Trump’s Speech Should Have Been About Nuclear Power, Not the Paris Climate Agreement

 

Maybe the best reason, such as it is, to support American withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement has nothing to do with the climate. Under President Obama, the United States agreed to a de facto treaty without submitting it to the Senate for ratification. As the editors at National Review rightly note, “In a government of laws, process matters.” Government certainly doesn’t need more unilateralism by its chief executive.

Unfortunately, the actual reasons driving withdrawal had more to do with populist politics, nationalism, partisanship, and unreasonable disbelief in climate science than constitutional conservatism. Oh, and plenty of reflexive anti-Obamaism in there, too.

What I worry about are a) the risks from doing something new to the planet, and b) that these sorts of risks — “arising in complex systems, full of interdependencies, feedback loops, and nonlinear responses” and taking place over a long period of time — are ones policymakers and voters have a tough time grappling with.

The wrong response, I think, is an all-or-nothing bet that the science is wrong. I worry about a low-probability outcome that could be very, very bad for life on Earth. The challenge, as I have written, “is creating a high-growth, high-abundance, high-energy future for mankind that minimizes the risk of a dangerous climatic shock.”

So what should President Trump have announced yesterday in his Rose Garden address? Not withdrawal from the Paris Accord, which doesn’t even detail exactly how countries should meet their obligations under the voluntary agreement. (Let’s put aside, for a moment, the uncertainty and potential undermining of US leadership that withdrawal entails.) Better, for starters, that Trump had strongly affirmed the potential dangers from climate change and buried his “Chinese hoax” theory forever.

And then Trump should have been the best version of Trump, the one combining crazy, blue-sky optimism with equally over-the-top confidence than America’s can-do spirit and free enterprise system can accomplish pretty much anything. Trump should have said the new US goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emission even faster than what Obama promised. (That seems very Trumpian, like when he outbid Hillary Clinton on infrastructure spending.) And then he should have challenged the world to the same. If that requires a new agreement, so be it.

Next, Trump should have outlined a new action plan to accomplish that goal, one different from Obama’s top-down regulatory approach. Since Republicans are having trouble paying for tax reform, how about a carbon tax combined with sweeping energy deregulation and increased public investment in clean energy research? Imagine a Trump climate plan more like this one from the Breakthrough Institute:

The United States is unlikely to embark upon the kind of state-led, top-down nuclear build-out that allowed France and Sweden to virtually entirely decarbonize their power sectors with nuclear power, but it might be able to embark on an entrepreneur- and venture-led effort to radically disrupt the nuclear sector. Doing so might allow the United States to once again lead the world in developing nuclear power on a planet that will soon enough have nine billion energy-hungry consumers. Reforming the Department of Energy, the national laboratories, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission so that this sort of radical innovation would be possible might be just the sort of thing that congressional Republicans and the new administration would be able to get behind. And a climate mitigation effort that featured an innovative, entrepreneurial nuclear sector competing for growing global energy markets might persuade many U.S. conservatives to take the climate challenge a lot more seriously.

The Trump speech shouldn’t have been about Chinese coal mine​s​ or wealth redistribution or the world laughing at America — or even the Paris Accord, really. It should have been about reducing the risk of climatic catastrophe through advanced nuclear power. As venture capitalist Sam Altman has put it, “I believe the 22nd century is going to be the atomic power century.” (Though I have big hopes for solar, too.)

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  1. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Trump usually doesn’t get the words right, but it was the right thing to do.  It is a fraud but a very complex fraud and he shouldn’t and probably couldn’t go there.   Epstein provides the kind of language he might have used.  But nothing he could have done or said would have avoided the hysteria.  The decision was the right one.   He can make a speech about how we’ve reduced pollution, stressing the dangerous stuff, not the life giving stuff, and without a meaningful agreement when the Administration  is ready to put forth  an energy environmental policy for us that the world can follow. A real policy based on actual knowledge and realistic capacities which will be market based.  Ok

    • #1
  2. DrewInWisconsin Coolidge
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    I would have liked to read the whole post, but the number of straw men in the opening paragraphs had my eyes rolling so hard, they fell out. I’m blind now, and it’s all your fault, Pethokoukis.

