Home > Economics - General, Environment > Hansen on climate change over centuries

Hansen on climate change over centuries

September 5th, 2009

Following my recent post, a number of commenters suggested that I ought to respond more directly to the arguments of James Hansen and others for a CO2 target of 350 parts per million, as opposed to the 450 ppm that forms the basis of much current policy discussion. I’m using this paper as a basis, and take the following two points as its central claims

* To avoid unacceptable risk of passing a point of no return beyond which explosive feedbacks (icecaps melting etc) are inevitable, we should aim to reduce CO2 concentrations to 350 ppm by 2100. This is below current levels and won’t be achieved simply by ending net emissions
* We can achieve part of this (maybe a reduction of 60 ppm) through reforestation, biochar and similar measures
* Further reductions will require expensive technological solutions, estimated cost $200/tonne or $20 trillion to remove 50 ppm. Given a maximum point around 450 ppm and 50 ppm from reforestation, that’s about the amount required.

What then should we do? In particular, how much should we be willing to pay now, to avoid high costs in the second half of this century?

It’s important to note a big shift in focus here. Most of the discussion so far has been along the lines “What do we need to do by 2050 to avoid unacceptable damage to the climate later this century”. Looking ahead for a century is challenging, to put it mildly. But the questions raised by Hansen shift the time-scale for action out another 50 years, and the consequences are centuries into the future. That means there are huge uncertainties that are difficult to reason about. As a starting point, I’m going to follow Hansen and co-authors in treating the problem as if it were deterministic, with a known target of 350 ppm and costs as stated.

With these drastic simplifications, the problem is not all that hard, and can be made a bit simpler with the right choice of parameters. The question is, how much would we pay (in $/tonne) today (I’ll say 2010) and around 2050 (I’ll say 2045) to avoid a cost of $200/tonne in 2080 (all in constant value dollars). With a 2 per cent discount rate (I’ve argued at length that this is a good choice), the answer is given by the rule of 70: values double every 35 years. So, we ought to be willing to pay $50/tonne now and around $100/tonne in 2045.

I’ll come back to this a bit later and discuss less simplified estimates. The main point that would suggest a higher current price is a lower trajectory with the same endpoint implies less residence time for CO2 in the atmosphere and therefore less risk.

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  1. Salient Green
    September 5th, 2009 at 11:13 | #1

    Don’t forget the ocean currently deals with a third of manknd’s carbon emissions and will contimue to reduce atmospheric carbon after we achieve zero net emissions.

    Ocean acidificaton ensures we must achieve zero net rather than going partway and leaving the rest up to nature.

    Depopulating really is the only answer and some clever person needs to do a study on the financial cost of that, per capita. There’s no credit being ahead of one’s time I know but all those who are twisting themselves into knots to avoid the ticking bomb of population growth are going to get smacked in the face with it before 2020.

    It’s looking to me like methane will a very difficult problem to deal with. You can’t stop our meat animals emitting the stuff, along with nitrous oxide, and more people means more meat animals. Overfishing also means more meat animals. More warming means more methane releases. I believe we are in great peril from methane.

  2. Hermit
    September 5th, 2009 at 13:43 | #2

    The French are apoplectic with a suggested CO2 price of around $A30 a tonne and they have the lowest emissions in Europe. In real terms $200 may be unattainable since the economy would need to be rich to afford it. But if we can’t find enough low carbon energy in that time then we won’t get rich. If adverse selection is bad luck but moral hazard is delusion then I think carbon sinks are the latter. Because a few trees grew strong and healthy in a high rainfall area we want to believe that will always happen. In the perfect world of carbon sinks there are no droughts, fires or dieback. With biochar I suspect there is substantial undercounting of the use of diesel and transferring carbon from different zones.

    The blunt instrument I suggest is $20 a tonne no offsets like tree planting and use most of the money to build nuclear power stations. As each nuke is switched on demolish a decrepit coal fired power station. Now the ditherers will give a hundred reasons why that won’t work.

  3. iain
    September 5th, 2009 at 15:47 | #3

    Thanks for that John, sorry to bug you on the other post.

    From a policy perspective these numbers are tough to action over the short term. Once we finally achieve political will, the reality is likley that, to meet Hansen, we will obviously be relying on some pretty high $/tonne numbers.

  4. Fran Barlow
    September 5th, 2009 at 16:03 | #4

    @Salient Green

    As a vegetarian I certainly support the idea of cutting down on the number of livestock being raised, but it is worth noting that it is possible to raise animals for meat without having a large environmental footprint. The Grass farmer movement has done some interesting stuff that makes ‘organic’ seem pretty dirty by comparison. If all the meat people ate came via this approach, I’d probably not be that bothered by it.

    I do agree that stabilising and eventually reversing population growth is the longterm sustainable thing to do, but I doubt that this side of further economic development in the developing world that such goals are attainable. We must strive to achieve and exceed the Millennium Development Goals, empowering women in the developing world. Only then will we see birthrates start to fall dramatically.

    I do agree with Hermit on nuclear power, but I can’t see that $20 is going to go close to cutting it. You’re going to need at least $100 per tonne to put that on the agenda, and as this is the figure widel;y touted as the threshhold for viable CC&S it seems to me that it is the starting point.

    Those interested might look at Professor Mackay’s e-book for some ewxcellent data on calculating energy demand. Five energy plans for Britain looks at this in a UK context but there’s a wealth of data and forulae in the book so the whole site is worth a look. Apparently Milliband has just taken him on to work on these matters.

  5. September 5th, 2009 at 16:24 | #5

    A global $50/tonne +2%/year CO2 price is a better outcome than is likely from Copenhagen. A complicating issue is the carbon cycle. Some of the CO2 emitted now will be absorbed by the ocean and biomass, but feedbacks from the artic permafrost melting or the amazon going up in flames could lead to more CO2 entering the atmosphere.

    Uncertainties in the carbon cycle, costs of carbon capture technologies, climate sensitivity and so on is of course also a big issue.

    It seems to be politically harder to get a high initial CO2 price than a high future price. The price floor in the Waxman-Markey bill has a lower initial value (US$10), but a higher discount rate (5%).

  6. Hermit
    September 5th, 2009 at 18:20 | #6

    @Fran Barlow
    500 Mt x $20/t = $10 billion. The Chinese will build up to a hundred of their variant of the Westinghouse AP 1000 at less than half that cost and supposedly in less than three years for each plant. See http://nuclearaustralia.blogspot.com/ for how they will do it. Building enough widely spaced wind farms with extra connections could cost 2-3 times that to achieve similar reliability. Gas fired generators would be quicker and cheaper to build until we start paying world parity prices for gas. As a CO2 price to get rid of coal twenty is plenty.

  7. Alice
    September 5th, 2009 at 18:20 | #7

    @Fran Barlow
    that raises an interesting point – eradicate female inequality in the labour force and you might just see the birthrate fall to a sustainable level as the benefits from working to women come to outweigh the benefits of providing labour to a male partner in exchange for his greater financial contribution to living costs. The female childraising contribution is a positive externality that has never been factored in by the market.

    But then, firms want replacement labour dont they? I doubt this will fly..at all. But perhaps it should when the core issue is population growth.

  8. Fran Barlow
    September 5th, 2009 at 18:41 | #8


    The relative claims of labour are only one aspect of the problem. The other is the ability of women to live independently of men, to hold their own property, to say no to marriage or to children or to extra children, to have a quality education, to be free of an excessive burden of child rearing.

    Cutting birth rates is also a consequence of social security, since the old, in societies without it, and who cannot labour, need a family network to avoid living in penury. It’s also a consequence of decreases in morbidity, since one expects children to survive to become adults. Here in the west, it wasn’t until the late Victorian period, when prosperity began to increase, and major epidemic diseases began to be controlled that families started shrinking and the culture started treating both women and children as the focus of community concern. Much of the theorising on the nature of childhood and the obligations of adults towards children dates from this period.

  9. Fran Barlow
    September 5th, 2009 at 19:07 | #9


    Oh I’m not considering how much money is needed to fund nuclear plants — and frankly even putting aside the fact that neither party would contemplate a proposal for nuclear energy — $10 billion would be unlikely to get you three decent sized nuclear plants in practice, especially when you consider the legal bunfight that would arise.

    No, I’m looking for a cost on carbon dioxide emission that

    a) corresponds to the value to the commons of avoiding carbon emissions and the associated risks
    b) drives changes in spending and investment in the direction of a low carbon economy
    c) can fund remedial measures, adaptation, restitution, complicance, R&D etc
    d) demonstrates that CC&S can never work before we waste more money on it
    e) could be advocated with a degree of political plausibility

    $20 per tonne is not even close to that figure. Most people wouldn’t notice it in their electricity bills or in petrol. Cambridge Physicist David Mackay presents this table. As you can see, it’s not until $900 per tonne that carbon charges really affect driving, $500 is described as ‘some impact on European lifestyle’ and $370 is the ECI community cost of emissions and affects air travel.

    Here in Australia, I think we could legitimately ask for $100 on the basis that we are funding a technology (CC&S) which wouldn’t be viable for less than that.

  10. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 5th, 2009 at 19:23 | #10

    Fran Barlow, do you really believe that governments around the world throw $20 billion down the drain if they thought CCS was not feasible.

