It’s time for a thought experiment about climate change. Let’s assume that climate change is real, has indeed been caused primarily by human activity, and will be irreversible and catastrophic if not stopped very soon. Many activists believe all of this is true and furthermore insist that no disagreement can be tolerated because the science is unequivocal and no longer open to debate. As an aside, I don’t think any good scientist would ever agree to close debate on a subject, since the willingness to continue to try and disprove a theory is really the only way to find flaws or make new discoveries. But for the purpose of this experiment, let’s just assume it is true that humanity faces a clear and present existential threat.
What do we do about it? Spend years negotiating a treaty full of compromises and voluntary efforts? Implement a “carbon tax” that allows polluters to pay others who promise to decrease their emissions, but without effective verification and enforcement? Imagine that some kind of viral infection or alien invasion threatened to destroy life on Earth as we know it within a few decades if not stopped. It would mean war. Literally. As in, we do whatever we need to do to stop the plague and accept whatever casualties are needed to ensure we survive. That is how you deal with an existential threat. Not through half-hearted negotiations where nobody has any incentive to do more than anybody else. But are activists approaching climate change solutions with the deadly seriousness of war? Not exactly.
Part of the United Nations climate change plan includes getting developed nations to pay $100 billion per year to “meet the needs of developing nations.” According to the UN, “Taking climate action now makes good economic sense. The more we delay, the more we pay. We can promote economic growth, eradicate extreme poverty, and improve people’s health and well-being by acting today.” Sorry, what exactly does eradicating poverty and improving health and well-being have to do with saving the planet? And who gets “economic growth” out of all this spending? Let me guess, the developing nations? A cynical person might think it is some kind of scheme to transfer wealth from developed to developing nations rather than an urgent plan to save humanity from disaster. What we need to do is triage the patient (Earth) by first stopping the bleeding.
Plan B: How to abort climate change.
What is allegedly causing the most damage to the planet? Coal-fired power plants are the largest contributors to the atmospheric CO2 concentrations and contribute 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the UN, the problem is getting worse and we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030. So, getting rid of all coal plants worldwide still only gets us a bit more than halfway there, but we’ve got to start where we can get the biggest bang for the buck, so to speak.
The US still operates many, but most of the coal plants are in China and India, and they are still building more. Do we say, “we’ll eliminate all our coal plants, and you should do the same, but we understand that you are still a developing country, so it wouldn’t be fair to ask that much from you?” Hell no! If all our lives are on the line, we shut them down. Now! Sorry it affects you more than us. You will just have to delay your economic development until you can develop clean energy. Should the nations that first developed modern economies have to suffer the most just to be “fair” if we are all in jeopardy? Or do we take the most effective action to deal with the problem? In war, we do what we have to do. If China refuses to cooperate, do we just throw up our hands and find ways to unilaterally harm our own economy even more? Are coal plants going to kill us all or not?
Here is the first strategic campaign plan for Plan B. We start blowing up Chinese and Indian coal plants if they don’t agree to shut them all down. Precision-guided munitions might work, but if they shoot down our planes and missiles, we start using small nukes. Maybe we even abrogate the Outer Space Treaty that prohibits weapons of mass destruction in space. We put weapons in space and keep taking out the plants. Is it life or death for the planet or not? If so, isn’t nuclear war a risk we just have to take?
With Plan B, the only viable non-fossil fuel energy alternatives are nuclear, solar, and some wind power, since there are only limited scalable applications for other clean technologies. Nuclear, you ask indignantly? Of course! Why do activists still oppose nuclear power when it is actually the safest and cleanest form of reliable (always on) power? Especially from the perspective of climate change. Should we be more afraid of the problem of nuclear safety and waste disposal, which are just engineering challenges, than climate change? Making the shift to nuclear and solar or wind will be expensive and slow, but are we serious or not?
