Why not reconsider nuclear power?
Former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.’s contention that we have a human-caused global warming “climate crisis” is not based on settled science (“Next crisis calls for action,” June 24). The earth has warmed a degree or two since the Little Ice Age ended about 1800, but the warming is no greater than the natural warming during the Roman Empire period and in the later Medieval Warm Period, when the Vikings were growing barley and wine grapes in Greenland.
Carbon dioxide (CO2), of which we humans produce about 30 billion tons per year when we burn fossil fuels, remains a trivial 0.04 percent of the atmosphere. Water vapor has several times the warming influence as a greenhouse gas. The element carbon is the black stuff in soot. Carbon dioxide is an invisible, nontoxic gas that we inhale and exhale with every breath. It makes bubbles in carbonated beverages and is essential for plant growth, and it does not cause asthma or other lung ailments.
We humans are engaged in a great environmental experiment, as we burn millions of years’ worth of stored hydrocarbon fuels, releasing CO2 to the atmosphere from which it came at a thousand times nature’s carbon storage rate. The risks from this are uncertain, but given the concerns raised by Paulson and others, they are not worth taking. I would feel better if I heard more about measures like using new, safer nuclear plants, such as the Westinghouse AP 1000. That plant and Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island nuclear facility each produce about 8 billion round-the-clock kilowatt hours per year, without emitting any CO2.
Paulson makes a rational suggestion for carbon taxes. But our legislators even have trouble raising taxes when we send our youth to war. There is little chance of getting any new tax when polls show public disinterest in global warming.
The writer teaches classes on energy as a guest faculty member in the University of Minnesota’s lifelong learning program.