Sunday, July 12, 2015

Climate Change and Science:

The Case for Greater Logic

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted some of the inconsistencies many of us have long noted between the concerns over climate change and the actions being taken--or not being taken--and added a few.

Eduardo Porter starts his discussion by asking whether America's efforts to combat climate change are going off the rails.  He then continues by saying, "environmental experts are suggesting that some parts of the [U.S.] strategy are, at best, a waste of money and time. At worst, they are setting the United States in the wrong direction entirely."

The point that came as the greatest surprise to me was that allowing the burning of biomass in power plants to help reduce consumption of fossil fuels produces 50 percent more carbon dioxide than burning coal.  This seems contrary to all the discussions I have heard about the benefits of using biomass, and the article didn't provide enough detail to allow me to verify the statement independently, but at the very least, it suggests we may need to analyze the biomass option more thoroughly before we commit to it.   

The article also panned some energy conservation efforts, particularly weatherization programs, on economic grounds, saying that they cost more than twice as much as the energy savings they produce.  Furthermore, energy efficiency efforts worldwide are slowing, according to the article.

The concern is that a lot of the strategy for reducing carbon emissions relies on energy efficiency improvements and the use of biomass, so if these strategies are flawed, the U.S. and the world is unlikely to meet carbon-reduction goals.  The author doesn't mince words, saying that such strategies "are driven more by hope than science."  He bemoans the fact that ideological considerations are limiting the options, and are excluding potentially more viable options such as nuclear power.

While this article seems to focus perhaps a bit too much on concerns about biomass, the overall case it makes--that we need to be guided by science and not by unfounded phobias and unreasonable hopes--is a very important one.  As the U.S. and the world continue to make decisions on how to reduce carbon emissions, we cannot rely on preconceived biases or simplistic assumptions about the benefits or liabilities of any option. 


1 comment:

  1. Another comment by a reader who sent the following message directly to me:


    Another take on the subject--energy efficiency requirements for home appliances. Anecdotal but illustrative:

    Our nine year old refrigerator has failed, cost to repair is $800, this means replace. Discussions with multiple appliance repair persons and salespeople have yielded the following perspective - refrigerators once routinely had a lifetime of 15 - 20 years, today they last 8 - 10 years, principally, is is so claimed, due to the unreliability of the multiple high-tech systems incorporated into them to marginally increase energy efficiently. Given the significant energy cost to manufacture a refrigerator in the first place, it would seem that the operating energy efficiency gains are totally lost in the reduced lifespan. And of course it is in the best interests of the appliance manufacturers to encourage government to focus on energy efficiency which overall yields higher profits for them due to reduced lifespans.

    Yet another incidence of unintended consequences - something government excels in.