  11. Fran Barlow
    September 5th, 2009 at 19:56 | #11

    Why not? The US government through $US10billion each month and a mountain of bodies of US servicemen down the drain when they went into Iraq, essentially, as far as I can see, to ensure they won the next election. They are still doing it in Afghanistan. The world spends about $US33billion each year in perfumes and cosmetics and they aren;t ‘feasible’ either.

    Renewables — bugger all … Keeping the filth merchants and their hostages happy — priceless

  12. September 5th, 2009 at 20:46 | #12

    Nice to see the beginning of some target-350 economics.

    I am especially interested in gaining some understanding of how different projections for the cost of carbon dioxide removal affect – or don’t affect – prescriptions for the near future. If you suppose that the drawdown of CO2 becomes effectively free in 2090, does that change things? How about 2030? Is there much difference to the short-term presciptive consequences, in assuming that air capture becomes free in 2030, 2050, 2070, 2090, never? Etc.

  13. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 5th, 2009 at 21:15 | #13

    Fran Barlow, I also would like see more to be spent on renewables but we must face reality and if everything goes to plan by 2050 CCS technologies will reduce global CO2 emissions by one third.

  14. Donald Oats
    September 5th, 2009 at 21:22 | #14

    Something that Jim Hansen doesn’t consider – and nor do policymakers or economists – is that of rapid extinction of marine life, some of which is essential to humans. The specific mechanism is a change in oceanic conditions from one that has a well oxygenated structure, to one that has little or no oxygen at depth. Such a change can be very quickly inflicted by a cessation of the ocean conveyor currents. These currents carry oxygenated water from the polar regions, down through the depths and on to the equatorial waters.

    The switching off may occur when the temperature difference between the polar regions and the lower latitude regions becomes small enough, which seems to have been the trigger for the development of Canfield oceans at the P-T extinction, and also for a series of Canfield ocean occurrences during the T-J mass extinction.

    A Canfield ocean is one that is anoxic and has an abundance of sulfur-consuming bacteria, that belch hydrogen sulfide, and unfortunately inhibit the fixing of nitrogen. According to Peter Ward [pg 126, “Under a Green Sky”, Peter Ward, Smithonian Books, 2007] biomarkers – chemicals produced by specific microbes – are quite detectable in geologic structures.

    While this eventuality may seem fanciful, the last four or five years have seen a strengthening of evidence that such large scale oceanic changes have occurred in the past, and that either a shift in location of the conveyor currents, or a cessation, can trigger the change. Unfortunately paleoclimate data doesn’t provide much information on the decadal changes of interest to the current crop of humans.

    As a hypothetical, let us assume that we have some half decent idea as to how likely anoxic and Canfield ocean formation is, given the rate of temperature change and whatever else we need to know. How would an economist convert this information into costs, in order to put a price on carbon? [Pr Q, my question is a serious one, I really would like to know how this is done]

  15. Salient Green
    September 5th, 2009 at 21:28 | #15

    Mosh, I too believe governments would throw $20b down the drain to milk a few more trillions out of coal. Co2 is produced at roughly twice the mass of the coal burnt. There is simply no room for it, or at least an effective fraction.

    Fran, we do need to eat less meat. I recently saw a disturbing little clip showing male chicks in a hatchery being ground up alive, and other cruelties. Farmed fish are a cocktail of chemicals. People need to know how their meat is produced, in all it’s gory and distasteful detail, so that they can make an informed choice. That would certainly cut meat consumption!

    Empowerment of women in the developing world generally goes hand in hand with economic development but if that development is done without regard to sustainability and a low carbon society, then you are replacing one problem with another. I’m not saying we should not continue to strive for the MDG’s, just that they should be done properly. If they are to be done properly, we in the developing world need to set the example. In terms of population growth, GHG emissions and overconsumption, we are the example of what NOT to do.

  16. Salient Green
    September 5th, 2009 at 21:56 | #16

    Donald, I did not know that. As if the ocean didn’t have enough problems already with overfishing, dead zones, trash gyres and acidification, to name the main ones.

  17. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 5th, 2009 at 22:16 | #17

    Salient Green, the EU has a good track record when it comes to going green and they would not be contributing some $11 Billion into CCS R & D unless there was a good reason.

  18. Fran Barlow
    September 5th, 2009 at 22:39 | #18

    @Salient Green re:women

    I certainly didn’t imply that we should look the other way on sustainable development. Rather, what we must do is find ways in which the developing world can skip our mistakes and do the right things with our support

    One attractive option is the Hyperion Small Module. At $US25 million and 25MWe it has enough power to supply about 5000 people energy at the daily rate of consumption of Europeans without implying the building of a large grid. Some modest community in Africa or Bangladesh or Latin America could suddenly have all the electricity they needed to run their cars, pump and clean water and light, heat and cool their homes at an installed cost less than coal and without a fuel bill. And all secure and hands off operation, like a battery.

    What’s not to like about that?

  19. Fran Barlow
    September 5th, 2009 at 22:41 | #19

    @Michael of Summer Hill

    One third is not enough and it will be at a cost that is unacceptable and generate a waste problem that makes a mockery of nuclear waste.

    Do you have any idea of the colume of CO2 that would have to be stored forever to meet even the 1/3 reduction?

  20. Fran Barlow
    September 5th, 2009 at 22:42 | #20


    Do you have any idea of the volume of CO2 that would have to be stored forever to meet even the 1/3 reduction?

  21. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 5th, 2009 at 23:06 | #21

    We can’t continue to ignore nuclear energy. It is the elephant in the room for these sorts of discussions. Consider this:-

    1. An Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) produces about 100 times more energy compared to a conventional Light Water Reactor. The fuel to power the energy needs of your entire life would be about the size of a golf ball.

    2. If fueled using nuclear waste an IFR reduces the worlds stockpile of nuclear waste. Both quantitatively and qualitatively.

    3. Using IFRs the worlds current stock pile of nuclear waste could provide all our current energy needs for a period of 700 years with no requirment to mine additional uranium or fossil fuels.

    4. Processing the worlds nuclear waste via an IFR is cheaper than the current and proposed storage options.

    5. In nuclear accident terms IFR reactors are fail safe. If control is lost they shut down rather than melt down. Not through applied controls but throught natural physices. You could fly a plane into an IFR reactor or cut off the cooling system and it will not go into melt down. It can’t.

    6. We have over 300 operating years of experience with large scale IFR equivalent reactors. They are proven technology.

    7. Nuclear power can easily be cost competitive with fossil fuels. In fact it is generally cheaper.

    8. If built in tandem with desalination plants the heat generating capacity of an IFR can be switched to creating cheap fresh water production whenever there is any slack in electricity demand. In fact this has been done in a large scale nuclear plant in the past.

    9. An IFR is quick to build.

    10. All that stands in the way of scaling up such a solution is politics. Otherwise there are no technical or commercial barriers.

    11. Even if we only removed (or reformed) the red tape in nations that currently have some form of nuclear power anyway, this would still allow us to elliminate most of the worlds energy related CO2 emissions via this single technology.

  22. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 5th, 2009 at 23:10 | #22

    Fran Barlow, I’m sure the scientists are well aware of the dangers of leakage associated with transportation and/or storage.

  23. Fran Barlow
    September 5th, 2009 at 23:24 | #23

    @Michael of Summer Hill

    As are we … and we don’t like the odds or the results or the cost. CC&S doesn’t tick any box strongly enough for rational people to be interested in it.

  24. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 5th, 2009 at 23:28 | #24

    p.s. James Hansen is an IFR advocate.

  25. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 5th, 2009 at 23:37 | #25

    Fran Barlow, unless a petition opting for a stronger CO2 target of 350 parts per million is tabled in Parliament before Copenhagen we are left with the CPRS.

  26. Dan Pangburn
    September 6th, 2009 at 01:56 | #26

    TerjeP, Thanks for that on the IFR. Even after the AGW Mistake becomes more apparent, humanity will still be confronted with the fact of a finite supply of fossil energy. IFRs are a practical replacement and, as you say and as I, a licensed engineer who has many years experience in the nuclear power field agree, no new technology is needed. The estimate of 700 years using stored waste sounds about right. IFRs could meet all of humanity’s energy needs for millions of years using known deposits of uranium.

    IFR generated electricity could provide light, heat and mechanical power for homes and commercial customers plus 80% of personal transportation energy by using plug-in hybrids. The energy could also be used to synthesize liquid fuel for the other 20% of personal transportation. The choice between synthetic liquid fuel and algae produced bio-fuel is an economic one.

    Since 2000, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by an amount equal to 18.8% of the increase from 1800 to 2000. According to the average of the five reporting agencies, the trend of average global temperatures since 1998 shows no increase and from 2002 through 2008 the trend shows a DECREASE of 1.8°C/century. This SEPARATION (there have been many others) corroborates the lack of connection between atmospheric carbon dioxide increase and average global temperature. As the atmospheric carbon dioxide level continues to increase and the average global temperature doesn’t it is becoming more and more apparent that many climate scientists have made an egregious mistake and a whole lot of people have been misled.

