I've never heard a self-described "climate activist" optimistic about anything except their certainty that we are in dire circumstances.

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I do wonder about both personality types and prevalence of mental illness. Though of course Adorno loved to project "the authoritarian personality" onto those he disagreed with, perhaps there's something there with these various activist groups.

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I feel that this all highlights the fact that most climate/environemental activists are profoundly anti-human.

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That is one of the major arguments in the book.

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Are you "No True Scotsman"ing the phrase "climate activist"? Because I would say that people like Noah Smith, Ezra Klein, and many, many others agree that conditions are better now than they ever have been, that fossil fuels are a large part of that, and yet that eventually phasing out most fossil fuel use will be part of a better future, in part because of the climate effects.

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Yeah, Ezra has been pretty darn good.

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I would describe him as more like “not the worst that exists”

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"The government’s subsidizing and mandating of solar and wind has caused massive destruction around the world. Solar and wind, while sometimes good for remote locations that need very little electricity, have been a disaster when applied to the massive and dynamic electricity needs of the empowered world."

This seems way to strong to me and I would like to see the evidence of it. I am most familiar with the Texas power market, but wind and solar have not caused "massive destruction" even though there has been massive growth.

Now I agree that we are not getting rid of fossil fuels anytime soon, but this is just hyperbole that makes me question a lot of his other facts.

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Yeah, the hyperbole is out of control, and really undermines his cred as a "rational analyst." Everything has to be compared to the alternative. The damage done by coal mining is pretty darn severe. I'd rather live by a windfarm than a coal mine.

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The alternative of a grid like California's, which is constantly undersupplying those who are paying multiple times what other states pay, is definitely something that must be compared.

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Shellenberger has been banging this drum for a while - it's about both the vast amount of land consumed, and the destruction of that land for animal habitats and plant life. Plus the radical lack of efficiency and reliability of both of them.

And of course you're not going to hear about it when there's such a vested interest by the power companies and the media to toe the party line.

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The amounts of land consumed are really quite small: you can find pictures online that show the total surface area solar would have to cover, to power the entire planet, and it's quite modest. The land tends to lie along roads (for construction access), so it looks like a lot, but compared to (for example) farming it's absolutely minuscule.

"Radical lack of efficiency" is rather an odd claim.

"Radical lack of reliability" is a claim that rather depends how you define reliability. Solar cells produce energy when the sun shines, with extreme reliability - far higher than the reliability of a gas turbine when it is supplied with fuel, for example. However, renewables tend to display intermittency, which is a different thing - and a real challenge. Then again, so do plants grown for food, and we've pretty successfully addressed that challenge.

Renewables like solar and wind are actually cheaper than fossil fuels in some circumstances, and the range of those circumstances is expanding. If you read The Innovator's Dilemma, you know where this can lead. Or it may not.

As for subsidies, yes, they're real and large. So are the subsidies for fossil fuels (and, in addition, don't forget that securing the Middle East with its oil supplies is a large part of the purpose and cost of the U.S. military).

Fossil fuels have been tremendously important, and still are. So was whale oil, in its day. We can be grateful for those benefits, while still moving toward new solutions that can be superior in many situations.

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The amount of land area used by solar electricity generation should not be compared with farm” land, although land used by solar is hard to also farm on; it should be compared to the land area for an equivalent fossil or nuclear electricity generation plant. Any electric power source that is as intermittent as solar is (it produces power less than half the time given nights and cloud cover) cannot be considered reliable especially when needed by hospitals, factories or even refrigerators.

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1. Why? I used the comparison merely to give a sense of scale: solar may use more land than nuclear but in the grand scheme of things - such as compared to farmland - it doesn't use very much land, and wouldn't have to, even if it supplied all the earth's energy.

2. Solar is an energy generator - an intermittent one, to be sure - not a full solution. It doesn't have to be a full solution: it only has to be better under some circumstances - and it is.

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If solar and wind are so competitively efficient, why does California have such horrific power problems and costs? Paying multiple times what other states do for much, much more unreliable power? You can say that we WILL address that challenge, but it does not seem to me that it's been addressed adequately at all so far.

I think moving towards new solutions is good, but it does not seem to me that the current trajectory of wind and solor makes them the new solutions that will actually meet the problems, and I strongly resent the way they're being pressed on us as a moral duty when it really means a radical anti-human agenda of reducing standards of living and ability to produce.

