Saturday, August 06, 2011

Paleontologist sees visions

Peter Ward: "Somebody gave me the foresight to see what's coming, and I don't like it."

Nobody is denying that there has been some extreme weather in the US and elsewhere, this year. And the fact that some people - so far maybe "a couple of dozen" in the US - probably have died of reasons related to the heat wave, is of course sad. But it is also very sad to see that global warming alarmists, like paleontologist Peter Ward, have totally lost their sense of proportion when describing recent weather events:
Scientists have been predicting for years that global warming would produce record-breaking extremes on either side of the thermometer. This past winter, America survived its so-called snowpocalypse, and now that summer has arrived, we've got a heat dome.

If you're wondering what the hell that is -- it's just another obvious climate change assassin that we could see coming miles away, if some of us were paying better attention. If you're looking for a more technical definition, according to National Geographic a heat dome is a seasonal high-pressure system of dense hot air, albeit one with a highly unusual (for now) strength and size, stretching one million square miles from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. It's already killed a couple dozen people, adding to a swelling death toll resulting from recent tornadoes and floods that bedeviled the nation this year.

Even the scientists are starting to crack under the pressure. University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward, who is continuing his study of planetary mass extinction this summer by studying the 500-million-year-old living fossil Nautilus in the remote Pacific, is severely pained by his ability to be right on the data but wrong on people actually caring enough about it to awake from their mediated, medicated stupor.

"I wrote a book in 1994 called The End of Evolution: A Journey in Search of Clues to the Third Mass Extinction Facing Earth that said, within in a decade or two, we'd be seeing these monumental destructions, and people laughed at it," he told AlterNet. "I wrote just last year about sea-level rise in The Flooded Earth saying that things look pretty desperate for the next 60 to 80 years, and got almost no reviews. Luckily, I'm not going to be alive to see the worst of it. But the sad thing is that it's horrible to be right, just horrible. Somebody gave me the foresight to see what's coming, and I don't like it."

We're headed toward a great extinction, McKibben told AlterNet. "The only question is how great. That still remains within our ability to influence. Job one is to stop pouring more carbon into the air."

The other job? Stop pouring more people onto the planet.

"The single driver going on here is the increase in human population," added Ward. "Everything goes back to that. It explains every one of these phenomena: Global warming, marine extinction, changes in living patterns and even in the economies of the world. Way too many people, way too fast. And it's running away."

And so here we sit in the barely new decade of our barely new century, quagmired in game theories above our head, governed by a global elite who have little care for our welfare or even our going-broke cities. To think they're not as invested, literally, in our ignorance of climate change's myriad massacres as they are in pulling the plug on our social safety net is suicide on a global scale. Drowning in debt, deceit, natural catastrophes -- what's the difference?

If we don't start seriously sweating the existential crisis of climate change and ignoring the small-time drama of terrorism and partisan sellouts, then we're finished.

The talk about "climate change's myriad massacres" and "suicide on a global scale" is clearly a case for a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, these scaremongerers do not have the faintest idea about the possible damage they cause to e.g. young people, who happen to read - and, in the worst case, believe - this nonsense.


Green taxes to pay subsidies 'will cost up to 30,000 jobs', British report warns

Green plans to boost renewable energy will destroy up to 30,000 British jobs, according to a hard-hitting report.

David Cameron and his ministers have repeatedly claimed that raising green taxes to pay for subsidies for low carbon technologies such as wind farms will boost economic growth and create 70,000 ‘green collar’ jobs.

But that claim has been torpedoed by John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, an independent group that studies the green energy industry.

He said the Prime Minister’s hopes were ‘staggeringly far-fetched’ and warned that the subsidies will put people on the dole and lead to higher energy prices. Mr Constable studied the EU-wide subsidies and concluded that Spain will generate huge numbers of green jobs while workers and consumers in the UK are hit hard.

‘Green economic policies mean more pain than gain for Britain,’ he concluded. ‘The “green economy” will drain investment from other sectors, making Britons pay more for electricity indefinitely and live less productive lives with access to fewer jobs.’

Mr Constable’s findings are a blow for Mr Cameron, who has made pushing renewable energy a centrepiece of his campaign to detoxify the Tory Party since he became leader six years ago.

The report, entitled The Green Mirage, exposes the colossal scale of public subsidies for renewable energy and warns that by propping up many of these schemes, ministers have simply ‘picked losers’ and prevented the development of more cost-effective ways of generating energy.

It says the UK’s £5billion subsidy to renewable electricity generators in the eight years to 2010 was the equivalent of paying every worker in the wind industry £230,000. Each job in the wind industry was subsidised to the tune of £54,000 last year.

