Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Law Of Unintended Consequences

In 1979, the group MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) organized a series of concerts to protest the use of nuclear power. All the big acts of the day performed, including Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty. The events were highly successful and spawned a film and a double album, if I remember correctly. It was one of the more successful pieces of anti-nuke propaganda, which after the Three Mile Incident (which resulted in ZERO loss of life) helped shut down the nuclear industry in the U.S.

Then there is this post ( about how the rush to produce biofuels has apparently produced food shortages in some areas of the world. Biofuels have been heavily promoted by Al Gore through his movie and his Alliance for Climate Protection as a solution to the problem of global warming. Now, many are realizing that biofuels not only contribute to food shortages and are partly responsible for the recent surge in food prices, but may also ADD to the problem of global warming, as forests are converted to cropland, removing large and important carbon sinks.

Because of the hysteria of the '80's, our nuclear industry and nuclear capacity has stagnated. Advances in nuclear power generation make it one of the cheapest and safest ways to generate power, with little effect (if any) to greenhouse gases. Think how different our economic situation would be if we generated a huge portion of our power through nuclear energy (France currently generates about 79% of its energy through nuclear plants). Think gas would be $4 a gallon?

And now, because of the hysteria of the '00's (the oughts? the oooo's? the zeds?), we have rushed headlong into biofuels, without considering the consequences. Even in my neck of the woods, many cotton fields, long the dominant farm crop in the area, have given way to corn, as farmers attempt to take advantage of the higher prices they can get for that crop and for the governmental subsidies that make corn a cash crop.

Is global warming real? Yes. Is there a scientific consensus about the causes or the long term effects? No. Do humans contribute to the problem? Probably, but perhaps not in the quantities that Al Gore would have you believe.

I think that climate study is important, but far too complex to be able to trot out "definitive solutions" to the problem of global warming--there's just too much that we don't know to sacrifice Western economies to the Kyoto protocols (if global warming is so damn bad, why aren't China and India and other emerging countries included in the carbon caps?). Our experience with the No Nukes crowd, and with the growing biofuels debacle shows that emotional approaches to a complex problem almost always lead to disaster.

1 comment:

Red Craig said...

Sobering thoughts, indeed.

I'm convinced that artificial CO2 is the main factor in global warming because it explains it perfectly and nothing else fits the data.

But your main point, that important decisions like these should be based on solid science and not the opinions of movie stars and rock-and-roll musicians, is supremely important. I wish the gate-keepers of our news media could get the message.

Good article. Thanks.