    As shown in the pdfs at http://climaterealists.com/index.php?tid=145&linkbox=true there is no significant positive feedback from increased average global temperature (Also shown is a rational explanation of the planet temperature run-up of the twentieth century). An understanding of how a feedback loop works may be required to recognize this when examining the paleo temperature data. Climate Scientists apparently do not really understand how feedback loops work (I learned about them in post-graduate engineering) or they would recognize from the temperature trend reversals in the paleo temperature data that added atmospheric carbon dioxide has no significant influence on average global temperature. With no feedback, the GCMs show only a nuisance value of 1.2 degrees C warming from doubling CO2 level. Other assessments show half this or even less. Without net positive feedback, AGW is not significant, and without AGW human activity has no significant effect on climate change. Any change caused by CO2 doubling would be very small and lost in the variability of natural climate change.

  27. conrad
    September 6th, 2009 at 06:37 | #27

    “People need to know how their meat is produced, in all it’s gory and distasteful detail, so that they can make an informed choice. That would certainly cut meat consumption!”
    No it wouldn’t. It would simply lead to worse alternatives like “organic” farming that take far more space and resources.

  28. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 07:51 | #28

    Dan Pangburn, scientists do know what is going on and industrialisation is the main culprit when it comes to global warming over the last two centuries. Scientists do know global temperatures will increase as melting permafrost in arctic regions and underground methane escape into the atmosphere. And as for nuclear power in Australia keep on dreaming.

  29. Salient Green
    September 6th, 2009 at 08:21 | #29

    conrad #27 Organic farming is the best alternative, not ‘worse’. It’s sustainable. What is the point of continued population growth if the only way to feed it is by farming methods which pollute the ecosystem, rob resources from the future and puts toxins in the food it produces. And sometimes involve cruelty to animals. Check this vid out and tell me if a bit of reality would not cut meat consumption.

    Not looking at anyone in particular, but, it must getting harder to be an AGW skeptic these days. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/09/arctic-warmest-temperature-2000-years.php

  30. Alice
    September 6th, 2009 at 08:21 | #30

    Oh these people that continue to push nuclear as if it is the only solution really really worry me….it will just replace big coal with big uranium and other future unforseen uncosted external problems by emlarging the market for uranium and its profit value. To even imagine we can control this stuff (the radioactive inputs) indefinitely into the future when its life is dangerous to us and thousands of times greater than ours is just absurd. We can do much better than tha and we need better inventions than nuclear power stations and maybe we need to reassess exactly how much power we really need. So much is wasteful already.

  31. Glenn Tamblyn
    September 6th, 2009 at 08:27 | #31

    @Dan Pangburn
    Dan Pangburn

    Go take a look at sites such as realclimate.org or tamino.wordpress.com or a range of others, not climate denialist sites such as climaterealists. The claims you make are just plain wrong, the same ‘it hasn’t warmed since 1998, CO2 doesn’t have any real impact’ crocks that have been around the Denialosphere for some time. If you are simply mis-informed on this, please go and do a lot more reading and be very careful what sources you use. If your comments are not mis-information but the usual Denialist rubbish, please go away! Our world and our societies are in grave peril and we can’t afford any more of this rubbish. Unless you would care to disclose who you are funded by.

  32. jquiggin
    September 6th, 2009 at 10:19 | #32

    @Peter Wood

    A price that starts low and increases rapidly is only marginally suboptimal, provided there’s a clear path to something like $100/tonne by 2050. That’s because investments are (or should be forward looking) so a low initial carbon price shouldn’t lead (for example) to investment in new coal plants that will face much higher prices in future. The risk is that bad investments, even those made post-Copenhagen, will get grandfathered in.

  33. jquiggin
    September 6th, 2009 at 10:22 | #33

    @Dan Pangburn

    Advocates of nuclear energy would be more convincing if they didn’t routinely reveal themselves as anti-science delusionists. If you don’t believe mainstream science, why should we listen to anything you have to say about nuclear technology? You might as well advocate cars powered by fairy dust.

  34. Donald Oats
    September 6th, 2009 at 10:29 | #34


    The big problem with getting a good, basic understanding of the climate science – as distinct from the available policy directions for dealing with the issues exposed by climate science – is that there is an insistent clammer of vested interests trying to drown out any reasonable discussions around the science. A secondary problem is that corporate media journalism too often focus on the latest “breakthrough” or “discovery” but fail to place it into context; the net result is a sensationalist depiction of said discovery and that is just confusing to the lay person. I don’t wish to sound patronising, so in this context by layperson I pretty much mean anyone who hasn’t worked as a climate scientist…which is most of us.

    I’ve done a lot of reading of the original scientific literature and scientific texts, and I’m still way off being across it all. There are numerous excellent books for the genuinely intellectually curious layperson. Just avoid books written by people who haven’t done their time in the field, at least at first.

    Anyway, here is my current list of recommended reading for the interested layperson:

    Spencer Weart, “The Discovery of Global Warming”: available as paperback, or as a web-book (free) from Spencer’s website. This book is fairly short and to the point, which makes it great for an initial understanding of the concepts behind the theory of global warming, and how scientists eventually reached large-scale agreement on that theory (in spite of what you may read elsewhere). In my opinion Spencer tries a bit too hard to be apolitical, to the extent that he over-emphasises grant money as a motive for research scientists. That’s my only gripe.

    Mark Bowen, “Thin Ice”: great book. This is an account of the fieldwork by scientist Lonnie Thompson and his team, which takes them to many of the mountaintop glaciers in the tropics. The great thing about this book is that it slowly dawns on the reader (at least me) just how difficult and dangerous this research is. People die doing this! Whenever someone says something like “the scientists just do it for the grant money”, think back to this book and the fatalities. [One mistake I picked up: Bowen claims at one point that carbon dioxide increases seem to precede temperature increases in the ice core data; in fact, in most cases the carbon dioxide lags the temperature increase, or happens in sync (to the accuracy of the measurement techniques). Bowen did write the book prior to the scientific publications pointing this out, so I don’t think Bowen was trying to mislead anyone.]

    Peter Ward, “Under a Green Sky”: another great book. The writer’s style can be a little annoying (at least it bugged me), but the story itself is in my opinion excellent. To do it justice requires a little familiarity with palaeontology terminology, which may be picked up from a children’s book on dinosaurs if desperate. Peter Ward is a palaeontologist, and this work takes him to various remote locations around the world, as well as to more familiar places in the US (if you are an American). Ward’s fieldwork has also had its share of injuries and a fatality (deepwater dive). Peter Ward gives a compelling hypothesis as to how several of the mass extinctions of the past came about, and he provides the evidence to support his hypothesis.

    Then there are:
    William Burroughs, “Climate Change in Prehistory”. You have probably heard of Ian Plimer’s book. I own both it and Burroughs’ book. Burroughs gives a fairly reasonable account of natural climate changes in humanity’s past; Plimer does not. If you feel driven to read Plimer’s book, don’t do it until you’ve read Burroughs’ book first.

    John Imbrie and Katherine Palmer Imbrie, “Ice Ages: solving the mystery”. This is also a great book. It sticks largely to the history of scientific endeavour to unravel the mechanisms behind the ice ages. It covers geologic evidence, astronomical factors, and climate science as it evolved into the multidisciplinary field of today. Along the way a timeline of discoveries and their historical significance is built up, which makes it an excellent first read for the layperson.

    Jeremy Leggett, “Half-gone”: it looks at the combination of oil production peaking, continued demand growth for fossil fuels, climate change, and population growth. JL outlines some of the options for addressing global warming, and makes the case that many of these actions must be taken anyway, in order to deal with the eventual drop in oil production. JL is an interesting character who has worked with many of the who’s who of big-oil, was involved from day one with the IPCC, and now runs his own solar energy company. His training is as a petroleum geologist and he has done the time in the big fields.

    Jeremy Leggett, “The Carbon War”: this looks directly at the politics surrounding global warming, and provides some context on major political players, whose names you’ll run into on the web-sites and other media. This precedes JL’s “Half-gone” and in my opinion is the best of the two books.

    Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe, “Climate Change: picturing the science”. Pretty much as the title says, this is a book of fantastic colour photographs, interspersed with essays by climate scientists.

    All of these books are accessible to a layperson, and taken together they provide a fairly complete picture of climate science, and to a lesser extent, of anthropogenic global warming in particular. There are plenty more good books but these are my personal favourites among the non-technical books. If you aren’t convinced by this that anthropogenic global warming is a real and present danger, then fair enough.

  35. Ken
    September 6th, 2009 at 10:34 | #35

    Hermit, I mostly agree with your comments except regarding gas; a commitment to gas would leave us saddled with gas plants (which are still heavy CO2 producers) at the point when reductions greater than gas can deliver are required.
    Michael of S.H., I’ve commented before on why I believe CC&S can’t be considered a serious proposal; more than 3 times as much CO2 as coal burned, it’s a gas that’s bulkier, more difficult and expensive to handle than coal and the technologies that would be needed like deep drilling and high pressure, high volume pumping would give better value used developing geothermal and compressed air energy storage. I have no problem believing our government would waste the bulk of clean energy R&D on something destined to fail, given we have a government that actively promotes huge expansion of the export of Australian fossil fuels and is developing an ETS that protects the industries it should be designed to force to clean up or go out of business; CCS is about the perception that reliance on fossil fuels can continue to expand without serious consequences, i.e. it’s an attempt to protect the fossil fuel industries, not protect our future climate. It’s clear evidence to me of failure to comprehend the seriousness of climate change or it’s urgency.

