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The Chihuahua of Doom

[Ed: This article continues where  “A Precautionary Principle”, published yesterday, left off, but can be read as a stand-alone article.]

The difficulty for anyone who wants to point out that the climate king has no clothes is the sheer inertia of the narrative, the absolute power of the climate change story which is, when you look at it closely, nothing more than just another millennial panic. I’ve watched those who normally would have been very suspicious of, for example, an American millionaire who proclaims that rising sea levels will drown Miami while at the same time buying a waterfront property. The two halves of their brains do not connect. They see no contradiction because they love Big Climate and they can sweep aside any doubts without a qualm.

That was the state of things in 2013 when we were elected, so I thought I’d try a little humour. In a motion to Suffolk County Council (which boasted that it had the ambition to be ‘the greenest county’) I wrapped the lessons of science in the robes of pantomime and explained how the world works.

The claim at the time was that doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would give us 3º C warming and this would be catastrophic. The atmosphere on average cools 3º for every thousand feet you go up. I explained this, then pointed out that the latest science showed the warming for doubled CO2 would only be 1.5º C, so to live at the same temperature as we’d enjoyed before warming we would have to move up a hill by 500 ft. But what about the UK, what was our contribution? Less than 2%.

To offset UK’s contribution we’d have to go up 10 ft. What about the amount Suffolk contributed? With pure science and a bit of hand-waving I showed that to offset Suffolk’s warming contribution we would have to live at an altitude of 8 inches, the height of a small chihuahua. “Mr Chairman”, I intoned portentously in true pantomime style, “I give you… the Chihuahua of Doom.”

© Fenbeagle, reproduced by kind permission

Cue hysteria, cue much mockery, but as time went on the lesson was absorbed – the opposition even asked my advice when plans were debated for the building of an open-cycle gas turbine at Eye, and they understood what I was talking about when I pointed out that it was just another way of soaking consumers for the benefit of the fat climate cats.

Would I do it again? Probably not, even though it made the point, because humour lends hostages to hostile media – badger-strangler Henry has learnt the same lesson. Humour and politics are a dangerous combination. Even so I still wish I’d thought of another metaphor – Elton John’s more extreme boots could be worn by everyone in Suffolk, a lovely image, but the chihuahua it was.

Joking aside and regardless of the failure of climate science to prove its case, there is still a possibility that the situation is really serious. We need to be cautious and adopt policies which address that possibility while not making things worse if the science is wrong.

Climate hysterics claim that we can only save the world by reducing CO2 emissions, and that the danger is here and urgent. OK, let’s take them at their word and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we emit. There are two obvious ways of doing this, one quick, one medium term, neither of which make matters worse for birds and bats and people.

The quick way is to use natural gas instead of oil and coal. The last is almost solid carbon and all of that turns to CO2 when burnt. Oil is mostly carbon with a reasonable amount of hydrogen. It burns to CO2 and water. Natural gas is four atoms of hydrogen and one carbon, so a lot of its energy comes with no CO2 emissions at all.

Natural gas, mainly nowadays fracked natural gas, is a wonderful fuel, clean burning (you can run diesel engines on it and reduce their pollution immensely), easily moved around the mains network which is already bought and paid for, safe, hugely available from all over the world, not just a few countries which could blackmail us if push came to shove. The UK may even have a few decades supply under our feet. Less pollution from gas-powered vehicles, less black carbon to warm the Arctic, less CO2, it’s a good short-term approach.

Medium term, build SMRs (Small and Medium-sized nuclear Reactors). Carbon free and comparatively easy to build, they are poles apart from the ridiculous EPRs (European Pressurised Reactors) which are proposed for Hinkley C and Sizewell.

SMRs can be build in modules in a factory, solving most of the construction difficulties which dog larger projects, and are then shipped in to their site by barge or even train. Technology exists to “burn” their waste products, so reducing disposal problems. Rolls Royce is already designing them and putting its supply chain in place. We could fund development and tooling-up from the overseas aid budget on the principle that developing countries would suffer most if we do not solve the CO2 problem. Clean and reliable, SMRs could power us into the next century.

