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What should we do about climate change?

Posted on 27 October 2010 by Kevin Judd

A short piece for the general audience of RTR radio, Perth, Australia.
(listen to the original audio podcast)

Climate scientists are telling us that the earth is warming, we are causing it, and we should reduce carbon dioxide emissions to lessen the effects. So what should we do?

Firstly, we should either use less energy, or use renewable energy sources, like solar-thermal generators that are now providing energy in Europe more cheaply than Nuclear generators, without the waste products. In Australia, peak energy demand is on hot summer days, when solar energy is most abundant; it makes no sense to not use solar energy to help meet this peak demand.

Most importantly, we must stop listening to disinformation. Contrary arguments have been repeatedly shown to be false and misleading. Claims that climate change is a hoax, or a conspiracy, or that climate scientists have deceived the public, is an inversion of the truth. Climate change denial is the propaganda. Ninety seven percent of scientists agree climate change is happening. The peer-reviewed evidence is overwhelming. The time for scepticism about climate change has past.

Scepticism is a good thing, all scientists are sceptics. I always encourage people to critically examine evidence and motivations. A good place to begin is the following. What is more plausible? That thousands of scientists have been fabricating evidence and theory for over a hundred years in a conspiracy to achieve, well, what exactly? Or that industries and their partners are sponsoring a disinformation campaign because they stand to lose billions of dollars in profits, if people should use less, or alternative forms of, energy? Ask yourself who stands to lose the most if the scientists' warnings are acted on? Then ask yourself who stands to lose the most if scientists' warnings are not acted on.

And keep in mind that the costs of prevention now is less than the cost of trying to fix the damage later

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO PODCAST

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 380:

  1. Using less energy can, at best, offset the increases in population and energy demands. While solar has a role, especially in WA, the global solution for energy has to be nuclear. Any concerns about waste or terrorism (fanciful) are insignificant compared to the consequences of global warming. The other action is to curb population growth. China, to their credit, at least has aggressive nuclear energy plans and is doing something about population. One of the benefits of not having a democracy - one can make unpopular decisions!
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  2. In australia solar may be viable, but this is not true for every corner of the globe... There is nothing wrong with the fourth and fifth generation thorium salt fast breeder reactors. There is as much disinformation floating around about this technology as anything. And this does offer a viable alternative to fossil fuels anywhere. Thorium is cheap, they are vastly more efficient than heavy or light water reactors. And produce a fraction of the waste... If the world was serious about cutting its reliance on fossil fuels, this should be the first avenue of investment.
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  3. John. Population? The real problem is consumption and associated waste (by humans). Was it here I read that ants have a couple of hundred times the biomass of the human population? They seem not to have run out of their resources. Probably because they reuse and recycle every single element required for life.

    Anyway, human population numbers will decline so long as the focus remains on educating girls and women. China's approach was probably the best they could do given the extreme problems they faced. But it was a disaster, and continues so, because of the failure to educate the population at large. The men and women who were born around the time the policy was introduced have been educated and acculturated to preference for male children and to desire 4 generations under one roof.
    http://www.thisis50.com/profiles/blogs/24-million-chinese-men-wont?xg_source=activity

    A system that encourages and supports later marriage and esp. later birth of a first child firstly reduces the generational overlap thereby reducing total population even with an unchanged birthrate.

    A policy and a program was necessary. This particular policy will continue to cause problems for a very long time.
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  4. John 97% of scientists? Should that be 97% of climate scientists or involved scientists or something.

    Or is that going to muck up your word count.
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    Response: I'm just guessing here but I'd bet Kevin went with the simplification of "scientists" instead of "climate scientists" for the purpose of talking to a general radio audience.
  5. I'm curious to understand the justification and evidence for this statement:

