Now let's take a look at this much revered, highly estimable and learned person; Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, no less...
I won't indulge the niceties of the academic world by calling her by her last name, or adding the adjective Professor. No, I will call her Naomi, as she seems to have fallen for some logical fallacies, and even worse, has cited "papers" that with true and unbiased scrutiny wouldn't stand a chance in the process of peer-review. I will elaborate later on, but my oh my... A professor....
Let's consider what she has written, and break it down piece by piece. (hyperlinks are removed, you can find them in the original article : here)
"There is a new form of climate denialism to look out for – so don't celebrate yet"
Naomi starts with a logical fallacy, in the title of her article no less. She claims that Climate Scientists and concerned civilians with pocket-computers and high-school science books (me and the suchlike) are "Climate Deniers".
This is called a Strawman.
Shame on you Naomi, strike one...
She implies that people who are advocating the implementation of Nuclear Energy as part of the solution against Anthropogenic Climate Change are in fact Climate Change deniers. It's a very strange and fallacious argument, coming from this professor from Harvard (no less...)
"After the signing of a historic climate pact in Paris, we might now hope that the merchants of doubt – who for two decades have denied the science and dismissed the threat – are officially irrelevant."
As is my hope, but first acknowledge that the climate pact of Paris holds only one true virtue : the fact that there are no large dissidents anymore (Remember Kyoto and Copenhagen?). That's it. There's no real commitment to solving this technical problem of ours, it still rests within the sphere of mundane monetary squabbles that are irrelevant in the real and natural world with tangible limitations that are set in stone, imposed upon us by the science of physics, mathematics and geology.
"But not so fast. There is also a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs."
I can mirror this argument right back at you, Naomi. You are clearly part of a movement that denies fundamental scientific principles. As such you deny that Nuclear Energy is a credible solution to the most dire problem of Climate Change.
"Oddly, some of these voices include climate scientists, who insist that we must now turn to wholesale expansion of nuclear power. Just this past week, as negotiators were closing in on the Paris agreement, four climate scientists held an off-site session insisting that the only way we can solve the coupled climate/energy problem is with a massive and immediate expansion of nuclear power. More than that, they are blaming environmentalists, suggesting that the opposition to nuclear power stands between all of us and a two-degree world."
The blame is justified, since the math and physics support the stance that renewable energy sources will not play any significant role in the fight to mitigate man-made emissions of green house gasses.
Also be remembered that the term "renewable" is fallacious. With our earthly resources we're bound to hit a hard ceiling. A moment at which we will run out of critical elements or chemicals required to create the energy capturing devices. Not a single source of energy is renewable.
"That would have troubling consequences for climate change if it were true, but it is not. Numerous high quality studies, including one recently published by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, show that this isn’t so. We can transition to a decarbonized economy without expanded nuclear power, by focusing on wind, water and solar, coupled with grid integration, energy efficiency and demand management. In fact, our best studies show that we can do it faster, and more cheaply."
There it is! The wonderful "High Quality Study" of Mark Jacobson et. al...
Acknowledgement 1 : The solutions project assumes that we can cut expected energy requirements by two-thirds...
Acknowledgement 2 : The writer of said "academic / high quality" article omitted resource requirements, resource limitations - flowing into - limited manufacturing capacities, required denuding, cumulative upkeep, quantitative emissions during mining, purification, manufacturing, transportation, upkeep and reclaiming.
Acknowledgement 3 : It assumed that money - Cost / KWh - is the leading metric, which aforementioned acknowledgement negates.
Acknowledgement 4 : Even IF we could cut demand by two thirds, we would still require such a vast amount of energy capturing devices i.e. solar cells, csv, wind turbines that it would take hundreds of years to get them all built.
The reason is simple: experience shows that nuclear power is slow to build
The question is where does it take long to build? What are the circumstances? What are the limiting factors? Are they technical or regulatory? We both know the answer to that, right? Naomi?
If committed a country can easily expand on nuclear energy. France built 56 reactors over 15 years... That's almost 4 per year. China has an average build speed of years per reactor, and pushing for three years per reactor, while having multiple dozens under construction at the same time.
I submit to you that these are not technical problems or limitations, but bureaucratic slowdowns.
"expensive to run"
Then answer me this, why are the electricity bills highest for those living in countries that have invested heavily in renewable energy, and lowest for those living in countries that use either fossil fuels and/or nuclear energy?
"and carries the spectre of catastrophic risk."
