Discover more from Energy Talking Points by Alex Epstein
Bryan Caplan teaches Fossil Future — Part 1
Audio and transcript of economist Bryan Caplan's lecture on energy and environmental policy, focusing on my book Fossil Future
Economist and George Mason University Professor Bryan Caplan has been one of the most prolific promoters of my book Fossil Future—see “Read Fossil Future,” “Alex Epstein’s Steelmen,” “Let’s Audit Alex Epstein,” and “Fossil Future: The Epstein/Caplan/Hanson Conversation.” And last semester, Bryan taught Fossil Future in two lectures of his economics and public policy class.
I am very grateful that Bryan recorded these lectures, because they are awesome. Bryan is a great teacher, and he comes up with many new ways of explaining the ideas in Fossil Future. I think many of my readers will enjoying hearing/reading many of my ideas from a new perspective, with new examples.
Here is the audio of Bryan’s first lecture, followed by a transcript. (I have added footnotes where I thought a factual clarification would be beneficial.)
All right, class. We are continuing with our last topic. This is energy and environmental policy, heavily influenced by that assigned book, Fossil Future by Alex Epstein. Everyone's got the book, right? You ordered the book. You're supposed to have the book. Very well. So just to remind you, we've got today, we have Thursday, Tuesday is the last day of class, and then the final exam will be a week from Thursday. Everyone's clear about that? Good? Okay. All right. Unfortunately, the author lives in California, and so he is not going to wake up at six in the morning to talk to us. I thought he would, but he won't. But that does leave some extra time on Tuesday just to review everything that we have done, to take questions, so that's how we will finish things out.
All right, so just to back up. Starting with energy, why we need it, and where we get it. Reminder, human energy is very weak. We are very weak creatures. Horses have large advantages over us, oxen. There are a lot of animals that are much better at doing work than we are. All we've got is our superior brains, but if you need to carry luggage, that isn't that helpful. Have you ever had two big bags of luggage and said, “Well, I'm so smart this will be easy.” Actually, it is not very easy. You can be a genius, you can be Albert Einstein, and still, if you have two 60-pound suitcases to carry, it's very difficult.
All right, so human labor power is pathetically weak, and it doesn't matter how many Calories you get. You could give Albert Einstein the largest meal of his entire life and say, “Now, carry two 60-pound bags for 20 miles,” and he would still not be good at it at all. It would be extremely difficult for him. You can have unlimited Calories. The human machine is such a bad machine for converting Calories into work that you'll barely accomplish anything. All right, so the amount of work that your unaided body can accomplish in a day is very small.
Fortunately, human beings do have our superior intellect. And what does our superior intellect tell us? Let's let somebody else do the work. Let's let somebody else. Well, the other humans, they've got the same problem, they're also pathetically weak. If you have a lot of them, then they can work together. Have you ever seen an old movie? See, this was common in ancient China. There's the sedan chair where one rich person sits in a chair. I'll actually demonstrate. One rich person sits in a chair and then eight people there are sticks. Have you seen this in old movies? There's sticks here, sticks there, and then eight people carry me around. I might even get to have a tent over my head so I can sit there. Okay, this is great. I don't have to walk.
But that takes eight human beings. It's not a very good system. Really, besides being super rich, the only reason you would do that is if the roads are just terrible so a horse can't do it. If you need to go upstairs, a horse isn't going to work. The sedan chair could work. You know this word sedan chair? All right, let me find this in Chinese. I want you to see this. Yes, my English. Okay.
That's where you type in the English parts.
What's that? Got there. All right, that's actually a pretty simple character. It's just two characters. All right, so does that make sense? You know what I'm talking about? All right, so that's what human beings would do in an earlier period, then you do use some human beings to do this job, but you can see why it's not a very good system. You need eight humans to carry one person around, one fat, lazy person. Maybe you need more people if they're really fat.
Okay, anyway, so human beings, not a very great alternative, so what else can we do? How about animals? Animals seem like a good one. All right. We'll get horses or in the Americas, we'll get llamas. Ancient Indians use llamas and you've got donkeys, mules, oxen. Oxen, something else that have been used. Other things the people used in the pre-modern period, wood. Wood is an extremely good way of getting work done. The amount of heat a human can make just by going and doing this, rubbing their hands together, almost nothing, right? You get something, better than nothing. Imagine this is your job, this is doing this all day. So not a good job, right? But you figure out fire and wood, and then you've got something that can melt iron. And you actually can do it that way.
All right, so using wood. You can also use wood for things like cutting down trees. You want to cut down a tree? You start a fire at the base of the tree, you burn it enough and then it just falls over. Anyone see the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away? All right, yes. It's a great movie. You gotta see this movie. All right, yes, he's alone on an island. First thing is he figures out how to make fire without matches. He's got no matches, no lighter. How do you do it? Well, there's rubbing two sticks together, that really doesn't work. He has to do a lot of work to find out how do you actually do this? So if you watch the movie, you see he keeps trying to improve, then finally figures out, “All right, here's how I do it.” And then he uses that fire to make trees fall down, and eventually, he can turn it into a raft so he can escape the island.
And then dung, which you get mostly from domestic animals. You can burn that stuff. You dry it, you burn it. It's not a great fuel source but it can be used. There are places on Earth where they have almost no wood, like Iceland. Iceland, human beings were there, I think, basically, no trees will grow there. Or if you look at the Indians that were living in Canada. If you get far enough north in North America, there's no wood. So then what do you do? They actually would go and burn the fat from seals or walruses. So you get a very fatty animal and then you get their fat and you burn that, so you can do that too.
Anyway, this was human history for thousands of years. We're just using our terrible human labor plus domestic animals, wood, dung. And then a few centuries ago, people started to find better stuff. The first really better thing they found in large quantities was coal. Coal is a lot better than wood, it's a much denser energy source. The odor is a lot less bad too. It's bad, but it's not as bad as trying to burn wood, so they got coal. This is what is the main fuel for the early Industrial Revolution. England's got a lot of coal, they start mining coal and they use it to go and power factories. They use it for steam engines. In principle, you could use wood for a steam engine too, but coal's a lot better than wood.
The amount of wood you need to power that steam engine is a lot. Coal, much smaller volume of fuel. So human beings used coal to go and power the Industrial Revolution and that works for a long time. Let's see. Have I got the diagram in here? Yes, yes. Here it is. This is a diagram from the book. This shows where human beings have been getting their energy over the past 200 years. You start off in 1800, and basically in 1800... which is averaging over all the human race. By 1800, there were a few places like England where they're starting to use coal. But it's such a tiny country, you barely see it. It's just a tiny little sliver of black, which is coal. But up until that time still, 99% of energy is coming from traditional primitive energy sources. Actually, I'm not sure whether they're counting animals in that bio. I think that might just be wood and dung.