    • #2
  3. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    More calls for “public investment in research”? Silliness squared.

    Natural gas and fracking have solved the energy crisis. And the emissions from combustion, CO2, is plant food, leading to enormous greening all over the world.

    No more huge government programs, thank you very much. The opportunity cost from employing smart people to work on government-funded programs, instead of something that might actually create wealth, is enormous.

    • #3
  4. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

     . . . that these sorts of risks — “arising in complex systems, full of interdependencies, feedback loops, and nonlinear responses” and taking place over a long period of time — are ones policymakers and voters have a tough time grappling with.

    Something that complicated will have its negative effects ameliorated by . . . a tax?

    Unlike taxes that reduce the amount of money I have for discretionary purchases, or taxes that hit the family business and discourage investment in the company, a carbon tax won’t change most of my behaviors. It will make them more costly, and the money will go to government to be spent on other things.

    Unless, of course, it’s put in a Carbon Reduction Lockbox.

    Maybe I’m missing something.

    • #4
  5. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    . . . that these sorts of risks — “arising in complex systems, full of interdependencies, feedback loops, and nonlinear responses” and taking place over a long period of time — are ones policymakers and voters have a tough time grappling with.

    Something that complicated will have its negative effects ameliorated by . . . a tax?

    Unlike taxes that reduce the amount of money I have for discretionary purchases, or taxes that hit the family business and discourage investment in the company, a carbon tax won’t change most of my behaviors. It will make them more costly, and the money will go to government to be spent on other things.

    Unless, of course, it’s put in a Carbon Reduction Lockbox.

    Maybe I’m missing something.

    Indeed, in spite of his acknowledgement of the complexity and non linearity, he’s an economist, we only have linear models.  One taxes linear models.  You missed everything.

    • #5
  6. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Nuclear power as currently being practiced is hugely inefficient. Most reactors dump 99-98% of the energy in their fuel loads directly into the waste stream. Solid fuel reactors are terrible. As Uranium decays (which is the process that generates the heat to run the reactor) Xenon gas is released, unfortunately this gas causes cracks to form in the structured fuel rods, and requires that they be replaced before the energy in the fuel load is even fractionally utilized.

    The solution is fairly straightforward – the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) which was built in the 60’s at Oak Ridge National Lab, in Tennessee. Instead of having a solid fuel structured into rods this reactor holds the fuel in a high temperature molten salt solution. Meaning that as the Uranium decays, the Xenon produced can simply be removed from the solution – and the fuel load can remain in the reactor core until its energy is depleted.

    An additional bonus – these reactors could be fueled from the waste byproduct of existing nuclear reactors – and thus also solve the problem of nuclear waste storage. A MSR reactor would only produce about 1% the waste that any current design produces and would have a much sorter toxicity window – of only about 300 years.

     

    Wikipedia has several excellent entries on this:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor

    And the Experimental reactor:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten-Salt_Reactor_Experiment

    This is not a crazy unproven conceptual design. The Oak Ridge Experimental reactor had over 17000 hours of safe operation when funding ran out, and the experiment was shutdown in 1969.

    Here is also a google talk by Kirk Sorensen:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbyr7jZOllI

    A former NASA nuclear engineer, who founded a startup company to develop this technology.

     

     

    • #6
  7. DocJay Member
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Wow.

    • #7
  8. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    “I worry about a low-probability outcome that could be very, very bad for life on Earth.”

    A common line of argument.  I notice that, at least among the Progs, the people making this argument never seem to worry about protecting against the low-probablility event of a major asteroid strike… or even about the not-so-low probability event of a large-scale Electromagnetic Pulse event, caused either by enemy action or by natural phenomena.  I’m pretty sure the reason for this is that possibilities of the latter two kinds of events don’t provide excuses for reorganizing American society..indeed, the entire world…in a top-down directed manner.

    The argument is simply a variant of Pascal’s Wager, and suffers from the same defect as the original.

