Sunday, December 30, 2012

McKibben To Wall Street Journal: 'Fossil-Fuel Companies Have Become Outlaws Against The Laws Of Physics'

Bill McKibben has a letter responding to an error-riddled Wall Street Journal 0p-ed - though I guess that's redundant. This one attacks clean energy and the fossil-fuel divestment effort McKibben supports.

McKibben writes:

Robert Bryce's Dec. 17 op-ed ("Harvard Needs Remedial Energy Math") attacking campus efforts to have universities divest themselves of holdings in fossil-fuel companies is interesting for what it omits: even the slightest attempt to rebut the mathematical logic that shows fossil-fuel companies have become outlaws against the laws of physics. Here are the numbers: In order to prevent the two-degree Celsius rise in temperature that even the most conservative governments on earth have committed to avoiding, scientists tell us we can burn enough coal and oil and gas to produce 565 gigatons of CO2. Unfortunately, the planet's fossil-fuel companies, and the countries that operate like fossil-fuel companies (think Venezuela and Kuwait), have five times that much in their reserves. It's what their share prices are based on; they obviously plan to burn it; indeed, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars daily looking for more. If their business plan is carried out, the planet tanks.

Mr. Bryce is entirely correct that it will be hard to move away from fossil fuels, an enormous engineering challenge. But the Germans are demonstrating it can be done, and the most recent studies shows that we could rely on renewables for our power upwards of 99% of the time as early as 2030 if we got to work. Which we won't, if the fossil-fuel industry continues to exert its massive financial muscle to block change. That's why students in 189 campuses have so far risen up to demand divestment-this is the great moral challenge of our time, and maybe, given the stakes, of all time.

Bryce, of course, is one of the most debunked disinformers on the face of the Earth, who famously wrote (in the WSJ of course), "If serious scientists can question Einstein's theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth's atmosphere" (see "Robert Bryce Makes Mockery of Science, Is Mocked in Return"). Hmm, if Bryce can be dead wrong about Einstein, then he's probably dead wrong about everything else.

Bryce works for the Manhattan Institute, which "has received millions of dollars from donors tied to the fossil fuel industry" and the Kochs to spread pro-fossil-fuel messages. Media Matters' post, "Who Is Robert Bryce?" has more detail. See also

Bryce's nonsense is not worth debunking in detail - one could waste a lifetime doing that. But given that he claims "Harvard Needs Remedial Energy Math," it's worth noting one of his own countless instances of innumeracy, the tired "wind power uses too much land" myth:

Here's where the math becomes college-freshman obvious: In 2011, the world had 240,000 megawatts of wind-generation capacity. That fleet of turbines produced 437 terawatt-hours of electricity. Therefore, just keeping up with the growth in global electricity demand-while not displacing any of the existing need for coal, oil and natural gas-would require the countries of the world to install about as much wind-generation capacity as now exists, and they'd have to do so every year.

Put another way, just to keep pace with demand growth, the wind industry will need to cover a land area of some 48,000 square miles with wind turbines per year, an area about the size of North Carolina. Even if that much land were available, no humans would want to live on the land because of the irritating noise generated by those turbines.

That paragraph would get any student in remedial energy math an 'F'. The actual footprint used up by the wind turbines is quite tiny - so most of the land they occupy can be used for other purposes, notably farming.

Let's go into the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's wind farm area calculator, plug in 0.25 acres per turbine and 240,000 megawatts (240,000,000 kW), and use 2 MW for wind turbines since "most of the commercial-scale turbines installed today are 2 MW in size. "The estimated land area required is: 30000 acres." [For more detail, see Land-Use Requirements of Modern Wind Power Plants in the United States.]

As one can quickly find out on Google, "1 square mile is equal to 640 acres." So these wind turbine would take out of use about 50 square miles of land. And that doesn't even count offshore wind.

Most of the best wind is not where many people live, so his non-issue about noise is, well, a non-issue.

Of course, global warming will devastate North Carolina and indeed all coastal areas and much of the cropland in this country and around the world - so using up a little land to save the rest seems like the smart choice.