US coal plants have a capacity of about 246,187 MegaWatts of power. The largest US nuclear plant has 3 reactors and produces about 3,937 MW of electric power, but a small plant might only produce 1,100 MW. That means we would need about 62 large or 224 small additional nuclear plants to replace the energy coming from coal plants. The US currently has 58 nuclear plants and has generated 20% of its electricity from nuclear since 1990. China has over a million MegaWatts of coal power, so they would need 255 large or 913 small nuclear plants. China already has 46 reactors, but produces only about 5% of its electricity from nuclear.
The mean construction time of a nuclear power plant is 7.5 years, but there is no way we could build so many that quickly. And even a small plant can cost up to $9 billion. So, we are talking about costs in the trillions of dollars and decades of construction time! We are told we are almost out of time. The United Nations even says that “Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions are stopped.” Does that mean we are screwed no matter what? Are we going to war over climate change or not? If so, crank up the nuclear plants baby or start turning off the lights, heat, and economy! It is of course ironic that nuclear technology may be the one thing that can either destroy or save us. Global warming or nuclear winter, here we come!
I’ll bet you think solar would be better. According to Elon Musk, “If you wanted to power the entire U.S. with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States. The batteries you need to store the energy, to make sure you have 24/7 power, is … one square-mile. That’s it.” But the time and cost to build such an enormous number of solar panels and batteries would be huge. We’re not even sure we can make enough batteries for the current growth in electric cars. And we would still need more reliable sources of energy for periods of bad weather and a better distribution network. China and India would need even more time and space to replace their coal energy. Depending on where you live, guess what needs to be cut down to make room for solar panels? Trees.
What about the deforestation of the planet? Countries like Brazil still have an extensive rainforest that is critical to the absorption of CO2. Do we let them continue to chop down the forest? I admit that we were foolish to have already chopped down so many of our trees, but we didn’t know any better back then and can’t go back in time. Do we give Brazil a pass just because we did it, or do we stop them from further destruction by whatever means necessary? Brazil thinks rich countries should pay them $12 billion dollars per year. But if that doesn’t work, how about a coup or an invasion? In other words, whatever is needed to protect the rainforest. Is it life and death for the planet or not? If so, we send the Army to save the rainforests and start planting new trees everywhere as quickly as possible. As long as there is still room for the solar farms, I guess.
I think you get the point. If climate change is such a serious problem, and the time estimates keep getting shorter, why are we not treating it with the urgency of an existential threat? There is a time for negotiation and a time for war. Unless of course, we aren’t quite as sure of the science as some would have us believe.
The House of Representatives climate and environment subcommittee, led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Secretary of State John Kerry, proposes the total elimination of carbon pollution from power plants across the country by 2035. Never mind that we are told we need it by 2030. So, they want to eliminate not just coal, but also most natural gas and petroleum-based plants. They suggest replacing them with 500 million solar panels, 60,000 wind turbines, lots of batteries, and energy efficiency in housing and cars. We will have to run on solar and wind-powered batteries most of the time, with some natural gas and nuclear to cover the gaps. And this is just for the US, never mind all those Chinese and Indian coal plants.
Proponents talk about all green energy jobs that will be created, but not the old energy jobs that will be lost, or the cost of building this new infrastructure. Where will the money come from? US taxpayers? The Chinese? I think they will need everything they have to rebuild their own infrastructure. Will the cost of financing drive up the financing costs for all other economic needs? If we abandon fossil fuels and their prices drop, will other countries simply benefit from lower prices and laugh at us or follow us down the crazy green road to bankruptcy?
Frankly, I don’t see any possible way we can even meet the global CO2 reduction objectives that climate change advocates say we must, even if we use the threat of nuclear war to bend the entire world to our will and sink every dollar of investment into rebuilding our energy infrastructure. What am I missing? Is there a real, achievable, affordable global plan that I just can’t conceive? Does it require a government takeover of our economy and a military attack against China and India?
If we only had more time. Or do we? Who can imagine what kind of energy technology humanity will develop in the next 100 years? And who knows, we might be able to suck every bit of greenhouse gas back out of the atmosphere by then! I’m betting on time, technological innovation, and competition to save us, not hysterical activism. I’m still going to buy an electric car because I think they are pretty cool, even if they are fueled by coal-fired electricity.