Krugman attacks ‘Ignorance Caucus’ — but (ignorantly?) asserts that sea-level rise is making Norfolk vulnerable

Paul Krugman needs to read his own newspaper before he calls others ignorant.

In his NYTimes column today, “The Ignorance Caucus,” Paul “Enron Adviser” Krugman writes:

…Still,the desire to perpetuate ignorance on matters medical is nothing compared with the desire to kill climate research, where Mr. Cantor’s colleagues — particularly, as it happens, in his home state of Virginia — have engaged in furious witch hunts against scientists who find evidence they don’t like. True, the state has finally agreed to study the growing risk of coastal flooding; Norfolk is among the American cities most vulnerable to climate change. But Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise.”

Past the reference to Climategate, which exposed Michael Mann for the sad character that he is, Krugman might be surprised to learn that Norfolk is actually sinking. As his own paper reported in November 2010:

Like many other cities, Norfolk was built on filled-in marsh. Now that fill is settling and compacting. In addition, the city is in an area where significant natural sinking of land is occurring. The result is that Norfolk has experienced the highest relative increase in sea level on the East Coast — 14.5 inches since 1930, according to readings by the Sewells Point naval station here.

35 responses to “Krugman attacks ‘Ignorance Caucus’ — but (ignorantly?) asserts that sea-level rise is making Norfolk vulnerable

  1. Prohibiting the term is just acting like them. Still, before proclaiming a fact, they should demand proof, of which there is none. So “Enron” Krugman is just describing himself.

  2. “Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.”

    Government exists to serve the people. Government trying to change the society is criminal. Krugman is a conspirator.

  3. Two points on the main article, and then a response to Gamecock’s post: How does Norfolk sinking have anything to do with the rate and direction of climate change? Secondly, if climate change is real (and while it seems this site believes this to not be the case, the vast preponderance of expert opinion leaning towards “yes, it’s a fact, we’ve the data” should create at least the need to *entertain* that possibility), wouldn’t Norfolk’s lowering elevation make it even more at risk?

    Also, Gamecock, I have to express confusion over how the government conducting social science research is “criminal”. For the government, or for that matter any large organization to simulate the impact of policies on the public, social science is critical. Thus “serving the people” (or “Promoting the General Welfare” clause of the Constitution) necessitates basic research, as well as public records of the results and methods of that research. Finally, any organization effects the public. This effect is proportional to it’s size, influence and resources. Since we’ve charged the government with maintaining laws, levying taxes, monitoring our natural resources and supply of goods for contaminates, &c, they are an intrinsic force for societal change (though of course the same may be said for large corporations, religious organizations and other conglomerate entities). Therefore, your comment seems to imply that people acting in concert is illegal and morally wrong. Could you perhaps enlighten me as to whether this is the case, and if so, from where did you reach this conclusion?

    • Fair points. I assumed nefarious intent on Krugman’s part. I do believe that Krugman does want to change us in ways that are not in our best interest, i.e., the object of climate research.

      I’m paying tax money to people who are using it to figure out a way to get me to turn green.

      • I believe I might come from a slightly different political/cultural background than you viz. “green”. In my circles, the idea is generally associated with short-term gains in efficiency and long term gains in energy production. Consider the theoretical limits and discovered uses of petroleum versus solar energy: Petroleum is a great resource, incredibly energy dense and useful for a vast range of applications upon which our entire society rests (i.e. plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, &c ad infinitum). However, it is a limited resource, and it’s scale is dependent on discovering new fields. For this reason, while it’s great for jet and rocket fuel, it’s bad for everyday use, as every barrel we burn is a valve we cannot manufacture, an antibiotic we cannot use, and a crop we cannot harvest in the future.

        Contrast with solar power, which is nigh-on unlimited, and scales according to the surface area of the planet (and beyond, but that’s not relevant at the moment). As long as we’re not building it in areas dependent on exposure to sunlight (i.e. forests, grasslands, marine euphotic zones), we’re not losing anything by harvesting it for electricity. As such, using it for everyday use seems to make a lot of sense, as we can increase our usage of energy without worrying about 3rd world politics, oil supply, and side-effects on oceanic acidity/global temperature. While cost is momentarily higher than oil, there’s no theoretical reason why advances in technology can’t lower the $/joule ratio further.