    • #8
  9. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Nuclear power in the US on any kind of large scale isn’t happening.  There has been too much fear-mongering for too long.  The political risk of nuclear projects is just too high.

    When Thomas Edison was fighting the War of the Currents against Westinghouse and Tesla, he engaged in sleazy fearmongering about the risks of alternating current.  If today’s social/political climate had then existed, he would have gotten away with it.

    • #9
  10. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    David Foster (View Comment):
    When Thomas Edison was fighting the War of the Currents against Westinghouse and Tesla, he engaged in sleazy fearmongering about the risks of alternating current. If today’s social/political climate had then existed, he would have gotten away with it.

    I’ll believe solar is a viable replacement when they can use it to electrocute an elephant.

     

    (kidding. that’s actually a horrible story, but I was reminded of it when you mentioned the Current Format War.)

    • #10
  11. Underground Conservative Coolidge
    Underground Conservative
    @UndergroundConservative

    I don’t know,  it just seems like this guy takes himself way too seriously.  Totally misses the point.

    • #11
  12. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    James Pethokoukis:

     

     

    What I worry about are a) the risks from doing something new to the planet, and b) that these sorts of risks — “arising in complex systems, full of interdependencies, feedback loops, and nonlinear responses” and taking place over a long period of time — are ones policymakers and voters have a tough time grappling with.

    The wrong response, I think, is an all-or-nothing bet that the science is wrong. I worry about a low-probability outcome that could be very, very bad for life on Earth. The challenge, as I have written, “is creating a high-growth, high-abundance, high-energy future for mankind that minimizes the risk of a dangerous climatic shock.”

    It’s amazing to me how many obviously smart people give credence to this Chicken Little stuff.

     

     

     

    • #12
  13. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    David Foster (View Comment):
    Nuclear power in the US on any kind of large scale isn’t happening. There has been too much fear-mongering for too long. The political risk of nuclear projects is just too high.

    When Thomas Edison was fighting the War of the Currents against Westinghouse and Tesla, he engaged in sleazy fear mongering about the risks of alternating current. If today’s social/political climate had then existed, he would have gotten away with it.

    You’re probably right about Edison, however I think there comes a point where the environmental fear mongering of the left can be useful. If they’re so afraid of carbon, they should be in favour of nuclear power – especially reactors that can eat the existing stock of nuclear waste. Solving 2 problems with 1 reactor. MSR can also provide useful isotopes for cancer treatments and for RTGs (Radioisotope Theremal Generator) used in deep space probes.

    • #13
  14. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    James Pethokoukis: and unreasonable disbelief in climate science

    I think my disbelief in “climate science” is entirely reasonable. The climate is remarkably insensitive to changes in human activity.

    • #14
  15. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    Maybe the best reason, such as it is, to support American withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement has nothing to do with the climate. Under President Obama, the United States agreed to a de facto treaty without submitting it to the Senate for ratification. As the editors at National Review rightly note, “In a government of laws, process matters.” Government certainly doesn’t need more unilateralism by its chief executive.

    Even bi-literalism, or tri-literalism, if you include both houses of Congress, doesn’t mean a damn thing if they make the wrong decision.

    Unfortunately, the actual reasons driving withdrawal had more to do with populist politics, nationalism, partisanship, and unreasonable disbelief in climate science than constitutional conservatism. Oh, and plenty of reflexive anti-Obamaism in there, too.

    Actually, I think people believe climate science.  The planet’s been cooling, in direct contrast to the best “science” from 10-20 years ago.  What’s unreasonable now?  Is it reasonable to doubt the climate collective when everything it’s stated for 30 years has been proven wrong?  By science?  Who’s disbelieving now?

    What I worry about are a) the risks from doing something new to the planet, and b) that these sorts of risks — “arising in complex systems, full of interdependencies, feedback loops, and nonlinear responses” and taking place over a long period of time — are ones policymakers and voters have a tough time grappling with.

    Which would be further complicated by the interventions of governments.

