Against the carbon tax fad

With the emergence of Extinction Rebellion, climate change discussions in debates, and other trends, climate change has become an object of public inquiry. One popular avenue of "climate change mitigation" is the carbon tax.

The standard reasoning behind the carbon tax as a vehicle for climate change mitigation is given by Alan Thornett in his book Facing The Apocalypse: Arguments for Ecosocialism:

Energy producers would indeed pass carbon taxes on to their customers, and the price would go up -- in the end that is what reduces demand. (p. 103)

It's this logic I wish to challenge here. The assumption behind it is that we're all consuming fossil fuels by choice, because they're cheap, and that we wouldn't consume fossil fuels if they weren't affordable. But we don't consume fossil fuels by choice! For the most part, global fossil fuel consumption is "locked in" -- people don't have the money to buy electric cars, and so they drive to work in their fossil-burning ones. There are of course other ways in which fossil fuel consumption is "locked in," amounting to nearly all carbon consumption. The way to reducing carbon consumption, then, is to reduce that portion of carbon consumption that is "locked in," by creating a new infrastructure. That's the real solution. The carbon tax, in this regard, is at best a nuisance, and at worst an owning-class pseudo-solution.

A carbon tax would effective in mitigating climate change to the extent to which it screws the working class out of the ability to drive to work in fossil-fueled cars. A carbon tax which only limits "optional" carbon consumption is ineffective because "optional" carbon consumption is too little of the sum total. So carbon taxes must become high enough to make it impossible for the owners of carbon-burning vehicles to use them to get to work. The ability of such taxes to force people to stop driving is the measure of their effectiveness, regardless of what reasons they may have for driving said vehicles. But nobody is going to say "I think I'll voluntarily limit my consumption of fossil fuels by not driving to work, so instead, I'll live on the streets and beg for a living because I will be consuming less carbon that way." The prohibitive carbon tax, intending to make carbon consumption unaffordable, tries to make such statements mandatory, getting people to say "carbon consumption is unaffordable, so I will live on the streets and beg for a living." A society of beggars would consume less carbon, no?

Now, the advocates of a climate tax have begun to recognize the regressive nature of their proposals, and so many of them have begun to endorse a "fee-and-dividend" approach, including most prominently James Hansen and the Citizens' Climate Lobby. We mitigate climate change and everyone gets some money back. Win-win, right?

The problem with such logic is that the ability of such a tax to prohibit people from consuming carbon interferes with its ability to provide a dividend for public consumption. A low tax might provide a bit of money for the working class, but how do you all know that we'll all be able to use our dividends buying electric cars? Let's be clear -- the bottom 40% of America lives hand-to-mouth, and so therefore that same 40% can always use a few extra dollars for purposes other than high-minded environmentalism. A high tax, on the other hand, will provide us with small dividends, because people won't be able to pay it. Probably by that point either we will all have bought solar-powered electric cars to get to work, probably most of us on loan, or we'll be on the streets begging for a living. And who will drop coins in our hats? John Bellamy Foster, in his 2013 critique of James Hansen, touches upon some of these points.

Once again, when we examine the dynamics of a carbon tax in its real-world operation, we discover, lo and behold, that physical climate change mitigation requires something other than a carbon tax. What we mostly discover is that the working class needs ways of "making a living" which do not oblige it to use fossil fuels. To be fair to Alan Thornett, whom I quoted above, he's not just recommending a carbon tax by itself. Quoting again from page 103:

Such taxes have to go alongside a range of other measures, of course, such as a complete changeover to renewable energy, a major programme of energy conservation, an end to waste and obsolescent production, a big reduction in the use of the internal combustion engine, both diesel and petrol, the localisation of food agricultural production, fresh water conservation, a big reduction in meat consumption, a shorter working week -- the list could go on. Carbon taxes, properly applied, however, can be the driving force that can bring down carbon emissions rapidly and open the door to wider change.

I am at a loss, however, to understand how what is basically a regressive tax has the magical power to elicit such wonderful things. Here's my question for the carbon tax advocates: why not finance the transition through a progressive tax?

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A tax+dividend approach places the cost of carbon on everyone, and reducing your carbon usage to below average (by whatever means each person or family can devise) means you come out ahead, period. It also means that those products which are grossly destructive of the environment cost more, thus discouraging their consumption. All those subsidies that are baked into our current usage NEED to be flipped to a large tax.

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Cassiodorus's picture

@tle who is willing to examine my arguments with anything approaching seriousness. Meanwhile we can read this:

A tax+dividend approach places the cost of carbon on everyone, and reducing your carbon usage to below average (by whatever means each person or family can devise) means you come out ahead, period.

No, it means you have to forgo vacations, work at lower-paying jobs merely because they're nearby, avoid job interviews because you can't afford to get there, and so on. And none of this non-activity will amount to actual physical climate change mitigation, to boot.

As for "placing the cost of carbon on everyone," it reminds me of Anatole France's old maxim: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." The law will also forbid the rich as well as the poor from avoiding carbon taxes.

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"I was Zuckerberging people before Zuckerberg's balls dropped." -- the Devil, on "Rick and Morty"

@Cassiodorus
Carbon tax with rebates is designed to change behaviors, through a very small incremental motivator. The problem is that there are no real carbon neutral, affordable alternatives that you can turn to. This thinking is capitalism at its best, in other words don't actually solve the problem just skew the market. There are a host of problems with this- primarily it's way too little way too late. Also it never gets us to zero carbon emissions, unless you believe in the marketplace fairy. Solving this problem requires incredible resources that only governments can provide. It's like going to the moon only 50 times harder. We need research, development and deployment on a massive scale. We emit about 40 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year and it's increasing, not decreasing. We have about 1000 gigatons of excess carbon dioxide that we have to remove. We have to increase forestation by about 30% over current global coverage. At our current level of CO2 the planet will continue to heat up - it's not at equilibrium- and the ice will continue to melt without a pause, until sea level rise is 230 ft and my city is entirely underwater. Achieving the UN's impossible goal of 1.5 deg C rise does not stop this. Please read that again until you get it.
The oceans are our global thermometer. Half of the slr is due to the oceans heating up and the water expanding. Half is due to land ice melt.