        In addition, the movement is seen are trying to escape the fate of old hegemons whose political systems were beholden to one resource in particular, and when that resource was destabilized, suffered a decline (i.e. Britain, coal; France, peasantry; Spain, new-world gold; US, oil).

        Summed up, the concept of “green” rests on the idea that we already know the direction in which the energy situation is heading, so let’s get on with adapting before someone else beats us to it.

        So this, in general, is how people talk about green energy around me. I can see how others might see the term as presumptuous in that it implies use of government resources for objectives to which established industries might object, but I don’t see how such a thing isn’t in the best long-term interests of the people of the United States. I believe that it means something very different to you, and is probably not quite as rosy a picture. I’ve provided the above to clarify how the culture to which I subscribe views the term, as well as provide you a opportunity to discuss yours, all with the overarching goal of resolving why each side sees the others as holding views which are “not in our best interests”.

        • Sir, you are 300 years too early. The situation you describe will not occur until then, at the earliest.

          Let the future design the future.

          • Said the man posting a reply on an Internet which didn’t exist 30 years ago. Anyway, remember the scientist’s creed: “Never leave for next century what you can accomplish this decade.” Besides, the theory is solid, why not spend the money and get ahead of the game, thus reaping the rewards and giving the future some breathing room?

            • Because the market for it won’t exist for 300 years.

            • How would you like to be living with the technology of 30 years ago? They could have created our future; we chose to create our own.

            • Gamecock, could you please clarify what you meant by…
              |Because the market for it won’t exist for 300 years.
              … as while I agree that Moore’s Law makes predicting anything past 50 years from now difficult, I’m fairly certain hydrocarbons will be useful for at least the next few decades, and electricity for at least the next century or so.

              As for you comments concerning us creating tomorrow’s technology, I fail to understand how developing as much technology as possible is bad for either us (as it creates new industries) or our future decedents (as they will simply develop even more advances, since the horizon of technological development does not exist).

            • Your “solutions” are for a world running out of oil.

              “However, it is a limited resource, and it’s scale is dependent on discovering new fields. For this reason, while it’s great for jet and rocket fuel, it’s bad for everyday use, as every barrel we burn is a valve we cannot manufacture, an antibiotic we cannot use, and a crop we cannot harvest in the future.”

              You appear to be saying we shouldn’t use oil, because it is limited. Oil is not a limited resource.

              We won’t be to where oil is a limited resource for many generations. Maybe for 300 years. Indeed, we may NEVER get there. Should people quit wearing gold rings because gold is a limited resource?

              http://reason.com/archives/2012/06/01/why-well-never-run-out-of-oil

              Anything you create now MUST compete with oil. And a competitive technology doesn’t exist.

              But in the future, you will also have to compete with cold fusion and breeder reactors. And batteries substantially better than today. Maybe. We have no way of knowing.

              In 300 years, or whenever it actually is, that oil does in fact become limited, the marketplace then will direct what technologies are best to meet the needs of the people then. If you can create something better than oil, do it! Telling us we shouldn’t use oil while you work on it is ridiculous.

    • Frederick Michael

      Please pay more attention to the difference between saying, “climate change is real” and saying, “climate change is a problem.” The former statement is not disputed by the vast majority of skeptics. The latter statement is at the center of the debate.

      • Thank you for the clarification. However, that raises the question of how climate change might be good. May I invite you to provide a general overview and links?

        • Frederick Michael

          I didn’t say climate change was good; I only said it’s not a problem (i.e. not bad). Thus, the onus probandi is on the other foot. (OK, that was a disgusting mixed metaphor. As penance, I’ll provide the overview.)

          One of the most obvious evidences of global warming is that the climate zones used by gardeners in the US has recently been revised northward. This is great news for many gardeners.

          http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/environment/story/2012-01-26/USDA-climate-zone-map/52787142/1

          This is just the US, but it shows how global warming would help lots of folks. The agricultural output of Canada and Russia could rise dramatically. Michael Mann couldn’t use tree ring width to measure temperature unless warmer temperatures increased tree growth.

