I consider Anthony Watts a friend. I’ve guest posted on his very popular weblog ‘Watts Up With That’, receiving brickbats as well as thoughtful commentary from his mostly skeptical audience as I tried to explain the lukewarmer’s way. I’m not sure I made many converts, but I enjoyed the experience, just as I have enjoyed Anthony’s company. We have different views on climate change, that’s all.
Back in the day, say five years ago, it was common for me to see comments on WUWT and other climate blogs that went something like this (not a real quote): ‘I have nothing against green energy–if it succeeds in the marketplace more power to it.’ And while I support (modest) subsidies for green energy, that kind of comment seemed reasonable and rational. But attitudes seem to be changing.
I visited WUWT today and here’s what I found:
“Amnesty International has released a shocking report, about conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the child labourers who mine much of the world’s Cobalt. Cobalt is an essential component of modern high capacity batteries, such as the batteries which power laptops, cell phones and electric cars.” The story continues, “Assuming electric car ownership becomes widespread, the amount of cobalt used in car batteries (which typically weigh 100s of kilograms) will utterly dwarf the amount of cobalt used in laptop and mobile batteries.”
There’s no question that cobalt is used in electric car batteries. But according to Wikipedia, “Cobalt-based superalloys consume most of the produced cobalt. The temperature stability of these alloys makes them suitable for use in turbine blades for gas turbines and jet aircraft engines, though nickel-based single crystal alloys surpass them in this regard. Cobalt-based alloys are also corrosion and wear-resistant. This makes them useful in the medical field, where cobalt is often used (along with titanium) for orthopedic implants that do not wear down over time. The development of the wear-resistant cobalt alloys started in the first decade of the 19th century with the stellite alloys, which are cobalt-chromium alloys with varying tungsten and carbon content. The formation of chromium andtungsten carbides makes them very hard and wear resistant. Special cobalt-chromium-molybdenum alloys like Vitallium are used for prosthetic parts such as hip and knee replacements. Cobalt alloys are also used for dental prosthetics, where they are useful to avoid allergies to nickel. Some high speed steel drill bits also use cobalt to increase heat and wear-resistance. The special alloys of aluminium, nickel, cobalt and iron, known as Alnico, and of samarium and cobalt (samarium-cobalt magnet) are used in permanent magnets. It is also alloyed with 95% platinum for jewelry purposes, yielding an alloy that is suitable for fine detailed casting and is also slightly magnetic.“
Why is Watts Up With That picking on electric car batteries? Both medical technology and aircraft engines are increasing their use of cobalt more rapidly than the take-up of electric cars. I know Anthony has solar on his roof and drives a hybrid–what’s up with this?
Well, that’s just one blog post by guest blogger Eric Worrall, right? Well, umm… right next to Eric’s post is another by my friend Anthony titled “An Inconvenient Truth: Electric Car Battery Materials Can Harm Key Soil Bacteria.” This post reports the somewhat unsurprising fact that batteries need to be disposed of properly or they can harm the environment, writing “Scientists, in a new study in ACS’ journal Chemistry of Materials, are reporting that compounds increasingly used in lithium-ion batteries are toxic to a type of soil-dwelling bacteria that plays an important environmental role.” And this is also true of electric car batteries.” Ummm, okay… but why is Anthony focusing on just the electric car batteries? As of today about 99% of all lithium ion batteries are in consumer electronics products.
Turning again to Wikipedia we find “Since Li-ion batteries contain less toxic metals than other types of batteries which may contain lead or cadmium they are generally categorized as non-hazardous waste.”
Skeptic weblogs (including Anthony’s) have gone after solar for using rare earth materials, wind power for bird kills, noise and other reasons and of course there’s Solyndra, the failed solar power company that was subsidized by the government.
It’s not just the bloggers–their commenters can be just as cutting. And there are organizations that seem to exist just for the purpose of undercutting renewables. So what’s the deal?
Some of the criticisms have merit, of course. But why the seeming hostility? I don’t get that.
Probably there will be no answer to the critics until renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels. Oh, wait–probably not until the storage issue is settled. Oh, wait–probably not until all the grid matching issues are resolved.
To be honest, some (not all, by any means) skeptics seem to want renewables to fail.