We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the century

In a hotly contested race, this side of fusion power, Net Zero is a real contender for mankind’s stupidest idea since 1648.

– Perry de Havilland

39 comments to Samizdata quote of the century

  • APL

    It looks like the energy companies have jumped on the bandwagon. I imagine there is a rich seam of government subsidy to be mined in Net Zero.

    Since fusion still seems to be 20 years away. I’d had hopes for Polywell fusion, but it seems to have come to naught.

    But, it looks like the Year Zero Net Zero advocates, are in the ascendant.

  • Diogenese2

    what was the worst idea in 1648.?

  • M2P

    Do you mean that it’s a bad idea prior to the advent of fusion power, or it’s almost as bad an idea as fusion power?
    Not sure what the “this side of” means.

  • Lysander Spooner's Cat

    what was the worst idea in 1648.?

    I imagine he means the Peace of Westphalia, the sanctification of the Cult of State Power, and the notion its perfectly OK if nation states murder people as long as they keep it within their own borders.

  • Bell Curve

    Absolutely! Fusion is the only way to get “Net Zero” without setting economic progress back a hundred years! The Net Zeroers are fucking insane.

  • FrankH

    “what was the worst idea in 1648.?”

    I had the same question so I consulted Wikipedia and was still no wiser.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1648

  • Tim the Coder

    To be fair, fusion power is possible and has been demonstrated. Sort of.

    Dr Teller had an interesting proposal, which was a mix of fusion power and geothermal power. It was also a good way to build sea-level canals.
    It was never clear if he was serious.

    Regarding the current fusion power proposal, variations on tokamaks, or inertial confinement, well, maybe one day. But they’ve been saying that a long time. Although there’s more private money now, which suggests a more serious interest, rather than trough-feeding.
    I still won’t expect anything soon.

    Nope, only zero-carbon power is fission, preferable of thorium, and preferably in molten salt. That has the advantage of burning all the transuranics it generates, so the waste is eaten too. But possibility of developing that in the West? Zero.
    The Chinese are working on it, so we’ll be able to buy all our power and all our trinkets from them! 🙂
    So fracked gas & coal it is. Or freeze & starve in the dark.

    (The Indians are also developing Thorium, but only to use in conventional reactors, not molten-salt).

  • I imagine he means the Peace of Westphalia

    Of course.

  • Mary Contrary

    The problem with denigrating the Peace of Westphalia is that right now we’re going through a time where Westphalian sovereignty is under persistent attack, and it’s from the people who want to establish if not “One World Government”, then at the very least, greater power for Transnational Government.

    Transnational government, whether through the UN and its institutions, the EU, or just complex networks of treaties, is gradually enshrining the laws and principles of ruling elites in a form of law which is immune to reversal by national bodies. This usurps the right of national populaces to reject the orthodoxies of their ruling classes.

    A certain T. Blair explicitly criticises “outdated” Westphalian sovereignty for just these reasons (which he thinks are good).

    Now, to the extent that those orthodoxies are things we approve of, like the State shouldn’t torture people or exterminate Jews, that’s all to the good. But it’s also things we straight up disapprove of, like Net Zero. And it’s definitely abused by crony capitalists seeking protection: perhaps the most prominent example is the network of unreformable treaties on copyright.

    To a large extent Brexit (very popular around these parts, and I know Perry is a Brexit supporter) was a rejection of rule by agreement of international elites, and a demand that the UK should go its own way, according to the dictates of UK democratic processes. Brexiteers like me certainly hoped for “good” policy, but we understood and acknowledged that Brexit would also create the option for the UK to adopt much worse policy than the EU would have permitted. We supported it anyway, because while “democratic national freedom” is a distinct thing from true (libertarian, non-agression principle) freedom, we believe it is also a precondition for it, and we do not bend the knee to unaccountable elites.

