High oil demand good for Global Warming, and nuclear waste

Two thoughts today related to global warming.

Many people fear that as the developing world starts developing more, it’s going to want more fossil fuels, and will burn them like crazy and add more CO2 to the air. China is the country feared the most. As you can see in my many pictures from there they burn a lot of coal there and the air is most often hazy from it.

But I recently wondered — just as the growing Chinese market has shot up the world price of steel and many other commodities, surely it will do the same for oil. And that in turn should drive the development of cleantech energy sources that would replace the oil. Which the energy hungry developing nations might well embrace even faster, not having as much infrastructure built around oil, gas and coal. So might good come out of bad?


The second thought: Some environmentalists are now reversing themselves and starting to embrace nuclear power. (As I wrote a year ago, “Glow is the new green.”) The theory goes that as scary as nuclear power is, burning coal, oil and gas is even more frightening. Certainly many more people have been killed due to coal and oil, and far more radiation has been released into the air from coal, and there’s been far more destruction of the land for it. The big uncertainty however, is what to do with the waste.

So I read some of the predictions on the dire end of the global warming community. They are quite dire. Sea levels rise enough to flood many of the most populated and fertile coastal areas. Billions displaced and with the ruination of agricultural lands, quite possibly a billion dead. Millions of square miles destroyed. Possible largescale desertification.

If you fear that scenerio, the nuclear waste problem becomes moot. After all, even if you took every nuclear plant, melted it down, and then sprayed the ground-up waste into the winds, the damage would be a fraction of that. Deaths would be perhaps a few millions, with tens of millions more facing higher cancer and mutation risks. Hundreds of thousands of square miles would be made unusuable (admittedly for a much longer time period.) But it’s all nothing compared to a billion deaths and millions of square miles, and in truth, being ground up into the wind is not what’s going to happen to the waste. Even the worst scenarious have just a few meltdowns or explosions. And of course modern nuclear plant designs are much better, and can’t melt-down, though they could still be blown up by terrorists.

Obviously it would be better to find other things. Photovoltaic and thermo-solar, of course. Waves and wind and ethanol. Fusion, in our dreams, or other more speculative technologies. But if runaway climate change from CO2 is our true fear, the choices are pretty easy.

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