environnement – changement climatique

The Green Prophet, Susan Kraemer – « Nuclear Power Continues World Dependence on Middle East Oil »

Posted on 24 février 2011. Filed under: énergie, environnement - changement climatique |

arab oil

Out of the frying pan…are uranium reserves to run out in a decade?

In its haste to free itself from oil-powered electricity, during the Arab oil shocks of the ”70s, France switched to nuclear energy. It had been vulnerable in its dependence on the Middle East, and moved to nuclear to free itself of the risk from more oil shocks. Since then, it has been the poster child nation for nuclear energy, getting almost 80% of its electricity from nuclear power. It must be in good shape to weather the bumpy exit from the oil age, right?

Wrong.

It turns out that uranium, the fuel needed to make nuclear power, is completely dependent on oil for the very heavy duty machinery needed for extracting the annual supplies of uranium needed. And it takes a staggering amount of heavy mining equipment to extract the tiny amount of uranium needed.

What’s more, the world is running short of uranium fuel to supply reactors. According to Scientific American in 2009, the World Nuclear Association gives these figures.

Every year, each of the 436 nuclear power plants in the world need to mine 143 million pounds of uranium, to extract the usable fuel. The largest mine in the world produces only 18.7 million pounds, or about a quarter of what just the US nuclear power plants need to mine each year.

The McArthur River uranium mine North of  Saskatchewan is the largest mine in the world, and yet it can only supply a quarter of the 104 US nuclear plants’ needs.

From that 18 million pounds of natural uranium, only 1.8 million pounds of enriched uranium is produced, containing usable 4.5 percent U235. Currently the US gets about ten percent of it nuclear fuel from melted down Russian warheads, but this is not an unlimited supply, obviously.

The rapid decline of highly concentrated uranium deposits concerns European policy makers. “The high grades will be depleted within a decade,” says energy analyst Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, at Ceedata, which advises European governments on energy.

In 2005, he predicted that at present consumption rates, the industry-wide average ore grade will fall below 0.1 percent—or one metric ton of uranium for every 1,000 metric tons of nonuranic material—within the next decade.

Uranium depletion is one issue. But the amount of fossil energy fuel needed to extract and then refine the uranium is even more reason that nuclear power will prove unsustainable in freeing the world from fossil fuels.

“Seventeen-foot-tall, 11-ton raise-boring machines spear into the rock with as much as 750,000 pounds (340,194 kilograms) of force and then chew out the ore with a 10-foot- (three-meter-) wide reaming head that applies as much as 115,000 pounds (52,163 kilograms) of force for every foot (30.5 centimeters) it turns. They work more than 1,700 feet (520 meters) below the surface, knocking ore into remote-controlled loaders in a tunnel nearly 2,100 feet (640 meters) belowground.”

Extracting the usable uranium from the slurry is another energy-intensive process, and carried out in gigantic coal power plants with their own environmental problems. The US uranium is refined in 90% coal-powered Kentucky at a gigantic plant covering 74 acres that itself grinds through through megawatts of coal power to make the nuclear fuel that must be replenished each year.

The plant “sucks up at least 300 megawatts of electricity most of the time, peaking at as much as 2,000 megawatts (much of it from a coal-fired power plant nearby), to heat uranium hexafluoride until it gasifies and then force it through 1,760 porous membranes that gradually concentrate the level of the fissile isotope—a method invented during World War II.

“The gaseous diffusion is an electricity-intensive process,” says Jeremy Derryberry, a spokesman for the coal company. But “we don’t discuss how much power we use to do the enrichment.”

If the coal plant owner is coy about the energy use, the consultant is not.

By 2070, says Storm van Leeuwen, the amount of energy it takes to mine, mill, enrich and fabricate one metric ton of uranium fuel may be larger than 160 terajoules—the amount of energy one can generate from it.

Within 60 years, the energy needed to get fuel for nuclear power will be the same as the energy it can make.

MENA nations considering a shortsighted lurch into nuclear:
Iran Going Nuclear in Joint Power Plant Plan with Neighbors
Jordan Explores the Nuclear Option
Is Israel Coming out of The Nuclear Closet by Planning Nuclear Power Station?

