots of iffy claims, too many to enumerate here.
    Just because Shellenberger makes a claim doesn’t make it the gospel truth. Readers should be skeptical.

  124. FTA: “It’s not so much about the fuel as the process.”

    Similarly, it is not about sustainability as political control. This author will be attacked from the left.

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  127. Jackson Howard says

    The OP is very slanted I find, relying on self-references and sloppy arguments.

    Yes, renewables are intermittent and have large footprints due to their low energy density.
    That is known, but if we have room for mega-malls and urban sprawl, finding space for it shouldn’t be that hard. However on a continent scale (i.e. US, EU or China scale), wind an solar get a lot of smoothing in their output. Pumped hydro storage is a thing and can be retrofitted. It is most likely possible to make low energy density iron based battery storage, or molten salt. Solar is closing to 30% efficiency and costs are going down. Only downside is that the entire industry is chinese by now. Best of luck catching up when the administration is hell bent on reviving dead beat coal.

    On the other hand, nuclear is rather reliable and safe, but fragile. Fukushima is a good example of what can go wrong when a sea side NPP gets hit by a natural disaster. Also, nuclear is expensive even before cleanup provisions are even accounted for. So, if you have it already (France) you should keep it running, but building more of it ? I’m really not sure if it’s the best bang for the buck.
    Plus the political opposition will make sure that this is just not going to happen (in the EU). The only place where I can see it happening is China and India.

    Large scale nuclear would likely be limited by the availability of uranium, which means that large scale would require Pu or Th breeder designs, none of which are even close to be commercially competitive (while being overly complex).

    I can only recommend the David McKay book on renewables as it’s well researched and structured. Unlike the OP piece.

    • Craken says

      The McKay book is excellent, but I don’t see where Schellenberger conflicts with McKay. The main point of that book was that renewables were insufficient to power densely populated regions (like the UK).

      Also: we are in no danger of running out of uranium in the next few centuries even if the whole world replicated the nuclear-heavy French grid. It is only in the very long run that breeder reactors would become necessary (assuming we still relied on fission in 300 years). In the meantime, fission is the only guaranteed energy source that could eliminate carbon emissions. The other energy options are gambles in that respect.

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  130. BeamMeUp says

    Natural gas has been eating up the energy market for the past several years since fracking has made it much more abundant. It’s gutted the demand for coal and has been eating away at the demand for nuclear energy. This has led to the closing down of the last remaining reactor at Three Mile Island and the cancellation of two nuclear plants in South Carolina. For nuclear energy to compete with natural gas, it needs less expensive and safer technology.

    We’re not going to give up our standards of living or our desire to improve them, neither the people of the U.S. or the rest of the world. We’ll always need energy that meets our demands. Renewables will never be able to completely meet our energy demands, especially with the resources and expenses involved.

  131. Jackson Howard says

    Two things :

    – fracking nets of a lot of nat gas, but the wells and fields also decline much faster than more conventional source while costing more to opperate. It makes nat gas cheap from the supply glut, but fracking has yet to prove profitable beyond inflated stock prices. Once the fields will go in decline, that glut will vanish real fast.

    – if we get to +4°C, a lot of the US will not be able to retain its living standards. It seems you mean : we don’t want to give up our standards right now, we’d rather defer the costs and externalities to the suckers that come next.

    To be clear my bet is that nat gas will have an interesting stopgap role in a renewable focused energy mix.

  132. zenman says

    “you can’t make the sun shine more regularly”

    you can in space, where those solar panels would soak up the rays 100% of time

    • Justin D says

      How do you transmit the energy down to earth? The costs of transmission lines on earth is enough. Nevermind the miles of line to get to space. Then upkeep/replacement. And the sun would not shine on these panels all the time as they would have to be in a geosynchronous orbit. Or you are back to transmitting power without power lines aka a cordless extension cord.

  133. Jonah James says

    Bravo to the author. This is an excellent and clearly written article about the practical failure of large-scale wind and solar and the obvious nuclear power option. I recommend “Power Hungry” by Robert Bryce. It simply and clearly explains the concept of power density in electricity generation. If you don’t understand this concept, you cannot intelligently discuss options for electricity generation. This book was published in 2011. If the author would have read this book, or one of many similar books written before and after, he could have saved himself a lot of time.

