The New York Times is reporting that the consequences of global warming will be suffered most severely by the poorest nations. As I've previously linked, Spiegel Online got a preview of the second part of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which concludes that climate change is worse and more extensive than previously believed, with twenty to thirty percent of all species facing a high risk of extinction, while:
Several hundred million people in densely populated coastal regions -- particularly river deltas in Asia -- are threatened by rising sea levels and the increasing risk of flooding. More than one-sixth of the world's population lives in areas affected by water sources from glaciers and snow pack that will "very likely" disappear, according to the report.And as I've also previously linked, the editors of the leading science journal, Nature, perfectly summarized the conclusions of the first part of the IPCC report:
Until quite recently (perhaps even until last week), the general global narrative of the great climate-change debate has been deceptively straightforward. The climate-science community, together with the entire environmental movement and a broad alliance of opinion leaders ranging from Greenpeace and Ralph Nader to Senator John McCain and many US evangelical Christians, has been advocating meaningful action to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions. This requirement has been disputed by a collection of money-men and some isolated scientists, in alliance with the current president of the United States and a handful of like-minded ideologues such as Australia's prime minister John Howard.There is no more debate. There is only the question of what we will do about it. Our rapacious use of fossil fuels is a geopolitical and environmental disaster; and despite the shilling of nuclear industry lobbyists, that vile technology would not solve the problem of global warming.
The IPCC report, released in Paris, has served a useful purpose in removing the last ground from under the climate-change sceptics' feet, leaving them looking marooned and ridiculous.
From the Natural Resources Council White Paper on Commercial Nuclear Power:
While nuclear power plants and their fuel cycle facilities emit little carbon dioxide, they are neither necessary nor sufficient to avoid dangerous global warming. U.S. electricity needs could be met while reducing emissions by 70 percent or more through a combination of increased end-use efficiency, wind power, solar power, integrated gasification combined-cycle coal plants with carbon capture and storage, and high-efficiency natural gas combined cycle turbines. These technologies are cheaper than new nuclear plants, and they can be built or installed much more quickly, without the serious security, public health, and environmental dangers that accompany nuclear power.And speaking of storing spent fuel, we are already going to need to spend 26.9 billion dollars to store the waste we already have, for just the next sixteen years! Imagine the cost- not to mention the sheer impossibility of storing waste from another 440 nuclear plants!
Moreover, unless plug-in hybrid, all-electric, or fuel-cell-powered vehicles, or electric trains are commercialized on a large scale, nuclear power has virtually no role to play in reducing emissions from the transportation sector, which currently depends on petroleum for more than 95 percent of its energy needs. Far more promising, at least for the next several decades, is significantly improving fuel economy through such technologies as gasoline- or diesel-electric hybrid vehicles and biofuels made from energy crops, forest products, and agricultural waste. For nuclear power to have any appreciable impact on global warming, nuclear capacity globally—now about 440 plants—would have to be increased severalfold over the next few decades. This would mean adding a dozen or so new uranium enrichment plants worldwide, a similar number of Yucca Mountain–type geologic repositories for spent nuclear fuel, and a significant expansion of uranium mining. Current international arrangements are insufficient to prevent a non-weapon state, such as Iran, from suddenly changing course and using “peaceful” uranium enrichment or spent-fuel reprocessing plants to separate nuclear material for weapons. Finally, there is not one single long-term geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel in operation anywhere in the world.
Little wonder that the scientists and academics of the Oxford Research Group concluded that:
The surge in political popularity of nuclear power as a quick-fix, zero-carbon solution to global warming is misguided and potentially highly dangerous, a group of academics and scientists said on Monday.As former German environment and nuclear safety minister Juergen Trittin wrote in the report's forward:
In its report "Secure energy, civil nuclear power, security and global warming", the Oxford Research Group said there was not enough uranium available and nuclear nations would therefore tend to opt for reprocessing spent fuel to obtain plutonium.
"One of the worst ideas, circulating in many corners of the global discussion, is the call for an expansion of nuclear power as a means of climate protection."And as the European Union's Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas, explained to Spiegel Online:
SPIEGEL: The proponents of nuclear power plants say that they produce cheap electricity without emitting any greenhouse gases. Is this incorrect?Ah, yes- the clean, renewable bounty nature has so generously provided.
Dimas: Yes, because it isn't the whole story. First of all, the disposal of radioactive waste remains an unresolved issue. Second, the eventual demolition and safe removal of nuclear facilities is not only an ecological, but also a significant economic problem. Third, it is unclear how we can guarantee the safety of nuclear waste over the course of many generations. Who will pay for it, and who will manage it?