    "... like solar-thermal generators that are now providing energy in Europe more cheaply than Nuclear generators"
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  6. "97% of climate scientists". If this is based on Doran, then the 97% is even tighter than that - climate scientists actively publishing on climate change. While this might be simplification for radio, I think it is overstating a case which I believe is poor practise. Leave that to denialists. If you overstate something, then it is easy for someone to discount your entire argument on basis of that error. On the other hand, if the argument is understated, then close examiners looking to refute your argument will find things worse than they thought - and perhaps pause to reflect.
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    Response: If I'm crunched for space, I usually say "climate experts" and if someone asks "what's a climate expert?", I say a climate scientist who is actively publishing peer-reviewed papers on climate science.
  7. Well Barry, according to a talk given by G Poornima & L Isensee, the cost of installing a Concentrated Solar Power (as of 2009) comes out to between $2.50 to $4.00 per watt. By contrast, most nuclear power stations cost around $5.00 to $6.00 per watt to build-then have fuel & waste disposal costs on top of that! Its worth noting that the high cost of nuclear power comes even after *60 years* of development & many hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for the industry!
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  8. Marcus, you don't happen to have a link to that info, do you? I'm curious if they discussed costs for any other electricity sources. I saw some numbers that suggested a modern coal-fired power station would cost only $1.50 or so per watt up-front, but would cost another $0.50 per watt per year in fuel costs (can't remember where I saw that, unfortunately).
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  9. John Chapman, there is nothing fanciful about concerns regarding the waste & terrorist implications of nuclear energy. The US has enormous problems dealing with the accumulated nuclear waste of the past 60 years, & it doesn't take much nuclear waste to build a dirty bomb. Not to mention the danger posed by the facilities themselves were someone to fly a plane into it!
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  10. The closest I can get, Bern, is this:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE58867I20090911?pageNumber=1. I hope that helps. Also, I've heard of capital costs for coal power stations of between $1.80 & $2.20 per watt. Its also worth noting that the Coal Industry enjoys many tax breaks-especially in Australia. Water costs, waste disposal costs, land rehabilitation costs, diesel fuel costs-*all* are, in part or full, covered by tax payers!
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  11. Also, Bern, you can find more info on Concentrated Solar Power here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_solar_power
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  12. hmm now what could we do to fix this huge problem? how about some kind of tax, we'll call it a tax on carbon, something that everyone has to pay because we all breathe, don't take into account that plants and tree's need Co2 to survive, its poison a dreadful poison. ignore climate gate the scientists were joking about falsifying data.

    oh just ignore the ice cores showing co2 following temperature, the ice cores were joking as well, just to confuse you haha do you get it? ignore ice core and sea core data showing just 500,000 years ago a temperature 5 degree's higher than today which heated at a faster rate 15 degrees per century.

    ignore the urban heat island effect and the iris effect.
    ignore the fact that a small period known as the Holocene climatic optimum was warmer than it is today.

    so what can we do about global warming? absolutely nothing, its a natural occurrence you may as well try and stop the sun from burning.
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  13. Marcus, I'm sorry, I have to dispute this on a number of grounds. First, you're quoting a few cherry-picked assumed costs, not real-world costs. Second, you're not considering LCOE.

    I have an article in press in the journal Energy (the DOI is 10.1016/j.energy.2010.10.039 but it's not online yet), and based on a meta-review of the last 10 years of authoritative energy literature (encompassing the IEA, EIA, MIT, IPCC, RAE, NREL, NEEDS etc), normalised to 2009 USD, we found the median LCOE for nuclear was $54/MWh (n=8), and for solar thermal it was $165/MWh (n=4).

    Your statement is not supported.
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  14. john chapman, its interesting to me that you would suggest curbing the population growth, how exactly would one do that? i have an opinion on this issue relating to global climate change but i'll let you answer before i rant.
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  15. Further to Barry Brook's comment, the $165/MWh cost for solar energy is not comparable with the cost of energy from nuclear. Nuclear provides power on demand, whereas solar provides power when the sun is up and the sky is relatively clear. They do not provide much power in winter. Even solar thermal power stations that have some storage (such as molten salt storage) can only provide a few hours of full power generation when the sun is not shining.

    There is no such thing as a solar baseload power station and probaly never will be (other than with huge subsidies).

    I agree with the statement: "Most importantly, we must stop listening to disinformation."
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  16. @Peter Lang, I'd have to disagree with your comment that solar thermal with storage can "only provide a few hours of full power generation when the sun is not shining" - the output post-sunset depends on the amount of storage you have. If your demand curve *needs* full output after sunset, then you need to make larger storage tanks and increase the size of your collectors, that's all. But given most (all?) demand curves show a significant decrease post-sunset, why design the system to deliver 100% all night?

