Wednesday 11 December 2019

Global warming leaves us a stark choice – fracking or nuclear power

David Quinn

If it's a coincidence that the movie 'Noah', starring Russell Crowe in the title role, has been released in the same week as the latest UN report on climate change, then it is a very happy one for the film-makers.

The movie reworks the story of Noah into an environmentalist morality tale and the UN report comes along at just the right time to make a film with an environmentalist theme nicely topical.

The director of 'Noah', Darren Aronofsky of 'Black Swan' fame, would have had a big problem on his hands if he made a movie about Noah that was completely faithful to the Bible version. Would a modern audience accept a movie in which God wipes out mankind for sinning against Him? Definitely not.

But would a modern audience accept a movie in which mankind is wiped out for sinning against nature? Absolutely.

Several films in recent years have had exactly this theme. 'The Day After Tomorrow' is one. In that, the climate changes all at once and almost everyone in the northern hemisphere is wiped out, the guilty and the innocent alike.

The remake of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' is another. In it, aliens decide we've made such a mess of the planet we deserve to be exterminated.

Fortunately for us, at the last moment they decide to show mercy and strip us of all our technology instead. Or maybe not so fortunately because if we lost all our technology, hundreds of millions of us would die anyway.

Rolling back the industrial revolution like this is more or less what some of the more extreme environmentalists would like us to do. The industrial revolution happened because we learnt to release the Earth's stored energy from coal, gas, oil, etc. That's what's causing manmade global warming and it's what has the authors of the latest UN report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) so hot and bothered (excuse the pun).

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri warned: "If the world doesn't do anything . . . the very social stability of human systems could be at stake."

Is he correct? The last report from the IPCC released in 2007 was heavily criticised for, among other things, being totally wrong in saying the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. If they ever do melt, it won't be for several generations more.

The criticism prompted the Dutch government to order an official investigation of the 2007 report and it found that while most of the science was correct, the summary of the report focused too much on the negative effects of global warming and not enough on the positive aspects.

And, yes, there are positive aspects. For example, in some parts of Africa, water will become more plentiful, not less so; some crops will produce greater yields, not lower yields; and forest production in Russia will increase, which will help absorb CO2.

I haven't the slightest doubt that some of the warming of the planet is being caused by us. I also have no doubt that some of the warming is completely natural. I have no clue how much of it is manmade, how much of it is natural, and how much warming is actually taking place, and I wonder how much of a clue scientists have.

One of the great gurus of environmentalism, James Lovelock of Gaia fame, said just this week that we simply can't be certain of when and to what extent the climate is going to change.

He said that in the past he had himself been too certain about the future extent of global warming. Now he is saying: "It could be terrible within a few years, though that's very unlikely, or it could be hundreds of years before the climate becomes unbearable."

Or maybe it will become unbearable in some places and more bearable in others, for example northern Russia and Canada.

One thing is certain, however. We are never going to accept the enormous changes to our lifestyles most environmentalists want. We are not going to reverse the industrial revolution and renewable energy sources like wind farms simply aren't going to cut it.

Lovelock suggests two things that would help; nuclear power and fracking. Fracking is a new way of looking for natural gas that involves sinking wells deep below the surface of the Earth. It is hugely reducing American coal and oil dependency.

Lovelock says: "The (British) government is too frightened to use nuclear, renewables won't work – because we don't have enough sun – and we can't go on burning coal because it produces so much CO2, so that leaves fracking. It produces only a fraction of the amount of CO2 that coal does, and will make Britain secure in energy for quite a few years. We don't have much choice."

Our Government is also scared of nuclear energy because of environmentalist opposition and there is big environmentalist opposition to fracking as well.

So the environmentalist movement itself has landed us in a classic Catch-22 situation. To fight global warming, it offers us renewable energy that barely puts a dent in the problem, but is opposed to the things that would make a dent, namely nuclear power and fracking.

The only way out of this bind is for the Government to bite the bullet. If it really wants to reduce our CO2 emissions, it will have to either permit fracking, allow the building of a nuclear power plant, or both. As Lovelock says: "We don't have much choice." Although I guess we could always build another ark.

Irish Independent

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