Why do the Greens and their hangers-on oppose both solutions if, as they claim, the matter is of overwhelming importance? Well, I note that Greenpeace is the child of the CND, so that’s the reason for the nuke opposition, but opposed to using natural gas, our own natural gas, what’s that about? Who stands to gain if the UK remains tied to imported fossil fuel? Cui bono? Well, Russia. Qatar. Russia. Saudi. Did I mention Russia? And, of course, Russia.

This is not “climate denial” (noxious phrase), it is taking the situation more seriously than any of the other parties: they advocate going all out for renewables, a policy which will increase the price of electricity to such an extent that it will kill, literally kill many of the old, the poor and the sick, will destroy our energy-intensive industries and lead, unless we are very lucky, to major power cuts on still, dark winter days, all this without actually solving the CO2 problem.

We can save the planet using our own resources, developing a technology with huge export potential and exploiting our own unique abilities. We can save the planet and achieve strategic independence of energy supplies. What’s not to like?

Nothing – unless you’re Russia of course.

Mind the chihuahua. It bites.


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7 Comments on The Chihuahua of Doom

  1. Climate change is not like Jeremy Corbyn. You can’t dismiss it with a ridicule and rhetoric. Just look at the facts. They are not hard to find. It is not a conspiracy dreamt up by farmers wanting to make money out of wind farms. If money could sway the argument the oil industry has a lot more to spend on it. Seriously just look at the global temperature records. This is a serious business. The well being of our planet and future generations is at stake here. It is worthy of being taken seriously.

  2. The problem with conventional nuclear power stations (if I might be permitted such a phrase) is that they are hellishly difficult to build. Look at the delays and huge cost overruns that the EPRs are suffering. We need power now and we need reliable dispatchable power, not sometimes on sometimes off supplies that are given privileged access to the Grid.

    Rolls actually have already built SMRs of a kind, the power plants for nuclear submarines, so they are not starting from scratch. I’d back them to have a batch of SMRs in place and powering the UK before Sizewell C is up and running. Their current product is a bit smaller than ideal, but the principle is the same, factory production vs on-site, off-the-peg vs bespoke.

    Coal in the UK is a dead duck — we have limited resources suitable for open-cast mining and deep mined coal can never compete on price, not to mention the fits the AGW people would have if it were suggested as a solution. Remember, we are trying to carry the country with us, not impose a solution against the flow of the (mistaken) beliefs of the AGWers. Besides, we would then have to depend on Poland, or maybe Australia, neither ideal.

    As for natural gas
    does not mention the US. Yes, they will be a big world player, but I see no reason for us to delay developing our own gas — if it’s there. We’ll soon know. Once these things get going the results can be astonishingly quick. The latest big USian gas play went from a standing start to match 50% of the UK’s demand in five years. If the previous government had had any sense of urgency then we’d already be running our power stations on our own gas.

    The big problem with wind and solar is that they need to backed up by highly reactive fossil fuel stations — they are not reliable. The cost of the back-up is never factored into the calculations about how wonderful renewables are, but there is a solution to this. Electricity contracts should be for a supply that is guaranteed with penalties for unreliability. Wind won’t hack it, solar hasn’t a hope in hell. Imagine if Dong Energy had to guarantee a specified output and did the calculation — they’d find that it would be cheaper just to run the conventional gas power station and forget about wind turbines altogether.

    Re cutting car consumption. The Midget has 1275cc and does about 30 mpg. The Nissan has 1300cc and does 60 mpg. The new Jaguar XE (I wish!) with 2 litres does 65 mpg. Technology is delivering on this. There’s another solution, you could always mandate engine size — good luck at the hustings with that on your manifesto.


  3. I agree that alternative forms of energy like SMR reactors would be ideal, but the fact is that they don’t exist at the moment. I also agree that putting up single land based wind turbines is virtue signalling at its worst. In fact I don’t think there will be any new land turbines going up in the UK as the subsidy has been cut, and rightly so. There have been years of experimentation, some things work and others don’t, it seems for the UK that of the current alternatives that actually exist then nuclear (current designs, not SMRs) and offshore wind are the ones that can reduce our dependence on petroleum. Natural gas is now coming largely from the USA and they have started supplying what remains of our petrochemical industry like Ineos.