Anyway, if you pay attention here, if you take out a magnifying glass, you start to see a little bit of black, a little bit. And then by 1850, it's a noticeable tiny share of coal that is taking over from bio for humanity. And take a look, it grows and grows and grows and grows. By 1900, it's about half coal, half traditional stuff for humanity. Of course, in the most industrialized countries, this means that coal is almost everything. So in England, Germany, United States by this time, coal is going to be the main thing. And then the rest of the world is still almost totally on traditional fuel. So China at this time is still going to be very little coal, people will be getting heat and other… from wood, from dung. All right, so that is what we've got for a while. We've got coal.
And then, after that what have we got? Oil. Oil, which turns out to be a really effective, extremely dense energy source. Although, as we're going to see, it takes a long time for this to happen. And then we've got natural gas, which you use for cooking, for example, but it's got a lot of other uses. And then the ultimate power, nuclear energy. Nuclear energy, just the tiniest bit of uranium contains an incredible amount of energy. So in China, you've got a lot of nuclear plants. And even there, usually nuclear plants only at very low energy efficiency. But actually, get a system for capturing all the energy released, it's almost beyond imagination. We'll get to that I think.
All right, so then we use energy for four main purposes. At first there's electricity. A lot of times people think of electricity as the only thing we need energy for. So you see the plugs over there, right? See the plugs in the corner? That's electricity. But it turns out that is actually only a modest minority of our energy needs, because we've also got transportation. Can you plug a car into that and drive it around? You cannot. You can plug it in and then charge it and then unplug it. That requires a battery. Does anyone here have an electric car? All right. For now, they are still not very good.
I've got a rich friend in Texas who lets his friends drive his electric cars when they're there. He has a whole fleet of electric cars. “Just take one, here you go. Take two, that's great.” But it really only works if you want to drive around the city and then go back to his house and charge the car. There was one day actually when I was borrowing the car, and then his girlfriend had used the car and they're like, “Uh-oh, I'm down to 50 miles.” And what happened is I drove to where I was and guess what? The maximum mileage, the maximum range of the car was overstated. And so by the time I was near my friend's house, I was down to 10 miles left. So I pick up my friend and then, okay, we got to immediately get to a charging station.
I had never charged the car anywhere except for my friend's house. And so I go to the first charging station like, “Oh, this car doesn't work at this station. The plugs are wrong.” And then I go… I'm getting very nervous, like, “Oh no. Now I'm down to like three miles. All right, how can I get to the next place?” I get to the next place, and get there, the plugs are wrong there too. What do I do? The app said I could do it here for sure. I found a guy at the station, “Oh, you have to drive around to the other side of the mall, that's where the Teslas can be charged.” So I managed to get over there and plug it in and then charged it for two hours. But even at the end, I only had enough electricity to get back.
So in general, for transportation, we still do not use electricity. It is highly ineffective for now. It can be useful for some purposes, but still not that great. Instead, normally what do you use for transportation? What's the main thing we use for powering cars still?
Gasoline, which comes from? Which of these things does gasoline come from? Is gasoline from coal? No. It comes from oil. You get gasoline from oil. All right, so transportation is a big deal. You'll notice, for example, is there any such thing as an 18-wheel truck powered by electricity? No. And then how about planes? Are there any electric planes? Just imagine the electric plane, how much electricity would it take to power a jet? We're nowhere near powering a jet with electricity. What do we use to power a jet? Three letters, we use oil. That's what we're using to power the jet.
Are there any nuclear-powered planes? No, not yet. There are some designs for nuclear-powered planes. If you could do it, you could have a plane that could carry thousands of people. But we don't have it yet. That would be cool, right? Imagine a flying city powered by nuclear power. Then another thing, residential heating. We use a lot of energy for residential heating, keeping homes warm in the winter, cool in the summer. You can do that with electricity, you can do that with natural gas still. Mostly we are… Actually, natural gas we use a lot of. Oil, natural gas. You could do it with electricity but usually we don't because it's a lot of energy that you need, so electricity is not efficient enough to do it.
And finally, last one that hardly anyone knows about… Actually, before I read Alex's book, I didn't know about this, when you think about it. Industrial heating. When you want to make steel, do you go to the steel mill where you have a giant pot of liquid metal and you go and plug it into the electricity and melt steel with it? That would require a crazy amount of electricity, so instead we are using mostly oil to go and get the metals hot enough to go and turn it into liquid. That takes, actually, a lot of energy. If you just look around the room at industrial products, like plastic, I don't think you can make plastic just with what you would get out of electricity. You need a massive amount of energy to go and make plastic, to make metal. That is industrial heating, it's another large requirement from where we need to get our energy.
Okay, so now, review. Where did we get our energy sort of the last 200 years? Until 1850, almost 100% of all energy came from bio. So that's wood and dung, that kind of stuff. So until 1850… We think about the Industrial Revolution, it's happening earlier, starting maybe 1750 in England, but England's just one tiny country. England can be doing big things, England can be moving into the future, and yet for averaging over the whole human race, barely anything's changing. 1850, it almost all comes from wood and dung and so on. And then coal very slowly takes off. Take a look, that very tip there. That very tip. If you look closely, there's a tiny little skin of black on top of the bio and it starts to get thicker, and thicker, and thicker, thicker. This is the Industrial Revolution happening. By about 1900, finally coal is giving humanity about half of its energy, so that's the first big transformation.
All right, so coal keeps replacing bio, but again, this is averaging over the world. Even now, 1900, we're barely using any oil at all. At this point, if you start looking closely, there's a tiny little skin of oil on top but barely anything. What's happening? Well, there's one country where we start using a lot of oil early on, which is the United States, because the United States is the first car country. It's the first country where a lot of people have automobiles. What do you power automobiles with? You don't power them with coal. I think there are some early designs with coal, but it's not…
Imagine if you're driving your car, you have to go and shovel coal in. It's not going to be a very good design. The United States has a large population, and cars per capita are very high. You've been around the United States, so you see it is a low population density country, which means that cars make a lot of sense here. You don't want to build a lot of railroads in a country where we have states like Wyoming, where there's hardly any people in this enormous area. Cars make a lot more sense. So anyway, there is this transition. The United States leads the way in using oil. But it's just one country in a giant world, so the amount that oil matters for the world is not so much. But then oil does start growing.
