The Six Great Climate Fictions

The Six Great Climate Fictions

February 15 2023

1. Nuclear is the Answer. To start, global electricity generation is only 25% of total emissions and Nuclear’s share of that is declining, not increasing. The reactors built in the 60s and 70s are aging out. The only two new reactors being completed in the US in Georgia have taken 3X longer to build and are 8X over budget. At $12 Billion a copy, the electricity they’ll produce will cost 4X current prices. Economics aside, nobody wants another reactor in their community. And we’d need a few hundred new ones, at a Giggawatt each, to make a dent in the 1,100 Gigawatt US system. Small Modular Reactors being developed by NuScale, Terra Power and GE only produce about 1/20th of a Gigawatt a piece and the first unit won’t come online until the end of the decade — if the super conservative Nuclear Regulatory Commission even lets them. “Fusion” produced a blip of electricity in a lab last year but nobody knows when or if it can ever produce electricity at scale. Like Nuclear, the nascent technologies carbon capture and green hydrogen also won’t scale for decades, but we’re going to have to have all these solutions to reverse the damage the next 30 years of emissions will do.

2. Natural gas is a clean fuel. Yes, and there use to be something called “Clean Coal.” When combusted at the end point, nat/gas is 50% less CO2 than coal but that doesn’t count all the nat/gas/methane flared and vented at well heads, at pipeline pumping stations and in the LNG compression/decompression process. We fully acknowledge nat/gas is a big part of US prosperity. Europe needs US nat/gas (not Putin’s). And it’s better for China to burn US gas than coal. But we shouldn’t scale it further than necessary and it's decidedly dirty.

3. China is building a coal plant every day so why should we change our ways? Since the 19th Century, the US has put far more emissions into the atmosphere than China and we presently burn twice per capita what the Chinese do. China burns coal because it’s the only fossil fuel it can domestically produce at scale – generating horrific air pollution. It imports most of its oil and gas from OPEC/Russia to fuel its industries and vehicle fleet. It’s no wonder China is building out its clean power generation and EV fleet faster than almost any other country. And even if you still think they play dirty, the US should lead on clean energy — not sink to the lowest common denominator.

4. The US has a strong position on oil. We burn 20 million barrels of crude each day to power cars, trucks and other uses but we only produce 12 million. We import the rest from Canada and OPEC. We can’t expect to produce an additional 8 million barrels. It costs around 60 bucks to profitably produce a barrel of crude from the Texas Permian, from deep water Gulf of Mexico, or from Alaska but the Arabs and Russians can produce for ten bucks or less. Demand for crude inevitably has to decline to cut emissions. As a result, US producers are reluctant to initiate new projects that depend on $60 plus oil for the next 20 years.

5. Climate change costs are in the future. Hundreds of lives, and hundreds of billions worth of homes and businesses are destroyed each year from more intense and frequent hurricanes and wildfires. Florida politicians have a big problem as the average cost of Florida homeowners insurance was $4,000 in 2022 and will close to double in 2023. The national average is $1,500 but Florida’s problem will rapidly spread. Arizona and New Mexico are running out of Colorado River water. And numbers don’t capture the toll on the human spirit. Lots of people are deeply worried and depressed. And it’s going to keep getting worse for a long time.

6. How Real Is It? It took centuries, despite incontrovertible scientific truth, for humans to agree the earth is round. Climate change science has been well understood for a 100 years and an 8th grader can explain it to you. Nevertheless, a majority of Americans ignore the science, downplay its consequences and belittle efforts to combat it. Needless to say, we at The Climate Capitalist are impatient with the naysayers. You can’t solve a problem when you can’t even agree on the problem. At least the naysayers now feel compelled to defend themselves and that’s a good step.

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This week we feature 4 companies developing technologies that will help with the clean energy transition, brought to market through SPAC mergers.

July 24 2023

Surprisingly, in the state that provides the bulk of US fossil fuel production, it’s not fossil fuels keeping the grid going this summer.

August 8 2022

In the first of a series of video conversations, Michael Sonnenfeldt explains how the MIT Climate Model works to solve the climate crisis.