The Green Mirage quotes models developed for the European Commission which suggested that the EU’s climate policies will have only ‘slight’ benefits for GDP and employment by 2020, but that these will not be felt by Britain.

The Commission’s study suggested that Spain would gain 120,000 jobs under current green policies, rising to more than 150,000 if subsidies are increased, the report said.

But Britain stands to lose 10,000 jobs under the current anti-global warming regime, potentially rising to 30,000 if policies are speeded up.

Mr Constable said: ‘Continuing to subsidise renewables will impose high costs on the rest of the economy. This will result in net job losses and loss of international competitiveness.’

A Government spokesman said: ‘Increasing the amount of renewable energy we produce in Britain won’t only help our energy security, but will create new business and job opportunities for the economy.’

A spokesman for industry body RenewablesUK said the figures used by Mr Constable were not a reliable guide.

Developments over the past decade were largely focused on onshore wind technology, where the UK had been left behind. But in the coming years, investment was expected to be directed towards offshore wind, where Britain is set to be a market leader.


Chevy Volt: Still Not Selling

The July sales numbers are out and the Chevy Volt continues to electrify (get it?) the country. GM sold . 125 Volts last month!

Way back in March I made fun of the Volt for selling 281 units in February. Turns out, February was a good month. But wait, there's more! GM says they're going to increase production to 5,000 Volts per month in order to keep up with demand. You see, they claim that the reason the Volt isn't selling is that they can't keep enough cars on the lot. A GM spokeswoman recently claimed that they are "virtually sold out." Which is virtually true. Mark Modica called around his local Chevy dealers and found plenty of Volts waiting for an environmentally conscious driver to bring them home.

All told, GM has sold close to 2,700 Volts. (Funny aside: There's a Volt in my neighborhood and a Volt that parks in my garage at work. So I see almost 0.1 percent of all the Volts in America on a daily basis.) But hey, the EV future is just around the corner.


Sorry, but electric cars are a waste of space

Silently, save for a faint whine, the prophets who claim to have seen the future of the automobile glide round the trendier districts of Britain’s cities, confident that the way forward must be electric.

There they go, hunched over the steering wheel of their funny little plastic runarounds, an invisible halo of environmental piety hovering over their heads as they trundle about saving the planet.

The future, they believe, will belong to them, never mind what the dinosaurs on Top Gear say. Clean, green, smooth battery power will replace messy, polluting, expensive and noisy petrol and diesel engines that have powered our cars and trucks for more than a century — and which contribute 20 per cent of Britain’s carbon emissions.

And so, manufacturers such as BMW and Nissan have invested billions developing futuristic battery-powered vehicles. You can now choose from a range of electric cars that look much like normal vehicles.

Except there’s a problem. Electric cars are dreadful. Even after 20 years of frantic development they remain impractical, ridiculously expensive and not even particularly green. I wouldn’t pay £1,000 for any of those I’ve test-driven, let alone the £28,000 or so often demanded.

The Top Gear team, who have been waging war on the electric car, are right — even if Jeremy Clarkson may have been guilty of exaggerating the problems when he suggested an electric car needed to be recharged during a test drive. The makers of the car deny it ran out of power during the trial and have accused the BBC of ‘mischaracterising’ its capabilities.

The public, however, are waking up to the problems. Last month it was revealed that a Government scheme aimed at encouraging people to buy electric vehicles by offering a £5,000 subsidy for each new car is not working. Just 255 electric cars were bought in the past three months, which the RAC Foundation says is ‘less than electrifying’. And, it was revealed, there are fewer than 2,000 pure-electric cars (as opposed to petrol-electric hybrid versions) on Britain’s roads.

So what has gone wrong with the car of tomorrow?

Well, imagine buying an ordinary car and finding that it runs out of petrol every 80 miles or so. Then, filling it up takes not a couple of minutes but eight hours. Only the insane would buy such an impractical machine.

The problem is down to the laws of physics. No known battery technology can come even close to matching the efficiency of fossil fuels. The problem revolves around ‘energy density’ — the amount of energy contained in a given volume or weight of fuel (or battery). Even the best lithium-ion batteries have energy densities many times less than petrol or diesel.

A kilogramme of petrol contains enough energy to propel a car about 15 miles. A kilo of fully-charged lithium-ion battery will drive your electric car 500 yards. That is why electric cars have huge battery packs weighing up to half a tonne. In the electric BMW Mini I tested a couple of years ago, the battery took up the whole back seat and weighed about 250kg (or the same as five full petrol tanks).

And you only get about 100 miles to a fully-charged battery at best, compared with 1,000-plus miles from the most economical diesels.