And see, even by 1950, coal is still a much more important energy source than oil, but it does start to become important. Okay, so it takes until 1960 for oil to match coal. Has anyone here even really seen a big pile of coal anywhere? I'd say I think you were still doing a lot of coal power energy in China. Did anyone actually have a home where you actually have a stove and you put coal into it? Have you seen that? Yes. There's a student here from a farm in Canada. And he actually said that for his whole childhood, they heated his home in Canada, where it is freezing, with a wood-powered stove. There's still some people living this way, even into the 21st Century, and in a rich country, this is Canada.
Okay, so anyway, by 1960, oil matches coal. And then natural gas, this becomes important by 1970 or so. If you take a look at this point, globally there is now about a three-way tie between coal, oil and natural gas. That's natural gas, that's not gasoline, which would be classified as oil. You see how it's about equal amounts from those three different energy sources in the modern world? Okay. And then if you take a look at nuclear. Nuclear, so around 1970 or so, take a look and you can say, “Oh wow, nuclear looks like it's going to become important,” right? This is nuclear. You see the little arrow, that's nuclear. It starts off really small and then say, “Okay, nuclear's going to take off.” But then it doesn't. Nuclear does not take off. It's noticeable but it's not that much. Plateau.
Nuclear is less important on Earth right now than wood and dung. Looked like it was going to come around and become the next big replacement for all this other stuff, but it did not happen. And then everything else is a rounding error. You know what a rounding error is, right? Let's go and let's do it. Let's see. All right, is that a good translation? Rounding error, it's a good translation? Everything else you've heard about is a rounding error. People got very excited about it, but it was not actually very important overall. If you've seen bigger numbers, if you said, “No, no, no, no. Wind and solar are really important.” Normally if you see any graph where wind and solar are important, it is because it is not a graph of total energy consumption. What are they showing you? They're showing you as a share of electricity, which is only a minority of our energy consumption.
Solar and wind are not important. In fact, they're basically not used for industrial heating. They're not using solar and wind to go and melt steel. They're not important for transportation. You're not using them, especially for planes, for large trucks. So solar and wind are just these tiny amounts up here, tiny amounts. They're not very important for residential heating either. You go, “Do you want to go and power your air conditioning in the summer with solar or wind? It's like, Well… Maybe there's going to be a really hot, cloudy day, a hot, cloudy day with no wind, and then you don't have air conditioning.”
What about batteries? Batteries can give you a little bit of backup, but not very much. So this is what humanity's doing right now. We've got bio, coal, oil, and gas. There's also hydropower. Hydropower can be really good if you live next to a large body of water, like a large river or something like that. If you don't, then you've got a problem. Hydro can be great in certain areas. But if you're in the wrong place, then you can't do much with it. Whereas, you can use these everywhere. You can use these everywhere. You just go and transport a lot of oil to an area with no oil and then you've got power.
All right, questions. No questions? All right, this is the state of humanity. Remember, this is for all humanity of course. Are there some countries where solar and wind are bigger? Of course. There's a lot of countries where they're nothing. Okay. All right, so this y-axis, it's showing absolute energy consumption. Showing absolute energy consumption, so a lot of what's happening is just that humanity has a lot more energy than it used to, and that's risen in step with rising population and rising living standards.
The earlier period, we're using a lot less energy. Partly, there's just a lot fewer people but another big part is the human beings, that we exist now, have a much higher quality of life. We don't use sedan chairs anymore. What about rickshaws? You know what a rickshaw is? Rickshaw where you have a chair and you pull someone, with wheels. Do you see those for tourists anywhere in China, or it's not used at all? When I was a kid, you could still get one in Hong Kong. It's not really a serious thing, but it's just something that you do for fun—not fun for the person pulling it, probably.
All right, any questions at all about what the state of human energy consumption is? Anything at all? All right, in that case, we move to the next topic. Why is it that fossil fuels… What are fossil fuels? Coal, oil, natural gas, those are the fossil fuels. Those are fossil fuels. So why is it that these three are the overwhelming majority of… or supply the overall majority of our energy? Why is that? Well, let's back up. Good energy sources, energy sources that are actually useful, that solve the problem of pathetic human weakness, physical weakness, they have the following traits.
First, good energy sources are concentrated. You want to have a lot of energy by weight and volume to allow easy transportation. If your energy source is only enough to go and power one phone and it weighs one ton, it weighs 2000 pounds, that's not a very good energy source because you've got to move 2000 pounds of fuel around just to power one phone. Not very good. You also want it to have a small volume, because for transportation, suppose there's something that is really light, but it's enormous. What would that be? Like cotton. Like cotton, you know like cotton balls? You're going to have a giant bag of cotton balls that barely weighs anything. Do you want to go and use that as an energy source? It's not very good because it's light but it takes up a large amount of space.
No, you want to have something that has a lot of energy for a unit of weight and a lot of energy for a unit of volume. Concentrated energy is much better.
You want it to be reliable. You want your energy to be available whenever and wherever you need it. You want to just be able to flip a switch and it works, you want to be able to get it to wherever you want and then not worry about it. And then finally, you want it to be abundant. You want a high quantity in convenient locations. If there was a fantastic fuel in the center of Antarctica, that would be a bad fuel for humanity because it's super hard to get to Antarctica and it's hard to extract a lot of weight from Antarctica.
If it was good enough, we would do it. If it was good enough we would go and just send teams of workers down to the South Pole, probably do it in the summer when it's less freezing. Got a friend who was just at the very South Pole. He's joining what's called the Bipolar Club. He's going to go to the South Pole and the North Pole this year, and then he's been to both poles. But anyway, if there was a great energy source down there, we would go there and then maybe we would probably build landing strips and we'd have planes to pick it up. But it'd have to be some awesome energy at the South Pole for us to extract it, otherwise, we'd say, “Well, it's just not convenient.” You want it to be near where you want it to be.
The Industrial Revolution starts in England. Guess what? They build the factories near the coal mines. You build the factory near the coal mine. The first railroads are actually just for coal extraction. You build a small railroad that goes into the coalmine and brings it out. And then what did they do at first? Then they'd load the coal onto barges. They'd load the coal on ships on the rivers and they'd move it around the island. But the first railroad where they really want to get high power, you go and build a railroad. I think the earliest railroads actually, you just had a donkey or a horse pulling the rail car. All right, so that's the last one, you want it to be abundant.
Good energy, it's concentrated, it's reliable, it's abundant. And guess what? Fossil fuels have all three of these desirable energy traits. So concentration, all right. You know about Calories? You know about if you go and eat a lot of food you get fat, right? But that fat serves a useful purpose. If there's ever a famine, who lives? The fat people live because they live off of their body fat. I once saw a great documentary on… I think it was Netflix. There's a guy who's about 100 pounds overweight. He talks to the doctors and says, “I'm not going to eat for a long time.” This guy, two months later, supposedly he had not eaten anything for two months and he had lost 60 pounds. He was still fat, actually, after two months.