    The wrong response, I think, is an all-or-nothing bet that the science is wrong. I worry about a low-probability outcome that could be very, very bad for life on Earth. The challenge, as I have written, “is creating a high-growth, high-abundance, high-energy future for mankind that minimizes the risk of a dangerous climatic shock.”

    No one with a serious understanding of risk management puts hundreds of billions on the line for the lowest probability event, or tail risk.  Also, why was the planet warmer tens of thousands of years ago before we built the first Ferrari?

    So what should President Trump have announced yesterday in his Rose Garden address? Not withdrawal from the Paris Accord, which doesn’t even detail exactly how countries should meet their obligations under the voluntary agreement. (Let’s put aside, for a moment, the uncertainty and potential undermining of US leadership that withdrawal entails.) Better, for starters, that Trump had strongly affirmed the potential dangers from climate change and buried his “Chinese hoax” theory forever.

    The answer to your question, already given, is that we stay in a toothless agreement for show and tell purposes.  This only gives rise to the next such event, where we’ll grasp with the political impacts of signing up for stupid s**t for potential undermining of US leadership – an outcome that truly does not follow historical or logical reasoning.

    And then Trump should have been the best version of Trump, the one combining crazy, blue-sky optimism with equally over-the-top confidence than America’s can-do spirit and free enterprise system can accomplish pretty much anything. Trump should have said the new US goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emission even faster than what Obama promised. (That seems very Trumpian, like when he outbid Hillary Clinton on infrastructure spending.) And then he should have challenged the world to the same. If that requires a new agreement, so be it.

    Another international framework that no one adheres to.  Fantastic.

    Next, Trump should have outlined a new action plan to accomplish that goal, one different from Obama’s top-down regulatory approach. Since Republicans are having trouble paying for tax reform, how about a carbon tax combined with sweeping energy deregulation and increased public investment in clean energy research? Imagine a Trump climate plan more like this one from the Breakthrough Institute:

    The United States is unlikely to embark upon the kind of state-led, top-down nuclear build-out that allowed France and Sweden to virtually entirely decarbonize their power sectors with nuclear power, but it might be able to embark on an entrepreneur- and venture-led effort to radically disrupt the nuclear sector. Doing so might allow the United States to once again lead the world in developing nuclear power on a planet that will soon enough have nine billion energy-hungry consumers. Reforming the Department of Energy, the national laboratories, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission so that this sort of radical innovation would be possible might be just the sort of thing that congressional Republicans and the new administration would be able to get behind. And a climate mitigation effort that featured an innovative, entrepreneurial nuclear sector competing for growing global energy markets might persuade many U.S. conservatives to take the climate challenge a lot more seriously.

    Your answer is more complex international agreements and a tax increase.  If that was the answer to anything, we would have zero problems, because they would all already have been solved by that one-two combination of lunacy.

    The Trump speech shouldn’t have been about Chinese coal mine​s​ or wealth redistribution or the world laughing at America — or even the Paris Accord, really. It should have been about reducing the risk of climatic catastrophe through advanced nuclear power. As venture capitalist Sam Altman has put it, “I believe the 22nd century is going to be the atomic power century.” (Though I have big hopes for solar, too.)
    You’re the only one who has big hopes for solar.

     

    • #15
  16. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Solar, like hydro, is a geographically-based energy source.  You can’t build a hydro plant unless you have a river plus appropriate topography.  And while you may be able to *build* a solar facility anywhere, you’ll have a much better chance of building an *economically successful* one in Arizona than in, say, Germany.

    Storage remains as a serious issue.  It seems difficult for journalists to grasp that a megawatt at noon is not equivalent to a megawatt at midnight is not equivalent to a megawatt at 8 pm on a steamy hot overcast day when all the air conditioners are running full-blast.  Articles on solar (and wind) love to talk about the installed megawattage of these technologies, but rarely distinguish between nameplate capacity and practical capacity.

    • #16
  17. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    I actually found nothing in this article with which to agree.

    • #17
  18. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    The wrong response, I think, is an all-or-nothing bet that the science is wrong

    OMG really? Hahahahahahaha

    • #18
  19. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    The wrong response, I think, is an all-or-nothing bet that the science is wrong

    OMG really? Hahahahahahaha

    Yes, never ending LoLz … I also enjoy how he links to his own articles, and quotes himself in his own articles. Pretty amusing.

