The other day Steven Pinker received a form letter from Ann Bostrom, one of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), asking for money to support action on climate change. (Bostrom is also a professor of environmental policy at the University of Washington.) The AAAS also publishes Science, one of a handful of the world’s best science journals.
Below is part of Bostrom’s letter (her entire solicitation is below the fold; bolding is hers):
My research career has focused primarily on two important areas: Risk perception, communication, and management; and environmental policy and decision-making.Though these are two distinct areas of study, I see them as two sides of the same coin. If key decisionmakers—like politicians on Capitol Hill—don’t understand the risks of climate change, how likely are they to pass meaningful policies to mitigate those risks? If someone is deeply concerned about climate change, but doesn’t believe the government can effectively address it, how strongly will they support policy action? My personal quest to answer questions like these keeps leading me back to the same conclusion: It is essential that each of us support and uplift science to inform and spur action on climate change.
That’s why this Earth Day, I am asking 300 generous donors to step up and make a tax-deductible gift to the AAAS Flexible Action Fund to support our nearly 175-year-strong mission to build trust in science and fortify key decision-making with evidence. Can I count on you to be one of them?
As you’ll see from his response below, Steve was distressed by the invitation and the AAAS itself. His complaint? That the AAAS is being unscientific and counterproductive in its strategy to enhance scientific literacy and action on climate change. The organization is and has been unscientific in assuming that rejection of science is simply caused by a deficit in knowledge; and it’s been oblivious to empirical data suggesting that this rejection is in fact largely political—a problem the AAAS relentlessly exacerbates with its recent but aggressive left-wing branding. Finally, Steve argues that the organization’s steadfast refusal even to consider alternative explanations to left-wing orthodoxy leaves it proposing what are probably ineffectual solutions to major problems. There is, for example, no mention of nuclear power.
(Steve also reproduces a tendentious and offensive tweet that one of the organization’s former editors issued attacking journalist Jesse Singal and psychologist Paul Bloom. This is just one example of how ideology has permeated the journal.)
Needless to say, Pinker refused to become one of the “generous donors”, and chided the AAAS for politicizing science in its “lurch to the left.” That politicization, he feels—and I agree—is a strong impediment to the objectivity needed to solve any scientific problem. Climate change is one such problem, and its solution is hampered by tribalism.
Steve gave me permission to post his response to Ann Bostrom, which I’ve put below. He also received a short response from Holden Thorp, Editor-in-Chief of the Science family of journals, which I also have permission to publish.
First, go below to the fold to read Bostrom’s solicitation, and then read Pinker’s response here (with tweets enclosed). Finally, read Thorp’s tepid response—actually a nonresponse.
Pinker’s response to the solicitation:
Dear Professor Bostrom,
I recently received your solicitation for a donation to the AAAS. I share with you an interest in risk perception and communication, as well as environmental policy, topics which I explore in my recent books Rationality and Enlightenment Now. I also share your concern that politicians on Capitol Hill, and the American public, be aware of the risks of anthropogenic climate change and how they can be reduced.
For precisely these reasons I cannot in good conscience agree to your request to donate money to the AAAS. The Association is currently making these hazards worse, not better.
First, it is astonishing that an association for the advancement of science does not take a scientific approach to public acceptance of scientific conclusions. The letter that went out over your name assumes that the problem is a lack of access to scientific evidence. Yet as I’m sure you’re aware, studies of public opinion by Dan Kahan and others have shown that deniers of the scientific consensus on climate change, evolution, and Covid are no less informed than believers. Presentation of scientific arguments, moreover, does little to change their mind.
The difference is political: the farther someone is to the right, the less they believe the scientists on these hot-button issues. My own experience as a scientific communicator confirms that there is enormous distrust of the scientific and academic establishments, because people believe these establishments have been captured by the political left and that any dissent from orthodoxy will be met with censorship or cancellation.
The solution is obvious. Scientific organizations must cultivate a reputation for objectivity, neutrality, openness to debate, and consideration of evidence for alternative hypotheses. Yet it is precisely in these areas that the AAAS, including Science magazine, have been making the problem worse.
I will give three examples of how the AAAS appears to be going out of its way to alienate any politician or citizen who is not a strong leftist.