    I agree with you, though, that the cost is an issue - the price per MWh delivered is important. But I'm also interested - was the cost for solar thermal based on the limited scale projects that have been deployed in the past, or on projected costs of large-scale baseload generators? I'm sure the early nuclear systems cost a bit more than they do now, given the 60-odd years of (highly subsidised) development that's gone into them.

    The bigger problem with nuclear, at least in Australia, though, is political. 60-odd years of scaremongering about the dangers of nuclear waste will be hard to overcome...
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  17. Bern@16 - "Why design systems to deliver 100% all night?"

    Well, not all night maybe, but on those really hot nights in Perth, there is no doubt that everyone will keep their air conditioners going, at least until the early hours of the morning!
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  18. I'm afraid relying on conservation, nuclear or renewables is merely tinkering at the edges, and it could be like cutting off a few of the the Hydra's heads! Jeavons paradox reminds us that efficiency savings may not be as great as expected. Moreover whilst some renewables work well up to a percentage of power, further increases lead to grid instability and expensive storage is necessary. Nuclear is limited unless we move to thorium. However bear in mind that most of our carbon emissions are non grid based and widely diversified.

    Although I generally support most 'green' initiatives, we really have focus on reducing the key drivers. Economic, and population growth, the latter being a delayed effect. Consumption is a social illness which our politicians and media encourage us to participate in so we need political change.

    With regards to technologies as unpopular as these are I suggest the following should be our focus

    Carbon capture and storage

    Reforestation in the tropics and possibly beyond depending on albedo effects

    'Reversible geoengineering' such as increased cloud cover (yes this could be an oxymoron) but only in conjunction with genuine carbon reduction initiatives.

    'Industrial geoengineering', by focusing on carbon reductions in transport emissions rather than on industry which according to NASA has a net cooling effect

    Increased research into technologies such as algae based Biofuels and artificial carbon capture from the atmosphere should be encouraged.
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  19. Bern@16,

    I cannot give your reply the detailed answer it needs here. You might be interested in the “Zero Carbon Australia – Stationary Energy Plan- Critique”.

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/08/12/zca2020-critique/

    This provides cost estimates for solar thermal and wind power, with biomass and hydro backup, to meet our projected demand for electricity. The cost is around $500/MWh ($270 to $1,200/MWh), but these costs are based on highly optimistic assumptions.

    The power supply would be unreliable.
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  20. transjasmine, just your first paragraph has many fallacies - if only you had read more on this site.

    Anyway, here are the threads you need to read to help with your misunderstandings :

    Does Breathing Contribute to CO2 Build-up in the Atmosphere ?

    Global Warming 'Positives'

    CO2 - Everyone's Favourite Pollutant

    ClimateGate

    Like I say, that is just from your first paragraph - there is a lot more but I don't have time at the moment to point you in the right directions. Maybe later...unless someone else can be bothered to waste their time on this !

    Basically, perhaps you had better start here :

    Newcomers Start Here
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  21. Concentrating solar wouldn't work very well in the UK or the Northern hemisphere in general.
    Biomass, wind farms, photovoltaics, solar water heating, ground source heat pumps, tidal and numerous other alternatives are appropriate here in the UK.



    perseus:
    "Moreover whilst some renewables work well up to a percentage of power, further increases lead to grid instability and expensive storage is necessary."

    Your view about renewables assumes that technology and engineering is stuck in a time warp with no innovation.
    Here in the UK a lot of work and effort is taking place to develop new ways of managing renewables connected to the grid.
    Including a big smart grid test project involving some 14,000 homes and businesses. The problem we have now is that the old grid was designed for the generating sources developed over 70 years ago, it will be changed to suite todays needs. That includes better energy management at the customer end with smart devices that know when the grid is under strain (actually quite easy, you just monitor the frequency, which is what the human controllers do manually).

