Within the discussion you will find two threads posted by me. Your task is to post responses to each of them. The first thread is my thoughts about the TedTalk and my opinion on nuclear power, the second is my opinion of how Mark Jacobson (the same guy from the TedTalk) responded to the White Roofs proposal. I want to stress here that these are my opinions; I don’t require people to agree. Some of the stuff I say many people would disagree with, but it is my honest opinion. below are my opinions.
Let me be up front about my biases. I love windmills. Not so much because I want to save the earth, but because I like having my own little power unit on my own land, off the grid, and independent of everyone else. It makes me feel independent and more secure knowing that when the zombies come, my little compound will still have power. Still, I don’t believe that wind and solar are the answer to our future.
I suspect that humanity will continue to grow, and that with the prudent application of technology, the earth can comfortably support 10 times the people it has now. That means at least 10 times the power consumption, probably more. In Dr. Jacobson’s TedTalk, he states that there is 5 to 10 times more wind power than we need right now. That means there simply won’t be enough to meet the demands caused by future population growth.
I also believe that as part of humanity’s growth, we will colonize space, and once you leave earth, wind is useless. As you move away from the sun, solar becomes less useful too. On mars, a solar panel will generate about 25% the power that it would on earth, and the sandstorms on mars will shorten solar panel lifetimes considerably. As Stewart Brand said in the TedTalk, I’d love for there to be another option, but there isn’t. Leaving earth will require going nuclear.
As far as Dr. Jacobson’s arguments in the TedTalk, I don’t find his arguments convincing. He makes a big deal about the footprint of a windmill only being the size of the post in the ground, but the slide he uses shows a dirt parking pad for maintenance trucks that is 40 times larger than the windmill post. That is also part of the footprint! Teaching in Kansas, I have students from farms who say the usable land they lose to the truck access costs them more money than the windmill brings in. That means wind energy makes them poorer, or it needs to be more expensive to justify putting up windmills. In other arguments, he states:
- that windmills can be built offshore, so they would use no land. That applies to nuclear power as well.
- nuclear proliferation would be an issue. That sounds like a scare tactic because he never links how building a nuclear power plant in the US leads to Iran getting a nuclear bomb. Maybe we don’t want Iran building a nuclear power plant, but is that a reason for us not to build them?
- nuclear power plants take too long to build. By the time they’re done, the earth is cooked. Nuclear power plants take that long only because people opposed to it constantly file lawsuits and slow them down. It only take 4-6 years to build a nuclear aircraft carrier. You could probably get that down to 3-4 years if you don’t build the carrier part.
White Roofs response:
Science with an agenda?
Dr. Jacobson concluded that white roofs really could affect the climate, but in a harmful way, and he leaves it at that. However, in science, effects are neither good nor bad. They just ‘are’. Gravity just is. Radiation just is. Most people would not want to be exposed to radiation because of the effect it has on our health. However the effects of radiation, when properly managed, make it an invaluable medical tool, giving us radiation therapy and radio isotope tracing. Likewise, after realizing that white roofs really can have an effect on climate, an honestly motivated scientist would next seek out how to apply that effect to our benefit; maybe dark roofs near the equator and white roofs near the poles? Dr. Jacobson doesn’t do that. It is enough for him to create a scenario where the effect is bad, then popularize his point of view. That behavior suggests to me that he wasn’t honestly looking at the potential application of white roofs, but was instead simply looking to discredit them. The biggest public motivator for windmills is climate change, and if climate change is made less scary, then windmills suffer.
Media driven ‘science’.
Dr. Jacobson’s work is also a good lesson in how the media can manipulate our perceptions of science. During the course of the white roofs discussion, the class submitted many articles in support of its essays. If one looks at the articles however, one sees that over half of them were summaries and reviews of Dr. Jacobson’s single article. He wrote a single article, and ended up having a dominant impact on the discussion. How did this one man end up looming so large in our class? The answer is promotion; the media liked his message discrediting white roofs and amplified it, popularized it. Various popular magazines wrote about his article. He was on every TV show and in every journal, so when you searched for information on this topic, even when you deliberately looked for several different resources, most of the content you found ultimately came from him.
If the media decide to flood the industry with their message, it can create the appearance of uniformity in views which does not actually exist. (In plain text, they can be deceptive.) In reality, white roofs belongs in the disciplines of solar radiation management (SRM) and climate engineering, fields of science which research ways to mitigate climate change by modifying the earth. These are people who believe in climate change and probably love windmills, but also think that by re-engineering the earth a little bit, we might be able to buy ourselves a little bit more time to make more fundamental transitions in society. Even the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has a study group on this topic, and described it in 2013 as “Modeling indicates that SRM methods, if realizable, have the potential to substantially offset global temperature rise…”.