Sarah B. graced Ethics Alarms with a thorough and valuable discussion of the practical weaknesses of the climate change religion, or cult, or whatever it is. Here is her Comment of the Day on the post, “On Climate Change Fearmongering”…
There is a massive problem with climate change solutions proposed by this summit and many others, and they all come down to an attitude that electricity is as magic. All solutions to climate change seem to ride on the attitude that if we can just get everyone on perfect electricity and have them drive a Tesla, that we can get rid of nasty coal, natural gas, and oil. There are better options (nuclear) and worse options (wind and solar) for that approach, and while I could point out why replacing all fossil fuel electric production with nuclear, wind, or solar would fail to provide adequate electricity at all times from a technical standpoint, that is really unimportant to the discussion, as they all have one existential problem. Electricity cannot replace fossil fuels.
When it comes to replacing fossil fuels as the energy source of transportation, there are several obstacles that have to be overcome, and currently we don’t have any ideas of how to overcome them. Climate change activists are depending on revolutions that may or may not materialize. But something would have to dramatically change to address the fuel needs of heavy machinery, supply chain vehicles, and long-distance travel.
First, we can look at farming equipment. Tractors and combines cannot run long enough or far enough on battery capacity. Batteries just do not have the adequate power to mass ratio to allow these big machines to do their job.
Next, we can look at semis. A group ran a test by driving an unloaded electric semi truck across 1-80 in Wyoming in the summer. That stretch of road is known for three major troublesome spots: the Summit between Cheyenne and Laramie, the greater Elk Mountain Area, and the Three Sisters close to Evanston. These sections are especially difficult for traditional semis in the winter, so a summer trial without a load is somewhat of a joke. However, the report exuberantly exclaimed how well the semi did on the Summit (going down that steep grade, not up it) and the Elk Mountain area was handled with ease (coincidentally without the 60+ mph winds that make that region well known in energy circles for its wind farms on the day in question as they are found mostly in the winter time), but the desperation of the authors was clear when they discussed how the semi completely failed going up and down the mountains referred to as the Three Sisters. The truck struggled up the hills at a maximum of 5 miles an hour, draining the battery and blocking traffic as it dropped an entire lane out of service from a supply chain artery of our nation.
As for long-distance travel, there are two major issues. The first is the actual range of batteries, which are typically rated for pleasant ambient conditions and no peripheral electrical use. Current batteries suffer a dramatic hit in the cold. Without turning on the heat in the car, the range of the battery drops by around half or more when the ambient temperatures drop below freezing. With the best (and most expensive) battery of last year, that is a 300 mile range dropping to 150. Add in heat to the car, and no rural traveler can get to the next town.
The second issue is effective charging. The ultra fast chargers take 30 minutes to charge the car to 80% (80 to 100% is very time-taking to achieve even on these and is not considered in any large scale calculation due to the impracticality of the functional charging). 80% of 300 is 240, so that means on a standard trip, there are 60 miles of range that are effectively removed from consideration. What this amounts to is more frequent need to charge, placing higher demand on charging stations. If we suppose that a normal refuel at a gas station takes 10 minutes, that means an electric charging station would have to have 3 times as many chargers as a gas station has pumps to achieve the same throughput. This becomes exponentially worse if a station installs the slower, but less-expensive chargers.
None of these obstacles are per se completely intractable. However, the retooling required is extensive, both from an engineering/infrastructure standpoint as well as a personal activity standpoint. Moreover, the aggravating problem is that the general focus is on solutions that only have meaning in a dense urban environment. Extended charging stations, such as in parking garages, charging at home, and many other solutions are focused on the short range commuter-style needs of urban and suburban populations. Few of these solutions have any practical application in the rural areas, especially the remote West where a great many towns are a hundred miles or more from a large town, and often even farther from a town with, for example, a major hospital with a NICU. Of course, it makes sense to focus energy on the problems that are easier to solve and then see if the more resilient problems can be tackled later. But when the push is to ban all ICE vehicles without having these issues addressed, this is a serious problem.
