Click to Embiggen.Thanks to ClimaLoop for this excellent graphic.
Vaclav Smil on the fatally flawed Energiewende:
….Anybody aware of Germany’s technical prowess must ask: why has the nation that helped to pioneer the age of electricity (above all thanks to the engineering genius of Werner von Siemens and organizational achievements of Emil Rathenau) rushed into the difficulties that were easy to envision — into generating those highly fluctuating electricity flows? These flows create havoc with the grids in neighboring countries by suddenly overloading their transmission capacity, and they undermine economic viability of traditional utilities due to low returns realized on the repeatedly interrupted, but still necessary, fossil fuel-based generation.
And the impacts go far beyond the fate of large utilities. Germany now has the most expensive electricity in Europe. In September 2013, Der Spiegel, the country’s premier weekly, gave the headline “How electricity became a luxury good” to its report on Germany’s new energy poverty. The levelized cost of German photovoltaic electricity is easily four times that of coal-based generation, even as the subsidies for renewables continue to rise: they reached €16 billion in 2013. And due to the high cost of imported natural gas (about three times the U.S. price), German thermal power plants fill the demand with the cheapest alternatives, such as domestically produced lignite and, increasingly, imported inexpensive U.S. coal. So far, die Energiewende has not resulted in lower carbon dioxide emissions, one of its key goals.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we take you to a place that garnered headlines around the world three years ago, but has hardly been seen since, because it’s so dangerous.
Is it possible to make a negative $ contribution to PBS? The February 28th PBS Newshour on Fukushima is shocking. Imagine a script written by Arnie Gunderson and Helen Caldicot, designed to create maximum fear and anxiety.
Hiroshima Syndrome has posted a March 4th critique titled PBS Fukushima Report is Fear-mongering at its Worst which begins:
The February 28 PBS report, Inside the slow and dangerous clean up of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, is fear-mongering at its most disturbing extreme. The obvious intent is to scare and upset the viewer with exaggeration, innuendo, and thinly-veiled conspiracy theory, all predicated on proliferating fear, uncertainty and doubt. (FUD) There seems to have been little or no effort towards rational informing of the viewers.
Even the lead-in by anchor Judy Woodruff drips with fear and doubt, “Now we take you to a place that garnered headlines around the world three years ago, but has hardly been seen since, because it’s so dangerous.” Hardly seen since? Who is she trying to kid? Fukushima has been in the Japanese Press every day for three years, and the internet has been inundated with apocalyptic scenarios made by leading international antinukes on a regular basis. Plus, what about the Fukushima radioactivity reporting coming out of the Pacific coastline of North America the past two months? “Hardly seen”? Give me a break. In addition, the implication that the Press in Japan isn’t covering Fukushima “because it’s so dangerous” is a complete fabrication! They are all over it… like white on rice.
The report itself begins with end-of-the-world insinuations by PBS’ Miles O’Brien, when he says the evacuation zone around F. Daiichi “remains a post-apocalyptic landscape of abandoned towns, frozen in time. We were on our way to one of the most hazardous places on Earth, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.” Who wrote the script? Harvey Wasserman? Arnie Gundersen? Helen Caldicott? This is straight out of the antinuclear persuasion’s “Fukushima 101” rhetorical guidelines. The apocalyptic beginning follows with a quote from the plant manager posed in a fashion that makes it seem as if he is not taking his job seriously enough, “After all, if you are just cleaning up after an accident, there is a lack of quality, meaning speed is the only concern. I feel that isn’t enough. We need to look ahead, 30 to 40 years.”
Next comes two misleading statements – “Engineers believe some of the nuclear fuel has melted right through the steel containment vessels on to a concrete basement floor, where it is exposed to groundwater.” (Which it isn’t) – “As the ground water passes through the pump, it gets mixed in with the contaminated water that is used to cool the melted-down cores.” (What is O’Brien talking about? What pump? How is the pump mixing the waters? Is he making this up, or does he simply not have a clue?)
Read the whole thing…
The Fed transcripts have been released. What was going on inside the Fed was actually worse than we thought. No, they didn’t have a time machine to see exactly how bad it would be, but some members had read their history and argued for action. Sigh. And it gets worse, as the Fed continues the tight money policy into 2009. Matt O’Brien writes:
…But the Fed was blinded. It had been all summer. That’s when high oil prices started distracting it from the slow-burning financial crisis. They kept distracting it in September, even though oil had fallen far below its July highs. And they’re the reason that the Fed decided to do nothing on September 16th. It kept interest rates at 2 percent, and said that “the downside risks to growth and the upside risks to inflation are both significant concerns.”