    The anti-Westphalian brigade are creating the structures (legal, political, and to the best of their ability economic and cultural) that would prevent the UK going off doing its own thing. The right of the British to throw off EU rule, that is if not a Westphalian notion, at least one dependent on Westphalian notions to be implemented.

  • Mary Contrary

    To put my previous point more succinctly:
    Climate change mitigation and adaptation, or Net Zero? is the Cuius Regio Euis Religio of our times.

  • Pat

    I note that the Chinese are building coal fired power stations like there’s no global warming threat at all. I have no doubt they will develop and switch to more efficient technologies when possible.
    Meanwhile the West chooses expensive unreliable sources of power.
    Makes one wonder how much the Green blob gets in Chinese gold.

  • The problem with denigrating the Peace of Westphalia is that right now we’re going through a time where Westphalian sovereignty is under persistent attack, and it’s from the people who want to establish if not “One World Government”, then at the very least, greater power for Transnational Government.

    Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Regardless of their utterances about Westphalian sovereignty, what the likes of Tony Blair want is actually the inevitable consequence of it, the end state if you will, for the superstate is just the state writ large. Westphalian sovereignty metastasised.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “But possibility of developing that in the West? Zero.”

    The technology was already developed in the West at the Argonne National Laboratory in the USA, and killed by Bill Clinton in 1994.

    http://skirsch.com/politics/ifr/StanfordIFRQandA.pdf

  • Tim the Coder

    @NiV
    Sure. But turning a demo into a production power station, licensing it, and repeating in volume…

  • Mary Contrary

    Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Regardless of their utterances about Westphalian sovereignty, what the likes of Tony Blair want is actually the inevitable consequence of it, the end state if you will, for the superstate is just the state writ large. Westphalian sovereignty metastasised.

    I’m afraid I disagree. The core Westphalian concept cuius regio was the first glimmerings of the notion that different ideas of what is good could co-exist, even for (what they considered) the most fundamental and important disagreement of all.

    That is the opposite of what Blair etc want: the elimination of all differences and smothering us all under one uniform rule.

    I accept that this Westphalian coexistence just a right for Kings, at least at first – but that’s like saying the rights in Magna Carta were just rights for Barons, and didn’t extend to the ordinary people. It was a starting point.

    The idea that with different States you can pick up and decamp for a better land with more amenable rules (America?) may be very limited as a check on the State (actually, with international travel and trade, it’s becoming a lot more practical for many), but it’s a whole lot better than nothing. Both as an option for actual exit, and in how fear of losing the most productive taxpayers induces the State to pause in its predations.

    I’m not trying to say Westphalian sovereignty is perfect, far from it. But to be the stupidest idea since 1648, it would have to outcompete numerous subsequent ideas that were unmitigated wickedness. It’s far from that.

  • diogenese2

    “ok if nation states murder their own people as long as it’s kept within their own borders”, events unknown before 1648 except perhaps ,a bit, during the previous 30 years.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Sure. But turning a demo into a production power station, licensing it, and repeating in volume…”

    Yes? And how is that different from any other new technology?

    Rationally, fossil fuels are currently cheaper, so for the time being they’re economically the best. However, the vast majority of the issues with building nuclear power stations are regulatory – i.e. artificial barriers raised by the government. Even today, large-scale nuclear technology is viable (as France demonstrated in the 1980s), and for the longer-term future, it ought to be a no-brainer.

    If you want zero-carbon, you can have it. But of course they don’t want it, because it’s just an excuse for the political goal of dismantling the industrial West.

    It’s not actually a stupid idea – but that’s because its real purpose is not what it is claimed to be. The real purpose is political change, and at that it has proved moderately successful. That it would be economically unfeasible is intentional, and part of the means by which it works. When creating an artificial problem to justify your totalitarian solutions, it helps if you can make sure nobody ruins the scheme by solving the problem too early!

  • John B

    ‘ Since fusion still seems to be 20 years away.’

    Still 20 years away. I remember it being so in the 1970s, 1980s, etc. Like Peak Oil and Climate Change, always coming but never arriving.

