Tag Archives: Climate Change

This is Bad, but Worse is Coming!

Pearl River     There was a day, long ago, when Betsey Ross sewing the flag was a symbol of America.  Now, if we just knew what Debbie Downer really looked like, she might be the new picture of America.  If you think I’m just talking about the current multi-pronged horrors of the pandemic, the depression, and the White House, you’re only thinking about today.

I’m really talking about the inundation of stories now, that essentially say, “hey, you don’t like the pandemic?  This is nothing.  This is bad, but worse is coming!”  These reports with scientific foundation are looking at temperatures rising, seas swamping us, food shortages, and millions, perhaps billions, of people forced to migrate or die because of these coming horrors.

I read a review by Bill McKibben, the Middlebury professor and longtime climate change Cassandra in the New York Review of Books recently.  He posed the question now as not whether or not we meet the challenge of climate change, but whether we are already almost past the point of no return, and the question really is whether people and civilization as we know it can survive the certainty of climate change.  He notes that scientists, who have been warning all of us of the effects of climate change, as scientists are being conservative, and what we are already finding is worse that what many predicted.  McKibben quotes Mark Lynas from his new book, that…

“If we stay on the current business-as-usual trajectory, we could see two degrees as soon as the early 2030s, three degrees around mid-century, and four degrees by 2075 or so.  If we’re unlucky with positive feedbacks…from thawing permafrost in the Artic or collapsing tropical rainforests, then we could be in for five or six degrees by century’s end.”

Wow!  Think about it.  The 2030s are tomorrow.  Our adult children will be alive, though it seems not well, in 2075.  For those of us lucky enough to have grandchildren, they will be trying to make it somehow in 2100.  Oh, and don’t forget famine comes with all of this as crops fry in the fields.  A New York Times Magazine special report said that for every one degree of temperature rise, one billion people will have to move.  That may not be them, but us!

If the heat doesn’t get you, the other shoe is dropping water up to our knees.  Heads we lose.  Tails we lose.

I could go on, but here’s the point that perplexes me.  Is there any place really safe? Where could anyone run and hide to know that 10, 20, 30 years from now, you and yours could make it?  Once I thought the West, but heat, fires, and no water in many areas could make some of my favorite spots as much “islands in the storm,” as New Orleans where I live.

See what I mean?  Once you start wrapping your mind around all of this, it’s a deep dive into the darkness.  Might be easier if we all forced some real action everywhere to deal with the hella-messes coming quickly around the corner.

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Thorium Reactors and Climate Change

New Orleans       I’m trying to keep an open mind, OK?  I know we’re all supposed to hate nuclear energy and be scared of total disasters, right?  There’s Three-Mile Island in Pennsylvania.  I’ve read the books and seen the series on HBO about Chernobyl.  I’ve personally visited Japan to see Fukushima and the area evacuated.  I’m skeptical, as most of us have become, but I’ve had to take a second look.

First, a friend sent me a book, A Bright Future:  How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow by Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist.  They were a little too cute and gung-ho for my taste, but their argument, presented exhaustively, was that if we really wanted to get serious about climate change, we had to reconsider nuclear energy.  There is little argument that it is cleaner, but they argue that it is also safer.  Despite the concerns triggered by these earlier accidents and near disasters, they argued that there was little loss of life and compared to the impact of coal-fired plants, it was infinitesimally small.

They mentioned a technology that was tried years ago in Oak Ridge involving thorium, rather than uranium, that was rejected then, but might even be superior to what we were doing now.  I ended up talked to the acting CEO of ThorCon on Wade’s World named Lars Jorgenson, who made a similar case from several other angles.

Thorium is found in abundance in Australia, the United States, and Canada, but also in India, Venezuela and other countries.  It produces less radiation than uranium, and because of the process of producing energy the cooling mechanism is radically different using a salt solution that means leaks are basically water and the storage of any spent fuels is much simpler and easier than the endless process for used rods.

ThorCon is one of about fifty companies according to Jorgenson that are trying to bring thorium powered nuclear plants to market. ThorCon’s pitch is directed at developing countries based on their rising energy demands and their slimmer budgets.  The company relies on a design that can be fabricated at a shipyard in South Korea for about $100 million and then shipped and installed for another $100 million or so. It’s not a small operation, but compared to our experience with the giant cooling towers in current nuclear power plants, it has a smaller footprint in addition to a smaller price tag.  ThorCon seems close to convincing the government in Indonesia to allow it to build a plant, and India seems like a huge prize.

Does this make sense?  Don’t take my word, I’m no expert here, but given where we are on global warming, it’s hard to write off all of these arguments without giving it another try.

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