    Basically your basing your ideas on ideas that are being bypassed by research and development.
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  22. addition:

    Not only are your views about renewables wrong, but your support for a fossil fuel back up plan with desperate geo-engineering add ons is junk.
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  23. oops that last comment of mine was in response to perseus.
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  24. EU Commission, concluded that the cost is only the acquisition of solar energy in the Sahara. To get from the source 100% of Europe's demand (for electricity), you must cover the solar panels (the latest, yet non-existent generation), more than 30% of the Sahara. It would also develop entirely new ways of transmission of this energy. The current could generate up to 30% of losses.
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  25. Yes, indeed Arkadiusz.

    Of course the idea of developing the Sahara for just Africa isn't considered!
    Instead Europe seems to be interested in mainly exploiting another African resource to support our own life styles.
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  26. Thanks Kevin.

    I'm interested in the cheap solar energy claim, as well.

    In a quick and lazy research, I found this on Wikipedia: Cost of electricity by source.

    It shows solar photovoltaic energy as the most expensive, and solar thermal the second one (see table).

    It's a very interesting subject that would deserve more posts. Maybe the discussion that follows would bring in more information.

    The link about investment from Google is also good news. Thanks Marcus.
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  27. Good comments guys. Thanks
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  28. @JMurphy i dont believe what i have said contains any "fallacies" but if you would care to enlighten me as to what and why it was wrong?
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    Moderator Response: You need to make your comments on the appropriate threads. Off topic comments will be deleted from this thread.
  29. Barry Brook, the cost estimates for Nuclear Power that you cite are based on the deliberate underestimates supplied by the nuclear industry itself. They frequently quote costs of around US$2500 to US$3000 per KW of installed capacity-when actual experience has shown costs to be closer to between US$4000 & US$6000 per kw-even when the projects come in under budget (which is almost *never*, btw). By contrast, Andasol-in Spain-has an installed capacity of 100MW & cost US$380 million-or a cost of $3800 per MW of installed capacity. The system also has around 8 hours of storage on top of the amount of energy it generates directly. Nevada Solar One, with a capacity of 75MW, for a cost of US$270 million-or US$3600 per kilowatt of installed capacity. Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) in the Mojave Desert, was installed, in stages, at a cost of between $1800 & $3000 per kw of installed capacity. So, in fact, solar thermal power stations have an established track record of coming in at-or even below-the installation costs of nuclear power stations-even though nuclear power has enjoyed a much longer period of development & government subsidies.
    Also, this constant reference to the need for 24/7 power from coal or nuclear is utter rubbish. The worst thing about nuclear & coal is that they're hugely inflexible-producing far, far more electricity between 8pm & 8am than is actually required. A far better approach would be to introduce better energy efficiency measures (like weather-proofing houses, which would make the need for all-night A/C totally unnecessary) & supplying our energy needs from a *mix* of distributed energy generation systems-Gas (Natural & Biogas), Wind coupled with Vanadium Flow Batteries, Solar Thermal-with thermal storage, grid-interactive Photovoltaics & even Tidal Streams. This could be done without *any* recourse to nuclear power.
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  30. Perseus, my own rather modest energy efficiency measures (like replacing my hot water tank with a continuous flow gas system, installing tinted windows & switching to compact fluorescent lights) has cut my electricity use *in half*-& led to only a marginal increase in my gas use. This means I've achieved a phenomenal reduction in my CO2 emissions-with no loss in my quality of life. I'm also on a 50% Green Energy scheme & I use public transport for all routine commutes, which is cutting my CO2 footprint still further & saving me money. So you see, in truth, that energy conservation stands to significantly reduce CO2 emissions-at least cost to the consumer. A shift away from large centralized coal-power plants (with their 15% Transmission & Distribution losses, only 35% Thermal Efficiency & massive electricity surpluses at night) to smaller, decentralized & scalable sources of electricity (like gas, wind & solar) would also allow for massive reductions in our CO2 footprint, without the disastrous impact on the economy that the fossil fuel defenders claim!
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  31. transjasmine wrote : "JMurphy i dont believe what i have said contains any "fallacies" but if you would care to enlighten me as to what and why it was wrong?"


    Follow the links I gave, to discover that :

    Breathing doesn't contribute to the increase in CO2, so it doesn't need to be taxed;

    Plants and trees need a lot more than CO2 to survive, and a warming world will inhibit their growth;

    CO2 is a pollutant;

    'Climategate' was a storm in a tea-cup, which didn't show scientists doing any falsification because there was no falsification to show.

