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The last of the sceptics

May 24th, 2006

As the formal release of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change draws nearer, quite a few skeptics have been going public to say that the evidence is now overwhelming. Here, for example, is Michael Shermer, who, appropriately enough, writes the Skeptic column for the Scientific American. He’s no fan of eco-alarmism, but he is a skeptic in the true sense of the term – someone who demands convincing evidence but is willing, when presented with such evidence to change their views. And here’s Sir David Attenborough.

There may still be a few more such announcements to come. But it’s clear by now that the evidence is more than enough to convince genuine sceptics. Those who refuse to accept overwhelming evidence are more correctly described as denialists.

If the accumulation of evidence isn’t enough to convince former ‘sceptics’ to change their tune, how about the embarrassment of being associated with the clown show that is denialism in 2006? To take a few of many examples, how about:

* The Lavoisier Institute’s Bob Foster, predicting global cooling on the basis of work done by well-known astrologer (and all-round cycle crank), the late Theodor Landscheidt;

* The Competitive Enterprise Institute ad campaign on the theme ‘CO2: they call it pollution, we call it Life!’; or

* ‘long range weather forecaster’ (ahem) Ken Ring, who says that “CO2 is also nearly twice as heavy as air (molecular weight 44, that of air 29) so it cannot rise anywhere beyond haze level of a couple of hundred feet.” His work is published by the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition (via Tim Lambert?

At least Ring and Landscheidt are or were sincerely deluded. The same can’t be said of the CEI, which is at the centre of the dark nexus between global warming denialism and the tobacco lobby, symbolised by people like Stephen Milloy, Fred Seitz and Fred Singer.

Of course, not all the scientists who accept the evidence on global warming are sensible. Given that there are thousands of scientists working on the topic, this is inevitable. There may even be some as silly as the examples listed above (though I’m not aware of any). But take them away and you still have thousands of serious scientists and tens of thousands of papers supporting the scientific side of the argument. Take away the Lavoisier Institute, CEI and the rest from the anti-science side and you have nothing.

In this context, it’s interesting to note a failed attempt by Ron Bailey to split the difference, counterposing the CEI ads and Al Gore’s presentation of An Inconvenient Truth. While he’s taken some pretty dubious stances, Bailey has more concern for his credibility than the clowns mentioned above, and, after taking a hammering for his obfuscation, he quickly recognised that the CEI was truly indefensible.

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  1. jquiggin
    May 24th, 2006 at 19:39 | #1

    Dogz, I accidentally deleted your comment, but before you repost it, you might want to reread the post – to restate it, there was a time when doubt about global warming was reasonable, but any genuine sceptic must, like Attenborough and Shermer, be convinced by now.

    Feel free to line up with the clowns if you want, there are plenty of free suits.

  2. Dogz
    May 24th, 2006 at 22:23 | #2

    Which comment? I made none on this thread.

    I am still waiting for your retraction. You previously labeled all sceptics as either dogmatic, ideologues, or paid-off. As have many others on the left side of the debate over many years. Now it turns out that our side also included such luminaries as David Attenborough.

    In light of this we now find that there is such a beast as a “genuine sceptic”. Well, all I can say is we’ve been here all along. And we’re not the clowns.

    In the end it doesn’t matter. The spectacle of watching greenies and lefties self-destruct over the inevitable nuclear solution is more than just recompense for the years of abuse we “genuine sceptics” have endured at their (and your) hands.

    Revenge is a dish best served cold.

  3. MichaelH
    May 24th, 2006 at 22:36 | #3

    There is no ‘nuclear solution’, let alone an inevitable one.

  4. jquiggin
    May 24th, 2006 at 22:41 | #4

    Dogz, it’s clear that both Attenborough and Shermer changed their mind some time ago (Attenborough has made a TV series on the subject, for example), and are only now making their public announcements. Still a bit late, in my view, but there you go.

    As regards nuclear power, I doubt that you’re going to find me at all embarrassed on this topic. And in proposing it as “the inevitable solution” aren’t you conceding that your supposed scepticism is actually bogus?

    Of course this kind of self-contradictory dance (I don’t believe in global warming, but nuclear power is the inevitable solution) is all the rage these days.

  5. steve munn
    May 24th, 2006 at 23:20 | #5

    PrQ,

    Dogz is simply replicating the same points he has made many times before. I don’t know why you bother replying to him.

    I wonder if our friend Willis Eschenbach is starting to have a few nagging doubts?

  6. May 24th, 2006 at 23:25 | #6

    Just call me a denialist. I’m actually a sceptic but you’ll have more fun with the denialists tag so lets get it over with. After all this is just a name calling exercise isn’t it?

    I’m actually pretty sceptical about God also. However the converted misunderstand this as denialism. God works in mysterious ways (just like global warming) so I suppose it is easy to be confused unless you are secure in your faith.

  7. SJ
    May 24th, 2006 at 23:48 | #7

    I’m actually pretty sceptical about God also. However the converted misunderstand this as denialism.

    Neither “sceptic” nor “denialist” is the correct term for you Terje. The correct term can be found here.

  8. Jill Rush
    May 24th, 2006 at 23:55 | #8

    It is interesting that Terje decided to make the link between religious belief and the belief that there is no global warming. To wait for proof that global warming is real is a little like lying on the railway line and stating that the noise could be created by a storm overhead, or by traffic from the roade alongside teh track or be someone playing a trick. By the time that there is actual evidence that it is a train – too late.

  9. dave
    May 25th, 2006 at 05:47 | #9

    Although, Jill, to follow the track of your analogy, one would then find out about that God theory thingy at the same time …

  10. May 25th, 2006 at 08:04 | #10

    I have also flipped. Global warming is most plausibly a reality. We need to find ways of addressing it. For better of worse nuclear power will be one component of that solution. It is not an option – its a happening reality.

    I don’t think Terje is an ‘idiot’ as SJ states. It is foolish to be dogmatically rigid on almost anything so I am not far from Terje. But Terje you do need to make decisions about living without having perfect information. And, on the balance of probabilities the evidence suggests global warming is occurring.

  11. May 25th, 2006 at 08:18 | #11

    For better of worse nuclear power will be one component of that solution. It is not an option – its a happening reality.

    It is a choice.

    Unfortunately, the people in power who favour that choice are not concerned about our childrens’childrens’ childrens’ children who will spend their lives managing the stuff.

  12. Geoff Henderson
    May 25th, 2006 at 09:46 | #12

    I was an non-beleiver in global warming. But now, approaching my sixtieth birthday, I can see some of the changes in climate patterns and events. But what really convinced me was Tim Flannery’s recent book, The Weather Makers. This lucid account of what is happening, why it is happening and where it is going ought to be read by all, whether you are a crusty old sceptic, and intellectual combatant in this forum, or just Joe Citizen.
    Please look at Flannery’s book; chances are it won’t depress you, rather it will excite a reader into supporting reform initiatives.
    Lastly, some of the commentary above seems snipperty to me. May I invite those folks to divert their agile minds into channels which will meaningfully address these desperate climate (survival) issues. A really good start is to look into your childrens, or grandchildrens eyes, and tell them what Man has done to their world. If you can do that the pathway is a lot clearer.

  13. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 10:08 | #13

    And in proposing it [nuclear power] as “the inevitable solution� aren’t you conceding that your supposed scepticism is actually bogus?

