Climate Realism and Socialist Realism

Louis Fischer, born in 1896 in Philadelphia, was a journalist who became a supporter and believer in the Soviet Union and world communism. He lived in Moscow for many years. In an essay in The God That Failed Fischer describes how in the middle 1930's the Soviets ordered all writers to "treat the present as though it did not exist and the future as if it had already arrived." That became known as Socialist Realism. Russian workers who lived in poverty and shared a single room with other families were depicted as well fed, smiling and happy. That was the communist depiction of the future, a future that never arrived.

Socialist Realism was promotion of fantasy for political reasons. The present did not live up to the enthusiastic promises and predictions that accompanied the founding of the communist state. Rather than admit error, the supporters constructed a mental fantasy world. The promises would still come true, but they would be delayed for understandable reasons. In the meantime they pretended the promises had already come true.



The U.S. Department of Energy has a plan to reduce the cost of solar power by a factor of 4 by 2020 with the hope that solar would increase from .05% of our power to 14% by 2030. The motivation is, of course, to reduce emissions of CO2. This is Climate Realism, very similar to Socialist Realism. Not only does solar power, at the plant gate, cost 4-8 times as much as conventional power, but it is erratic and seasonal to say nothing of not working at night. It also needs to be placed in the southwest where there is a lot of sunshine. This leads to needing storage of electricity, or perhaps storage of heat for certain types of solar. The only practical and efficient way of storing electricity is pumped storage, or two lakes at very different altitudes with a reversible hydroelectric plant connecting them. Then you need extra long, very high voltage power lines to bring the electricity from the southwest deserts to the cloudy cities of the Midwest and East. The Department of Energy is spinning a fantasy. Most of the cost of solar power is in pedestrian things like steel and concrete. Even if the cost of photovoltaic panels were zero, solar would not be remotely competitive. If complete solar plants cost zero, it would still not be practicable due to the cost of backup plants, electricity storage and long power lines.

The next part of the fantasy is electric cars. Electric cars are impracticable because batteries cost too much, take too long to charge, wear out too quickly, and weigh too much for the amount of electricity they can hold. Electric cars are desired because they can replace fossil fuel with electricity from solar and wind -- no CO2 emissions! The Nissan Leaf is a semi-practical electric car. It costs $35,000, the battery takes 12 hours to recharge and it can go about 60-80 miles before running out of electricity. The battery weighs about 600 pounds and provides about as much driving range as 10 pounds of gasoline. The battery loses capacity over time depending on how the car is driven. For $100 a month Nissan has a program that provides replacement batteries as needed. For that amount of money you could buy enough gasoline to drive 10,000 or 15,000 miles a year. Plug-in hybrid cars, like the Chevy Volt, are electric cars with a battery good for about 30 miles and a backup gasoline or diesel engine to take over when the battery runs out of juice. Hybrid cars are cars with a small battery, good for about 1 mile, that recycles energy otherwise lost to braking, resulting in better fuel economy. Hybrid cars are actually practical, unlike their big battery brothers. The government subsidizes electric cars and forces manufacturers to offer them by various quotas.

As an exercise in Climate Realism, government is sponsoring a 5-5-5 project at the Argonne National Lab near Chicago for $120 million. The objective is to produce a battery 5 times cheaper with 5 times the energy density in 5 years. It should be the 5-5-5-5 plan, the last 5 being a 5-minute recharge. This is strongly reminiscent of Soviet 5 year plans. In the unlikely event that this fantasy succeeds, the scientists should be awarded not just a Nobel Prize. They should be given the entire corpus of the Nobel estate.

I attended a global warming expo in Miami where a knowledgeable professor assured me that work was under way at MIT to produce huge battery breakthroughs, based on nanotechnology, in 18 months. That was about 6 years ago.

I hesitate to even mention the next fantasy. I'm not sure that the global warming people are even serious about it. It may just be a diversion to fool the coal industry into thinking that they are not on death row. I speak of carbon sequestration. The idea is that the CO2 coming from the smokestack of a coal electric generating plant will be captured, cooled, compressed, and pumped into porous underground formations where it will be sequestered forever. The power required is on the order of 20% of the plant's output. Either the plant has to be fed with pure oxygen or the CO2 has to be separated from the nitrogen in the smokestack. Nitrogen is too incompressible to sequester along with the CO2. Most of the stack gases are nitrogen from the combustion air. If this is not enough to kill coal, then consider that if one of the injection wells starts leaking, it could dump enough CO2 into the local air to suffocate entire towns, something that has actually happened in Africa when lakes suddenly released large amounts of CO2. Nevertheless, the Department of Energy has a large carbon sequestration program.

A very obvious fantasy is the idea that if we, the United States, reduce emissions of CO2 it will accomplish something. Even if you believe in global warming it is hard to see how you could believe in this fantasy. The problem is that even if we were reduce our emissions to zero the effect would be minimal because China, India, and many other countries are rapidly increasing their emissions, thereby negating all our earnest efforts. Our CO2 emissions are 5.6 billion metric tons per year, 18% of the total, but Asia and Oceania generate 14.2 billion tons and their emissions are rapidly growing. Ours will be shrinking due to increased use of natural gas. If we cut our emissions greatly it will severely damage the economy and have no important effect on climate according the warmers own theories. When I mention this to believers in global warming they usually say we should set a good example for the Chinese. Maybe we can shame them into following our instructions on fighting global warming.

According to the preachers of global warming, the science behind predictions of climate doom is solid and settled. But, the supposed source of authoritative climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does not even make predictions. They craftily make projections. A prediction is a statement about what you think will happen in the future. A projection is what is spit out of a computer model when you input guesses about future emissions. And, get this; the different computer models disagree with each other about those projections, by a lot. The IPCC fixes this by simply taking an average of the projections of the many computer models. They are breaking new ground in mathematical statistics, an opinion poll of computers. This is called a multi-model ensemble (that's French) and it is dressed up in a lot of fancy mathematics.

I've barely scratched the surface of global warming fantasy. Unfortunately the human mind easily become fixated on an idea, and once fixated, evidence and facts have little or no effect. You need social pressure or outright brainwashing to clear out the cobwebs.

Norman Rogers is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Heartland Institute, a Midwest think tank. He maintains a website.