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California's power grid problems and high costs have many, many causes. One, to be sure, is long-term contracts for renewable energy, undertaken in years past when renewables were still very expensive. The state did this as a conscious investment in resource diversity - it also entered into some very expensive contracts for nuclear power, for the same reason. So yes, that's part of what drove the high costs.

A bigger driver, however, is essentially that California manages to make almost everything very expensive. How that happens is a long discussion, and one that can easily (and not wrongly) get into politics, but pretty much none of it has anything to do with renewables: depending on your point of view it may either be driven by investor greed (so we need more regulation), or by unions, or by regulated monopolies being very good at regulatory capture (so we need less regulation and more competition), or by over-conservative management because monopolies don't care about costs but they care a lot about outages. Take your pick; and I probably haven't covered all of them.

In any case, because the utilities get to collect their capital expenditures and power purchase agreements over multi-decade timescales, once greed/regulatory capture/over-conservative management (take your pick) drives prices up, it takes a long time for cheap solar to pull prices down again.

When it comes to reliability, California's poor reputation stems from two somewhat different sources - neither having anything at all to do with renewable energy. One has to do with a bizarre "deregulation" of the power grid that happened back in the 1990s, which was really more of a re-regulation with different rules. When you abruptly change all the rules, you get unanticipated results - and there were blackouts. The other has to do with the realization, in recent years, that vegetation had become historically dry and had grown far too close to power transmission lines, which were sparking dangerous wildfires. The short-term solution was to shut down transmission lines at certain times, which obviously did nothing for grid reliability.

It is unfortunate that some environmentalists have embraced a quasi-Catholic notion of "original sin" - that humans are sinful merely for existing. It would be doubly unfortunate to reject new, effective, improving solutions merely because some religious types, whose proselytization you resent, happen to advocate them. Baby, bathwater, etc.

Thanks for the discussion!

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Some fair points, but I'm very suspicious of dismissing the renewable expense. But of course, that's largely because of my priors. I do appreciate the information provided, and that you reject the idea that human existence is evil.

I would be happy to embrace solar, wind, or anything that actually 1) reduces costs overall and directly to the consumer on both the tax and direct payment fronts, and 2) is as reliable or moreso than what it replaces.

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The TX grid became “kinda unreliable” recently.

Maybe ERCOT hasn’t figured out how to get everyone to pay for the 200+ billion in grid related damages from Uri yet, but that bill will come due for the ratepayers. The grid nearly collapsed completely which would have been catastrophic, now daddy Warren Buffet has to get enticed (with yet more subsidies) to build dispatchable fossil generation to fix the issue that was caused by adding so much wind in the first place.

Wind and solar delivered almost nothing during Uri, and they are now concerned during the summers due to a lack of dispatchable capacity. Solar is OK in summer, but counterintuitively daily cloud/thunderstorm cycles cause a lot of shading and intermittency, and summer heat waves generally coincide with stagnant high pressure zones. Unfortunately wind produces mostly in spring and fall when the demand on the grid is lowest, and TX has around 40GW of wind, most of which goes away on the summer heat.

Unfortunately all of this goes against the narrative, and it requires understanding of engineering, policy, economics, etc. So most people (especially the most climate concerned) just don’t bother digging past the Guardian headline.

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I feel like Alex Epstein's argument does a good job of convincing me that I should be emotionally very thankful and appreciative of fossil fuels. Okay, I'm convinced. Fossil fuels have given us many, many great things since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

I'm worried, though, about the jump to "and therefore we should not do anything about increased CO2 in the atmosphere". It seems like both of these things can be true at the same time - that fossil fuels provide great benefits to humankind, and that there is an important danger to be concerned about, and we may need to stop using fossil fuels. We may just be in a very tough situation - where fossil fuels have too many benefits to give up, but they are also leading to long run disaster. If both of these arguments are true, are we just screwed?

Therefore I think the right conclusion to take is not really, "fossil fuels are great", but that we need a third path that can both make Alex Epstein happy and stop the growth of CO2 in the atmosphere. In other words, we really need more nuclear power. Perhaps we have 100 years rather than 10 years. But that doesn't mean we should do nothing right now. We should raise the status of working on nuclear power and try harder to resolve its pending political issues.

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Alex doesn’t say we should do nothing about rising CO2! His argument is that we won’t stop using them until innovation comes up with true replacements that do the same things fossil fuels do at lower costs. And due to its higher energy density, that means Nuclear must be freed from its regulatory shackles.