    No. It is just tiresone to preface every remark with the conditional “if global warming is true…”.

    I have been and still am deeply sceptical of two aspects of the global warming debate:

    a) The motives of many of the environmentalists. For them global warming is simply a means to an end, which is to force the rest of us to lead the kind of lives they want us to lead.

    b) The veracity of the Global Circulation Models. The models are so over-parameterized that the predictions they generate are barely worth the paper they’re written on.

    Against that, we have the rest of the science, which is all pretty decent and clearly establishes at least the mechanism underlying global warming. And the facts: the Earth does appear to be warming.

    If the current warming trend continues for the next 5 or 10 years – and no new evidence comes to light suggesting such rapid increases in temperature have occured in the past without any obvious forcing cause – then I will be 95% convinced (I am about 75% convinced now). And who knows, in 10 years time the models may actually be reliable enough for us to trust their predictions.

    As for the environazis – in chess terminology they’re in zugzwang: any move they make is losing. If they weigh in against nuclear energy they don’t look serious about global warming, but they can’t advocate it either because it does not achieve their aim of forcing us all to consume less. It is really quite delicious to watch.

    I have often (privately) lamented the lack of decent actors on the sceptical side of the debate. With the recent announcement from Attenborough, perhaps there are a lot more than have been willing to speak out.

    I grew up on Attenborough: “Life on Earth” on the ABC each Sunday was a formative childhood experience. Perhaps he did not speak out with his doubts for fear of having too much influence on the debate.

  14. May 25th, 2006 at 11:20 | #14

    The Weather Makers is a great book and proponents of both sides of the argument should read it.

    Dogz,
    You claim environmentalists want to: “force the rest of us to lead the kind of lives they want us to lead”

    Well, in this case the environmentalists know better than you and have done for some time. Their suggestions may seem a little unpalatable to someone raised in a free market but if we had exercised a degree of restraint and some self awareness in our actions to date we wouldn’t be in the current position.

    Nuclear Energy may be attractive because it is somewhat of a ‘magic bullet’. Instantly gratifying energy desire and cutting CO2 emmissions. But it is also has unsustainable qualities. The amount of energy required to build a Nuclear plant is horrendous and there is still the question of what to do with the spent fuel.

    What it will take to address CO2 emmissions is a combination of using sustainable power sources like Wind. Solar and Geothermal and dramatically revising our lifestyles (yes dogz) to become less energy intensive.

    Lihir gold mine has very recently made the switch to geothermal energy. In one fell swoop they have eliminated a large percentage of their emissions, slashed their overheads and boosted their share price.

  15. Julie
    May 25th, 2006 at 11:28 | #15

    Dogz, Re the motives of environmentalists;!

    Surely your way forces me to live with the consequences of your scepticism/denialism/ faith/whatever.

  16. May 25th, 2006 at 11:47 | #16

    Helen it is not a choice – its a reality. Nuclear energy is a fact and debates about children’s children’s children (while perhaps meaningful) have been overtaken by events.

    About 16% of the world’s electricity is currently generated using uranium in nuclear reactors. Some 439 nuclear power reactors operate in 31 countries; a further 69 new reactors are under construction or planned for completion within the next 10 years. Much of this growth will occur in China, India, Japan and South Korea. A total of 16 countries generate more than 25% of their total electricity from nuclear reactors (Geoscience Australia, 2005).

  17. May 25th, 2006 at 11:55 | #17

    Irrelevant aside but curious. What happens with the way comments are processed John? When I went to look at your blog this morning the last comment I saw was Helen’s. So I made a comment thinking it would be immediately below hers so I wouldn’t need to explain what I was addressing. When I posted 4 posts suddenly appeared between her post and my response. And it was because of simultaneous posts. They were made at times between 9-45 and 11-30. A bit weird.

  18. May 25th, 2006 at 11:55 | #18

    On the nuclear waste issue – there is a clear solution. Politicians just know that they would be slaughtered by the political left if they proposed it in Australia. The Swedes (beloved of those who tend to regard themselves as the Left) are amongst the largest users of nuclear power in the world and they are building a permanent storage facility for high level waste. If a similar facility were built in Australia we could take all of our own waste and (for an appropriate fee) all of just about everyone else’s. A facility like the Swede’s could be built just about anywhere, but political reality means that it would probably need to be built far from a major city. Outback WA, NT SA or QLD would be ideal, with some sites in NSW being possible.
    We have some of the most geologically stable rocks on the planet, we produce much of the uranium, why not get the double whammy and get paid to bury the waste.
    BTW – I know this will not be popular on this blog, but instead of abuse, please try to use reasoned argument. Here’s hoping.

  19. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 12:00 | #19

    Lobes, we only have to cut back on our energy usage if we’re forced to use the technology you propose. We don’t have to cut back if we use nuclear energy.

    The waste must be dealt with, but in reality nuclear energy generates far less waste than any other non-renewable technology. And Australia has an awful lot of space in which to bury it. I’d like to see a calculation of the total volume of nuclear waste that will be generated by burning all the world’s Uranium and Thorium reserves. It is only a few hundred years worth, and that stuff generates an awful lot of energy per cubic meter. And by the time the nuclear stuff runs out, we’ll have mastered fusion, the waste byproducts of which are mostly inert (Helium).

    Julie: I am not forcing you to do anything. If you want to live a low-energy lifestyle, go right ahead. I personally enjoy my high-energy lifestyle. And if energy can be made abundantly available with little if any deleterious side-effects then I see no reason to stop enjoying it.

  20. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 12:02 | #20

    AR: exactly.

  21. Empericman
    May 25th, 2006 at 12:25 | #21

    Sounds circular. I don’t trust global warming because it is backed by “environazis”. I know they are “environazis” because they believe in global warming. Says more about me than it does enviornmentalists.

    And just what is so awful about the way these crazy “environazis” want us to live anyway? Investing in technologies, higher energy efficiency standards, carbon taxes to compensate for costs incurred through warming seems reasonable to me.

    It looks like the global warming skeptics are the ones who stand in the way of progress. They want us to live with 19th century technology, discredit scientific opinion and research, and ignore longterm consequences of actions. I can understand why oil companies would want us to waste as much of our wealth on energy as possible, but how they convince anyone this is economically beneficial is beyond me.

  22. wilful
    May 25th, 2006 at 12:27 | #22

    There was a very interesting analysis by George Monbiot crunching the numbers ina back of the envelope manner about how the UK could meet it’s declared 60% reduction target in emissions, and it was very clear from his rough calculations that nuclear energy was unequivocally required.

    I’m an ardent greenie and have always trusted the credible climate scientists, and in recent years I’ve become convinced that nuclear power should be strongly considered for Australia, at least the economics should be very closely looked. As for waste, if Australia cant deal with it, with our geologically inert (300 million years and counting) vast red centre, who can? I think we could make an awfully large amount of money fixing up one of the worst pollution risks in the world.

  23. Empericman
    May 25th, 2006 at 12:30 | #23

    I always thought the real obstacle to nuclear energy is cost. The only countries that use it as a major source of energy are socialist nations with huge subsidies from the government. The private sector simply doesn’t want to build huge expensive plants they cannot run to capacity for decades.

  24. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 12:49 | #24

    Empericman, I don’t distrust environazis because they believe in global warming. I distrust environazis because they want to impose their moral framework on me. I distrust right-wing religious zealots for the same reason.