- Science magazine appears to have adopted wokeism as its official editorial policy and the only kind of opinion that may be expressed in the magazine. An example is the recent special section on the underrepresentation of African Americans among physics majors, graduate students, and faculty members. This situation is lamentable and worthy of understanding. But the six articles in the issue assume as dogma that the underrepresentation is caused by “white privilege”: that “the dominant culture has discouraged diversity,” and “white people use their membership in a dominant group to assert political, cultural, and economic power over those outside that group.” Though Science is ordinarily committed to open debate on scientific controversies, no disagreements with this conspiracy theory were expressed. And though the journal is supposedly committed to empirical tests, no data were presented that might speak to alternative explanations, such as that the cause of the under-representation lies in the pipeline of prepared and interested students. If we want to increase the number of African Americans in physics, it matters a great deal whether we should try to fix the nation’s high schools or accuse physics professors of white supremacy. Yet Science magazine has decided, without debate or data, to advocate the latter.
- SciLine, the AAAS resource for journalists touted in your fundraising message, includes a webpage with primers on climate change. This includes the following articles on energy:
“Wind energy in the United States”
“Biomass energy in the United States”
“Hydropower in the United States”
“Renewable energy in the United States”
“Geothermal energy in the United States”
“Solar energy in the United States”
Notice anything missing? There is nothing on nuclear energy in the United States. This is despite the fact that nuclear energy is currently the carbon-free source that exceeds every one of these alternatives in US energy consumption, and despite the fact that such esteemed climate and energy scientists as James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, and Kerry Emanuel have written that “in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power”,
For the AAAS to omit any mention of nuclear power in its resource for journalists on climate change is deeply irresponsible and can only be explained by the fact that nuclear power fell out of fashion among left-wing and Green political factions more than 40 years ago.
- Last year, Science’s editor for the behavioral sciences, Tage Rai, posted racist, unsourced, obscenity-laced tweets which libeled an important science journalist (Jesse Singal) and accused a distinguished psychologist (Paul Bloom) of bigotry for interviewing him. (See screenshot below.) This was because they discussed hypotheses about transgender issues that disagree with the tendentious and scientifically dubious orthodoxy. Though Rai has since departed from Science, this kind of communication should not be the public face of this country’s premier journal for science.
As best I can tell, awareness of the hazards of politicization of science among the officers of AAAS and the editors of Science is zero. Certainly the issue has not been broached in its communications or the pages of the magazine. Yet this lurch to the left is distorting their coverage of vital scientific issues such as climate change, and is in danger of alienating the majority of American legislators and citizens who are not hard leftists.
I urge the AAAS and the editors of Science to become mindful of this vital issue for the future of science in this country.
Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology
William James Hall 964
33 Kirkland St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Tweet from former behavioral sciences editor of Science, Tage Rai [JAC: below]
Solicitation letter from Prof. Ann Bostrom [JAC: below the fold]
Here’s the AAAS’s response to Pinker from Holden Thorp, the Editor in Chief of Science and its stable of journals. (I’ve redacted phone numbers and email addresses.)
From: Holden ThorpSent: Sunday, May 1, 2022 10:02 AM To: Pinker, Steven Subject: FW: Response to “Setting an ambitious goal for Earth Day”
Thanks for your note. We’re sorry to lose you as a donor, but I disagree with your analysis. We will continue to cover the evidence for and impact of systemic racism. Thanks for your support of AAAS in the past.
Editor-in-Chief, Science Family of Journals1200 New York Ave NW Washington, DC 20005
JAC: Thorp’s non-response is disturbing. “I disagree with your analysis,” he says. Does that include the issues of both systemic racism and nuclear power.? We don’t know, as Thorp doesn’t mention what he disagrees with!
Pinker is an AAAS Fellow and crafted a long and reasoned argument. He surely deserved more than a “thanks, but no thanks” reply from the editor of Science!
This suggests that Thorp is simply not interested in engaging with a reasoned argument, wedded as he is to Science‘s “wokeist” ideology. And believe me, I’ve seen that wokeism many times, not just in Science but in Nature and its own stable of journals.
The explicit wedding of the world’s two premier science journals to political ideology is not a good sign, as it prioritizes politics over science. And all too often, politically infused science is ineffective science.
Click “continue reading” below to see Ann Bostrom’s original solicitation for donations:
Dear Colleague, My research career has focused primarily on two important areas: Risk perception, communication, and management; and environmental policy and decision-making. Though these are two distinct areas of study, I see them as two sides of the same coin. If key decisionmakers—like politicians on Capitol Hill—don’t understand the risks of climate change, how likely are they to pass meaningful policies to mitigate those risks? If someone is deeply concerned about climate change, but doesn’t believe the government can effectively address it, how strongly will they support policy action? My personal quest to answer questions like these keeps leading me back to the same conclusion: It is essential that each of us support and uplift science to inform and spur action on climate change.
