Halstead's Comments

[Link] Updated Drawdown now available, incl. 2020 Review

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for this vigorous and informed replies!

1. You say that IAM's don't factor in economic factors. I think this is wrong, or perhaps I have misunderstood your point? IAMs model the role of different energy technologies in an energy system meeting an emissions and economic constraint. The typical IAM does indeed imply a quadrupling of nuclear to 2050 (Peters et al, p4). This suggests that you are wrong to give the impression that all experts believe that nuclear should be phased out. As another example, the authors of the Clack et al response to Jacobson et al are all highly respected energy researchers who believe that at least 20% of energy needs to come from firm controllable low carbon sources. This means either gas+ ccs or nuclear, right?

2. It was very difficult until recently for private Gen IV nuclear companies to operate due to licensing and regulation. This was the point I was making.

Korea and UAE also show low cost and labour costs there will be comparable to the US/EU.


a. System levelised cost is important because it tells us what technologies we will need in a completely decarbonised system. It is at the system level where the case for nuclear becomes clear.

Re betting - my point was that there appear to be lots of potential barriers to VRE, including uncertain cost, local opposition, system grid balancing etc. There are a range of studies which suggest that with a zero emissions constraint, costs increase nonlinearly as VRE penetration passes 50%. Do you deny this?

i'm surprised you give the example of batteries to make your case here. A VRE-dependent system has *multi-week* electricity droughts to which batteries are ill-suited. It might be true that we get long duration storage but the technology isn't there yet.

b. The problem I was highlighting was of VRE *relative to* nuclear. VRE at high penetration has colossal land use requirements. David McKay argued that due to local opposition, VRE could at best provide one sixth of electricity in the UK. Nuclear in contrast because it is very energy dense doesn't have the same concerns.

4. I think you are missing my point on Germany. Germany has indeed subsidised VRE a lot and this has indeed helped to bring costs down. However, the point I was making was that Germany's own domestic performance on climate targets is bad relative to Europe, but they are following the exact strategy you propose - no nuclear, lots of VRE. Onshore wind additions fell to a twenty year low last year in part due to local opposition - they are around a quarter of what they need to be for them to get to their target if 65% of electricity from VRE. I think it highly likely that this local opposition to lots of wind will be replicated everywhere else where it is proposed.

5. The fastest rates of decarbonisation in absolute terms are from VRE. I don't think this is right, but perhaps I am not understanding what you mean. France and Sweden nearly completely decarbonised their electricity supply in ten years with nuclear/nuclear+hydro. I don't think anyone is on course to do that with VRE are they?

6. On zero carbon fuels, the problem here is that VRE would mean that the electrolyser is not used most of the time, whereas nuclear could run the electrolyser at max capacity. From memory the electrolyser is a third of the cost of hydrogen production. From modelling I've seen, VRE would be a very expensive way to produce liquid fuels.

Is Existential Risk a Useless Category? Could the Concept Be Dangerous?

It may be noted that in the thing I wrote on climate change I don't actually defend long-termism or even avow belief in it.

For those who find it confusing that I, at best a mid-table figure in EA, get dragged into this stuff, the reason is that I once publicly criticised a post on Pinker that Phil wrote on Facebook (my critique was about three sentences). Phil has since then borne a baffling and persistent grudge against me, including persistently sending me messages on Facebook, name-checking me while making some rape allegations against some famous person I have never heard of, and then calling me a white supremacist. Hopefully, this gives some insight into Phil's psychology and what is actually driving posts such as the one linked to here.

AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell

GiveWell seems to be unusually well run.

  • What are your top organisation, management and strategy tips? Research management tips would be especially useful
  • Allocating time to research is a difficult optimal stopping problem - how do your researchers decide when they should stop researching a particular question or subquestion?
AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement

How likely do you think we would be to recover from a catastrophe killing 50%/90%/99% of the world population respectively?

AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement

Do you think the problems of infinite ethics give us reason to reject totalism or long-termism? If so, what is the alternative?

AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement

Do you think we will ever have a unified and satisfying theory of how to respond to moral uncertainty, given the huge structural and substantive differences between apparently plausible moral theories? Will MacAskill's thesis is one of the best treatments of this problem, and it seems like it would be hard to build an account of how one ought to respond to e.g. Rawlsianism, totalism, libertarianism, person-affecting views, absolutist rights-based theories, and so on, across most choice situations.

AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement

Is your view that:

(i) the main thing that matters for the long-term is whether we get to the stars

(ii) This could plausibly happen in the next few centuries

(iii) therefore the main long-termist relevance of our actions is whether we survive the next few centuries and can make it to the stars?

Or do you put some weight on the view that long-term human and post-human flourishing on Earth could also account for >1% of the total plausible potential of our actions?

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