In other words, the Fed was just as worried about an inflation scare that was already passing as it was about a once-in-three-generations crisis.
It brought to mind what economist R. G. Hawtrey had said about the Great Depression. Back then, central bankers had worried more about the possibility of inflation than the grim reality of deflation. It was, Hawtrey said, like “crying Fire! Fire! in Noah’s flood.”
Note the discussion re Milton (and Scott Sumner), that you can’t judge easy money by short term rates. Here’s Scott Sumner on Matt O’Brien on the Fed’s mistakes during 2008
…A few comments:
1. The flawed monetary regime (failure to level target NGDP) made these seemingly small tactical errors in mid-2008 much worse than they would otherwise have been.
2. I am pretty sure Matt is not a market monetarist, or at least he’s more Keynesian on issues like fiscal stimulus than I am. Thus it’s heartening to see the MM interpretation of 2008 become increasingly accepted by the mainstream press. When people like David Beckworth and I were starting out on this crusade, the notion that excessively tight money was the problem was almost laughed off the stage. ”Interest rates were 2%, how can you claim money was tight in 2008?” Now the MM narrative is becoming increasingly accepted in the media. That’s great news.
3. Elsewhere Matt praises Frederic Mishkin. He also directed me to a Hilsenrath piece that said Mishkin came off looking relatively bad in the transcripts. But Hilsenrath was focusing on Mishkin’s jocular style. If you look at content of his analysis he was ahead of most of his colleagues. (In terms of forecasting Rosengren seems to have been the best.) I did a post over at Econlog a few days ago praising Mishkin’s farewell comments, but forgot that he had been equally brilliant at the final meeting of 2007.
More from Scott Sumner here:
The market monetarist view that tight money caused the recession is getting some play in the press. Here’s an excellent piece by Ramesh Ponnuru:
There’s another view of the Fed’s role in the crisis, though, that has been voiced by economists such as Scott Sumner of Bentley University, David Beckworth of Western Kentucky University and Robert Hetzel of the Richmond Fed. They dissent from the prevailing view that the Fed has been extremely loose since the crisis hit. Instead, they argue that the Fed has actually been extremely tight, and that when its performance during the crisis is measured against the proper yardstick, the central bank emerges as the chief villain of the story.
In the second half of 2008, housing prices, many commodity prices, inflation expectations and stocks all suggested deflation was coming. Fed officials, though, kept talking about backward-looking measures of inflation that made it look high. Their hawkish pronouncements effectively tightened monetary policy by shaping market expectations about its future direction. In August 2008, the Fed minutes explicitly said to expect tighter money. Even after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed the following month, the Fed refused to cut rates and fretted about inflation (which didn’t arrive). A few weeks later, the Fed decided to pay banks interest on excess reserves, a contractionary move. Only then did it cut interest rates.
Do you recognize the thumbnail at left of the Fukushima radiation plume spreading all over the Pacific? If that’s what you think the image is you definitely will want to read on. If you recognize the thumbnail as the NOAA tsunami wave height model published the day after the Tohoku earthquake — then I hope you find some useful resources here.
I wish I had written No, but in all seriousness…. But I’m very happy that Alistair Dove did write this essay on critical thinking. This is one of those pieces that we are so happy to find and share! Alistair sees a cross section of flawed reasoning in the comments that appear on the group blog Deep Sea News. E.g.,
… examples of the sort of reasoning that we have seen in comments, emails and tweets about the above examples:
- Starfish wasting disease. Starfish are melting. Radiation leaked into the ocean at Fukushima. Therefore Fukushima caused the starfish melting.
- Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy. Hurricane Sandy happened. Then dolphins began dying on the Atlantic coast. Therefore Sandy caused the Atlantic dolphin UME.
- The “great Pacific garbage patch”. There’s a giant patch of garbage out there. If we could just sort of scoop it up, that would be good. Someone should invent something to do that.
- The Long Island Sound lobster fishery. “They” sprayed insecticides in the tri-state area to control mosquito populations. Around the same time, lobsters died. Therefore insecticide spraying killed lobsters.