    I am very much in favour of exploiting new technology to solve the global warming problem (*if* it is a problem). But I am not in favour of anyone who tries to exploit the situation in order to force me to consume less.

  25. Hal9000
    May 25th, 2006 at 13:13 | #25

    As has been pointed out by Lobes and Prof Q, both the economics of nuclear power and its contribution as a solution to global warming are questionable. Another issue here is that electricity generation represents only a fraction of total greenhouse gas generation, so the ‘We don’t have to cut back if we use nuclear energy’ line run by Dogz is devoid of substance.

    At any event, it would take 15-20 years to get a nuclear power station up and running if the go-ahead were to be given today. Meanwhile, the biggest, quickest and most uncontroversially positive greenhouse bangs for the buck are going to be in energy efficiency. I get the feeling, though, that some contributors to this blog would prefer to use gas lamps for lighting, bar radiators for heating their uninsulated homes and drive ’71 Cadillac Eldorados 150 km each day simply because this would spite the ‘greenies’. Me, I prefer to save my money and go for efficiency.

  26. just another mug
    May 25th, 2006 at 13:23 | #26

    Having followed the new reactor at Lucas heights and the low level waste disposal facility (aka the dump) arguments over an extended period, I rather doubt that nuclear has much of a future here. It’s just too polarising in the community, regardless of any merits it might or might not have. IMHO a more realistic approach is to start actively developing options like geothermal, which this company is currently proving up (sorry, don’t know how to make links live):

    http://www.geodynamics.com.au/IRM/content/

    Incidentally, the Chairman is Martin Albrecht AC, who is also Chairman of Thiess. This isn’t just in SA, there’s also good sites in the Hunter region – google “hot dry rocks”. So if the nuclear option has no realistic chance in our energy future, what’s the Government’s agenda? Why bother putting it on the table? Seems to be too much potential for political grief.

  27. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 13:34 | #27

    so the ‘We don’t have to cut back if we use nuclear energy’ line run by Dogz is devoid of substance.

    Hardly. Electricity generation counts for a substantial portion of greenhouse emissions. A large chunk of the rest can be replaced with electricity. Most transport can go electric, although other solutions such as ethanol may be better in that sector.

    At any event, it would take 15-20 years to get a nuclear power station up and running if the go-ahead were to be given today.

    Gee, aim high. It took the Manhattan project 3 years to go from a set of equations to the first nuclear explosion. So either you’re way off the mark or the Australian bureaucracy is even more sclerotic than I thought.

  28. SimonC
    May 25th, 2006 at 13:44 | #28

    Andrew I agree with you. I think that if Australia could built something like what the Swedes are building then I would be more supportive of the Nuclear power option. But how long would it take and how much would it cost? I have nothing against nuclear power and I am impressed by the Swedes approach to it but I think that to make it safe and clean (including disposing of waste) makes it too costly.

  29. Stephen L
    May 25th, 2006 at 14:30 | #29

    One of the things confusing the nuclear debate is the difference between whether nuclear is appropriate anywhere, and whether it is appropriate in Australia.

    Nuclear power has two advantages in Australia compared to other countries – it is easier to dispose of the waste (if you figure the aboriginal communities of the centre have enough problems already that they won’t care too much about having it buried in their region) and the minimal transportation costs of uranium are even lower than for Europe.

    However, Australia has what many European countries lack – plenty of alternatives. For the UK nuclear may be necessary (emphasis on may) because they have little sunlight, and are so densly crowded that their wind and wave power will not be enough for the whole country. These do not apply in Australia, and we also have the vast “hot dry rocks” (technically a form of nuclear, but without the environmental costs).

    If the debate is about nuclear in Australia then there is barely a point having it – a combination of renewable forms are clearly much cheaper, and avoid the need to decide whether waste really is a problem. However, if you want to distract attention from the government’s vicious cutbacks on renewable research the nuclear debate is very handy.

  30. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 14:33 | #30

    If the debate is about nuclear in Australia then there is barely a point having it – a combination of renewable forms are clearly much cheaper

    Show me the numbers.

  31. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 14:34 | #31

    JQ, I am still being moderated. Is wordpress doing it on the basis of source IP?

  32. Hal9000
    May 25th, 2006 at 14:39 | #32

    Dogz, even the Uranium Information Centre’s rosy propaganda gives a minimum construction time of 5 years. Design and other lead-times would of course need to be added to this – and this is the most optimistic scenario http://www.uic.com.au/nip08.htm

    “Most transport can go electric, although other solutions such as ethanol may be better in that sector.”

    I take it from this you’ll happily convert to an electric car, provided only that the power to run it is generated by nuclear fission rather than anything clean or green. Reminds me of the kids in the Sultana Bran ad.

  33. O6
    May 25th, 2006 at 14:53 | #33

    Nuclear waste? Backfill it into Roxby Downs. Oh, but I forgot: SA Premier Rann doesn’t want any nuclear waste in SA except that produced in mining uranium.

  34. jquiggin
    May 25th, 2006 at 15:04 | #34

    Dogz, I found a second copy of your IP in the list. Moderation should be off now, I think.

  35. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 15:20 | #35

    I take it from this you’ll happily convert to an electric car, provided only that the power to run it is generated by nuclear fission rather than anything clean or green.

    I don’t care where the power comes from. It’s just that nuclear is the most cost-effective after fossil fuels, although if global warming is true, fossil fuels slip way down the list.

    If you have evidence to the contrary, please produce it.

    Meanwhile, some other requirements for my electric car: it has to accelerate rapidly and have a decent top speed. It can’t look like something an unwashed hippy or career public servant would drive. No nancy names like “Prius”. It needs to do at least a couple of hundred kilometers between recharges.

  36. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 15:20 | #36

    moderation is off. thanks.

  37. May 25th, 2006 at 15:26 | #37

    Dogz,
    You forgot to add “and can be refilled quickly”.

  38. May 25th, 2006 at 15:47 | #38

    As it currently stands, nuclear is a very poor performer. A recentish MIT study (The Future Of Nuclear Energy) has found that as it currently stands, it would take carbon taxes in the order of $US100 per tC (ie. huge) for nuclear to be competitive with coal. With these sorts of taxes; gas, coal + sequestration, biomass and wind will be nuclear-beaters.

    At the moment nuclear power is only really an option when you also value its side products; national prestige, energy independence, nuclear material, large growth of state power etc.

    For this to change, the costs associated with nuclear will have to fall dramatically.

    My own preference is for a carbon tax and then to let the market fight it out. If the nuclear engineers can come up with a cost effective design, full power to them.

  39. just another mug
    May 25th, 2006 at 15:48 | #39

    I’m with Dogz. No wuss cars. And I want fins and mags and a big stereo, and decent air, ’cause it ain’t goin to be cool outside. A Ford Nucleon would fit the bill nicely! Mind you, rear-ending one in traffic might be a bit of a problem…..
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Nucleon

  40. May 25th, 2006 at 15:59 | #40

    Ken,
    I would agree. If the decision is to reduce carbon emissions then tax the emission to reflect its cost to the environment (i.e. correctly price the externalities) and leave it alone.
    The other, and possibly better, way to do it would be to set a quota of emissions and then sell the credits. Make them tradable and you have a good market based solution. You could even set the limit at zero and then the sequesterers could sell to the emitters.
    Not, I hasten to add, that I would agree a limit of zero would be appropriate.

