Among the things people do not generally know about energy, because it is not the sort of thing that has any practical importance to them, and that would upset them if they discovered it because it’s actually very bad, is that alternative energy takes up a huge amount of space. As Judith Curry recently wrote, “The amount of land required for renewable energy is an issue of growing concern that has received surprisingly little attention.” What’s more, the attention it did recently get made amazingly little sense. Especially the Washington Post’s newly hired “Climate Reporter” who tweeted “I will never get tired of looking at this @climate graphic which shows just how much LAND” renewables take up compared to fossil fuels” and was astounded to find that “this was being interpreted by some… confused souls… as support for fossil fuels. In fact, I am a climate reporter who supports renewables. Onwards!”
Obviously we could make an unkind comment about a person, or an institution, who thinks the job of reporters is to support things rather than to report what actually happens whether they like it or not. But instead we will make an unkind comment about the degree of scientific illiteracy required to enjoy looking at that chart without understanding what it’s saying.
Judith Curry is the exact opposite. There are some in the “denier” camp who are fire-breathers by disposition, including the ones who keep going on about hoaxes and frauds when plainly a person like Shannon Osaka (the new WaPo reporter, with an Oxford MPhil in “Nature, Society and Environmental Governance”, and an A.B., in “Environmental Science & Environmental Studies, Creative Writing”) lacks the mathematical skills to realize when she’s letting the cat out of the bag. But Curry is someone who was ousted from her contented academic life by people of that disposition on the other side for preferring facts and logic to the party line. And even now her approach to climate issues is so calm as to be vexing.
For instance, her assessment of the long-term energy picture is that “It is viable and affordable to take wind and solar to about 30 percent of a power system, but unless there is hydropower backup, energy storage or remote transmission capability, the cost profile for additional wind and solar becomes increasingly unfavorable and there are increasingly adverse consequences for electric power system reliability and performance. Wind farms are a viable solution where land and coastal use considerations permit. Rooftop solar is a good solution and supports some level of local autonomy. However, wind and solar will probably become less competitive as new and better technologies become available in the coming decades. I don’t see a role for biofuels in the future, where other power sources are available.”
Compare that with the venerable New Yorker’s newly hip “Annals of a Warming Planet” declaration that “Renewable Energy Is Suddenly Startlingly Cheap/ Now the biggest barrier to change is the will of our politicians to take serious climate action.” (Yeah, well, the author was Bill McKibben. But why are they giving him the imprimatur of their brand?) Now there’s a statement that throws caution to the winds, and charts, and other better forms of energy.
Meanwhile Curry chugs quietly along, ending this particular piece with “In the coming decades, I suspect that land use issues will become more important than CO2 emissions in determining the sources of electric power.”
So learn to read a chart if you want to be a climate reporter. One who’s any use, we mean.