But look at me, do you think I would be alive if I didn't eat for two months? I'd just be dead, not fat enough. But what happens? You eat a lot of Calories. If you eat more calories than you need, it turns into body fat. That fat is stored energy which can keep you alive. Typical diet for human beings is like 2000 Calories a day. Take a look at gasoline. Gasoline has over 30,000 Calories per gallon. If a human being could actually live on gasoline… which you can't, don't try it. Do not try to live on gasoline… you'd only need two gallons of gasoline per month to live.
That would be like $6 worth of food per month, if you could live on gasoline. Unfortunately, human beings cannot live on gasoline. Imagine if we could, barely need any money to feed a human being. That's gasoline, 31,000 Calories per gallon. Just get two gallons per month and your human being is great. Okay. However, we are able to build machines that can use gasoline as fuel, and that is how we get the value out of it. Secondly, fossil fuels are reliable. You can burn them anywhere on Earth at any time you want energy, and it works. There's no place in the world you can't take some fossil fuels and burn them and get energy.
How do you think my friend is surviving in Antarctica? Fossil fuels. They've got heating powered by fossil fuels that they fly into the South Pole so that people don't freeze to death. I actually asked him, “Did anyone get frostbite?” And he went at the warmest time of the year, when it's 24 hours of sun. He was like, “Yeah, there were some snowboarders who got frostbite.” I don't know if they lost fingers or whatever, but they should have been more careful. You are at the South Pole, be careful.
All right, so you can burn fossil fuels anywhere, anytime. And then finally abundant. There have been a lot of fears of running out of fossil fuels for over a century, actually. In the 19th Century, there was a famous economist who was… What was his name? Something linking on it. Let's see. Jevons. Yeah, Stanley Jevons, famous British economist. In the late 19th Century he wrote a piece saying, We're going to run out of coal and then what will we do? How will we power machines? The end of the industrial age is coming. That was early fear, that turned out to be wrong. There were big fears in the 1970s about running out of oil. That turned out to be totally wrong.
Right now hardly anyone seems to be worrying about it. There is a cult of people who say that peak oil, “We are about to run out of oil. Trust me, the end is close.” But anyway, while we do have these fears of running out, known sources are very large, like coal, I think we've got centuries of known reserves. This is where we say, “Look, we know it's right there. We can power what we need for centuries.” But here's the other more important thing, finding new sources turns out to be pretty easy. If the price of the energy is high enough, people look around and when they look, they find.
So 20 years ago, the US was still importing a lot of oil, now the United States is a net exporter. How? Fracking. You've heard about fracking? All right, now I'm really curious. Is there a Chinese character for fracking? Let's find out. All right. Hang on, fracking. Is that a good translation? All right. Yes, hydraulic fracturing. They said, “All right, we've got these fossil fuels deep in the Earth, it's too hard to drill. And, I don't know, why don't we go and pump them full of high-pressure water, maybe that'll work?” They figured it out. So now they're especially in the Dakotas, previously almost uninhabited part of the United States, enormous population has moved there to go and extract this valuable oil and especially natural gas using these new techniques.
All right, there's… Anyway, that is one of the latest innovations. The United States is almost the only country in the world that is doing it right now. Other countries are generally not allowing it. But we're getting a ton of stuff that previously didn't seem to be available. 1970s, the price of oil was temporarily very high. OPEC, you know about OPEC, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries? They got this idea, “Hey, let's raise the price of oil.” But what happened when they did? A lot of other countries said, “Hey, let's find some extra oil. Is there any more oil.” And yeah, they found lots of oil.
Venezuela. Oh wow, turns out that we have the largest oil reserves on Earth in Venezuela. And then until they elected Chavez, everything was fine. But oh no, we messed things up in Venezuela. But anyway, if the price is high, people look around. If they look, they find. All right, so finding new sources is actually pretty easy. Not for me. If you told me, “Hey, Bryan, go find some oil,” I couldn't do it. But people who had the job of finding oil are good at finding it and they keep finding it. Now, an added bonus why fossil fuels work so well, we've been thinking about how to turn fossil fuels into human convenience for 200 years. We've gotten really good at turning fossil fuels into work.
There's a whole body of technology that revolves around fossil fuels. This is where engineers start. This is where they put their brain power. They figured out how to do it to a high extent. Okay. All right, questions? Questions about what's so great about fossil fuels, why it is that people rely upon them so much? Everyone's happy. Everyone feels like they understand. All right, now by those first three measures I told you, so concentration, reliability, abundance, nuclear power is better than fossil fuels. Nuclear power is actually almost unimaginably good. It is a science fiction technology. See, uranium has 18 billion Calories per gram.
I told you a gallon of gasoline has 31,000 Calories, that's a lot. 18 billion Calories per gram, that means that… Let's see. If human beings could actually eat uranium and get our food from uranium, let's see, what would it take to go and power all of humanity? If we've got about 8 billion people, to go and get food for a day, that's going to take what? It'll be 24 trillion Calories per day to go and feed mankind. 24 trillion, so we basically need about one kilogram of uranium… No, actually well, less. Less than one kilogram of uranium per… Maybe it is. No, wait. No, no, it's a little bit more than one kilogram. A little bit more than one kilogram of uranium per day for all humans, if only we could eat uranium. We can't eat uranium, so don't try it.
But what is that? It's about the weight of this thing. This, if it were uranium and if human beings could eat uranium, could feed everyone in the world for a day. That's incredible energy concentration. But the main problem with nuclear power is for now we do not have a lot less experience figuring out how to harness nuclear. We are not able to get high energy efficiency on nuclear. If we are lucky, we can get 0.1% energy efficiency out of nuclear. We're getting 1/1000th of the theoretical maximum. It's like, “Oh no, we can only get 18 million Calories per gram.” That's still an incredible amount, but we don't have that kind of experience. There's no nuclear-powered planes.
There are nuclear-powered submarines. We figured that out, and actually, that was figured out in the 1950s. There are also, I think, some nuclear-powered large ships, like icebreakers. If you want to go and sail a ship in the Arctic, there's a problem if you want to do it in the winter, it's there's ice. Most ships would just get stuck there and then the crew dies. But there are special ships called ice breakers, and I think there are some nuclear-powered icebreakers and they're really strong ships and they crash the ice and they go through the Arctic.
But in general, we just have a lot less experience figuring out ways to harness nuclear power. But here's the really big problem, regulation of nuclear power is incredibly strict. Remember I've been telling you about how we have strict housing regulation, very hard to build stuff? If you say, “Okay, I want to build a skyscraper.” “All right, well I don't like that idea very much. All right, San Francisco, I'll let you build one skyscraper a year.” If you go to San Francisco and say, “Hey, I'd like to build a nuclear power plant in San Francisco,” no way in hell will we let you build a nuclear power plant in San Francisco. “Just one. Can I just build one?” “No, you can't build one.” “Can I build one every 10 years?” “No, you can't build one every 10 years, you cannot build any, ever. No.”
