October 5, 2010
BY MORTON S. SKORODIN, M.D.
Welcome back for the third in our current series on the science and politics of global warming. Previously, we discussed how and why global warming occurs, how individuals profit from the energy industry, and why they argue over global warming or “climate change” [ http://tinyurl.com/26cn4gj
, or for more details, http://tinyurl.com/yfoyoa9
Let us put some flesh on those bones. To quote Utah Phillips: “The earth is not dying; she is being murdered. And we know who is killing her and we have their names and addresses.” With that in mind, let’s see what Bill Gates, second richest man in the world, has had to say about global warming and energy policy.
This is based on a talk Mr. Gates recently gave at a TED symposium [http://www.ted.com/talks/billgates.html
]. TED [Technology, Entertainment, Design] has hundreds of talks on a variety of subjects and is sponsored by GE. It is a sounding board for the wealthy elite and politically connected.
Gates seized the high ground early. The overarching theme was the primacy of the CO2 [carbon dioxide] problem: above all we must cut CO2 emissions to zero to cope with global warming. No ground was ceded to CO2 deniers.
At 6:35 Mr. Gates made a serious mistake. He wrongly claimed that it did not matter how much energy was used as long as there was little or no output of CO2. We learned earlier, however, that energy from our usual sources results in global warming and that the role of CO2 appears to be small.
At 7:00 Gates barely avoided outright lying about nuclear power and CO2. Technically, it is correct to say: Nuclear power plants do not produce CO2 while generating energy. Actually it is meaningless because they do require the production of CO2 at twenty points on the nuclear fuel/reactor cycles to be able to generate energy. Picture perhaps a centipede-looking structure; the CO2 is in the legs, not the main body.
At 8:40 he began his pitch for what he wants. Beautiful. He defined and was content with his constraint: CO2 must be eliminated. He must be smart if he knows: “Freedom is the recognition of necessity.” Of course, he is only smart if he actually knows what that necessity is.
He told his audience his way out of our global warming/CO2 predicament, also to be interpreted as what and what not to invest in.
His favorite solutions for global warming are CO2 storage technologies and nuclear power. However, CO2 storage and nuclear power will not help global warming because of the heat-adding quality of the hydrocarbons [coal, oil, natural gas] that are burned, whether or not CO2 is cut off from the atmosphere. Likewise, Uranium that powers nuclear plants gives off a great deal of heat when changing into other substances.
The money determines the science – not the other way around. There is plenty of money available for CO2 storage research and development, but it will not impact global warming to any great extent.
His nuclear scenario is a detour into fantasy land as he wants to see the widespread commercial development of reprocessing of Uranium-238 [so-called waste not useful for “standard” nuclear reactors] for energy; something that has not been extensively developed for the seventy preceding years of the atomic age. “It works on the supercomputer.” He has a company called Terrapower devoted to this, and used the word “Terrapower” during his talk. It sounds good but explains nothing.
As it stands now, nuclear reactors use Uranium-235 – that comprises less than 1% of the total Uranium out of the ground; more than 99% is U-238 – he would love to squeeze all the juice he could from Uranium. Surprise, surprise! There are safety concerns with reprocessing old reactor cores, because bomb-making Plutonium-239 is concentrated by this process. If it is exposed to air Plutonium produces hydrogen gas and this results in fire. To put it bluntly, it could blow like Chernobyl. That is what was used on Nagasaki in 1945 [along with U-238].
About the waste remaining after reprocessing, he adds this most ignorant argument of all: “It does not take up much space.”
That is the magic of nukes again. A little bitty bit does lots of damage; a bit of Uranium the size the period at the end of this sentence will give off one million two hundred-fifty thousand invisible alpha particles every 24 hours, any one of which can initiate a cancer. The physical size of the remaining poison is not a question of interest, so let’s put that argument to rest – small size does not prove safety or even imply it.
On the other hand, he minimized the role, even the potential role of solar-derived sources of energy. He stressed that these are not capable of supplying electricity reliably all the time and exhorted the public to hysteria over the lack of energy storage capability. He claimed the human race has only 10 minutes storage capacity.
He left the impression that this is insurmountable. This is certainly not true.
A few mouse clicks later and the hysteria resolves. One quickly finds a dazzling array of energy storage techniques, e.g. 10 kinds of batteries, flywheel devices, molten salt systems, heat pumps, and other fascinating approaches. Many are in commercial use already or in an advanced pre-commercial development stage. Frequently, these are backed by government investment.
What else is on his wish list?
He wants breakthroughs. He noted that breakthroughs and commercial success can be measured and, not explicitly expressed, profited from. Implicit here is the cold capitalist calculation – to paraphrase Che Guevara: “2,3, many MS-DOS’s!”
Gates further encourages us with zeal: Let’s help those breakthroughs along. Let there be government funding of projects “in the learning phase.” In plain English, turn it over to me when profitable but not before – “socialism” for the rich. Recently both Gates and Obama’s Energy Secretary Steven Chu have requested billion be spent annually for federally-sponsored “clean energy” research.
Before finishing, he mentioned geo-engineering. He “hopes we never have to use this,” monster global projects such as massive aerosol spraying of the atmosphere to offset global warming by reflecting more of the Sun’s rays back to outer space.
A duality of purpose is pervasive throughout. On the one hand, a desire implicitly shared by the entire human race – adequate energy supplies, and on the other hand the desire for personal control and profit.
At bottom, the logic of capitalism is maximizing the bottom line. As a young man once told me: “The object is to make as much money as possible in as short a time as possible.” A big part of this is and must be, consciously and unconsciously, the notion of scarcity. If you do not have a real physical scarcity, spread rumors of scarcity.
A ridiculous idea – energy scarcity. The Sun delivers to Earth, every day, the equivalent of what 122 million nuclear reactors would give us. A secret that is increasingly difficult to hide.
The thrust of Gates talk was to avoid this painful [to him] fact.
Toward the end he lets you know – making energy more expensive would mean poor people could not afford electric power. Ahem, he is against that sort of thing. He would rather profit from and control the flow of energy to the billions.
The other side of that are we, the Global Public. With effort and struggle we can organize our own energy production and use on a cooperative municipal basis with renewables and avoid being the perpetual servants of parasitic toll takers.
– Dr. Morton S. Skorodin is a Stillwater, OK physician and regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer