Climate Change as a Personal Mission

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Interesting video from the Kurzgesagt folks about whether individual action can make a difference on the climate change front. The short answer is no (no matter how much you as an individual work to decarbonize your personal life, it’s literally a fraction of a drop in the bucket in terms what the total change required would be), and the longer answer is yes (vote out politicians who do not prioritize climate change issues; collective economic and social action will eventually tip the scale).

Of course no one likes it when “No, but also yes” is the answer. But it’s in line with everything I know, and it’s a reminder that the focus for climate change is less on what one does in one’s own individual life, and rather more on what’s to be done to haul the major companies and corporations and economic sectors which account for the vast majority of negative climate change activity into line. More bluntly, it’s less about you and more about Shell and Delta and Tyson Foods and so on, no matter how much they try to put all the responsibility back on you.

I think about this a lot. I live a high carbon life, as it were, and have in the last several years tried to do the work to offset my own footprint by doing the usual things like cutting back on meat and/or buying locally raised meat and produce to lower transport carbon, by making sure our next car is electric, buying carbon offsets for my air and other travel, keeping track of and supporting sustainable initiatives, etc. And obviously I also vote and invest with an eye toward climate policy and initiatives. I do it with full awareness that on an individual level, any personal change will shift things only microscopically here and now, but also with the awareness that a) if I don’t do it today, who will, b) this is all for the long-term. Also, you know. It cuts down my personal hypocrisy load a bit, which is never a bad thing. And also, if we can’t get oil and agriculture and construction and technology and other industrial sectors to massively overhaul, my carbon offsets and local produce will mean diddly.

I’m optimistic that we will move ourselves in the right direction for all of this, but I also know enough about our current and political systems to understand we’re not going to move near fast enough and that the rest of my life, at least, will be spent watching the world be pound foolish for not having been penny wise when it could have. This is pretty much baked in at this point, pun intended. What we’re doing now is finding out how much we’ll mitigate the change that is already here. I’m doing my part, and you should, too. But there’s a whole lot more to it than that.

— JS

35 Comments on “Climate Change as a Personal Mission”

  1. With your gigantic lawn you could either get an electric riding mower. Or rip up the grass and plant a meadow. We live in the woods. No lawn maintenance. Just a thought.

  2. The big contribution from individual actions is that they are tokens to ourselves of out commitment to making a difference in collective impact.

    An example would be locavorism: eat locally produced foods reminds us at every meal and every shopping trip that we are serious, and also sends a message by way of the purchasing records (which are taken rather more seriously than letters to officials) that we are putting our money where our mouths are.

    Yes, it’s a pun. Deal.

    When the proposed collective actions have personal costs, we’re reminded that all of the effort etc. that we’ve put into the personal actions are meaningless if we turn around when the public costs come home.

  3. One important reason to act personally, even if the result seems insignificant: feeling like you have agency (the freedom to act) and that you are capable of making the situation better, however minutely, makes it much easier to remain emotionally resilient in the face of a very depressing situation. Elin Kelsey’s fine book “Hope Matter” discusses the importance of hope in great detail and will make you feel less pessimistic. My review can be found here:

    http://geoff-hart.com/articles/2021/review-kelsey.html

    My personal action involved creating a white paper that deals with how climate change is going to affect food security up here in Canada. (Much of the content will also be valid in the U.S. and other places, mutatis mutandis.) I’m sending this around to governments, cabinet ministers, opposition parties, and the media in the hope that someone will latch onto it and implement changes at a government level, where change most needs to happen. Not much success thus far, but if more people participate, governments are more likely to take notice.

    If you’re interested in learning more and putting pressure on your local government, you can find the white paper here:

    http://geoff-hart.com/articles/2021/food-security-white-paper.html

    If you’re uncomfortable clicking a random Web address, I’d be happy to send you the text as PDF, Word .docx, or simply text pasted in at the end of an e-mail. Contact me privately at ghart@videotron.ca and I’ll send you a copy in your preferred format.

  4. I have done literally everything I can to keep a low carbon footprint except buy an electric car, and since I couldn’t afford one I bought the best alternative I could (a Honda Fit). I am still so terrified and so guilty simply for being alive.

  5. With the electric car soon to grace your drive way, and public charging stations far away. I have a suggestion to spend your money.

    Install charging stations at public libraries parking lots. Not the next town over, but the next next towns over. It will reduce range anxiety.

