Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Go Nuke!


WIRED has an incendiary cover story in which they declare: "Winning the war on global warming requires slaughtering some of environmentalism's sacred cows." Go Nuke, Keep your SUV, Screw the Spotted Owl, Forget Organics. LINK

A nice counterpoint by Alex Steffan (LINK) essentially says that WIRED misses the point that global warming is emblematic of larger cultural problems. Even if we said, "forget everything else; we're going to solve global warming, whatever it takes," we'd still be in trouble. The sort of "War on Carbon" approach that WIRED so simplistically offers does little to take into account the complexity of the problem. What it ironically also misses is the very aspect of human creativity that WIRED has been at the forefront of espousing: the creative energy of thousands of technologists and entrepreneurs working separately and collectively to invent new solutions.

For example, the only way I can see of implementing a WIRED "Go Nuke" energy plan is through a Soviet (or French) top-down, big business approach. Because that's how you get nukes to work. They are big energy projects, so very different from the decentralized and diverse solutions being offering by the green technologists and their venture capital backers that WIRED would normally trumpet. The undercurrent to the nuclear lobby is the belief that "if it weren't for those hippies" this country would be able to implement the solution that has already been discovered. It's an approach that couldn't be further from the entrepreneurial culture which the New Economy represents--and upon which WIRED is based. Where would solar be today if it had the sort of patriotic funding and support that the nuclear industry has enjoyed?

Perhaps closer to the spirit that is needed is WIRED's comparison between buying a Prius and hanging on to an old car. The argument is that the Prius may consume less fuel, but making and delivering that new car will always put it at a disadvantage, in terms of carbon footprint, compared to an existing vehicle, even an SUV.

An example of the lack of appreciation for complexity in the article is evidenced by the declaration that air conditioning is ok. They argue that it's dramatically more energy efficient to live in a warm climate, where you need air conditioning part of the year, than it is to live in a climate like New England where you have to turn on the heat in the winter. That makes lots of sense. But the comparison should also discuss the carbon footprint of a small town in New England, where I live, versus the cost of suburban sprawl in a place like Phoenix. How much carbon does the average person in Phoenix produce because the built environment is not suited to a post petroleum economy? I suspect that New England doesn't come out ahead, but I'd like to know. Somewhere I saw what looked like a good map showing how carbon footprint varies across the United States but can't find it now.

Update. My points above emphasized: "In 2007, decentralized renewables worldwide attracted $71 billion in private capital. Nuclear got zero. Why? Economics." Amory Lovins in World Changing LINK
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