The penultimate issue is resourcing. Batteries require cobalt and lithium, which are expensive to mine. Currently the mining rates are utterly inadequate to produce the batteries needed to replace ICE vehicles. Lithium is not a horribly available material, and even modest increase in the number of electric cars would require increasing lithium strip mining (using diesel powered equipment) by 2000%.
Add into the picture cobalt, which is used as a stabilizing agent. We already have cobalt shortages as is, and the increased demand from additional electric vehicles would only exacerbate that problem. Worse, there is the human cost of cobalt. Cobalt is mainly mined in third world countries without child labor laws. The most cost-efficient way to mine cobalt is to send a four-year-old or equivalently small child, like perhaps a malnourished six year old, into a small crack and have them carry out a semi-toxic form of the mineral in their bare hands. This is extremely harmful, even ignoring that the unstable nature of cobalt mines gives way to huge numbers of small cave-ins. To procure cobalt in a humane, ethical manner would dramatically increase the cost. The question really becomes how many more cost increases we can afford.
Finally there is problem of battery reclamation. There is no viable way, at this time, for us to recycle these batteries very well, and the vast majority of these batteries end up landfilled. We all recall that you shouldn’t landfill batteries, especially lithium ones, right? Well, these batteries are so hard to handle that they almost always end up there, except for some small reclaimers who still end up putting most of the dangerous minerals in the landfill.
I won’t even cover the issues with airplane travel. It cannot be done with only electricity, at least if you like staying in the sky.
One last point in getting rid of fossil fuels: up until now we’ve only discussed replacing fossil fuels in transportation. But fossil fuels are used in many other products. To eliminate all fossil fuels, there will be no more cheap carpet, varnish for tables, or plastic of any kind. Semi conductors practically cannot be processed without petrochemicals, which removes all of our computers. Carbon steel (the most prevalent stuff) is out, which rids us of concrete structures and most houses have steel in them too. Wood and paper products will become significantly more rare, as may logging areas are in areas with no electricity access for miles around, so the equipment uses gasoline. How about lubricants? Any time you have moving parts, you need lubrication and lubricants are all massively petroleum based. Food and farming are in need of petrochemicals. Fertilizers that allow for farming significantly above subsistence level require petrochemical fuel byproducts. The N and P in your NPK fertilizer come from petrochemicals, even though some of them take a rather indirect route. Since most of our refrigerants are petrochemical in nature we can bring back the chlorofluorocarbons that have major negative impacts on the environment and the ozone layer to keep our refrigerators running, though they have been working to eliminate those. Most medicines use petrochemicals in their formation. On the plus side, this will rid us of the vaccine mandates as Moderna and Pfizer used petrochemicals in their designs, such as polyethylene glycol. Ammonia, the cleaner, as well as acetone, are fossil fuel based. Those all require petrochemical processing to make in sufficient quantities to make them affordable. Synthetic fabrics are made with or processed by petrochemicals. Many makeups and perfumes, even the organic ones, require petrochemical derivatives to process. And this is just a short list. Most of our entire chemical industry uses petrochemicals. If you want a chemical, in most cases it has been touched by the petrochemicals.
30 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “On Climate Change Fearmongering””
I would love to highlight the especially good parts of Sarah’s post, but that would be to simply rewrite the entire thing.
Another grain of sand in the ever-growing pile of why I come here.
Here is why Sarah’s comment/post is perfect: She does not resort to hyperbole or extreme rhetoric. She opts for cold, hard facts, icily dissecting climate change hysteria with reason and candor. We need more of that in society.
Except “She does not resort to hyperbole or extreme rhetoric. She opts for cold, hard facts” just isn’t so. She pushed too hard and went a bit further than was warranted. For instance:-
I’m just going to make a small factual correction about this, by way of example, because similar caveats apply to many other points. Only current lubricants are all massively petroleum based, and that not by reason of any physical necessity but because of cost-effectiveness and convenience. That’s a real issue, but not what is being brought out here. The same goes for batteries needing lithium, fertilisers and ammonia needing petrochemicals when coal can also do the job, and so on. Acetone is actually easier to make by fermentation, it just costs more from the feedstock that that uses*.