  41. snuh
    May 25th, 2006 at 16:15 | #41

    sort of re the “self-contradictory dance”, i’ve noticed recently a lot of loose talk about there being an “energy crisis”, and that the solution to it is nuclear power. it is very, very, weird, in that it seems to imply that, but for restrictions on uranium mining [where the "energy crisis" talk mostly seems to arise], fission-powered motor vehicles would be all the rage.

  42. snuh
    May 25th, 2006 at 16:23 | #42

    oh yeah, my point. that most people understand “energy crisis” to mean “the high cost of petrol”, and it’s drawing a pretty long bow, plausibility-wise, to imagine that nuclear power can be much help here, and certainly not any time soon.

  43. May 25th, 2006 at 16:23 | #43

    A nuclear waste storage facility in the red centre makes sense on both a national and global level if we embrace Nuclear power but its still an undertaking that has never been acheived before. We’re talking about tens of thousands of years of care and maintenance. Its not so much a case of burying them under a rock. We have to find a geologically stable, groundwater free area and then create a management organisation that will have a life span many times that of Christianity.

    Its not impossible but a massive investment right now in, wind, geothermal and, particularly in Australia, Solar would likely be more costeffective in the long run.

    Research into renewable energy sources has been disgracefully stymied by the pro-fossil sector but you would expect that all to change very shortly as oil prices rise. Its not inevitable though, there is plenty of scope for expanding the oil economy. Its estimated that tar sands in Canadas Alberta province contain more oil than Saudi Arabia. This is too expensive to refine at the moment but getting to be a better and better deal as oil gets more expensive.

  44. Tom Davies
    May 25th, 2006 at 17:03 | #44

    Dogz,

    One way of making a decent hybrid is to put the ICE in a trailer — so if you are doing a battery range journey, you don’t drag it around wih you — see http://dansdata.com/modularcar.htm. As Dan points out in the article, you can already get an electric car which meets your criteria — as you didn’t mention price :-)

  45. May 25th, 2006 at 17:11 | #45

    I think that there is a huge intellectual and moral difference between skeptics like Michael Shermer/Sir David Attenborough and the clownshow that makes up the majority of the climate change skeptics. Group A remains silent while studying the evidence and eventually changes their mind, Group B opens their mouths using any argument no matter how stupid.

  46. just another mug
    May 25th, 2006 at 17:27 | #46

    Waste storage centres in the Red centre might make sense, but they will be bitterly opposed by locals. The history of the location of the nuclear waste repository proposed for the NT shows this clearly. After an exhaustive process, the Govt selected a site in SA, but after much objection by traditional owners and legal action by the SA Govt, were forced to walk away from it. Hence the move to locate it in the NT. If the nuclear cycle is to get going here, then there will have to be massive attitudinal change in relation to how objections/challenges about siting are addressed. Possibly even changes to the law. Politically very difficult.

    Don’t count on higher oil prices necessarily causing a focus shift – ABARE don’t seem to think that oil prices will remain at current levels in the longer term. If CO2 isn’t factored in as a cost via carbon tax or whatever, then there seems to be plenty of alternatives to conventional supplies that are economically viable at prices well within the current oil price range.

    Interesting evidence on this from ABARE to the Senate Committee looking at Australia’s future oil supply earlier this month about this – see p8-9 of the transcript linked below.

    http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/S9266.pdf

  47. Katz
    May 25th, 2006 at 17:50 | #47

    It’s interesting how a discussion about late conversion (e.g., Attenborough) and continuing intellectual dishonesty (e.g., assorted clowns and whores) transmutes into a discussion about how the world can go on with its current growth and consumption patterns while avoiding the supposed climatic side-effects of burning fossil fuel.

    This touching belief in the beneficial effects of nuclear power may be the ultimate example of denialism. Tacit is the assumption that building any number of nuclear reactors will replace the burning of fossil fuels. This is an unsound assumption because the increased productivity of new nuclear reactors is unlikely to cause replacement of fossil fuels. Rather it is likely that increased nuclear capacity will stimulate alternative uses for fossil fuels. CO2 overload will not be avoided, merely delayed and redirected.

    And here’s the central political point about nuclear power: the proliferation of nuclear power stations multiplies the chances and shortens the time before the next nuclear accident. This accident would not have to be on the scale of Chernobyl to render nuclear power politically unacceptable in western democracies. And Australia, a late starter in the nuclear stakes, would be particularly vulnerable to the political fallout resulting from a nuclear reactor malfunction.

    If a reactor were built by an Australian government, the government would be hostage to potentially fatal electoral pressure were it to tough out the consequences of any nuclear accident.

    And what sort of guarantees of immunity would a private investor require before building a nuclear reactor in Australia? How desperate will Australians need to be for energy before they agree to such a trade-off?

  48. May 25th, 2006 at 18:07 | #48

    I was convinced a couple of years ago that the globe is probably warming and that man may be playing some role in that — largely due to Lomborg. Having said that, I also thought Saddam had WMDs.

    I am still not convinced that there is any political solution to this, though I have time for the suggestion by Ken Miles of a carbon tax. I guess that makes me a global warming convert, but a skeptic of global warming politics. As for nuclear, I say remove any restrictions and let nuclear live or die by the market.

  49. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 18:25 | #49

    Katz, the environmentalists are victims of their own success. They’ve won the debate on global warming as far as the hearts and minds of the public are concerned. It is only curmudgeonly scientists like myself that continue to pick at the holes.

    The debate has been won in part by scaring the living bejeezus out of Joe punter. Sea levels rising by meters overnight. Super Hurricanes. 50+ degree average summer temperatures. Set against that, what is a nuclear accident or two? Look at the global record: Nuclear is way safer than the downside of global warming as presented by the alarmists.

  50. Katz
    May 25th, 2006 at 18:31 | #50

    Au contraire, JH.

    The nuclear industry hates and fears the free market.

    It is clear that even the United States nuclear industry has decided that regular market and legal mechanisms are insufficient to encourage the growth of the nuclear power generation industry.

    The Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act indemnifies the nuclear industry against liability claims arising from nuclear incidents while promising compensation coverage for the general public. The industry contributes to a scheme which grants cover up to US$50b. Thereafter, the federal government picks up the tab. These difugres indicate that the Price-Anderson Act predicts that any accident is likely to be a doozie. Pressure groups such as Public Citizen claim that even US$50b isn’t enough.

    The Cato Institute, doyens of market capitalism, condemn the Act as “a giveaway to private industry at the American taxpayers’ expense.”

  51. Katz
    May 25th, 2006 at 18:41 | #51

    So, Dogz, in the light of the Price-Anderson Act, isn’t it true to say that the true alarmists in the nuclear debate ist he nuclear industry itself?

    If the nuclear industry believed that they could operate nuclear reactors on a commercial basis while discounting for any tort-based complaint like any normal industry, why don’t they do it?

    It’s a rhetorical question Dogz. The correct answer is they can’t.

    They know they can’t because they know that they are running an extremely dangerous industry.

  52. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 18:44 | #52

    Although I sympathize with the Cato institute’s position, should we be allowed to sue fossil fuel power station owners for their impact on global warming?

    No matter what you do, there’s always a tiny probability of something nearly infinitely bad happening. If society did not effectively self-insure against those risks nothing would ever get done at all (a bureaucrats dream, but not very satisfying for the rest of us).