That’s why this Earth Day, I am asking 300 generous donors to step up and make a tax-deductible gift to the AAAS Flexible Action Fund to support our nearly 175-year-strong mission to build trust in science and fortify key decision-making with evidence. Can I count on you to be one of them?
65 thoughts on “Pinker vs. the AAAS on the politicization of climate change—and science in general”
And for these reasons AAAS is losing trust of *scientists* on the left, as well citizens on the right.
The response to Pinker was lazy at best, and intellectually dishonest at worst. Asserting disagreement without evidence or argument is completely counter to the scientific enterprise that Science claims to champion.
Kind of illustrates Pinker’s point, I think.
What a refreshing piece – if that is what it is, for it is worthy of the name – by Pinker. I also can perceive an absence of confrontation in it – the writing is clear cut, straightforward, and yet compels me to think about the very problems that were the impetus for the whole thing.
Science ought to publish it.
It would make a great Policy Forum piece.
— “Thorp’s non-response is disturbing.”
Wow! I agree! It’s like Thorp wanted to deliver further evidence for Pinker’s complaint on a silver platter.
Exactly what I though too.
Excellent letter from Pinker, embarrassing and dismissive response from the AAAS.
This is very sad. There doesn’t seem to be any good news anymore. The Right is winning on every front, imposing ignorance and superstition on the country, and the woke Left is abetting them, while the centrist Democrats are seemingly impotent, even when they control the government. I fear we must brace for hard times ahead.
Great comment! This is how third-party voters have felt for the past thirty years. This is precisely why it is long past time to consider proportional representation, so that authoritarians on either side of the spectrum don’t manage to game the two-party system. Granted, proportional representation has its own ugly track record, too.
“… “in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power”,”
Dr Mark Jacobson, who has expertise in and publishes peer-reviewed studies on the implementation of renewable energy disagrees with that statement. Not that nuclear power is bad, but it is too expensive, takes too long to build, has risks compared to other RE, and simply is not needed when other forms of RE can do the job for a fraction of the cost. It would seem there IS a credible path forward that does not include nuclear.
Pinker’s point was not that Nuclear is the way to go, only that it deserves discussion.
And Pinker cited bona fide experts that think nuclear should play a role. So, which experts are correct? That’s kind of the point Pinker was making.
… and that nuclear power was absent from the … primer written by the AAAS, the absence being peculiar.
It’s pretty much no choice for the green renewables lobby when it comes to nuclear. If we got into a tardis and hit the fast forward button arriving 200 years from now the fossil fuels are gone, totally exhausted. And just look at the here and now, worldwide electricity consumption triples from 1980 – 2019, over
7,000 TW hours to more than 23,000:
This is before we switch to low or zero carbon technologies. While some countries are blessed with renewable capacity (Norway, hydro) there is no way renewables can provide the base load for countries like China, India or the USA. The green lobby needs to stop dreaming and get behind nuclear.
Here is a rebuttal to Jacobson’s assertions-
The general assertion of RE true believers seems to be that clean energy is safer, cheaper, and just as reliable as fossil fuels. Beyond that, they foresee no problems scaling the use of solar and wind to cover national energy needs.
The issue of storage is always underplayed, as if it were a trivial concern. It is not. No part of the process is 100% efficient, so if you are using a solar panel to pump water into a reservoir uphill, then using that water to run a turbine, which feeds transmission lines, which charge a battery in an electric truck, you lose significant portions of that potential energy at every step. You need a lot of initial power capacity, and vast amounts of storage. Especially if we are planning to not only replace current power generation, but all those trucks, locomotives, and oil heaters.
I suppose nuclear is out of favor for the same reasons it was opposed in the 60s and 70s. Philosophical rather than scientific reasons.
All these things can be debated pretty much forever. But my suggestion is to put the theory into practice. Los Angeles seems like a good example. Plenty of sun, anyway. But if they can actually move to RE without importing a bunch of power from outside, it would be very reassuring, I think. Perhaps Hawaii. Then move on to places with less reliable sun, and some winter conditions. If it is actually going to save money to switch over, medium scale tests should be trivial to accomplish.
But there is no time for test projects. The earth is burning. We need a crash program NOW!! 🙂
I will read the PNAS article with interest. Thanks. Jacobson’s optimism about the minimal need for battery storage comes from the idea that the wind is always blowing somewhere and, at least during the daylight hours, the sun is always shining somewhere. You just need to install enough generators and then send electricity from sunny windy Montana in mid-afternoon to overcast flat calm Florida near sunset. But to do this would require large investments in high-voltage DC transmission lines (and the expensive switching gear needed to connect them to AC generators at one end and regional AC distribution systems at the other.) The more AC-DC interconnections, the more it costs in gear and losses. Anything can be done if you put enough money into it but there are other pressing calls on capital even within the transmission part of the system, much less everywhere else. There is every present economic reason for us in Southern Ontario to be a robust part of the Eastern Interconnection — especially since windmills already in operation require load balancing regionally –, with additional ability to trade power asynchronously with Quebec as needed, but no reason for us to be connected to Montana just because they have some windmills turning out there..