OK, so tell me how a carbon tax with rebate is going to solve this problem? For one you have given up generating revenue that could be put to R&D.The backlash alone will stop all progress on solving the climate crisis. Please, anyone in favor of this idea, discard this lousy idea and concentrate on really solving the problem.

And yes we are going to need a huge amount of zero emissions energy, a large fraction will be base power. There is absolutely no way to solve this problem without nuclear energy. If we had started 40 years ago, maybe but not today. We need to power all electrical energy production, transfer all transportation energy, all space heating energy and we need to power carbon capture sequestration with zero emissions energy sources.

OK here's a quick quiz. Your geographical energy region requires a power level of 50 gw, to avoid brownouts/blackouts. You install solar capacity of 25 gw. How large does the remaining capacity have to be? How reliable does it have to be. OK, did you figure it out? The answer is 50 gw of additional power capacity and it has to be base-power, or it has to be statistically proven to be equivalent to base-power. Additional credit: if you do install zero emissions base-power generation of 50 gw, did you need the solar?

Do you see my frustration? not only are we getting nowhere on solving the Climate Crisis, but those on-board don't understand how to do it. It's not their fault, we have zero leadership from the political community and near zero from the scientific community. Only the outliers seem to understand the problems, and they are marginalized.

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Capitalism has always been the rule of the people by the oligarchs. You only have two choices, eliminate them or restrict their power.

Alligator Ed's picture

@The Wizard

OK here's a quick quiz. Your geographical energy region requires a power level of 50 gw, to avoid brownouts/blackouts. You install solar capacity of 25 gw. How large does the remaining capacity have to be? How reliable does it have to be. OK, did you figure it out? The answer is 50 gw of additional power capacity

When I went to school 25 + 50 = 75. Why does power generation not follow this rule?

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@tle That is some real naivete. First of all there are about 7 billion people who want to have a small portion of the energy Americans have just for very basic needs and carbon is the only way for most of these people to get that energy. We can not expect these people to continue to live in abject energy poverty. Coal is the cheapest form of energy.

Second you can't expect an economy to grow while starving the population of the energy they need or want. Very few people want to drastically curb their energy usage. Has Al Gore done it? The extreme irony is all of these people using vast amounts of energy to go to climate conferences. Who can possibly take them seriously?

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@davidgmillsatty “Second you can't expect an economy to grow while starving the population of the energy they need or want”. No one is being starved of energy, they’re just having to pay for it. Equal distribution means that people using the average amount experience no economic impact at all. Use more than the average? Then the “dividend” will come up short. Use less? Then you get a bonus. It’s an incentive to find a way to use less, and a disincentive to carry on as usual.

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Cassiodorus's picture

@tle yes, that would be the ineffective carbon tax, the one that doesn't reduce carbon consumption. Just have the government buy everyone an electric car, and be done with it.

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"I was Zuckerberging people before Zuckerberg's balls dropped." -- the Devil, on "Rick and Morty"

@Cassiodorus That is also the effect of renewables like wind and solar that have extremely low energy density. They are nowhere nearly as energy dense as fossil fuels which only have one-millionth the energy density of nuclear fission.

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Alligator Ed's picture

@davidgmillsatty Get outside the box most carbon-beraters artificially construct about climate change. I remain unconvinced that anthropogenic causes of climate change are even a major contributor to the current problem.

Hundreds of climate change models. Butterfly effect. Supervolcanoes. Sunspot cycles. ...

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@tle Most people don't want to use less energy if they absolutely don't have to. Especially the 7 billion people on the planet who have very little now.

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@tle
And probably the 10%, unless, as pointed out, it is prohibitively high as to be a de facto ban.
A guy I grew up with that made it big on the Chicago Board of Trade told me in the late '70's "I hope gas goes to $5.00 a gallon so that there are fewer cars on the road." $5 (closer to $50 equivalent today) was nothing to him with his seat on the Board of trade and his trading profits.

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Sanders-Gabbard 2020 !

If CO2 is your major concern. And I have written about a different kind of nuclear power than we have now and which we developed at Oak Ridge in the 60's and 70's. A vastly different kind of nuclear power.

Here is my most detailed article on the subject and why it is so different, so cheap, extraordinarily safe, and why it is not useful for bombs.

https://www.thecommunityforum.life/post/thorium-nuclear-power-using-molt...

The interesting thing is that China has taken all our detailed documentation from the project we ran at Oak Ridge and has decided to do its own nuclear project based on the Oak Ridge project; and the word from the most recent Thorium Energy Alliance, is that China will go online at the end of the year or the first of next year with its own reactor based on the Oak Ridge project. China has been working on a thorium molten salt reactor for about seven or eight years patterned after the molten salt reactor we ran at Oak Ridge, with substantial upgrades and modern technologies.

Once thorium molten salt reactors are in place, energy production drastically changes. We can make nuclear as cheap as coal, we can make nuclear reactors on an assembly line like planes or ships, and even make fossil fuels out of CO2, and not even need to switch over to battery operated vehicles. And if energy is cheap you can also do CO2 reduction.

Nothing will compete with these reactors when it is proven that nuclear can be as cheap or cheaper than coal. Nothing. Nuclear power is a million times as energy dense as fossil fuels. Small modular reactors can put out vast amounts of energy and very safely.

If energy is cheap, you can do a lot of things. You simply can't if it is expensive. Which also means that hiring vast numbers of people to make energy is a wrong headed idea, because labor intensive energy production makes energy expensive, not cheap.

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@davidgmillsatty What about stopping the wars? What about reining in chemical agriculture? And what about those wonderful battery operated cars, why I am sure there are no toxic chemicals used there, not to mention barbaric mining practices for the poors who haul that stuff out of the ground to make that shiny piece of technological wonder that we all must aspire to if we want to be good green citizens.