  6. The tangible effect of an individual (almost always) is tiny when looking at ‘macro scale’ issues. Individual actions in aggregate DO have ‘macro’ effects

    “I’m only one vote. My vote won’t sway the election, so I might as well stay home”

    “my one act of littering (or energy waste, or whatever) doesn’t really change the environment, so I shouldn’t fuss about it”

    insert example of your choice here…

    as the saying goes: “How did the pioneers walk all the way from the Mississippi to the Pacific? Just put one foot in front of the other, and repeat.”

    Individual (small) actions do add up (across a population) – so whataver one can do, one should do- even if it’s something small

  7. In public health terms, what you mean is that individual interventions don’t work when systemic change is needed. I once explained this to someone I know as meaning: sure, you can talk to individuals about buying hybrid cars or EVs, but for a large effect, what you need is legislation.

  8. Transportation is only 11% of a food’s greenhouse gas impact, * so really the right choice, from a climate and other standpoint, is to eat more vegan meals.

    *Source: James McWilliams, Just Food

  9. I think you should do whatever you can on a personal level to mitigate your carbon footprint. Buying habits define the modern world and they move the needle for the large corporations(they live here too). So do all you can then find more that you can do by engaging with intelligent people. Don’t give up.

  10. Individual action works, because a bucket is only a collection of the drops in that bucket. Voting with one’s wallet has proven to be a highly effective method of promoting better-quality content, with the pleasant side effect of deplatforming scum. Also, attitudes are shifting, with climate change denialism now the exclusive providence of grifters and morons. Small local pressure points will result in big political changes. Over the long term, I’m positive that we’ll do the right thing.

    It will probably be too late to avoid very costly impact, which will be borne disproportionately by the poorest and most vulnerable. Few things will change on a global level until the worst of the offenders start experiencing catastrophic effects, which is likely still a few decades in the future. But all action needs to start somewhere, and since we can’t go back to the seventies, all we have is today.

    For me, the big change came with the pandemic, which slashed my work (and vacation, in the interest of full disclosure) overseas travel from around a dozen long-haul return trips per year to zero. My employer has seen the benefits of cutting down on (performative) travel, so I’ll never be going back to those numbers. No electric vehicle here, but I barely drive the one I own, and with remote work continuing indefinitely (thanks, covidiots!) that will be reduced even further. We switched to buying locally farmed due to the pandemic.

    Humanity is in a great position for a massive overhaul (dare I write reset?) of how we do things. It probably won’t happen. But that’s no reason not to reconsider our individual response to the problem, and decide to do better.

  11. John:

    I’m not sure how those various public libraries will feel about me tearing up their parking lots without any permits or clearances. Perhaps this is something for the municipal governments to undertake.

  12. I love Kurzgesagt. I try to do my part. I live in a rich country with 100% renewable energy (hydro power ftw). I live in a small 2-bedroom appartment with my 3 kids and have been driving electric since 2014.

  13. An interesting and thoughtful post.

    An additional way of looking at the need for climate change action and the individual is that climate change is not an individual issue.

    Consider this: if there were only a few thousand humans scattered around the planet it is extremely unlikely there’d ever be anthropomorphic climate change. Because no individual life style, no matter how carbon intense, could tip the planetary scales.

    There are many, many examples of such “it ain’t an individual problem but it sure is a community problem” problems. Dealing with them is why humans abstracted their built-in familial and tribal connectivity to form governments, religions, social clubs, you name it.

    Because community issues, by definition, cannot be dealt with by individual action. They have to be dealt with by community action.

    There are lots of ways to act at the community level, some of which you mentioned (e.g., vote the morons out who aren’t requiring the community to take more action).

    Social suasion is another (which is, sadly, often overlooked in our highly individualistic culture). Few people enjoy being the target of collective scorn, and most will go to significant lengths to avoid it (although they also sometimes simply join another less-aware community).

    Thanx for sharing your thoughts.

  14. For near future SF taking current science and extrapolation, plausibly, it’s worth reading Kim Stanley Robinson ‘The Ministry for the Future’. Written before the pandemic, it anticipates it well. Has a cautiously optimistic conclusion.

  15. a) if I don’t do it today, who will

    This right here. 12 years ago, as a well to do semi-retired at 40’ish engineer I installed 5kWh of solar on my roof (and solar hot water). My friends and family in the building trades told me I was stupid for doing that, instead of waiting until it got cheaper. And my response was “I am of the moderately successful technological class if I don’t do this who will?”

    And this is it. Yeah, the $65k I spent is about 8 times what you would pay now. But if not me who – as a engineering physicist who has followed the climate crisis for 30 years and takes it seriously, if not me who. It is a put your money where your mouth is moment.