The best recent book on nuclear and the limiting regulations is by Jack Devanney called “Why Nuclear Power Has Been A Flop”.

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I 100% agree about nuclear, but I think we need to work on it, not act like it's already decided, done, and implemented.

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As noted, I think he gives away the game by painting *all* climate activists with the same brush, and hyperbole on the "damage" of renewables. I wonder what he would think of my global warming and Greta T chapters in https://www.losingmyreligions.net/

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Ok, having read those two chapters in the PDF of your book, I think that you, at least, definitely don't fit in the categories that Bryan highlights in his selected quotes. However, I've never met someone who is willing to concede what you've conceded, and I have a hard time believing that most climate activists speak and think as you do. Perhaps I am wrong, as the loudest, squeakiest, most autistic and Swedish underage manipulated and abused activists get the grease (until they age out of peak media abuse, and they find someone new). But it certainly feels like a less catastrophizing, less finger-waggy, and less destructive climate activism is very, very far from being the norm.

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Please don't confuse "climate activists" with the people doing the hard engineering work to actually address the problem of transitioning the world to carbon-free energy sources without pulling down the roof.

You should probably spend more time around the engineers - even the Swedish ones.

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There is a large and growing group of climate concerned people who actually want to solve the problem instead of just screeching about it and calling for global government and socialism. I would consider myself one of them, but I also want kids in Africa to have grid electricity and schools (even if that triggers Caplan...).

What I can’t stand is the people who just parrot the BS from Michael Mann, Naomi Klein, Mark Z. Jacobsen, etc. They actually hurt the cause almost as much as these morons who glue themselves to paintings...

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This sounds quite reasonable. You say this group is growing, but are they growing in such a way that they can capture the media attention away from these BS merchants?

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Well, the BS merchants plans are basically guaranteed to fail eventually because... physics. But I am afraid it will be a while before the jig is up on this round of pump and dump.

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Disappointing. It makes it hard to form a coalition of conservatives interested in conservation of the environment and humanistic environmentalists when the loudest on both sides are completely irrational.

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my comments about Swedish people were only about Greta Thunberg. I harbor no ill will towards Swedish people in general, engineers or otherwise. I do harbor a great deal of ill will towards Thunberg's parents and the media that has abused her so badly.

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a climate activist is an ideologized individual, an adept to a religion. These traits prevent him from engaging in a factual, data driven, rational conversation that would empathize with different ideas. It is all emotionally and closed mind driven. but the real pity is that political leaders and global institutions are actually chasing and feeding the madness while destroying their credibility. in the end they will tell us "yes we exaggerated and maybe lied but it was for a good cause". same approach as for lockdowns

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Answer to "Have you?" No.

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I agree that Epstein does a very good job of steelmanning for most things.

The one that he doesn't, imo, is the "2 degrees then increasing/accelerating..." (i.e. "tipping point") idea. It is the one place he doesn't steelman, and indeed seems to lack epistemic humility in his repeated statements that it's practically a certainty that it won't happen.

IMO his thesis would be far stronger if he said something like:

"Look, I can't guarantee you that the "tipping point" won't happen. I just showed you why it is very unlikely, far less likely than the mainstream knowledge system is claiming.

But the policies we are pursuing not only aren't guaranteed to prevent the possibility of said tipping point, they leave billions in the world far less better off in terms of the ability to adapt to future changes in climate, place a disproportionate portion of the burden on the backs of the world's poor who don't have low cost reliable highly available energy now, while also leaving the rest of the world less able to invest in adaptation or even "global cooling" technologies that might reverse the effects of any such tipping point because of the terrible economic efficiency and practicality of the "net zero by 2050" push."

Too much to wish for?

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I love the book, and most of Alex' replies.

The one thing he does NOT in fact steelman is the *possibility* of AGWC (the 2 or 3 degrees of warming, and accelerating from there... case)

He does a great job showing it is unlikely, bu he spins and deflects in classic Bil Clinton stlye as he seems to imply that said "existential risk" case is not just very unlikely (a cliam with which I agree and he pushed me further into that camp) but all-but-impossible.

Alex IMO would have much more credibility - and certainly with the Tylers of the world - if he acknowledged that there is a non-zero chance of AGWC, but despite said non-zero chance, most of the policies that leftists are proposing will do more harm than good, and almost certainly all of the policies they are proposing will do siginficant harm to the world's poorest 4 billion or so, and leave those people less able to adapt to climate change in teh AGWC case, and massively worse off in the 98%++ non-AGWC case.

