Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Coal Company

If I owned a coal company, my biggest fear would be that people would learn how much damage I was causing and make me pay for it. My second biggest fear would be that people would demand that power utilities switch from coal to nuclear energy.

What to do, what to do.

I would give money to my allies. All the groups that support renewable energy also support me. It's a simple fact of nature that renewable energy sources generate little or no power for hours or even days at a time and what they do generate is unpredictable. Furthermore, there's no way to save enough energy to hold people over from one power episode to the next. Anyone who does arithmetic can see that for himself. Some examples of the arithmetic can be seen here. That means backup energy supplies always have to be standing by when renewable energy sources are in operation.

In the short run, renewables will displace a few percent of my coal sales. But the economics of renewables make them unacceptable. That's because the backup energy sources required cost almost as much to hold in readiness as they do to operate. The result is that energy consumers pay for the same energy twice: once for the renewable energy and again for the backup. When people catch on to that their support for renewable energy will vanish.

There's also a second benefit. The political groups that pose as defenders of the environment ought to be pursuing me as Public Enemy Number 1. Even in the US, thousands of people die every month from coal pollution, as shown here. Worldwide, the deaths run into the hundreds of thousands every year, to say nothing of debilitating diseases, heavy-metal poisoning, and ocean pollution. But if I fund the political groups then they'll never make more than token objections. What they will do is attack my only competition with hammer and tongs. All the groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth will fall over themselves making up lurid and fantastic warnings against nuclear energy. All because of their infatuation with renewable energy.

That's enough, but for a few dollars more I can hire "consultants" who pretend to be scientists. They'll write articles and publish them in popular magazines that don't believe in peer review. They'll probably get away with it because most editors can't tell science from cotton candy. And in the remote chance some of these fake scientists are unmasked, most people won't hear about it anyway because journalists hate to admit they were wrong.

Yeah, that's the ticket!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Surprising Poll Results

The Zogby poll for June 6, 2008 offered some surprises. It showed that 67% of Americans favored building nuclear power plants. That's good news for the country, but the same poll showed that 51% favored building new coal-fired plants.

The same surprise came from the Rasmussen poll for July 2, 2008. 52% disagreed with Senator Harry Reid's observation that "Coal makes us sick."

Health experts have been telling us for decades that coal pollution isn't just making us sick, it's killing us. The most authoritative study done, the Abt report, confirms what studies have been showing for decades, that thousands of Americans die every month because of burning coal to generate electricity.

How is it possible that something this important is unknown to most Americans? Clearly, the news media haven't been doing their job. Commentators have complained for as long as I can remember that the news media only cover novel and photogenic stories.

Let's take the accident at Three Mile Island. It received saturation coverage. Ever since, it's been known as The Worst Nuclear Accident in American History. Any time nuclear energy is mentioned in the news, the public is reminded of this stellar fact. What the news stories never mention is that no harm came to anyone because of the accident. See the Kemeny Report for details. Well, the owners of the plant lost big time, but that's not what we're talking about here.

As one would expect, misinformation flowed in to fill the information vacuum. Irresponsible political groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and their many imitators have fed the appetites of news media for lurid and frightening what-if scenarios. The fact that these scenarios are based on fantasy and not on reality doesn't bother media reporters in the slightest. The misinformation gets stories published and that's all that matters.

Why don't the political groups campaign against coal, since it truly is dangerous? That's more complicated. Greater coal consumption is the inevitable consequence of less nuclear energy. If they publicized the facts about coal, they'd have to admit they were wrong about nuclear energy. We can, however, note with new-found respect that the Sierra Club is intervening to stop the construction of new coal-fired plants. It will be interesting to observe whether or not the Sierra Club breaks ranks with less-credible political groups. Will the Sierra Club ever show the moral courage of environmental heavyweights like James Lovelock and Hugh Montefiore and reverse its position on nuclear energy?

In the meantime, what can be done to overcome the information deficit? The Nuclear Energy Institute does a valiant job of informing the public where it can, even sending spokespersons to public meetings. Anything NEI says, though, will naturally be discounted since its job is to promote a particular viewpoint. One might wonder if spending its budget on a race car really is effective at promoting nuclear energy, but the alternative would be sending out video documentaries no one would watch. One has to hope NEI knows what it's doing.

For the rest of us, the best we can do is inform ourselves as well as possible so we can offer good information whenever the subject comes up around us. This blog is an effort in that direction, as are the blogs recommended in the sidebar. Since the other side is working hard at spreading confusion and misinformation, we just have to hope readers can tell the difference. If people knew the truth about coal, the support for nuclear energy would be much higher than 67%.