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The Only Way To Beat Global Warming

Politics / Climate Change Jun 12, 2013 - 04:37 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Winning the war on global warming requires slaughtering sacred cows. The impassioned defenders of this ideology say that we cannot afford to ignore either the carbon-free electricity supplied by nuclear energy, or the transformational potentials of genetic engineering, the benefits of nanotech, robotics and the rapid growth of geoengineering.
 In the 1960s and up to the late-1970s “global cooling” was the topic of headline articles in popular media such as 'Newsweek' with reports of meteorologists being “almost unanimous” that the cooling trend could lead to catastrophic famines, another little Ice Age, or worse. In 1974 'Time' magazine published an article titled “Another Ice Age?.”

In 1975 the New York Times ran a headline article titled “Scientists Ponder Why World’s Climate Is Changing; a Major Cooling Widely Considered to Be Inevitable”. In 1978 the NYT reported that “an international team of specialists has concluded from eight indexes of climate that there is no end in sight to the cooling trend”, that had started in the late 1940s in the northern hemisphere.

From the early 1950s, the USSR's commitment to both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, and the concept of global cooling had resulted in major science research and development programs. Soviet R&D on cloud seeding with silver iodide and other chemicals was designed to provoke snow storms outside of the regions producing major crops. Soviet scientists also developed geoengineering techniques targeting the albedo (reflection coefficient) of snow-covered terrain. Reducing albedo, by action such as soot spraying, they hoped, could lead to more rapid warming and snow melt of crop bearing regions after winter, allowing a longer growing season. For western oil importers, by 1975, nuclear energy was seen as vital to provide energy security from price-gouging Arab oil exporters, joined by Venezuela, Nigeria and the Chah's Iran.

In the US, the nuclear energy part of the climate message changed by the end of the decade, after the March 28,1979 accident at Three Mile Island which sounded the death knell for the US nuclear power industry. At that time also, the mega-shift from global cooling fear to global warming fear had started. Daniel Yergin, then an up and coming oil and energy commentator wrote in the early 1980s that he saw “a notable shift in the climate of thinking on climate change research”. The shift had started -- from cooling fear to warming fear.

Yergin reported in the 1980s that the US Department of Defense’s JASON committee had found
 “incontrovertible evidence that the atmosphere is indeed changing” and that “we ourselves contribute to that change”. He said the JASON committee argued for the now-famous precautionary principle, saying “a wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late.” Political action was needed.

By 1988 following an early series of meeting held in Austria, the future IPCC (International Panel of experts on Climate Change) had been formed, demanding political action that would entail reducing carbon emissions, something which could be achieved through increased reliance on nuclear power, despite its remaining unpopularity in the US, and rising unpopularity in Europe following the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986.

From 1979 in the US, and from 1986 in Europe the nuclear industry was able to count on active but discreet support from the nuclear weapons lobby. Nuclear weapons programs rely on the existence of large nuclear processing facilities including mining, milling and enrichment of uranium as well as a
highly specialized technical infrastructures and an experienced labour pool. While it is difficult but possible to produce nuclear weapons without a nuclear power industry it is far preferable to have a dynamic nuclear industry in place. The USA's nuclear facilities that existed in 1979 were aging and could not last forever, making it vital for the industry to survive, in the view of military deciders, who saw the industry as the essential basic component of their military industrial complex.

These factors may have been overriding considerations for the US DoD JASON committee, which included testimony from one of the principal scientists engaged in formulating what we call the AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) theory, Roger Revelle, a US Navy oceanographer who was employed at the Office of Naval Research which in the late 1970s was actively lobbying the US administration for additional funding for nuclear submarines and ships. The US Navy was central to the development of the later civilian nuclear power industry in the US due to the almost unshielded but efficient Westinghouse power reactors used in nuclear submarines and ships.
 From 1979, another outspoken early proponent of AGW theory was Britain’s Prime minister Margaret
Thatcher who sought the construction of new nuclear power plants as well as US-origin Trident nuclear submarines armed with new generation SLBMs (submarine launched ballistic missiles). In addition, shaping Thatcher's energy policies, her ruling Conservative party sought to crush the coal miners union of the UK (the NUM), and replace coal energy with fast-rising quantities of oil and gas extracted from the UK sector of the recently developed North Sea oil and gas province. Britain went on to build new nuclear power plants during the 1980s while Thatcher's governments over 11 years reduced coalmining activity by over 85%, making tens of thousands of coal miners redundant.

 In the USA however, the unpopular Carter administration sponsored the establishment of the solar energy industry, a rival and 'new' low carbon energy source. George Tenet (before becoming the director of the CIA) was the manager of communication and publicity for the recently formed US Solar Energy Industries Association. This had been founded with corporate support from companies such as
Lockheed Grumman, Boeing, General Motors and Exxon. In the US, Congressional action in support of new low carbon energy legislation, over at least two decades, was at one and the same time supportive of action to develop new nuclear power plants – and to develop renewable energy and energy conservation.

According to some commentators (including Yergin) the non-nuclear ‘alternative low carbon’ energy technologies were never seriously expected to become significant sources of electric power generation, unlike nuclear power. By the period of post-2000 this had however changed.
 Continuing the CIA tradition for involvement in US energy policy, in 2008 another CIA director, James Woolsey, who was energy security adviser to John McCain in his failed campaign for the presidency, took up a promotional role for the American Clean Skies Foundation. In a series of print ads, Woolsey promoted the 'clean energy vision' of a new Fortress America operating on low carbon clean renewables and nuclear energy, not only for its homes, schools and factories, but also for its defense forces. Under Woolsey, the CIA constantly militated for the Pentagon to become at least 20% dependent on renewable energy by 2020 – exactly the same goal as the European Union “climate-energy package”, voted by the European parliament in December 2008.