          Also, the direct benefit of higher CO2 concentrations is well known; that’s why CO2 is deliberately raised in many greenhouses.

          http://pubs.aic.ca/doi/pdf/10.4141/cjps78-119

          These benefits could be outweighed by problems associated with climate change. The most obvious problem would be a rise in sea level. The rise is well documented but is only about a foot per century and doesn’t seem to be accelerating.

          http://sealevel.colorado.edu/

          http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/faq-5-1-figure-1.html

          This was far from thorough; there are many more considerations. However, those who claim that climate change is a problem need to show that the change is accelerating.

          This whole debate is really about the second derivative. Sure, global temperature is rising, but what’s the second derivative?

          Lately, the dang thing even looks negative. I don’t think we’re done recovering from the little ice age so I’d expect the long term trends to get back to the linear regression line, but there’s definitely no evidence of a simple, long term, acceleration (nor, God forbid, a “tipping point”).

          • Micheal, thank you dearly for bringing us to a topic I am relatively familiar with, it felt nice to be able to do Google Scholar searches directly instead of first crawling though generalized link lists. While it is certainly true that increased [CO2] is good for the growth of most plants*, the often limiting factor in agriculture is water availability, light and fertilizer.

            Since climate change models generally predict a shift in productive zones away from the equator, this has negative implications. The reasons being that previously productive areas will have less access to fresh water (especially if they’re consuming more CO2). Even worse is that newly productive areas will be exposed to less direct sunlight, and the soil will take a great deal of time to be adapted to agricultural use, leading to short term-losses in industrialized nations, and long-term productivity issues in areas with a less robust infrastructure. Finally, the problem does not simply extend to plants, as increasing CO2 and temperatures create problems with livestock and biodiversity as well:

            Grassland shift: http://www.pnas.org/content/104/37/14724.abstract
            Heat and Water issues: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/28/0812721106.full.pdf+html
            Poor v Rich countries: http://nersp.nerdc.ufl.edu/~vecy/LitSurvey/Mendelsohn.06.pdf

            Also, and this is getting into the nitty-gritty, but you can separate plants by methods of respiration into C3, C4 and CAM plants (wiki it). C3 plants will certainly benefit from increased CO2, but C4 plants will not. C4 plants account for ~20% of our food crops (corn, sugercane, etc), while C3 account for the rest (wheat, potatoes, etc). Even then, increasing CO2 might hurt food crop’s ability to grow, by decreasing uptake of actual limiting nutrients. In short, when discussing impacts of climate change on quality of life, the scientific consensus is that it would be *bad*, and while sea level rise might be a problem for coastal populations, in terms of food security, the suitability/biochemistry issue is more threatening, and that’s not even touching the elephant in the room that is ocean acidification.

            C4/C3 and CO2: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361343/
            N uptake and [CO2]: (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/328/5980/899.abstract)

            As for the acceleration portion of your response, that’s an interesting idea. My first instinct was that “I really hope that stays in the modelling stage”, but I suppose I should go back to the search engine and get back to you on that.

            * Note however, that greenhouses are a poor model for simulating plant responses to climate change. Google FACE to learn more, with special attention to the Leaky lab from U Illinois. Best paper I could find was J. Exp. Bot. (2009) 60 (10): 2859-2876. The takeaway being that gains in increasing CO2 concentration in greenhouses do not fully carry over into agricultural settings.

            • Frederick Michael

              Let me explain by example. The third paper you linked (Mendelsohn, et al) begins with, “There is a broad consensus among climate scientists that further emissions of greenhouse gases will cause temperatures to increase 1.5◦C to 5.8◦C and precipitation patterns to shift by 2100.”

              There are lots of excellent papers that project the problems associated with global warming IF we get the assumed warming. The 1986 paper by James G Titus (in Coastal Jone Management Journal, Volume 14, Number 3 – sorry, no link) accurately describes the effects of a 2-5 foot rise in sea level over the next century.

