For a sustainable future: hemp? Nuclear power? or maybe…?
I’m working hard, so I ran out of time earlier in the last week to respond to author Ellen Brown’s article (Could Nature’s Fuel Save Us From Greenhouse And power grid failure?) article.
I appreciate the article and all the comments both for their information and for their mental provocations – and despite the gratuitous ad hominem assumptions in some of Martin’s statements. After all, in addition to being a Doctor of Mathematics (a certified scientist, as some see), I also try to be an old-fashioned liberal – that is, keep an open mind. and be prepared to admit and remedy the lack of latest knowledge. knowledge and the most enlightened perspectives – gaps that owe in large part to the lack of time and energy to keep up with many interesting advances and changes.
In particular, I have revised my thinking and accept the claim that the use of civilian nuclear power to date has been much less fatal (aside from the possible unaccounted effects of mine waste radiation) than the use of oil, gas and coal. (On the other hand, I still have no reason to accept the claim – made without citing a single example, sensationalist or otherwise – that “solar energy kills more people than nuclear”.)
Regarding hemp, the article and comments leave open a key question and also prompt two other observations:
- As noted, we need to distinguish between the practicality of using hemp as a fuel in the long term for a sustainable future, and what needs to be done in the short term to reduce emission rates of hemp. greenhouse gas. In the short term, will hemp really be useful? Specifically, are there specific known (and if so, please identify!) Gas situations and tasks? (Here, “globally less” calls for taking into account all the processes that allow the end use of hemp as fuel.) This is the key question for short-term climate action. A few statements in the article indicate in the abstract that hemp and other biofuels “might” or “may promise” to reduce emissions, but nowhere in the article or comments do I see a clear statement – and much less a source to support the claim – that the answer to the key question is YES.
- The article notes that the rapid growth of hemp allows it to fix (sequester) carbon quickly (at least compared to other plants). For climate action purposes, this is a good reason to grow hemp where it is appropriate and economical to do so, but – in the absence of a YES to the above question – it is not a sufficient reason to now burn hemp for fuel.
- The case of biofuels illustrates that the term “renewable” can be misleading if it is taken in a simplistic way, as a yes-no attribute. In a sense, biofuels are “renewable”, but only conditionally. The possible renewal of a given quantity of consumed biofuel takes time (years) and depends on appropriate and consistent human action (to ensure regrowth). On the other hand, solar and wind power are renewed quickly and automatically: the amount of solar energy that will reach you tomorrow hardly depends on whether or not you capture solar energy today; ditto for wind power.
Regarding the roles of different non-carbon energy sources for climate action, I enjoyed reading Martin’s recommended “Roadmap to Nowhere” (RMTN) reference. This reference is intended to discredit a single omnibus “solution” proposed by the Roadmap (RM) to run the United States on approximately 1,600 gigawatts of non-carbon energy. RM and the RMTN counterproposal should now be updated to make more sense in terms of today’s knowledge, technology and economy. The “renewable only” RM and “nuclear” -based RMTN scenarios actually rely on technology that has yet to be developed – or at least much more widely demonstrated and refined for acceptance. It’s inevitable and OK. We would never have had a moon landing in 1969 if we had been stuck then with the technology and preconceptions that, a few years earlier, had led the United States to dare to launch the moon landing program.
RMTN effectively makes the point I would like to make: we don’t want to be – and according to RMTN, we don’t have to be – stuck with older generation nuclear which, to be (with a few exceptions) safe , involved enormous costs and the inconvenience and rigidities of scale due to the need for shielding, security protocols, decontamination and waste disposal. I read with interest the reviews of KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Company) technology and the design potential of MSR. Likewise, contrary to Martin’s summary commentary, RMTN does not claim or demonstrate that we need or should value solar energy based solely on past technology, or that solar energy has become. already fatally proven to be a failure in an absolute or lasting sense: solar technology also has promises and a long way to go.
As RMTN sometimes admits, major technical problems remain open and must be resolved regardless of the non-carbon technologies that will be used massively and for a very long time. For a large case, vehicles must be able to store and use energy-dense non-carbonaceous fuel – whether for electrical power (from a super-battery) or for combustion (from hydrogen – produced by electrolysis of water). RMTN repeatedly boasts that nuclear power plants provide reliable power at all times, unlike solar power, but unfortunately even hypothetical Gen-4 nuclear power plants do not boil down to the autonomous power supply of typical vehicles.
By the way, RMTN also boasts that its preferred nuclear fuel for molten salt reactors (MSRs), thorium, can be found everywhere, even in the sands of beaches. The reference to beach sands has indeed given me doubts, which I did not previously have, about an economical supply of thorium: beach sand has recently become a prized and sometimes threatened commodity!