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Yale Environment 360° :Living in the Anthropocene: Toward a New Global Ethos. By paul j. crutzen and christian schwägerl

Posted on 26 janvier 2011. Filed under: environnement - changement climatique |

A decade ago, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Paul Crutzen first suggested we were living in the “Anthropocene,” a new geological epoch in which humans had altered the planet. Now, in an article for Yale Environment 360, Crutzen and a coauthor explain why adopting this term could help transform the perception of our role as stewards of the Earth.

It’s a pity we’re still officially living in an age called the Holocene. The Anthropocene — human dominance of biological, chemical and geological processes on Earth — is already an undeniable reality. Evidence is mounting that the name change suggested by one of us more than ten years ago is overdue. It may still take some time for the scientific body in charge of naming big stretches of time in Earth’s history, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, to make up its mind about this name change. But that shouldn’t stop us from seeing and learning what it means to live in this new Anthropocene epoch, on a planet that is being anthroposized at high speed.

For millennia, humans have behaved as rebels against a superpower we call “Nature.” In the 20th century, however, new technologies, fossil fuels, and a fast-growing population resulted in a “Great Acceleration” of our own powers. Albeit clumsily, we are taking control of Nature’s realm, from climate to DNA. We humans are becoming the dominant force for change on Earth. A long-held religious and philosophical idea — humans as the masters of planet Earth — has turned into a stark reality. What we do now already affects the planet of the year 3000 or even 50,000.

Changing the climate for millennia to come is just one aspect. By cutting down rainforests, moving mountains to access coal deposits and acidifying coral reefs, we fundamentally change the biology and the geology of the planet. While driving uncountable numbers of species to extinction, we create new life forms through gene technology, and, soon, through synthetic biology.

It’s no longer us against ‘Nature.’ It’s we who decide what nature is what it will be.

Human population will approach ten billion within the century. We spread our man-made ecosystems, including “mega-regions” with more than 100 million inhabitants, as landscapes characterized by heavy human use — degraded agricultural lands, industrial wastelands, and recreational landscapes — become characteristic of Earth’s terrestrial surface. We infuse huge quantities of synthetic chemicals and persistent waste into Earth’s metabolism. Where wilderness remains, it’s often only because exploitation is still unprofitable. Conservation management turns wild animals into a new form of pets.
Geographers Erle Ellis and Navin Ramankutty argue we are no longer disturbing natural ecosystems. Instead, we now live in “human systems with natural ecosystems embedded within them.” The long-held barriers between nature and culture are breaking down. It’s no longer us against “Nature.” Instead, it’s we who decide what nature is and what it will be.

To master this huge shift, we must change the way we perceive ourselves and our role in the world. Students in school are still taught that we are living in the Holocene, an era that began roughly 12,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. But teaching students that we are living in the Anthropocene, the Age of Men, could be of great help. Rather than representing yet another sign of human hubris, this name change would stress the enormity of humanity’s responsibility as stewards of the Earth. It would highlight the immense power of our intellect and our creativity, and the opportunities they offer for shaping the future.
If one looks at how technology and cultures have changed since 1911, it seems that almost anything is possible by the year 2111. We are confident that the young generation of today holds the key to transforming our energy and production systems from wasteful to renewable and to valuing life in its diverse forms. The awareness of living in the Age of Men could inject some desperately needed eco-optimism into our societies.

What then does it mean to live up to the challenges of the Anthropocene? We’d like to suggest three avenues for consideration:

First, we must learn to grow in different ways than with our current hyper-consumption. What we now call economic “growth” amounts too often to a Great Recession for the web of life we depend on. Gandhi pointed out that “the Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” To accommodate the current Western lifestyle for 9 billion people, we’d need several more planets. With countries worldwide striving to attain the “American Way of Life,” citizens of the West should redefine it — and pioneer a modest, renewable, mindful, and less material lifestyle. That includes, first and foremost, cutting the consumption of industrially produced meat and changing from private vehicles to public transport.

We must build a culture that grows with Earth’s biological wealth instead of depleting it.

