If you want to keep a modern society running cleanly and efficiently, you need large-scale sources of electricity. You can generate that electricity in one or more of only three ways: coal, natural gas, and nuclear. Coal and natural gas are fossil fuels. To generate electricity with them you have to burn them. Burning fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal man-made greenhouse gas. Most people are not aware of the sheer amount of CO2 that electric power generation dumps into the air—10 billion tons each and every year. And that number is growing.
Not one single gram of those 10 billion tons of CO2 comes out of a nuclear plant. Almost all of those 10 billion tons come from coal and gas plants (some also comes out of oil-fired plants).
What happens to that CO2? Well, it swirls around in the atmosphere, acting as a trap for heat energy that would otherwise radiate into outer space. It does this for literally hundreds of thousands—some say millions—of years. CO2 is an extremely tough and stable molecule. I know: one of my R&D projects aims to deprive CO2 of one of its oxygen atoms, in order to turn it into a reactant to make other products. Hiving an oxygen atom off CO2 requires a lot of energy and ingenuity.
Left on its own in the earth’s atmosphere, without people like me devoting time and effort to split it, CO2 remains subject only to time. And time—hundreds of thousands of years of time—eventually does bring it back to earth, by entraining it weathering rock and water. Most of our planet’s surface is water, so most of that CO2 winds up in the oceans, making them more acidic.
This has profound implications for the future of life on this planet. The entire ocean ecosystem, from phytoplankton to blue whales, is a giant carbon sink. Dr. Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer, points out in the video clip below that ocean acidification—the conversion of atmospheric CO2 into carbonic acid in water—is the result of the rate at which CO2 is becoming entrained in the oceans. Too much carbonic acid will kill ocean creatures, thereby depriving us of an enormous source of atmospheric oxygen.
Ocean acidification is recognized by many, including many of the leading environmental groups, as a major problem. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) warns against it, and recommends, not surprisingly, steep reductions in CO2 emissions. The NDRC obviously went to a lot of trouble producing the fancy videos on its site. It obviously feels ocean acidification is a serious problem.
Presumably, NDRC feels that the CO2 from power generation, which to repeat dumps 10 billion tons of CO2 into our air each and every year, should be one of the first places to start with the necessary carbon reductions. So which of the three power generation fuels—coal, natural gas, and nuclear—does the NDRC recommend we uptake in a big way?
The answer may surprise, upset, and disappoint you. While waxing eloquent about the perils of ocean acidification, the NDRC, from the other corner of its mouth, proceeds to in effect advocate for coal and natural gas and against nuclear.
With this kind of mealy-mouthed hypocrisy at the cutting edge of the self-styled “environmental movement,” is it any wonder that 10 billion tons of CO2 are getting dumped into our air and oceans every year.
The “environmental movement” is the oceans’ and atmosphere’s worst enemy.