Climate Change Denial: an actual conspiracy

One of the funny things about the climate change debate is that, whichever side you're on, you pretty much have to concede that there's a conspiracy.  Either the entire institution of science is cooperating with the liberals to tell a really scary story so that we can cut back on pollution, or high-status, high-influence people are deliberately stoking the fires of climate change denial without regard to the truth of their claims. I mean, obviously, it's the latter.  This article at the Guardian explores the network of donors and think-tanks that are specifically structured to provide resources to climate change deniers.

"Are there both sides of an environmental issue? Probably not," [Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust, said]. "Here is the thing. If you look at libertarians, you tend to have a lot of differences on things like defence, immigration, drugs, the war, things like that compared to conservatives. When it comes to issues like the environment, if there are differences, they are not nearly as pronounced."

By 2010, the dark money amounted to $118m distributed to 102 thinktanks or action groups which have a record of denying the existence of a human factor in climate change, or opposing environmental regulations.

The money flowed to Washington thinktanks embedded in Republican party politics, obscure policy forums in Alaska and Tennessee, contrarian scientists at Harvard and lesser institutions, even to buy up DVDs of a film attacking Al Gore.

The ready stream of cash set off a conservative backlash against Barack Obama's environmental agenda that wrecked any chance of Congress taking action on climate change.

The Guardian shared this graph, using data from Greenpeace:

 

This shows that the overwhelming majority of the money is coming from Donors Trust -- although that's not to say the Koch Foundations and Exxon Mobil executives aren't involved there:

And it was all done with a guarantee of complete anonymity for the donors who wished to remain hidden.

"The funding of the denial machine is becoming increasingly invisible to public scrutiny. It's also growing. Budgets for all these different groups are growing," said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, which compiled the data on funding of the anti-climate groups using tax records.

"These groups are increasingly getting money from sources that are anonymous or untraceable. There is no transparency, no accountability for the money. There is no way to tell who is funding them," Davies said.

Thorium! A pretty awesome uranium alternative

(via SciShow) Of all the problems the world is facing in the Information Age, the energy problem is one of the biggest -- and, it seems, one of the most insoluble.  We have a tendency (whether as a culture, in America, or just as a species) to assume that resource problems are based on fixed proportion.

With energy, the proportions we imagine are cleanliness, quantity, and safety.  We imagine that we need fossil fuels because we need huge quantities of energy, and they're a bit safer than nuclear, but aren't clean.  Nuclear is too scary, and feels too unsafe.  And this mental comparison leads most people to assume that because clean energy is, by definition, very clean, and almost always also very safe, it must not be able to produce anywhere near enough power.

Fortunately the world doesn't work that way, and as a species so far we've been lucky to discover over and over again that there are easy ways to totally break the system and get way more quality out of the available resources.

For energy, this game-breaking fuel is Thorium.

According to Hank Green on SciShow, Thorium is about as common as dirt.  Miners literally throw the stuff out because it just gets in the way when they mine other stuff.

Thorium is more efficient and safer than uranium power, and the coolant involved isn't pressurized -- so the stuff that happened in Chernobyl, and more recently, Fukushima, must isn't possible.

It is radioactive, but it's not the same kind -- Thorium produces alpha waves, which are way safer than Uranium's gamma rays.  Thorium's waste is also radioactive for a much shorter period of time -- just a few hundred years.  So, compared to Uranium waste, which will probably still be a problem when humans aren't around to explain it, Thorium waste could plausibly be totally safe within the life span of the civilization that created it.

It's also super-hard to make weapons out of it, and can use up and eliminate plutonium waste as part of its running process.  Win.

China is already leading on developing Thorium reactors.  India is also looking into it.

TheWeek.com's article links to an article on thestar.com, claiming it points to criticism of thorium:

If "an endless, too-cheap-to-meter source of clean, benign, what-could-possibly-go-wrong energy" sounds too good to be true, says nuclear analyst Norm Rubin, it's because it is.

But that article, which points out that it's been edited from a previous version, has very little in the way of criticism of Thorium.  The only complaints pointed out are that (a.) it would be expensive to retrofit existing reactors, and (b.) engineers these days aren't generally trained in the technology for thorium.

But, come on.  Nuclear reactors and coal are going to keep costing us, they're not free once you've made them, and the climate change costs are going to keep going up the longer we go without creating a carbon-neutral energy source -- which Thorium is.

Besides, we're suffering a job crisis.  Get a bunch of the unemployed engineers to take a crash course, hire contractors to build the reactors, start new domestic mining operations -- these all sound like solutions to me, not new problems.

According to Kirk Sorensen's TED talk on Thorium, we could make fuels using these reactors by taking CO2 out of the air.  So, that's carbon-neutral carbon-based fuel.

The complaints apart from the cost seem mostly to be the same as the advantages cited by thorium advocates -- there's still nuclear waste, just a lot less, it's still radioactive, just nowhere near as dangerously so.