  36. Donald Oats
    September 6th, 2009 at 10:43 | #36

    I agree with you Ken, that CCS funding is largely about managing the public rather than about managing the problem. I don’t mind if CCS is investigated by someone somewhere – but surely funding for alternative energy research and development should greatly exceed CCS funding. Unfortunately both Howard and Rudd have chosen to support CCS far beyond its likely prospects of success, and both Howard and Rudd have stuffed the alternative energy sector around, much more so than the fossil fuel industry has been. Politicians!

  37. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 10:50 | #37

    Ken, if CCS technologies reduce global CO2 by one third by 2050 then that is one third of the problem solved even though I prefer a stronger CO2 target of 350 parts per million.

  38. September 6th, 2009 at 11:01 | #38

    A compelling part of the Hansen et al argument is that there is evidence things are currently deteriorating. The evidence is ambiguous but the global pattern of droughts and loss of sea ice does give some rise for concern. Given inertia in the system and the long-lives of many GGEs in the atmosphere things might then get worse even given drastic future cutbacks.

    On the $200/t cutback figure and the implied current figure of $50/t – the US in their Waxman/Markey bill see plenty of options for international natural carbon sequestration using forestry at $10/t which looks like a bargain!

  39. Fran Barlow
    September 6th, 2009 at 12:02 | #39


    With respect, you miss the point John. The climate change delusionists aren’t really advocates of nuclear power. They merely advocate it on the basis that they think they can wedge those favouring climate mitigation. It’s also the case that without resort to nuclear power, either the social or economic costs (or both) of mitigation rise, so adovcating nuclear power in ways that poison the well serves their agenda, which is to protect pollution-as-usual.

  40. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 12:04 | #40

    Ken, according to the latest reports the costs of carbon capture and storage might come down to as low as AUD$37-45 per tonne of abated carbon emissions by 2020. It just might become a feasible proposition.

  41. Jill Rush
    September 6th, 2009 at 12:15 | #41

    It is interesting that those who argue for Nuclear energy ignore the link between the power and the arms industry. It is unlikely that Iran for instance is interested in nuclear power rather than weapons, but the power is seen as OK by the world, whereas the weapons are not. Nuclear power plants are also a great target for anyone wishing to create havoc in a population; far more so than any renewable energy sources. The problem for renewable energy however is that these are technologies that are more available to people without big profits flowing to multinational corporations.

    The problems are complex and do need population measures to limit future energy demands. China has shown leadership in this regard but has not had any kind of recognition of its social experimentation. There is a big unknown as to what impact on policy all of those young men without partners or families will have.

    This thread however has brought home that there is plenty we don’t know about the oceans, animal impact and the need for sustainable economic development leading women away from being seen mainly as breeders of many children.

    The big polluters will need to be dragged kicking and screaming to any price point and it will be a major achievement to get $50/tonne. To get to this point the taxpayer will no doubt have to pay a great deal more in subsidies to the big polluters. Has anyone done this sum?

  42. jquiggin
    September 6th, 2009 at 13:19 | #42

    @Fran Barlow

    It’s actually quite complex, Fran. The majority of the delusionists derive this position from previously held anti-environmentalism, so (if old enough) they were pro-nuclear before they were climate delusionist. But, of course, they are trying, not very successfully, to do a wedge on this.

    The problem for the wedge is that it goes the wrong way. Given the economic failure of nuclear power, any nuclear supporter needs to advocate a high carbon price, but a supporter of high carbon prices can reasonably judge that nuclear power should be a long way down the dispatch order of merit, and can in any case simply say “Let’s have the high carbon price and see if nuclear looks more attractive than conservation or alternatives when all costs are taken into account”.

  43. Dan Pangburn
    September 6th, 2009 at 13:37 | #43

    I started researching this stuff a few years ago because there was so much conflicting info that I couldn’t determine the truth. At first, I thought that added atmospheric CO2 must be bad because, after all, it does absorb IR at a certain wavelength that is strong in earth’s emitting spectrum and one that is not already saturated by water vapor. Then I made my own plot of the Vostok data and noticed the lag of CO2 change to temperature change which I pointed out in http://www.middlebury.net/op-ed/pangburn.html . (I have discovered a few refinements to this since March of 2008. These refinements include that only the temperature needs to be considered to show that there is no significant net positive feedback from temperature and that for zero feedback IPCC gives a prediction for temperature rise of 1.2 C for doubling CO2.). Later I discovered the particular area of relevant science that Climate Scientists apparently either are not aware of or don’t really understand that, with the paleo temperature data, shows that NET feedback is not significantly positive.

    I am no longer a mere skeptic. After over two years and thousands of hours of research I am now CERTAIN that added atmospheric CO2 has no significant influence on global warming and therefore no significant influence on climate change. Having the ability to and doing your own research using credible data sources results in deeper technical understanding than does reading other’s opinions which may be politically or financially driven. I am not funded.

    Although whether ice melts or water freezes gives no clue as to what causes the planet to warm or cool it may be interesting to see how Arctic ice area has actually changed over the years. A multi-year daily updated graph which was compiled from NSIDC data is shown at http://www.ijis.iarc.uaf.edu/seaice/extent/AMSRE_Sea_Ice_Extent.png .

    The annual average global temperature anomalies and links to the five reporting agencies are given in one of my posts at http://www.celsias.com/article/global-deal-climate-changes-new-era/ . Another post there gives links to several others that also refute AGW but use rationale that is different from mine.

    August had no sunspots. The sun has not been this quiet this long since 1913. Some of us know what that portends.

  44. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 14:03 | #44

    Dan Pangburn, now that you spent countless hours researching and evaluating data, has two hundred years of industrialisation been responsible for global warming and exacerbating the current permafrost to melt in arctic regions or is it fiction?

  45. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 14:28 | #45

    Tell me Dan Pangburn, are you the one that said there was ‘no radiation fatalities from nuclear plants in the US’?

  46. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 14:41 | #46

    Crickey John, look what I found Robert Peabody, 37, died after an accident at the United Nuclear Corp. fuel facility during July 1964 as a result of being exposed to 1,000 times the lethal does of radiation. Dan Pangburn must of missed this one.

  47. Hermit
    September 6th, 2009 at 14:49 | #47

    The thing to remember is that we are not ‘on track’ for either greatly increased renewable energy or a policy driven reduction in fossil fuel burning. On another thread I suggested that wind and solar generation (the proven forms of renewables) need to increase five fold within a decade. That’s just not happening. Diesel and coking coal consumption are down a bit due to the GFC, not because of any deliberate government policy which is effectively absent. Whether wind and solar can physically displace coal burning to any great extent is discussed on other websites in mind numbing detail.

    The Rudd government does not have the cojones to stand up to the big emitters and they are now just dancing on the spot. Whatever they say after Copenhagen will carry as little weight as the previous announcements. I think we should just keep it simple; demolish coal fired power stations and build nuclear power stations.

  48. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 14:50 | #48

    Bloody Nora John, did you know that the cost of cleaning up Hanford Engineer Works radioactive materials flushed into the Columbia River is estimated to be $48.5 billion.

  49. Fran Barlow
    September 6th, 2009 at 14:52 | #49

    @Jill Rush

    Jill … let’s unpick your claims:

    It is interesting that those who argue for Nuclear energy ignore the link between the power and the arms industry. It is unlikely that Iran for instance is interested in nuclear power rather than weapons, but the power is seen as OK by the world, whereas the weapons are not.

    You say it’s unlikely that they are interested in civilian nuclear power, but you offer no reason for this inference. It’s quite probably the case that the ability to acquire the materiel to make weapons is a predisposing factor, as it probably was in the case of Thatcher taking this route in 1980 and the US in the 1960s when it switched from thorium to uranium to run its programs, but the reality is that iot would be far cheaper to create a small research reactor aimed, ostensibly, at creating medical isotopes (rather like Lucas Heights here) than a large power reactor. It’s worth noting of course that this was precisely the course taken by Israel when with French help it set up the 24 MW reactor at Dimona in the late 1950s. Israel is widely believed to have about 200 deliverable nuclear warheads but it has no nuclear power.

    There are some broader questions that you don’t confront however.

    1. No state under international law has the right to deny any other state the right to acquire such weapons systems as it deem neceesary for its own securtity. While there certainly are treaties covering chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and those in the ‘nuclear weapons club’ are of the opinion, predictably, that nobody else should join, any state can decide to ignore the demands of the NNPT if it is willing to cop the diplomatic consequences.

    2. The possession, by small states, of nuclear weapons (or the mere belief by others that they possess them and might use them) may actually play a positive role in restraining armed conflict between states. It did so during the Cold War, and if the US had really believed that Iraq had WMD in March of 2003, it’s most unlikely they’d have escalated. The mere thought that the DPRK might have such a weapon has stayed the hand of the US in that region too.

    3. Nuclear weapons are probably not the most useful weapon for delivering or threatening a major cost to an enemy. Devising and delivering biological weapons is almost certainly at least as effective, more easily covered and far cheaper than building nuclear weapons for any state determined to build a trump card weapon.

