A response to Andrew Leonard's criticism of my argument for fossil fuels.
In his thoughtful criticism of my essay on the future of fossil fuels (Everything you've heard about fossil fuels may be wrong
) and the poor prospects for renewable energy, Andrew Leonard characterizes my message as one that "we have nothing to worry about." This may be partly the fault of my presentation, because in the course of being provocative I did not make it sufficiently clear that I was engaged in analysis, not advocacy. I made the prediction that, even in the presence of global warming, the countries of the world are unlikely to allow the vast stores of fossil fuels in the earth’s crust to lie there undisturbed, when technology is making many of them ever more accessible and cheaper than the renewable energy alternatives. For the record, I personally wish that greenhouse gas emissions would stop immediately, and I personally would prefer a world of harmonious international cooperation for all time. Neither of my personal preferences is going to be fulfilled and neither affects the accuracy of my analysis.
My argument is that the replacement of fossil fuels by large-scale renewable energy is politically unrealistic, even though it is technically feasible. On questions of technical feasibility, I defer to scientists like David J.C. MacKay, professor of natural philosophy at Cambridge and the chief scientific adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). His widely-praised and nonpartisan book "Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air
" is available for free online.
Andrew Leonard writes: "Building enough nuclear power plants to make a dent in climate change will be massively expensive. And if we’re going to subsidize new sources of energy why not funnel that government funding towards sectors that do not have waste or potential meltdown issues -- like wind or solar."
An excellent question, to which Professor MacKay provides the answer. If nuclear energy is ruled out, then according to MacKay, who insists that he is not "pro-nuclear," 500 million North Americans could be sustained indefinitely at present levels of energy consumption by solar power facilities "a little bigger than Arizona." As for a billion Europeans and North Africans, they "could be sustained by country-sized solar power facilities in deserts near the Mediterranean." Yes, you read that right—solar power facilities the size of entire countries.