    Now, if only we could get people to read books skeptical of catastrophic man-made global warming. If the environmental movement was about species preservation and clean air and water, it would have nearly universal support. Instead, it has moved to apocalypse mongering for the purpose of assuming political control. Using fear to strip freedom is not a new tactic. Environmentalism long ago became more like a religious cult or totalitarian political movement than a scientific pursuit.

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  135. Michael Rath says

    Outstanding article. It took real balls for the author to step out and state the obvious. Kudo’s!

  136. Astoundingly with all the world’s efforts to protect life, in the United States, wind farms are “legally” killing hundreds of thousands of birds, eagles, hawks, and bats every year, and it’s appalling that society has given the wind farm industry a FREE get-out-of-jail card!

    In 2017, the former President Obamas’ administration finalized a rule that lets wind-energy companies operate high-speed turbines for up to 30 years — even if means killing or injuring thousands of federally protected species anymore that are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Under the new rule, wind farms may acquire an eagle “take” permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that allows the site to participate in nationwide killing of up to 4,200 bald eagles annually, under incidental “take” permits without compensatory mitigation. It’s shocking that wind farms can legally obtain permits from the USFWS to kill those majestic bald eagles.

  137. Gordon Miller says

    Mr. Schellenberger, congratulations. You’re half way there. You learned about more viable options, but you have obviously not dug below the headlines on the impact of man’s CO2 emissions on climate. It’s between negligible and zero according to all the leading climate experts NOT FUNDED BY ACTIVIST NGOs or GOVERNMENT. You still need to get past the politics. Nevertheless, I commend you for your other environmental pursuits.

  138. gamma57721 says

    “Despite what you’ve heard, there is no “battery revolution” on the way, for well-understood technical and economic reasons.”

    Nonsense. And here is one example why: ( ) This learning curve is analogous to photovoltaics (a.k.a. PV) and the drop in PV costs have been dramatic.

    Also, ignore the nonsense about a Cobalt shortage. The periodic table has many other transition metal that also form oxygenated compounds. If the cost of Cobalt remains too high for too long then replacements (Manganese, Vanadium, etc.) will be developed.

    The story about the desert tortoises is misleading. That was not PV but rather concentrated solar power (a.k.a. CSP). CSP has failed in the marketplace due to the rapid drop in the costs of PV and the very environmental concerns described.

    I’m not going to comment on the issue of wind turbines and bird/bat kills. Although I suspect that climate change will push those species, and many others as well, towards extinction much faster.

    • gamma57721 says

      Sigh. More fission Utopianism with the usual collection of miraculous claims and the complete absence of any way to deal with the waste. No one wants the waste. No one is going to want the waste. Leaving the spent fuel one site (i.e. at the site of the reactor) only dumps the problem on future generations.

      How about using the nuclear energy stored in the Earth’s core for baseload? Because geothermal and the sun are ultimately the only two sources of energy this planet has.

  139. P Haeberlen says

    Mr. Shellenberger has not learned his lesson. The problems with renewables that he discovered were known in advance. The opportunity offered by nuclear power was know in advance. Hoping for new technology to save your plan is not a good strategy. Now he wants to go full steam ahead.

  140. Gerry Vassi says

    Wouldn’t it be nice to fill up your car once a year with a small pellet of uranium.

    • Uranium-fuelled cars would have to be somewhat larger than submarines. They would be fuelled once, at the factory, not by users.

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  143. O.Lande says

    My comments would be (when thinking of US and not only California):

    “…Electricity from solar roofs costs about twice as much…”
    Well prices are falling, and will fall further, not a big worry

    “… and wind farms require huge amounts of land”
    That is why Solar power in the US should be focused on using the deserts (in addition to solar roofs . Wind farms and animal farms can live together as they do today.

    “…wind farms require long new transmissions lines”
    The same does new Nuclear power or all types of large centralized power stations. Actually desentralised solar and wind farms farms is better wrt size of transmission lines….

    “….preserve wildlife, particularly birds.”
    That is why the future of cheap wind power is hughe offshore farms. Less birds to be hit offshore. The largest windmill is now 12 MW, but that one cannot be placed onshore (too large wings for land road transport). Actually in a desert a solar farm would provide shadow that could make the desert a little greener.

    “…intermittent nature of solar and wind energies”
    Firstly we have just started on the road to cheap grid storage. A hughe amount of investment is poured into grid energy storage. I’m sure we will get cheap storage systems that will be part of the solution. Another solution will be to have a mixture of biofuel and natural gas fired turbines as backup when needed. And the point being is that there is still a large amount of coal fired plants around that should be shut down. But before that can be done we need the alternatives in place. (I believe Australia have shut down some coal plants a little too early..)

