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Pielke Jr in Foreign Policy mag

Roger Pielke Jr explains the Kaya Identity to readers at Foreign Policy magazine, arguing that it is through technology that progress will be made on the global warming problem:

To secure cheap energy alternatives requires innovation -- technological, but also institutional and social. Nuclear power offers the promise of large scale carbon-free energy, but is currently expensive and controversial. Carbon capture from coal and gas, large-scale wind, and solar each offer tantalizing possibilities, but remain technologically immature and expensive, especially when compared to gas. The innovation challenge is enormous, but so is the scale of the problem. A focus on innovation -- not on debates over climate science or a mythical high carbon price -- is where we'll make [progress].

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Reader Comments (26)

His focus is still on his favourite subject, that of social manipulation. He fails completely to understand the nature of nuclear and gives the 'renewables' more chance in the future. he is so clouded by his need for socialist intervention that he doesn't realise that windmills went out with the medievil warm perios and will never be of any use in the manufacture of electricity. C capture is a waste of money and effort. Why does anyone think you can pump gas under pressure into the earth and have it stay there for millions of years. It's fortunate that Snr is still on this planet because his son isn't. It looks to me that jnr like Muller has found fame in CO² and likes it.

Aug 7, 2012 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered Commenterstephen richards

Carbon(Dioxide) capture does sound quite a far fetched concept even if you thought it was necessary. Why does no-one propose massive deforestation and then landfilling all those trees. I'm not sure how the numbers stack up but the concept is the same.

Aug 7, 2012 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

Kaya, Gaia...

Potato, potarto.

Aug 7, 2012 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered Commenterredc

Until the research has been done to prove that anthropogenic CO2 will not, through altering the types of phytoplankton in sea water, accelerate the next ice age, we cannot let out guard down.

There may still be a need for CCS.until we replace coal and methane electricity with nuclear, renewables [ biogas/fuel cells, local windmills and solar plus local storage - grid connected windmills are a dead loss], also maybe LENR power if it becomes commercial.

Aug 7, 2012 at 9:53 AM | Unregistered Commenterspartacusisfree

RP Jr supporting using more energy and cheap energy seems in line with Steve Pinker's "human flourishing". So using RP Jr's policies (regardless of his CAGW beliefs) to drag, kicking and screaming, the Dark Greens to the same goals as climate realists could be thought of as admirable.

Aug 7, 2012 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrady

When Pielke Jr was put in a list of climate skeptics by Foriegn Policy, he didn't like it. FP soon issued an addendum:

Pielke has informed the editors of FP that he strongly objects to being included on a list titled "Climate Skeptics."

When Alternet included Pielke Jr in their list of 'deniers', he didn't like it. Alternet soon made a correction:

Alternet and Buffalo Beast have both corrected their posts about Roger Pielke Jr. and Breakthrough and apologized for the error.

In this instance, pressure was applied by Michael Shellenberger who wrote Alternet that Pielke Jr had recieved death threats previously, and Alternet's article might encourage readers to issue death threats.

Pielke Jr has many admirers amongst sceptics. But he wouldn't touch a sceptic with a barge pole.

Focusing on cutting down GDP (which is a reflector of human productivity and well-being) is cruel, and genocidal. Focusing on doing something with 'technology' to beat fossil fuels is the real myth.

Those who seek to replace carbon-based fuels move and behave inside a strange logical construct. They accept everything about carbon-based fuels: its superiority, ubiquitiousness, portability, energy density, 'atomizability', among others. Yet they believe somehow that it is just the cost of fossil fuels is the only barrier that needs to be breached for adoption of alternative energy sources. A simple fact that, within reasonable limits, the oil market and the price of oil/coal/gas would only be a reflection of its virtues and physical properties, is forgotten.

You need to beat the price of oil, you need to beat the advantages and physical properties of oil. No technology is going to do that.

Aug 7, 2012 at 11:56 AM | Registered Commentershub

Nuclear is not inherently "expensive". The AP1000 is available for £800 million for single units or £600 million in bulk, barely more than gas capacity. We are told that building new reactors in Britain will cost about £7 bn. Thus we are talking about 90% regulatory parasitism (on the claim of "safety" when nuclear is laready easily the safest power generation system per kwh).

Since running a reactor is almost entirely an automatic process I assume that the amount of parasitsm there is even greater than 90%.

Even so it is considerably cheaper than the current basket of benerating capacity. Indeed it might be cynically assumed that the regulatory parasitism was allowed to rise to bring the cost up to just above the cheapest alternative but no more to maximise bureaucracy while minimising complaints.

