Fighting carbon with windmills is like fighting the Blackhawks with mosquitoes: why ignoring Al Gore is good for both the planet and Toronto’s olfactory self-image

In November 2013, I got a call from Terence Corcoran, a man many on the left consider to be the Devil Incarnate. Corcoran is the editor of the Financial Post, a right-of-centre Canadian newspaper. Speaking with him, I was not at all surprised to learn that far from the foaming fanatic lefties portray him to be, Corcoran is actually a very straightforward guy who asks good questions. He wanted to know what I thought of all the hoopla surrounding an upcoming visit of former U.S. vice president Al Gore to Toronto. Gore was, with a huge electric advance-notice assist from some corners of Canada’s media, scheduled to rub shoulders with the provincial high and mighty apropos of some ceremony about climate change. Corcoran wanted to do a piece about that; here is what he wrote.

Without electricity powering Toronto’s entire water system, this would look much much worse. Every gram of water running through Toronto pipes is put there by electric power. Right now, at ten a.m. on Friday July 10 2013, Ontario’s wind turbines, Al Gore’s favourite way of fighting climate change, are not producing enough power to make this bowl clean.

Without electricity powering Toronto’s entire water system, this would look much much worse. Every gram of water running through Toronto pipes is put there by electric power. Right now, at ten a.m. on Friday July 10 2013, Ontario’s wind turbines, Al Gore’s favourite way of fighting climate change, are not producing enough power to make this bowl clean.

Gore in my view has been just a massive disappointment as a climate advocate. I might even argue that he is an obstacle to meaningful action on climate change. He appears to be more interested in rubbing shoulders with the bigwigs in the green lobby and being a celebrity than in reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that gets dumped into our atmosphere by, among other things, people who drive around the world in kerosene-powered airplanes.

My main complaint against the former veep is his opposition to nuclear energy. Why does Gore oppose nuclear? In his own words, because nuclear plants “only come in only one size: extra large.”

That has to be about the most lame-o excuse I have ever heard. What’s the matter, Al? You don’t want to cut CO2 too fast? Haven’t you been driving around the planet for the last 15 years, in your kerosene-powered private airplane, telling audiences that it’s absolutely urgent that we cut CO2 emissions as fast as possible?

What really bothers me though is that Gore drives, in his kerosene powered airplane, to my home province of Ontario to talk up alternative energy, attributing to alternative energy the stunning CO2 reductions this province has achieved in the electric power sector.

This is particularly what Corcoran wanted to talk about. Was it true, he asked me, that windmills and solar panels were what had reduced Ontario’s annual electric power CO2 emissions from around 40 million metric tons in 2000 to 10 million in 2013?

Of course that is not true, I told him: just look at the public record of power generation in Ontario (click here to see annual tables going back to 2010) and you can see that it was the massive addition of nuclear power to our system that chopped all that CO2. Wind, as you can see, played as much a role as a peashooter in a modern war.

Fighting carbon with windmills is like drafting mosquito-level hockey players and sending them in against the Chicago Blackhawks and expecting them to win. You can pay them all you want. You can pay them more than Jonathan Toewes or Patrick Kane or Duncan Keith. It doesn’t matter. You will still lose.

The only way you can beat the Hawks is to be stronger and faster and more skilled and determined than they are. In the world of professional hockey, there is no other team that possesses those attributes. The Hawks proved that this year when they won the Stanley Cup.

In the world of electric power however, there is a technology that can utterly defeat carbon. That technology is already providing most of the power in Ontario, as I write this. That technology is, of course, nuclear. From three tiny patches of land that, collectively, would easily fit into the area occupied by the Wolfe Island wind farm, Ontario’s 18 nuclear reactors have for nearly five decades cranked out more electric power than all the other generators combined.

They have ensured that the city of Toronto, where I was born, functions smoothly day and night. Toronto runs almost entirely on electricity: without electricity, the city’s toilets literally would not flush.

Now, wind—Al Gore’s favourite way of making electricity—is at this moment (eight a.m. on Friday July 10) making a whopping 42 megawatts of power. Toronto needs an average of about 2,700 megawatts just to function.