    “those one-time cost savings from making them in big Chinese factories”
    Well, that’s a wrong fact. Solar power cost reductions have continued for decades and still continues, it is not a short “one-time” effort.
    “…high cost of dealing with their unreliability”
    The capacity factors in desert areas may be as high as 30%, and in those areas you know when the sun rises and when the sun sets, so you can plan for when nuclear and other plants need tp ramp up production. Not unreliable.

    And concluding rate increase is caused by renewables is too easy, there are many factors at play. Taxes are one, The amount of actual consumption is another, the age of the grid that may need upgrades are a third and so on.

    “France produces one-tenth the carbon emissions per unit of electricity as Germany and pays little more than half for its electricity.”

    Which is not correct. Electricity whole price in France is higher than in Germany. But Germany has higher taxes than France.

    I think I stop there, too many inaccuriacies in this article to correct them all

    • Craken says

      You claim he has “too many inaccuracies” in the article.

      But, you (accurately) pointed out only one inaccuracy: that the recent drop in solar prices is a one time effect of switching to Chinese factories.

      I’ll take that as a tacit admission that you also support a nuclear revival.

  144. pjbluehostwp says

    Thank you Michael for the article and for your intellectual honesty!
    If you havn’t read it yet, please check out the book “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” by Alex Epstein.

  145. PauL Kelly says

    I think your fighting global warming on the wrong end. You should try to lower emission from factory and vehicle. Try planting trees etc plant that want a lot of co2 to grow. One thing to a lot of oil go into make solar panels and wind mills.

  146. Ned2 says

    I like numbers!
    Numbers state that all 8 billion of the worlds population could live quite comfortably in the state of Texas, and that they would enjoy over twice the amount of space people currently enjoy in NYC… night.

    Extrapolating the numbers relating to total land mass in the world, that means that our planet could quite easily support………..wait for it… over 1,700 billion people. Over 200 times the current population of the world.

    Overpopulation, global warming, climate change, peak oil, and fairies are all crackpot theorem, so act accordingly.

    Wind turbines and solar farms are destroying the environment.

  147. Brian H. says

    I’ve been on a lot of wind farms over the last 10-15 years. I have yet to see the bird massacre you speak of. In fact, I have never seen one dead bird below or near any of the wind turbines I have been to, in California, Minnesota, Iowa, Texas, New Mexico. I’m still thinking those cats, and office building and home windows, for that matter, are killing a lot more birds. I also think you are mistaken about storage. Economic energy storage has always been the Holy Grail of renewables. If we are not there yet, we are on the cusp. Just watch.

    • Jackson Howard says

      As far as birds are concerned the big killers are

      1) Cats
      2) Cars

      For wind power to become #3 it would take quite a hefty amount of it. But it’s a environment concerned sounding bad-faith argument, so you get it a lot.

      Renewables require energy storage, yes. But not as much as one thinks. For Germany run on 100% renewable, the storage capacity needs to be around 8-10%.

      Cheapest storage is pumped hydro.


      As far as decommissioning Oil & Gas infrastructures once they go down, my bet is on the true & tested strategy used by the mining industry : scamper off with the profits and let the taxpayer clean up.

  148. One thing no one seems to have taken into consideration. If we “destroy” the oil & gas industry then who is going to pay to decommission the trillions of dollars that infrastructure has in place?

    It certainly won’t be Exxon or Shell or Chevron since those companies will be bankrupt.

    So, who is going to pay? The government? The tax payers? The new nuclear and renewable companies?

    Where are the hundreds of billions and maybe trillions of dollars going to come from to dismantle and decommission this infrastructure…thousands of wells, millions of miles of pipelines, refineries, storage and other processing assets? Is it going to come from the “savings” we get from nuclear and renewables?

    If this infrastructure is not properly maintained, dismantled and decommissioned then in short order it is going to create one enormous environmental problem.

    Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

    • Craken says

      A certain percentage of that infrastructure is decommissioned every year; the rate may accelerate but the basic process will continue until the end. The oil companies, if they’re smart, will diversify into growth businesses and will therefore be able to pay the decom costs.

  149. Richard Harding says

    Michael – aside from the fact that the panels will eventually need to be dealt with, is there any compelling reason for a homeowner to not choose solar power for your home?