    Net Zero is an interesting phrase. What exactly does it mean? We can have CO2 emissions but must have negative CO2 emissions to balance?

    Is it like Net Zero calories: a large cream bun with a Diet Coke, the negative calories in the latter cancelling out those in the former.

    The whole of politics and public discourse is made up of slogans and abstractions interspersed with gibberish: vacuous; meaningless.

  • Jacob

    “However, the vast majority of the issues with building nuclear power stations are regulatory”

    False.
    The main issue is that they produce and use radioactive materials that are dangerous and we don’t know how to cancel or neutralize them or clean up if needed.

  • Jacob

    Net Zero is not a bad goal, just unachievable. Like nirvana or good government.
    It becomes idiocy when you say “net zero by 2050” as a British and a German law decree.

  • Mr Ecks

    Bollocks to net zero. It is greenfreak garbage.

    Nuclear power still safest form of power known to man.

  • Net Zero is not a bad goal

    Jacob, I said Net Zero this side of fusion 😉

  • Fraser Orr

    @Jacob
    The main issue is that they produce and use radioactive materials that are dangerous and we don’t know how to cancel or neutralize them or clean up if needed.

    That isn’t true. The way to deal with the waste products is to bury them in a suitably configured hole in the ground. Where that hole is is a huge political football.

  • Tim the Coder

    @Jacob
    You best stop advocating windmills and the like then, since mining the rare earths for the magnets releases lots of radioactive dust: thorium. The regulatory burden on this has killed the mining of these materials in USA, leaving China as the only major source. They mine it in the NE of the country, a predominantly muslim area, so from their point of view, the radiation released is win-win. And we want to be dependent upon these people?

    Many materials are dangerous, including lumps of wood and rock. Don’t drop on your foot, or poke in someone’s eye. Careful with the burnt bits of meat from your wood fire!!! Very toxic. Don’t even mention elemental chlorine, as used in making our water safe to drink: something unavailable to even kings and emperors for most of humanity’s grubby existence. It’s poison gas, shriek!

    The majority of radioactive waste is from hospitals, not from power stations. And molten salt reactors solve even the high level waste challenge. They don’t just burn their own waste, you can feed in high level waste that’s accumulated from older design reactors. Because the fuel is liquid, you have no problems with it being physically/dimensionally degraded by the fission products. You just leave everything in until all the high level stuff is gone. I saw a serious paper that showed that after 100 years, the waste is less radioactive and less dangerous than the mineral you mined originally. Consider it cleaning up God’s mess. 🙂

    NiV and I are agreeing I think. The problem is how to make it happen, bureaucratically, in the West. Who’d put their own money into this?
    NB His link was to molten-sodium cooled fast breeders using solid fuel (as per Super-Phenix), not to Thorium MSFB where the coolant and fuel are the same flouride salt. As that sodium-cooled design still has solid fuel, it still suffers from fission products causing shape/size distortion.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The main issue is that they produce and use radioactive materials that are dangerous and we don’t know how to cancel or neutralize them or clean up if needed.”

    Actually, yes we do. Argonne developed a processing cycle that burnt all the long-term radioactives as fuel, and which would start by using all our present stockpiles of spent fuel as input. It would leave only materials with very short half-lives which would decay to safety on their own. That was the primary point of the Argonne technology – to redesign the fuel cycle for civilian use, including dealing with the waste.

    We *solved* all those problems nearly three decades ago. But nobody ever found out about it because Clinton canned the project for political reasons and they ordered the scientists involved in the research not to publicise it. Other countries are now gradually starting to catch up with where America was in the 1990s, but the reason it’s not going anywhere in the West is mainly because of our legacy of enviro-communist political opposition to nuclear power.

    If you want affordable zero-carbon energy, at scale and without all the engineering headaches of intermittent generation, you can have it. If the ‘climate emergency’ was real, that’s exactly what they would have done. But the main people standing in the way of viable zero-carbon power are the environmentalists, because it would kill the pet hobgoblin that they’re currently using to stampede the public towards a Communist dictatorship stone dead.

