03 August 2010

A Recent Talk of Mine

[UPDATE 8/4: Jack O. contacts me by email to notify me of a factual error in the talk.  I misspoke when I said that a $1 tax per barrel of oil would raise $100 billion.  A $1 tax would raise about $30 billion.  The tax needed to raise $100 billion is closer to $3/barrel, and this refers to global production.  The value is $5 per barrel if the tax is limited to OECD countries.  I often use $30 billion and $100 billion as order of magnitude examples for investment in innovation because the former is about what the US public invests in medical R&D and the latter in defense R&D.  There are no implications for my arguments.  Thanks!]

I gave the keynote talk at the 8th Environmental Policy Conference of the Washington Policy Center last week in Seattle. The talk is now up on the website of Washington State public affairs television. It was a 30 minute talk, so I hit highlights, rather than present a detailed academic lecture (I give those also). Anyway, have a look, I welcome your feedback. The talk starts at 17:30 in the video above.


  1. The 'Uniform of the Day' in Seattle in summer is shorts,t-shirt,sandals. You appeared a 'bit' overdressed :)

    Article in August 2010 issue of Energy by Tadeusz W. Patzek of University of Austin Dept.

    Peak Coal in 2011.

    If correct it invalidates 36 of 40 IPCC emissions scenarios.

  2. Interesting that this organisation is proud of being described as "The Heritage Foundation of the Northwest."

    It was a very professional presentation all round, but I stopped when I heard the name 'Mike Hulme'. Scientists are entitled to believe whatever they like, but their values should play absolutely no part in their science. That is why we are in such a mess. Too many science phds who think they should be running the world.

    Post normal science should be in the domain of a democratically accountable system. Clearly stating any uncertainty is all that is required. That is the current system. Politicians make decisions and guage the public mood.

  3. Great speech. You made very clear the task coming ahead wether or not one believes in catastrophic climate change. I guess that your solid argument make you a very dangerous man to those who wish to see get rich quick scam like cap and trade implemented.

  4. I enjoyed your common sense talk. I have held similar views for quite some time.

    a) We need to invest in clean energy like LFTR, the "green" nuclear.

    b) "Cheaper than coal" LFTR will replace coal based electricity generation.

    c) We can gradually replace oil over time with PHEV and carbon neutral synfuels.

    Entirely doable. Politically, economically, technologically, doable. Who stands in the way? Coal and uranium based nuclear interests.


  5. Roger:
    This was an excellent presentation. I have been a consultant for 30 years and the first step in any engagement is to define and size the problem. You presentation did exactly that and essentially grounds the subsequent debate in the realities of the situation.
    Alas many of those who argue for decarbonization by fiat or for renewable energy have no real sense of the size of the problem that they believe they are addressing. However, I am not sure the problem as stated needs more innovation as much as the rapid adoption of existing energy technologies, most notably nuclear. Historically, rapid market driven innovation follows any significant expansion of demand.

  6. I've cursed your name from one side of the room to the other in the past, Roger, but I recognise now that the problem I've had has been my own failure to understand, in even remotely sufficient detail, your perspective.

    Your speech was enlightening, invigorating and - in the great scheme of all things climate-related - refreshingly rational. A great presentation, thank you.

  7. I clicked, I listened, I understood! So, how do we get this debate and decision-making out of the hands of the IPCC-niks and into the hands of those who can engage in rational discussion - and action?!

  8. Prof. Pielke,

    I'm curious if you could find out what the efficiency in Québec is, since 97-98% of our electricity comes from hydro (almost all of it) wind and nuclear. We have, I think, only one gas power plant.

    Of course, we are lucky to have access to hydro which is not available everywhere.

  9. An excellent talk. It gives a sense of proportion to the current debate. Living in the UK, I can see the lack of focus on achieving the goal of an 80% reduction by 2050. There are plenty of initiatives, but in total they fall far short of providing for short-term energy demands, let alone replacing the existing technologies. Furthermore, the replacement energy supplies will be hugely more expensive. Wind power is to get a subsidy more than twice what I pay for my domestic electricity and solar power four times. Your point about giving access to the world’s poor to electricity is important. These 1.5 billion people probably have life expectancies 20 years less than in the USA or Japan.
    I am, however, a bit concerned about the way you wish to fund research into carbon-free forms of energy. There are many possible approaches, and the big solution, if there is one, may not be the most obvious now, or even thought about yet. Public funding will tend to be directed at those that are popular and where most expertise in located. It will not be easy to cut funds to those areas which are not fruitful, so much money will be wasted on blind alleys. Electric cars may be one such area. Rather much of the decarbonisation may come from smaller innovations. Therefore developing a model for research is important. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation may have some ideas that may be built upon in this respect.