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Upcoming events (3)
Stanford professor Mark Z Jacobson has a very detailed plan for the US to reach zero carbon emissions while also phasing out nuclear by 2050, without assuming any major technological breakthroughs. Wind and solar energy require some cost-effective energy storage solution to keep the lights on during windless nights, and it's doubtful whether batteries will ever get cheap enough for grid energy storage. So Jacobson's plans is to store the water in dams, by having turbines pump water uphill to store energy, and flow water downhill through the same turbines to harvest the stored energy later. This would require on order of magnitude more dam turbines than we currently have. Most informed people realize that we've really exhausted nearly all the rivers suitable for damming for hydro, and Jacobson realizes that, too. His plan is add turbines, both to existing hydro power dams, and to the many irrigation dams that we have that currently have no turbines installed. Jacobson's paper (132 pages of it) is here: https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/USStatesWWS.pdf Some critics wrote a paper http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/06/16/1610381114.full?tab=author-info that, when I read it, sounded like they were accusing Jacobson of planning to build 13 times more dams than we currently have, which any informed person knows is out of the question. Jacobson sued them for deliberately lying about his work, but has since withdrawn the lawsuit. Free pizza will be served.
There is a TV series "Adam Ruins Everything" where Adam is this really smart, really annoying guy who, every episode, tells you that everything you believed about a certain subject was wrong. Everything Adam says is true, and at the end of the episode it becomes clear that he hasn't made himself any friends. This event will be about Berkeley physics professor Richard A. Muller, who similarly "ruined" climate science. In November 2009, someone (whose identity is still unknown) hacked into the email servers of the Climatic Research Unit, stole over 30 megabytes of private email between some of the world's leading climate scientists, and uploaded them to Wikileaks. According to the climate skeptics, the emails proved that global warming was a complete fraud. According to the more liberal mainstream media, while there were some impolite things said in the emails, investigations cleared the parties of all scientific wrongdoing. Berkeley physics professor Richard A. Muller, a liberal who believed in climate change, investigated it for himself, and was outraged by some of what he found. He felt that at least one major instance of deception was uncovered, and was upset about some other things. He felt that some of the basic rules of conducting science had been violated, and he said "There are some scientists whose papers I won't read any more.", probably referring to Michael Mann, who is the most famous active climate scientist today. Richard felt that he couldn't trust climate science as a discipline, and assembled a whole team to recreate the temperature record. He started from the same data sets of raw material, but a tremendous amount of statistical manipulation of the data was necessary to get anything meaningful out of it. It was a huge amount of work, and took a couple of years. Climate skeptics were delighted to have a scientist of such stature bad mouthing climate science as a discipline, and the Koch brothers even helped fund Richard's work. At the end, Richard's team recreated the last 250 years of temperature history, and he says the task turned out to be easier than he expected. The temperature record they arrived at basically agreed with what the climate scientists had been saying all along. But Richard has a lot of opinions on the subject of climate change, and he's not very tribal about it at all. He has a lot of criticism for both sides. So for this event, we're going to talk about "All Things Richard". Free pizza will be served.
Exact date & location to be determined. Nuclear is a very low-carbon source of energy Statistically, nuclear has a lower rate of deaths per kilowatt-hour than most other sources, even if Chernobyl and Fukushima are taken into account. People installing rooftop solar frequently fall off of roofs and die, so that statistically, solar energy doesn't come out looking that good. And sometimes dams fail, unleashing a tidal wave that wipes out whole towns or cities downstream -- one dam in China killed 170,000 people when it failed. It's not fair to exclude that catastrophe unless you exclude Chernobyl, too, which you shouldn't. Here is a list of deaths per kilowatt-hour from various energy sources: https://tinyurl.com/jjgppmd Nuclear is MUCH more expensive than wind or solar on a sunny, windy day, but on a calm night, wind and solar can't be had at any price. Enough battery storage to reliably keep the grid on every day and night of the year for an exclusively renewable-based grid is still very prohibitively expensive. Known land-based uranium reserves are only enough to last another 90 years, but the cost of extracting uranium from seawater, while more expensive than mining it on land, is not prohibitive, and that supply could last us millions of years. https://tinyurl.com/y8on9g89 Thorium is more plentiful than uranium, and thorium nuclear power is harder to convert into weapons. There would be a large R&D effort needed to develop thorium power, but India and China, both of whom have large thorium reserves, are undertaking that R&D effort. There are economies of scale with nuclear energy, so that to be most cost effective, most existing nuclear power plants are huge behemoths that take days to throttle up and down. This is problematic if we want to get most of our power from wind and solar, which are much cheaper when they are available, and just turn on the nuclear on calm nights. To do that we would need a new generation of faster-throttling plants. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and one of the richest people on Earth, has formed a company, TerraPower, to do just that. So for this event, we will be discussing nuclear, pro and con. Free pizza will be served.