Jacobson is also contradicted by two postings here at the Manhattan Contrarian. In essence, the cost of unreliables rises rapidly when you ask them to deliver more than about 40% of your electricity because the requirement for battery backup (instead of gas turbines) starts to dominate the cost of the system, no matter how cheap the panels and windmills can be built for….or you have to demand that your citizens tolerate random blackouts as a matter of course, not just from ice storms that the work crews spring into action to recover from. If the utility has to say, “Well, we don’t know when the windmills and PV panels will start delivering electricity again. It depends on the weather….”, there will be trouble in River City. The wind might always be blowing somewhere but is it blowing hard enough averaged over the country to keep the lights on at peak demand everywhere? Like we enjoy now.
The People Promising Us “Net Zero” Have No Clue About The Energy Storage Problem
We are fixing to waste an enormous amount of money to have an electricity grid that won’t work as well as it does now and will cost a lot more. Meanwhile China and India are building coal plants to beat the band, as will Africa. And they’ve told us at COP26 in Glasgow they have no intention of emulating the good green behaviour we’ve been making such a virtue-signaling show of modeling.
There are independent studies confirming Jacobson’s studies. Including the NREL who just recently asserted that 100% RE will result in fewer blackouts, not more:
NREL demonstrated “72 hours of continuous operation of our buildings’ loads using only renewable energy.” On a very small cluster of buildings, on the plains, surrounded by turbines and panels.
“As night falls, the PV system stops producing energy and the wind turbine starts.” I often hear people express the belief that wind speeds are unaffected by day/night cycles. That assertion works best with people who do not spend a lot of time outdoors. In most places, absent passing fronts or storm systems, the wind calms right down after sunset.
Honestly, I would have assumed that a renewable energy test lab would be able to run off grid continuously. The fact that they seem to have had to pick 72 hours when the weather conditions were optimal does not fill me with hope.
I am not sure of the cost of their panels and turbines, but their battery system comes in a 40 foot container, and is available to purchase for $775K plus shipping.
Honestly, I would love to not have to worry about blackouts, and to be electrically independent. I hate pollution. But what I am reading is that various people are making predictions about how they believe such systems will solve our current problems. What I would prefer is examples of real-world long term use.
Clack is not a rebuttal to Jacobson’s assertions – they agreed on 95% of his assertions, had a point-by-point back and forth which can be read. My take is Jacobson won about the last 5%.
Could you give a link to that back-and-forth?
I don’t know who or what “Clack” is that supports Jacobson’s assertions but Max’s PNAS article certainly isn’t it.
It’s embarrassing that you would cite a promo —an ad, really—for an interested unreliable energy company, done under ideal conditions favourable to its business, as evidence that Jacobson’s long-term national-scale pipe dream has validity.
As the PNAS authors put it, an all-water-wind-and-solar system with distributed generation and storage is doable if you are willing and able to invest enough money in it, in the storage capacity particularly which soars into the trillions of dollars. While the price of PV panels has been falling, batteries are stabilizing. They are highly materials-dense and so track more closely with the cost of the metals than do solar panels and computer chips. There is also expected to be competition for battery components from subsidized demand for electric cars (and military vehicles!). It is hard to price hydrogen storage or even bet on it—Jacobson assumes we will use it extensively—as the technology is in its infancy and has difficult technical problems to overcome.
Sticking to the topic, defending AAAS for its studied omission of nuclear on the grounds that nuclear is obsolete and unworthy of consideration because unreliables have solved the problem is unsupported.
The IPCC in its 3rd and 4th report said that there is no credible path that does not include massive deployment of some form of carbon capture and storage, which optimally should have been combined with the existing fossil plants many years ago and could have prevented gigatons of carbon now in the atmosphere without additional land use. But the “environmental activists” didn’t want it because fossil = evil. Nuclear was declared less essential by the IPCC, although a welcome help.