I see the “Backfire Effect” every day:
A related problem is that in the time between when people first propose a fallacious cause, and when the true cause is revealed through reason and research, the fallacious one can become ingrained like an Alabama tick. Once people get an idea in their head, even if it’s wrong, getting them to let go of it can be bloody hard. Indeed, there’s a term for this; it’s called “the Backfire Effect”: when confronting someone with data contrary to their position in an argument, counter-intuitively results in their digging their heels in even more. In this phenomenon, the media has to accept a sizable chunk of responsibility because, as the lobster example shows, the deadline-driven world of media agencies is more aligned with the rapid pace of the logical fallacy than with the slow and deliberate pace of scientific research.
Alastair closes with a checklist that we should share where it may do some good:
…so it can’t hurt for all of us to think consciously about our thinking, me included. To that end, I offer the following, non-comprehensive list of things to consider before you hit “Reply” on that cleverly crafted response. If you have additional suggestions I invite you to add them in the comments.
- Am I seeing a pattern that could just be a statistical rarity, and leaping to a conclusion?
- Am I connecting two events causally, because they occurred close together in space or time?
- Am I inferring a cause in the absence of evidence for any other explanation?
- Am I thinking inductively “It must have been such and such…”
- Am I framing the issue as a false dichotomy (debating only two possible causes, when there may be many others). In other words, am I framing the issue as an argument with two sides, rather than a lively discussion about complex issues?
- Am I attacking my “opponent” and/or his/her credentials, rather than his/her argument?
- Am I arguing something simply because other/many people believe it to be true?
- Am I ignoring data because I don’t want to lose face by conceding that I may be wrong?
- Am I cherry picking data that support my position (a cognitive bias)
So, I hope that’s enough to motivate you to read Alastair’s No, but in all seriousness… You will be happy you gave it your attention and reflection.
Robert Zeigler, is head of IRRI (International Rice Research Institute), one of the key groups who are carrying forward Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution. Yes, the Golden Rice people. His essay for COSMOS makes me both sad and angry at the same time.
As an intellectual direct descendent of the architects of the Green Revolution, like Norman Borlaug (pictured above), it is truly heartbreaking to see their noble endeavors attacked by people claiming to defend the environment and the interests of the poor. From Norm Borlaug to Peter Jennings, all these greats had something in common: a fire in the belly to try and make a mockery of the doomsday predictions of Ehrlich and the Paddocks brothers. The role of science was precisely to make the future different from the past. Sadly, the strange brew of anti-corporate sentiment, extreme environmentalism, romanticized traditional organic but land-hungry agriculture and fear of new technologies boiled over to create a powerful anti-technology backlash.
Our understanding of genetics and the ability to proactively manipulate how plants behaved and responded to the environment was becoming a reality. Many of us saw this as a way to reverse the negatives of the Green Revolution and open the way for, in the words of Sir Gordon Conway, a “doubly green revolution.”
It was foreseeable that we could engineer into crops resistance to insect pests and pathogens that would eliminate the need for spraying toxic chemicals that sickened every organism they touched. Even better, we could now help the people left behind because they lived on lands plagued by droughts or floods that wouldn’t support modern crop varieties. I have seen this dream validated. India’s untouchable communities often farm on marginal flood-prone land. IRRI’s flood-tolerant rice is most useful to these farmers and promises to transform the lives of millions.
In short we saw modern biology as a driver for transforming agriculture into a tool for protecting the environment, meeting food needs, and reversing millennia of injustices that condemned certain segments of the population to the worst land.
Sadly, while we were working to make our dreams reality, the strange brew of anti-corporate sentiment, extreme environmentalism, romanticized traditional organic but land-hungry agriculture and fear of new technologies boiled over to create a powerful anti-technology backlash. The extreme regulations for GMO crops demanded by self-proclaimed protectors of the environment, had the perverse result that only the largest multinationals could afford to develop such crops. Predictably, this resulted in the same camp denouncing the growing domination of agriculture by multinationals.
As costs for developing crop varieties escalated, the few seed companies that could afford the work focused only on areas with large markets. The marginal farmers were once again excluded.
This time, though, who is to blame?