Now, sometimes there are practical alternatives, particularly when modern ones replaced older ones which we could reinstate; that applies to lubricants. Sometimes, though, there would need to be new developments to get decent replacements. So there are real difficulties in these tangential matters, at least of opportunity cost, and sometimes even of needing to await new options – but it is very rare for there to be such complete physical barriers as there are for the core point: yes, there are physical difficulties to applying electricity to these things. But some of this article is just asserting too much; most of the occurrences of “require” or “need” are going too far.
* It rather depends on whether the other by-products like butanol also pay towards it.
Thank you Jack.
Great points, all, but one overarching point needs to be made: Conversion cost.
Currently, automobiles convert chemical potential energy directly into mechanical energy, powering the car. That efficiency works out to 30-35%, even in a well-maintained gasoline vehicle.
So let’s consider electric vehicles. They are much more efficient at 60-70%. That’s a huge plus, right? Well…
Let us consider how we obtain the electricity to begin with. Taken together, all sorts of electricity generating mechanisms is roughly 40%. That includes solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, and fossil fuel generation. Transmission lines produce an additional approximately a 3% loss.
Next, consider rectification, a process of converting AC power to DC. This is by no means lossless, but new chargers produce an efficiency of 95-97%
Adding it all up from power plant to destination, assuming 100kw of fossil-driven, solar, wind, and hydro potential energy:
Generation losses – 60kw = 40kw
Transmission losses: 40kw -3% = 38.8 kw
AC/DC conversion losses: 38.8 – 3% = 37.64 kw
Vehicle efficiency (High end) 37.64kw – 30% = 26.35 kw to the road.
(Note: There are other I have not considered due to brevity. For example, a car with an AC motor rather than DC incurs substantial additional losses due to the much higher inefficiency of DC inversion over rectification.)
Automobile: 100kw – 65% = 35kw to the road.
(Note: refining gasoline may add some additional costs, but again, brevity.)
Where does the 8.65 kw difference go? To environmental pollution, mostly. And this reckons without all the points made by Sarah B above.
Our technology simply isn’t up to the task yet, seems to me. We may get there some day, particularly if nuclear fusion technology finally delivers on its vast promise, but right now by my math, EV’s are a path to even higher rates carbon dioxide and water vapor.
What about nuclear fission?
Is it not possible to make a nuclear fission reactor that would fit under the hood of a car?
Actually, you could fit an aqueous homogeneous nuclear reactor in your car, if you could get heavier transuranics as fuel*, if you didn’t care about shielding, and if you could vent the heat. Radiocorrosion might ruin it, but maybe not before the drivers and passengers died.
* You might not even need those if you could put everything in a truck.
No but even if you could, conversion is at best only 55%, and there’d be the fission product waste to consider. 🙂
Then again, perhaps I’m reckoning without Dr. Emmett Brown’s DeLorean…
Excellent, informative post Sarah.!
So much so that it’s made it into my EA Comments Folder, where may are called, few are chosen…
Thus the Reverend Schlect.
ERATTUM: “where maNy are called….”
And I’d like to see you in my office, OB…..
This rare earth mining and battery disposal stuff is the most immediately creepy aspect of the virtue signaling Tesla crown. Soon people will be rooting for global warming to turn Greenland from white to actual green so lithium and these other nasty rare earth minerals can be mined more easily less safely.
oops. crowd, not crown.
Crown: a glittering cap over a festering interior. I think it works…
Where’ve YOU been, Ryan? Riding the range? Checking fence? Rodeoing?
It was the two months of maternity leave I took for the new baby…
Truthfully, keeping on top of the family has become a larger challenge, especially after so many other couples told us that 4 was scarcely more difficult than 3. My wife spent the last two months of her pregnancy exhausted, in pain, and barely able to keep on top of the other three. Once our fourth (all girls!) was born, I’ve been trying to do as much at home to help my wife keep abreast of things. It doesn’t help that when she tries to nurse little Natalya, our third, Sasha, whom we have dubbed the Raccoon, feels free to break into things, to break things, to hide things, all while cackling impishly.