Supplying all housing in a country like Germany with sufficient isolation and artificial ventilation to enable them to be heated solely with heat pumps and very little energy (that’s the official plan now) will take just as long as building new nuclear facilities, yet I don’t hear anyone saying we shouldn’t even begin because it will take too long and may even be impossible for cheap housing built in the post war era, and is also terribly expensive. That new plants and prototypes of the new generation of nuclear plants were not built in time, and expertise and economies of scale were lost is the fault of the anti-nuclear ideologues who ranked the dangers of nuclear higher than the dangers from climate change. Despite all the investment in renewables, Germany still has a higher per capita carbon output than nuclear-heavy France.
“A fraction of the cost” ignores the high cost of seasonal storage needed in some countries. Also, if making everything renewable were so easy and cheap in the US, one wonders why it hasn’t yet been done. At least were I live, the “investors” in renewables all clamor for state subsidies/guarantees, just like the nuclear industry.
Some countries have low population density and lots of solar and/or hydro in all seasons, they will get by fine with just renewables. For a country like Germany, which has little solar, little hydro and not that much wind, but a large need for heating in winter, this will be much more difficult, unless one massively uses other peoples deserts, which in turn creates costs.
Sadly, this is the same argument that has been deployed for at least the thirty years that I’ve been involved in the discussion. Nuclear is always too expensive, takes too long to build and Chernobyl!
Sadly, we could have been building it in the ’70s. Or the ’80s. Or the ’90s. Or the 2000’s. Or the 2010’s. Or now. Instead, a life of purely Solar, Wind and Wave is always just around the corner so we don’t need to use the solution we have now, we just need to wait a tiny bit longer for cheap-Gaia energy to bail us out.
Sadly, wave hasn’t really panned out. Solar is ‘great’ for areas with lots of sun (when the sun is up) but not many other places and Wind is a treacherous partner to dance with, as Europe discovered in 2021.
“Internally, the EU has seen wind generation severely constrained due to suboptimal wind conditions…The phasing-out of nuclear power in Germany has exacerbated the tightness in the energy market. This might be an omen for a future energy system where renewable curtailment due to suboptimal conditions cannot be offset by large-scale batteries and/or sufficient baseload power supply. ” – https://www.iss.europa.eu/content/europes-energy-crisis-conundrum
You know who didn’t suffer from ‘suboptimal wind conditions’ and who has remarkably low emissions from the ernergy sector? France. Who happens to generate c.70% of their power from Nuclear. And has done for decades. What would the climate look like if the rest of the global North had done the same? How many lives lost to fossil fuel burning over the last half-century would’ve been saved?
“too expensive, takes too long to build, has risks” Perhaps Dr Jacobson should’ve spent the last 50 years telling that to the rest of RE industry.
Jacobson’s thought experiment is thoroughly debunked in the real world. See downthread. Among other errors and misrepresentations it relies on technology that hasn’t been invented yet. It also implicitly assumes that the “social cost of carbon (dioxide)” is infinitely high, thus justifying an infinitely high cost of getting rapidly to zero emissions. This is simply not true.
Jacobson’s article does not provide the AAAS with a rationale to exclude nuclear energy, nor to snub Pinker for criticizing them for it.
And why, pray tell, is nuclear power too expensive and takes too long to build? It is not inherent in the technology. A nuclear power plant is no more difficult than any other large chemical engineering facility.
Could it be because its fanatic opponents have become adept at using the legal system to throw sand in the gears? The primary cost of nuclear power is the capital cost of construction. Fuel cost is almost negligible by comparison. So the anti-nuclear activists themselves cause the extended build times and high costs, and then cite that a reason to oppose nuclear. I think that’s a fair definition of “chutzpah”, don’t you?
In any event, the answer to that argument is a fleet of small modular reactors replacing one-of-a-kind bespoke behemoths requiring exhaustive certification for each individual site independently.
Mark Jacobson is a prime example of the problem. His simulations are based on a set of assumptions that were rebutted in a paper by Clack et al. 2017.
Instead of responding in the scientific literature, Jacobson responded with a frivolous SLAPP lawsuit to intimidate and dissuade discussion in the proper form.
Clack was subsequently awarded fees by the court.
“Attempting to shut down debate and demonizing the opposition is one of the hallmarks of the all-renewable-energy tribe.”
The evidence is clear on energy policy. France decarbonized its energy grid in a decade using nuclear fission. No jurisdiction has successfully stabilized a 100% variable renewables grid without a significant admixture of nuclear or hydro dispatchable clean energy.
Isn’t Jacobson the one who sued when other researchers seriously undermined his analysis of renewable viability? That was an embarrassment. The truth is that nuclear is considered more expensive due to government regulation, nuclear treaties, and old technology while renewable costs are severely underestimated since storage needs are ignored. Remember, most of the analysts are renewable advocates.
