Climate Solutions For The Normal Situations of Normal People

Noghiri

Born in Seattle to an immigrant family, adopted by cats, long-distance driver (for fun), techpriest (for pay), and jack-of-all-trades. Massive nerd and collector of useless information. You can usually find him under a pile of cables, or on Twitter @nog_ad

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25 Responses

  1. Philip H
    Ignored
    says:

    Having spent 4 years doing work in the Green River watershed and Puget Sound the beginning of your essay resonates. I know those waters and that library, though likely not to the nuance you do.

    And your call for using good instead of perfect is also true, but it only goes so far. Nuclear can be, and probably will be – a part of the bridge. But it has two flaws that even the NIMBYs never seem to address.

    The first is that next generation engineering for newer, smaller, more powerful reactors seems to have remained an academic pursuit in the US. if private companies are investing in them they are doing so very quietly. Which means the public perception is still 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl. That has to be addressed before one considers the good enough approach.

    The second issue is waste – given how difficult it has been to deal with Yucca Mountain or Hanford, finding waste solutions for nuclear has to be on the table and openly discussed or the whole proposition goes down. This is ALSO part of meeting normal people where they are, and its a part nuclear proponents seem to wave hands over without any serious consideration. There are solutions, but they need to be more aggressively discussed.

    And in the end, we have zero consensus on the end game. My own take has been that industrial scale production will require multiple generation sources, but that local scale (and by local I mean each building) may be more successful. Perhaps if we could agree on a good enough end game this would be easier to move the needle on.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Philip H
      Ignored
      says:

      The engineering is largely academic because the regulatory system won’t let it get further than that (be it the Fed or the States). Michael Cain is way more dialed into the where’s and why’s of that, but we shouldn’t sit here and pretend that no one has been working the problem; rather, the problem is as worked as other will allow. It’s to the point where you need to build something and finish working out the bugs. I sometimes wonder why folks don’t just buy an old oil platform (or convince BP to give one up) and do the final work out in international waters.

      People aggressively pursue fusion partly because getting permission to do so is vastly easier than fission.

      As for waste, we know how to recycle spent fuel, we aren’t allowed to.Report

    • Noghiri in reply to Philip H
      Ignored
      says:

      I see the general lack of pursuit of smaller-scale and modern designs using fission as part of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good – my experiences (which may not be wholly indicative of the industries involved at large) have revolved around people arguing against them as not being able to power the entire region from a single plant. I see this as undesirable because single points of failure are bad. When was the last development on pebble-bed reactors, which are subcritical and can’t melt down? Why are the benefits of some of the molten salt designs that don’t *have* the same risk profile not being widely advertised?

      Waste is definitely an issue to think about. However, the Hanford Site isn’t the best way to look at it – Hanford wasn’t following environmental regs *of the time*; they found a concerningly large amount of missing plutonium in a dang safe in a burn pit a few years back. The Swiss and French approaches (and struggles) seem like a better place to look – the Swiss are containing theirs in a single relatively small warehouse, and the French have a couple warehouses plus an underground storage facility that was in the works as of two years ago.
      Waste can be reduced by using reprocessing and breeder reactors to get more use out of each piece of fuel, within traditional reactor architectures – although to a certain extent this does only kick the can down the road several years. And it’s still far easier to contain than the radioactive and gaseous output from coal. How does this change with unitized low scale liquid salt reactors? This is beyond me, for the moment, because *nobody’s talking about it*.

      I agree with you that we need consensus on the end-game, but if we are facing a dire existential threat, we *must* as a people start talking about it – and if some of the projections I’ve seen are anywhere close to right, we need to start building these strategies yesterday, which means there needs to be conversation on the topic at all levels. If we’re ten years from mass extinction (I think this is a little aggressive an estimate, but that’s what some of the green groups are saying), maybe it’s ok to kick the waste problem can down the road by 50 years and toss the interim stuff in a set of repurposed concrete ammo bunkers in Oklahoma or something – then at least we’d have a 50 years from now in which to figure it out.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Philip H
      Ignored
      says:

      The first is that next generation engineering for newer, smaller, more powerful reactors seems to have remained an academic pursuit in the US.

      DOE and a bunch of small utilities (UAMPS) are pursuing construction of a power plant based on SMRs in Idaho using the NuScale design. It’s being built on INL land so the state has no say in a business license. The cooling water will be taken from the Snake River by the feds preempting state water law (the Snake is grossly over-allocated and it is unlikely they could buy sufficient rights). The utilities are all relatively small. Some have dropped out, some new ones have come on board over the course of the project. The initial wholesale price target for power was $58/MWh, but the capital cost estimates have gone up a lot since that number was released. Two utilities not involved, Pacificorp and Idaho Power, think $90-$120/MWh are more realistic. A couple of years ago, Xcel Energy Colorado received firm offers to buy wind power for $17/MWh, utility scale solar for $23/MWh, and solar-plus-storage for $30/MWh.Report

  2. Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    There’s a line out there that goes something like “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people telling me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis”.

    There are engineering solutions to this problem that, while imperfect, move the ball in the right direction (and can even lay groundwork for more progress and getting closer to that perfect solution).

    But, as it stands, it feels more like opportunities to give moral speeches than update this or that regulation to make it more in line with what we know in the current year (compared to the year in which the regulation was established). When regulators start saying “okay… maybe this is important enough to revisit the regulations…”, I will know that it’s time to start freaking out.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      major insurance companies are already rewriting policies to account for climate change. The largest corporate users of NOAA Climate Data (which is freely available to the public I might add – your taxes at work) are Fed-Ex and Amazon because climate change impacts their business in ways that mean real dollars. A number of federal agencies have revised, or are revising, hundreds of regulations to account for climate impacts. Plenty of people are acting like this is a crisis. The fact that some portion of the 534 politicians in Washington DC are not should not be your indicator.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Philip H
        Ignored
        says:

        Oh, it doesn’t surprise me that insurance companies are rewriting policies. They’re writing checks! That’s a good way to become a former insurance company.