As for nuclear, maybe your idea is a valid one, and I admit I have not read up on it, but I for one will always remain highly skeptical that the solution to the damage we have done to the earth will be remedied by something that creates yet more toxic waste. Sure, maybe this new one isn't as toxic as the old one but does that matter when tons of that waste will be left behind for hundreds if not thousands of years?

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@lizzyh7 Read up on it then comment. I posted a link for a reason. It might take you several hours or even days to understand the basics of a completely different kind of nuclear power.

I can not address everybody's concerns one at a time about something as controversial as nuclear power and the science involved in it. You have to first grasp why this kind of nuclear power is so vastly different from what we have now. Once you understand that, then you can answer a lot of questions yourself.

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@davidgmillsatty I read your link as well as a Wikipedia and something from whatisnuclear.com that gave a few more details. It sounds like a partial solution although how fast it can be implemented might be problematic. While it too generates waste it isn't as toxic but then again, how much waste are we talking about? The open pit mining of it also presents issues and probably more pollution so while it would reduce CO2 it alone can't solve the entire problem. To develop it requires a certain return on investment, so it essentially also relies on the market for it to become viable.

But all this does not address the topic of this essay which is how do "we" pay for this transition? Who pays and who profits? Who sacrifices and who does not? And just how much sacrifice are lower income people supposed to make while their betters fly all over the world and consume as much as they desire? Do the poor of the first world get to take it in the shorts to bring the third world into the modern era while the rich profit from the misery of both? These are simply rhetorical questions and I am not asking you to answer them. But they are at the heart of any just transition, IMHO, so to ignore them isn't a real solution to creating a livable world, for anyone but the rich, and we see how well that works for the rest of us.

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@lizzyh7 I have studied this for eight years. I site you numerous videos (which are much easier to understand than the technical written stuff) and you go to Wikipedia.

My granddaughter was taught in elementary school not to use Wikipedia as a source. Especially on anything controversial.

This is the problem with liberals and progressives and it drives me nuts. People just are not curious or skeptical enough about what they have been taught. Especially when it comes to matters of science.

Watch all the videos I posted at the link and then get back to me. Probably will take five or six hours.

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@davidgmillsatty
your insults are not warranted or wanted here. I suggest you drop the acrimony.

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@JtC I am sorry. I didn't mean to insult anyone. But this is hard stuff to learn even for people that are really knowledgeable about science matters. You can't just go to Wikipedia and think you have it down.

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@davidgmillsatty Why would you say such condescending things and expect to be taken seriously, particularly here?

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@leveymg
I forgot all about my 30 credits of advanced math, and 30 credits of physics and chemistry!

Why oh why did I depend only on wikiwhatnot to contemplate this complex issue?!?!

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The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01 a Boeing 757 (AA77) flew into the Pentagon.
AGCC is happening.
If you cannot accept these facts, I cannot fake an interest in any of your opinions.

@UntimelyRippd Then all I ask is that you do the same thing that I asked Alligator Ed to do in 2017. Watch Thorium Remix 2011. It features Kirk Sorensen, the NASA engineer, who "rediscovered" the Oak Ridge Experiment. You obviously have the math, science and chemistry to understand what he is saying. Much of the video is of a talk he gave to upper level physics students at the University of Calgary.

Take the challenge. Hell, just watch the first five minutes.

Link just below responding to leveymg.

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@leveymg I don't mean to be condescending. I don't mean to be rude or impolite. It is just that the comments I have been getting are (at least to me) the equivalent of: "Why should I waste my time listening to Robert Oppenheimer about the Manhattan project when I can go to the Britannica and read all about it?"

I will ask the same of you I asked Alligator Ed in 2017. Will you watch five minutes of Thorium Remix 2011 and give Kirk Sorensen a chance? And my bet is that you will do as AE did and watch the entire thing. And it changed his mind, or I would have never come to this place. He is the one who asked me to post about it in 2017.

Make sure you start at zero. It;s the first five minutes I want you to see.

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@davidgmillsatty remains, or may actually be more difficult than conventional nuclear plants, according to the UCS report. If we were to imagine a worldwide scale up to thorium reactors, replacing other power sources, the longterm waste issues would also grow proportionately. The problem of diversion and misuse of nuclear materials don't go away, either.

We already have a source of nuclear power, one that doesn't present the problems associated with fission. I don't have to tell you what that is.

Sorry, not sold on the complete package.

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Alligator Ed's picture

@leveymg @leveymg The nuclear chemistry of thorium and related transuranics is difficult. I forgot how to compute orbitals 50 years ago. But thorium fission is still in its infancy. I watched the entire video--parts of it several times. The basic problem appears to be U238 and Plutonium disposal. But the video did acknowledge that this problem was a matter of intense scrutiny then and probably still is.

We are fossil fooling ourselves into thinking that reliance on fossil fuels is an addiction which we can overcome. Overcome it, yes. Either consume less (although elites pay no mind to your sacrifices) or get alternative energy sources OR put Dr. Malthus to work with a vengeance--get rid of the useless eaters.

Case wrote a fine essay about the whole concept. There are definitely other opinions about CO2 remediation as the sole remedy--or even what should be a major remedy. The more I learn about DS shenanigans, like buying up property in the Hamptons or southeast Florida, the less convinced I am that CO2 propelled climate change is THE key.

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@Alligator Ed

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Sanders-Gabbard 2020 !

thanatokephaloides's picture

@lizzyh7

And just how much sacrifice are lower income people supposed to make while their betters fly all over the world and consume as much as they desire? Do the poor of the first world get to take it in the shorts to bring the third world into the modern era while the rich profit from the misery of both?

emphasis mine

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

@thanatokephaloides That in a nutshell is why we need molten salt thorium reactors. So the poor and middle class of this country don't have to take it in the shorts while the rest of the world upgrades its energy production without creating more CO2. I am not all that convinced about CO2 being the Armageddon most predict, but if it is, we damn sure need a strategy that will curb the production of CO2 and actually have the ability to reduce it.

