Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Krauthammer on climate change

Below is an excerpt from an interview that Der Spiegel did with Charles Krauthammer.

Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine.

Charles Krauthammer is a (very) conservative columnist for the Washington Post. I won't tell you whether I agree with his politics (I hope you have no idea about my political leanings, or even if I have any), or his thoughts about nuclear power, but he is an excellent writer; always clear, always concise, often biting, usually witty. He's won the Pulitzer Prize, and has an M.D. from Harvard. He also has an undergrad degree in economics and poly sci. He left medicine in the late 70's to work for the Carter administration, at which time he also began writing (including writing speeches for Walter Mondale, Carter's VP).

Note: If you're going to read Charles K., you've also got to read Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist and liberal columnist for the New York Times. As I've said before, read everything (left, right and center) and form your own opinions. You won't learn much if you only listen to people that you agree with.

I've cut most of the interview, because the topics don't relate to our class, but I found this portion interesting enough to share.


SPIEGEL: How do you solve problems like climate change if international institutions are failing?

Krauthammer: It's not the institution that does it, it's the confluence of interests. Where there is a confluence of interests among nations, as, for example the swine flu or polio, you can get well functioning international institutions like the World Health Organization. And you can act. Climate change is different, because the science remains hypothetical and the potential costs staggering.

SPIEGEL: You think it's a speculative theory?

Krauthammer: My own view is that there is man-made warming. On several occasions I have written that I don't think you can pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere indefinitely and not have a reaction. But there are great scientists such as Freeman Dyson, one of the greatest physicists of the last hundred years, who has studied the question, who believes quite the opposite. The reason transnational action is so difficult is because the major problem with climate change is, A, that there is no consensus, and, B, that the economic cost is simply staggering. Reversing it completely might mean undoing the modern industrial economy.

I'm not against international institutions that would try to tackle it. But the way to go, at least in the short run, is to go to nuclear power. It's amazing to me that people who are so alarmed about global warming are so reluctant to adopt the obvious short-term solution -- the bridge until the day when we have affordable renewable energy -- of nuclear power. It seems to me intellectually dishonest. Nuclear is obviously not the final answer because it produces its own waste -- but you have a choice. There's no free lunch. If you want an industrial economy, you need energy. If you want energy, it will produce pollution. You can have it in two forms. You can have it dissipated in the atmosphere -- like carbon dioxide -- which then you cannot recover, or you can have the waste concentrated in one small space like nuclear. That is far easier to deal with. The idea that you can be able to create renewable energy at a price anywhere near the current price for oil or gas or coal is a fantasy."


Anonymous said...

WOW! I have never heard of him but he seems out to lunch on this issue! His arguments are very typical of the climate change skeptics. The concept of efficiency with respect to pollution has obviously eluded him. Also, because the costs may be staggering, so too may be the benefits! After all, not having a world that is 4 degrees hotter for starters would be good. (remember us down here in the southern hemisphere) He suggests nuclear power and acknowledges that there is some waste. What an understatement. This is waste that will be around for hundreds..thousands of years depending on the half life and has to encased in concrete inches thick and buried in the earth and it would still be extremely harmful. Really I think the best dollars that can be spent would for presenting folks such as this chap with hard irrefutable science that demonstrates climate change. If he is right on one thing, it is that consensus is the biggest hurdle to tackling climate change. Derek Alleyne CERMES

Anonymous said...

I agree with his statement that the most difficult issue to overcome is getting countries to agree on the issue, but I don't think that it really relates so much to if Global Warming is actually occuring. Though hypothetical aspects of the models used to develope warming trends exist, the science seems to generally agree that warming is occuring and that we have and are contributing to it. It seems most countries can agree on that. The bigger issue is that developed countries are trying to tell undeveloped countries to stop making messes the same way that the developed ones did. If a developed nation wants an undeveloped nation to not do what the developed nation did to prosper, they are going to have to pay that undeveloped or developing nation to stop.

As for nuclear waste, I'm pretty sure we've got more than just a little bit already. If it has to be a polluting energy source, than perhaps nuclear is the one to go with, but I have trouble with not investing that money in more renewable energy sources right off the bat instead of trying to make a long transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources via another polluting method (nuclear) that we also don't really know how to deal with. Seems like moving from one can of worms to another.

hunter hay

Saracasey said...

i think before the US were to increase nuclear power we would first have to figure out what we are going to do with current nuclear waste. The Yucca Mountain site is not going to happen and we still have no where to put current waste... something would have to be figured out before we create new waste.

Krauthammer makes a good point on how any current economically viable energy option is going to have some byproduct or waste. It seems natural gas and nuclear power are being presented now as "lesser of evils" options.
until renewables reach a decreased cost and increased output.

Eric Goss said...

I do believe that from carbon emissions we are affecting climate change to a certain degree, but maybe not to the extent that is glamorized in the media. Carbon emissions might not be the main reason to global climate changes. We still have to remember that there are natural processes that take place naturally which cause the climate to warm. An example is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or POD. More research needs to be done on the earths natural processes in order to fully determine if carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming.

We still need to decrease the amount of carbon that is emitted into our atmosphere though. One way that we can reduce carbon emissions is to use carbon sequestration. This method requires that carbon be pumped into the ground instead of into the atmosphere.

Regardless of differences in opinions we have to start researching cleaner ways to distribute energy and turn away from carbon emitting sources of energy in order to increase the quality of life.

leebo said...

Carbon emissions definately plays a significant roll in climate change. Natural proccesses such as sunspots play a roll in global warming too. Nuclear waste contributes to the global warming process. It will be expensive to reduce for global warming but a permitt system could be implemented to help reduce emissions. If each country/state could only produce so much nuclear power with their permitt the U.S., and Europe's emissions will reduce. It cost a lot to reduce global warming and emissions but it can be done. This could be an interesting topic when Obama meets in conference in December of this year.

Lee Grimsley

amaheia said...

What was most interesting to me was that Krauthammer suggested a short-term solution, which is often what most people go with any various situations. Short-term solutions are not the answers because they do not take into account the feedback mechanism. If the short-term solution does not adequately address the problem, there is the possibility of additional problems arising in the future. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, so investing in a rigid long-term solution may be the best thing.
Furthermore, accommodating continuous change, and admitting a level of uncertainty with the climate change phenomenon can provide the possibility of increasing our resilience and adaptive capacity.
Additionally, to achieve success in managing natural resource problems such as climate change, policy makers need to take into account social, ecological, and economic influences of the problem at multiple scales to completely analyse the problem.
Arlene, CERMES

Zach said...

Nuclear power is a long term issue for a short term solution. Nuclear energy should never be considered because the waste is the worst possible byproduct. Oil is a transition fuel only the transition needs quicker research to produce alternatives. Even a solar panel on every business should cut energy use drastically.

John Gilstrap

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