  150. Bob Houten says

    It’s great that this author has come these insights. A little attention to science would have spared him hard lessons and would have spared our country many billions of dollars going down the various rabbit holes of so-called alternative energy. As for me, I love coal, natural gas and oil. Without these things available to our society, we will soon be living in very primitive conditions. In fact, a great many of us will be dead. The scary thing, of course, is that many our self-professed elites would think this a good thing.

    • Energy cartels – extended to these very ‘elites’ – it isn’t just the what of it but the way of it.
      Look up nujol – and rockefeller – wont take long to find.
      Dependency of corporate commodity means you are an asset – and a disposable one at that.
      All of us will be dead – insofar as the body does not ‘survive’ a certain term.
      Much cleaner use of so called fossil fuel is do-able with political willingness – as are many other solutions currently choked back.
      Renewables work best as part of community solutions – not centralised profiteering (and top-down leverage).

  151. John Preston says

    Yeah, nah.

    Simple question: what do we want? Do we WANT the issues associated with nuclear (waste, decommissioning costs, etc)?

    As to how renewables won’t be enough. The author fails to appreciate the immense space available around the world available for solar.

    Calculations have been done (about 10 years ago – see landartgenerator) as to the amount of solar panels required to power the whole world.

    An area less than half that of South Australia (the top, desert half) could power the whole planet, replacing ALL nuclear, gas, coal, oil, wind, thermal and hydro. Pump in sea water, pump out gazillions of tons of synthetic fuel, hydrogen, whatever.

    Done. Next.

    • “An area less than half that of South Australia (the top, desert half) could power the whole planet, replacing ALL nuclear, gas, coal, oil, wind, thermal and hydro. Pump in sea water, pump out gazillions of tons of synthetic fuel, hydrogen, whatever.”

      And all for the low, low price of 57 trillion dollars! Don’t delay, operators are standing by, call NOW!

      “Done. Next.”

      Sounds great. So when exactly will you be writing the check to pay for all this?

      • John Preston says

        The article focused on environmental issues, and on that basis how nuclear was the answer — using the top half of South Australia would not cause huge environmental issues (there’s basically no one there).

        If you think nuclear is cheaper than renewables, please go directly to the UK and tell them how to build Hinkley Point C on budget on time.

        Yeah, thought so.


        • “The article focused on environmental issues, and on that basis how nuclear was the answer”

          And your response asserted that solar could easily replace ALL energy usage on the planet. Which is economically insane, as I pointed out.

          “using the top half of South Australia would not cause huge environmental issues (there’s basically no one there).”

          Um, you’re forgetting about aborigines.

          You’re going to kick them out of their ancestral homeland to fulfill your eco-fantasies?

          Good luck with that.

          “If you think nuclear is cheaper than renewables, please go directly to the UK and tell them how to build Hinkley Point C on budget on time.”

          I didn’t mention anything about the relative cost of nuclear vs. renewables. Here’s what I did say: that contrary to your assertions of simplicity, your South Australian solar plan would cost multi-trillions of dollars, which doesn’t even include the astronomical cost of pumping millions of gallons of seawater hundreds of miles to interior of Australia.

          And rather than defend your own statements, you’re trying to change the subject.


          • John Preston says

            “I didn’t mention anything about the relative cost of nuclear vs. renewables. ”

            Yeah, right. And that’s because if solar would cost multi-trillions, nuclear given its much higher per MWh cost would be multi sextillions,

            As to land use, you appear unfamiliar with Australia — aboriginal permission is negotiated for use of their land. You may be unaware that mining occurs in Australia, on Aboriginal land.

            And SA was only one example, amid the 26,000 kms of coastline, most of which is uninhabited.

            There’s also Morocco which is starting to build solar power for export.

            “your response asserted that solar could easily replace ALL energy” I quoted others who have calculated the energy required to do that.

            Your reply is incoherent. Dismissed.

          • “Yeah, right. And that’s because if solar would cost multi-trillions, nuclear given its much higher per MWh cost would be multi sextillions,”

            Um, what? Unlike you, I’m not proposing to replace all worldwide energy usage with nuclear. So you’re attacking an argument no one’s making. Stay on-topic, please

            “As to land use, you appear unfamiliar with Australia — aboriginal permission is negotiated for use of their land. You may be unaware that mining occurs in Australia, on Aboriginal land.”