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Zion Lights is the exception that comes to mind. Previously an Extinction Revolutionary, she renounced all that and is now, among other things, a strong nuclear supporter. How much does nuclear get discussed in Epstein's book?

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Hey Bryan, maybe don’t elevate faux-scientific climate deniers? I’ve watched you morph into an absolute cretin over the years, just swallowing and regurgitating right-wing myths under some guise of academic “thought”. Fuckin pathetic, you should be ashamed at what you’ve become. get your shit together, moron

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I cannot see a connection.

The world was on track to run out of whales. We have abundant fossil fuels.

Whale oil was an innovation because it burned cleaner and brighter.

Then came kerosene which was even cleaner and brighter-- and hugely abundant.

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Better than ever in history does not mean currently "excellent". In fact, his argument depends on highlighting many ways in which things are not excellent

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The climate activists’ unstated assumption is…

that replacing fossil fuels is possible.

It is not.

Global reserves as a percentage of what is needed to phase-out fossil fuels

copper 19.2%

nickel 10.1%

lithium 2.3%

vanadium 3.5%

This is for just first-generation investment. It ignores replacements.

Time needed for first generation investment, at current rates of production

copper 189 years

nickel 400 years

lithium 9921 years

vanadium 7101 years

These estimates are based on detailed research.

It does not matter if they are wrong by a factor of 2 -- or even 5.

Source: https://tupa.gtk.fi/raportti/arkisto/42_2021.pdf

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It would be really interesting to see the same kind of analysis, done in the mid-1800s say, for the prospects of replacing whale oil.

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Replacing whale oil is not a good corollary here. The discovery of fossil fuels replaced that function entirely for less cost. Replacing coal and gas with nuclear is more akin to this, but that is not what the most extreme folks (aka the 100% Wind, Solar and Batteries crowd) are advocating.

This is a question of physics- all of the energy harvesting and storage technologies require massive investment in materials, etc. The production of wind and solar collection devices are especially energy and resource intensive, and they cannot generate enough energy to continue building themselves. That isn’t an innovation issue, this is an energy return on energy invested issue, and renewables are “thermodynamically incompetent” as John Constable has coined the phrase.

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A funny thing about the "100% crowd" is that a lot of them seem to be traditional fuel advocates: their position seems to come down to "you can never get to 100% renewables, therefore renewables are useless, therefore fossil fuels only" (or a variant that allows for nuclear).

With today's technology, renewables cannot provide 100% of the solution at reasonable cost. So what? They can solve somewhere between 60% and 90% (depending on lots of things, including location and specific objectives).

But, 100% isn't the point: let's not make perfection the enemy of improvement - whichever "side" we're on.

A couple of other thoughts. The analogy isn't perfect, but there was a huge whaling industry and no-one knew how much oil there was: known global reserves would have been minuscule, and the time required to get replacement-level supply would have been enormous at the pre-transition levels of investment.

Finally, I'm not sure what "thermodynamically incompetent" refers to but I suspect it means that renewables require more energy to make than they produce in their lifetime. That's so very far from being true I'm hesitant to assume that's what you mean by it.

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Thermodynamically incompetent means that something like a windmill is made of highly ordered low entropy structures (generators filled with copper & NdFeB magnets, tall towers made of steel, huge quantities of concrete, etc.) to collect what is basically low grade random heat at very high entropy. The amount of available work energy out of the wind is extremely inefficient at making low entropy electricity, since the entropy starting point is so high and an enormous amount of enthalpy is required to overcome this entropy change.

I’m addition, making all of the parts that go into a windmill cannot be done with the energy output from the windmill itself. There are huge amounts of coal oil and gas used in the process to make each of the parts, and the return on that fossil energy outlay is something like 2-4:1, which is about where society was before the Industrial Revolution. Basically we have to move up the energy density ladder, not down if we want continue to have nice things.

Wind and solar are not cheap- they are incredibly expensive when all of the transmission and backup costs are factored in. LCOE estimates don’t include that because they assume that all electricity generating assets perform the same service, which is a totally asinine assumption to make between wind and coal...

I think we both want the same thing, I am just not willing to give up what we have before putting infrastructure in place that will actually accomplish what we need it to.

Check out this article- it is a nice explanation of a lot of the issues we are facing going down the renewables path.


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