    I believe we need to consider this primarily from a strategic security perspective, with the objective being to make our own energy or buy from allies. Perhaps SMRs are feasible in the 10-20 year time horizon, but offshore wind is here now, for me the only negative is the lack of UK companies in the supply chain (i.e. there are none, why Rolls never went into wind turbines and a danish company is world leader is a mystery to me).

    Cheap, reliable nuclear power supplemented by natural gas from the US or our own fracked or drilled resources and offshore wind, with a few very large scale modern coal-powered power stations with UK-mined coal that would reduce the overall cost of the energy mix seem to be the way forward to me, along with a drive to reduce useage. Consider that for all the talk of electric vehicles, the fastest growing category is SUVs. We buy cars and engines that are way too big for our needs. If we cut average engine size by say 500cc then this would be a huge step forward.

  4. As to your proposal for Small and Medium-sized Nuclear Reactors, does this embrace the use of thorium, instead of uranium, as the fuel?

    • The SMRs are going to be uranium I believe. Let’s not tinker with the design. We need power yesterday and if we go for a new design we will probably fail to deliver. Once the danger of power cuts is averted we’ll have time to do the sensible thing and go for thorium. I believe the Indians are already building thorium CANDU type reactors, but I don’t know if you can scale them down — my guess is not but that is very much a guess, I’ve haven’t looked into it.

      Did you know there’s a lot of monazite sand off the Falklands? Things that make you go ‘Hmmm’.

      I see I’ve got my first reply in the wrong place. Sorry.

      • Julien, I agree that deriving our energy from gas is an important first step as it is available now and fracking should be incentivised so we can move towards energy independence. This will keep the lights on until something better comes along.

        You make a very good point that it produces less carbon ‘pollution’ than coal and oil. It will be quite some time before climate hysteria wanes and to be politically effective we need to be realistic about this.

        In my view we just need to sit back and let the Sun, the flaming big Great Dane in the sky, which is currently entering a period with few sunspots, make everyone see that it is it and not the tiny trace gas carbon dioxide in our atmosphere that, in the short term, is the main driver of our climate.

        Modular small-scale conventional (high pressure water) nuclear reactors seem like a logical next step as it seems likely that they will produce cheaper energy than Hinkley which in my view is a serious step backwards which will lock us into expensive energy for years to come. My understanding is that it is easier and cheaper to make SMRs safe as they have small pressure vessels.

        They will also ease the way for the introduction of what I see as the next step, molten salt reactors which from what I’ve seen, can also be built small and would thus be easy to fit into our grid. (Referred to above.)

        These are being developed in America, China and India. This technology holds the promise to
        produce energy cheaper than coal. They can run on thorium which is abundant and cheap. However, they can also run on uranium and can, I’ve read, even be used to recycle some nuclear waste.

        For those that are interested here is a nice overview of where this technology is at present.

        It does beg a question. Why we are not on the forefront of developing this technology?

        • The answer to your last question is difficult. Anyone would think that our leaders are incompetent, lack scientific and engineering knowledge while not caring if they get our energy policy wrong because it will not affect them. Since that surely cannot be the case then there must be some other explanation. Hmmmm…

          Let me tell you a story:

          Minister for Energy: Julian, solar, it’s the answer to our energy problems. It’s getting much cheaper!
          JF: Yes, Minister. But you’ll have to store the electricity.
          Minister: (nonplussed for a few seconds because he hasn’t been briefed but recovers manfully) Yes, of course. Storage. We’ll have to store it! Yes! (bounces off)

          The Minister for Energy didn’t know that you have to use electricity or store it, that it doesn’t just hang around waiting.

          Molten salt technology looks very promising, so no doubt HMG, aware that modern societies can only prosper with cheap, reliable energy, is actively pursuing the matter.


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