    The wrong response, I think is to assume that the climate modeling is correct, and spend billions in futile attempt to thwart it. If Manhattan is destined to be flooded in 800 years, its far cheaper in treasure, lives and lifestyle to let the future landowners of Manhattan to build their own dykes when/if they’re needed.

    • #19
  20. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    The wrong response, I think, is an all-or-nothing bet that the science is wrong

    OMG really? Hahahahahahaha

    Yes, never ending LoLz … I also enjoy how he links to his own articles, and quotes himself in his own articles. Pretty amusing.

    The wrong response, I think is to assume that the climate modeling is correct, and spend billions in futile attempt to thwart it. If Manhattan is destined to be flooded in 800 years, its far cheaper in treasure, lives and lifestyle to let the future landowners of Manhattan to build their own dykes when/if they’re needed.

    Yes, it’s pretty hilarious when the Middle East is on fire and they’re hiding right here on our soil, people don’t have jobs, Obama wrecked the health care industry, and people want to fight the weather.

    • #20
  21. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    The wrong response, I think, is an all-or-nothing bet that the science is wrong

    OMG really? Hahahahahahaha

    Yes, never ending LoLz … I also enjoy how he links to his own articles, and quotes himself in his own articles. Pretty amusing.

    The wrong response, I think is to assume that the climate modeling is correct, and spend billions in futile attempt to thwart it. If Manhattan is destined to be flooded in 800 years, its far cheaper in treasure, lives and lifestyle to let the future landowners of Manhattan to build their own dykes when/if they’re needed.

    Yes, it’s pretty hilarious when the Middle East is on fire and they’re hiding right here on our soil, people don’t have jobs, Obama wrecked the health care industry, and people want to fight the weather.

    I think thats the political appeal – its a never ending program of scientific boondoggles that have no measurable metric of success. Its a political McGuffin to drive a thousand stories on the evening news, which allows the drive-by media to ignore the world at large. Venezuela, terror attacks, Democrat scandals all get lost in the editorial decisions of a few MSM gatekeepers, their mindset is stuck in the 70s – if they dont report it the public wont know about it, almost as good as if it didnt happen.

    • #21
  22. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Please read this pre-op, written on Monday, before Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, by Ted Cruz. It reminded me of the bold and un-authorized claims of undersea “property” in both the Artic by Russia and Pacific by China for oil and gas reserves.

    http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/29/opinions/withdraw-paris-accord-opinion-cruz/

    There is plenty of time to talk about more nuclear (which many don’t like), and new forms of energy – it’s being developed as we speak and in many cases, already being used. I would love to see the day when there’s no more use for oil or oil company money – that cars could all be electric or all battery-renewable. Then what would the terrorists and corrupt Washington politicians and lobbyists do for money?

     

    • #22
  23. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    Please read this pre-op, written on Monday, before Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, by Ted Cruz. It reminded me of the bold and unauthorized claims of undersea “property” in both the Arctic by Russia and Pacific by China for oil and gas reserves.

    http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/29/opinions/withdraw-paris-accord-opinion-cruz/

    There is plenty of time to talk about more nuclear (which many don’t like), and new forms of energy – it’s being developed as we speak and in many cases, already being used. I would love to see the day when there’s no more use for oil or oil company money – that cars could all be electric or all battery-renewable. Then what would the terrorists and corrupt Washington politicians and lobbyists do for money?

    What is a Pre-Op?

    If a nation’s territorial claims are unauthorized what authority must they appeal? A nation sets its boundaries on its own authority.

    In the long run it doesnt matter if you like nuclear or not. Its the only high energy density fuel (thorium fuel cycle in a molten salt reactor) that can compete with coal, cost wise. (coal gets beaten badly on environmental impact) If you want an oil free future of electric cars, What fuel will you consume to generate the electricity? Without oil how will you lubricate the wheels (and other moving parts) of your electric car?

    • #23

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