              But the sea level rise by 2086 is now projected to be <1 foot (see the IPCC link I posted earlier), so everything Titus wrote about won't happen. The skeptics who said, "No it won't" in 1986 about the 2-5 foot sea level rise won that argument.

              If global temp rises 1.5 to 5.8 degrees Centigrade by 2100, the consequences will be severe. These papers that describe the impact of dramatic warming (or sea level rise) are not making the warming (or sea level) projections, they are only detailing the consequences. Thus, they are scholarly and legitimate.

              But each paper is based on a premise that becomes less likely every year. We would need a stunning jump in the rate of sea level rise for Titus's premise to come true. Mendelsohn's premise is starting to get "behind schedule" too.

              Since Mendelsohn's paper was published, global temperature has hardly risen at all. We're only 1/8th of the way through the century but the other 7/8th needs to pick up the pace. If we don't get some progress on that soon, Mendelsohn's projection will join Titus's as OBE.

  4. Rafael Larco Hererra

    Your imagined clever denunciation of a tiny point made by Dr Krugman might be more clever if you could assert that the Republican controlled VA state legislature had not prohibited the use of the words “sea level rise”, and then cite original documents to prove that, which of course you cant. You would also be more clever and far less obviously ignorant if you had an argument to counter the overall assertion that the conservatives ignore facts and evidence whenever the facts and evidence go counter to the interests of their paymasters in industry or the 1%.

    • Mr. Hererra:
      Leaving Krugman aside for now (which is sad, because it’s easy to show what a public fool he has made of himself on other subjects like economics), in regard to the warming issue you have it exactly backward.

      The problem is not that people are ignoring evidence. The problem is that the ACTUAL evidence, where it’s turned out to exist at all, has been weak.

      The quality of evidence in general has been abysmally poor. You are accusing people of ignoring scientific fact, when in reality, despite the loud pronouncements of some who stand to gain from it, those scientific “facts” have not actually been established to be good science.

      The data have been weak AT BEST, the theorizing weaker. Even the fundamental principle that the “greenhouse effect” models rely on (warming of the surface via “back radiation”) has been debunked by physicists.

      And the argument that anybody who argues is getting paid by the coal and oil industries is getting pretty tired. Maybe you should ask yourself what the other side has to gain. Because it is considerable.

      Here’s what one of the people who has been digging up fraud on the part of “climate science” has to say:

      http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/why-do-i-do-this-2/

  5. Dear Rafael:
    Nice rebuttal! “…if you had an argument to counter the overall assertion that the conservatives ignore facts and evidence whenever the facts and evidence go counter…”
    It must be a nice mountain top you live on, full of hot air and a preponderance of amazement at your own greatness. Keep challenging those who question a theory with a moving spectrum of accuracy, and someday you may show yourself to be smarter than the easily fooled crowd you listen to every day. I doubt it though.

  6. Tusularah: “..the vast preponderance of expert opinion leaning towards “yes, it’s a fact, we’ve the data” should create at least the need to *entertain* that possibility.

    1) Argument by authority is hack and does not speak favorably of any argument you might attempt.
    2) The data ‘they’ have is not data, it is model output scenarios. Models give out scenarios based on the data input and the programs which manipulate that data. The programs are subject to many variables from ignored parameters (“we don’t understand clouds so we ignore them”) to unintended (or intended) political bias. Again: models do not create data.
    3) The question isn’t “is climate change real?” as it has been proven (with data!) to have been changing since day 1. The question is why.

    • Kenw, I’d thought I’d already replied to this comment, but I cannot find my reply on this page. As such, if it’s a double-post, I do apologize. Anyway, onto the meat:

      1) Citing the collected evidence and conclusions of people who dedicate thier days to a relevant subject isn’t Argument From Authority. It’s humbly acknowledging that my time is limited, and specialists are more likely than I to both understand and accurately summarize an issue. In short, I don’t know everything. Since you apparently believe you do, this portion of your reply does not speak favorably of any argument you might attempt.