            Unlike your solar fantasy, a mine doesn’t require every square inch of the top half of South Australia to operate. Your solar panels would forcibly relocate thousands of aboriginal people hundreds of miles from their homeland FOREVER, and your hand-waving about ‘negotiation’ is just code for additional costs to add to the 57 trillion-dollar bill for this boondoggle, which doesn’t include the price of massive seawater pumps, piping, and motors (which will shut down as soon as the sun sets, since they’re solar-powered too). Or the price of new electrical transmission lines to get all that juice from SA to the rest of the earth. Or the price of storage required to power the half of earth that’s constantly receiving 0% sunlight.

            “I quoted others who have calculated the energy required to do that.”

            Your source doesn’t contain one word about how much it would all cost.

            Which I provided, and you promptly ignored, since you can’t dispute it.

            “Your reply is incoherent. Dismissed.”

            Says the poster who thinks we can fly Boeing 747 airplanes on solar electricity.

            Okie-dokie, Mr. Coherent.

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  153. dirk says

    I wonder whether this thread will reach the 600, as was the case with that on education and naughty students of a week ago, Public Education’s……. So, education is more relevant as environment is, quickly judged.

  154. The top down story that has been pushed and targeted to a top-down displacement of environmental guilt, as a triggerring of apocalyptic fear and thus a rabid override of reason to sacrificial archetypes of averting or appeasing terror – ENACTS the destruction it purports to avoid by giving power to fear and the manipulators of it – who generate conflict and fear (and environmental toxins) by pushing private agenda over and at expense of wholeness of being.
    Real science is therefore as welcome as truth in a war that seeks only to technologise, weaponise and marketise everything to serve such an agenda.

    The submission of the will to a mind-cartel of supposed experts is the nature of a technocracy that is wielded by top-down ‘power’ of a corrupted institutionalism – in terms of law, governance and finance, media information and education, scientific and medical regulation and accreditation.

    “Everything is BACKWARDS; everything is upside down! Doctors destroy health, Lawyers destroy justice, Universities destroy knowledge, Governments destroy freedom, Major media destroys information, And religions destroy spirituality”. Michael Ellner

    AS for Unclear power – the story of radioactivity (originally believed a panacea), is one of the terror symbols of our age – and is directly associated with police states into perpetuity.
    In fact a lot of ‘radioactive waste’ gets dumped after due process of perception management has been carried out.

    Fukushima polluting the Pacific – what is that?
    Chernobyl – wildlife has NOT mutated.
    Hiroshima radiation survivors died only about months to a year earlier than a control group – what does that say?

    The nature of top down power is the enforcing of dependency via controlled scarcity in necessaries such as energy, food and water – and the already energy cartel seeks to upgrade by shifting to an energy currency based on ‘carbon guilt’ or original sin with state allowed dispensations subject to carbon and social credit rating – realtime on the IoT (Internet of Rings).

    CO2 is healthgiving and trending is low in my opinion – so welcome a rise in CO2 and ignore its demonisation by ‘consensual top-down politics’, but focus on transparency and accountability for corporate-caused pollution, degradation and disease (toxicity and alienation under coercive threat both set up the terrain of disease conditions).

    Outsourcing of guilt is a lie. Trading in guilt is a further uncovering of the Beast of trading in toxic debt.

    Waking from conformity and compliance under key opinion ‘experts’ or other influence – is breaking the capacity of a system that stunts or buries scientific developments that do not serve the ‘established economic and political model’.

    i have no doubt that much of our energy is wasted and used to make us weak and toxic, while the means for clean energy are not unavailable – excepting for political reasons – that may also include a gross lack of responsibility for balancing our freedoms and responsibilities. This can be applied to both corps and its consumed base, but the opening of the life denying canopy to allow micro-economic activity to renew the soil out of which a more diverse human cultural expression would hold real charge across a spectrum of consciousness – instead of the enforced ‘multicultural’ state-corporate flatland.

  155. It’s a pity that Quillette is rapidly turning into the Cato Institute light, giving a forum to crackpots like Michael Shellenberger.

    Shellenberg has a long track record of endorsing impractical energy solutions as miracle panacea, for example shale oil, despite the BLM declaring “there are no economically viable ways yet known to extract and process oil shale for commercial purposes.” His vanity gubernatorial campaign garnered less than 0.4% of the vote, not surprising considering his platform was filled with bizarre proposals and grandiose, pipe-dream schemes. His one-man ‘institute’ blurts out fantasy tech ‘solutions’ straight out of Popular Mechanics.