And as I have said, you can do lots of things if energy is cheap. You can't if energy is expensive or extremely expensive.

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@lizzyh7

None of your actual concerns or arguments were addressed.

What's going on here?

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mimi's picture

so there I said it.

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@mimi If I am not welcome maybe I should leave.

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mimi's picture

@davidgmillsatty
I wouldn't be able to find myself anymore. You speak for yourself.

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Alligator Ed's picture

@mimi Got to toughen up to push your way into contrarian places. mimi, you're tough enough. So are effing alligators--and a lot of the rest of us.

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@Wally other points matter here Wally. Nope, the ONLY thing that matters is that I did not watch 5 or 6 hours of videos and I am not an expert on Thorium Nuclear technology, nor do I really care to become one. Now, can that technology be ramped up in time to make a real difference? Will the elite among us just find a new way to profit from the misery of the rest? Will we find some horrible unknown negative of said tech fix only later when it's too late to do anything viable about it? Those things simply do not matter. What matters is there IS a technological solution to all our problems! Shame on me for not recognizing that. And double shame on me for using other non sanctioned sources to attempt to get some details of something I know nothing about instead of just taking what I was offered and realizing my ignorance.

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@lizzyh7 If you care about CO2, why wouldn't you care about a technology that purportedly solves the problem? Nuclear energy produces no CO2. That is what I don't get. Even people like James Hansen are now supporting nuclear.

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@Wally The links address her concerns in great detail.

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@davidgmillsatty @davidgmillsatty
India has huge thorium deposits.
Remembering a Scientific American article from quite a lot of years back.

IIRC, Thorium reactors can't explode and Thorium breakdown products are not as dangerous as Uranium's or plutonium's.

Still, it's nuclear fission. I wouldn't call it "completely different".
It's coming back to me now. Thorium doesn't have a neutron chain reaction, so it can't explode. Another neutron source has to be applied to keep it running. As a former controls designer, I have to say that it is a lot easier to control than a uranium reactor for that very reason.

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Sanders-Gabbard 2020 !

@The Voice In the Wilderness That is exactly right. Thorium reactors are breeder reactors and require a neutron source to keep the reaction going. Once hit with a neutron Thorium turns into Protactinium and then Protactinium turns into Uranium 233 which will fission. These breeder reactors also require a special configuration to ensure that the neutrons properly hit the uranium 233 atoms to cause fission. Take away this special configuration and they no longer fission and the reaction stops.

That special configuration is lost when the plant shuts down and the fuel is sent to a drain tank that does not have the special configuration. Reaction is impossible in the drain tank. Walk away safe.

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@davidgmillsatty

UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS STATEMENT ON THORIUM-FUELED REACTORS
https://www.ucsusa.org › files › nuclear_power › thorium-reactors-statement

Thorium could be used in a variety of different types of reactors, including conventional light-water reactors, which are the type used in the United States. However, thorium cannot be used by itself to sustain a nuclear chain reaction: it must be used together with a fissile material such as enriched uranium, uranium-233, or plutonium.

Nuclear reactors fueled with thorium and uranium do not provide any clear overall advantages over reactors fueled with uranium alone. All types of nuclear fuels, whether uranium- or thorium-based, generate large amounts of heat during reactor operation, and failing to effectively remove that heat will lead to serious safety problems, as was seen at Fukushima. The US Department of Energy has concluded after a review that “the choice between uranium-based fuel and thorium-based fuel is seen basically as one of preference, with no fundamental difference in addressing the nuclear power issues [of waste management, proliferation risk, safety, security, economics, and sustainability].1 However, the report also notes that “Since no infrastructure currently exists in the U.S. for thorium-based fuels, and the processing of thorium-based fuels is at a lower level of technical maturity when compared to processing of uranium-based fuels, costs and RD&D [research, development and deployment] requirements for using thorium are anticipated to be higher.”

Some people believe that liquid fluoride thorium reactors, which would use a high- temperature liquid fuel made of molten salt, would be significantly safer than current- generation reactors. However, such reactors have major flaws. There are serious safety issues associated with the retention of fission products in the fuel, and it is not clear these problems can be effectively resolved. Such reactors also present proliferation and nuclear terrorism risks because they involve the continuous separation, or “reprocessing,” of the fuel to remove fission products and to efficiently produce U-233, which is a nuclear weapon-usable material. Moreover, disposal of the used fuel has turned out to be a major challenge. Stabilization and disposal of the remains of the very small "Molten Salt Reactor Experiment" that operated at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s has turned into the most technically challenging cleanup problem that Oak Ridge has faced, and the site has still not been cleaned up.

Last updated March 14, 2019

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@leveymg @leveymg
solution to all of our energy problems?

oh, dear, i am disappointed.

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The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01 a Boeing 757 (AA77) flew into the Pentagon.
AGCC is happening.
If you cannot accept these facts, I cannot fake an interest in any of your opinions.

@UntimelyRippd You should not be. It is real.

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@leveymg There are some significant flaws with this analysis and it has been debunked many times. It was written by people who either do not understand the process or did not want to understand it.

First there were never any retention of fission products issues in the Oak Ridge experiment that ran for four years, and that experiment was highly documented. That is of course why China is doing it. China has had the original documentation since they were put online about 2008. If China had thought these fission products were real insolvable issues, they would not have embarked on a 7 or 8 year project which is now near completion and due to come online in the next few months.

It is probable that the scientists that wrote this report never read the original Oak Ridge documentation. It is pretty much a parroting of a report written in the 70's by people who wanted a uranium fast breeder reactor, and who ended up getting it, only to be unsuccessful with it, when the thorium breeder worked. These people still want a uranium fast breeder reactor and constantly denigrate the thorium slow breeder process. But China was not fooled by this charade. Lots of bias in this report, both scientific and political. Political because of where breeder reactors would be built. Lots of bucks involved.