    Now, that all said, I would far prefer that there were no nuclear weapons about in the hands of any state. The Integral Fast Reactor [IFR] and some other kinds of reactors can rapidly degrade weapons grade waste material while producing power.

    The fact of the matter is that whether we like it or not, there are a large number of states who have already produced enough high grade waste to make all the nuclear weapons any state could ever want, and we do not in practice have any way fo restraining states from acquiuring the materiel. Whether Australia does or does not have a nuclear program will have no impact on whether any other state has one, and here in Australia, if we did have a nuclear power program, we wouldn’t be acquiring such weapons. We could in fact insist on having all waste from our shipped uranium returned to us, making a contribution to better stewardship of waste and underpinning lower carbon footprint power.

    Nuclear power plants are also a great target for anyone wishing to create havoc in a population; far more so than any renewable energy sources.

    No they aren’t, because nuclear power plants are very well protected. If you wanted to run a mass casualty attack, a releasing something like sarin gas in a sports stadium is a far better option or taking down an airliner full of fuel.

    The problem for renewable energy however is that these are technologies that are more available to people without big profits flowing to multinational corporations.

    1. Whether the profits from selling energy flow to multinational corporations or local ones makes not a scrap of difference. It’s unlikely in practice that any energy system — renewable, fossil, or nuclear, will ber owned by small businesses because the capital requirements will simply be too large. A large windfarm (more likely, a series of interconnected large windfarms, tidal facilites, geothermal stations and associated energy storage facilities, power lines and transformers) will not cost less than an equivalent nuclear power complex. Large companies are at least as likely to own these, if they are profitable, as nuclear power plants. It is of course possible for the state to own nuclear power plants and to licence operators to run them according to a set of performance standards.

    The hard reality is that in practice renewables are most unlikely to be able to supply the energy at scale the world needs for people everywhere to have access to the basics of life — quality housing and shelter, clothing, clean water, food, transport and communication, medicine, education etc. The gap between what renewables can deliver at acceptable cost and the demand implicit in even 7 billion people (of which at least 3-4 are short on the above list) must be filled by something. It will be filled by coal, or something else, because the installed cost of delivering renewables to those 3-4 billion people exceeds the financial capacity and/or the political willingness of the wealthiest 3 billion to transfer. And if coal fills it, not only are we in serious trouble, but we are likely by 2100 to start running short even of that, and trhen we have the basis for a really serious resources war.

  50. conrad
    September 6th, 2009 at 15:04 | #50

    Salient Green: “Organic farming is the best alternative, not ‘worse’”
    As far as I’m concerned, anything with lower yields is worse, since it means that yet more land will be needed to meet demand. You might think that, for example, a chicken farm is bad, but I think having the same number of chickens on much more land is worse. Of course, you might also argue
    a) that people might care about the animals more if they knew what happened to them — but that seems unlikely to me. Most of the world is used to seeing chickens get their heads cut off etc. and it doesn’t bother them. It’s only Western countries where meat is all nicely packaged. The “this is what it looks like tactic” might work for a while, but people would soon habituate (all the PETA people have been using it for years, with no success). Do you think most people care when they see road kill ?
    b) that people might also eat less meat if farmers were forced to use organic farming and hence meat became more expensive — but I can’t see any government doing that, especially not those that count, like China. Indeed, I’m surprised how quickly the populace there has taken to meat (and dairy products), and the government there is not exactly going to try to stop the trend. You can also look at Europe as an example here too, where meat really is expensive due to import restrictions. One of the fun things you can do is go to the supermarket and look at the permanently-empty “New Zealand” lamb section (it’s half the price of the German stuff). Given this, it’s pretty clear to me that even people who already have a lot of meat in their diet often want to eat more, let alone those that don’t.
    Given these sorts of concerns, thinking of ways to make farms more efficient seems like a good idea to me. Just telling people or trying to shock them into eating less is going to be a failure.

  51. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 15:29 | #51

    Struth John, did you know that a former nuclear power plant engineer, Andrew Siemaszko, was sentenced to three years probation and fined $4,500 for misleading regulators in 2001 so as to delay a safety inspection at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant and cover up the worst corrosion ever found at a U.S. reactor. Inspectors later found an acid leak that nearly ate through the reactor’s 6-inch-thick steel cap. That was a close call.

  52. Fran Barlow
    September 6th, 2009 at 15:55 | #52


    Given the economic failure of nuclear power, any nuclear supporter needs to advocate a high carbon price, […]

    There are a couple of problems with this claim John. Firstly, all alternative sources of energy supply to coal and oil need a high carbon price, principally because those that produce energy by burning carbon get the benefit of a massive externality — the right to dump their effluent into the biosphere for free. All of the costs to the commons — the measurable harm and the unliquidated but very real prospective harm is paid for by the commons at large. Not only the actual and prospective costs of climate change, but the health costs to coalminers and their families, to people along the routes where coal is trasnported, and of course those within the footprint of coal-fired power stations who suffer from injuries associated with elevated levels of radioactivity, mercury, SO2 etc are paid for every day by somebody else. Every person who sufferes from the breakdown products emitted froim car exhausts too, and all those lost working days and all of the consequences of configuring cities based on cheap petrol, the costs of maintaining armed forces in the middle east — all of that is paid for other than by the suppliwers of these energy sources. If they had to put this cost into their energy supply, all non-fossil sources of energy would look cheap by comparison. Not the least of the costs borne by operators of nuclear power plants is the cost of sequestering the hazardous materials their production produces. And yet by volume and by area of dispersion, it is a tiny fraction of the size of the effluent from fossil fuel combustion.

    I might also add that much of the cost of nuclear power lies in the relatively high installed cost of the plants, but this largely reflects the costs of single project design. To use an analogy, if everyone whoi wanted a car had to go to an engineering firm and have them custom design one, not only would there be far fewer cars on the road, but they’d be orders of magnitude more expensive. Buying replacement components would be hideously expensive, and you’d probably have to keep masses of redundant parts in your garage so that the handful of people qualified to replace those that broke could keep demurrage to a minimum. If you had to pay up front then debt service costs would be very large, and if the government insisted on safety certifying every component before the final build was approved as you built it onsite, and you had to pay for that, then it would be more expensive still.

    That, in a sense, is what happens with nuclear plants. Mass manufacturing of components and modular design would radically lower build costs, probably boost reliability, shrink build times and lower debt service. Ye even as things stand, it’s still cheaper per unit of delivered power to build standard LWRs than wind farms. Nuclear can be built for around $US2500-3000 per Kw which, at 85% CF works out at about $3500per Kw. Wind, assuming a fairly high CF of 35% and an installed cost of about $US1600per Kw works out at about $4500 per Kw. Wind of course has to be placed where wind actually is fairly constant, so one has to include the costs of transmission to a grid unless the system is purely stand alone. Nuclear can be sited to take advantage of proximity to the grid.

  53. Jill Rush
    September 6th, 2009 at 15:58 | #53

    Hi Fran,
    In your unpacking there were a few zips left unopened. Whilst Iran could have tried a 1950’s ploy it would not have left too many doubts as to the real intention. A power plant leaves a little more room to manoeuvre.

    It is touching to see your faith in the security system for power plants. I am a little more cautious now I know that there are significant risks as a result of “risk assessments” and privatisation of security of many previously secure facilities. An attack on a sporting event would be a terrible thing but it wouldn’t leave the whole economy in tatters plus the long term doubt in people’s minds about how their health in the future would be impacted.

    What I didn’t mention was the embedded energy in construction, the costs of decommissioning and the long term storage costs of nuclear energy and the fact that we have no way of being able to ensure these things into the future as no society has ever had the kind of stability required.

    I didn’t examine those things you mention because whilst no country can stop another acquiring nuclear weapons it is not a sound proposition that the more that have weapons the less likely they are to be used. Examining this argument in the context of the number of guns owned in the USA shows it is flawed thinking. The more there are, the more likely they are to be used as there is a greater chance of a nutcase being in charge of one.

    It does make a difference as to whether control is at the local or overseas level as at the local level there are local controls. Multinational corporations will not operate for the benefit of people in a region but for the corporation with little regard for affordability, sustainability or suitability. The error you make is to assume that profit will be at the same level whether it is local or multinational. Monopolies however are far more likely to have large profits than small firms which must be more responsive to the marketplace.

    The hard reality is that whilst there are big companies demanding nuclear power (or to maintain coal fired energy), alternatives such as solar are starved of development funds and companies are being forced to go overseas for funding and taking talent with them. This is a serious future cost to the nation. There have been considerable advances in solar and geothermal energy despite the lack of funding. The problems with sustainable energy are far less significant than those of nuclear energy but nuclear offers far greater control to those large firms that stand to benefit. And no peasant economy could ever hope to install a small nuclear power plant whereas they probably could have a wind and solar turbine to power light, cooking and internet access at an affordable cost. This would be a significant economic loss to those firms who feel that they have a right to certain kinds of profit.

    However, there is no benefit to the planet by solving one problem through creating even more problems for future generations and what is required is a little less of business as usual so we can solve the problems for the planet’s benefit.