    Not everyone has had the time, means, or interest in the subject that I was able to afford it. Rubber meets the road time people. We are 3 years into our second hybrid and I will be replacing my last internal combustion engine vehicle in the near future.

    It is depressing to have to contemplate the real future, but constant progresses is required and innovation will have to play a large part. We need CO2 reduction, we need more carbon trading markets to transition, but the biggest thing we can get going right now is some good old fashioned newfangled geo-engineering; yesterday. Push. Push politically and push hard, because if we don’t we will remain in the current situation. And that situation is the bullet that kills civilization as we know it, is in the air and time of flight is a couple of decades unless we duck and cover. Just that simple.

  16. Mark Olbert, above, speaks of people abstracting. I think people vary in this across time and space. A prominent loss prevention officer opined that we have more shop lifting because now people are more into peer pressure/society and less into having inner morality.

    I remember being baffled when I lurked—being middle aged, it wasn’t my place to join in— on a thread of teenagers who couldn’t believe how, during wartime, an individual could help prosecute the war by individually going off to cause An Incident at Owl Creek Bridge. To them, society’s war was a matter for big peer groups in armies. I thought of individuals with small boats going off to help the evacuation at Dunkirk.

    I hesitate to wave the flag and beat the drum for climate change because too much effort would not be sustainable. After all, during WWII many people adjusted their abstracting to permit them to buy un-rationed black market gasoline.

    I can sustain leading quietly. For example, I drive a hybrid Prius. No, I don’t save money, because if it was even a buck cheaper overall, then word would get out and there would be line ups around the block to buy one. (But I love pretending I’m saving)

    When I meet someone who abstracts being an extreme vegetarian then I try not to judge. Because hey, maybe I’m wrong. People vary. This climate abstraction will take time for the population to find the sweet spot. This I will help work towards. In the meantime, I won’t wear my old 1960’s button that reads “Here comes the judge.”

  17. I’ve been working in the environmental & climate field for the past 25 years, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this dilemma.

    The thing is, all of those ‘collectives’ are made up of individuals, and their individual mission, their individual action, is to be part of a collective–which magnifies their actions. It is not an either-or; it is a both-and. If you (whoever-is-reading-this-general-you, not singular-John-you) find a way to act as part of a collective, then not only will you feel better (science is conclusive), your actions will have more impact. I guarantee there is someone in Ohio trying to get local governments to install electric charging stations at municipal facilities and parking lots. They’d probably love to have a letter or op-ed from John Scalzi (and this time it is a singluar-you, but there’s no reason others can’t do the same).

    I wrote about this the other day on my own site after our election because I do find it continually infuriating: people who care show up. Women and POC do the bulk of the volunteering and organizing. I can’t tell you how many organizing committees and volunteer groups I’ve been part of that are all moms, and we spend the time looking around saying, Where are the dads? Why aren’t they here? It’s obviously not that they have less time. OK, pass me the baby and I’ll hold them while they cry so you can finish the poster/grant application/what have you.

    I’m a chronically ill single mom with a disabled teenager. I’ve brought them with me to community meetings and protests and fairs and other events from the time they were very small. They went with me to Occupy Toronto and the global climate strikes. We have gone to general meetings for local green groups (and they took notes–this as a seven year old–those notes now among my most precious possessions). This is a part of citizenship to me and I model it for my kid. I’m also an introvert with fairly profound social anxiety. Again, in my experience, people who care show up. Not always–everyone needs breaks–but right now 2% of the population is carrying the activism weight of the whole, and that 2% isn’t blessed with more money or more spare time.

    As someone who has been doing this professionally and personally for a very long time, I’m happy to provide information and insight about how to go about doing that. I know our society is profoundly atomized and the idea of acting collectively often strikes people as more impossible than walking to Mars.

  18. As much as I liked the video & found it well done, I’d like to point out that cryptocurrency is a major polluter just from the cryptocurrency mining. Bitcoin mining alone uses as much energy as the entire nation of Sweden. And that’s just one cryptocurrency.
    https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/why-bitcoin-is-bad-for-the-environment

    On the flip side, now that the IRS is actually cracking down on cryptocurrency speculation as well as just having the stuff at all, I imagine it’s popularity will wane, all the more so when the crypto bubble finally bursts.

