Friday, February 6, 2009

Fixing global warming will pay for itself: Revisited

The idea of bringing AGW skeptics on board in the mitigation debate occurred to me in the September of 2007. I was taking a first pass at a position of AGW mitigation when i began to look at the issue of cost paybacks. Up till that point I had assumed that mitigation steps would probably be very expensive, and might adversely effect people's quality of life. My focus was on eliminating the burning of fossil fuels in the generation of electricity, and in transportation. When I looked at how this technological change could be paid for, I realized that the normal replacement of worn out equipment would cover much of the cost. Then I made a critical case study of the Ontario plan to shut down their coal fired power plants. This plan was not the direct result of AGW concerns. Rather it was motivated by a desire to control health care costs that were related to the burning of coal. My review of epidemiological literature suggested that there was good reason to believe that elimination of coal in electrical generation would lower health care costs, but the elimination of the use of liquid carbon based fuels in transportation would cut health care costs even more. Furthermore, many people, both liberals nd conservatives knew someone whose health was adversely effected by the use of fossil fuels for energy.

I saw other advantages to the elimination of oil based fuels. Basing transportation on electricity would mean a big decrease in the use of imported oil. Shifting to locally produced nuclear generated electricity for transportation would be a step forward toward American trade. I quickly observed that my AGW mitigation scheme would be blocked by pseudo-liberals liberals who opposed nuclear power, and who wrongly believed that intermittent renewable electrical generation technology and efficiency could somehow be made to produce electricity on demand. As my post on Texas wind cost of this morning shows, wind generated electricity is a more expensive yet less capable competitor to nuclear generated electricity.

I also felt that conservatives had a stake in the debated about future electrical sources. My study of cost had undercut conservative practical objections to technology changes, by showing that these changes would not require an enormous increase in taxes, and would not be overly difficult to pay for. I also showed that such changes might well benefit the health of people whom political conservatives cared about, while cutting employer and taxpayer paid insurance premiums. Finally I felt that my approach would do much to alleviate conservative fears of government intrusions motivated AGW concerns. Such intrusions were undesirable unless there were no other choice, and in that case reaching a social consensus with respect to the intervention would be desirable. Thus I viewed Conservatives as potential allies in a debate over AGW mitigation debate.

My concerns are somewhat different from those of conservatives. I view the education and the creation and equable distribution of wealth as the primary method of alleviating poverty. Equitable distribution would mean that all people have access to the means of acquiring and enhancing their wealth. I also believe in a social safety net for children, the disabled, and people who circumstances are adversely effected by personal, social and economic forces that are beyond their control. I also view unions as a tools for increasing workers access to wealth. I believe that this makes me a liberal rather than a conservative. One of my objection to pseudo-liberalism is that it pretends to be concerned about the well being of the poor, while decreasing the amount of wealth producing energy available to society. My understanding of liberalism is that to the extent increasing the wealth of disadvantaged people in society requires an overall increase in wealth. Further this goal, is both laudable and attainable, provided we take the steps required to insure society enough energy to insure the prosperity of its poorest citizens. It would be most illiberal then to prevent the use of energy enhancing technology on wholly bogus grounds. The goal of my thinking was to see to it, that a transformation of energy technology would take place over the next few decades so that by 2050, fossil fuel use would have declined by 80% both in the United States and world wide. Up to three fourths of that
decline was to come from two sectors, electrical generation and transportation. I envisioned the use of electricity expanding to fill gaps in energy related to the decreased use of fossil fuels.

My thinking has not changed greatly since September of 2007. Back then I began to realize that there was little in my analysis that conservatives could object to even if they were AGW skeptics. Conservatives objective not to the steps needed to mitigate AGW, but to the pseudo-liberal mitigation paradigm. My liberal paradigm supported goals that conservatives could accept, was consistent with the operation of unregulated markets, and did not require a high level of government intrusion into the everyday life of citizens. My goals were practical. Energy should be available at a low enough cost to insure that poor and elderly people could afford air conditioning during Texas summers, and that enough low cost energy should be available to insure that poorer people could afford to drive to WalMart (or my case Sam's, Target and Big Lots) to shop when they chose to do so. I did not think that bicycling to REI was an acceptable substitute to driving to WalMart for poorer folks.

I also thought that other goals, such as decreasing the adverse health impact of transportation and power generation would appeal to conservatives. First by lowering demand for publicly financed healthcare benefits, there would be a chance to lower taxes. Health insurance costs to businesses would also drop. But fossil fuel related healthcare problems effected ordinary citizens who both shared in the cost of health care, and who suffered from pollution related health afflictions. Many conservatives are not insensitive to the fact that air pollution effects their own health and the health of members of their families. Thus there were benefits that both liberals could agree on, even if they did not agree on AGW.

I must add that I expect that the argument about AGW will soon be over. Things are going to move fast in the next three years, and I expect perceptions to change rapidly.

Here then is my September 2007 post:

Fixing global warming will pay for itself

Global warming skeptics argue that fixing global warming will cost us so much that it would be ruinous to society to even attempt a solution. This is nonsense. We can take a few steps over the next 40 years to bring at least half of global greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions under control. 50% to 60% of CO2 emissions can be eliminated by bring two sources of CO2 emissions under control. There are great secondary benefits for controlling theses sources. Indeed the secondary benefits may save so much money, that they will pay for the changes on their own.

The two sources that produce over 60% of the CO2 emissions in the United States are electrical generation, and the use of internal combustion engines in ground transportation. Existing technology can eliminate all of the CO2 emissions from electrical generation within the next 40 years. Using existing technology we can eliminate at least half of the CO2 emissions from the ground transportation sector. Expected technological breakthroughs can eliminate the other half.