Please see also Norman Borlaug: “World Bank fear of green political pressure in Washington became the single biggest obstacle to feeding Africa”. In the Easterbrook interview Borlaug said
“Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”
As we try to understand what is really going on in China’s advanced reactor developments, one of the sources has been Mark Halper @markhalper. Mark covered the Thorium Energy Conference 2013 (ThEC13), held at CERN in Geneva last November China eyes thorium MSRs for industrial heat, hydrogen; revises timeline.
From Mark’s reports I learned that one of the presentations was by a key figure, Xu Hongjie of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Shanghai. Hongjie is the director of what China dubs the “Thorium Molten Salt Reactor” (TMSR) project. One of his slides is shown above, presenting an overview of the TMSR priorities (left side) and the timelines. Happily the Chinese are also focused on the process heat applications of the PH-AHTR (hydrogen to methanol etc.) and the huge benefits to a water impoverished region like China. The Chinese are demonstrating systems-thinking at scale.
There are two Chinese MSR programs:
- TMSR-SF or solid fuel, which looks to me to be very similar to Per Peterson’s PB-AHTR program at UC Berkeley
- TMSR-LF or liquid fuel, which I gather is similar to popular LFTR concept.
Both designs are derivative of the Weinberg-driven Oak Ridge (ORNL) molten salt reactor program (that was cancelled by politicians in the 1960s). I understand the PB-AHTR to be most ready for early deployment, which will lay critical foundations for the liquid fuel TMSR-LF (LFTR) implementation a decade or so later. UC Berkeley’s Catalyst magazine has a very accessible summary of the PB-AHTR program.
Mark Halper reported from the Geneva Thorium Energy Conference. The
I proposed a few days ago a China – OECD cooperation to fast-track deployment of nuclear instead of coal. Fortunately, the Chinese and several of the US labs and universities seem to have figured this out without my help. This is probably all detailed somewhere online, but I’ve not been able to find it so far. These are the parties to the China – US cooperation:
- Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Shanghai
- Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
- University of California Berkeley
- University of Washington
I apologize to anyone I’ve left out.
The recent slowdown (or ‘pause’) in global surface temperature rise is a hot topic for climate scientists and the wider public. We discuss how climate scientists have tried to communicate the pause and suggest that ‘many-to-many’ communication offers a key opportunity to directly engage with the public.
I recommend “Pause for thought” in Nature Climate Change. This very short essay by Ed Hawkins, Tamsin Edwards and Doug McNeall is ungated, after free registration. You can get a preview of the technical overview by studying the two following charts carefully. You’ll need to pay attention to the chart key underneath – there is a lot of information compressed into the two panels.
Observed global mean surface air temperatures (HadCRUT433, solid black line) and recent 1998–2012 trend (dashed black line), compared with ten simulations of the CSIRO Mk3.6 global climate model, which all use the RCP6.0 forcing pathway (grey lines). The grey shading represents the 16–84% ensemble spread (quantiles smoothed with a 7-year running mean for clarity); the ensemble mean trend is around 0.20 °C per decade. Two different realizations are highlighted (blue), and linear trends for specific interesting periods are shown (red, green, purple lines). a, The highlighted realization shows a strong warming in the 1998–2012 period, but a 15-year period of no warming around the 2030s. b, The highlighted realization is more similar to the observations for 1998–2012, but undergoes a more rapid warming around the 2020s. Note also that this realization appears outside the ensemble spread for 9 out of 10 consecutive years from 2003–2012.
The charts and discussion illustrate a central truth of climate science – the results are often only understood in a framework of statistics. The pretty, clean projected temperature curves that we see in the media are heavily smoothed over many runs of multiple models. That presentation conceals the natural variability that is part of the challenge of understanding, then testing hypotheses against observations. It is similar to the agonizing process at the Large Hadron Collidor (LHC) as the teams tried to develop enough data to tease out a sufficiently confident identification of an anomaly corresponding to the Higgs.
If you have a specific question about the authors’ presentation, you can ask the scientists directly on twitter. It is uncommon for authors to reveal their twitter handles in a paper, so please don’t make them regret the open door!
I recommend two other articles in this Nature Climate Change series:
1. Heat hide and seek [PDF] Natural variability can explain fluctuations in surface temperatures but can it account for the current slowdown in warming? The authors offer an excellent summary of the more promising current research, including particularly the variability in heat distribution such as
- El Niño/Southern Oscillation
- Pacific Decadal Oscillation
- Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation
2. Media discourse on the climate slowdown where I learned among other things that the biggest recent media spike seems to be in Oceania – where we are presently (cruising). Australia has been suffering from a severe drought – that no doubt generates increased interest in climate.