Second, we must far surpass our current investments in science and technology. Our troubles will deepen exponentially if we fail to replace the wasteful fossil-fueled infrastructure of today with a system fueled by solar energy in its many forms, from artificial photosynthesis to fusion energy. We need bio-adaptive technologies to render “waste” a thing of the past, among them compostable cars and gadgets. We need innovations tailored to the needs of the poorest, for example new plant varieties that can withstand climate change and robust iPads packed with practical agricultural advice and market information for small-scale farmers. Global agriculture must become high-tech and organic at the same time, allowing farms to benefit from the health of natural habitats. We also need to develop technologies to recycle substances like phosphorus, a key element for fertilizers and therefore for food security.

To prevent conflicts over resources and to progress towards a durable “bio-economy” will require a collaborative mission that dwarfs the Apollo program. Global military expenditure reached 1,531 billion U.S. dollars in 2009, an increase of 49 percent compared to 2000. We must invest at least as much in understanding, managing, and restoring our “green security system” — the intricate network of climate, soil, and biodiversity. To reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to safe levels, we need to move towards “negative emissions,” e.g. by using plant residues in power plants with carbon capture and storage technology. We also need to develop geoengineering capabilities in order to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. In addition to cutting industrial CO2 emissions and protecting forests, large investments will be needed to maintain the huge carbon stocks in fertile soils, currently depleted by exploitative agricultural practices. For biodiversity, green remnants in a sea of destruction will not be enough — we need to build a “green infrastructure,” where organisms and genes can flow freely over vast areas and maintain biological functions.

Finally, we should adapt our culture to sustaining what can be called the “world organism.” This phrase was not coined by an esoteric Gaia guru, but by eminent German scientist Alexander von Humboldt some 200 years ago. Humboldt wanted us to see how deeply interlinked our lives are with the richness of nature, hoping that we would grow our capacities as a part of this world organism, not at its cost. His message suggests we should shift our mission from crusade to management, so we can steer nature’s course symbiotically instead of enslaving the formerly natural world.

Until now, our behaviors have defied the goals of a functioning and fruitful Anthropocene. But at the end of 2010, two United Nations environmental summits offered some hope for progress. In October, in Nagoya, Japan, 193 governments agreed on a strategic plan for global conservation that includes protecting an unprecedented proportion of Earth’s ecosystems and removing ecologically harmful subsidies by 2020. And in December, in Cancún, countries agreed that Earth must not warm more than 2 degrees Celsius above the average temperature level before industrialization. This level is already very risky — it implies higher temperature increases in polar regions and therefore greater chance of thawing in permafrost regions, which could release huge amounts of CO2 and methane. But at least, Cancún and Nagoya turned out not to be cul-de-sacs for environmental policy. After years of stalemate and the infamous Copenhagen collapse, there is now at least a glimmer of hope that humanity can act together. Between now and 2020, however, the commitments on paper must be turned into real action.

Imagine our descendants in the year 2200 or 2500. They might liken us to aliens who have treated the Earth as if it were a mere stopover for refueling, or even worse, characterize us as barbarians who would ransack their own home. Living up to the Anthropocene means building a culture that grows with Earth’s biological wealth instead of depleting it. Remember, in this new era, nature is us.

MORE FROM YALE e360

The Anthropocene Debate:
Marking Humanity’s Impact

The Anthropocene Debate: Marking Humanity’s Impact

Is human activity altering the planet on a scale comparable to major geological events of the past? Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert writes that scientists are now considering whether to officially designate a new geological epoch to reflect the changes that homo sapiens have wrought: the Anthropocene.
READ MORE

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Je n’irai pas à Yellowstone – OilMan – Blog Le Monde – Matthieu Auzanneau

Posted on 8 août 2010. Filed under: environnement - changement climatique |

L’inertie américaine : la société.

Il y a quelques semaines, j’ai traversé en voiture les montagnes Rocheuses. J’étais aux Etats-Unis pour une série de reportages qui doivent nourrir un bouquin sur lequel je planche. J’ai toujours voulu aller à Yellowstone, l’un des plus célèbres parcs naturels d’Amérique du Nord, à la frontière du Montana, du Wyoming et de l’Idaho, un coin perdu de hauts volcans, de geysers et de larges vallées recouvertes de pins, de sapins et d’épicéas où les bêtes sauvages abondaient, libres, loin des villes et des highways.