Despite the fast-growing role of US shale oil constantly reducing oil import needs and oil import dependence, James Woolsey as a founding member of the Set America Free coalition, a pressure group aimed at highlighting the security and economic implications of America’s “growing dependence” on foreign oil, sees himself as a pioneer for a new cross-party political coalition.

This new coalition combines a highly militarist security ideology with anti-global warming and green politics.

For James Wolsey, the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks, $4 gasoline, and global warming fear have “brought a lot of people together”. He calls it the New Coalition of the “tree-huggers, the do-gooders, the cheap energy hawks, evangelicals, and the mom and pop Sunday drivers”. As he says “all of those groups have good reasons to be interested in moving away from oil dependence.”

Joined by similar new political alliances and associations in Europe and Japan, the Set America Free coalition includes liberal groups such as the Apollo Alliance, the American Council on Renewable Energy and environmentalist organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council. The extent of cross-party support is shown by Woolsey's 'New Coalition' militating for the 'low carbon paradigm'
including well know foreign policy hawks such as Senator Joseph Lieberman, former Senator Sam Brownback, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former national security adviser Robert McFarlane, Thomas Neumann of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs,, Daniel Pipes of the
Middle East Forum, the neoconservative Center for Security Policy (CSP), and the Hudson Institute.
 Stated intentions of the New Coalition's right wing inlcude achieving US energy independence to enable greater freedom to initiate 'regime change wars' across the Middle East region that would destroy any potential  resistance to the Greater Israel project. Woolsey’s positions as an advisor
 to the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; and advisory board membership of the Likud-backed Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs provides insight to the potential higher and further goal of achieving Fortress Americamight shed some light on his aims. The low carbon paradigm serves as a rallying theme, along with high oil prices.

In a May 22, 2013 Op Ed by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger, the 'Wall Street Journal' said that  the cost of electricity from solar panels has declined dramatically, while the cost of building new nuclear plants has risen steadily. The Op Ed went on to say “This has reaffirmed the long-standing view of many environmentalists that it will be cheaper and easier to reduce global warming emissions through solar electricity than with new nuclear plants. But while continuing price declines might someday make solar cheaper than nuclear, it's not true today”.

Their Op Ed was titled "Going Green? Then Go Nuclear".

In a scarcely disguised pitch for nuclear energy, the Op Ed went on to cite what it calls “misleading claims about solar (energy)'s readiness” to replace nuclear power, saying these claims could or might be excused “if the claims weren't coming from environmentalists who believe that global warming is a planetary emergency”. The Op Ed concluded that if environmentalists “were really serious about the need to move to zero carbon energy, they would see nuclear energy as the obvious answer”.

For Nordhaus and Schellenberger, forgetting similarly nuclear power intensive countries which include Belgium and Switzerland, both of which may soon abandon nuclear power, “the only nations in the world that have achieved emissions reductions at a pace and scale that begins to approach what will be necessary to mitigate global warming are France and Sweden”. This was by developing high or very high dependence on nuclear power in the electric power generating mix, as high as 78% for France.

In France, due to its 63 operating but aging nuclear plants becoming ever more costly to operate, and to reduce the fantastic corporate debt of EDF the national nuclear fleet operator, national media since early June 2013 has warned electricity consumers that annual price rises for power may be as high as 6% or three times official inflation rates in the country. Compared with renewables-oriented, anti-nuclear Germany, cheap nuclear power is still touted in France as a “competitive advantage”, but a rapid check on French-versus-German economic indicators such as its trade balance and jobless rates show that cheaper electricity – due to subsidies on nuclear power in France like subsidies on renewable based power in Germany – have done nothing to avoid France's PIIGS-type economic crisis. Put alternately, Germany's massive anti-nuclear energy program has to date not prevented Germany from having a vastly more powerful economy than France.

According to France's general accounting office (the Cour des Comptes) its preferred cost figure for nuclear plant decommissioning costs will run at about 8.5 billion euros per reactor from about 2025, with a total of 63 reactors to be decommissioned by mid-century. How much this directly adds to electric power bills is above all – political.

World media as of June 11, 2013 gave prominence to the wife of Japan’s pro-business Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, quoted as saying in a speech that “I feel bad that Japan is trying to sell nuclear power plants overseas because I am anti-nuclear,”. She added  “I think Japan should use part of the money being spent for nuclear power for developing new energy and try to sell Japan-made clean energy abroad.” Reasons she spoke like that, and more than 50% of Japanese do not want any nuclear plants to restart, were summarized in an 'Economist' report of 2012 on post-Fukushima Japan. It said: “Bullet trains will flash on; toilet seats will still warm up; factories will hum as they hummed before. Almost everywhere when people reach for the light switches in their homes, the lights will come on”.

But not everywhere. The report said “In Futaba, Namie and Naraha the lights will stay off, and no factories will hum: not for want of power but for want of people. The 100 000 or so people that once lived in those and other towns close to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant have been evacuated. Some 30 000 may never return”. Rather than fear about global warming, these Japanese victims of nuclear power fear other things. To be sure Japan, in May, signed a huge contract for supplying nuclear power plants to Turkey, making it embarassing for Japan's political elite to tout nuclear power – but not use it at home.

Fighting global warming while keeping the lights on is a convenient message for the pro-nuclear New Coalition, but in countries as wide-ranging as Japan, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland, the example of Germany – neither a nuclear weapons power nor nuclear energy supporting country – cannot be ignored. Weakened also by the radical implications of the shale gas and shale oil revolution, and by reasonable doubt on whether the Earth is cooling or warming – or doing neither – the real goals of the New Coalition can be more easily identified.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2013 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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