It’s the Energy, Stupid

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008 4:26 pm by Neal

(Hat tip: HR)

Roy Spencer has a great article on global warming, energy data, the science of energy technology, and the economics of energy. Reality Deniers focuses on the reality of energy usage and science because the real deniers in the global warming debate are those ignorant simpletons who believe we can replace oil and coal with “alternative” sources of energy and who naively think that “just doing something” is a rational or productive course of action.

But even though I am a climate scientist, you might be surprised that there is one subject which I consider to be more misunderstood in the global-warming debate than the science itself. And that is the economics of what to do about global warming.

I am astounded by the naiveté of those folks who seem to think there is some magic, non-polluting energy source out there that “Big Oil” has been hiding from us until all of the petroleum runs out. As these reality deniers continue to drive cars and fly in airplanes, they deny the fact that mankind’s dependence on oil is not out of choice, but necessity.

It makes me cringe when I see bloggers and pundits say things like, “What’s the downside of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions? Even if we’re wrong about man-made global warming, we’ll end up with better energy technologies and cleaner air. And if we’re right, we’ll save the planet!”

The only problem is, no matter how serious you think global warming will be, our current renewable-energy technologies and conservation will make virtually no difference to future global temperatures.

These efforts might make us feel better about ourselves, but don’t expect them to come anywhere close to solving the problem.

The energy demand by humanity is simply too large — and it is growing rapidly in developing countries like India and China. Electricity in the United States is supplied by the equivalent of 1,000 one-gigawatt power plants. It would be a major feat, both politically and monetarily, to replace 50 of those 1,000 power plants with solar and wind generation facilities.

Then, once we have patted ourselves on the back over that accomplishment, we could start working on replacing the other 95 percent of our electricity needs. …

The truth is, if you want to get away from petroleum and coal, we need radically new energy technologies. A massive and immediate program to start building nuclear reactors would help some, but this is unlikely to occur without a major change in public opinion. …

This whole discussion, of course, assumes that man-made global warming will be a serious problem that needs to be addressed. I’m one of those who believe that our current global warmth is more likely to be mostly due to natural climate variability. But I can not prove this.

But neither can the global-warming alarmists prove that our current warmth is not the result of natural climate variability. Not one published study has ruled out natural causes, such as a slight change in cloud cover from a tiny change in the general circulation of the atmosphere.

Since reasonable people can differ on the subject, I can not fault the alarmists too much. But if we are going to have any hope of finding large-scale alternatives to fossil fuels, it is time for us to stop denying reality. Anything else is a waste of our limited amounts of time and wealth.

Read the entire article here.

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