AAAS is by mission more political than your standard “American [X] Society” (for X = Chemical, Physical, Biological, etc…). After all, that third A is for the Advancement of.
And while they have been shifting to the left in terms of science content, it is ironically because they seek to stay neutral that they are not recognizing the political aspect to climate denialism. Put bluntly, “our detractors just don’t have the right data” won’t isolate as many conservatives, where “Trump Republicans are thinking about climate change with their wallets not their instruments” would. So they say the former.
Nevertheless, I agree with Pinker that their member outreach is pretty ridiculous. I typically just ignore all those emails and texts. You get my membership dues. I read your magazine. I am grateful for your excellent AAAS fellows and fellowship opportunities. I’ll start thinking about going to your annual conference once Covid is a bit more gone. Other than that, go politic somewhere else.
“Left in terms of it’s science content”? What does that even mean? Do scientific truths have political positions?
I liked Steve Pinker’s letter for its clarity and thought – but in a polarised world split by activists (of different stripes) clear thinking and (especially) clear speech are revolutionary acts.
And that is why ordinary people should cancel their subscriptions and memberships of such organisations. Ordinary people can’t change them, but they can starve them of money and therefore of influence.
Agree with Pinker on points #1 and #3 but his continual cheerleading for nuclear power is getting tedious. It didn’t merely “fall out of favor” among activists; it became apparent that the risk/benefit/cost ratio makes it an unreasonable option for the future. Yes, if we continue to do basically nothing about reducing fossil fuel use for another 50 years (which seems likely), then we may have no choice but to rely on risky and costly alternatives such as nuclear power… but here’s hoping we come to our senses.
For decades, techno-optimists/modernists like Pinker have been saying cheap, efficient, safe nuclear power and cheap, reliable waste repositories are right around the corner but nothing has yet materialized. (Just the waste issue is practically insurmountable: the half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,000 years!) Meanwhile, cheap, effective and clean sources of carbon-free energy are already here and growing rapidly: wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, etc.
Making & running those energy sources still relies on carbon-intensive oil & gas & materials like steel. The tenders that look after & repair wind farms at sea do not run on electricity. No serious solution to mass transport & heavy machinery is oil-free. Wealthy people still want multiple cars & holidays abroad.
Ps what is the approx volume of plutonium waste per year world-wide? Any idea? Are we talking olympic swimming pools full of it for example?
All I can say is that Ontario’s nuclear power plants have been storing their spent fuel in secure containers on site at the plants since the 1960s when Bruce prototype started operation. I would have no concerns about living near an underground depository once the politicians eventually decide we needed one and figure out where to put it. In Canada the chief barrier to doing anything like this is violating the spirituality of traditional Indigenous lands until sufficient sacrificial offerings are made (in cash) to their knowledge-keepers. This has already been raised at Bruce.
My understanding, from talking to family members who work with the stuff, is that the general scheme is to blend the waste with glass or ceramic, inside a container that cannot corrode, and store it under conditions that more or less replicate where the radioactive ore came from to begin with.
Gluons to gluons, quarks to quarks.
The concern is not the viability of nuclear power, after all you have your opinion, others have theirs. Fine.
The concern is that it appears the AAAS doesn’t even want a discussion on the matter, and, for no other reason than narrow political bias.
The waste issue has been overblown for ideological reasons. It is no worse than with any other poison that gets concentrated by industrial processes. Dioxine, mercury, arsenic stay deadly poisons until the end of the solar system, yet they get deposited without much ado. I practically live beside a waste dump of the chemical industry, there’s soil on top, thick foils to keep it from seeping stuff into the ground water below, and a fence around it and that’s it. Nuclear waste can be safely kept in above earth storage for a few hundred years to see whether we will find uses for it.
It is not a matter of “cheerleading” for nuclear power, but of considering it rationally together with other non-fossil energy sources – because it *is* a non-fossil energy source and its operation does not produce CO2. The risk/cost/benefit ratio is something that depends on the current state of technology.
I am currently working on renovating an old rowhouse according to green criteria. Of course the first line of attack is energy efficiency – then you go onto preferring greener sources of energy. I am still considering solar panels, but a friend who has studied the issue in detail tells me that, at the (tiny) scale I am looking at, with the suppliers that would be available, solar panels would be roughly as green as nuclear from the grid. (I live in France.) Producing solar panels, wind farms, etc., does have a non-zero environmental cost. Nuclear should not be made taboo, but seen as one option on the table, if the priority is indeed CO2 emissions (as it should be) and, yes, pollution.
