Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Energy and environment

The Economist has an interesting analysis of nuclear energy. While it is true that the economics of nuclear energy are still a bit dodgy, this is all the more reason for states to encourage it, particularly because the main problem is the enormous initial sunken cost - which investors typically don't like. I am all for privatisation and free markets, but there are important services that at least in their development phase need to be helped along. The state's involvement can also be justified because of the national security aspect of nuclear reactors: both risks (if terrorists manage to attack one, for instance) and advantages (safe energy supply).
At the same time two encouraging, but little noted, developments in the climate change debate have taken place. First of all, in an amusing episode, the Royal Society's Lord May managed to alienate the scientific academies of both Russia and the US.
Secondly, the House of Lords has released a no-nonsense report about climate change, that says it like it is. Here is a great (London) Times article about it (via MP):
The major point this report makes is that the links between economic growth and global warming have “not been sufficiently rigorously explored”. Put less gently, some of the IPPC “scenarios” — including the ones that predict global warming in excess of 5C — are based on fantasy.
Climate change modelling involves combining scientific data, observed and projected through models, with economic forecasts. Assumptions about per capita emissions of greenhouse gases, for example, are critically affected by things such as the future size of the world’s population, global growth rates, energy efficiency, and the prospects of developing new technologies that reduce future reliance on fossil fuels. The IPPC’s “high end scenarios” assume not only that carbon and methane emissions rise steeply, when they are currently stable or actually shrinking, but artificially inflate the magnitude of global warming by assuming that the world’s population will be half as large again 2100 as it is expected to be. The IPPC also consistently factors in global growth rates that are far higher than those historically recorded.
These “worst-case scenarios” are constantly cited, erroneously, as forecast, and they are seriously distorting policy. It is urgent to arrive at more realistic estimates, to be clearer about the trade-offs involved and to be more honest about the high costs that generations now living will asked to bear, for benefits that lie far in the future.
Hopefully even Europeans, or at least Britons are starting to listen.

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