Excerpt from Jim Hopf on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) which will be mass-manufactured, then delivered to the site by rail or truck.
Many concepts, such as SMRs, give up size and power density in exchange for inherent safety advantages, resulting in the far lower accident probabilities discussed above. The lower power density and smaller size will tend to make SMRs more, not less, expensive. The hope is for volume production to reduce cost. However, what’s really needed is to use the SMR’s, or advanced reactor’s, fundamental advantages to reduce cost, as opposed to further reducing (already extremely low) accident risk. What needs to be discussed is what other (Nuclear Regulatory Commission/quality assurance) requirements can be relaxed so that accident risk is a little better than current plants, but costs are significantly reduced. However, any such discussion would be blasphemous, for both the public and the NRC. Never mind the fact that requiring reactor accident risk to be as low as possible simply means that fossil fuels will be used instead, resulting in a large increase in public health risk.
Update: Will F @NeedsMorePower in Melbourne (Will’s blog) sent me the announcement Construction of Chinese ‘Nuclear City’ to start at Haiyan in Zhejiang province. And Martin Burkle sent the same press release with the comment
Since we spent twice the money to build the same thing as China spends, we need about 350 million to get the city started. That seems unlikely.
Indeed – China can make progress faster in the “politically sensitive zones” that aren’t favored by the establishment. So where is China on the road to fast deployment of zero-carbon nuclear energy? So far I’ve not been successful to find out what progress has been completed with the “China Nuclear Power City” since the initial press release (I am finding mostly 404 bad links). Here’s an excerpt from the original press release that Will and Martin sent me:
Plans are advancing for the construction of the first industrial park in China to help with the rapid development of the country’s nuclear power industry, with detailed engineering and construction preparation work at the site in Haiyan, Zhejiang province, expected to start soon.
The coastal city of Haiyan, on the Yangtze Delta, has been selected to house the ‘Nuclear City’. It is some 118 kilometres (70 miles) southwest of Shanghai and close to the cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou and Ningbo. It also lies midway along China’s coast, where several nuclear power plants have been constructed or are planned.
…CNNC and the Zhejiang government plan to accelerate the construction of the nuclear components centre and training centre in Haiyan. The central area of the industrial park and the exhibition centre was to be launched first in July 2010. Enterprises in the industrial park will enjoy priority for bidding quota, bidding training, qualification guidance and specific purchasing with CNNC.
China will reportedly spend some $175 billion over the next ten years on developing the 130 square-kilometre Haiyan Nuclear City.
The Haiyan nuclear industrial park is entitled to all the preferential benefits granted to national economic and technological zones and national hi-tech industrial zones.
The Nuclear City is expected to have four main areas of work: development of the nuclear power equipment manufacturing industry; nuclear training and education; applied nuclear science industries (medical, agricultural, radiation detection and tracing); and promotion of the nuclear industry.
On its website, the Haiyan Nuclear City said that it will be based on the Burgundy region of France, which successfully became an industrial centre for the French nuclear industry. Several small and medium sized French nuclear-related companies moved to Burgundy to actively participate in the global market.
Whatever has happened since the announcement, I take this as a positive indication that the Chinese leadership is thinking seriously about how to accelerate the deployment of low-carbon nuclear.
Working out what is really happening in China is challenging. For example, reading the WNA China Nuclear Fuel Cycle, I find the identical quote (as above) on “China Nuclear Power City” in Haiyan. Then at the bottom of the section on Industrial Parks I find this:
In May 2013 CGN and CNNC announced that their new China Nuclear Fuel Element Co (CN- FEC) joint venture would build a CNY 45 billion ($7.33 billion) complex in Daying Industrial Park at Zishan town in Heshan and Jiangmen city, Guangdong province. It was to be established during the 12th Five-Year Plan and be fully operational by 2020. However, in July 2013 the plan was abruptly cancelled. The 200 ha park was to involve 1000 tU/yr fuel fabrication as well as a conversion plant (14,000 t/yr) and an enrichment plant, close to CGN’s Taishan power plant.
Dear readers – I would appreciate links to current information. Comments?