    Shellenberg’s obsession with nuclear energy approaches the level of a paraphilia for, in addition to grossly understating the economic, logistical, and environmental problems of nuclear power plants, he also advocates complete nuclear weapons proliferation.

    In this article, Shellenberg repeats the same hackneyed and idiotic tropes against renewable energy. Lamenting “you can’t make the sun shine more regularly or the wind blow more reliably”, while mentioning “one solution”“to convert California’s dams into big batteries” — he: 1) fatuously ignores that solar can meet the bulk of peak-hour power consumption; while 2) intentionally selects a far-fetched proposal (dams as batteries) to evade mentioning a proven solution, molten salt storage, which has been successfully employed in scale for over a decade, most notably in Spain. Regarding wind, he choses not to recognize that wind farm sites are selected precisely for their steady winds, or that a country like Denmark, which relies heavily on wind, has experienced no fatal reliability issues, and in fact at times wind generates energy that exceeds the entire nation’s needs.

    Another specious critique is that “solar and wind farms require huge amounts of land.” In truth, the entire US electrical usage could be met by 500 square miles of photovoltaics. (This excludes the potential of large-scale solar-thermal plants.) Where, oh, where, Michael, are we to find those “huge amounts” of acreage? On rooftops, of course. Recently, MIT successfully powered in full one of its buildings with PV rooftop panels. If Shellenberg rejects the technological innovation of MIT, what, non-nuclear solution will meet his approval?

    Shellenberg shares his epiphany that “no amount of technological innovation … could solve the fundamental problem with renewables”, apparently because “solar and wind farms require long new transmissions lines”. Somehow it did not dawn on him that upgrading our aging power infrastructure is but a public works project requiring no innovations whatsoever.

    When Shellenberg attributes steady lowering of PV costs to “one-time cost savings from making them in big Chinese factories”, he is just flat out lying.

    I appreciate Quillette’s commitment to providing a platform for thoughtful discourse from a range of perspectives. But pseudo-science nonsense from certifiable crackpots does not pass muster.

    • Craken says

      This statement of yours is a lie–and it’s not even within 2 orders of magnitude:
      “In truth, the entire US electrical usage could be met by 500 square miles of photovoltaics.”
      The best estimate is more like 200,000 square miles:

      I will not waste time with the rest of your comment: all lies and innuendo.

        • “Estimates do vary, but the bottom line is that more than ample area exists to install all the PV required to meet our electric consumption. ”

          Until the sun sets. But hey, how often does that happen?

          • Maybe one day scientists will discover a way to store electricity.

          • “Maybe one day scientists will discover a way to store electricity.”

            There isn’t a way to do so on a state- or country-sized scale currently. And it would cost trillions of dollars to develop and install grid-sized batteries if the technology ever became feasible.

            Which is unnecessary, since we already have energy sources that can ramp up and down in response to demand.

            Namely, fossil fuels.

  156. Regarding birds killed by wind turbines, Shellenberg firstly cherry picks a high outlier figure, 1 million p/a, when the U.S. Geological Survey estimates c. 367,000. He goes on to claim that unlike house cats, “[w]hat kills big, threatened, and endangered birds—birds that could go extinct—like hawks, eagles, owls, and condors, are wind turbines”. He neglects to mention that cell towers (6.7 million total) also kill those species as well, much less lament the ‘impracticality’ of cell phones and the return to phone booths. Shellenberg also ignores that those ‘big, threatened, endangered birds’ he professes such concern for stand to lose c. 95% of their remaining habitat range due to climate change.

    When he gushes that “[t]he rapidly spinning turbines act like an apex predator which big birds never evolved to deal with” — while conveniently omitting any supporting research — he exposes his gross misunderstanding of natural selection while further establishing his pseudo-scientific credentials.

    • Craken says

      There are only about 200,000 cell towers in America. Natural selection can select species out of existence–and often does. He is pushing nuclear as the only clear way to prevent climate change/habitat destruction.

      In other words, your comment is mendacious.

      • The figure cited for bird deaths caused by cell towers is not in dispute.

        Natural Selection does not work in the way Shellenberger imagines it, which is likely why he cites no evolutionary biologists to support his assertion. To understand why his scenario is so preposterous, I suggest both you and he read Peter Grant’s Ecology and Evolution of Darwin’s Finches, describing a multi-decade, longitudinal study of that species’ response to changes in environmental pressure.

        In any case, Shellenberger’s professed concern for predator avians is transparently insincere given his abject disregard for greater threats to their existence; it is rather a mere excuse to indulge in his fetish with nuclear.