      2) Models are first tested on historical data, and used to predict events which have already occurred. Their reliability is directly proportional to their accuracy in producing output which fits reality. Scientists swear by them. Amateurs dismiss them out of hand. Realign yourself accordingly. As for the cloud issue, yes it’s complicated, and quite a lot of past models either simplified it massively, or ignored it, as they didn’t want to make unsupported statements. Their results were that global climate change was anthropogenic and problematic. The cloud issue has become clearer over the last decade (though by no means solved), and recent research…

      Link: http://geotest.tamu.edu/userfiles/216/dessler10b.pdf

      …implies that increasing cloud cover might provide positive thermal feedback in the long-term. In the short term, if it does provide negative thermal feedback (which is not likely) it won’t balance out other sources of positive feedback. In short, the models predict likely outcomes and help elucidate causes. So far, it sees that the causes are man-made, and the outcomes are negative-sum, even taking clouds into account.

      3) Climate change, especially of the sustained sort, is complicated and has a variety of causes, first it was a cooling planet, then it was photosynthetic bacteria, then eukaryotes, then terrestrial plants, then flowering plants. A few times in between it’s been asteroid strikes, sustained periods of volcanic activity and a few other causes. This time, it appears to be humans energy production, agriculture and several other hallmarks of civilization. Why? Was that unclear to you?

  7. I do not desire to engage in a war of semantics. I would like to address evidence.

    Jamestown was founded in 1607. From what I read, the shoreline on the James River is pretty much where it was four centuries ago. What gives?

  8. What does the fact that Norfolk is sinking have to do with climate change? Nothing—if you don’t use Norfolk as an example of climate change.
    But saying that the water level is “rising” faster in some places than others (which is physically impossible) and then ignoring that Norfolk and the other such areas are sinking–instead of the water level “rising”–just to prove your claims of climate change. Makes it very relevant indeed.

    • Who are you replying to? I can’t find anyone in the subject article, or in the comments saying that the ocean levels are rising at different rates in different areas.

      • Tusularah asks: Why do I mention Norfolk?

        The topic of the article is: “Krugman attacks ‘Ignorance Caucus’ — but (ignorantly?) asserts that sea-level rise is making Norfolk vulnerable…”

        I was replying to, and criticizing, Krugman for his ignorant comments.

  9. Gamecock, unless you subscribe to the obsolete theory of abiotic oil, there is no new oil being produced. Thus, *it is limited in scale and in quantity*. Since we’ve already tapped all the easily-accessible oil fields, we’re pretty much at Peak Cheap Oil. While I certainly believe that we can access unconventional sources of fossil fuels, basing our (ideally exponentially increasing) energy economy off of a limited resource seems a poor investment for research funds and tax credits. Especially when it comes with externalities like global climate change, and inherent market uncertainties like the sanity of the Middle East, and the stability of Russia.

    My main reason for advocating for solar energy is that it is *not limited in scale nor quantity*. At least until we pave the planet, or the Sun becomes a brown dwarf. And due to this, further research and development will only make it cheaper, either by the economics of scale, or via further technological progress. In fact, the argument that solar energy is prohibitively expensive probably isn’t going to last the decade, especially if the global economy picks up; check out this Bloomberg News Energy Finance brief, complements of Forbes:

    Link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/justingerdes/2012/05/24/solar-power-more-competitive-than-decision-makers-or-consumers-realize/

    And while you may dismiss the idea of solar energy becoming competitive, your entire argument rests on ever-increasing advances in oil production. Please be generous enough to apply even a fraction of a percent of this optimism to solar energy, and you’ll see the logic.

    Finally, where are you getting this 300-year mark? It’s already ~$100/b, and if Cheap Peak Oil is true, that price is only going to go up. If it’s not, than dealing with the actors responsible just makes transition even more important. And what’s more amendable to free markets than an energy source which is nearly impossible to cartel or monopolize? A better use of our tax dollars would be to deal with the problem before it harms our economy, and have the solar (and ideally nuke) expertise necessary to both phase out fossil fuels as an energy source, as well as export technologies to countries which adopt your position of “leave for tomorrow what we can do today”.

    • Why is the “abiotic” theory obsolete? The existence and explanation of non terrestrial sources of complex hydrocarbons have not been disproven or explained. Ergo, I have to ask, where has the existence of any extra terrestrial hydrocarbons been completely ruled out (sources). If they have not been, then where is the source that has discovered non-terrestrial carbon based life that has created said hydrocarbons?