    Read the links for further information and I will provide more links to counter the rest of your misinformed views when I have more time.
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    Moderator Response: Transjasmine, further responses to your off topic comments and questions will be deleted from this thread. Look on the relevant threads.
  32. "What should we do about climate change ?"
    Water into sahara desert, is the answer.
    Img.gif.
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  33. #28 Marcus,

    I think you should wait for the publication of Barry Brook's paper before making too assumptions about his sources.

    Wikipedia reports the cost of electricity from Andasol 1 as 0.271 euros per kWh. At current exchange rate that is $0.374 per kWh.

    The IEA in it's 2010 report on the projected costs of electricity generation finds nuclear to range from $0.059 to $0.099 per kWh in OECD countries. The IEA includes decommissioning and waste management costs.
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  34. One issue not often mentioned with renewables for power generation, is the capacity for distributed generation to shield communities from some of the anticipated impacts of unavoidable change. If towns well away from power plants were equipped with a mix of wind and solar - which they could feed back into a grid when they have surplus - they could easily sustain themselves even if raging storms or fires knocked out a large part of the transmission network.

    As for nuclear power, unless we're talking salt cooled thorium I think it's just silly. A plant ordered today isn't going online very quickly and we expect it to last many decades. Unless we're *guaranteed* sufficient cooling water and *guaranteed* no SLR rise to impact seawater cooled plants, we'll finish up like Tennessee this year and Europe in 2003 being unable to run plants at all when they're most needed.

    Noone's mentioned geothermal?
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  35. adelady,

    I find this argument about local generation with solar and wind to be very unconvincing in the absence of economic storage. All grand plans for renewables require electricity to be provided via much expanded grids over large geographical areas to (partially) offset local weather effects. Even then, they are up against it as weather systems can also span large geographical areas. Electricity supplied by local wind and solar would be exceptionally and unacceptably unreliable.
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  36. quokka #35

    I have talked to people working with wind energy, and it looks like it is more predictable and reliable than it seems at first glance. Of course, if you are able to assemble them into an extensive grid you can smooth out even seasonal variations. But even local generation can be climatologically predictable, and therefore useful and reliable.

    Yes, you may need some old-style generation as a backup on the predicted drops, but it can be significantly less than now.

    Maybe some more posts on the subject could raise our overall culture on this subject and help us distinguish between true limitations and uninformed resistance to clean energy.
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  37. actually my posts were not off-topic, the question is what should we do about climate change, my answer was "nothing" because the climate is always changing, has always changed and will continue to change and there is nothing we can do about it.

    the facts i gave and questions i posed were to reinforce my answer.

    i cant answer you comments JMurphy because i'm being censored yay!
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  38. transjasmine - Your initial posts on this thread were quite the laundry list of skeptical statements; I count ~12 of them in a couple of paragraphs. They are popular skeptic arguments; they have been discussed here before.

    I would recommend that you compare your post here to the list of Skeptic Arguments, and if you wish to argue specific points, go to the appropriate thread where folks can track what's being talked about.
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  39. transjasmine - You might also want to look at the various arguments by taxonomy; it might be easier to find the relevant thread for your argument points that way.

    In the meantime I suspect the moderators will continue to delete 'off-topic' posts...
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  40. transjasmine, you can reply to any comments from anyone, as long as they are on the relevant thread. If you have any responses to any of the links I gave as a response to your assertions, reply after clicking on the relevant link.

    As for your 'do nothing' attitude, because you think that climate change is all natural, please read the following :

    Climate's Changed Before

    Humans are too Insignificant to affect Global Climate

    It's Not Us

    Or look at any of the threads that counter arguments about it all being down to the sun, the oceans, etc.

    At any of those, you can bring forth your arguments and present the evidence for them.
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  41. Hey, I like the taxonomy bit - very impressive and helpful. I must pay more attention when these changes are brought in...
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  42. transjasmine,

    i'm being censored yay!

    While you're perusing the links that JMurphy kindly provided for you, please take a moment to look up the definition of "censorship." As far as I know, it doesn't include being asked to take arguments on a private website to the threads specifically provided for those arguments.
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  43. Re: transjasmine (37)

    I would augment the comments made by the others so far with this: from your first comment (and my reply to it) to your most recent, you have shown a lack of understanding of the subject matter you are commenting on. Did you learn anything from the pointing-in-the-right-direction I gave you?