It is understandable that they would not know much about the Oak Ridge experiment because the experiment was a very secret one and the original documentation only had about 40 people on the list as persons authorized to see it. China got the original documentation after it was put online by Kirk Sorensen, a NASA engineer, long after the documentation was no longer a state secret, but all copies had remained at Oak Ridge for about forty years.

With respect to nuclear proliferation, if thorium had been useful for bombs, it would have been ramped up because there is four times as much thorium as uranium. It was quickly learned that thorium breeding produced a small amount of Uranium 232 which would have made bombs deadly to handle by soldiers due to the intense gamma radiation of U 232. Separating U232 isotopicly from U233 would have been extremely difficult and expensive, so thorium was abandoned as a nuclear bomb producer because making bombs out of uranium 235 was much easier and safer for soldiers. It was far easier and safer to make bombs out of Uranium 235 and 238. Thorium was ruled out for bombs.

If you will hit the link I posted above and go down and watch Thorium Remix 2011, Sorensen explains it all and the original document that was used to denigrate the thorium slow breeder project in favor of the uranium fast breeder project. Takes two hours to watch. He also explains why Thorium did not make a good bomb as I have pointed out. Much more detail than I am giving you. It does help if you know some chemistry, but I don't think that is necessary.

The fact that thorium was so hard to make bombs out of led to its demise, since in the 60's most nuclear power plants also were used for making bomb material.

By the way, the Oak Ridge project and thorium and molten salts as a coolant were the brainchild of two of the most brilliant scientists of the era: Glen Seaborg who discovered plutonium, and Alvin Weinberg his protege, who worked on the Manhattan project. That is why Thorium Remix 2011 is such a good video from a historical perspective. Sorensen really admires what these guys did and conceived. It is a great history lesson about atomic energy.

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Pluto's Republic's picture

@davidgmillsatty

There are some significant flaws with [the Union of Concerned Scientists] analysis, and it has been debunked many times. It was written by people who either do not understand the process or did not want to understand it.

First there were never any retention of fission products issues in the Oak Ridge experiment that ran for four years, and that experiment was highly documented. That is of course why China is doing it. China has had the original documentation since they were put online about 2008. If China had thought these fission products were real insolvable issues, they would not have embarked on a 7 or 8 year project which is now near completion and due to come online in the next few months.

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And the following is undeniably true when were talking about the United States:

It is probable that the scientists who wrote this report never read the original Oak Ridge documentation.... These people still want a uranium fast breeder reactor and constantly denigrate the thorium slow breeder process. But China was not fooled by this charade.

The Oak Ridge experiment was a very secret one, and only about 40 people were authorized to see it. China got the original documentation when it was put online by Kirk Sorensen, a NASA engineer, when it was no longer a state secret.

With respect to nuclear proliferation, if thorium had been useful for bombs, it would have been ramped up because there is four times as much thorium as uranium. It was quickly learned that thorium breeding produced a small amount of Uranium 232, which would have made bombs deadly to handle.... It was far easier and safer to make bombs out of Uranium 235 and 238. Thorium was ruled out for bombs.

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Naturally, China immediately recognized that the US had crippled itself again with its overarching ideology of Supremacy:

Domestic nuclear energy was nothing more than an irrelevant byproduct of Bomb Making for the United States. (A Brian Patch that Iran ended up in after they sought nuclear energy technology (to replace burning oil as an energy source) in the 1950s from the US.)

Bomb Making and global violence supremacy is the only point to any technology that is fully entertained by the United States. From G5 networks to space exploration — all technologies exist solely to further US Global Supremacy. As a result, US technologies overlook real far-reaching advances and they find themselves stuck in crappy dead ends — such as their failed super-computing attempts. The US lost the race because they denied the use of Intel chips to Chinese research labs. Had the US not been run by paranoid fools, the Chinese would also be stuck with our lousy Intel chips. Instead, the Chinese were forced to start again from sand, and they created quantum computing. That has sent them soaring years ahead of the US in nearly every technology, including particle physics. Or take the GSP system that the US is stuck with. Had the paranoid losers in the US not denied the Chinese the use of its GPS system in their own technologies, the Chinese would not have been forced to develop a superior. smart, global pin-pointing system that makes our current GPS relatively dumb and blind when it comes to the technologies of the future.

Americans are unlikely to be informed about any of this. They are working from misinformation in such matters.

If you will hit the link I posted above and go down and watch Thorium Remix 2011, Sorensen explains it all and the original document that was used to denigrate the thorium slow breeder project in favor of the uranium fast breeder project. Takes two hours to watch. He also explains why Thorium did not make a good bomb as I have pointed out. Much more detail than I am giving you. It does help if you know some chemistry, but I don't think that is necessary.

The fact that thorium was so hard to make bombs out of led to its demise, since in the 60's most nuclear power plants also were used for making bomb material.

It's too late, @davidgmillsatty . It is over for even the most practical purposes.

Look to China to solve the issues of the Climate Crisis. If the world is to be saved, look to China for salvation and scientific solutions. China is a people's republic. That's how they roll.

[edit=typo]

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The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.
– Albert Camus

@Pluto's Republic Unfortunately you are probably right. Greed and a lust for military and economic power have been our downfall.

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Pluto's Republic's picture

@davidgmillsatty

...they will have a real chance for enduring success if they enshrine this warning from those who came before them:

Greed and a lust for military and economic power have been our downfall.

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3 users have voted.

The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.
– Albert Camus
Alligator Ed's picture

@Pluto's Republic

Look to China to solve the issues of the Climate Crisis. If the world is to be saved, look to China for salvation and scientific solutions. China is a people's republic. That's how they roll.

Clapping

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@leveymg @leveymg
is completely controlled by the existing industry. I wouldn't listen to anything they say.
That wasn't true 50 years ago.