  53. Katz
    May 25th, 2006 at 19:03 | #53

    “should we be allowed to sue fossil fuel power station owners for their impact on global warming’

    Why not? Until Mrs Donoghue found herself with a mouthful of decayed snail, tort law didn’t exist.

    The biggest problem is who is “we”? The fossil fuel power companies could probably claim that the burning of fossil fuels is so pervasive that the harm that one of them does is not quantifiable. Thus there is no duty of care.

    This defence doesn’t apply to the meltdown of Montgomery Burns’s Springfield Nuclear Plant. That’s the reason why the Price-Anderson Act was necessary for the nuclear industry but not for the fossil fuel industry.

    I know these are very inconvenient facts for true believers in market fundamentalism. The truth is that your pet causes don’t want to be saved by you.

    Sad, isn’t it?

  54. May 25th, 2006 at 19:14 | #54

    I think debating whether global waming is real or not really misses the whole point and is counterproductive. There is enough evidence (and has been for some time) to suggest that it is a potential problem that needs to be dealt with .The real question is what policies should be adopted and how much are we willing to pay to insure against possible and uncertain future scenarios- without going overboard on excessive economic costs in the short term. Framing the debate as being about whether global warming is real or not only leads to the bad policy options: do nothing or do something extreme. Please focus your thoughts on the portfolio of policies that start to make a difference to reducing emissions at low costs.

    By the way Tim Flannery’s book has a footnote that argues that Wilcoxen and I think global warming is hogwash. I have spent a decade working with governments to come up with real policies to deal with climate change. This characterisation of my work is completely incorrect – as anyone who has read our book on “Climate Change Policy After Kyoto” will know. . I hope the rest of Flannery’s book is better researched.

    Warwick McKibbin

  55. jquiggin
    May 25th, 2006 at 20:08 | #55

    Warwick, I mentioned your & Wilcoxen’s suggested approach in today’s FIn. I’ll probably repost this tomorrow.

  56. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 21:21 | #56

    Price-Anderson was enacted in 1957 because no private insurers were willing to bear the unknown risks associated with the then nascent nuclear industry. Wikipedia is once again a good source.

    It has a complicated funding arrangement, but perhaps the most relevant fact to this discussion is that up to the year 2000 all insurance claims under the act ($151M) had been paid out by the reactor companies’ primary (read “ordinary”) insurance policies.

    That the Act continues to be renewed by Congress sounds more like standard industry pork-barelling than any great anti-environmentalist smoking gun.

  57. Katz
    May 25th, 2006 at 21:52 | #57

    “That the Act continues to be renewed by Congress sounds more like standard industry pork-barelling than any great anti-environmentalist smoking gun. ”

    Say wha…?

    This is Congress admitting that no private insurer is prepared to carry the risk.

    In 1957 when, as you allege, the risks weren’t known the federal indemnity cut in at $500m.

    In 2005, after 60 years of living in the nuclear age, the indemnity cuts in at $50b, 100 times the original amount. Inflation has increased nothing like 10,000% since 1957!

    Yet, the nuclear industry is prepared to pay for this enormous increase in coverage. Could it be that they know that they are still getting a bargain? And could it be because they know the magnitude of the cost of their subsidised risks?

    Get serious Dogz. If the nuclear industry thought they could get better coverage in the private insurance market they would continue to rely on Federal Government indemnification?

    The only valid conclusion is that now the risks are better known than in 1957, still no private insurers are prepared to carry the risk.

    They know a bad risk when they see one.

  58. SJ
    May 25th, 2006 at 21:54 | #58

    Dogz Says:

    Katz, the environmentalists are victims of their own success. They’ve won the debate on global warming as far as the hearts and minds of the public are concerned. It is only curmudgeonly scientists like myself that continue to pick at the holes.

    This is a telling paragraph. People who work in climatology are “environmentalists”, you know, tree hugging greenie hippies.

    People with degrees in unrelated fields, i.e. mathematics, and no actual experience in or knowledge of the field are “scientists”, dispassionately reviewing and judging the work of the “environmentalists”.

  59. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 22:02 | #59

    They know a bad risk when they see one.

    Sure, that’s why only $151M has been paid out in nearly 50 years.

    The reactor operators are required to raise the maximum insurance possible in the private market, and they’ve only ever had to use that private insurance.

    If the fossil-fuel power generators were subject to the same liability over their CO2 generating activities, they wouldn’t be able to find private insurance either.

    In both cases society-at-large bears the risk. For the nuclear generators it is legislated. For the fossil-fuel generators they have benefited from history (when they all started no-one knew that GW would be a problem).

  60. Katz
    May 25th, 2006 at 22:12 | #60

    Dogz, further to my last point about insureres knowing a bad risk when they see one. Here is a submission by State Farm Insurance on the question of insuring a nuclear plant:

    “Insurance is based upon the relative predictabilities of an accident occurring and the charging of a rate for several similar or homogeneous risks. The predictability of each of these accidents is based upon previous experience for this same type of risk and the theory of large numbers. Thus a large number of similar risks will over a period of time develop a predictable number of accidents. If, however, the experience of the accident is not known, then neither the predictability nor the severity of the accident can be used to develop an adequate rate. The two extremes of this situation being that the insurance carrier could charge a premium equal to the cost of the risk insured (thus making the cost prohibitively expensive), or charge such a low rate that the Company would not have sufficient funds to pay its claims in case of a castastrophe. In the case of providing coverage for the peril of nuclear radiation, such a situation exists. Since no experience exists in providing such coverage, and there is a definite possibility for a catastrophe occurring, insurance companies are not capable of making the actuarial decisions to provide this coverage.”

    State Farm isn’t talking about the frequency of serious nuclear accidents. Rather, the Company is talking about the catastrophic nature of just one such an accident. The Company says it has no way of quantifying those costs.

    Translate that into the lives of ordinary persons, and for that matter biological processes in general. What State Farm means is that a catastrophic nuclear incident for which “there is a definite possibility” renders life as we know it impossible over an unquantifiable area for an unquantifiable stretch of time.

    Insurance companies don’t scare easily.

  61. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 22:29 | #61

    Katz, that is just a statement that the insurers are unable to calculate the risk because there are insufficient events (ie none) on which to base the calculation. So what?

    SJ: People with degrees in unrelated fields, i.e. mathematics, and no actual experience in or knowledge of the field are “scientists�, dispassionately reviewing and judging the work of the “environmentalists�.

    Experience, no, knowledge, yes. You don’t have to be an anointed priest of environmentalism to understand this stuff. It is not that complicated. What’s your degree SJ? Related or unrelated?

  62. Katz
    May 25th, 2006 at 22:30 | #62

    “In both cases society-at-large bears the risk. For the nuclear generators it is legislated.”

    Excellent Dogz! Earlier in this thread you weren’t even factoring these costs into your analysis of the benefits of nuclear power. We are making progress.

    Now internally digest what State Farm has said and you begin to get some handle on the magnitude of risks being borne by “society-at-large”.

    Next consider my earlier point about nuclear not substituting for fossil fuel usage, but rather augmenting it.

    From that you’ll see that the consequences of the world continuing to consume at your preferred rate are rather dire.

    On the other hand, in 40 years or so we’ll both be dead. So who cares?

  63. Katz
    May 25th, 2006 at 22:37 | #63

    Dogz, famously, Betty Grable insured her legs for $1m.