This leads to ‘range anxiety’, or the fear you will be stranded miles away from a socket. The previous Government, in its enthusiasm for all things electric and green, promised state-subsidised charging points up and down the land. These haven’t materialised.

The dreadful G-Wiz car I borrowed once had barely enough juice to get me the few miles home across Central London. I’d have been better walking

But the problems do not end there. Manufacturers of electric vehicles, such as Nissan, which has just released a family-hatchback called the ‘Leaf’, point out that electric cars are ideal for city dwellers who tend not to drive more than 15 miles at a time.

But the majority of urbanites live in flats or houses without drives. So to recharge your car you need to trail an electric cable out of your letterbox, across the pavement and maybe along the road — a vandals’ charter.

On its website, Nissan UK describes its new Leaf as ‘zero emissions’. It is not. If you live in a country where 75 per cent of the electricity is generated using fossil fuels such as coal and gas, as in Britain, then every time you recharge your electric car you will be generating emissions — at the power station rather than the exhaust pipe.

If you work out the full lifecycle emissions figures for electric cars — taking into account energy used to manufacture the car (and its batteries) and to dispose of it, plus lifetime emissions from fuel/recharging — the best electric cars on sale work out to be, in environmental terms, a little worse than the most efficient diesel and petrol cars on sale (and cost on average twice as much to buy).

So, electric cars are heavy, expensive, slow, impractical and not very green. They are much cheaper to fuel, but that is largely a function of the way petrol and electricity are taxed differently. If we all switched to electric cars tomorrow, the Treasury would have to quadruple electricity taxes to make up the shortfall in his finances.

The biggest problem for the electric-car lobby is this technology has hardly advanced at all in the past 100 years.

Buy an electric car today and it will effectively be worthless in five years, because by then the worn-out batteries will need replacing — with the cost of their replacements varying wildly from £4,000 to a ludicrous £19,000 (the estimated cost of a new battery for the Leaf). I would never spend £19,000 on a whole car, let alone a wretched battery.

Advocates of electric claim battery technology will improve. This is no doubt true, but batteries will need to improve at least 15 times over to rival petrol or diesel vehicles.

Fans of electric cars also claim they can take advantage of off-peak power to recharge at night. But what would happen if everyone plugged their car into the mains when they get home? The electricity grid would keel over.

Then there is talk of ‘battery-swap’ machines being installed in filling stations so drivers can switch their flat battery for a fully-charged. This is perhaps the only hope for electric cars — although the practical obstacles are formidable.

Every car manufacturer would have to agree a common standard for battery design (when they cannot even agree a standard on light bulb size or which side the petrol filler cap is on), and the oil companies (which own the garages) would have to spend billions on the technology.

So what is the future of motoring? If not electric cars, what about hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, the new Vauxhall Ampera ‘plug-in hybrid’, fuel-cell vehicles (which use liquid-hydrogen to generate electricity on-board) or some other futuristic technology?

Apart from the fact the world still has a lot of oil left, the key is simply to make cars smaller and lighter. Modern cars have become too big. Too many people drive around in absurd, two-tonne 15ft 4WD trucks. And this comes at a terrible price in terms of fuel efficiency.

British automotive genius Gordon Murray is developing the ultimate practical vehicle — a petrol-powered, diminutive, featherweight little three-seater called the T25 that turns 30 years of car design on its head. He says: ‘Make the car lighter and you will then need a smaller engine and lighter brakes.’

I have been in his T25, and it is brilliant — tiny, comfortable and nippy.

Indeed, the true vehicle of the future, which can drive four people in rapid, air-conditioned comfort for 100 miles or more on a gallon of petrol is probably only 15 years away. Maybe their day will come again, but for now electric cars belong in the Victorian era, from whence they came.


Glow at the end of the tunnel

Nuclear energy has taken a beating since the Fukushima crisis began in March, but we believe the arguments are strong that it’s not down for the count.

There are a couple of factors that the Casey Energy Team considers bullish for the nuclear industry and market. Let’s take a closer look and back them up.

Factor #1: The pre-Fukushima price of uranium reflected not just market perception but a very real shortage of uranium that’s looming in the face of growing global demand.

The Japanese earthquake struck just as the nuclear renaissance was gaining momentum. After a decade, efforts by the industry to promote nuclear power as a safe, clean and reliable alternative to fossil fuels were finally taking hold. So was the message that nuclear power offers the “always on” type of electricity that other, more glamorous low-carbon technologies like solar and wind power could only supplement, not replace.

China ordered a swath of new reactors, Russia embarked on a nuclear construction boom, India made nuclear power a key component of its energy plans, and the U.S. Congress issued loan guarantees for new plants.