        A number of federal agencies have revised, or are revising, hundreds of regulations to account for climate impacts.

        GOOD!

        I still remember what Arnie said about all of the pushback he got for trying to put a solar panel farm in the Mojave: “if we can’t put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don’t know where we can put them“.

        I’m pleased that solar power plants got built in the desert over the objections of others. We need more of that sort of thing. (And, yeah, I know we’re going to have more of it. A lot more.)

        The fact that some portion of the 534 politicians in Washington DC are not should not be your indicator.

        Those are pretty big portions.Report

    • Noghiri in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      It takes a few years to build a reactor, and regardless of whether it’s time to freak out yet or not, revisiting regulations and building out good capacity is generally A Good Thing.
      Personally, I think we’ve got a half-century or so before it’s real freak out time, but if we can, say, make it so we never hit real freak-out time, while having cleaner air and cheaper energy for a growing population, this would be good.
      People are busy moralizing instead of talking about solutions (as you rightly note), but, well, isn’t Congress moralizing about the political events of the past two years too, despite all that being tied to very clear and present dangers?Report

      • Philip H in reply to Noghiri
        Ignored
        says:

        It seems to be the only thing Congress does proactively these days.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Noghiri
        Ignored
        says:

        I guess I can understand people on the ground moralizing instead of talking about solutions.

        It’s not like they can push one way or the other or effect any real change beyond stuff like recycling, spending an extra $5 per KWh, or switching bulbs. After that, what’s on the table? Well, you pretty much have to moralize.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Noghiri
        Ignored
        says:

        I cheerfully admit to partisan bias towards Democrats, so I strongly resist any sentence that begins with “Congress is…” as if the entire 535 members of the House and Senate can be spoken of as a body.

        The House and Senate Democrats are NOT merely moralizing about climate change but have introduced and passed legislation intended to combat it.

        The entirety of the House and Senate Republican action has been to toss a snowball onto the floor and block any action proposed by Democrats.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
          Ignored
          says:

          The Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal is a non-binding resolution that calls for the creation of a Green New Deal.

          It is currently “Referred to Committees of Jurisdiction”.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            Biden aims for sweeping climate action as infrastructure, budget bills advance
            After years of dragging their feet, lawmakers in Washington advanced a pair of major bills this week that include significant provisions for tackling climate change as scientists continue to ring alarm bells about the state of the planet.

            The Senate approved on Tuesday a sweeping bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill with funding for many public works meant to cut climate-warning emissions. A day later, Democrats in the chamber took a major step to adopt an even bigger, $3.5 trillion budget bill supporting yet more programs for cleaning up power plants and cars.

            Each, if passed, would invest billions of dollars in the sort of clean energy transition the United States must make to have any chance of hitting the goal set by President Biden to cut the nation’s emissions by at least 50 percent by the end of this decade.

            What were the Republicans doing during this time? Aside from moralizing about abortion and mask mandates?Report

  3. Chip Daniels
    Ignored
    says:

    One of the difficulties of the large scale issues like climate change is that it is regarded as optional, like the status quo is that nothing happens.

    Except the natural world is indifferent to our desires, and is always in Flux.

    The West is being ravaged by fires. No one authorized them, no one voted for them and against them there is no appeal, no recall, no injunction possible.

    The cost of these fires will be paid. Again, there is no objection, no vote, no way to argue or object or even beg for mercy. We can squabble over how to allocate the costs but a very large amount of our collective wealth has simply, and literally, gone up in smoke.

    Yet we still insist on treating the issue as if it were a hypothetical which can be rejected if the outcome is not to our liking.Report

    • James K in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      Politicians are used to being able to define their own reality – they can declare something to be so and the apparatus of government is largely required to go along with it. The difficulty is that some things can’t be simply ordered to go along with the leadership’s vision. Sometimes its hard fiscal constraints, like when a country exhausts its ability to borrow, but sometimes its a force of nature that no government can command. The true test of a government’s competence is how it handles these issues.

      You can see it with COVID, some governments have stubbornly refused to acknowledge that they have to change anything and we can see the terrible result of that folly. Climate Change is another such test, nature will not bend to political will, so our political will has to acknowledge the reality of that or the consequences will be dire.Report

  4. Damon
    Ignored
    says:

    We can talk and take action if we like, but it’s not going to change the facts on the ground. China ain’t gonna participate in any action that reduces their coal fired plants power output, and without the second and third world on board, any actions the first world takes will only delay the “crisis”. Hell, it’s likely that in 20+ years or so China will be calling the shots, as we witness the west fall into second world status….Report

  5. Rufus F.
    Ignored
    says:

    Before we address the crisis, we have to conceive of it, and I’m not sure the human mind can concieve of it.

    I think I am sufficiently grim and serious-minded and had imagined some bad things. Then, this year, we had a town record the hottest temperature on record for Canada at 49.6 c. (about 121 degrees f.) but what I can’t wrap my head around is the old record was about 45 degrees celsuis,
    so try to imagine a town breaking the old tremperature record by a jump of about 40 degrees f.! And, then, as I’m sure you know, the entire town burned to the ground- in a day.

    It’s just impossible for me to imagine something like that until it happened. Really, nobody predicted that. One of our two major political parties voted earlier in the year that they don’t believe climate change exists. What seems clear, however, is whatever’s coming we simply won’t be prepared for it. So, I guess that’s a prediction anyway.Report

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