  157. Bucc Leuch says

    A great advert for the nuclear industry and the further despoliation of the planet with nuclear wast for thousands of years. (If responding, please indicate how close you are willing to be to a nuclear waste dump)
    Strange no one seems to have mentioned the most powerful form of energy on the planet, namely the daily movement of billions of tons of water with the rising and falling of the oceanic tides.
    Perhaps that is just an inconvenient truth!

    • “Strange no one seems to have mentioned the most powerful form of energy on the planet, namely the daily movement of billions of tons of water with the rising and falling of the oceanic tides.”

      If tidal were cheap and feasible, we’d already be using it in significant quantities. But it’s far more expensive than fossil fuels on a per-MWh basis.

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  164. Petr says

    good article but Dan lost me when he said that using Dams for batteries didn’t work as the demand for water is high. Pump storage doesn’t use up water it just pumps it up then lets it back down again. If Dan’s grasp of physics is that bad how can one believe the rest of the article.

  165. Jayashree Satvalli says

    How did the erudite author, so passionate about the environment, coviniently leave out Animal Farms and breeding centres as a major contibutor to global warming in terms of green gas emissions? The huge amount of food that is fed to the countless billions of farm animals which take up millions of billions of hectares? Because he doesn’t believe in it? Or does not want to be a part of the awakened world which knows that Veganism is a good and sensible option for the world to start healing?

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    • John Preston says


      Thanks for the link, confirming this article (by Shellenberger) is plain nonsense. As I’ve posted above, the arithmetic has been done to show solar alone (if it were necessary) could power the whole planet (without all that much land being used). And that’s before we use wind, geothermal, tidal, hydro.

      • “As I’ve posted above, the arithmetic has been done to show solar alone (if it were necessary) could power the whole planet”

        And as you’ve ignored above, the arithmetic has also been done to calculate the cost of it all, and it runs into the multi-trillions. Which doesn’t even include the cost of grid-sized battery storage required to supply the half of earth remaining in shadow, and which also has the additional technological hurdle of not currently existing.

        But hey, other than that, great plan.

        • John Preston says

          “And as you’ve ignored above, the arithmetic has also been done to calculate the cost of it all”

          wtf — nuclear is more expensive, so whatever the cost to power the whole planet with solar (if that were necessary) it would be far less than it would cost to do it with nuclear (especially if one includes the costs for eventual decommissioning, and ongoing storage of the radioactive waste).

          As for batteries, who said anything about batteries. Hydrogen for export is now being planned and soon to be built) in South Australia, other Australian states, and other countries.

          I see you’re the same incoherent dude as previous.

    • Jay Salhi says


      The Lazard study looks at only a small piece of the overall picture. If wind and solar were genuinely cheaper than fossil fuels they (i) would not need subsidies (ii) would actually make a meaningful contribution to world energy supply (instead of providing about 1%). Once you take into account things like efficiency, the cost of backup power and maintenance costs (just to name a few), you get a radically different picture.

      • Jackson Howard says

        Wind and Solar are already probably cheaper than fossil fuels once the AGW externalities and early deaths from air qualities are factored in. One can argue that ignoring those externalities effectively act as an fossil fuel subsidy.

        For renewables to become effective they need to be operated at an industrial scale, due to the low energy density. My bet is that once oil ERoEI gets lower than renewables, the switch would happen anyway. But that will be probably be too late for a moderate amount of GW.

        • “Wind and Solar are already probably cheaper than fossil fuels once the AGW externalities and early deaths from air qualities are factored in. One can argue that ignoring those externalities effectively act as an fossil fuel subsidy.”

          If you’re going to count pollution against fossil fuels, then you also need to count the increased lifespans since the advent of the Industrial Revolution in their favor. People used to live to 35 back then. But now people live well into their 80s, and far more comfortably, thanks to fossil fuels and the economic gains they helped make possible.

          The gains far, far outweigh the losses.

          “For renewables to become effective they need to be operated at an industrial scale, due to the low energy density.”

          Don’t forget jacking up poor people’s electrical bills even more than they already have been, due to the necessary increase in subsidies.

          “My bet is that once oil ERoEI gets lower than renewables, the switch would happen anyway. But that will be probably be too late for a moderate amount of GW.”