      • Abiotic hydrocarbons do exist. We’ve observed them on various planets within our own solar system (Titan’s surface being a great example), as well as contained in numerous asteroids. So stellar formation definitely threw out a lot of hydrocarbons. However, there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that the long-chain petroleum we use on Earth for energy generation (terrestrial methane being one of several exceptions, as it comes from chemical, as well as biological sources), is anything but biogenic.

        Now, I should probably look into this more, as I’m talking out of my ass here, but it’s a relatively well-informed ass, so here goes. Since Earth is both tectonically active, and contains life which consumes free hydrocarbons at a prodigious rate, most of the abiotic hydrocarbons that were integrated into earth’s mass during formation were probably either pyrolysed, or digested. So while we probably have abiotic hydrocarbons (or at least, kerogen-like compounds, which I know for a fact were found on several asteroids), most of it was probably lost during planetary accreation, and the rest due to biological digestion and heating from tectonic activity.

        Now, back onto solid ground: While it is still possible that abiotically-produced oil does exist (and I’m pretty sure there’s evidence that long-chain hydrocarbons can be produced, at least theoretically), there’s no experimental evidence for abiotic oil being the source of any major (or even minor) oil deposits. In short, the hypothesis fails to make verifiable predictions, and as such isn’t real theory, just wishful thinking.

        • “here’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that the long-chain petroleum we use on Earth for energy generation (terrestrial methane being one of several exceptions, as it comes from chemical, as well as biological sources), is anything but biogenic.”

          Here is where I have a problem with the anti-science people (more often known as alarmists). You state (correctly) “not a lot”. Which means some exists. Which also means a lot of uncertainty still exists. Yet you clearly stated before ” obsolete theory of abiotic oil”. Obsolete is akin to flat earthers. Yet when pressed, you could not come up with any justification for your term of Obsolete. Indeed, your explanation states that there is no evidence to suggest that abiotic oil is not possible. You state the opposite.

          This is the problem Alarmist have. They make absolute statements with no facts to back up their opinions, and declare anyone not adhering to their opinions are “deniers”. The reality is that the only thing that is being denied apparently, is the ignorance of the opinions of the alarmist.

          That is both anti-science, and supremely narcissistic.

          So Obsolete is a misnomer for abiotic oil. A better adjective would be “unproven”. Or even “unpopular” since it definitely has no consensus.

          Much like the theories of Copernicus and Galileo were when they were first postulated.

          • You know what, you’re right. I did make an anti-science statement which vastly confused the issue, thereby undermining the spread and development of human knowledge. You convinced me that I should not have described the concept of abiotic origins of oil on Earth as an Obsolete Theory.

            It’s an Obsolete Hypothesis.

            It’s an obsolete *hypothesis* because – while there was theoretical evidence for it – testing based on the abiotic oil hypothesis never yielded tangible evidence. Since there was no actual evidence for the major petroleum deposits on Earth having Abiotic origins, it never left the hypothesis stage. And since better explanations for the presence of petroleum deposits were developed (namely, that petroleum is a fossil fuel) it became an obsolete hypothesis.

            And for the record, asking me to “prove it doesn’t happen” might work for theology (though requiring someone to prove a negative is generally considered a logical fallacy), but in science, we don’t bother with that crap. For something to be considered a real theory, you have to prove that it woks in theory, it works in reality, and you can predict behavior of the relevant system based on the proposed hypothesis. Terrestrial abiotic oil has some theoretical evidence (which is what I acknowledge in my previous post), but there’s no tangible proof; no oil deposits have been found on Earth which are better explained by abiotic origins then they are by fossil origins. So we’re not being anti-science, so much as we’re just not agreeing with you. Maybe we’re not bothering to refute the evidence for Abiotic Oil because *there is no evidence for abiotic origins of oil that doesn’t better support biotic origins of oil*.