And yet here we are with quite a few nuclear power stations and their safety record seems pretty good. Even the well known disasters didn’t kill many people.
In 2011, fourteen people died in wind turbine related accidents in England – mostly by falling off them whilst doing maintenance. In the same year, nobody died in the nuclear power industry in the UK. Nuclear power produced about 50 times more energy in that period.
One thing I will agree on is that Pinker’s characterisation of nuclear power as “carbon free” is false. Nuclear power stations tend to be made of large quantities of concrete and concrete has a really bad carbon footprint. Also, uranium mining has a serious carbon footprint. That said, most of the renewable energy sources are also not carbon free for similar reasons.
There’s a concrete someone makes (that Bill Gates loves) with CO2 in it. I know little more about it.
The IPCC 2014 report states that nuclear power has a lifecycle carbon intensity of about 12 gCO2/KWh, similar to wind and much lies that solar at 40 g CO2/KWh. The UNECE revised the nuclear lifecycle downwards to ~5.5 gCO2/KWh in 2021, lowest of any source.
Also missing is tidal energy.
A lot of people do not see nuclear as a good or viable option. I however follow James Lovelock in seeing it as an expensive but vital tool. All the energy forms still rely on carbon-intensive oil-powered machinery & concrete, plastics & heavy metals in construction & running.
We are screwed.
First,volume is irrelevant with regard to plutonium; it is the intensity and type of radioactivity that counts. One fine alpha particle inhaled can cause lung cancer. You dont need much to poison the air on the whole planet. Second, while Pinker’s pique about wokeness is justified, he remains stubbornly insulated from any inconvenient facts about the inherent dangers of nuclear power. I have sent him quite a few articles on these but they bounce off him like water off a duck’s back. He only listens to his peer group, i.e. nuke supporters, and ignores dissenters (including scientists) as well as any scientific article that makes nukes look bad. This kind of intellectual cross=contamination in academia is common and prolific. Jordan Peterson is exactly the same regarding climate change; he has a crush on Bjorn Lomborg, and Pinker probably has one on Michael Shellenberger. Neither of these has any science credentials whatsoever, in energy or anything else. But pro nuke people just love to interview and promote them; it’s called Confirmation Bias. Nukes now cost upwards of $13 billion anywhere, and as a result there are half built nukes sitting around waiting for infusions of money…money that could bring renewable wind and solar energy on line in a year or so compared to the ten years or more to build a plant. Biden wants to pour BILLIONS of taxpayer money into investigating the thorium reactors that nuke nuts think (pray?) will save us. But they wont and they cant.The climate crisis needs solving in the next few years. New nukes wont provide power for ten years or more, when it’s all over for the planet. At least AAAS recognizes the futility, costs, time span and technological issues that make nukes irrelevant. They were honest enough not to include it on their list. Give thanks for little truths.Pinker is beyond persuasion. “Don’t confuse me with the facts” is his motto.
Lorna, your statements are factually incorrect as evidenced not just by the background radiation that surrounds us but also the fact that of all the forms of radiation, alpha particles have such a short range, volume matters immensely (you literally need to breath radioactive particles straight into the lungs). In this regard emissions from reactors compare favourably with fossil fuels. Not only do they produce higher volumes, but fossil fuel radioactive emissions are dumped into the atmosphere, resulting in higher amounts of radionucleides (orders of magnitude) than reactors, so my preference would be to shut all fossil fuels first and then discuss what to do with nuclears, and if building more reactors is necessary to accelerate this, so be it.
There is enough dioxine to poison the water of all the world in one single German dump for dangerous waste (Herfa-Neurode). So what?
Plutonium is easily shielded. Heart pacemakers used to have plutonium batteries. I would gladly heat my house with (well-shielded) plutonium heating elements, combined with radiation detectors. It’s probably no more dangerous than the gas I use now. Several houses per year blow up because of gas leaks, and gas is highly dangerous in case of major earthquakes.
There is no way to go carbon neutral in ten years with or without nuclear, unless consumption is reduced to a medieval minimum and all wars and wood burning stop, which I see no plans for anywhere. I agree that Shellenberger is a propagandist with rose-tinted glasses, and I agree it won’t be possible to research and deploy thorium technology in time to reach the Paris target, research funding isn’t bad, though, why should a few billion hamper other efforts? If countries build new conventional nuclear reactors that can be ready in 10-20 years, that is not something one should fight. There may be a design fault in the new French EPR model, though, that is unfortunate and needs to be addressed ASAP.