  54. Fran Barlow
    September 6th, 2009 at 16:47 | #54

    @Jill Rush

    An attack on a sporting event would be a terrible thing but it wouldn’t leave the whole economy in tatters …

    9/11 certainly did harm the US quite seriously, and indeed, still sits in the minds of many. It was the excuse for nearly a trillion dollarss of war on terror spending. It royally screwed tourism and the airline industry. If that’s not a blow, it’s hard to know what would be.

    What I didn’t mention was the embedded energy in construction, the costs of decommissioning and the long term storage costs of nuclear energy and the fact that we have no way of being able to ensure these things into the future as no society has ever had the kind of stability required.

    This is called a FUD attack — fear, uncertainty and doubt. It would be well worth your while to have a look at David Mackay’s discussion on this. The volumes of waste we are discussion are tiny and can easily be sequestered from human contact. Certainly, they are nothing in comparison to the waste that will certainly follow from coal combusiton, which is inevitable if we await renewables to replace it. It is also doubtful if the embedded energy costs of nuclear are greater than the embedded energy cost of wind turbines and roads and copper cable. Do you have any actual numbers?

    The hard reality is that whilst there are big companies demanding nuclear power (or to maintain coal fired energy), alternatives such as solar are starved of development funds and companies are being forced to go overseas for funding and taking talent with them.

    The even harder reality is that if we do not get nuclear then over the next 15 years about half of Australia’s coal plants (most in the southeastern part of Australia) will be replaced or upgraded and then the sunk cost implications will ensure they get at least 40 years protection from closure. Hazlewood — one of the world’s dirtiest plants – responsible on its own for 5% of Australia’s GHGs has just been licenced until 2031 by Brumby. No amount of support for renewable R&D can change that.

    no peasant economy could ever hope to install a small nuclear power plant whereas they probably could have a wind and solar turbine to power light, cooking and internet access at an affordable cost.

    Check out hyperion. Safe, secure and capable of being funded through MDG. No grid link needed. No waste residue.

    What you need to show is how renewables can do the job of decarbonising as quickly as nuclear can in practice. In some places, renewables can make a great contribution, and in a hurry too, but in many places, it’s simply a forlorn piece of handwaving.

  55. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 16:48 | #55

    Fran Barlow, what has changed since 1985 when Forbes called the nuclear industry “the largest managerial disaster in history” that makes nuclear technology so appealing today? My understanding is that at best nuclear energy can only reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by about 2%.

  56. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 6th, 2009 at 17:52 | #56

    JQ – in Australia the biggest advocate for Integral Fast Reactors is Barry Brook. He is not a AGW skeptic. Quite the opposite in fact.

    His blog is here:-


  57. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 6th, 2009 at 18:11 | #57

    An extract from his blog:-

    Professor Barry Brook holds the Foundation Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and is Director of Climate Science at The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide.

    He has published two books and over 140 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and regularly writes opinion pieces and popular articles for the media. He has received a number of distinguished awards in recognition of his research excellence, which addresses the topics of climate change, computational and statistical modelling and the synergies between human impacts on Earth systems.

    He thinks AGW is a serious threat to humanity. He also seems to spend a fair bit of time attacking the views of people such as Ian Plimer. So he is pretty much onside with your views on AGW.

    Here is an article (one of many) by Barry Brook on the Integral Fast Reactor topic:-


    The Intro:-

    It seems like something that only a crazed conspiracy theorist would come up with. A source of carbon-free energy that holds the potential to provide base load power for the planet for thousands of years hence, and which could be built along the existing transmission grid and even be housed within retrofitted coal-fired power stations. A process that could eat existing nuclear waste instead of needing to store it in highly secure vaults such as Yucca Mountain for hundreds of millennia. A technology that enjoyed large investments in R&D by government, only to have the funding zeroed for political reasons when close to large-scale demonstration — and then the scientists involved told not to publicise this fact. Well that, in caricature, is the basic story of Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) nuclear power.


  58. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 6th, 2009 at 18:13 | #58

    p.s. And James Hansen pretty much shares his position on this issue.

  59. Glenn Tamblyn
    September 6th, 2009 at 18:39 | #59

    @Dan Pangburn


    I am a mechanical Engineer as well, although a lot of my career has been spent in Engineering related IT. I have always had a keen interest in science.

    There are far better sources for rebutting/debating your views but one of the most important is the very climate scientists themselves. This is why realclimate.org and tamino are such good sources. You have views about what you think the data you have researched means. Please go and see what other people think it means. In particular people for whom understanding and analysing climate science and science data is their profession. You and I as Mechanical Engineers are not well qualified to make good judgements about these subjects precisely because our training leads us to think we do have enough knowledge to form good opinions. As the old saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    Having read the document you referred to let me point out several obvious flaws.
    I will assume that your views are well intentioned but perhaps not well informed. However I must point out that many of the arguments you make match many of the standard Climate Change Denialist arguments. And they have all been thoroughly shot down by the climate science community.

    Firstly, 1998 and the climate has not got warmer ever since, maybe even cooled. Why 1998? Because it was one of the most powerful El Nino events ever recorded. And El Nino events have the effect of warming significant parts of the lower atmosphere. Note I did not say the climate, I said the lower atmosphere. There is a body of research, although not conclusive yet, that major El Nino events can have an effect on atmospheric temparetaures for several years. Also near then end of this period we had a significant La Nina which has the opposite effect.

    Next, what data set is this based on. All of the major data sources have a problem handling coverage of temperatures from the Arctic ocean since there has been little broad sensor coverage of this area. Different data sets handle this in different ways but all will tend to underestimate global warming in recent years since they do not adequately measure the recent warming in the Arctic

    And you are correct, the solar susnspot cycle is at a minimum right now, so warming will tend to diminsh over that period. Not because CO2 doesn’t cause it but because the output from the Sun drops off a tiny fraction. It is likely that as the sunspot cycle turns up again solar output will rise slightly

    Next in referring to temperatures since 1998, you talk about what happened this year or that. Who cares. Climate Change is not weather. It is the long term average of weather. And long term means that averages over periods of 5 to 10 years are the MINUMUM level of detail you look at. Year by year variability is background noise ‘the sloshing around of weather’. Coupled with a range of natural cycles other than ENSO (El Nino/La Nana) which have periods of a decade or more.

    Next, you look at long term data and the lag between Temperature and CO2 during past ice ages. This is not in dispute. But your conclusion is wrong. Ice Ages are believed to be triggered by long term variation in the Earths orbit that result in small variations in how much solar energy reaches Earth. Then the CO2 and other green house gases particularly Methane kick in to amplify the effect. Then water vapour levels in the atmosphere amplify this even further. So in this context of course CO2 lags the temperature change
    . The initial small change is due to small orbital changes. Then CO2 act as a feedback to modify it. You seem to assume that any feedback will be rapid. But if the initial perturbation is small and slow, and if it is the slow temperature change due to that perturbation that drives the release
    of CO2 then the CO2 feedback will also be slow. However, in our current situation, the perturbation that is casing CO2 levels to rise is anything but slow. We are digging the stuff up, burning it and releasing it into the atmosphere at a blinding pace. You aren’t comparing apples with apples.

    Next point, as for evidence of warming. It has not stopped since 1998 anyway. Changes in heat content in the atmosphere are really a side show. Since we have had reasonably reliable data from around 1960, the key environmental change has been the increase in the heat content of the oceans. Over 90% of all the heating that has occurred since around 1960 has been in the oceans – we don’t have data for before then. You are an engineer, you understand about the much greater specific heat of water. Well total heating of all components of the environment is estimated at 15.9 * 10^22 Joules – that around 2.5 billion Hiroshima bombs. Most of that is heating of the oceans. Source, the synthesis report from the March 09 climate change Conference in Copenhagen.

    Please Dan

    Take what you believe you have found from your research and critique it by comparing it to what the professionals have done. All the points you have raised have been addressed very thoroughly within the climate science community through the correct processes of peer review.

    The very real debates about climate change are not well served by individuals going over old ground that others have already covered. Whether by intent or not, it muddies the waters. And we can’t afford the terrible cost of the delay that triggers.

  60. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 18:53 | #60

    TerjeP (say tay-a), I’m a bit thick and slow these days but can you answer one question for me, do IFR’s produce weapons-grade plutonium?

  61. Donald Oats
    September 6th, 2009 at 19:01 | #61

    So long as the IFR are first built in and around Canberra…that should ensure no risk factor is left unconsidered 🙂 And if one fails catastrophically during a parliamentary sitting, what’s the harm in that?

    Seriously, people shouldn’t downplay the risks in dealing with something like nuclear waste; think asbestos to see what a mess up humans can make of something if they focus too narrowly on money. If risks are considered properly then nuclear power is definitely a prospect in Australia. However, finding sites will be an interesting political exercise, to say the least. Personally, I vastly prefer putting money into wind and solar, and into improved use of energy at the household level, than chucking it at nuclear. The risk I see is that Australia adopts a nuclear + CCS strategy and loses interest in wind and solar.

    Dan, no doubt some climate scientists are untrained in control theory, but plenty of the more mathematically inclined ones are perfectly aware of techniques from control theory. Even laypersons such as myself have formally studied control theory and optimal control theory. I’m pretty sure that Pr Q and other economists have a familiarity with such heady stuff as stochastic dynamic programming and variational methods for optimisation, take your pick. Dan, so what? It’s not a magic bullet to understanding the world.