J’ai beaucoup rêvé de l’Amérique, ça oui ! Mon esprit a souvent voyagé là-haut, dans les Rocheuses, et partagé le bivouac des Indiens sous les branches, affronté les rapides sur les traces de Lewis et Clark, ou chasser le grizzly avec Teddy Roosevelt. Et j’étais sûr que j’irai un jour voir à quoi ressemble Yellowstone, dont le nom évoquait si fort en moi la vigueur du monde ancien, sa beauté incoercible.

Je crois que tout est mort à Yellowstone, ou presque, et je n’irai pas là-bas.

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A quelques miles de la source du Colorado, juillet 2010 [M.A]

Au cours des quinze dernières années, tout au long de la chaîne des montagnes Rocheuses, un petit coléoptère qui se nourrit d’écorce a ravagé les forêts froides de haute altitude sur des millions et des millions d’hectares. La hausse des températures constatée été comme hiver en Amérique du Nord permet à cet insecte de se reproduire environ deux fois plus vite qu’avant. Sa population ne cesse de s’accroître. Du cercle polaire au Mexique, les conséquences ont pris ces dernières années des dimensions affreuses.

Il y a huit ans en Alaska, j’avais déjà eu le coeur serré par ce spectacle de forêts pétrifiées, vides, silencieuses ! A leurs lisières, nous avions filmé des hommes tentant de raser au plus vite les arbres morts, avant que la sécheresse ne déclenche les incendies de cataclysme que l’Amérique du Nord affronte désormais chaque été. Je tournais alors le 1er documentaire français montrant des conséquences humaines du réchauffement climatique. Ces images morbides m’ont beaucoup hanté, et inspiré aussi.

Et cette année, sans l’avoir cherché vraiment, je me suis retrouvé à nouveau au milieu des arbres morts. Alors j’ai bifurqué, j’ai traversé les Rocheuses au plus court, je me suis enfui vers le désert du Nevada ; j’ai renoncé à Yellowstone, incapable d’encaisser, même pour un reportage, la projection concrète de notre impuissance pendant des jours entiers de route.

Carl Jung, l’un des pères de la psychologie, a remarqué il y a longtemps que « les gens ne peuvent faire face à trop de réalité ». L’ironie de cette phrase m’a exaspéré pendant de longues heures, alors que je cherchais une sortie à la forêt morte. Seul au volant, j’avais la sensation mégalo et tragique de me prendre dans la poire le diagnostic du bon vieux Carl au nom de toute l’humanité.

Me trouver presque par hasard au milieu de millions de pins morts six mois après la pantalonnade du sommet de Copenhague sur le climat…

Pourquoi cet aveuglement ? Comment se peut-il que l’état d’urgence climatique n’ait pas été déclaré par Washington, alors que la forêt enracinée sur l’épine dorsale des Etats-Unis est en train de crever ? Invraisemblable.

[Un rapport publié en juillet par le United States Forest Service et le Natural ressources Defense Council montre que plus de la moitié des pins à écorce blanche des Rocheuses sont morts, et qu’un quart vont mourir bientôt. C’est ce que rapportait fin juillet un tout petit éditorial en bas de page du New York Times, liant l’épidémie au réchauffement du climat. 80 % des forêts de Colombie Britannique pourraient être détruites d’ici à 2013, prévoit Natural Ressources Canada.]

Tout près des sources du Colorado, j’ai posé la question ci-dessus à un vieux bonhomme barbu assis dans son pick-up. Il était là, arrêté le long d’une route déserte, le regard perdu face à la montagne décharnée, une casquette Stars & Stripes délavée vissée sur le crâne. Avec l’accent épais des gens du grand West, il a répondu mollement : « Ils font des voitures qui avalent (sic) moins d’essence maintenant, et puis ils font un peu de solaire ici et là. » Il n’avait pas l’air trop convaincu. Nous avons regardé la forêt en silence. Et puis il a ajouté, presque pour lui-même : « C’est devenu vraiment très mauvais ces dernières années. Y’a plus qu’à prier pour que tout brûle et que quelque chose repousse. »

Sur la route, j’ai fini par apercevoir de petites grappes de jeunes épicéas au vert bienveillant en train de grandir blottis aux pieds de leurs parents. C’est idiot, mais j’ai pensé au destin des bisons et des Indiens.

