May 31, 2011

Coal versus wind or nuclear

"Global warming is a huge threat," Walter said, ... "but it's still not as bad as radioactive waste. It turns out that species can adapt a lot faster than we used to think. If you've got climate change spread over a hundred years, a fragile ecosystem has a fighting chance. But when the reactor blows up, everything's fucked immediately and stays fucked for the next five thousand years."

"So yay coal. Let's burn more coal. Rah, rah."

"It's complicated, Patty. The picture gets complicated when you consider the alternatives. Nuclear's a disaster waiting to happen overnight. There's zero chance of ecosystems recovering from an overnight disaster. Everybody's talking about wind energy, but wind's not so great, either. This idiot Jocelyn Zorn's got a brochure that shows the two choices — the only two choices, presumably. Picture A shows this devastated post-MTR[*] desertscape, Picture B shows ten windmills in a pristine mountain landscape. And what's wrong with this picture? What's wrong is there are only ten windmills in it. Where what you actually need is ten thousand windmills You need every mountaintop in West Virginia to be covered with turbines. Imagine being a migratory bird trying to fly through that. And if you blanket the state with windmills, you think it's still going to be a tourist attraction? And plus, to compete with coal, those windmills have to operate forever. A hundred years from now, you're still going to have the same old piss-ugly eyesore, mowing down whatever wildlife is left. Whereas the mountaintop-removal site, in a hundred years, if you reclaim it properly, it may not be perfect, but it's going to be a a valuable mature forest."

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, p. 323-324)

*MTR, mountaintop removal.

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