  • jg

    I don’t see any problem with letting the Chinese develop a Thorium reactor. We let them spend all the development costs, then buy one from them. We then find out how it works, what materials etc., steal the design and make our own.
    Now, I wonder where I got that idea…?

  • Stonyground

    Don’t forget that the whole point of net zero is to halt dangerous climate change being caused by CO2 emissions. Since dangerous climate change isn’t being caused by CO2 emissions there isn’t any need for net zero in the first place.

  • APL

    NiV: “But the main people standing in the way of viable zero-carbon power are the environmentalists, because it would kill the pet hobgoblin that they’re currently using to stampede the public towards a Communist dictatorship stone dead.”

    Just trying to figure out how COVID-19 hysteria is related to nuclear power ( or lack thereof ). 😉

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Just trying to figure out how COVID-19 hysteria is related to nuclear power ( or lack thereof ). 😉”

    Current events are a demonstration of just how fast they could and would move if there’s a *real* emergency!

    They’ve been wittering on about a ‘climate emergency’ for 20 years, and apart from justifying some corrupt subsidies and protectionism, have done stuff all about it. They’ve dodged and evaded and delayed and kicked targets into the distant future and basically done everything they can to give the impression they’re taking it seriously without actually committing themselves to anything. But when a genuine emergency happens, they’ve got everything locked down in a handfull of weeks!

    If the governments of the world had believed there was a real climate emergency, and they needed to cut CO2 emissions to save the planet, they could have embarked on a crash-development program for new nuclear reactors and had them on line in 5-10 years. France converted to 70% nuclear in about a decade. And you’re not going to tell me that the USA and UK in 2020 don’t have the engineering capability to do what the French managed in the 1980s? All it would have required is for the governments to tell the enviro-communists to shut up.

  • SteveD

    ‘Fusion is the only way to get “Net Zero” without setting economic progress back a hundred years!’

    Fusion may or may not ever become a reality. The most likely fuel of the future is thorium.

  • SteveD

    The main issue is that they produce and use radioactive materials that are dangerous and we don’t know how to cancel or neutralize them or clean up if needed.

    What you are complaining about is that nuclear power is not perfect but the answers (in general) have been known for a long time. Nuclear power is the worst form of power — until you COMPARE it to any other source of power. It has a safety record that beats even hydroelectric. Also, thorium (once it is developed) will be safer and cheaper than uranium.

  • Kevin B

    “And you’re not going to tell me that the USA and UK in 2020 don’t have the engineering capability to do what the French managed in the 1980s?”

    I can’t vouch for the US, but certainly the UK can’t build a nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point, next to the old ones we designed and built fifty years ago, without importing a lot of foreign expertise. We can’t even build a short a short stretch of HSR in a decade, let alone anything new.

    And it’s not just the loss of engineering expertise through old age or the sorry state of education. It’s not even the Health and Safety mania or the NIMBY nature of the Brits, (though those don’t help).

    The problem, it seems to me, is that we lack the will or ambition to even attempt to create anything new. The twenty-first century that I looked forward to as a lad was full of flying cars. In my twenties the vision changed into a dystopia. The visions of today’s youth seem to be of some green utopia full of non-binary unicorns which somehow doesn’t need any energy to keep it going.

    Yes, I’m an old curmudgeon and yes, I’m sure there are plenty of kids who want to design and build lots of great new technologies but there appears to be no space in the culture for them to even talk about such things, let alone do them.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I can’t vouch for the US, but certainly the UK can’t build a nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point, next to the old ones we designed and built fifty years ago, without importing a lot of foreign expertise.”

    Or possibly we could, but it would be more expensive. But since other countries already have designs and current experience, why not take advantage of that and trade? Same as with anything else we import.