If wind were powering the province of Ontario, Toronto’s toilets would not be flushing right now. Torontonians, at least those fortunate enough to not be stuck on elevators or on subways, would be growing ever thirstier, while taking in the wonderful fragrance of Al Gore’s climate “solution.”

Gore himself of course would suffer none of this inconvenience. He would just hop onto that kerosene powered plane and drive somewhere else.

I harp on the kerosene powered airplane thing like I do because I want to make a point. There is nothing wrong with Gore wanting to get somewhere fast. But there is with him blocking the only technology capable of delivering him and other humans with comparable speed with zero carbon. There is exactly one place on earth where he can try this himself. That place is France. The Very Fast Train (TGV) travels at hundreds of miles per hour, and it runs on electricity. French electricity is uncommonly clean, far cleaner than the electricity in neighboring Germany where they have bought full bore into the windmill nonsense. French electricity is clean because most of it comes from nuclear plants.

But Gore opposes nuclear.

(Corcoran’s paper is a rival of the Globe and Mail for the mantle of Canada’s national newspaper. While I was quite critical of the Globe for an outrageous anti-nuclear hatchet job it recently did, I have to point out that there are some good columnists who write for it. One is Margaret Wente, who wrote this excellent piece in July 2013.)

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5 years ago

Good Steve. I have been thinking the same thing. People like Al Gore keep trying to remind people about Climate Change but offers lame solutions as you put it so well. It really proves that he is in the green energy business for profit. He is smart enough to figure out that it takes a lot of remediation to reverse the cumulative effects of CO2. Those who study the effects of CO2 emissions and methane release know that the oceans have absorbed a great deal of the CO2. The oceans have not only become warmer but also more acidic and is basically beginning mass extinctions. Everybody’s favorite toilet the ocean has been taking our shit without biting back. How long did we expect it to keep coping? But Al Gore cares more about his green investments. How did a generation of peace loving hippies grow up to be so selfish and short-sighted. The back paddling we need to do can only be done with nuclear. To keep up with demand for fuel alone if we were smart enough to convert to electric vehicles we would need to be building a 1GW plant per week. We know that won’t happen so how we expect renewables to begin to make a dent in the needed remediation efforts is completely absurd. I should have given readers a warning. Warning. Reading this could depress you.

5 years ago
Reply to  Rick Maltese

1 GW per week, hmmm…

Several times I’ve suggested that the thing we need is something like a factory building NuScale reactors at a rate of about 2 per day.  This is roughly the rate at which Liberty ships were built in WWII, only the NuScale reactors are about 5% of the weight.

2 NuScale units per day is 100 MW per day, or 500 MW per week working 5 days per week.  Build 2 such factories and you’re up to 1 GW per week.

5 years ago
Morgan Brown
5 years ago

In the period from June 4 1962 to Mar 31 2015, nuclear reactors (all CANDUs or their prototypes) have delivered ~2.85 billion MWh to Canadian electrical grids, according to my latest best estimates. This avoided ~2.8 billion tonnes of CO2, because coal-fired generation would have otherwise been built and used. I know, I know; there’s a CO2 cost to building power plants and providing the fuel, and some of the electricity might have been provided by hydro or other fossil fuels, so I’ll reduce that estimate to ~2.7 billion tonnes.

Dolf Johnson
5 years ago

I sure would like to see your fabulous Table A1 & A2 mofified to reflect realitya bit more. For example, all the sources should show the CIPK that the IPCC claims for lifecycle emissions. Then, the wind and solar lines should be modified to “Wind + Gas” and “Solar + Gas”. Then the Carbon output sould be the amount that gas would put out minus the amount that the W or S actually saves from that amount.

Just a thought.

5 years ago
Reply to  Dolf Johnson

A flat 16g/KWh for nuclear then? Those numbers are for GenII Light Water Reactors, as far as I understand anyways. This doesn’t make very much difference in the grand scheme of things, just worthy of a footnote.

It would be better if nuclear completely replaced natural gas and hydro can make up for the wiggle room with the other renewables instead. But then why not just use nuclear and hydro at that point?