    We are here to help those with questions, that's our role here. But when guidance is offered (by myself, JMurphy, KR and Phila), it is incumbent upon the person to whom it is given to then act upon it. Or to demonstrate, with supporting links, why it is wrong.

    It is expected that you will still have questions, certainly. And please do ask them. But to keep the moderators happy (☻), try to find an appropriate thread for them. There is always room for one more honest learner at this banquet table.

    The Yooper
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  44. The Ville at 20:58 PM on 27 October, 2010

    Perseus, my own rather modest energy efficiency measures (like replacing my hot water tank with a continuous flow gas system, installing tinted windows & switching to compact fluorescent lights) has cut my electricity use *in half*-& led to only a marginal increase in my gas use. This means I've achieved a phenomenal reduction in my CO2 emissions-with no loss in my quality of life.

    One of the most effective means of reducing carbon for any individual is through various home improvements, particularily insulation, however this should really be standard construction nowadays.

    With respect to your case, to calculate the true saving in carbon you would have to calculate the amount of carbon required in manufacturing and installing these windows, similarily for the boiler and the lights. Moreover, to this you would have to add any carbon products purchased through whatever monetary saving you achieved through these measures.

    The main point however, is that although some of us in developed countries may be making some energy and carbon savings, how much are these measures more than offset by all those people in developing countries upgrading to a Western lifestyle? You are comparing a limited saving with an unlimited increase.
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  45. This is interesting. This is the first blog post I have seen so far, among hundreds on this site, that actually begins to adress the important subject of 'What should we do about climate change?'. All the others seem to say, in many different ways, that our climate is heading towards a disaster, and that anyone who says otherwise is a humbug.

    Unfortunately, after four lines about using 'less energy', and turning to 'renewable energy', even this post went on into the usual raving about 'disinformation', 'propaganda', '97% of all scientists', 'conspiracy', etc. This post was a great disappointment.

    How about telling us more about what we really can and should do about climate change, in stead of this constant complaining about how skeptics ruin everything?
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  46. Just on "I say a climate scientist who is actively publishing peer-reviewed papers on climate science." I'd agree but in Doran which I assume is the source of data, the 97% refers to "climate scientists publishing about climate change". The "climate experts" number would be 90%. I know its nit-picking but I think is helps the argument to get it correct.
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  47. Marcus@29, you say:

    "Barry Brook, the cost estimates for Nuclear Power that you cite are based on the deliberate underestimates supplied by the nuclear industry itself."

    That statement is commonly made by the anti-nuclear people, the renewable energy advocates and the fossil fuel industry. But it is plainly wrong. You can find cost comparisons, (done on a properly comparable basis), by IEA, EIA, USDOE, EPRI, NEEDS and many other authoritative organisations. If anyone is propogating optimistic energy cost figures, with little integrity, it is the renewable industry.

    Have you seen the NEEDS studies? Look at the nuclear and solar thermal here for example:
    http://www.needs-project.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=42&Itemid=66

    Notice that whereas the solar thermal analysis projected that the cost of solar thermal would drop by about 50% between 2007 and 2010, in actual fact the cost has increased by by 30% in the last year alone (ref: EPRI; and also EIA and USDOE)
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  48. Argus #45
    "How about telling us more about what we really can and should do about climate change, in stead of this constant complaining about how skeptics ruin everything?"

    My answer:
    1 - Spreading water in the Sahara desert.
    2 - To preserve the forests.
    3 - Reforest the deforested areas.
    4 - Promote the research of soil that is waterproof.

    See
    Thermodinamics......
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  49. #49.

    Have the decommissioning costs been factored into the price of nuclear generated electricity as well? I'm not anti-nuclear, but I don't want to fix one problem (AGW), just to replace it with another.
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  50. #36 Alexandre

    You can see the wind output from South Australian wind farms, together with demand and price charted nicely here: http://www.oz-energy-analysis.org/data_viewer/dv1a.php . Scroll over the data to get a general sense of variability. Note that in May, there were two weeks with almost no electricity generated.
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