EDIT:
Would you listen what they say about fossil fuels?

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Sanders-Gabbard 2020 !

thanatokephaloides's picture

@The Voice In the Wilderness

US DOE is completely controlled by the existing industry. I wouldn't listen to anything they say.
That wasn't true 50 years ago.

There was no USDOE 50 years ago. USDOE was formed in 1977. Its 50th anniversary will be in 2027.

But the precursor agencies, such as the Atomic Energy Commission, were also completely controlled by the existing energy industries in their day.

EDIT:
Would you listen what they say about fossil fuels?

Not without a very large grain of salt.

salt-lick.jpg

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

Alligator Ed's picture

@thanatokephaloides Then I won't need as much calcium.

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@leveymg First, Thorium/U233 reactors have been around for ages. Thorium (atomic weight 232) is not fissile but if bombarded with neutrons from U235 or Plutonium, it becomes U233 which is fissile. They have never been commercially viable, although a reactor at Shippingport, PA produced a lot of electricity that was fed into the grid over a five year period using a Thorium/U233 cycle. The Thorium/U233 cycle can be used with a variety of cooling/energy transfer systems, not just molten salt, and molten salts can be used as cooling/energy transfer systems with a variety of fissile materials. The reason I am less negative than UCS is that although the Thorium/U233 cycle is a breeder reactor and produces more fissile material than it uses, the net increase in fissile material (i.e. U233) is very small and there are much easier ways to produce weapons quality fissile materials than to try to recover U233 from Thorium/U233 in a reactor. U232 is also produced as a byproduct in the Thorium/U233 cycle and it makes lots of nasty gamma rays which make producing a nuclear weapon with Thorium/U233 a losing proposition. The Chinese have been working with Oak Ridge on molten salt Thorium/U233 reactors and India has a fairly large program using Thorium with a different cooling/energy transfer system so we should see if they are commercially viable.

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@davidgmillsatty maybe you can help with a few questions I have.

1. How much concrete goes into the construction of a thorium reactor? I’ve read so much about how concrete is such a huge CO2 producer.
2. How quickly can they be constructed? We have 10 years.

Too bad the decision was made so long ago to not use thorium.

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Hawkfish's picture

@tle

Of making concrete that could mitigate this. Plus the amount of concrete used for nuclear power plants is pretty low for the energy generated.

The resource bottleneck for nuclear may be the metals used in the reactor vessels. (Although I tend to take BAS with a grain of salt - they seem rather biased to me)

All proposed technologies for non - carbon power have nasty resource constraints, so engineering a scalable solution out of the available resources may be quite difficult. (Sorry about the paywall.)

Reducing consumption may be all that works, and that is not a politically viable position anywhere on the spectrum. Chaos and collapse would force it though. I’m trying to find another way, and for the sake of my kids I hope we do.

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We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.
- Greta Thunberg

Alligator Ed's picture

@Hawkfish

Reducing consumption may be all that works, and that is not a politically viable position anywhere on the spectrum. Chaos and collapse would force it though

I made a more detailed comment above.

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@tle
Good questions which I will gladly answer. These molten salt reactors (molten salt is the coolant not water) are vastly different from all the reactors we have built. The great advantage of molten salt as a coolant is that it does not have to be pressurized like water does in order for the water to stay liquid. Water vapor is a lousy coolant, so all existing reactors have to have these extremely large buildings (1) in order to keep water under pressure to keep it liquid, and (2) then to protect the environment if there is a pressure break.

When you use molten salt as a coolant you don't need any large containment vessels to protect from a loss of pressurization because salt will stay liquid for about 1,000 degrees Centigrade, whereas water only stays liquid for 100 degrees centigrade unless you keep it under pressure. And in the reactors we use today to keep the water liquid they have to use anywhere from 75 to 150 atmospheres of pressure. But molten salt reactors operate at near ambient pressure. No need to build these huge mausoleums.

Every nuclear disaster has been the result of water failing as coolant when there was some kind of pressure loss. So when you avoid the need to pressurize, you avoid the mechanism of every nuclear disaster.

But molten salts that stay liquid at a normal atmospheric pressure can withstand the heat of a nuclear reactor and continue to cool it without any pressurization whatsoever. This drastically reduces the cost of the reactor. Making these gigantic pressurized vessels out of concrete and steel is why conventional reactors use so much concrete, why they take so long to build, and why they are so expensive to make.

Molten salt reactors can be made on an assembly line. And they can be very small or can be quite large. Building an airplane or a ship is very analagous to building a molten salt reactor. Nearly all of the reactor is made in a facility like a ship or plane would be made and then trucked or shipped to the location for final assembly.

I like Thorcon's design and ideas. Thorcon's predecessor was a shipbuilder. You can look at their shipbuilding production method here.

http://thorconpower.com/production/

Fissile fuel has a million times more energy than fossil fuel. Not only does this mean that fuel requirements (and waste) for a big power plant are measured in kilograms per day rather than thousands of tons per day; but it also means that, if you operate at low pressure, the plants can be small. The ThorCon reactor operates at near ambient pressure. ThorCon does not need much space. Nor does it consume a lot of resources. In fact, ThorCon is so small that the fission island almost fits into two center tanks of the Hellespont Fairfax, [a 67,000 ton ship] and requires one-fourth as much steel.

The steel weight of a 500 MW ThorCon is about 50,000 tons. The world’s largest shipyard can build more than 2,000,000 steel tons of ships per year. A single shipyard can produce 20 GW’s of ThorConIsle power per year. In terms of resource requirements, one gigawatt of ThorCon power is not a big deal. The scale up rate will not be limited by shipyard capacity, but by the rate at which the turbogenerators can be built.

So two things greatly reduce cost: (1) far less material and land, and (2) the ability to make the entire reactor on an assembly line and truck or ship it to the location needed.

And that means we could have hundreds to thousands built in the next ten years. Once they start rolling off the assembly lines we can easily make a 100 a year.