Falling off roofs and wind turbine towers is quite deadly. Breathing the air from the combustion economy kills 7 million people according to the World Health Organisation. More people die annually from smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, using drugs and driving cars than nuclear energy has caused in its entire existence. Yes even including Fukushima and Chernobyl.
This a total non-argument, that keeps being peddled by people who argue against nuclear energy.
"It requires technical expertise and organization that is lacking in many parts of the developing world (and in some part of the developed world as well)."
Does this mean that this is an insurmountable problem? Do you think that nuclear reactors get built by rocket scientists? Actually these are basic builders... steel workers, plumbers, welders, etc.
And yes operation of nuclear facilities might seem tricky, it is not. It needs to be well organized though, that's the most important part. But nothing we cannot solve. Are we in the business of lifting human potential, or not?
"As one of my scientific colleagues once put it, nuclear power is an extraordinarily elaborate and expensive way to boil water."
And this means what exactly? What is this supposed to prove? It is the most efficient way of boiling water, that is the nuance your "scientific colleague" forgot to tell you. Anyone who successfully navigated the hassle of High-School physics classes knows that. You needn't be a "scientific person" to come to that conclusion. We're not talking Quantum Mechanics here...
"The only country in the world that has ever produced the lion’s share of its electricity from nuclear is France, and they’ve done it in a fully nationalized industry"
and the country benefits hugely from it...
"– a model that is unlikely to be transferable to the US, particularly in our current political climate. "
this is a non-argument as politics and economics are malleable and oftentimes nebulous concepts, Necessity will shape policy in the end.
"Even in the US, where nuclear power is generated in the private sector, it has been hugely subsidized by the federal government, which invested billions in its development in order to prove that the destructive power unleashed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be put to good use."
And renewables and fossil fuels are not highly subsidized? I would take it one step further, I would like to see energy become controlled by governments again, the for-profit energy business has been proven "not to work".
"The government also indemnified the industry from accidents, and took on the task of waste disposal – a task it has yet to complete."
To my knowledge all waste is either stored directly on-site or at special repositories. Either way, this waste is not waste. It can still be used, only 3% of its energy content has been used. Furthermore it contains fission products that can be used for all sorts of every-day applications like smoke-detectors, x-ray machines, MRI's, nuclear medicine, etc.
Also consider the volume of this waste : about 250.000 metric tons, world-wide, built up over a timeframe of decades. Whereas the waste stream of renewable energy dwarfs this amount in a year. Also consider the 65 million tons of toxic coal-ash being produced annually (in the US alone). You're presenting something as a problem, which in fact is a trivially easy and beneficial "problem" to solve.
"We also have to pay attention to the problem of continued fossil fuel development. Climate activists have focused attention on divestment as a means to remind the world that continued investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure is inconsistent with the decarbonized economy that we need."
True, however these people are pushing non-solutions. To gain any credibility with divestment you have to provide realistic and effective alternatives. In a 250.000 TWh world an 8 TWh unit is meaningless... That's a 1000 MW nuclear reactor. Let's talk about these 250 Watt panels and 2,5 MW wind Turbines, shall we?
"And here, there are some interesting facts that most people don’t know. In a recent study that I did with my colleague Richard Heede, we examined the potential impact of using the proven reserves of fossil fuels in the world. We discovered a surprising fact: if all the reserves in the hands of investor-owned companies were to be burned, we would not exceed the 2C (3.6F) target."
"What puts the world at risk are the reserves in the hands of nation-states – which are mostly coal – and the continued exploration for more oil and gas by private companies like Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell. Most of the coal reserves are in developing nations such as China, which increasingly recognizes the very serious damage that coal use entails and is looking for alternatives modes of development. So this leaves us with the investor-owned companies seeking new reserves, and it means that we must find a way to convince – or prevent – these companies from continued exploration."
None of us, not even James Hansen disputes this, maybe there might be some nuances here and there that aren't precise. So what is it that we should be defending here?
Also you seem to omit the seriousness of Ocean Acidification. Rising temperatures are a serious problem, it will lead to diminishing water supplies and famine. Ocean Acidification however will lead to mass-extinction. Do you have your priorities set right? Are you denying that Ocean Acidification is a serious threat to life on Earth? Do you know what causes it? Have you ever heard of the Permian Mass Extinction?
See what I did there, professor?
"So far no one has proposed a plan to do that, and we probably won’t get very far if the alternatives to fossil fuel – such as renewable energy – are disparaged by a new generation of myths. If we want to see real solutions implemented, we need to be on the lookout for this new form of denial."