    And having watched PBS Newshour, the projected population growth may be optimistic. Sinopharm and Sinovac were approved for emergency use, which given their general ineffectiveness, will mean a lot more deaths, particularly in countries where price point really matters. Craptacular as the Chinese vaccines are, apparently China is sufficiently powerful (for now anyway–the Chinese population may take a real hit from Covid 19 deaths) that the WHO doesn’t want to offend it.

    I take no joy in the impending Covid 19 deaths due to crappy Chinese vaccines. The poor performance will inevitably taint the concept of vaccination as a common good and a poorly vaccinated population is a pathogen reserve for mutations to grow and spread.

    Bottom line: the population increase issue might be less of an issue than previously thought. Depressing.

  19. Electrical cars are a chicken and egg problem. People do not buy electric cars because of range anxiety. Charging stations are not build because their is no demand.
    Grafton, Mass built a new library. It has 2 electrical chagrining stations. This sparked my idea. They take credit cards.
    I bet this is a revenue stream for the library.
    I have no idea the cost to purchase and run a charging station, or the permits, or all the other up front costs.
    You are going first in the chicken and egg problem. It will be more appealing to your neighbors to buy an electric cars if there are nearby charges.
    You hopefully make $$$.

  20. Hilary:
    Rock on. A friend of mine had a similar mindset when he bought the first Honda Insight. Everyone was telling him to wait, that the models would improve and be cheaper. His response: “if no one buys the first one, there will never be another”.

    Riding around in it, my first thought was “I HAVE TO HAVE THIS”. The karmic bonus is that, 6 months or less after he bought the Insight, gas shot up to $4.50/gal at the gas pump. (Being a computer engineer, he promptly recalculated the break-even point of amortization for the gas savings vs. increased price of the Insight. If anyone is interested, it went from 5 years to 2 and change.)

    It was what made me buy a Honda Accord hybrid when my 20+ year old car finally died.

    My local gas station owner now wants to buy a hybrid, because at best he sees me once a month now (at best) & really likes the savings. Plus, he has kids & is thinking about their future.

    Should you do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do? Sure. But you never know who you will influence to follow your lead.

  21. “Vote at the ballot, vote with your wallet”

    I always vote at the ballot.
    Now, if I just had more votes in my wallet.

  22. It seems to me that Audrey is right about bitcoins being energy hogs. NFT’s too. (NonFungible Tokens, or “art”)

    As for why people don’t know, I have only theories. Perhaps rich computer guys who can afford bitcoins don’t want to know. Maybe the rest of us suck up to them because they are rich. I guess if something is “new” and “exciting” then people are too excited to want to know the truth about energy greed.

  23. There’s a lot of value in local government too. That’s where the chargers in library carparks come from, for example. And you can more easily have an effect in local government.

    One thing that’s much harder in the USA is stepping away from the car. But if you can, just say no. I live in Sydney, Australia, which is also quite car-dependent, but I’ve never owned a car and likely never will. And as with many of these things, it’s the vanguardists who make it possible for the “I’d like to but it’s hard” to start the bandwagon.

    One thing to keep in mind is that often you can be just as helpful by deliberately getting out of the way, as you can by leading by example. If people are demanding a positive change you don’t like but can live with… don’t oppose it. Even if it goes too far, too soon, for your comfort. As the Scalzi occasionally mentions, sometimes it’s good to shut up and let other people speak.

  24. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and agree with you. If we don’t at least try then there is no way we can expect others to make the effort, and we have to push governments into doing more regardless of the immediate cost.

    Over the last 2-3 years we’ve dropped most meat, (veg most days but opting just for chicken and turkey as the lowest CO contributors for our meat), reduced travel, opted for more expensive ‘Green’ energy contracts, improved our recycling at work etc.

    Re Bitcoins – makes my blood boil the amount of energy wasted, resources used and e-waste produced by greed.

  25. Glad that you are “optimistic” but then, that isn’t very realistic, is it? Give the state of politics in this country and the unlikelihood of any meaningful change coming (and that, possibly, for the worse), it is well nigh impossible to believe the positive. The Republican Party official position seems to be something along the lines of “FUCK climate change (which doesn’t exist). How DARE you try and tell me I don’t have the right to use up every resource this planet has. God gave them to us to use and I am damn sure going to use my share (and yours, if you don’t want it).”

  26. I’m cautiously optimistic about climate change for a few reasons.

    In my opinion, the best (but not only) way of fighting climate change is a carbon tax, tariff & rebate. It’s fair and efficient. Most importantly, it doesn’t require 195 countries to agree. The carbon tariff can allow a few nations to form a climate “club”, using those tariffs as an incentive to get other nations to join the club. William Nordhaus won a Nobel Memorial prize for this proposal.