Molten salt reactors are truly a paradigm changer. Windmills are usually 1.5 megawatts, meaning you would need 666 windmills to produce 1 gigawatt. In actuality you would probably need about three times as many windmills because windmills don't put out any energy when there is no wind.

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@davidgmillsatty I think I’m becoming a nuclear energy proponent - as long as it’s thorium. I still think that consumption needs to drop drastically, and I’m not a big fan of massive concentration of energy production, but you’ve thrown out a ray of sunshine on a very dark world. Thank you. (Now I need to do a lot of reading).

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Cassiodorus's picture

@davidgmillsatty to take this conversation to a diary of your own? Don't you think you'd be more effective that way?

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"I was Zuckerberging people before Zuckerberg's balls dropped." -- the Devil, on "Rick and Morty"

@Cassiodorus I actually did post it here in December of 2017. Since no one knew me here and I was asked to post it by Alligator Ed, I asked him to start the thread. Then I essentially posted right under him what I linked to above from the Community Forum website. On my link that I posted above I have a few updates which I didn't post on C99.

https://caucus99percent.com/content/power-power

But if you think it is the right thing to do, I would be glad to re-post it under my own name now.

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Cassiodorus's picture

@davidgmillsatty since 2017, so yeah.

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"I was Zuckerberging people before Zuckerberg's balls dropped." -- the Devil, on "Rick and Morty"

@Cassiodorus

A lot has happened in the thorium business since 2017. The really big deal is that it was announced in August by the President of the Thorium Energy Alliance at a meeting on Capitol Hill that China was going to be going online with its first molten salt thorium reactor in about six months -- which could be January or February. It will be a game changer it that turns out to be true.

People will be trying to figure out what the Chinese have done. While I don't expect anything much of interest to come out of the US government, there are about six or seven private companies that are also working on these reactors who will get a boost from this announcement.

I have not done any research lately on these private companies to know just where they are now and what their plans are now. For several years now, a company called Thorcon, has been working with the government of Indonesia to get one built in Indonesia. I don't know where that stands. I looked at Thorcon's website yesterday and it is radically revamped from what it was in 2017. And there are several other companies that may have contracts of some kind now.

So my thought is to put off writing an updated article until the first of the year or shortly thereafter to give a much better updated analysis.

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Like everything else under capitalism, the social burden of carbon reduction falls most immediately and disproportionately on the working poor, while the benefits are privatized and the revenues go to wealthy, well-organized interests. In other words, as usual, the working stiffs suffer and the rich get richer.

Any plan that doesn't spread the costs fairly -- the richest have to bear the greatest immediate cost and not reap the lion's share of the benefits, particularly income from government spending on rebuilding the grid -- is just going to add to the polarization of society, and will fail.

That concern with social equity and efficacy has to be the starting point for any Green New Deal, or it's dead in the water. If this basic social goal isn't clearly communicated, it won't happen. It isn't enough to be Green, the program has to also inherently be in the economic interests of workers, first.

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The billionaires love it because, of course, the tax is nothing to them, as you point out.

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Sanders-Gabbard 2020 !

@The Voice In the Wilderness
we wouldn't have any problems.

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The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01 a Boeing 757 (AA77) flew into the Pentagon.
AGCC is happening.
If you cannot accept these facts, I cannot fake an interest in any of your opinions.

thanatokephaloides's picture

@UntimelyRippd

if markets could solve our problems, we wouldn't have any problems.

The markets are the problems.

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

99% of them are poor people or working class people.
The 1% flying around on their private jets are truly not the carbon producing problem. Their numbers are small.
We are big, because we are here, we must work, we must get to work, so it is all our fault and we should pay, and we should feel guilty, and all the responsibility and the cost is rightfully on us.
And we did this to ourselves. Eyes wide open.
Because, capitalism.
Did I read somewhere that 400 companies in the world emit more carbon than, oh, the world's population? Yes, I did!
This is pure snark, before anyone gets in a tizzy.
Great essay, Cass

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thanatokephaloides's picture

@on the cusp

Did I read somewhere that 400 companies in the world emit more carbon than, oh, the world's population? Yes, I did!

On the non-snark side, there's a single organization which gives this dubious distinction a serious run for its carbon.

Its name is: "The United States Department of Defense".

This is pure snark, before anyone gets in a tizzy.

Molto grazie for that, for yea, the tizzies would be serious! Biggrin

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

@thanatokephaloides made VP Cheney (Halliburton) how rich?

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thanatokephaloides's picture

@on the cusp

The War on Terror (a vicious noun) made VP Cheney (Halliburton) how rich?

Doctor Sagan, paging Doctor Carl Sagan....

Bad

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

lotlizard's picture

Few consumer goods. Rationing, recycling, and repair as routine due to scarcity and unavailability. Tourism and travel a luxury. Even a heap of fiat money in your hands = useless if you’re hoi polloi, useless because without connections and exceptional permission there’s nothing you can use it to buy.

Access to the material comforts of “the Good Life”? A special privilege reserved only for the politically screened elite who have risen through the hierarchy of those deemed ideologically correct and pure, or who, by putting their talent and achievement at the disposal of said elite, have made themselves useful as loyal celebrities burnishing the official Left’s identity and image.

Is that bad? Depends. The way things are going, for the average Joe or Jane the world described by that last sentence is seeming less and less different from our own elite of bankers, Ivy League educated lawyers and politicians, and their sycophant teams of loyal media mouthpieces and pop-culture celebrities.

For what he did to the 99% in the eight years following the great financial crisis, Obama should have ended like Honecker, instead of all this hobnobbing with billionaires and being able to plunk down $10 million for an oceanfront mansion on Nantucket Martha’s Vineyard.

(Edited, “Nantucket” should have been “Martha’s Vineyard”)

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studying thorium reactors wouldn't matter -- I am just not steeped enough in physics to determine whether the idea would be useful and would have no ability to critically read the offering. As a mere civilian in these highly technical areas, like probably 99% of the posters here, I find it necessary to go to credible critical sources for a review which the layman can more easily digest, and the UCS piece is enough for me to remain skeptical.