    The insurance company had very little to go on to measure the likelihood of catastrophic damage to Ms Grable’s legs. But the company did know the limits of its liability.

    To make the point very simple: in the case of a nuclear incident, as rare as it may be, no responsible insurance company can quantify the limits of its liability.

    And that’s why no responsible insurance company will cover this open-ended risk, despite or maybe because of 60-years’ knowledge of nuclear energy.

  64. May 25th, 2006 at 22:47 | #64

    Katz: “Au contraire, JH.”.

    What are you contrairing? Just because I want something legalised doesn’t mean I support it. Just because I want restrictions on nuclear power lifted doesn’t mean I support nuclear. I neither oppose nor support it, and never said that I did.

  65. May 25th, 2006 at 22:51 | #65

    I don’t think Terje is an ‘idiot’ as SJ states. It is foolish to be dogmatically rigid on almost anything so I am not far from Terje. But Terje you do need to make decisions about living without having perfect information. And, on the balance of probabilities the evidence suggests global warming is occurring.

    Harry,

    I do appreciate the personal defence. SJ loves the personal attacks, it’s the best he has to offer.

    I accept that life involves making decisions without perfect information. Fog of war and all that. However making decisions does not mean you must suspending skepticism. In fact in hazy landscapes skepticism is your friend even as you decisively shoot at shadows. I can support action on global warming and still be skeptical. When the fog lifts (if the fog lifts) then the skepticism should recede (and we can maybe make an accurate body count).

    JQ has mentioned before the parallel between the “man made CO2 is causing global warming” debate and the early days of the “smoking tabacco causes cancer” debate. There is one key difference. With the latter there was a large population size on which a null hypothesis could be statistically tested. When it comes to the dynamics of the earths climate we have a sample space of one.

    Denialism would be saying “global warming is not caused by humans”. I am not a denialist. However I am a skeptic. Its like the distinction between being an agnostic and being an atheist. Or like the distinction between “innocent” and “not proven” in a Scottish murder trial.

    Regards,
    Terje.

    P.S. I agree that Tim Flannerys book is worth reading. I got through it very quickly because it was hard to put down. Having said that there is a lot of it that is speculative.

    P.P.S. I have followed the Solar Tower energy alternative proposed by the likes of Enviromission for some time. I find the technology compelling. It will be interesting if it actually gets commercialised. I also think that Plug-in Hybrid Electric cars will be a big winner over the next decade. Although it will be a long time before they dominate the highways.

    P.P.P.S. The climate models apparently say that Kyoto will defer global warming by only a few years in 2100. However if we are going to have policy on this issue then I would prefer a market based approach like Kyoto over the picking winners approach that the current government seems to be inclined towards (unless thats just political rhetoric).

  66. Dogz
    May 25th, 2006 at 22:55 | #66

    Well yes, the insurance company was limited in its liability up to $1M. And nuclear power station operators could no doubt raise private insurance up to any liability limit they care to name. It just depends on the price.

    But with the government picking up the tab, why would they bother?

    The fact of the matter is that in 50 years, a grand total of $151M has been paid out in insurance claims by all nuclear power generators in the US. I bet that is an awful lot less than that paid out by fossil-fuel generators, even after normalizing for power output.

    State Farm’s comment tells us almost nothing about the risk to society at large, except that it *might* be really large. In fact they are explicitly acknowledging that they don’t know what that risk is. If they knew the risk they could price an insurance premium.

    But that is hardly unique to the nuclear industry. Have you tried getting unlimited liability insurance on anything lately? For all but the most clearly bounded cases, it is nigh impossible.

  67. Katz
    May 25th, 2006 at 23:03 | #67

    When you buy insurance with an upper bound you are accepting the risk of self-insurance for any claim above that bound. We all do it.

    That is, we all do it except the nuclear industry in the US. They refuse to self-insure for sums above US$50b.

    Only the most disingenuous person would feign ignorance about why that should be. But let me spell it out. The nuclear industry agrees with State Farm’s analysis. A single pay-out may be much, much more than US$50b.

    Now, that has to be a bit of a concern.

  68. SJ
    May 25th, 2006 at 23:24 | #68

    Dogz Says:

    Experience, no, knowledge, yes. You don’t have to be an anointed priest of environmentalism to understand this stuff. It is not that complicated. What’s your degree SJ? Related or unrelated?

    My degrees are unrelated.

    They’re also not in mathematics.

    But mathematics is not that complicated, is it? For instance, suppose I said “I just know intuitively that it must be possible to square a circle”. How would you prove me wrong?

  69. Ernestine Gross
    May 26th, 2006 at 00:27 | #69

    “I just know intuitively that it must be possible to square a circleâ€?. How would you prove me wrong?”

    SJ, the onus would be on you to provide the prove.

  70. Ernestine Gross
    May 26th, 2006 at 00:32 | #70

    “As for nuclear, I say remove any restrictions and let nuclear live or die by the market. ”

    JH, nuclear power, like global warming, are examples of physical phenomena which are, by their nature, ‘non-marketable’. That is, in each case, externalities are the dominant characteristic. ‘The market’ cannot price externalities.

    I am not saying anything new here. However, it is surprising that there is an apparent need to have it said.

  71. May 26th, 2006 at 00:35 | #71

    I wrote a counter ad to the CEI propaganda :::[They call it a spot, we call it a stain] It is my way of combating their lies so, if you like it, please link it, as quite a few have done already. Hey, and do you know some producer predisposed to saving the planet who will pick it up and throw it back at CEI?

  72. SJ
    May 26th, 2006 at 00:38 | #72

    “SJ, the onus would be on you to provide the prove.”

    Yeah, that was really helpful, thanks. I’m putting you in the same class as Terje.

  73. Ernestine Gross
    May 26th, 2006 at 00:57 | #73

    Dogz,

    With remarkable patience, Katz provided detailed arguments on the empirical realities that make theoretical models of economies with incomplete markets interesting.

    The relationship between ‘competitive private ownership economies with complete markets’ and ‘centrally planned economies’ has been studied a long time ago (first and second fundamental welfare theorems).

    The empirical evidence is that neither ‘the market’ nor centrally planned economies have a solution to serious environmental problems. Nuclear power is one of such problems.

    The suggestion to solve one contingent environmental problem, global warming, by adding another contingent evironmental problem, nuclear power, makes no sense to me.

  74. Ernestine Gross
    May 26th, 2006 at 01:01 | #74

    Correction:

    “I just know intuitively that it must be possible to square a circle�. How would you prove me wrong?�

    SJ, the onus would be on you to provide the proof.

    Are you happy now, SJ?

  75. Dogz
    May 26th, 2006 at 06:36 | #75

    Katz,

    The only disagreement between us seems to be over how to interpret the failure of the private insurance industry to provide liability cover above $50B for individual nuclear accidents.

    I claim (and on my reading so do State Farm) that it is because the private insurers don’t know how to calculate the probability of a really expensive accident, because they have almost no empirical data on which to base that calculation.

    It is not because they know the probability of such an accident and that probability is too high, as you seem to be claiming.

    There is a world of difference between the two. Insurance companies don’t get scared when they know the probabilities: they just price accordingly. They get scared when the probabilities are unknown, either because there is insufficient evidence on which to calculate them, or because the evidence changes.

    But as I already pointed out, if we failed to act everytime there is insufficient evidence to calculate the probability of something really bad happening, nothing would ever happen at all. We’d still be living without fire, because some erstwhile Einstein would have pointed out the global warming risks of burning trees 100,000 years ago.

