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Response to Forbes: Stop Inaccuracies—100% Renewable Energy Is Possible
This is a response to James Conca's article in Forbes on June 26, "Debunking the Unscientific Fantasy of 100% Renewables."
Conca's article describes a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Chris Clack and coauthors on June 19, criticizing a paper colleagues and I authored in the same journal in 2015. Our original paper showed that the U.S. can transition to 100% clean, renewable energy in all energy sectors without coal, nuclear power or biofuels. In this response, I show that Conca was negligent by not reporting on our response in PNAS and by seriously misrepresenting facts.
Conca's article starts with two misrepresentations. First, Conca points to the Clack critique in PNAS but nowhere does he mention that PNAS published our response to Clack equally and simultaneously. In fact, PNAS gave us the last words by not allowing Clack to respond to us. Our main conclusion, which PNAS published, was "The premise and all error claims by Clack et al. about Jacobson et al. are demonstrably false. We reaffirm Jacobson et al.'s conclusions." Conca did not report this.
Second, Conca states in the first sentence that "twenty-one prominent scientists issued a sharp critique," but fails to point out that Clack and coauthors' own disclosure published in their paper indicates that only three out of 21 coauthors performed any type of research for the article. The remaining 18 did no research whatsoever, merely contributing to writing the paper. Of the three authors who did perform research, one has admitted publicly, "I am not an energy expert" (see 15 minutes and 32 seconds into this UCLA debate. In the meantime, our 100% clean, renewable energy peer-reviewed papers have collectively had more than 85 researcher-coauthors and more than 35 anonymous peer reviewers.
Third, as pointed out in our published response, there were zero mathematical modeling errors in our underlying model as claimed by Clack. This clarifies an inaccurate quote Conca attributes to me, "…there is not a single error in our paper." Not only did Conca never interview me to obtain such a quote, but the misquote is wrong on its face, since we acknowledge in our PNAS response (which Conca does not cite) our failure to be clear in our paper about one particular assumption and our neglect of one cost. However, while we were not clear in our original paper, there was no underlying model error, contradicting Clack's major contention in his paper.
Specifically, in one instance, Clack falsely claimed we had a model error because he believed that a number in a table of ours was a maximum value when, in fact, the text clearly indicated that the number was an annual average number that varied in time, not a maximum number. Nowhere in the text was the word "maximum" used to describe that number. Thus, Clack made up out of thin air the claim that the number was a maximum. Clack and all coauthors were informed their claim was an error through a document sent to him by us through PNAS prior to publication of their article but still refused to correct it. One must wonder what the motivation is of authors who are informed of an error yet refuse to correct it.
Conca's article repeats another one of Clack's false claims. Namely, the claim that our goal of using 100% clean, renewable energy will increase costs if we exclude nuclear power and coal with carbon capture, stating that our doing so is "at complete odds with serious analyses and assessments, including those performed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the International Energy Agency and most of academia."
However, as stated in our PNAS-published response to Clack that Conca negligently fails to cite, the IPCC says the exact opposite: "Without support from governments, investments in new nuclear power plants are currently generally not economically attractive within liberalized markets, ..." Further, unlike in our studies, neither the IPCC, NOAA, NREL, nor the IEA has ever performed or reviewed a cost analysis of grid stability with near 100% clean, renewable energy so could not possibly have come to the conclusion claimed by Conca.
Conca, then makes a misleading and irrelevant statement. He says that we "assume a nuclear war every 30 years or so." The PNAS study he is criticizing says nothing of the sort. He fails to tell readers he is referring to a completely different paper that I wrote from 2009 that estimated the upper-limit risk of nuclear war from nuclear weapons proliferation. However, just like he negligently failed to report our response published in PNAS, Conca failed to report the lower-limit risk of nuclear war as stated in the 2009 paper, zero nuclear wars. Why would he report only the upper-limit of a risk rather than both the upper and lower-limit risks?
Conca then claims we assumed 15 million acres covered by wind and solar, which is wrong, but even if it were correct, he doesn't realize this is only 0.66% of U.S. land area to replace all fossil fuels. He forgets that the 1.7 million active and 2.3 million inactive oil and gas wells alone in the U.S. plus the 20,000 new ones each year occupy more than 1% of U.S. land area for the roads, well pads, and storage facilities.
Conca then falsely claims we proposed to add new hydroelectric installations equivalent to 600 Hoover dams when our paper clearly calls for zero new dams. We propose only to increase the hydropower maximum discharge rate by adding turbines without increasing the annual hydropower energy output (thus no change in the annual amount of water in any reservoir). The concept of adding turbines to the outside of existing hydropower dams to increase the maximum discharge rate while keeping annual hydropower energy constant was a new idea that works. The legitimate question is, what is the maximum discharge rate that is practical relative to other options by 2050, not whether it is possible to increase the discharge rate.
Regardless, an alternate solution to increasing the hydropower discharge rate is to increase the discharge rate of concentrated solar power (CSP) and/or adding batteries. Both methods results in low-cost solutions as illustrated for the United States and Canada here. These results contradict Clack's premise that our nation's energy can't run 100% on wind, water and solar power alone at low cost.
Conca further criticizes underground storage in rocks, but it is inexpensive (less than 1/300th the cost per unit energy stored than batteries) and a form of district heat. Sixty percent of Denmark's heat is from district heating.
In sum, debate about our energy future can be constructive and is certainly encouraged. But inaccurate statements about scientific work and amplifications of those inaccuracies help no one. Had Conca read our PNAS response at all, he would not have made the errors he did. However, my colleagues and I are always seeking to improve our methods and calculations. Our goals are to better the quality of life of everyone by determining the best ways to provide clean, renewable, and reliable energy while creating jobs and improving people's health and reducing costs. Hopefully others share these goals, regardless of political party affiliation.
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2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
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A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
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Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.