As I noted above though, all those energy sources need oil to run – plastics, servicing, etc, plus concrete to build. Reducing emissions by efficiency & giving everyone a personal carbon budget…?
I’m so glad that someone else noticed the insufferable wokeness of Holden Thorpe besides me. I have started to refer to him as the Virtue Signaler in Chief of Science magazine. Pinker is spot on when he says they publish papers on racism with no data and no debate. It is a travesty to our profession. That belongs on Twitter, not in Science. It is so worrisome that this desire to be woke is overtaking our desire to be empirical and objective.
“One fine alpha particle inhaled can cause lung cancer. You dont need much to poison the air on the whole planet.”
That’s scaremongering; even the worst nuclear disasters haven’t even come close to this. For example, the fallout from the UK’s worst nuclear accident (the 1957 Windscale fire) only caused an estimated 240 long-term cancer deaths. A tragedy, to be sure, but nowhere near the armageddon you describe.
Currently, the UK gets about 20% of its power from “nukes”, and is building 8 new plants. Clearly, nuclear power is a big part of the UK’s clean energy strategy. Are these people “nuke nuts”, or have they found a way to balance to costs/benefits of nuclear power?
I am genuinely open to the question of the efficacy of nuclear power, but the rather unhinged nature of your anti-nuclear post makes we wonder if opponents of nuclear power are the ones that are ignoring the facts.
“We will continue to cover the evidence for and impact of systemic racism.”
This sort of response seems like a snide dismissal, but I’ve seen it often enough to suspect otherwise. It’s almost like the true believer genuinely can’t conceive of a time before these issues were framed in non-woke terms, as if affirming that racism exists must automatically = full-blown Wokeness. It’s baffling to think that so many intelligent people have been driven to such extreme dogmatism, but that really does appear to be the case.
FWIW, Sabine Hossenfelder’s take on nuclear power…
Nice balanced video. The only goof:
Viewers should note the comment by jem780 from 2 weeks ago, citing a mining professor. It is the second highest liked “Top Comment”, easy to find. As a physicist she is out of her depth in understanding how reserves of uranium (and other mined resources) are explored and proved. Mining companies only go looking for reserves when the investment climate is favourable, based on expected demand. Until 24 Feb., with Germany shutting down its nukes, there was little expected return on exploration. There is lots of uranium in the world and a little goes a long way. Plants will still be very expensive to build and governments will have to decide how aggressively they want to regulate and restrict a technology that is safer to health and less emitting than coal.
And the low price of wind (before accounting for the astronomical cost of imaginary grid-level storage) is a false economy if it can’t keep the lights on. I thought we settled that issue when steamships replaced sailing ships even though coal costs more than wind.
Agree. It’s a very good video, but with the Club of Rome-fallacy on uranium deposits, and a price comparison that leaves out the high storage/backup costs for solar and wind.
She did a fair job of describing the opportunities and drawbacks. She did not mention the impact of Green Advocates and Green Legislation on the cost of building a Nuclear plant.
When you have a legal team who’s first priority is to stop the evaluation and if that is not successful then tie the case up for 10 years with no interest in winning a case. Then you have massive costs.
In Australia miners expect approvals to take at least 8 years and can cost up to 1 billion due to Green legal objections.
I’m reading diferently into the AAAS response than others. In my eyes, they produced a very civil response to Pinker’s letter that lacks any of the passive-aggressive undertones that I have unfortunately come to expect as normal in this climate. I suspect a lot of people at these organizations agree with folks like Pinker and Coyne but are fearful of the political far left, who dangle a knife over their careers like a sword of Damocles. The pat response reads not like the response of a “true believer” but like that of an administrator who knows the minimum he or she has to say to not be suspected of a lack of fidelity to the cause.
I loved this. It’s highly gratifying to see super smart guys like Coyne and Pinker deal with “the elect” so effectively.
I so enjoy it when Pinker does stuff like this: call out bs like Science’s descent into wokeness. He does it so damn well. Just curious, I googled and came up with this:
It is…. um.. quite a read. 😉
I got as far as “the profession’s deplorable record on diversity” in the second paragraph and then I skimmed. This is Science??
I was a member of AAAS (and subscriber to Science) for decades, but I cancelled my membership years ago for what I saw as the politicization of what should have been research.
This was not a guess on my part. I hold an MS in Systems Science with a couple of years of Doctoral work after that. The whole thrust of my scientific education is to discern information from data, then hopefully knowledge from that information, and then ideally wisdom from that knowledge.
I found the premises and, in some cases, methodologies of many of Science’s studies to have been useless to me at best as I attempted to get a handle on the world around me. It was just more noise, in my opinion.