coleman & co.

ameobaLord knows, I have paid my dues arguing climate science with entrenched and avowed deniers of human-induced climate change, or this here global warming. This past week I got tangled in another thread where the host raised the spectre of climate change but tried to keep the course of conversation on his topic of choice, chiefly the need to go nuclear.

Course, when you are debating the viability of any technology, you need to know the environment it would be tasked to operate in. In this case, a warming planet spells doom for nuclear power, considering these giants require massive amounts of water (and can’t sustainably discharge boiling water into receiving lakes and streams)

However, as I had suspected going in, this tech-loving bunch was ga-ga for nuclear without offering much by way of a technical offense or defense. Pro-nuke posturing, along with incubationist notions of “energy independence,” are increasingly in vogue, it appears.

What was most interesting, however, was the referencing of Weather Channel founder John Coleman.

Coleman is perhaps most often referred to “that weather guy who called global warming the ‘greatest scam in history.’”

I’ve wondered about these weather folks ever since I first realized they don’t typically (or, perhaps, automatically) fall in with the new-fangled climatologists, despite the fact the American Meteorological Society’s position statement is right on the nose with the world’s foremost scientists.

A new-ish environmental website, the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media proved its value to me in spades by tackling this topic right off in a recent story by Bill Dawson.

In it, Dawson paints a picture of the situation with some of the stronger statements on global warming by “denier” television meteorologists and discloses that two surveys exploring this gulf between disciplines.

Here’s where it started getting interesting to me:

Sublette said he has become concerned about polarization occurring over the issue of climate change.

“There has not been enough good, general discussion between broadcast meteorologists and climatologists,” he said. “I hope this [survey] can put things out in the open.”

Sublette said some broadcast meteorologists – many of whom “don’t like being told what to think” – were not satisfied by answers to some of their questions when climatologists presented data at last year’s AMS Annual Meeting in San Antonio.

The discussion about human causation of climate change between people in the two fields has been “devolving into ‘I don’t see it happening at all’ versus ‘You’re crazy if you don’t think it’s happening,’” he said.

Broadcast meteorologists are so busy disseminating information about near-term weather conditions – now on multiple platforms – that they simply don’t have much time to keep up with scientific developments related to longer-term climate conditions, he said.

“Longer-term climate science is still a relatively new field. It’s very difficult for each side to understand the other because we’re not playing in each other’s yard very much. Still, I think there’s more agreement than is widely seen by the general public.”

AMS Position Consistent with IPCC, National Academy

A February 2007 AMS formal statement on climate change is “consistent with the vast weight of current scientific understanding as expressed in assessments and reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U. S. National Academy of Sciences, and the U. S. Climate Change Science Program,” according to the group.

Despite uncertainties, the AMS statement says, “there is adequate evidence from observations and interpretations of climate simulations to conclude that the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; that humans have significantly contributed to this change; and that further climate change will continue to have important impacts on human societies, on economies, on ecosystems, and on wildlife through the 21st century and beyond.”

With regard to policy decisions, the formal AMS statement says, “Prudence dictates extreme care in managing our relationship with the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life.”

Last September, in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, two prominent broadcast meteorologists and AMS leaders published a guest editorial (pdf), “Communicating Global Climate Change to the Public and Clients.” In it, they criticized some of their fellow weathercasters who have been speaking out skeptically about anthropogenic global warming:

“Increasing numbers of broadcast meteorologists, to whom the public looks for information and guidance on climate change and global warming, are not offering scientific information but rather, all too often, nonscientific personal opinions in the media, including personal blogs. Alarmingly, many weathercasters and certified broadcast meteorologists dismiss, in most cases without any solid scientific arguments, the conclusions of the National Research Council (NRC), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other peer-reviewed research.”

The editorial’s two co-authors were Bob Ryan, AMS past president and chief meteorologist for Washington, D.C.’s NBC-owned WRC, and John Toohey-Morales, AMS commissioner on professional affairs and chief meteorologist of NBC Telemundo’s WSCV in Miami.

In a phone interview with the Yale Forum, Ryan said he thinks many “naysayers” about the idea of manmade climate change among broadcast weather forecasters “are coming from a perspective of the policy first – or they’re against it because they think it will hurt the economy, so how can I set out to punch holes in the theory – rather than scientifically testing a theory.”

In certain cases, skeptical weathercasters are “putting their own personal views – sometimes even fundamentalist religious beliefs – first, and then looking at climate change from the standpoint of preconceived things they believe in,” he said.

Back at the “global warming, fact or fiction… does it matter?” site the host suggested that if I am right and nuclear is not an option “there is no hope.” So much for thinking outside of Exxon’s bag of tricks. (I suspect he never so much as peeked at the ingredient list I sent him for a non-petrol/non-nuke future.) Oh, well. He was nice enough. And I really expected to get sandbagged coming in with my minority viewpoint.

Last I checked, solar tech (as it stands today) could feasibly offset 70 percent of U.S. energy needs. Wind could knock off another 20 percent. Then head on down the checklist…

Galveston offers another setting to prove nuke embracers wrong on that point.