What myths, could you point them out please? The only myth being perpetuated here is that money is the arbiter of what is possible or not (see jacobsen's article, cited by yourself). These so-called "high quality" articles have a truckload of vital omissions, omissions that disprove the 100% renewable future hypotheses. And that's something you, as a History of Science Professor, should acknowledge. Otherwise I will start doubting your credentials and expertise on said matter.
"There have been important signs of late of cracks in the Republican rejection of climate science, as some party leaders have signaled their willingness to consider carbon pricing. Still, as new forms of denialism continue to emerge [again a misuse of the word denialism, again the use of a strawman], it is hard to imagine federal implementation of a climate plan any time soon, much less the sort of ambitious plan that would help keep the world below the 1.5-2C (2.7-3.6F) level of warming, per the Paris agreement."
This is something I agree with, first of all the influence of the fossil fuel companies will remain a factor. They are all too happy with (watch it, ad hominem ahead) renewable-crusaders like you, Jacobsen and the suchlike. Why? Because they know that renewable energy is a non-significant technology. It will not be able to satiate a demand of 250.000 TWh annually by the 2040's. Not even a marginal part of it.
"When President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, many critics of the decision (and even some supporters) said it was merely symbolic. Symbols matter – so even if it were, that would not necessarily be bad. But rejecting XL was a crucial step in the direction of rejecting new commitments to fossil fuel infrastructure."
I am an avid opponent of the use of fossil fuels, but have you ever considered the risks of transporting oil via train-tracks? As a professor you sure seem to lack a reasonable frame of mind.
The only way to stop the scourge of fossil fuels i.e. the deadly combustion economy, is to embrace the heavy hitters that able to deliver the punch required to set this industry in decline. Remember that 90+% of the world's energy consumption comes from burning fossil fuels. And that less than 1% of all the energy consumed comes from renewable energy sources (omitting hydro and nuclear).
"The key to decarbonizing our economy is to build a new energy system that does not rely on carbon-based fuels. Scientific studies show that that can be done, it can be done soon and it does not require nuclear power."
Here you are wrong. You are grossly overestimating the potentiality of renewable energies, and underestimating the work and materials required to build this "new energy system". Last time I checked it required 22 to 36 times more materials to get build as Nuclear Power Plants would require. And that is from the Generation II and Generation III standpoint.
Let's do some simple divisions shall we?
250.000 TWh / 1.75 TWh = 143.000 (1GW Solar Farms or 4.000.000 solar panels) That's 572.000.000.000 250 Watt Panels (572 BILLION, each 25 years).
250.000 TWh / 2.63TWh = 95.000 (1GW Wind Farms or 400 wind turbines) That's 38 Million Wind Turbines
Consider the KG/TWh capacity requirements as stated in the link below.
These are absurd numbers, and yet they are very real. Our challenge isn't 100.000 TWh, it isn't 150.000 not 200.000 TWh. It's 250.000 TWh. Full decarbonisation is only possible with full electrification. Hence I will submit to you that excluding nuclear energy as a significant part of the solution to our energy problems, is tantamount to crippling yourself before you get into the ring against a prize-fighter of great stature.
Also consider the impeding dawn of Generation IV reactors, which are on the verge of getting built.
Also you are omitting the progress made in the world of nuclear fusion. Suppose nuclear fusion would become a feasible reality, would you still keep pushing "your" renewable agenda? If you say yes, I will tell you that you are an immoral human being for perpetuating the denudation of our earth, and the implementation of non-solutions to viable threats such as Ocean Acidification, Diminishing water supplies, dying vegetation and eventually sea-level rise (Will we even witness it?)
If your the as credible touted articles / studies is Jacobsen's study, you've already been proven wrong, and I've done my own research to back it up :
All you need to make these points is a connection to the internet, a high-school Physics and Mathematics book and common sense. I doubt whether you have ever seriously investigated Jacobsen's article and have done the math yourself.
In conclusion Naomi has called James Hansen et al. Climate Deniers, or at least people who are peddling Climate Denialism, she has cited fallible articles that hypothesize the impossible and touted them as "high quality articles". I have mirrored this stance and accuse her of misinforming the public and playing a dangerous game of denial and cherry picking herself.
But as all things go, you'll probably dig in deeper, and keep peddling this bullshit, this is as unscientific as it gets and makes me doubt academia seriously.