October 13, 2005

Hydra power

Greenpeace's Hallie Caplan is at it again, this time in a couple of Pennsylvania newspapers (the State College Centre Daily Times and the Philadelphia Daily News), railing against the high price and filthiness of natural gas, the even worse pollution and greenhouse gas emissions of coal, and the radioactive waste and water pollution of nuclear power. These are valid and serious issues. But she then insists that wind power could provide 20% of our electricity, replacing all of our nuclear power or a third of our coal burning.

Interestingly, 20% wind power penetration is exactly what is claimed for Denmark, which still burns as much coal, natural gas, and oil as ever.

(By that paragraph, she had apparently already forgotten that her letter was about natural gas. It doesn't make for a very coherent piece, but perhaps she noticed that unlike coal and nuclear, only a quarter of the natural gas we use is for generating electricity. And, after all, it is better than coal and nuclear, which is why it was promoted in the first place.)

As mentioned before, it is very difficult to respond to these letters -- which may be deliberate -- because the incoherence seems to feed on itself and multiply into a writhing quagmire, a hydra.

The main concern of her letter is global warming (or was it the price of natural gas?), caused by the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Then she throws in the dangers of nuclear power, the traditional focus of Greenpeace's activism. But nuclear fission doesn't emit any greenhouse gases, so what is the focus now? The doomsday approach to global warming seems to be driving people to support more nuclear power. Maybe more nuke plants is actually what Greenpeace wants, so they can stay in business opposing them.

Or if the price of natural gas is the concern, then coal is cheap and plentiful.

Or if the pollution from coal is the concern, then natural gas is much cleaner. And its expense might stimulate conservation and efficiency efforts.

Or if we should move away from all fossil fuels, then why the exclusive obsession with electricity, which is only two-fifths of our total energy use? Although nearly 90% of our coal and all of our nuclear power are used for electricity, 75% of our natural gas and 98% of our oil are used for other energy needs (such as heating and transport). Where's that in Hallie Caplan's urgent concern?

Or maybe Greenpeace is just a shill for big wind, and it doesn't matter what they say as long as they keep talking enthusiastically enough to shut out dissent and query. That seems to be the only conclusion that can explain letters like Caplan's.

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