Get thee thy boogie board a’right:

energy ocean 2008

Now in it’s 5th year, EnergyOcean continues to be the leading international conference/exhibition focused on technology, regulations, policymaking, and finance in the world of renewable ocean. Presented by the Ocean Energy Council, and Technology Systems Coporation, EnergyOcean is supported by the U.S. Department of Commerce U.S. Commercial Service.

Over the last 4 years, hundreds of delegates from more than 20 different countries have participated in EnergyOcean, and the 2008 event will once again feature technologists presenting their latest developments in Offshore Wind, Wave, Tidal/Current, Thermal, Solar and Hybrid power generation technology.

Specialty firms will present market insights and discuss legal and environmental issues pertaining to installing power generation equipment offshore. Finance and investment firms will present opportunities available in this emerging market, and policy makers from around the world will be in attendance.

The technical program will feature 3 days of technology, environmental and policy-related presentations, plus results from several pilot projects. The conference will begin with a U.S. focus session followed by two days of international presentations. A special pre-conference report will be presented by all ocean energy organizations invited to attend.

EnergyOcean 2008 will be co-located with Subsea Survey 2008, a forum dedicated to offshore exploration and development. Each event will feature separate technical programs but share a common exhibit hall www.subseasurvey.com.

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8 responses to “coleman & co.

  1. I was going to try and summarize some of the points Dr. Helen Caldicott makes in her many books, articles and interviews, but instead I’ll just post this excerpt from the website of one of her recent books, since it hits the nail so nicely on the head:

    http://www.helencaldicott.com/books.htm#npinta
    NUCLEAR POWER IS NOT THE ANSWER

    In a world torn apart by wars over oil, many politicians are increasingly looking for alternative sources of energy – and their leading choice is often nuclear. Among the myths that have been spread over the years about nuclear-powered electricity are that it does not cause global warming or pollution (i.e., that it is “clean and green”), that it is inexpensive, and that it is safe. But the facts belie the barrage of nuclear industry propaganda:

    * Nuclear power contributes to global warming
    * The real costs of nuclear power are prohibitive (and taxpayers pick up most of them)
    * There’s not enough uranium in the world to sustain long-term nuclear power
    * Potential for a catastrophic accident or terrorist attack far outweighs any benefits.

    Trained as a physician, and – after four decades of antinuclear activism – thoroughly versed in the science of nuclear energy, the bestselling author of Nuclear Madness and Missile Envy here turns her attention from nuclear bombs to nuclear lightbulbs. As she makes meticulously clear in this damning book, the world cannot withstand either.

  2. One important fact that must be understood is that, unlike the gas and oil, the cost of the uranium ore is a negligible fraction of the cost of nuclear power (with almost all of nuclear power cost being in the form of value added by domestic labor). Specifically, at today’s price of ~$40/kG of uranium, the ore costs amount to only ~0.1 cents/kW-hr (i.e., only ~2-3% of nuclear’s total power cost). The ore cost could increase by a factor of 10 (to ~$400/kg) and nuclear’s power cost would only increase by ~1 cent. Thus, whereas gas and oil applications are extremely sensitive to the cost of fuel, and can be rendered uneconomical by even a small increase in fuel price, nuclear power is almost immune to ore price increases. Thus, the maximum price for uranium ore, above which nuclear power would become uneconomical, is extremely high indeed.

    As far as I can tell, none of the nuclear utilities have shown any real concern about long-term uranium supplies, and for good reason. This is basically a non-issue. The 50-year supply “problem” is most often brought up by two groups, both of which have a vested interest. First, there are the groups opposed to nuclear energy, who use these reserves estimates to argue that nuclear power has no long-term future anyway, and is therefore not worthy of significant investment. The second group consists of nuclear engineers and scientists who are devoted to the concept of a closed fuel cycle, where breeders or spent fuel reprocessing (to re-use the uranium and plutonium in spent fuel) is used. They argue that unless these methods are used, nuclear has no long-term future, because standard reactors (using the once-through fuel cycle) only have enough fuel (uranium ore) for a few more decades.

    Whatever the merit of these groups’ goals, these arguments are based on a false premise. Long-term uranium supplies are simply not a real problem. Even if (in the distant future) uranium ore does get really expensive, market forces, and nuclear technology, are equipped to handle it. Advances in extraction technology, along with higher ore prices, will exponentiate the recoverable reserves. Breeder reactors, which will become more economical in 50-100 years, will eventually appear and eliminate all supply issues. All indications are that we will have plenty of time (50-100 years) to develop such breeder technology, before the cost of ore really starts to impact nuclear economics. This is true even under the highest nuclear power growth scenarios. From James Hopf…

  3. thanks for contributing this extended quote from james hopf as carried on the energy independence website. (http://www.americanenergyindependence.com/uranium.html, for the curious.)

    funny, early in this same essay, hopf seems to be poo-pooing early warnings of “peak oil,” which we have now thoroughly encountered. we could still mock the peak oiler’s back in 2004. how fast THAT went out of fashion.

    he also speaks of those heady early days in atomic research when massively federally subsidized atomic power programs were promising energy “too cheap to meter.”

    hasn’t turned out that way. both the DOE and MIT have recently mapped nuclear energy beneath both natural gas and oil in cost-per-kilowatt (being surpassed by solar as we speak).

    long and short of all this is that i truly hope you will consider is my very first post to your site — that an efficiency revolution coupled with range of renewable technologies really can see us through. it’s an exciting time to be alive.

