Iconic Photos

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Climate v. Politicians

with 14 comments

(Clockwise from left to right: Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of European Commission; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, American President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown).

Minutes before this picture was taken, Obama was meeting with China, India, South Africa and Brazil, when the main elements of his accord were stamped out in a humiliating slap in face for US and Europe. The above meeting during the final hours of the Copenhagen Summit on 18th December 2009 was not behind the closed doors. As the Daily Mail mused, Gordon Brown served the appointed note-taker for the group, scribbling away furiously, seemingly struggling to keep up with Merkel. Nick Clegg pointed out the above photo in this evening’s debate, saying Brown sat on the sidelines at Copenhagen. He is only partly right: Europe and Brown were pushed out to the side by Obama and China. But I thought I might begin with that photo before seguing into a political rant on an issue (I think) I am qualified for:

I agree with Clegg (and to lesser extent Cameron) on renewable portfolio standards. I was privileged to have been part of three commissions that complied the cost-benefits analyses of nuclear and wind power. As Clegg said, nuclear just doesn’t pay off, and government subsidies are just wasteful. Europe is trying to build third generation plus reactors in trial-and-error method, which is even less cost efficient. (In Finland, their reactor’s concrete shell had to be torn down after it didn’t meet standards and the reactors is already 37 months behind schedule 45 months into building).

Don’t let scientists and politicians fool you by saying nuclear costs comparatively the same as wind and solar. It is true ONLY if the construction finishes ontime (the industry has the history of 250% delays and bond defaults), and if all special material costs remain uninflated (which they don’t) throughout the construction. In addition, there is no waste fuel processing facility in planning, and nuclear plants have security precautions that force them to stop operating in hot days (24 C and above). They are harder to get back on the grid once shut down, and need entire restructuring of the electricity grid because their output doesn’t vary (though demand does). The world produces only a third of nuclear scientists needed every year and with big plans in China, the gap will become even greater. Yes, we can overcome all of this but it will make nuclear far more costlier than say a national initiative for carbon use efficiency, which I totally support.

On windpower, onshore windpower is be a political disaster–Natural Parks and marginal constituencies won’t wear it. Noise. Vast expenses of land wasted. Agricultural aircrafts redirected. High transmission costs (from Norther Scotland, where current onshore windplants are). It too need restructuring the grid to account for intermittency of wind. Offshore wind (the proposed London array) near quickly-developing Southeast is looking good, but all three parties have their own reservations and supporters for the project (foreign investments, diversion of resources from marginals in the North) and it is going very slowly if at all.

Please don’t comment on this post with “climate change is a hoax” comments. What I am advocating for is a change towards responsible living (insulation, solar panels on roof, less carbon footprint, cheaper bills, energy diversification, technological investment) which I believe is a good thing to adhere to with or without climate change.

… and I saw this when I was in Copenhagen for the conference and thought it was witty.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 22, 2010 at 10:07 pm

14 Responses

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  1. The photos are great. I wish, though, that I could agree with your conclusions about Gordon Brown being incidental to the process and the US and China pushing everyone aside.

    Gordon Brown, in the first place, as Chancellor and later as PM, has been in the vanguard internationally on climate change action. He has taken any number of steps domestically, and he is leading a group looking at how to deliver critical financing to the developing world for mitigation and adaptation. (He does need, to be sure, to rethink and drop his advocacy of nuclear power.)

    It’s an absurd myth, too, that Obama torpedoed Copenhagen. (See this post from me in December, and especially the Salon.com article it references: http://climatechange.foreignpolicyblogs.com/2009/12/23/post-copenhagen-coverage/)

    Bill Hewit

    April 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm

  2. First, this isn’t a comment on this post arguing that climate change is a hoax. As to your living responsibly, good for you, carry on. With or without climate change, energy/fuel/travel/life is going to continue to become more expensive(increasingly) as time goes and I doubt there is anything anyone can do about it.
    Consumers are an ugly bunch and if they want it, they WILL get it. Don’t tell uncle government but I went off many of their radar screens long ago, never to return, and I know several who are off the grid entirely. My point being the more control you put on people, the more ways they find around it. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness cannot be regulated, or constrained by carbon credits, or any other oversight by anyone.


    April 24, 2010 at 4:26 am

  3. Peter

    April 26, 2010 at 3:15 pm

  4. There are no wind farms in National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and no-one proposes there should be. No land is wasted as farming can continue round wind turbines, livestock are undisturbed by turbines. Get your facts straight.


    April 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    • Right back atcha, my old bean: wind farms have been implicated in killing sizeable numbers of large birds, cf. http://tinyurl.com/36x37zr – do they not count?

      Plus, often when it’s coldest (say when a high pressure system settles in during winter), there tends to be little wind.


      May 2, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    • farmers don’t like noise pollution and livestock are fatally disturbed by noise that comes from turbines. although bird casualties are minimal now, they are not insignificant.


      June 16, 2010 at 1:37 am

    • in fact, i was there, and all the pollution from these limos and transportations were offset by carbon credits.


      June 16, 2010 at 1:30 am

  5. Climate change is a hoax.


    May 5, 2010 at 7:09 pm

  6. A friend passed me a link to your blog and I’m loving it… was surprised and pleased to see via this post that we work in similar fields. Now I’m curious – what’s your day job?


    June 1, 2010 at 9:45 am

    • although i liaised in an environmental policy group for pre-copenhagen, my day job can be boringly described as something along the lines of civil service for a western government. sorry for being vague, but i like to keep some distance between this blog and my personal life.


      June 16, 2010 at 1:33 am

  7. Apart from the argument of science if AGW exists, if it is caused by man, and Climategate, why must you impose your morals on me? If you want to live a smaller footprint life, then by all means, do so. Advocate for it. But it rather goes against the freedoms of western government foundations to impose such energy regulation on how one lives. Rather dubious. Self-centered in a way.

    As far as nuclear in England goes, I can’t fathom how forcing a nuclear power plant to close for some non-proliferation/green agenda when it forced an aluminum factory to also close due to having no other source of energy for production. A smaller citizen foot print should not equate to the smaller functional skill of unemployment. Hardly civilized progress.

    Furthermore, despite the high cost of starting a nuclear power plant, one can not discount the long term bonus or economic gain of sustained high yield energy production vs. fuel, and lifetime of service over solar and wind power. Not to mention larger numbers of in state jobs across more diverse sectors.

    But that aside, why can’t those “in the know” recognize the government moral to meet the need of today as it will be built for tomorrow? Make oil, natural gas, and even nuclear more efficient and abundant. Instead, it seems, they dream a moral for tomorrow to meet the needs of a misty utopia. All the while robbing taxed Peter to pay subsidized Paul. Hardly moral ground at all.


    June 20, 2010 at 11:25 am

  8. In other news, the Obama administration (with the least amount of private sector appointee experience in the nation’s history) knows best:

    “The government is forcing Tesla [Motors (electric sports car)] to use shareholder money to buy a factory, but then will pay back the shareholders with taxpayer money.”


    June 20, 2010 at 1:55 pm

  9. […] Climate vs. Politicians […]

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