    Everybody assumes that a carbon tax is politically impossible, but I see several welcoming signs.

    Canada just had an election in which 95% of voters voted for a party that included a carbon tax in their platform. The Conservatives were explicitly anti-carbon tax in 2019 but included a very watered down carbon tax this year because many blame that part of their platform for their loss in 2019. Yes, Canada may be more progressive than the US, but it’s not that much different. If Canada can do it, so can the US.
    Germany is actively pursuing the setup of a carbon club. It seems like a no-brainer for Europe. They’ve incurred many of the costs of fighting climate change while the whole world benefits. Their environmental policies put their industries at a disadvantage, while European consumers import embodied carbon. Tariffing embodied carbon at the border makes it more fair, but also encourages other nations to avoid the tariff by putting in place their own carbon tax (or equivalent).

    And unrelated to the carbon club:

    Solar, wind and batteries each have their own version of Moore’s law — exponential price reductions. 90% per decade for solar, 80% for batteries and 70% per decade for wind. This looks to continue for at least the next decade. Solar is cheaper than fossil fuels now, but its inconvenience means little adoption. But this curve means that solar may drop below a penny per kWh in as little as a year or two. At that price, industries and utilities are going to find ways to adapt to the inconvenience to save themselves billions.

  27. … and the longer answer is yes (vote out politicians who do not prioritize climate change issues; collective economic and social action will eventually tip the scale).

    The fly in this ointment is that the people who own fossil carbon in the ground seem bent on keeping it on the books as an asset and not writing it off as worthless, and they own enough of Congress and the Senate that they are prepared to do what it takes to ensure that the relevant votes don’t get counted.

    Joe Manchin is the most highly visible obstacle to doing something, anything, about the filibuster to allow 51-50 passage of voting rights and election reforms.

    Joe Manchin is also a coal millionaire.

    Are these facts connected? Who knows!

  28. You have more confidence than I do. I am worried for the world my kids might grow up in. I honestly don’t see what effect we can make with 8 billion people and their energy and food needs, and I anticipate a great die off along the way. We could return to pre-technology past. One way or another I think our population will take a huge hit, and for all the suffering it might be the only way out of this.

    God I hope I’m wrong!

  29. I’m not optimistic at all. I think homo sapiens is already extinct, we just don’t know it yet — rather like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff.

    Why? Because of Upton Sinclair. In “How I Ran For Governor of California and Got Licked,” he wrote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

    Why? Because evolution drives organisms to seek short term benefit for the most part. There are exceptions (like bees) but they are few and far between. For the most part, doing things that are detrimental in the short term but beneficial in the long term is a good way to not pass down your genes to subsequent generations.

    Why? Because of the Tragedy of the Commons, which is little more than the previous point written into human society. Few people will tolerate it if power does not come out of the wall immediately whenever they turn on the blow drier. Fewer people will tolerate federal money being spent on their grandchildren instead of them. No politician is able to see further than the next election.

    Why? Because the same people who shout loudly for carbon free energy want to decommission nuclear reactors post haste. Germany is already doing this, replacing them with gas fired power plants, and thereby making their carbon footprint significantly worse. I dislike nuclear garbage as much as the next person, but that is a local problem and climate change is a global, existential problem. There are priorities.

    Why? Because the deciding vote in the Senate is held by the Senator from Coal. Read the Upton Sinclair quote again.

    Why? Because almost half the country believes science is optional, just another opinion, and the balance of power is held by those voters who pay the least attention and are often swayed by the loudest voices.

    Why? Because NOT A SINGLE COUNTRY IS EVEN CLOSE TO MEETING ITS GOALS UNDER THE PARIS AGREEMENT. Not one. Not even the ones that are most smug about their progress. And the Paris Agreement is nowhere near good enough, so if we are not willing to meet those penny ante goals, we are never going to do anything that would actually address the scale of the problem. Countries still talk about their goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5 C, but 1.5 C is already in the rear view mirror. There is no credible way we can keep it below 2 C, and people who know more about this than I do (like James Hansen) mostly believe 3 C is where we will end up. That is catastrophic. There lies drowned countries, hundreds of millions either dead or on the move, desertification on a large scale, disrupted monsoons, melted ice caps. Civilization would have a hard time surviving one of those. It will not survive all of them at once.