Aug 7, 2012 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

"No technology is going to do that."

Wow - that sounds almost like a Victorian scientists stating that science is finished.

Or perhaps a climate scientist saying that the science is settled.

Aug 7, 2012 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta

This looks interesting in terms of future energy supplies and renewables. Here, in france, many people, and a lot of farmers, have put PV on their roofs. The game is that you invest in the panels and then reap the reward via a high feed-in rate. I know a local farmer who invested € 186 K in PV on the roof of his barns and received last year a total of € 28K feed-in. The rate is garanteed 20years. It now appears that these rates are becoming a huge weight on the development of other forms of electricity supplies.

Aug 7, 2012 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterstephen richards

The public debate over "global climate" (which is a fantasy, an oxymoron) is a mess, of misdirected overreach and avoidance of reality, by all the "experts", including Pielke, determined and insane when one dispassionately looks at the reality, whether that be the physics, the economics, or the governmental institutions with their deluded "climate policies". Pielke is here merely expressing an essentially religious faith in "innovation", which he has no idea of, but "knows" it will cure the "problem" (which he also has no idea of, since he accepts the climate science as basically sound, when it is in fact incompetent). One might say that he believes in the magic of undirected evolution, that "innovation" will just come into being, complete and ready to go, because he (or even the whole world) feels the need for it, feels that it will "save the day". (If, you see, there exist such wonders as i-phones and CGI movies in this wonderful world, surely there is also cheap and plentiful alternative energy--because, for one angry-adolescent reason or another, we no longer "like" the cheap and plentiful energies we already have, don't you know--pass me the lobster, I am tired of this steak). This is science and public policy as a TV series, neatly wrapped up at the close of each episode, by deus ex machina (or, as it is now being called, "post-normal science").

Aug 7, 2012 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Dale Huffman

Well, I can at least envision some sort of bacterial/algal vat fed from the CO2 output of a power station, warmed by cooling tower heat fed with garbage and sunlight producing something with the energy density of oil, or t least in the same ballpark. Make it work, make it cheap and it is a technological solution. Yes, I know it isn't practical now, but there is no reason to suppose it cannot be. That isn't my solution, just an example of what a solution might look like. But I suppose deep green would find a reason to oppose it, because they are not looking for a solution, which is why we are misled to even pander to their wants, QV my comments on the carbon tax thread.

Aug 7, 2012 at 2:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda Klapp

Mr Pielke Jr believes in CAGW and so for me that negates everything else he says by which I mean the rest is superfluous. However accepting his belief in CAGW for a moment he is taking a fairly pragmatic view on how to move forward. Pielke accepts that getting us to give up fossil fuels is pie in the sky and so he tries to find other ways to cool the planet, that bit actually sounds reasonable even if as I say, it seems superfluous.

Aug 7, 2012 at 3:18 PM | Registered CommenterDung

" Here, in france, many people, and a lot of farmers, have put PV on their roofs."
Yes, and like a metastatic cancer it, together with windmills, is spreading across the Corbières and the Minervois. But France's electricity generation is as near carbon free as makes no difference. So why? Jumping on the bandwagon? Regional Councils who are barking mad? Savonarola Redux more likely!

Aug 7, 2012 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterGordon Walker

Game changer: The "green" nuclear. Molten salt thorium nuclear reactors. Much cheaper, safer, and cleaner.

Feb 2011

"China has officially announced it will launch a program to develop a thorium-fueled molten-salt nuclear reactor, taking a crucial step towards shifting to nuclear power as a primary energy source."

"The project was unveiled at the annual Chinese Academy of Sciences conference in Shanghai last week, and reported in the Wen Hui Bao newspaper (Google English translation here)."

"If the reactor works as planned, China may fulfill a long-delayed dream of clean nuclear energy. The United States could conceivably become dependent on China for next-generation nuclear technology. At the least, the United States could fall dramatically behind in developing green energy."

June 2012

"The U.S. Department of Energy is quietly collaborating with China on an alternative nuclear power design known as a molten salt reactor that could run on thorium fuel rather than on more hazardous uranium, SmartPlanet understands."

"Proponents of thorium MSRs, also known as liquid thorium reactors or sometimes as liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs), say the devices beat conventional solid fuel uranium reactors in all aspects including safety, efficiency, waste and peaceful implications."

The solution is there. Technology developed in the US in the 60's. Just needs to be updated. Fortunately the Chinese (who do and will burn the most coal) are on to it. We can all breath easier.