Plus tard, j’ai lu la phrase suivante dans le journal du parc naturel des Rocheuses : « Le problème des insectes mangeurs d’écorce (est) là pour nous rappeler la capacité de la nature à changer au-delà du contrôle des hommes »… Le contrôle des hommes… Le sophisme puait le marketing touristique, et je l’ai fait remarqué à un ranger, un officier chargé de la protection de la nature. L’homme m’a expliqué qu’au milieu des années 2000, il avait bien existé un programme d’information et des randonnées pédagogiques sur le réchauffement climatique. « Mais y’avait pas grand monde qui voulait y participer, à cause des implications. Y’a beaucoup de controverses là-dessus, vous comprenez, alors ils ont arrêté. »

Ce qu’« ils » n’arrêteront pas, dirait-on, c’est de forer à la recherche de nouvelles sources d’hydrocarbure, ce sang de l’American Way of Life dont la société technique semble devoir d’ici peu manquer (dirait-on). Partout dans les Rocheuses, depuis deux ou trois ans, des systèmes d’extraction d’un nouveau type poussent comme des champignons. Ils servent à ‘valoriser’ les gaz de schistes (shale gas), une forme de gaz naturel dite ‘non-conventionnelle’ jugée jusqu’ici insuffisamment rentable (*), mais que les firmes énergétiques ont entrepris d’exploiter à fond, faute de mieux. Il s’agit sans doute de l’une des ultimes ruées vers les énergies fossiles sur le territoire américain, un siècle et demi après les premières.

* modif. par rapport à la v.o.

La forêt se meurt, et autour d’elle, avidité et nécessité produisent plus de poison encore.

image_207.1281083574.jpg image_153.1281082340.jpg

« Fore bébé, fore ! » (Sarah Palin) [M.A]

« Les gens ne peuvent faire face à trop de réalité » : le verdict de Carl Jung est sans appel.

Sur la highway 70 qui mène de Las Vegas à Denver, à la ligne de partage des eaux entre l’Atlantique et le Pacifique, je me suis retrouvé piégé dans un embouteillage à près de 3000 mètres d’altitude. Autour de nous, la forêt se décomposait à perte de vue. C’était un dimanche soir, les habitants l’Etat du Colorado rentraient de leur week-end au bord des lacs des hautes vallées. Beaucoup tiraient en remorque une paire de scooters des mers. Les gens du Colorado sont connus pour leur amour de la nature. L’embouteillage a duré si longtemps qu’ils m’ont fait rater mon avion pour Washington.

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[M.A]

Parmi les automobilistes ce soir-là, je ne sais pas combien songeaient au changement du climat, ou méditaient sur cette incapacité à tirer les conséquences de notre addiction aux énergies fossiles (à un moment donné, comme pour m’achever, deux gros porteurs militaires sont passés au ras des crêtes ; l’armée s’entraîne beaucoup dans cette région peu habitée). Les forêt dévastées des Rocheuses sont très loin des mégapoles de l’Est et de Californie. La mort des pins, des sapins et des épicéas s’oublie sans peine. Ferme la porte et pousse la clim’. De toute façon, la plupart des gens ignore même qu’elle a lieu.

Les jours d’été à Washington DC, au pied de chaque bâtiment officiel, de grandes plaques d’aération vomissent des millions de mètres cube d’air chaud poussés dans un vrombissement d’enfer par les systèmes de climatisation.

[Les gaz réfrigérants qui servent à la climatisation s’échappent et augmentent l’effet de serre. Tout comme la décomposition du bois mort, qui dégage du méthane, autre puissant gaz à effet de serre.]

A lire aussi, absolument: [ Obama lâché par le parti démocrate dans la lutte contre l’effet de serre / L’inertie américaine (1/3) : la politique. ]


Le Blog de Matthieu Auzanneau, Journaliste indépendant.

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