The changes are simple but radical. By 2050 all base load electrical generation should come from hydroelectric sources and nuclear power plants. All coal fired electrical generating plants should be phased out. Since most world wide hydro electrical resources are already utilized, the replacement of fossil fuel power plants will be primarily through conversion to nuclear reactors. Reactors can be mass-produced and either constructed modularly with local assembly, or by constructed on barges at reactor factories, and then towed to permeate locations at costal or riverine settings. Smaller pre-assembled reactors can be shipped by rail.

Many old and inefficient American and European fossil fueled fired plants, having come to the end of their useful life, will scrapped during the next 40 years. Since they will be replaced anyway, there will be replacement costs. Increasing demand for electrical energy will lead to massive new power plant construction as a matter of course. Already in the United States electrical utilities are focusing on building new nuclear power plants to replace old coal fired plants, and to bring new generating capacity on line.

While it might seem impossible to accomplish the goal of replacing fossil fuel generation with nuclear power, the commitment of societies including national governments, and international cooperation can accomplish it. For example, if the United States makes a national commitment to convert all fossil fuel generation electricity to nuclear, this can be accomplished using existing technology and resources.

The problems of transportation can be solved through the replacement of fossil fuel energy with electrical energy. Existing technology already makes plug in hybrids practical. Even with no new technology, it is feasible to build plug in hybrids with 40 to 50 miles (60 to 75 kilometers) range with no fossil fuel input. This range would cover almost all urban use. Thus it would be possible to perform everyday activities like drive to work, shop and do errands and go out for the evening, without starting the backup fossil fuel engine. Urban trucks and busses could also run on portable stored electricity. Finally American rail roads can be electrified thus eliminating the use of diesel power to haul rail freight.

I promised secondary benefits, they are these. First we will see a significant decline in national healthcare expenses. A few years ago a group of Canadian doctors began to look at the health related costs of producing electricity from coal. They found that atmospheric pollutants from coal fired electrical generating plants were a significant source of health problems in the province of Ontario. There research found that air pollution from all sources kills more than 5,900 people each year in Ontario. An Ontario government follow up study found that coal-fired power plants in Ontario were responsible for up to 668 deaths. In addition, atmospheric pollutants from coal-fired generators were responsible for 928 hospital admissions and 1,100 emergency room visits every year. The health related cost to the people in Ontario associated with generating electricity by burning coal was found to be $4.4 billion.

A more recent Canadian study found that Ontario hospitals received in one year 12,518 asthma related visits (7,825 children and 4,693 adults). There is little doubt that emissions from fossil fuel engine are a major cause of a worldwide asthma epidemic. In the United States alone, the number of people with asthma grew from 6.7 million people in 1980 to 17.3 million in 1998, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Elimination of coal fired power plants and most autos and truck exhaust would save many billions of dollars in healthcare costs, and would prevent an enormous amount of human suffering. Thus a secondary benefit from switching electrical generation and ground transportation, from CO2 emitting sources to CO2 free sources, would be decreased a hospital admissions due to repertory illness, and a significant healthcare savings which in time would by itself more than pay for the conversion.

A further secondary benefit for switching from the use of oil-based fuels in transportation to stored electricity has to do with the oil-based economy. It would be present far cheaper in the United States to power autos with locally produced electricity from nuclear reactors than to power them using energy derived from imported oil. Even without global warming, two factors are driving the price of crude oil ever higher. They are, the growing demand for oil in India and China, and the peaking of world oil production. So just as the oil supply has reached its maximum, tens and even hundreds of millions of new oil consumers are entering the market. Switching from fossil fuel based transportation to a transportation based on stored electricity would save consumers in North America and Europe hundreds of billions of dollars and euros.

The costs of fixing global warming will not be exorbitant, and indeed the secondary benefits of fixing it will by themselves, more that pay the cost of the fix.


Konstantin said...

I haven't read the full post yet which I will soon but wanted to post this recent news.

The reason why I don't agree with the AGW religion is because I believe not only the science research being manipulated but it will be used to implement draconian laws and to restrict civil liberties by the very same ruling class responsible for all the pollution.

Here's a recent example.

"Millions of families could be barred from taking holidays abroad under a proposal to ration flights."

Charles Barton said...

The problem with alliances is that people still want to prove to themselves and each other that they are right and the othr fellow is wrong, and of course it is not a matter of my ego, it is his that is the problem.

Anonymous said...

Charles that is usually the case when people are in those alliances. But I believe that they would see the benefits of LFTRs if they were being informed about them. Sadly I don't think the info is getting through to many which is why I suggested someone has to bring it to the attention of a popular widely read blog site like Huffington Post or some other site.

One thing you can do to get this message to more people is to use "social bookmarking". What that is and what they do is like what a major tv network does to get the message to millions of people.
Two popular ones are and
I submitted it to although you would do a better job of writing a summary of it than I did I'm sure.

You can include clickable icons on your posts that people can click on if they find them interesting and your blog post will be listed at those sites where people vote on it if they like it. Then when it reaches enough votes it can potentially reach many thousands or more people.

As someone else posted in a previous comment, whatever ones point of view on global warming the one thing we can all agree on is that LFTRs is a technology that can get us out of the mess of global warming without sacrificing our civil liberties and solves problems energy security, energy independence, many more problems as you mentioned in the post.

Craig White said...

nice article upon pollution issue.....


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