    And finally, why? Because the first serious government recognition of climate change was in the Carter administration. And yet, here we are. We spent the 90’s and early pre-teens laughing at Al Gore, when addressing the problem would have been a lot easier than it is now. Instead, we have pursued a relentless policy of tax cuts uber alles, depriving the government of the very resource it needs to solve the problem. Even the catastrophic recent weather events have failed to convince the majority of people that this is a problem for them to solve, not their grandchildren. By the time there is a serious majority committed to addressing climate change, by the time they look around and say “Whoa! Where did all this come from? Maybe we should do something,” it will be far too late.

    Human nature being what it is, I think we have one slim chance of success, and that is pouring research money into carbon removal technology. That may not work, but current trends show pretty clearly that nothing else will even be seriously tried.

    But I don’t think even that is going to happen. The very next time Republicans are in power, all that will be discarded as just so much libral fantasy. God will provide. And it will be replaced with tax cuts.

  30. pjcamp
    Nuclear energy is only carbon-free at the tailpipe. It’s pretty carbon intensive to mine, refine, ship and ship again for disposal. Also, it uses a LOT of water, which is what the next world war will be fought over.

    The Venn diagram intersection of “science is optional!” and “I vote Republican!” is… large. We’ll see how many of them are left by the next presidential election. Sure, Covid 19 is going to kill a significant portion of them… and a bunch more who were lucky enough to get replacement lung transplants for the lungs that Covid 19 destroyed… slightly less than half of those will be dead by the next presidential election… let’s see how popular Republicans actually are by then. And how many of them are left.

    The NY Times ran a piece about how many Covid 19 survivors were on assisted breathing or in induced comas, waiting for transplants that most of them won’t get and that they will die unconscious waiting for, along with the statistical fact of the 50% mortality rate for lung transplant recipients at the 5 year mark.

    Depressing.

    But stupidity is ultimately self-correcting. Will it correct quickly enough to save the rest of us? Dunno.

  31. Nuclear energy is only carbon-free at the tailpipe. It’s pretty carbon intensive to mine, refine, ship and ship again for disposal.

    It may be now, but this is hardly inevitable – and the mining industry will have to decarbonize just like every other industry.

    More importantly, you can get 8 calories of energy out of a gram of coal, 13 calories out of a gram of natural gas, and 18 million calories out of a gram of uranium.

    We certainly need to keep building out renewables as fast as we can, since there’s essentially no downside to doing that until they account for a significant majority of energy production. But for the vast majority of the world, renewables will never be able to provide 100% of realistic power demands. The capacity factor is too low and large-scale grid-level storage is non-viable in most places (not everywhere – pumped hydro may be viable in certain areas, for example, but even if we turn 100% of known lithium reserves into batteries, there will not be anywhere near enough battery capacity). Right now natural gas is being used to make up the difference as coal plants are taken offline, and the industry appears very interested in pushing the narrative that some carbon-free solution will magically appear, while building new peaker plants all over.

    Significant new nuclear generation capacity appears to be the only way to meet or even come close to the UN climate targets without a large reduction in standards of living for many people.

    The main objection is that building new nuclear reactors is very expensive. That is certainly the case, but it doesn’t have to be (and it’s still a lot cheaper than the cost of 2-3 additional degrees of warming). It seems to me that making the effort to lower the costs of new nuclear construction is just as important as, and more likely to be successful than, trying to develop low-cost large-scale grid-level battery storage or atmospheric carbon-capture technology.

  32. @audrey I’ll agree with most of that, but not that it’s carbon-intensive to ship. It’s shipped by train. You’d be hard-pressed to find a method of moving stuff that is MORE energy efficient than trains.

  33. Decommissioning nuclear plants is also carbon intensive. Probably more than creating them due to the need to handle radioactive materials much more carefully than when the same materials were not so radioactive.

    But that whole discussion is quite irrelevant. I didn’t argue that we should go all in on nuclear. I argued that taking current nuclear plants offline to replace them with fossil fuels is brain damaged. Leave them in place while we deal with the climate problem. Then worry about what to do with them. If there is anyone left to worry about them.

  34. Building new nuclear reactors is expensive primarily because we persist in using designs from the 1950’s. Those are the only ones DOE approves. There are plenty of much more modern designs that are intrinsically safe. The laws of physics shut them down. Take pebble bed reactors. If the core temperature goes up, Doppler broadening lowers the neutron absorption cross section so the reaction rate goes down so the temperature goes down. A pebble bed reactor’s default state is shut down and you have to make an effort to keep it running. A 1950’s style boiling or pressurized water reactor’s default state is meltdown and you have to exert an effort to prevent that — an effort that can never pause for any reason. That is significantly more expensive.

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