The price of uranium responded, climbing slowly but surely out from its late-2000 all-time low of US$7.10 per pound, then spiking rapidly from the low US$70s in 2006 to a record US$136 in 2007. That unsustainable drive was fueled by speculators and hedge fund investments that disappeared with the 2008 recession. The spot price dropped back into the US$40s per pound.

While most other commodities recovered, uranium spent 2009 and the first half of 2010 dormant. The market woke up in mid-2010, starting a remarkable eight-month ascent from US$42 to US$72.65 per pound in February. Uranium outperformed every other commodity in that period, including gold, gaining 73%.

The 2007 frenzy aside, uranium’s bullish drive is justified by industry conditions. We already mentioned the construction trend; now here are some numbers to back it up.

Global uranium demand is set to increase some 33% from 2010 to 2020, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA). China is the most important player in that prediction: the Asian giant plans to increase nuclear capacity to 80 GWe by 2020, 200 GWe by 2030, and 400 GWe by 2050. A gigawatt electrical (GWe) is one billion watts, which provides enough power for roughly one million households in a developed country.

China may lead the world in number of nuclear reactors under construction, at 27, but Russia is building 11 and India has five in the works, while countries like Bulgaria, the Slovak Republic, and Ukraine each have two under construction. Demand for uranium is absolutely on the up-and-up.

Much more here

Nukes the way ahead for Africa

By far the majority of African countries are not blessed with huge deposits of coal. Some have some oil, but it is much better to use oil to fuel cars, trains and aircraft. Some have natural gas, but developing this resource and building the necessary pipelines is in its infancy.

Many African countries rely largely on hydroelectric power. However, that means they have to build dams and power stations where the power is: in free-running rivers. If that is not where they actually need the power, they must construct transmission lines and grids. Moreover, many of these countries are arid and subject to recurrent droughts, which can dramatically reduce electricity generation. And many environmentalists oppose hydroelectric power (as well as hydrocarbon fuels).

Some of these African countries are also very big, and even the smaller ones are still big by European standards. This means major costs and complexities are associated with developing the lines and grids. This is expensive, takes time, and demands constant expert maintenance.

In South Africa we carry out live-line maintenance. We drop technicians onto live power lines from a helicopter. They sit there, calmly repairing the line, as it transmits 700,000 Volts! They tell me their hair stands on end, because of the huge electric field. But as long as they make no earth contact, like coming close to a pylon, the technicians will not explode in a ball of flame.

South Africa’s vast grid is a huge technological achievement, which the country is justly proud of. But one has to ask whether this the correct way forward for other African countries – or even for any country in the future.

The answer is clear and definite: maybe! If a country has major sources of fuel, such as South Africa’s coal, then maybe it would be profitable to move electrical power long distances. If, on the other hand, a country does not have a major fuel source, then building a huge grid makes little sense.

For most of Africa, and for that matter the rest of the world, the better answer is, produce electricity where you want and need it, to minimize the need for long power lines. Have multiple sets of smaller distribution grids, rather than one large national grid, to ensure affordable, reliable electricity for the greatest possible number of people.

Okay, it’s a great philosophy. How do we do make it happen? We must produce small power plants that can be placed where we want them. We must build the power generation where we need the power.

In some cases, that can mean building gas-fired turbines – if natural gas has been discovered and can be delivered easily and economically by pipeline to electrical generators near cities.

In many other instances, it is much better to build small nuclear power plants in Richards Bay, Port Elizabeth, Carltonville and other South African cities. In other countries, do the same. It is easy to bring nuclear fuel to these small power stations because so little fuel is used.

Building large scale nuclear power plants of 2000 MW on the Cape Town coast is fine. We need them to power the Cape. However, we also need independent nuclear plants to power the inland goldfields, iron and copper mines, and communities.

Great strides have been made in producing smaller power plants that are cost effective, easy to operate and inherently safe. This is the way of the future, and we are going to see a number of such designs emerge.

Much more technological innovation is poised to unleash itself in the world of nuclear power, than in the fields of solar and wind power. A range of nuclear power plant designs and sizes is the future.

This philosophy is spreading across Africa. Small power plants, placed strategically near points of consumption, will be the strategy to rapidly advance our vast continent.

Such a strategy also lends itself to private ownership of electricity production, thereby leading to healthy market competition, affordable and reliable power 24/7/365 – and better business and educational opportunities, health and prosperity than most Africans ever dreamed of.



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1 comment:

slktac said...

If one wants to reduce the number of people on the planet, a known effective method is a horrific dictator in charge of the country. Lights are out in North Korea and people are dying in Somalia. If we really want to save the planet, maybe we just need more dictators......It hasn't worked for the power usage in China, but they do tightly control their poputlation. Even a moderate dictator can help.