  62. September 6th, 2009 at 19:25 | #62

    Michael of Summer Hill — no, they do not produce weapons-grade plutonium. Indeed, it is not possible to separate Pu (any isotope) from the minor actinides using the pyroprocessing technology used in reprocessing IFR fuel, let alone to produce an isotopically pure 239-Pu stream required for weapons production.

  63. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 19:33 | #63

    I thank you for joining in Professor Barry Brook but where is the evidence to say it can’t be done?

  64. September 6th, 2009 at 20:02 | #64

    To have any chance of producing weapons-usable material, one would need to run the reactor on a short-cycle and then build a heavily shielded offsite PUREX facility. Both are easily detectable and would ring the proliferation alarm bells. Neither fit the definition of an IFR, and there are plenty of simpler routes if a nation state was to choose this path (U-enrichment, small research reactors).

  65. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 20:07 | #65

    Barry Brook, correct but if I’m not mistaken it is still only an extra chemical separation step required and that is the problem.

  66. September 6th, 2009 at 20:18 | #66

    The problem with what? Nuclear technology, uranium enrichment, research reactors or?

  67. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 20:21 | #67

    Professor Brooks, we are both reading the same text.

  68. Jill Rush
    September 6th, 2009 at 20:33 | #68

    I am not sure how to take your arguments in that you seem to have zipped off to another dimension. To argue that the events of 9/11 are similar to a sporting match is strange. It was seen as an attack on an icon of capitalism by others and not a football in sight and affords no protection to nuclear energy facilities.

    You then go on to argue that many coal fired power stations will be closing in the next 15 years. I was under the impression that the lead time for a nuclear power station was even longer than this – that is if you could find a community happy to house it- although Donald Oats suggestion that the first nuclear power station lights up Canberra is a good one. So, the harder reality won’t benefit from your preferred option as something quicker is required. Barry Brook provides good reasons as to why we should be thoroughly investigating other options. Whilst he argues that enrichment facilities would be easily detectable I recall the search for weapons of mass destruction and the impotence of other nations to prevent Nth Korea developing nuclear weapons. Nuclear energy should really be seen as a least preferred option for many good reasons. It is a genie which will be impossible to bottle once it is out and in the hands of the mad, bad and sad.

  69. Ernestine Gross
    September 6th, 2009 at 20:39 | #69

    Fran Barlow @2 and 4, page 2

    I am a little familiar with your FUD counter argument. It is not new. It has been used by the aviation industry in Sydney and elsewhere when people complained about air and noise pollution.

    Similarly, your focus on production costs (investment) belongs to the said management strategy.

    John Quiggin’s point is spot on. Given the economic failure (ie once all negative externalities are taken into account), supporters of the nuclear industry will have to advocate a carbon price. I’d like to add in the belief they will pull the wool over people’s eyes.

    There has been a lengthy discussion on this blog on the negative externalities of the nueclear power industry, supported by empirical evidence. Essentially, the costs are not amenable to measurement in monetary terms. No other industry is in this predicament, not even coal and other fossil fuels.

  70. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 20:59 | #70

    Professor Brook, if Leslie Burris 1993 conclusion is correct and an offending State only needs seven weeks to produce plutonium then that is cause for concern.

  71. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 6th, 2009 at 21:05 | #71

    Seriously, people shouldn’t downplay the risks in dealing with something like nuclear waste; think asbestos to see what a mess up humans can make of something if they focus too narrowly on money.

    The attractive thing about Integral Fast Reactors is that they can be fueled from existing stock piles of nuclear waste. In other words the more of them we have and the more we fuel them with nuclear waste the less nuclear waste we will have. At least this will be the case for about 700 years until we start to deplete our stock piles of nuclear waste. Integral Fast Reactors can be part of the nuclear waste solution even whilst providing the world with electricity for centuries to come.

  72. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 6th, 2009 at 21:11 | #72

    MoSH – the easy solution to your concern (perhaps not the best solution) is to ramp up the use of Integral Fast Reactors only in countries that are already nuclear. This still covers a heck of a lot of ground in terms of reducing CO2 emissions. And so long as the IFRs are burning up nuclear waste they are making us all safer from nuclear threats.

  73. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 6th, 2009 at 21:12 | #73

    TerjeP (say tay-a), when you come up with something sensible I wil answer it.

  74. Fran Barlow
    September 6th, 2009 at 21:39 | #74

    @Ernestine Gross

    1. Fairly obviously, I am advocating a carbon price — about $100 per tonne. I’d do that even if I weren’t advocating nuclear power as part of the mix.

    2. What ‘externalities’ with nuclear power? The nuclear power industry internalises all of its costs.

  75. Fran Barlow
    September 6th, 2009 at 22:57 | #75

    @Jill Rush

    To argue that the events of 9/11 are similar to a sporting match is strange.

    It was apt as you claimed that only an attack on a nuclear power plant could wreck the economy.

    You then go on to argue that many coal fired power stations will be closing in the next 15 years. I was under the impression that the lead time for a nuclear power station was even longer than this

    The typical lead time for a nuclear power plant is 7-10 years. Of course, there’s no reason in principal why it should take more than five years, even allowing for a robust EIS clearance. Modularisation of construction could shrink this further.

    I recall the search for weapons of mass destruction […]

    If you do, you will recall that there weren’t any.

    […] and the impotence of other nations to prevent Nth Korea developing nuclear weapons.

    That would be true whether we had nuclear power or not. If someone is really determined to acquire this capacity, having a nuclear power program is a costly and cumbersome way to go about it.

    Nuclear energy […] is a genie which will be impossible to bottle once it is out …

    Too late. It is already out, and now we should respond to this reality. It is the single most cost-effective way to ensure ubiquitous reductions in CO2 emissions.

  76. Fran Barlow
    September 6th, 2009 at 22:59 | #76

    Apologies for overlooking the end blockquotes tag …

  77. September 6th, 2009 at 23:38 | #77

    James Hansen is interviewed in the following, soon to be released movie – his comments re. Steve McIntyre are priceless –

  78. Jill Rush
    September 6th, 2009 at 23:50 | #78

    It appears that when others raise issues of genuine fear, genuine uncertainty and reasonable doubt (FUD) you respond by misrepresentation, insistence, stridency, supposition, errors and defiance otherwise known as MISSED the point. It’s a new theory but I commend it to you.

  79. Michael of Summer Hill
    September 7th, 2009 at 06:16 | #79

    John, yesterday I mentioned Leslie Burris concern’s about rogue States using IFR to produce plutonium in seven weeks. What concerns me is that if it is only the PUREX (aqueous) reprocessing required for cycling plutonium back into thermal reactors that produces chemically pure plutonium, then it disingenuous for anyone to claim that ‘It’s impossible to handle for weapons and/or for someone to make a weapon’.

  80. Fran Barlow
    September 7th, 2009 at 07:10 | #80

    @Jill Rush

    Jill, you say:

    It appears that when others raise issues of genuine fear, genuine uncertainty and reasonable doubt (FUD) you respond by misrepresentation, insistence, stridency, supposition, errors and defiance […]

    Yet you specify not one example of misrepresentation, insistence, stridency, supposition or error by me. Why is that? And defiance???? What entitles you to the submission of others?

    I note also that while your fear may well be genuine, it’s not based on anything in your posts that could be called reasonable doubt and your uncertainty simply reflects a disinclination to avail yourself of the material that could clarify matters.

    I’m not sure what your game is, but I doubt you are as you claim.

  81. Fran Barlow
    September 7th, 2009 at 07:14 | #81

    @Jennifer Marohasy re: pro-pollution-as-usual spam

    Ms Marohasy — why are you spamming the blogosphere with this polluter-driven nonsense? Not content with running this on your own site, you’ve hit Larvatus Prodeo and Deltoid too.

  82. Hermit
    September 7th, 2009 at 07:51 | #82

    Those who think that wind and solar can displace coal burning should look at the evidence. Despite strongly favourable policies countries like Spain, Germany and Denmark are unable to expand production or reduce CO2 at affordable cost. In Australia wind and solar are minor and show no signs of entering the big league. Experimental energy sources like wave and geothermal are bogged down. Therefore you must ask what can possibly displace coal to the tune of say 20 gigawatts continuous equivalent. The answer is either gas fired generation or nuclear. Since politicians follow a path of least resistance I suspect we will go the gas route. Though perhaps taking longer we will then repeat the unhappy experiences of the UK with its North Sea gas reserves.

    I suggest the medium term alternatives Australia now faces are more coal burning, a temporary gas fix, nuclear power or economic contraction.

  83. nanks
    September 7th, 2009 at 08:00 | #83

    some nostalgia
    How did that work out?

  84. Salient Green
    September 7th, 2009 at 08:39 | #84

    I can’t help but notice that some of the largest solar installations in progress or planned around the world are of the Photovoltaic type. It seems people are saying hang the initial expense, it is more than compensated for by the elegant simplicity of PV. It is scalable to almost any sized area, uses otherwise wasted space, almost maintenance free, set and forget, upgradable, dependable, not toxic, non threatening, long life and feel good.