            Also, why do creationists and other quacks always compare themselves to Copernicus and Galileo, while casting scientists in the role of the Papacy? NC & GG were a) opposed by political and religious organizations, not a bunch of scientists since b) they formed their theories during a time when “science” in the modern sense didn’t really exist. The comparison always confused me.

    • Tusulurah, solar panel construction rely on rare-Earth minerals that China HAS cartelled and monopoloized by undercutting the rest of the world (easily done by exacting a great environmental cost).

      You are failing to think about setup and repair. Yes, once you get it running, it has great potential (though actual results are pathetic). However, you have to do a total sum over the life. Plus trade the significantly increased environmental footprint of a freestanding, rotating panel or massively reduced efficiency of stationary rooftop units. Then, you need to factor in backup for nights and cloudy days.

      I’m not saying solar doesn’t have potential in the future, which it does. However, current designs are not up to the task of providing reliable power on which to base an electrical grid.

      • Benofhouston, excellent point on the China issue. I was more referring to the fact that solar energy’s basic input (i.e. sunlight) cannot be cartelled. The rare earth problem is certainly a problem, but it’s far from intractable as rare earth *mines* are the issue, not rare earth *resources*. Put differently, China doesn’t have a geographical monopoly on rare earths, unlike OPEC’s monopoly with oil.

        As for setup and repair, that’s a hazard with all energy generation techniques, and – like every new technology, decreases with use. Yay free market.

        As for the environmental footprint… Really? I mean, I love the southwest as much as the next guy, but I can’t see a better use for a few hundred miles of the southwest then solar farms. Hell, the setup and repair jobs such a project would bring would be a boon to the area as well. Think TVA, but with solar energy.

        Backup for nights are batteries (of the electro-chemical, thermal, and other varieties) and the inevitable progress of the free market.

        • You cannot put millions of acres of solar panels and just transmit power to the rest of the country. That’s an intractable solution that includes insane increases to the transmission grid. The environmental footprint of the grid alone is crazy. Then, you are one dust bowl away from total devestation of the nation’s power supply.

          Battery technology is orders of magnitude too small to do what you want to do. The only viable method is pumped storage of water, which has political issues in the southwest due to out centuries-long struggle with drought as well as the Green’s outright hatred of dams. And that’s on top of the more practical issue that there aren’t enough rivers to dam. If there were, we could just use hydroelectric power and be done with it.

          • Benofhouston, thank you very kindly for acknowledging that solar power’s main issues are not theoretical or even physical, but mainly political.

            The energy storage has been solved for a while. Use molten salt. As for the transmission issue, I really don’t see what’d be so terrible about a few solar farms outside of cities and towns in the Southwest. Heck, maybe that German initiative in the Sahara might solve the long-range transmission issues, and then we could use large-scale solar farms in the Sun Belt to address issues in the Northeast. But I agree that for the time being, in the Northwest, hydroelectric and wind are probably the better ways to go for providing a baseline power supply. That and nukes, of course.

            Finally, thank you for bringing up the issue of aquifer and soil depletion. Both of those issues are utterly dependent on expanding our power supply, and some kind of initiative (ideally governmental, as it’s a utility issue) to replace water taken from aquifers and glacier melt with desalinated water. Or at least enough to let the aquifer to reach a sustainable rate of use.

            • Did you read a word I said? If the problem is that politicians who love multi-trillion dollar spending projects would balk at the price to put even a fraction of the grid onto solar power, it’s not a political issue. It is an intractable technological issue with fundamental errors of thinking. The problem isn’t what sort of battery to use. It’s the sheer volume required. Nothing on Earth has the capacity to do that, and you don’t want to know the scale required.

              Let me be clear. There are hard upper limits on efficiency and hard lower limits on infrastructure. Putting a million acres of solar panels in the Southwest and transmitting the power to the rest of the country will not and cannot work no matter the technology level. The transmission lines necessary are too large, the construction expense too high, and the storage to weather a single night is beyond comprehension (not to mention the enormous amount of heat generation needed to keep those batteries molten). This ignores the fact that a three-day storm could prevent a thousand square miles from generating electricity for days at a time.

              The idea isn’t vision, it’s sheer madness coupled with a strong detachment from reality.

              Sorry to burst your bubble, kid.

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