Wednesday, July 12, 2006

And you thought the fight over Kyoto was bad

Sandia national laboratory has come out with a report (PDF) advocating something they call "energy surety", in which they use the principles of physics to craft a sustainable energy vision for the next 200 years. I'm only a few pages in to it, and I've choked twice.

The first is that "200 years" number. Why 200? Well, I can't help but suspect that it was 200 rather than say, 500 or infinity because if the planning horizon is 200 years, then coal counts as a "sustainable" source of energy by this reasoning. The report puts it explicitly:
This second goal would use more processes with persistent sources (solar; wind, nuclearwith fuel enhancement such as reprocessing and breeding; geothermal; tides; and coal with sequestration2.
The footnote reads:
At current use rates, coal use may be sustainable for more than the 200 year time frame we set here. (The Energy Information Administration notes that reserves were sufficient for 250 years.) With that assumption, and also assuming that coal use includes sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions, we include it in the sustainable fuel category, but we recognize that this categorization is debatable.
Right. "Debatable." Of course, if the use of coal actually expands - as it inevitably would - that number is far less than 200. And that number, as many have noted, still includes reserves of coal that inconveniently have National Parks and cities on top of it. Useful coal reserves may very well be exhausted before I die.

Anyway, that was really secondary to this:
An ultimate energy surety plan must have at its core some international commitment to hold growing populations in check; without this measure, no technical solution can be assured. Science cannot solve sustainability issues without help from world leaders in managing the overpopulation question.
I agree wholeheartedly - but it will never happen so long as the Republican party exists. Population control - however you gussy it up - requires a) increased female education and economic opportunities, and b) greater access to contraception and abortion. Both of these are opposed by, if not anathema to, the modern North American conservative. Trying to forge an international consensus on anything other than abstinence-only education and the rhythm method for married couples would be like nuclear war.

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