The last American nuclear power plant to be built opened in 2016. The previous plant opened up 20 years before that. For an entire country, we're opening a plant every 20 years, so barely any. China has done a lot more. Go China. Yes, you're doing much better than we are anyway for nuclear power. Okay. Now, many of you will point out correctly, “Well, don't we also subsidize nuclear power?” Yeah. Nuclear power is simultaneously subsidized and penalized. But the penalties are way bigger than the subsidies. Subsidies are like this, penalties are a lot more than my arms can reach.
That 2016 plant took 43 years to complete. Is it because it actually takes 43 years to physically build a nuclear plant? No, it's because the regulations make it so hard to do anything, any time... “Can I move one foot?” “No, you can't not move one foot.” You need to fill out 100 pages of paperwork, go through 17 boards of approval to move a foot forward on that nuclear plant. Now, Epstein calculates this though. Just replace existing fossil fuels with nuclear would require that we scale up our construction of nuclear by a factor of 500. We'd have to start building at 500 times that rate.
Now, this is an interesting question, can we do it? Well, there is an interesting paper on Sweden. Sweden, in the 1960s, started doing a massive conversion to nuclear and they actually did start replacing their nuclear to a large degree. If you look at their fossil fuel, their carbon emissions, it started going down. Before anyone even cared about carbon emissions, Sweden started going down because the nuclear plants do not emit carbon, they're not into carbon dioxide. Sweden is probably the country that for a period of probably 10 years was doing a very rapid switchover to nuclear. And it just looked like they were succeeding but then people went crazy and said, “Oh no, we couldn't possibly do the switch to nuclear,” and they basically stopped it.
All right, so that's what we've got there. Nuclear energy, the promise is incredible but the practice is really disappointing because the regulation is so high. Questions? Questions? Okay. All right. Now, what about renewable energy? Now, this phrase renewable energy is kind of odd because you might say, “Well, can nuclear count as renewable energy?” It's like, “No.” “Well, why not?” It's like, “Well, once you use the uranium, the uranium's gone.” “All right, but we can get so much power out of it, it's effectively infinite.” No, no. Nuclear doesn't count as renewable.
By the way, there is a new documentary out by famous director, Oliver Stone, which is pro-nuclear. He's got a lot of crazy stuff, but I said, “All right, he's got a pro-nuclear movie, I'm going to forgive him for all the other crazy stuff that he's ever said.” Anyway, now, the leading renewables, solar and wind, those are the two renewables that people mostly talk about, what's wrong with them? They lack all three of the traits of good energy. They lack all three. Wind and solar, first problem, they're diffuse. You have to collect low levels of wind and solar over a large area for it to work. If you want to get a lot of solar power, you need to set up a giant field of solar panels, like a giant farm, solar farm. You have kilometers worth of solar panels to get a decent amount of energy.
Wind, you need a whole ton of windmills. You need a whole ton of windmills to get a quite modest amount of power. You can't just put one windmill at your house and then you're set. You need to have a lot of windmills. That's one big problem, wind and solar are diffuse. They're unreliable. You can get batteries, but batteries are still not very good, as I learned when I was driving my friend's Tesla. And like I said, it doesn't help that the software is overly optimistic. I think it actually told me I had 100 miles, I actually had maybe 40. But anyway, after batteries, solar and wind do not work unless the sun's shining or the wind's blowing. Just think about all the days where we've got no sun or wind, or you barely have any wind.
Have you ever looked at windmills, notice how a lot of times the windmills are just sitting there not doing anything because there's not enough wind, or they're just like… doing one rotation per minute. What is that going to power? Or just an overcast day, your solar power panels are basically giving you nothing on an overcast day. Solar panels don't give you anything at night. Maybe they get a very tiny amount from the moonlight. I assume that scientifically you must get something from moonlight but it's barely anything, pretty much worthless.
If you are setting up a base at the South Pole, do you want to use solar or wind at the South Pole? Remember, the South Pole has permanent night for two months of the year, so the solar's going to be completely useless then. And sometimes there's no wind and you're out of luck. And finally, solar and wind, they are not naturally abundant. These energy sources have been heavily subsidized for decades. It's not like nuclear where we have some subsidies, some penalties, but the penalties are a lot greater than the subsidies. For solar and wind, the subsidies are enormous, penalties are basically non-existent but they still don't provide much. Remember, go back to that graph. Lots of subsidies for solar and wind, but still look at how little they are giving us, hardly anything.
All right. Okay. So what would it take to solve this unreliability problem? Could it be solved? It could be. We could solve this unreliability problem. One thing we might need, vastly better batteries. Way better batteries. In Fossil Future, Alex Epstein goes over Elon Musk. Remember, Elon Musk, Tesla, the main thing that they build is actually the batteries for those electric cars. That's the best product that they've got. Musk was saying, “Well, we could just power the whole world with some batteries.” Some solar panels, some batteries and then Epstein does the math and, “Yeah, we would need the GDP of the world invested in batteries to go and have enough battery power for just a few days.” That doesn't seem like a good thing.
We need vastly better batteries. Battery technology is improving somewhat. My friend who was into these Teslas, he says the next generation will have a range of 1000 miles. If he's right then I want a Tesla. 1000 miles? That's fine, because I basically never drive 1000 miles before going home, so then I can go wherever I wanted, I wouldn't have to worry about it and I'd never have to go to a gas station. I don't really like going to gas stations. When I was living at my friend's house for six weeks, driving his Tesla, I got used to this. “Oh wow. I just haven't been to a gas station in a month, isn't that wonderful?” I was like, “Oh, I miss gas stations.” I didn't really like it so it was cool that I could just charge it at his house, but it only worked because I was just driving to and from my friend's house to the University of Texas. That was fine. But if I wanted to go on a trip, then his car would have been useless, or almost useless.
Okay, so we need to get vastly better batteries, or we would need to get a massive global grid that would transmit energy over continents. That could work too. Because planet Earth, there's always some place where the sun is shining, it's always day somewhere on Earth. If we could get an energy transmission where whatever part of the Earth has sun has transmission lines going all over the world, and we have giant solar farms so that we make sure that there is always plenty of places that have sunshine, right? The whole world has never had bad weather simultaneously. Well, at least not since the dinosaurs when an asteroid blocked out the sun, that's bad weather for all of Earth for a while.