Work has been a challenge, as well. We’re being bought out, and that has introduced a massive amount of anxiety, rumor-mongering, speculating, and surliness (why are we introducing this NOW when our new masters will want to do it differently?).
Oh, and we yanked our eldest two’s tonsils last Monday. It has been eventful.
Holy Carolly. In short, you, unlike I these days, have a life. Hang in there, buddy. They do grow up. Mrs. OB and I regret not having had a third child. Anyway, good for you. You and the Mrs. deserve a shout out from EA world. Maybe a COTD for ethical, competent living and having a sense of humor.
I have been told that the first twenty years are the worst, and that it gets easier after that.
I echo Paul Schlect’s comment. I intend to invite others to read this post and plan to save it for debates I get into over the idealism of so called “clean renewable energy” and fossil fuels. It seems to me that the term renewable is questionable given that there is a finite amount of rare earth minerals and extraterrestrial mining of asteroids will require a lot more energy than its fossil fuel extraction methods.
“there is a finite amount of rare earth minerals”
That there is, and in 2010 Mother Gaia Steward extraordinaire (China) provided a whopping 95 % of the world’s rare earth production.
If THAT ain’t an advantage begging to get exploited, I don’t know what is.
Someone noted here a while back that the Chemica/Solvent Extraction methods used to secure rare earths make open-pit mining seem like organic gardening.
On top of all the things you mentioned, there are also a large number of homes that use natural gas or propane for heating and cooking. My house uses natural gas for both. I guess all homeowners with such systems just get to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to have their heat and stoves replaced? People have no idea how widely fossil fuels are used, or what the ramifications of eliminating them would be.
Tough shit, NP. Climate justice is racial justice. Your use of fossil fuels oppresses the oppressed. Use your privilege to retrofit your house. Or just eat less and wear more clothes. You probably eat meat. Racist!
I’m going to go trade my privilege card in at the pawn shop for cash. How much does one of those things go for these days?
It depends, NP. It’s complicated.
Creating heat with electricity is the least efficient and most costly way to heat a home. Even heat pumps require resistive heating elements when temps drop below 40 degrees f.
Our Geothermal uses a monstrous amount of electricity.
Never have seen any of the promised 30 % Across The Board Utility Bill Decrease.
Not to mention the slow, creeping misery which is the electric water heater. Even with much of the industry moving to thankless, it’s slow going, and when your shower outpaces your expensive “endless hot water” solution, good feelings are not the result.
I wonder how they plan to use electricity to oil all those electric cars which are made largely of plastic?
I am reminded of some sf stories that I’ve read: basically post-apocalyptic worlds trying to rebuild civilization. Some of them are massively hampered by the fact that we used up most of the world’s petroleum — and what were we thinking, taking so much of the world’s oil, desperately needed for plastics, electronics, lubricants, clothing, and all the other myriad things, and simply burning it. What a waste!
Ultimately, we do need to come up with replacements for petroleum products in electricity and transportation, simply because we have so many other vital uses for them.
However, that day has not yet arrived, as your post abundantly demonstrates.
Market economics is the framework to explain the use of oil.
Another related point that Sarah B. didn’t touch on at all is the fact that, lightning aside*, electricity is not an energy SOURCE at all, it’s really a just means of transferring energy from one place to another. Electricity is not something we can dig up or seek out as a naturally-occurring thing. We GENERATE it.
Your Tesla runs on fossil fuels, at least partially. This is undeniable. Where does the electricity you use to recharge it come from? It comes from one or more power plants, and it would be an incredible exception to the rule if none of the power plants on your grid used ANY fossil fuels to generate the electricity drawn by the charger in your garage. Electricity is not itself some special “green” energy source at all. It’s simply a fast and efficient-enough way to transfer it to you.
* So yes, lightning is a naturally-occurring source of electrical energy, but one that’s wholly impractical for actual use. Actual lightning strikes are incredibly dangerous, and in a very general sense the mortal enemy of our current electrical grids. Plus . . . . if you think wind power is impractical because of how it relies on Mother Nature’s cooperation, expecting continuous-enough thunderstorms so that you can harvest the lightning strikes is a fool’s errand.