    The best we can do is bound the risks, and then determine whether, as a society, we’re willing to accept the risks. Nuclear looks pretty safe to me. If the alternative is forcing everyone to drastically reduce their energy consumption, I suspect society will pick the nuclear option.

  76. Katz
    May 26th, 2006 at 07:01 | #76

    Dogz,

    “I claim (and on my reading so do State Farm) that it is because the private insurers don’t know how to calculate the probability of a really expensive accident, because they have almost no empirical data on which to base that calculation.”

    Your reading of State Farm is incorrect.

    Please note this: they don’t insure because they don’t know the *cost* of a catastrophe.

    Probability is not an issue.

    Let’s be clear: in construction nuclear plants aren’t much from any other industrial complex. Boilers. pipes, pumps, circulating liquid, etc. It would be easy for an insurance company to calculate the costs of failure of any and al of these processes if high-grade nuclear material weren’t at the core.

    But the presence of fissionable material changes everything.

  77. Dogz
    May 26th, 2006 at 07:12 | #77

    “Insurance is based upon the relative predictabilities of an accident occurring and the charging of a rate for several similar or homogeneous risks. The predictability of each of these accidents is based upon previous experience for this same type of risk and the theory of large numbers. Thus a large number of similar risks will over a period of time develop a predictable number of accidents. If, however, the experience of the accident is not known, then neither the predictability nor the severity of the accident can be used to develop an adequate rate.

    Seems pretty clear to me.

  78. jquiggin
    May 26th, 2006 at 08:14 | #78

    As a general point, please don’t call other commenters “idiots” or similar, even by hyperlink. On this point “Show, don’t tell” is good advice.

  79. Julie
    May 26th, 2006 at 08:31 | #79

    Dogz

    I’m a bit slow to respond to yesterday’s comments, but I don’t work in front of the pc so can only participate intermittently.

    This issue of who is forcing who to do what, is one that I often muse about. You seem to have missed my point that I am forced to live with your choice to be a high energy consumer and the consequences of this choice.

    I really don’t care how much energy or how you live as long as it is not going to affect me but it seems clear to me that your choices will force me to do things I don’t want to do.

    In my analysis of the situation of global warming and using nuclear energy, your freedom to exercise choice means that I don’t have a choice.

    This claim that ‘the left’ and ‘the environmentalists’ want to force other people to do things their way is quite irrational and inconsistent with the tone of your other arguments. Do you know these people (all the environmentalists) and so able to assess their motives?

    Perhaps it would be more productive to see the difference between our approach to these issues in terms of a continuum between caution and risk taking?

  80. Katz
    May 26th, 2006 at 08:51 | #80

    Yes, very clear:

    “the experience of the accident is not known, then neither the predictability’ [Betty Grable scenario] nor the severity of the accident [peculiar to nuclear incidents] can be used to develop an adequate rate”

    That is why the market can quantify the risk for Betty Grable.

    That is why the market can’t quantify the risk for nuclear power plants.

    That is why “society” [that institution whose existence Margaret Thatcher denied] is expected to self-insure with infinite risk.

    Sounds ok to me. Let someone else bear the costs for my love of air conditioning. Hopefully the bill won’t come due until after I’m dead.

    Maybe I’ll rub it in by having my body cryogenically frozen. That way I can augment my ecological footprint until all my assets run out.

  81. Dogz
    May 26th, 2006 at 09:05 | #81

    Julie,

    I don’t get to decide whether we adopt nuclear energy in Australia. Society does, albeit indirectly, via the ballot box.

    If it is society’s choice to continue with its high-energy ways and mitigate global warming via the adoption of nuclear energy, then so be it. If you’re genuinely aggreived by that, then I hear you. I personally cannot stand the fact that my fellow citizens keep voting themselves greater welfare handouts. But hey, as Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

    But there’s another aspect to this. Some environmentalists (actually, quite a lot in my experience) are ideologues in respect of consumption and energy use, not utilitarian. That is, they don’t think we should consume less because the only alternative is nuclear, they just believe that we should consume less, period. To me that is no different from right-wing religious groups that know their god is the one true god, and everyone else is wrong.

    These groups are not interested in a democratic outcome; their political predisposition is totalitarianism.

  82. Dogz
    May 26th, 2006 at 09:08 | #82

    Katz, you’re comparing apples and oranges. The market is happy to insure the nuclear industry with a cap on liability, Just as it happily insured Betty Grable’s legs with a cap of $1M. Would they have written her a policy with unlimited liability at a reasonable premium price? That’s the key counterfactual, and I suspect the answer is no, for the same reason that they won’t uncap the liability of the nuclear industry.

  83. snuh
    May 26th, 2006 at 09:16 | #83

    “Why not? Until Mrs Donoghue found herself with a mouthful of decayed snail, tort law didn’t exist.”

    Donoghue v. Stevenson did not invent tort law, which existed for several centuries before lord atken got all biblical with his neighbour principle. d v. s didn’t even invent negligence [but did greatly expand its scope], which had existed as a separate tort from nuisance since at least the mid 19th century.

  84. jquiggin
    May 26th, 2006 at 09:21 | #84

    As an aside, the case of “squaring the circle” is an interesting example. Lots of people intuitively think it ought to be possible, and that, whether or not it’s possible, the argument should be conducted in terms of geometry. The proof that it’s impossible was discovered late in the 19th century and requires some fairly advanced algebra (it’s a consequence of the fact that pi is not an algebraic number, and only algebraic numbers can be constructed using compass and straight-edge).

    So, for most of us, we can either accept the word of the mathematicians that it’s impossible, or rely on our own judgement, which is likely to be highly fallible.

  85. May 26th, 2006 at 09:57 | #85

    Dogz – “That is, they don’t think we should consume less because the only alternative is nuclear, they just believe that we should consume less, period. To me that is no different from right-wing religious groups that know their god is the one true god, and everyone else is wrong.”

    It is very different for a religious point of view. We need to consume less because the Earths resources are limited. While our population was small the resources of the Earth seemed infinite. Population has now grown to a level where there is not enoough to go around no matter what technology we employ. Nuclear power is only a stop-gap. When easily enriched uranium grows scarce then we will be in the same situation as we are now. The only difference will be that it will be somebody else’s problem. This is usually the outcome the free marketeers desire. Eat drink and be merry and let the problems belong to somebody else.

    Remember also that only 20% of the world’s population enjoy our level of consumption. In effect 80% of the people of the world are poor so the we can be rich. We are not only consuming our share but their share as well.

  86. stoptherubbish
    May 26th, 2006 at 10:00 | #86

    Nuclear power does nothing for one of the chief sources of pollution, which is motor vehicle emissions. It also does nothing to stop the destruction of forests or the depletion of the natural water table. It does however, provide a handy cover for the next reactionary jihad by the politically stupid on behalf of the criminally rich and powerful. So in one way, it is an effective source of energy, albeit energy that is expended in defense of the indefensable.

  87. Katz
    May 26th, 2006 at 10:00 | #87

    “That’s the key counterfactual, and I suspect the answer is no, for the same reason that they won’t uncap the liability of the nuclear industry.”

    True, and the nuclear industry is unwilling to operate without that necessary cover against risk.

