A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Why Life in the 21st Century Will Be Nasty, Brutish, and Short

While some global whiners are predicting death, disease and reckless fish, an ominous array of other forces are gathering. The time of plenty, peace and abundance could be coming to an end. I’ve finally had a chance to look at David Archibald’s hot new book, and it’s a book that needs to be discussed. It’s the debate we ought to be having. (I’ll be referring to it again on this blog).

In the West we have rarely had it so good: since World War II things have been relatively peaceful; the sun reached a once-in-8000-year global maximum, keeping us warm; the big easy oil fields were tapped, gifting  us the cheapest energy in human history; and the most obvious gains in agriculture meant food supply increased even faster than populations grew.  David Archibald paints a provocative argument of a world where a cooling sun means grain supply can’t keep pace with demand, oil production starts to slide and forces of unrest in the mid East collapse to chaos while those in the far East rise ascendant.

David Archibald writes:

Who are those four horsemen?  A severe, solar-driven cooling is one.  Over the next twenty to thirty years, we are [...]

Solar Panel subsidies: A billion dollars to provide cheap electricity to wealthy households

A billion dollars that could have been used for housing, schools, hospitals and health programs was drawn into solar subsidies to provide electricity that could have been produced in far cheaper ways.

There is no sunnier first world country than Australia. If solar was going to be a raging success anywhere, surely it would be in the land of the Sunburnt Country. Instead the Australian government has poured in more than a billion dollars to install solar panels on the roof tops of private homes.  It’s a text book case of misdirected spending.

In the end the government drew money from the population-at-large to help Chinese solar panel manufacturers, and to provide “cheap” electricity to 107,000 households in mostly medium-high wealth areas. It reduced Australia’s emissions by a piddling 0.015 per cent, at an exorbitant carbon price of $300/ton.

Solar power is clearly not viable yet. So that billion dollars could have been spent on research to make solar power economic (in which case no subsidies would be needed). It could have made us world leaders with a product to patent and sell (or it might not). Instead governments of both major parties chose to pour a billion [...]

Australia can meet it’s 2020 targets with just 35 nuclear power plants or 8000 solar ones!

Roger Pielke, Jr. has looked closely at Australia’s ETS targets and helpfully put some numbers into the hypotheticals.

With all their subsidies, goodwill and fervent wishes, solar, wind, and geothermal produce just 3% of our energy needs. Fossil fuels produce a whopper 94%.   And “energy” on these grand continental scales is measured in quadrillion BTUs which is known as “one quad”. Australians use about 5 quads / year, and to make that we pump out about 400 Mt of carbon dioxide per year. (These kind of big-picture numbers are often hard to find, so I wanted to capture that to keep things in perspective.)

Population growth is a big factor in Australia [...]