But as long as humanity's been around, we don't have bad weather on Earth. Just there's been a few volcanoes that have made the whole world cold for a few years at a time. But basically the world never has terrible weather simultaneously, so if we had an energy grid hooked up to the entire world, all connected, then you can imagine that we have solar for the world, we have wind for the world. It's unreliable in any location, but we just have it in lots of locations and then humanity's okay. You could imagine that. But there's nothing like that right now, nothing remotely close and it would require an enormous amount of resources in order to do it.
Okay, so that is what it would take to solve an unreliability problem. Now, optimists will go and tell you solar and wind are actually growing by leaps and bounds, they're great, they're just around the corner that we can use them as a full replacement for fossil fuels. This is crazy. The best case that they can do is for electricity. There are a few countries, like Denmark, where they're relying on solar and wind for a lot of their electricity. I don't think they're at half, maybe they're at half. But anyway, the problem, remember, electricity is only one of the things that we need energy for. Do you think the Danes are powering their planes with wind? They're not. Danish planes use oil, just like the planes of all the other countries. I'm not sure if Denmark has a steel industry, but if they did, they wouldn't be powering that with solar panels. They would be powering it with fossil fuels, just like everybody else.
Big trucks, there are some natural gas-fueled trucks, but that's a fossil fuel, too. It does have half the carbon emissions per unit. All right. But anyway, electricity is only one of the three main categories. Wind and solar for heavy transportation like planes or container ships. You guys know about container ships that are used for international trade? Giant ships with shipping containers on them. A very important part of China's economic growth, you know about that. So industrial heating, it's just a fantasy to use solar and wind for this stuff. This is not just a minor issue. These are very important requirements that we have for energy, and solar and wind, for now, are completely useless for this.
And then also worth pointing out, how do we manufacture windmills and solar panels? Do we use wind and solar to create wind and solar? They generally use fossil fuels to make wind and solar. A major industry in China is using fossil fuels to create solar panels to export to Denmark and countries like that. Like I say, it's not like it’s self-sustaining, or anything close to that. Aren't wind and solar quickly becoming more competitive? A lot of people think so. But look, even now, if you look around the world, the only places that use a lot of wind and solar are places where they're heavily subsidized like Denmark, Germany, they're really into the wind and solar. They heavily subsidize it. Those are the only places where it's heavily used. There's no country where the government doesn't subsidize it where they use a lot.
Even countries like Saudi Arabia, that is a great country for solar, right? They have almost no rain, so they've got sun almost every day. Giant deserts, so there's hardly any people so you could put up giant solar farms without bothering people. But even so, they're barely doing it. Like I say, countries that use them heavily are the ones that subsidize them heavily, the rest of the world barely uses them. Okay. All right, now, something else that is very striking, I said there are some rich countries that use a lot more wind and solar than other countries. In places like Denmark, at least it is a major source of their electricity. But there's one big problem, do the Danes want to freeze to death if they happen to have bad weather for a while?
It's like, “Hey, people in Denmark, do you want to freeze to death if you have some bad weather?” §No, I do not wish to freeze to death.” “All right, so what are you going to do if you're relying upon unreliable energy?” “I guess we need to have a backup system.” Let's see, what's Chinese for backup? Good question. All right. Backup, is that a good translation? All right, you need a backup. If you are using solar or wind, what do you do if the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow and the batteries are drained? What then? Hmm. Well, I guess you're going to need a backup system, and what backup system do you think they use? They use fossil fuels, of course. They use fossil fuels. What does that mean? It means that the countries that rely heavily on solar and wind actually have two fully functional systems. They have the unreliable system that costs a lot to set up and maintain, and then they have the reliable system that costs a lot to set up and maintain.
The fossil fuel system's already built but they're still paying maintenance to keep the fossil fuel system going whenever the wind is not blowing, the sun is not shining and the batteries are drained. And that means you are paying the construction and maintenance costs for two full systems, which makes it very expensive. Countries that rely heavily upon solar and wind have very expensive electricity because basically you have one system that works and another system that doesn't and you buy both. Now, when you go through all this, people understand the science, the technology, they'll say, “Alright, what you're saying is true now, but guess what? Starting next week, I've got a fantastic replacement. We're going to do geothermal. It's going to be fantastic, and it solves all problems.”
Okay. Someone comes along and says, “I've got a fantastic new source of energy, it's going to save mankind, just give me all your money and you can invest in my idea.” Do you want to give this person all your money and invest in their idea? I don't. It sounds too good to be true. Look, anything's possible. An amazing new discovery could happen but take a look. The best predictor of the future is the past. This is history, that's what the history of energy looks like. Has there ever been a time that there's been some amazing new energy, then it took over in five years? Never happened. It's never happened.
Look, the human race is getting more energy from wood and dung today than it did in 1800. Why? These are the poorest countries in the world. These are the poorest countries in the world, countries where they cannot afford coal or oil or natural gas. So this is what humanity can count on. This is what was proven to work. And if someone says, “Starting tomorrow, my new energy is going to wipe out everything else,” all right. I don't have a mathematical proof that you are wrong, but I've got common sense. Common sense says you are crazy, and that is the reasonable thing to think, that the person who predicts sudden dramatic change is crazy.
And now many people tell me, “Bryan, you're so narrow-minded. You're totally unwilling to accept possibilities that are outside of your experience.” You're right. I'm really unwilling to accept possibilities outside of my experience because my experience is reliable. It's not perfect, but it's reliable. And like my friend, Robin Hanson, down the hall, he says 70% chance that we actually have aliens on Earth right now based upon Air Force footage. I'm like, “No way, that's ridiculous. One in a million. One in a million that…” Have you seen little movies from the Air Force, there's a dot moving, that's an alien? All right, we'll say, “Look now, it's like a weather balloon, or people lying and making it up.” I'll believe almost anything other than aliens are already here, just think that's really unlikely.
Definitely, if I had a kid who says, “There's a ghost in my room.” No, there's not. There's no ghost in your room, that's ridiculous. Now, anyway, you might say, “Well, you're very narrow-minded.” Well, here is my offer. Who wants to bet? Who wants to bet on the share of energy that comes from fossil fuels next year for humanity? Who wants to bet on the share that comes in 10 years? I'm going to bet that it's very similar to what we're doing right now because fossil fuels are the stuff that works and the other stuff works very poorly and people do not want to go back to the Stone Age, not many.