    PV is far from mature and that sort of investment has got to speed it’s evolution. Household storage of solar power is a minor thing compared with the storage required for transport which is pretty much doable. Other storage technologies are being worked on such as zinc-air, flow batteries, hydrogen, and once again, although expensive, will be attractive for their elegant simplicity. In the powered down, less industrialised society of the future, which it will be, renewables should be adequate.

  85. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 7th, 2009 at 08:43 | #85

    MoSH – I’m not trying to dismiss your concerns about nuclear weapons. I think nuclear weapons in the wrong hands (and even in the right hands) represent a terrible threat. However I’m not pursuaded that banning fast breeders like IFR makes us safer. In fact given that they create a commercial use for the existing stockpiles of plutonium I think they’d possibly help to keep plutonium stocks out of the wrong hands. At the moment the only significant alternate use for plutonium is in bomb making and we have several hundred tons of the stuff sitting in storage. Given that we can turn it into bombs, store it, or turn it into cheap electricity, I think the latter is the best options.

  86. jquiggin
    September 7th, 2009 at 08:53 | #86

    @Jennifer Marohasy
    I returned the favor with a link at your site, pointing out that talk of a DDT ban represents a silly/dishonest conflation of the actual ban on agricultural use, supported by all those concerned with disease control, with the non-existent ban on antimalarial use invented by Milloy, Bate and others and a staple of rightwing propaganda until relatively recently.

  87. Alice
    September 7th, 2009 at 09:01 | #87

    Priceless JQ….As Fran noted above I dont know why we get that sort of non useful spamming in here either. Things must be quiet in Maroville…

  88. Donald Oats
    September 7th, 2009 at 09:02 | #88

    @Salient Green
    I agree, Salient Green. My two comparison products are the mobile phone (GSM onwards) and the personal computer. Each have gone through several major generations and countless minor ones. Both are technologically complex and required solid research investment to get going. Both were initially unwieldy (motorola brick, sat phones, and the Osborne “portable” computer – Ha!) but quickly morphed into the indespensable devices they are today. Both technology-reliant products had to get to about the third major product cycle before gaining widespread acceptance. Both have had an exponential growth curve. Both have taken an entire human generation to achieve world domination.

    PV solar is a similar beast in that it requires ongoing research to fulfil its potential. PV solar is already a commercially viable product; what it needs now is a bit of a push to get further along the exponential growth curve. Then the research will be well and truly funded by corporations rather than a hodge-podge of university and government grants, venture capital and individual entrepaneurs.

    It’s not a shortage of ideas that holds solar PV back – at least three major developments are well beyond proof of concept – but the continual mucking around by governments in the way they play to other false-competitors, such as CCS, muddies the water so much that even venture capital can be scared off.

    Now before anyone goes “Nuclear IFR! is the answer, Don!” I think we should all be well aware of what’s at stake. I mean, the Flinders Ranges just get in the road of the view ‘n’ all, but mining there is probably a bit much to take.

    As for CCS, check out “Four Corners” tonight on the ABC. They give us the dirty on clean coal and carbon sesquestration.

  89. Salient Green
    September 7th, 2009 at 09:21 | #89

    Donald, yes, if it was a simple question of IFR or coal, the IFR would easlily win but it’s far from being that simple. PV has a long way to go and part of that journey includes storage but it has a huge headstart on IVgen nuclear, not to mention a smoother path.

  90. Fran Barlow
    September 7th, 2009 at 09:26 | #90

    @Donald Oats [38] CCS

    As for CCS, check out “Four Corners” tonight on the ABC. They give us the dirty on clean coal and carbon sequestration.

    CCS should stand for Clean Coal Scam. As PR, it’s understandable, but really, given that it can’t work this side of a CO2 price of $100 per tonne, a price nobody making policy is toying with …

    The other bizarre thing is that when people object to nuclear power they often say the “waste” has to be managed for 50,000 years. That’s of course an order of magniture and then some too large, even for the small volume of most hazardous material — about 1000 years is closer to the mark. But how long do they think CO2 buried in acquifers @ 650 + bar pressure has to be stored securely? Effectively, forever, and unlike with radioactive hazmat, which will simply sit wherever we put it, any flaw in the containment could trigger sudden release. Anyone who wants to see what would happen in such a circumstance should google Lake Nyos.

    At 9:30 p.m. on August 21, 1986, a cloudy mixture of carbon dioxide (CO2) and water droplets rose violently from Lake Nyos, Cameroon. As the lethal mist swept down adjacent valleys, it killed over 1700 people, thousands of cattle, and many more birds and animals. Local villagers attributed the catastrophe to the wrath of a spirit woman of local folklore who inhabits the lakes and rivers. Scientists, on the other hand, were initially puzzled by the root cause, and by the abrupt onset, of this mysterious and tragic event. […]

    The CO2-rich cloud was expelled rapidly from the southern floor of Lake Nyos. It rose as a jet with a speed of about 100 km per hour. The cloud quickly enveloped houses within the crater that were 120 meters above the shoreline of the lake. Because CO2 is about 1.5 times the density of air, the gaseous mass hugged the ground surface and descended down valleys along the north side of the crater. The deadly cloud was about 50 meters thick and it advanced downslope at a rate of 20 to 50 km per hour. This deadly mist persisted in a concentrated form over a distance of 23 km, bringing sudden death to the villages of Nyos, Kam, Cha, and Subum.

    People often express fear of living near a nuclear plant, but I wonder how keen people would be to live near a carbon dioxide sequestration point containing massively compressed CO2 in volumes that make Lake Nyos, Cameroon or Lake Monoun appear trivial?

  91. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 7th, 2009 at 10:23 | #91

    Donald – you should not conflate problems with uranium mining and Integral Fast Reactors. IFRs can be powered by existing stockpiles of nuclear waste. You could roll out IFRs on a massive scale even whilst banning all new uranium mines. If we use nuclear waste (eg basically so called depleted uranium and plutonium from decomissioned weapons) we could power the planet for 700 years before we need to consider another mine.

    You can support a ban on uranium mining and support large scale deployment of IFRs without any inconsistency. You may not like the IFR option but don’t throw mud in the water.

  92. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 7th, 2009 at 10:32 | #92

    Fran – my understanding is that the nuclear waste from an IFR is relatively low risk and needs only 300 years of management. Still a tall order but given that the input fuel (existing nuclear waste) is an existing management nightmare it is a massive improvement on leaving existing nuclear waste in storage. A technology that takes a very big bad problem and converts it into a medium sized problem is a wonderful thing – especially if it also gives you cheap, zero carbon electricity in the process.

  93. Fran Barlow
    September 7th, 2009 at 10:57 | #93

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    my understanding is that the nuclear waste from an IFR is relatively low risk and needs only 300 years of management

    That’s as I understand it too, but I was discussing waste from the more typical LWRs. See for example Mackay pp 169-170


  94. Donald Oats
    September 7th, 2009 at 11:03 | #94

    I’m quite open about the fact that my personal preference is to avoid nuclear power, just as I’ve made clear that I’m fairly certain it will become part of Australia’s future power generation capability. I don’t think that I’m throwing mud in the water to suggest that nuclear power generation also implies uranium mining. Technically it is unnecessary as you point out, Terje, and as you state they are two separate issues, at least logically; however the policies of whatever government is in power are likely to link the two items together.

    Anyway, if people accept the risks and costs associated with establishing widespread use of nuclear power – IFR or other – and if they accept the environmental costs of large scale uranium mining, then nuclear power and uranium mining we shall have in spades.

    Meanwhile, South Australia has gone quite some way to wind-generated electricity. By the end of 2009 SA should have approximately 20% of its power provided by wind (and no, that is not nameplate capacity, that is actual power). The grid hasn’t collapsed yet. Thumbs up Rann.

  95. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 7th, 2009 at 11:12 | #95

    Thanks Donald. Personally I don’t think Australia should go nuclear any time soon either. I think those nations that are already nuclear should go to IFR technology and then scale up. We should burn coal and adopt other technologies as and when cost permits. We are not big enough to matter much either way.

  96. Fran Barlow
    September 7th, 2009 at 11:33 | #96

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    I think that whatever we do, we here in Australia must stop burning coal for electricity ASAP, and not merely because of a desire to participate in CO2 emissions abatement but as a basic health measure and in order to abate the damge to the oceans.

  97. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    September 7th, 2009 at 11:52 | #97

    Fran – I suffer from a possible perceived bias in any such discussion because as of 12 months ago most of my personal income is now derived from the coal mining industry (it hasn’t stopped me promoting nuclear). Having said that I’ll plough on anyway.

    Independent from CO2 emissions how does Australia burning coal impact on our oceans?

  98. Fran Barlow
    September 7th, 2009 at 12:53 | #98

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    Deposition of SO2, mercury, PM, radon etc. Also, CO2 emissions are not merely about AGW but about making the seas more acidic.

  99. iain
    September 7th, 2009 at 12:57 | #99

    Jennfier Marohasy,

    Obviously “comments” by James Hansen re: Steve McIntyre (whatever that means) completely invalidate all of Hansen’s reasearch, and remove all possibility of AGW being correct.

  100. Fran Barlow
    September 7th, 2009 at 12:59 | #100

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    PS … kudos to you for the disclosure of pecuniary interest. Nevertheless, in the interests of human wellbeing, I’m hoping to truncate your longterm income from this source!

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