Elsewhere I've heard that Deep Geothermal offers enormous promise and we are not far from being able to efficiently drill deep enough to get at the energy source. It's clean, constantly renewable and the process of making it available as a worldwide energy source is fairly straightforward and efficient. Safe too, unlike nuclear. Probably far less expensive.

So the solutions are: 1) Deep Geothermal 2) wind & solar to supplement, and 3) worldwide population control -- massive overpopulation is ultimately at the root of our energy and resource problems.

My two cents.

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@wokkamile
I think deep thermal may be as dangerous to the crust as fracking.

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Sanders-Gabbard 2020 !

@The Voice In the Wilderness an article that might address some of those concerns.

As a non-tech person, I can only point you towards what might be helpful info from a good source. Remember too that while there are currently efforts underway in several countries in this area, the technology is still being tinkered with and more progress will be needed. When Apollo started, recall, they had to invent technology and tinker with metal alloys to achieve the goal.

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thanatokephaloides's picture

@The Voice In the Wilderness

Just a guess but I think deep thermal may be as dangerous to the crust as fracking.

That's not too likely (thank Cat!). Not that the risks aren't there, don't get me wrong; but a technology would have to be seriously risky in order to rise to fracking's mayhem level.

Bad

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3 users have voted.

"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

Hawkfish's picture

@wokkamile

Most of the high carbon emissions come from places with negative population growth. According to the U.N. modeling, only about 5% of the 2100 emission variance is due to population. The other 95% is split pretty evenly between technology improvements and reducing consumption.

Wind is ok if we get grid scale storage (LiS batteries look interesting).

Solar PV is an environmental nightmare with only 5x return on energy invested (wind is 40x).

Nuclear can provide some if we nationalise a known, debugged PWR design and get the “competitive industry” out of the way (1-3 public utility breeders to reprocess spent fuel would be good too).

Geothermal comes in two flavors: Generation and heat pumps. The first only works in specific locations but the second can be widely deployed.

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We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.
- Greta Thunberg

@Hawkfish
instead of a gas furnace. I have personal knowledge about the use of Fujitsu mini-splits in central Alabama. SEER over 20. Awesome. There are US "manufacturers" with them, but Fujitsu is the most efficient (they do seem ideal for Japanese houses).
I use quotes because the US brands do not build the units here. They were building in Mexico but are moving to China.

Not to tout a brand but I have a Bradford-White water heater made in Michigan by UAW labor. How many manufacturer's websites include a letter from the CEO speaking profusesly and favorably about their"partnership" with a union? Union plumbers installed it too.
The big box stores like Home Depot push Rheem (Mexico/China) and non-union installers. I was glad to pay about 10% more and get professional work.

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5 users have voted.

Sanders-Gabbard 2020 !

Hawkfish's picture

@The Voice In the Wilderness

I live in urban Seattle so I don’t have a lot of room, but there is a local company that does vertical wells which might work in the driveway. Seattle is an excellent place for heat pumps too because the temperature variation is low.

(Thanks for the response and sorry for the delay - I’ve been somewhat distracted of late).

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We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.
- Greta Thunberg

@Hawkfish

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Sanders-Gabbard 2020 !

@wokkamile Take a challenge. I bet you are smart enough. Kirk Sorensen is a great teacher. Watch this for five minutes and then keep on if you get hooked, which I bet you will.

Make sure you start at zero minutes. It is the first five minutes I want you to see.

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Pluto's Republic's picture

...at the simplest answer that can solve the global warming crisis and preserve what's left of the planet ecosystem.

You may wonder why they are so cavalier about ignoring the problem. Why they pull out of global accords with other nations setting deadlines. Why every deadline missed is met with shrugs and nonchalance. Our Overlords already have the solution. It has been staring us in the face all along. The immediate eradication of five billion people might allow the species and the planet to survive.

We have run out of time. Our numbers are unsustainable. We are poised to add two billion more people to the population by 2050. What would you do?

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3 users have voted.

The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.
– Albert Camus

@Pluto's Republic Back in the day when I was in college in the late sixties and early seventies, the major science concern was overpopulation and the harm it would do to our planet. Since that time we have continued to add a billion people to the planet at a steady one billion every eleven years of so. In the meantime we have wiped out at least half the large animals on earth, a few are now extinct, and many more are threatened.

The predictions about how overpopulation would seriously harm the planet have definitely and obviously been verified. And we totally ignore that problem.

In contrast, the predictions about the harm CO2 would do to the planet, have not been anywhere nearly as verifiable, which is why the CO2 skeptic community continues to grow.

But my view is that whatever happens in the future, if you don't have cheap energy to fix the problems, all life forms on the planet are in serious jeopardy.

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mimi's picture

@davidgmillsatty
so thoroughly that the overpopulation won't be a problem in the future. And with all that cheap energy the self-destruction will be a cakewalk.

If I understand that correctly, what I seldom do.

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@davidgmillsatty
Hasn't most of that been in India and China, where "we", the USA, have no control.

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Sanders-Gabbard 2020 !

Alligator Ed's picture

@Pluto's Republic But it deserves commendation.

. Why they pull out of global accords with other nations setting deadlines. Why every deadline missed is met with shrugs and nonchalance. Our Overlords already have the solution. It has been staring us in the face all along. The immediate eradication of five billion people might allow the species and the planet to survive.

We have run out of time. Our numbers are unsustainable. We are poised to add two billion more people to the population by 2050. What would you do?

The more I learn about the 0.001%, the more skeptical I am of the CO2 scare. The sky is falling propaganda is sheer fear oversell. I live in a swamp and I know it. The ultra-elite don't give a damn about any one of us. That's why they shoot down or otherwise crash airplanes with hundreds of people on it just to kill one opponent.

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