          What switch? We don’t use oil to generate electricity, outside of Hawaii. We use oil for transportation. And going to 100% solar/wind electrical generation is already enough of a pipe dream without throwing in the additional energy demand required to replace all gas and diesel.

    • “Isn’t this why we are not progressing new nuclear projects?”

      Not really, since according to Lazard’s own report you can’t compare solar and wind to conventional generation technologies due to the former two’s intermittent nature.

      From page 5:

      “Variations in fuel prices can materially affect the LCOE of conventional generation technologies, but direct comparisons against “competing” Alternative Energy generation technologies must take into account issues such as dispatch characteristics (e.g., baseload and/or dispatchable intermediate load vs. peaking or intermittent technologies).”

      Expecting the know-nothings at Bloomberg to actually read the report they breathlessly quote from is apparently too much to ask.

      Nuclear and gas will provide power 24 hours a day. Solar and wind, not so much.

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  168. Jamie Karl says

    Beyond the obvious graphene ultra capacitors, you can store energy using gravity without water. Just lift a large weight into the air.

    Just as ‘not everywhere has appropriate dams’, a lot of places are fairly ideal for renewables and have no need of nuclear. Places with plenty of sun, or lots of rivers, or coastal towns.

    I’ll agree with you on a level. In that for EVERY PLACE, with current technology, renewables are not a complete solution. And in that, for now, for some places, nuclear is ideal. Our current situation is not just something you can throw solar panels at.

    But I don’t for a second believe that we are going to experience some kind of technological standstill. And battery storage, is as much a problem for the environment, even IF you use nuclear. You can’t run a car on nuclear. Current batteries use cobalt and lithium, and can’t run heavy machinery either.

    You can’t drive an industrial furnace on nuclear either. Rockets, missles, space travel, industry require burning. So we need hydrogen.

    Rubbers and plastics are bad from limited fossil fuels as well.

    This all leads me to come to the opposite conclusion as you, in many ways. That we still have a lot of progress to make, before we can solve this problem. And that requires investment in scientific research, not merely throwing money at renewables or electric cars (not that those things hurt, they still reduce emissions)

  169. Ken says

    He is flat out wrong with his estimates about Chernobyl and Fukushima. The lowest estimates of the cancer death toll given by the WHO for Chernobyl is “9,000 excess cancer deaths.” And if you include increases in cancer across Europe the numbers rise. And the fact that humans can’t safely return to the area should be very concerning to everyone.

    The WHO also says that there is an increased risk for a variety of cancers to those living in the most contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture, which shouldn’t be surprising. I’d be interested in knowing where Mr. Shellenberger’s funding comes from for his organization. Is he now a lobbyist/spokesman for the nuclear energy industry?

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  172. Nashville Jam says

    Your half-way home, Mr Shellenberger. Now you have to come to grips with the fact that the contribution of Puny Humans to global climate is zero. Rather it’s the Titanic Forces of Nature, operating on a global and solar scale. And, unfortunately, we’re due for another Ice Age which is the norm, geologically speaking. They’ll be begging for global warming in the not too distant future. In the meantime, all the hype and nonsense about CO2 emissions is making energy less-and-less affordable. Which of course hurts the developing poor the most, not the already-got-it-good people pushing the CO2 nonsense.

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  175. “…Look at a satellite view of the deserts–solar farms are a trivial speck on the landscape…”

    That statement is devoid of context, especially considering FUTURE solar growth. It’s clear that the dream of (small footprint) solar panels on roofs and parking lots isn’t nearly enough.

    At least you didn’t try to downplay the obvious blight of industrial wind turbines, which interrupt scenic views for miles around and require vast new road networks with permanent mountaintop clearcuts. Many wind projects span over 30,000 acres. They also fill the night sky with flashing red lights in areas that previously enjoyed natural darkness. The countryside is becoming the city; urban sprawl with new branding.

    Many environmentalists are willfully ignoring the SCALE of wind and solar relative to fossil fuels they can never replace, since they’re built with them at every step, including land preparation. (obvious scale problem)

    The real solution, if any, is a lower population, a stable (non-growing) economy and tough personal sacrifices, but those concepts don’t sell well. (debunks “green” wind power)

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  177. Is this ‘true’?
    “Furthermore, one of the biggest energy issues is the fact that producing electricity does nothing for the 80% of energy use that isn’t supplied by electricity – mainly the shipping and transport industry (including the military sector), the mining industry, and the agriculture industry. The other fact is that “renewables” do absolutely nothing to curtail our ever-increasing energy use.”

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