  • Jacob

    “You best stop advocating windmills”
    Who advocates wind mills?
    Actually wind mills are a very strong contender for the title of “mankind stupidest idea”.
    While “net zero” is, so far, just a stupid slogan (and law), windmills are a gigantic waste of resources, that already happened. And bird choppers and environment destroyers. No only a stupid idea but useless and most harmful too, and on-going, running amok.

    But, if called to chose between fossil fuels (gas, coal) and nuclear – I think that gas and coal are better than current models of nuclear plants. Maybe some future models of nuclear plants might be better, I’m not expert enough to judge future models. Between current models and coal – I prefer “clean” (i.e. modern) coal plants.

  • Absolutely! Fusion is the only way to get “Net Zero” without setting economic progress back a hundred years! The Net Zeroers are fucking insane.

    Sure, but that’s when you take them at face-value and believe that Net Zero has anything to do with “Saving the Earth”. It’s a justification for Communism and nothing less. If the Net Zeroers (like Extinction Rebellion) had their way we’d be back to appointed elites and subsistence agriculture.

    Nope, only zero-carbon power is fission, preferable of thorium, and preferably in molten salt. That has the advantage of burning all the transuranics it generates, so the waste is eaten too. But possibility of developing that in the West? Zero.
    The Chinese are working on it, so we’ll be able to buy all our power and all our trinkets from them!

    Gotta say that in the absence of widespread fusion technology I’m a huge fan of the whole idea of thorium based molten salt reactors.

    The whole Chinese development has gone a bit quiet, probably because the CCP realises that it’s a massive strategic development that needs to be controlled. Without it the Chinese are going to continue to drown in their own smog and even the CCP elites can’t be enjoying that much.

    My guess is they are trying to create a small design (size of a house thing) which can be used to support a small town or city subdivision and run by a small team of technicians. They can then start closing down the thousands of power stations and the air should clean up.

    I’m guessing we’ll see the early stations deployed around Beijing and then gradually spread throughout China in the 2030’s. I also strongly suspect they will not sell or otherwise share the technology outside China, but that’s not a massive problem, since the fundamental technology is understood (the prototype was developed in the 1950’s but never productionised).

    Once China has it then someone will kick up a fuss and say “Why aren’t we doing that” and you’ll end up with multiple parallel developments taking off, probably with the German or French designs being adopted in the UK.

    Sure, it will have the usual nuclear bureaucracy, but it will be more about operation than installation, since they will be self contained units, simply dropped where they are needed, run for 30 years and then taken away and recycled. Nothing like the problems we have with the current UK nuclear power stations.

    *fingers crossed*

  • Stonyground

    In Australia the town of Sydney is now using 100% renewable power so it can be done. Apparently the way that it is done is to get your power from mainly fossil fuels the same as everyone else and then buy a piece of paper that says that you promise only to use the renewable bits.

  • Paul Marks

    As others have hinted above – if people were serious about the Global Warming theory they would support nuclear power.

    Some supporters of the Global Warming theory DO support nuclear power – for example James “Gaia Man” Lovelock. One may disagree with him – but he is (or was – he may be dead) an honest man.

    However, most of the Greens (and the left generally) campaign to CLOSE nuclear power stations.

    So this is not really about the Global Warming Theory – it is about something else.

    It is about the same thing that the “New Normal” of Covid 19 is about.

    POWER and CONTROL.

    The establishment left (and the left has been the establishment since at least the 1960s) are interested in POWER and CONTROL.

    Like Rousseau of old they pretend to love freedom they pretend to love the “common people” – but they actually want total and absolute power over us, in every aspect of our lives.

    It is really is that brutally simple – Rousseau’s “Law Giver” is the core of the left.

    Underneath the smile of Rousseau is Thomas Hobbes and Sir Francis “New Atlantis” Bacon – and, of course, if one traces it right back one comes to Plato.

    Plato had no Global Warming Theory and no Covid 19 – but that did not stop him writing the Republic and the Laws.

  • Stonyground

    Also remember:
    Coal=bad
    Thatcher=bad

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