Copenhagen climate cacophany: something missing in the public debate

Al Gore has been on an oilsands kick lately, telling anyone who’ll listen that gasoline made from Alberta oilsands bitumen makes a Toyota Prius as emission-intensive as a Hummer. He may be right: oilsands operations pump over 50 million tons of CO2 into the air every year. Most of this CO2 comes from burning and reforming natural gas. Strange then that Gore supports the natural gas takeover in Ontario electricity generation. Gas-fired power plants in Ontario increase emissions just as surely as oilsands operations in Alberta do.

Gore’s support for gas-fired generation in Ontario stems from his support for “renewable” sources of electric power generation—mainly wind and solar. He dismisses nuclear, saying it will take too long. That’s pretty weak.  As I and others have pointed out, wind and solar are not emission-free. Because they are inherently unreliable, they require a parallel fleet of generators capable of quickly deploying as soon as the grid operator needs them. Currently, only natural gas–fired generators have this capability.

Well, even the most efficient natural gas–fired generator pumps 550 grams of CO2—the principal greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere for every kilowatt-hour of electricity it puts into the grid. Significant amounts of bona fide pollutants, like sulfur and ammonia, are mixed in with that exhaust.

If you believe that CO2 destabilizes the climate, then you have to accept the corollary that it does so regardless of whether it goes into the air from an Alberta oilsands operation or from an Ontario power generating plant. I don’t know why Al Gore opposes the first but supports the second.

In supporting gas-fired power generation in Ontario, Gore tacitly opposes nuclear. This is crazy. For every kilowatt hour it puts into the grid, a nuclear generator pumps exactly zero grams of CO2 into the atmosphere. And nuclear energy puts literally hundreds of billions of kilowatt-hours into North American power grids every year. I don’t know how any honest climate campaigner can oppose it.

Don’t get me wrong: I look up to Al Gore, as I do to anyone who has the guts to publicly roll the dice and run for president. He is a formidable political communicator, and he’s a huge part of the reason climate change has become a global public issue on the first order. But he and most mainstream environmentalists are steering the world in the wrong direction when they pump up wind-and-solar and downplay, or oppose, nuclear. Nuclear will deliver serious emission reductions, reliably and cheaply. Wind and solar will just give us more expensive fossil-fired power plants, and no reductions in CO2 and pollution emissions.

But as the world gears up for the Copenhagen climate gabfest, the mainstream green view of the way forward still predominates. It’s all about wind, solar, and (necessarily) expensive carbon. Nobody mentions the atom.

In this way, the greens—who are the main reason climate change is on the global agenda—are now behaving like a relay runner who won’t hand over the baton. Somebody has to grab it from them, before they cause us all to lose the race.

Which begs the question: where the bloody hell is the nuclear lobby?

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