Have I mentioned my hobby of betting? Have I mentioned this? I often publicly bet people, and so far I have won 23 out of 23 bets that I've made. Basically any time someone says, “Oh, there's going to be 100% inflation.” No, there won't. Most people when you offer to bet them run away and say, “I'm not going to bet.” But I found people who will bet and so far they've always lost to me. A couple of times I came close to losing, I will admit. But I always won so far, 23 out of 23. And how do I do it? I do it mostly by saying, “No way. No. No, no. The future is going to be like the past.” I do have a bet where I'm likely to lose, where people keep telling me GPT is fantastic. I looked at it, “No, it's not.” “It's fantastic.” “No, it's not.” And then finally, suddenly it got really good.
I gave our midterm to GPT and it would have beat all of you. GPT beat every student in the class on the last midterm. Yeah, I was surprised. But you know why I was surprised? Because almost always I'm right when I just say, “No way, that's ridiculous.” All right, so almost no one wants to bet on this because we don't have any fantastical replacement for fossil fuels. All right, now one last one. How about hydropower? Hydropower if you take a look, it looks pretty good actually. Over here we have hydropower. We're actually getting a noticeable share of energy for humanity from hydropower. There's some massive dams in China, right? Does anyone live near a hydroelectric dam in China?
Right there, but there's some parts of the country where they have enormous hydroelectric dams. And think of this as all energy, so you look at that and say, “That's pretty good.” It's pretty good. It's like, what, a few percent of all power for humanity. Probably most stuff's going to electricity. A fairly modest number of dams giving us a ton. That's one where it's different from any of the others we're talking about. Now, the other thing with hydro, is hydro renewable? It seems like it ought to be classified as renewable power, right? It's like, “What, rain's going to stop?” There's going to be rain, so hydropower seems like it's renewable, as renewable as solar and wind anyway. So why does hydro not count as renewable? Well, it doesn't count because the environmentalists don't like hydro for other reasons. Most environmentalists. There are some more regional ones that do.
Okay, so hydro is great in areas with abundant water resources. Also, very heavily regulated. It's very hard just to build a new hydroelectric dam. I mean, why? People complain. They say, “You are destroying the beauty of nature by building this dam. Leave nature untouched.” All right, so you can't build a dam, you can't go and get hydroelectric power here. But it is a great technology. If anyone goes to Las Vegas, you are an hour away from the Hoover Dam, which is an amazing engineering feat, built about 100 years ago in the United States. I was there, like, “Wow, this thing is massive. It's hard to believe that it was built ever.” It was built in just a few years in the 1930s, back when it was really easy to build dams.
So again, if you look at this, if you see how quickly it was built and you realize that the main reason we do not have a lot more hydroelectric dams is again regulation. Government won't allow it. And actually, it was built by the government back then, so worth pointing that out. But today, neither private nor government would do it because the regulations would be so strict. All right, questions? Questions? All right, everyone happy with all of this stuff? Okay. All right, in that case, let us continue. Okay.
All right, so far I've been doing something that's extremely unusual. I've been telling you good things about fossil fuels. Normally when people mention the phrase “fossil fuels,” the next thing they will talk about is a bunch of bad things about fossil fuels. But here's the thing, if there wasn't something good about fossil fuels, we wouldn't use them and we wouldn't be complaining about them. There's a reason we're using fossil fuels, which is that they work. Even if they have a ton of terrible problems, you still have to say, “Well, they've got a ton of terrible problems. They also have a ton of great things. What do we do? What do we do?”
Imagine that you have a very rich uncle who screams at everyone at the time. Does anyone have a relative like this? They're very rich, but they're a horrible person. What do we do with rich Uncle Screamy? What do we do with rich Uncle Screamy?
Well, we could say, “We hate you, you scream too much. We're not going to see you anymore,” but then there's the issue of his piles of money because he's probably not going to put you in his will if you don't invite him to dinner. What do we do? Well, how much does he scream? What is he screaming about? Can I put in earplugs? Is there some way that I can cope with the screaming so that I can remain friendly with my rich uncle so he will give me piles of money? It's an important question, right? If your uncle is trying to strangle you then you'll say, “Okay, I'd rather be poor and alive than dead but rich, so I'm not going to deal with the uncle that tries to murder me just because he's rich.” But what if he's just an unpleasant human being? Then it comes down to, “How much money is he going to leave me? How much money will he leave me? What does the will say? What does the will say?”
It's like, “You're going to get a million dollars if you keep inviting him to Thanksgiving.” I go, “That's only one day a year and I don't have to sit next to him. All right, fine, Uncle Screamy can keep coming to Thanksgiving because he's so damn rich.” That's the kind of calculation you would make. And if you did have a friend who said, “Why do you invite that horrible guy to dinner every year?” “Because he's really rich and I want to stay in his will.” “Oh, now it makes sense. That's why you're letting him be there.” This is the situation with fossil fuels. Whatever the complaints are, there's a reason why we're using them, which is that they work. And then the question is how bad are the side effects really?
Okay. And sometimes the effects are bad. They've got incredible energy performance but they do have some notorious problems, which were immediately obvious once they started burning coal in England in the 19th Century. Because in the main areas of industry, the amount of soot, the black stuff that comes from burning coal, it was so much that in some cities the sun did not rise. Every day would just be very dim because there's a black cloud over Manchester, which is unpleasant, definitely unpleasant. See, do you guys live in parts of China with terrible air pollution? When you were a kid, do you ever remember running around and being like…
I grew up in Los Angeles, some days, when I was a kid, the air was that bad. Some days, when I was a kid, if you tried running around you had trouble breathing. It's like, do you remember a time of bad air pollution? I have not felt this way in the United States in 35 years, so our air's a lot cleaner now. And yeah, a lot of that is regulation of emissions. The classic problem of fossil fuels is air and water pollution, so the early coal burning turned whole cities black. If you go to many countries in Europe, you'll often see old cathedrals, especially in poor areas, where the cathedral is black. Why's it black? They barely burn any coal there now, but it's black from when they did have the coal and they haven't had the money to clean it up yet.
Sometimes it's oxidization, and that just happens automatically. But sometimes there's an earlier period of terrible pollution which means that cathedrals look really black. And if it's a poor part of the world or there's not many tourists, they don't have the money to scrub off the coal dust, and so you still see the remnants from this early high-pollution period. All right, now modern fossil fuels are much cleaner. There are new technologies, like for coal, you can go and do scrubbers. There's technologies to reduce the amount of unpleasant emissions. Right? But there's still a lot of research on saying well, even when you can't see the actual black air, still you are breathing it and there's a lot of research saying that it's bad for human health.
The research, the range of the estimates are very wide. Like I said, when it was black coal dust, there was no question about what it was doing. With the reduced problems of modern emissions, some people say it's terrible and is reducing human life by years. Other people say, “It's probably not that much.” I'm not an expert here. I've read a bunch of papers, seen there's widely varying estimates of what the harm is. Okay. But anyway. There's definitely some people saying that even the air pollution we have right now is terrible.