  4. Amuse, I think I understand what you’re saying, but I have to remark about one thing you wrote: “One important fact that must be understood is that, unlike the gas and oil, the cost of the uranium ore is a negligible fraction of the cost of nuclear power (with almost all of nuclear power cost being in the form of value added by domestic labor).”

    One of those “negligible fractions of the cost of nuclear power” (and nuclear weapons before that) is something that’s worth mentioning–namely, the cost from uranium mining to the environment and public health. (And I’m by no means defending gas or oil. I’m merely writing from experience about uranium.)

    Here in NM, we’ve witnessed firsthand the effects of uranium mining on the workers who were exposed to unsafe conditions and on the communities surrounding the mines and mills. (Lest anyone forget, thousands of workers in the Southwest were sickened and many died because of their work; in 1979, a tailings dam at a uranium mill in Church Rock collapsed, sending 95 million gallons of radioactive water down the Rio Puerco; and now, the drinking water for an entire section of the Navajo Nation is at risk because of the desire to open new uranium mines–in situ leach mines–on the reservation, despite the tribe’s protests of the project.)

    Someday soon, we Americans will have to start taking into account the true cost of resource extraction–and that means taking into account the environmental degradation as well as the effects on public health, workers, neighbors and future communities.

    For my part, I’d much rather think about conservation, efficiency and seeking out better ways to use renewable sources of energy.

  5. On the anecdotal level, one of the most frequent rejoinders I hear from climate change deniers – not just the paid industry shills, but also ordinary folk – is something along the lines of, “Well, it’s much colder out today than normal so that just shows climate change is bogus.” The other side is guilty of the same thing – taking an isolated, abnormal weather event and insisting that it somehow “proves” climate change.

    It’s a common mistake – confusing weather with climate. Interesting, then, to learn that the professionals, meteorologists and climatologists, are duking out in much the same way. I think part of the problem is that people, including weathermen, experience weather, but they don’t – at least they don’t think they do – experience climate. Fluctuations in weather occur on a momentary, daily, yearly, and decadal basis. One day it’s hot and the next it’s cool. One day it’s pouring cats and dogs and the next it’s dry as a bone. Weather is highly variable, in our face, and affects our daily lives.

    That’s why when we meet strangers, we talk about the weather, but we don’t talk about climate per se. Climatologists, on the other hand, look at weather as a phenomenon linked to climate. They’re looking at weather as averaged out over the long-term, mining data for evidence of global or regional changes. An aberration here in there in the weather – an unusually wet summer in Texas for example – doesn’t really mean much as an isolated data point.

    Climate models show that the Southwest, including Texas, will probably become much dryer. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be years in which rainfall is way above average. A periodic “weather” deviation from this new climate phenomenon doesn’t “disprove” global warming.

  6. thanks, forrest. well stated.

    i think that’s where the split begins, but we’re also hobbled in our collective conversations on the issue by many sociological filters such as religious and political perspective, to which science often takes a backseat.

    we live in a period where raw information is wildly accessible, but the ability to assemble it coherently is not always prized. science for its own sake is not well understood (not unlike art for art’s sake, perhaps) outside what can be politically achieved with it. we’ve certainly seen it manipulated at the highest levels in this country in ways we not at any point in the past.

    the A&M climate project that caught my attention suggests that when those rains do come to south texas, they will likely come in more violent bursts. that, on top of reliably increased temps, would result in lesser recharge.

    whether this trend is “only” a hundred year cycle (as some of the meteorologists suggest) or the beginning of an incredibly turbulent anthropocene age (IPCC and others), how much more could texas be doing to prepare its residents? (sorry. my lazy rhetorical.)

    in the same way we have been burning oil with abandon in our palatial suburban homes and trucks and SUVs, we have also been undervaluing our water resources in ways we very soon will be regretting.

    we seem bound and determined to wait for the other shoe to drop before we take the sort of action on climate change that mainstream science suggests. sorta the $4 gas effect, i guess.

  7. Everyone’s probably already seen this, but here’s the US Climate Change Science Program’s Final Report: Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate. (It’s probably been covered in the press, but someone just emailed me the report this morning.)

    http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap3-3/final-report/default.htm

    Be sure and find the map, which shows “percentage change in annual runoff, 2090-2099.”

    And here’s a link to the FAQ brochure, which is obviously more digestible than the entire report:

    http://downloads.climatescience.gov/sap/sap3-3/Brochure-CCSP-3-3.pdf

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