    The operating counterfactual here is that Betty Grable may have been willing to go on being a pin-up starlet without insurance coverage for her legs. Her studio would have been willing to self-insure against damage to Betty’s legs. If on the other hand Betty refused to pose, the studio could employ Rita Hayworth. The market is viable.

    In contrast, the nuclear industry is not willing to go on generating electricity without insurance coverage. No market operator is prepared to self-insure against the damage that may arise out of the nuclear industry. There is no viable market. Instead, the Federal Government accepts an unquantifiable liability that a leading insurance company calls possibly catastrophic.

  88. Julie
    May 26th, 2006 at 11:00 | #88

    Dogz

    Perhaps you missed the arguments that the environmentists put forward?

    It seems clear to me that over consumption (although I am not sure where the limit lies between good and bad consumption) is problematic for humans. This argument is based on my experience and understanding (as a psychologist) of the capacity of the human brain to cope with complexity and choice.

    In the issue of nuclear power, I am unable to come to a rational decision because I do not understand the science or the economics (or the insurance issues!!) sufficiently.

    Under these circumstances I think it is rational to choose the more cautious option; articularly if one believes in human ingenuity and the market?

  89. Hal9000
    May 26th, 2006 at 12:15 | #89

    “I don’t get to decide whether we adopt nuclear energy in Australia. Society does, albeit indirectly, via the ballot box.”

    You weren’t so keen on democracy when holding up the Manhattan Project as a model for how we might build nuclear power stations, Dogz. Remind me how many resources went into the Manhattan Project, and how many Americans voted for it…

    http://www.brook.edu/FP/PROJECTS/NUCWCOST/MANHATTN.HTM

    Of course, democratic systems were suspended in time of war, but then isn’t war now permanent?

  90. Dogz
    May 26th, 2006 at 12:51 | #90

    Hal9000, how many Americans do you think would have voted against the Manhattan project in WWII? Remember, at that time all the allies knew was that Germany was trying to build a bomb as well, and they had one of the greatest physicists of the times on board (Heisenberg). Of course the Americans had more geniuses to throw at the project thanks to the fact that the Germans had kicked out all the jewish scientists.

    Nevertheless, had the development of an atomic bomb been thrown open to public ballot after Pearl Harbour I seriously doubt you would have seen many dissenting votes.

  91. Dogz
    May 26th, 2006 at 12:56 | #91

    In contrast, the nuclear industry is not willing to go on generating electricity without insurance coverage.

    That’s the billion dollar question. Given that Congress keeps extending their cover, they’ve not been forced to. Of course, the nuclear industry in the US lobbies hard to retain their preferential treatment, and, the US being the US, Congress is happy to comply. But your assertion has not been tested.

    How do nuclear industries in other countries operate?

  92. Dogz
    May 26th, 2006 at 12:58 | #92

    Julie, arguing against nuclear energy on the basis that it gives us too much choice isn’t going to get very far in the court of public opinion.

  93. FDB
    May 26th, 2006 at 13:28 | #93

    Somehow I doubt that’s what Julie’s saying.

    She’s saying that there is questionable logic behind the idea that everyone being able to do whatever is technologically possible whenever they like is a good thing. I agree with her. I think moderation and the precautionary principle are important intrinsically to a healthy world view. The alternative is greed and self-interest – currently the principle basis for findings in the “court of public opinion”.

    I’d bet you’re genuinely troubled by people who voluntarily change their lifestyle to limit their ecological impact. What’s in it for them? Why don’t they turn up the air-con and go for a 3-hour drive in their V8 just for fun? Because they’re actually thinking about their surroundings, and critically evaluating their contribution. They’re thinking about the future for their kids (and yours, for that matter) in terms other than short-term financial. I’d bet that freaks you out and makes you feel small.

  94. Katz
    May 26th, 2006 at 13:42 | #94

    Of course, the nuclear industry in the US lobbies hard to retain their preferential treatment … TRUE
    the US being the US, Congress is happy to comply… TRUE

    But your assertion has not been tested… NOT TRUE.

    That was the situation before 1957. No insurance company was prepared to step up to the plate. And ever since State Farm and other insurance companies have been quite upfront about their refusal to frame an insurance market that satifies the nuclear industry. If insurance companies saw an opportunity here, their spokespeople wouldn’t be lobbying Congress to take business away from them. Because that, in essence, is what the Price-Anderson Act does.

  95. Dogz
    May 26th, 2006 at 13:59 | #95

    Ok, I really need to stop this soon: my productivity has dropped since JQ removed the moderation shackles. At this rate I’ll have to ask him to moderate me again so I can get some work done.

    But, one last time: Katz, the untested assertion I am referring to is not that US insurers won’t offer unlimited liability to the US nuclear industry, but that US nuclear power generators are unwilling to operate without it:
    In contrast, the nuclear industry is not willing to go on generating electricity without insurance coverage.

  96. Dogz
    May 26th, 2006 at 14:10 | #96

    I’d bet that freaks you out and makes you feel small.

    Not at all. You’re free to do whatever you like, FDB.

    If you prefer to live with a small energy footprint, go right ahead. I do question whether your doing so will have any impact whatsoever on my children (or anyone else’s), but I’ll defend to the death your right to do it.

  97. Michael G
    May 26th, 2006 at 14:16 | #97

    Dogz (or anyone else), I know i’m skipping way back up the thread but your high-energy life style does affect my relatively-low energy lifestyle.

    Even 20 years ago, you may have been able to argue… well, why don’t you just go off and life your crazy hippie lifestyle somewhere quiet and away from us evil capitalists. Not anymore. Where am I going to go? And what if I want to live with people in a city, where I can walk or cycle or take public transport to work without suffering from any form of pollution? am I forced to leave this country? Is that fair. Is this an unreasonable demand from me?

    Is the current state of Australia really the result of free, fair and impartial development? I think there’sa fair case that the Capital-Nazi’s have denied many a fair choice and a fair go in the name of market dogma. Now, if you reason with this Enviro-Nazi, you might be surprised to find that much of your high-energy lifestyle remains unscathed. And that which doesn’t is rejected for valid reasons.

    And Katz had a great point in regards to the self-perpetuating cycle of growth and consumption. The Uranium’s gonna run out one day, isn’t it? At this point we could be in even bigger trouble. I recommend Wolfgang Sachs to anyone interested in this stuff.

  98. Dogz
    May 26th, 2006 at 14:18 | #98

    The Uranium’s gonna run out one day, isn’t it? At this point we could be in even bigger trouble.

    Fusion.

  99. May 26th, 2006 at 14:27 | #99

    Ernestine Gross — nuclear power is perfectly marketable. All activities have externalities… that doesn’t mean that such activities can’t be best coordinated by the market. This is so obvious I’m suprised it needs to be said.

  100. derrida derider
    May 26th, 2006 at 14:55 | #100

    In contrast, the nuclear industry is not willing to go on generating electricity without insurance coverage. No market operator is prepared to self-insure against the damage that may arise out of the nuclear industry.

    That makes no sense. There is a limit to self-insurance – the assets of the company. If an accident makes your liability exceed these, then it’s your creditors (ie the irradiated punters) who bear the loss. They don’t call it “Limited Liability” for nothing.

    So if you’re running a very small risk of a very large accident that exceeds your assets it makes no difference at all from your POV just how large the accident is.

    In fact, I am personally willing to offer the nuclear power companies very cheap insurance (a round million will do) with a $50B initial excess.

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