Okay. Anyway, that's the classic problem of air and water pollution where it's totally obvious what the fossil fuels are doing. But then there's the modern problem, which is the one almost everybody talks about. This is the problem of climate change. Climate change. You've all heard about climate change, right? You know about Greta? Greta Thunberg from Sweden. Okay, so here is the basic science. Burning fossil fuels, that's how we use them. We burn them to use them. When you burn fossil fuels, it releases carbon dioxide. And at the levels that human beings actually use, we burn enough fossil fuels to measurably warm the entire planet.
In earlier centuries there just weren't enough humans and we weren't using enough in order to have any difference. The amount of coal that was burned in the 19th Century was not enough where you could even measure it. You definitely couldn't measure it at the time. But now, we actually do. We have a lot more people and we're using a lot more fossil fuels per person. Put that together and we are doing enough to make the planet warmer. There's a lot of people who are really worried about what will happen. What are they worried about? They are worried that this warming will cause a lot of other severe environmental problems.
Right, now of course by itself, if we warmed it enough, it would be bad, right? If we warmed the Earth to 200 degrees we'd all be dead, so that'd be terrible. But on top of it, even warming it a more moderate amount, the fear is it will cause other environmental problems like storms. All right, so when you make the world warmer, you increase the amount of storms that you'll have. Warmth is energy, storms caused by energy, get more storms. Flooding, if the world gets warm enough, what melts? What will melt if the world gets warmer?
Ice. Where is the ice? I don't see any ice. Where is the ice? It's at the poles. It's at the poles. We've got especially a big pile of ice in Greenland. Everybody knows about Greenland? It's a giant amount of ice. The ice that is sitting on water, it's not a problem because the icebergs on water, they're already displacing water. But if you melt the ice that is on land, this will raise the level of the oceans on Earth, if you melt enough. If you melt enough then sea levels rise. And if sea levels rise, what happens to coastal cities? It depends upon how much the rise, right?
If sea levels rose 100 feet, what would happen to coast cities? They would be underwater, right? Human beings are not good at living underwater. There's submarines, but you don't want to live underwater, that's a problem. So, causes flooding. You've got ocean acidification. This is another effect if carbon dioxide is changing the acidity of oceans which is then going to be bad for some kinds of sea life. And of course, there's a lot more. Almost every day someone's saying, “I've found a new bad thing that climate change could do.” So that's one big set of problems, and there are also some extreme environmentalists who just object to human beings tampering with nature.
There's really two different kinds of complaints, one is, “You're burning fossil fuels, this will warm the Earth, this will melt the ice in Greenland and flood cities, which will kill people.” That's one kind of complaint. There's another kind of complaint that just says, “Nature is sacred, human beings shouldn't touch it. It's wrong to touch it. Leave it alone.” Here is a fun quote. All right, so quote, “In the late 1980s, there were inaccurate reports that fusion,” that's an alternate kind of nuclear power, it was close to commercial reality, “has caused some of our designated experts to be asked what they thought about the prospect of an incredibly low-cost and clean form of energy.” What did they say? Paul Ehrlich, very famous environmentalist. Quote, “Developing fusion for human beings would be,” quote, “like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.”
Now, this is a kind of energy that emits no carbon dioxide, super cheap and this famous environmentalist says that would be terrible to have a super clean, super cheap energy source. What are human beings going to do with this? They're going to go and violate nature. And another famous environmentalist, Jeremy Rifkin, “It's the worst thing that's happened to our planet if we had safe, cheap nuclear power.” Another one, Amory Lovins, already on the record saying, “It would be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because what we might do with it.” What might we do with it? Well, we would go and let people in Africa have air conditioning and heating and electricity. Terrible, right?
There really are some prominent people who just don't like the idea of human beings all getting to go and live at the level of the United States. All right, now, “That's just a few extremists.” These are famous people. They're not just some weird person. These are actually famous. You can google them and see that they have big Wikipedia articles. If you think it's just a few extremists who don't want to trample nature, think about this, how do we explain the strict regulation of hydropower and nuclear power? They emit no air pollution. They emit no carbon dioxide and still, they are very heavily regulated.
Who are the main people that are active against the free use of hydropower and nuclear power? Environmentalists are the main people that are active. Why can't we build hydropower? Look, don't touch the river. It's a beautiful natural thing, human beings shouldn't go and put a dam there, it could be bad for some of the animals, it could disrupt migratory birds. All right, that's all true but it could also help a million people. So why don't we go and help a million people and say, “I don't care about the birds. Tough luck, birds.”
Nuclear power, and why on earth would an environmentalist be against nuclear power? Totally clean. A lot of it, people are worried about safety, as we're going to see. But nuclear power is incredibly safe. Every year way more people die from coal, just from the mining of coal. It's like coal miners, they get a bunch of breathing problems, black lung. Way more people die from coal than have ever died from nuclear power, but still very heavily regulated. It seems like, “Look, don't tamper with nature. Leave nature alone. Nature is sacred. Stop being an arrogant, selfish, greedy human trying to go and get power. Just live in a natural way like people did for most of human history,” which is true. Take a look.
This is how people used to live. That's the way they're living, just getting all their energy from wood and dung and domestic animals. We could go back to that. We're going to stop here for today, pick this up on Thursday.
All right, see everybody later.
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Steel is often made using electricity, e.g. using induction or electric arc furnaces. However, metallurgical coal is used as an efficient source of heat and carbon for creating steel from iron ore.
In 1970 oil had an over 50% greater share than coal and almost three times the share of natural gas on global energy consumption.
Energy Institute - Statistical Review of World Energy
As of 2022, the US is still a net importer of oil, while being a net exporter of petroleum, including refined products. This is due to the significant refining capacity in the US and the different types of crude oil qualities produced, which makes oil trade important.
U.S. Energy Information Administration - Oil and petroleum products explained
The Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear power station was completed in 2016 after being suspended in 1985. It was originally licensed in 1973.
Since then Vogtle Unit 3 and 4 in Georgia came online but with significant delays and budget overruns.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission - History of Watts Bar Unit 2 Reactivation
World Nuclear News - Watts Bar 2 steam generator replacement completed
Reuters - Vogtle’s troubles bring US nuclear challenge into focus
Solar and wind are naturally abundant energy flows. The problem lies in the process of transforming these intermittent energy flows into reliable energy supply, which makes them expensive in the context of modern power grids.
Denmark produces over half of its electricity using wind turbines. However, the country’s electric grid critically depends on imports and exports from much larger neighbors. This would be impossible if other countries would employ the same parasitical strategy.
Alex Epstein - Talking Points on the "Other countries have 80% clean electricity" argument