Aug 7, 2012 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommentercharlesH

Stephen Richards,
It is indeed amazing that some people think you cannot safely store vitrified solid nuclear waste for long periods in geological formations, yet also believe that it is trivial to store enormously greater amounts of a gas [carbon dioxide] that remains a gas down to about -78 degrees C.

Aug 7, 2012 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

through technology that progress will be made on the global warming problem

What problem would that be, then?

Aug 7, 2012 at 5:36 PM | Unregistered Commentermichel

Thanks for the link to Foreign Policy

Graham Fuller is always worth reading .

Aug 7, 2012 at 7:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Isn't plankton the ultimate in ccs?


Aug 7, 2012 at 7:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman


And the phytoplankton, which account for ~half of all photosynthesis and ~half the replenishment of oxygen to the atmosphere, fix the energy created in carbon compounds, which are buried in sedimentary rocks, ultimately get deeply buried, heated and matured into the petroleum oil and gas compounds, then compressed by burial compaction and expelled into reservoirs, whence trapped in oil and gas accumulations. and around we go. Neat, isn't it?

Aug 7, 2012 at 9:03 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Pharos, have you encountered Thomas Gold's ideas on the matter?

Wow - that sounds almost like a Victorian scientists stating that science is finished.

I don't want to make categorical statements. But it can be said, that there is going to be no alternative fuel that has the same physical properties of hydrocarbon fuels. Obviously nuclear power has the greatest energy density possible.

Aug 7, 2012 at 10:17 PM | Registered Commentershub


I'm a sceptic as far as the abiotic origin of petroleum is concerned. But I'm only a retired petroleum geologist, not an astrophysicist.

Aug 7, 2012 at 10:29 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Well, pharos, I am a biologist by training and I do find Gold's theories highly fascinating. ;)

Aug 7, 2012 at 10:39 PM | Registered Commentershub

My personal experience in technology and R&D over the last 30 years in this area is only two R&D cases actually get implemented:

1. When the R&D is done by an entrepreneur who then implements it themselves with the aim of making a lot of money

2. When the R&D is to fix a "change or die" problem

Otherwise the R&D may be successful but almost never makes its way to implementation.

Unfortunately for what Dr Pielke is saying the R&D he is proposing does not fall into one of these categories. Because the payoff is not there. Nor is there a change or die requirement, despite the endless moaning of CAGW alarmists, since voters can see pretty clearly that the sky isn't actually falling.

So my suggestion to anyone here: don't invest in a R&D company working in one of these areas as you'll do your dough.

Aug 7, 2012 at 11:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce of Newcastle

They don't want solutions to their made up "problems". What they want is their made up "problems" to be belived by the World and that the World kills free marked and capitalism and instead give us only international socialism?

Aug 8, 2012 at 5:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterJon

"Global Warming problem".

Er, what global warming problem? It hasn't been a problem for the past 4 billion or so years, so why is it suddenly a problem now? Admittedly there wasn't anyone to obsess over the climate then, whether warming or cooling, but the Earth is still in one piece.

Certainly the climate has changed in the past, and changed much more violently than it does today, but does Mr Pielke really believe humans could have ameliorated the process if they had been around long ago?

There is about as much sense in this as fretting over the Earth's orbit being less than perfectly circular or the oceans rising and falling in tune to the Moon's progress through the heavens. I have seriously to doubt the credentials of anyone who can get the fundamentals so seriously arse about face unless there is something beyond mere science affecting his deliberations.

Climate change is a given and it is far beyond man's ability to control. Indeed there is no reason why it should do anything other than vary in tune to the ever changing output of our star, as it does.

Aug 8, 2012 at 7:55 AM | Unregistered Commentercerberus


Thorium is indeed a game changer, or rather it should and could have been one many decades ago. Clearly there has to be the proviso that the technology has not yet been developed to commercial viability. However there is little reason to believe that if even a small fraction of the resources that have been ploughed into uranium had been spent on thorium the technology would not have been perfected years ago.

The fact is that nuclear power generation policy took the wrong route long ago and it did so because politicians wanted reactors to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Thorium didn't fit the bill and it was passed over. The case for thorium power is persuasive. Thorium reactors are potentially inherently far safer, scalable, more controllable and produce less than 1% of the waste, waste which itself has a much shorter half-life. If thorium had been adopted in the past nuclear power might well have been adopted as the foremost power generation technology worldwide lessening the depletion of fossil fuels. Moreover the world would have been a far safer place because thorium reactors are unsuited to dual use for power and plutonium production.

Aug 8, 2012 at 8:32 AM | Unregistered Commentercerberus

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