“The current rush for large scale onshore wind developments, connected by a hugely centralized grid system, shows a poverty of imagination and thinking rooted in the early 20th Century. If attention continues to be focused on increasing renewable energy targets, without any requirement to demonstrate what each development will achieve in greenhouse gas emissions reductions (including all aspects of the generation and transmission), we face a possible worst case scenario, where we achieve renewable energy targets through inappropriate developments and at great cost to important environments — only to discover that our greenhouse gas emissions are up, along with our energy consumption, and our energy supply is not secure.”
– The John Muir Trust, at http://www.jmt.org/what-we-think.asp
As a physicist and environmental advocate, I have been asked to elaborate a bit on my position regarding the Global Warming Theory (GWT), and how it relates to wind energy. This is a very legitimate — and important — question.
Although I am not a climatologist, as a scientist I know how to do objective research. As such I have read some hundred reports and studies on the climate issue. True scientists also have a healthy degree of skepticism.
After digesting these studies and reports is very clear to me that GWT is still a scientifically unresolved matter.
An important point is that Climate Change is not the same as the GWT. There IS universal scientific consensus that we have experienced some recent Climate Change, so that is not the issue.
The crux of the matter is: what is the cause of these Climate Changes?
The “Global Warming Theory” is one possible explanation of Climate Change. The basic premise behind this hypothesis is that Climate Change is man-made (anthropological), primarily due to introducing an increase in CO2, etc. into the atmosphere through activities like burning fossil fuels. To be sure, there are good, credible people with sound scientific evidence to support this theory.
But the fact is that there are three BIG problems with this hypothesis:
1 – There is considerable scientific evidence that contradicts the assumptions and conclusions of this theory. Unfortunately, the main proponents of the GWT have not been able to provide credible scientific explanations for these contradictions. This seriously undermines the validity of their position.
Worse, when contradicting scientific evidence is put forward, the presenters are often characterized as “non-believers,” “deniers,” or worse — and are then excluded from the process (e.g. Kyoto). Allow me to repeat: sound science is based on skepticism, so all differing views should be welcomed. The nature of the GWT proponents response to other scientists’ differing conclusions gives their theory a bad name — and makes it sound more like a religion.
2 – The GWT is entirely built upon computer modeling projections. This is based on an underlying assumption that complex scenarios (future climate, wind power performance, financial derivatives) can be accurately reduced to a collection of ones and zero. Why do we believe this unproven and highly speculative assumption? Because we’d like to be able to predict the future.
The fact is that there is ample evidence that says that accurate modeling of such complex matters is impossible — yet we forge on, ignoring this reality.
3 – There are other theories that have been put forth by very qualified scientists, and these alternative explanations are also supported by significant scientific data. These other theories also have their weak points, but the fact is that they do explain some facets of the Climate Change situation better than the GWT does.
So to me, this is not yet a scientifically resolved matter. The jury is still out. We all need to keep an open mind about this issue, and try to work together to work it out in a civilized, objective scientific manner.
And Back to Windpower
How does this relate to wind power? Well, let’s look at the two extremes:
1 – If you were a strong advocate of the GWT, you would also accept the dire imminent consequences postulated by its lead proponents (e.g. Hansen, Gore, Romm). As such you would be very committed to taking measures that were sure to result in a large reduction of CO2, in short order. But all independent scientific evidence to date says that wind power only makes a trivial reduction of CO2 — and well into the future at that. As such you would be against wind energy as an inefficient use of time and money!
2 – If, on the other hand, you believe that the Global Warming Theory is total bunk, then you would not be a believer in the concept that man-made CO2 is causing us problems. Since the main reason for wind power’s existence is its promise to meaningfully reduce CO2, that would be of little value to you. As such you would be against wind energy as a waste of time and money.
So it seems to me that no matter which side of the Global Warming debate you fall on, wind energy is not the answer.
Then there are those who say something like: “but we need to be cautious here, and prepare for the worst.” On the surface that seems to have some merit, but exactly what does being cautious mean — and what is its cost?
Let’s look at an example that might put it into perspective. In the U.S. there are some 42,000 people killed each year in motor vehicle accidents. It is an indisputable fact that slower speeds significantly reduce such fatalities — so lowering all highway speed limits to 30 MPH would save many THOUSANDS of lives annually? So why isn’t Greenpeace & UCS clamoring for this?
Clearly there would be MANY other SIGNIFICANT negative consequences for this “cautious” response. So, similarly, before we make an equally radical change to our electrical grid system just to be “cautious,” we ought to be fully aware of ALL of the consequences — almost all of which will be bad.
Lastly, there are those who insist we must do something — anything! Indeed we should not continue on with business as usual, as we have serious energy and environmental issues. But these people confuse activity with accomplishment. We need to take measures that have conservatively calculated good cost-benefits!
My message is simple: “Scientifically Sound Solutions–Not Palliative Political Pablum”