SPIEGEL: The industry has established billions in reserves specifically for that purpose.
Dimas: It will hardly be sufficient. We are talking about centuries in which we will have nuclear waste. Besides, nuclear energy is just as non-renewable as oil or gas, because uranium reserves are also limited.
SPIEGEL: What is your recommendation when it comes to the energy mix?
Dimas: The expansion of renewable forms of energy, such as biomass, solar, wind and water, seems inevitable to me.
For one glorious moment, a couple weeks ago, wind power generated more energy for Spain than did any other source of power. As reported by Australia's The Age:
TAKING advantage of a particularly gusty period, Spain's wind energy generators this week reached a record high in electricity production, exceeding power generated by all other means.As CNN reported, on March 20, wind power is also good business:
At 5.40pm on Tuesday, wind power generation rose to contribute 27 per cent of the country's total power requirement, said Spanish company Red Electrica.
At that moment wind power contributed 8375 megawatts to the nation's power consumption of 31,033.
Vestas, the world's biggest wind turbine maker, on Tuesday turned in a full-year 2006 operating profit of €201 million ($267.4 million) on the back of booming demand for clean energy and maintained its 2007 sales and margin outlooks.And the AP reported that a new wind farm to be built in North Dakota will include:
100 wind turbines, capable of generating 150 megawatts of power.Meanwhile, Spain is building the largest solar energy park in the world:
At present, the little Spanish place Beneixama is scene for the construction of the biggest photovoltaic park of the world. In the back-country of the Costa Blanca (province Alicante) City Solar sets up 200 individual equipments with 100 KWp each – a mega project which was started in August 2006 and will be finalized in the late summer of 2007.Portugal just opened a solar plant that Spiegel Online reported:
...has a capacity of 11 megawatts, and will deliver electricity to around 8,000 households.Even Russia's getting into the solar act! Russia!
From Ria Novosti:
A recent conference organized by the Science and High Technologies committee of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, discussed legislative support for the national photovoltaic power industry.And our own Nevada Solar One is set to come online this month! As described by the Las Vegas Business Press:
Nobel Prize winner Zhores Alfyorov, vice-president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who chaired the conference, said Russia needs substantial legislative support in order to even begin to set up a domestic consumer market. "This will encourage the market's development, as well as expand scientific research and production," Alfyorov told RIA Novosti.
"We have good scientists and long-standing traditions in this field and have managed to preserve some operational research centers and production facilities in spite of serious problems," Alfyorov said. He added that the world is now focusing on solar power because the sun, a mere yellow dwarf among the 150 billion G-2 class stars in the Galaxy, is a natural thermonuclear reactor saturating the Earth with tremendous amounts of energy. According to Alfyorov, environmentally friendly converted solar energy has the potential to solve humankind's energy problems for centuries to come and eliminate the heat pollution caused by the rapidly expanding global power industry.
The third-largest solar plant in the world, the 64-megawatt Nevada Solar One will sell its power to Nevada Power and Sierra Pacific under a 20-year contract. The plant will produce enough energy to supply 48,000 homes.The Potential for solar energy is greater than we even yet realize. The March issue of Physics Today has an article, which is described on the
Opportunities to increase solar energy conversion as an alternative to fossil fuels are addressed in the Physics Today article, co-authored by George Crabtree, senior scientist and director of Argonne's Materials Science Division, and Nathan Lewis, professor of Chemistry at Caltech and director of its Molecular Materials Research Center.Instead of wasting hundreds of thousands of lives, and hundreds of billions of dollars, on oil wars; and instead of wasting time, energy and tens of billions of dollars on nuclear; it is time to refocus our efforts onto the only possible means of providing safe, clean, renewable sources of energy for the future. We must have a Manhattan Project-type urgency! We must insist that our political leaders listen! We must demand answers! Do they get it? Will they take us into a sustainable future, or will they equivocate, waffle, and perpetuate an obsolete paradigm that threatens our very survival?
Currently, between 80 percent and 85 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels. However, fossil fuel resources are of finite extent and are distributed unevenly beneath Earth's surface. When fossil fuel is turned into useful energy through combustion, it often produces environmental pollutants that are harmful to human health and greenhouse gases that threaten the global climate. In contrast, solar resources are widely available and have a benign effect on the environment and climate, making it an appealing alternative energy source.
"Sunlight is not only the most plentiful energy resource on earth, it is also one of the most versatile, converting readily to electricity, fuel and heat," said Crabtree. "The challenge is to raise its conversion efficiency by factors of five or ten. That requires understanding the fundamental conversion phenomena at the nanoscale. We are just scratching the surface of this rich research field."