The cooling towers of Three Mile Island’s Unit 1 Nuclear Power Plant pour steam into the sky in Middletown, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, March 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
A horrifying account written from America’s largest coal mine in Wyoming and a leaked report, published by The New York Times, of the upcoming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ought to convince some, at least, that nuclear energy should be a major part of the solution to the world’s greatest crisis.
The vast coal mine, which produces 10 percent of the coal that the United States burns, coughs up 108 million tons every year:
Scott Durgin, who manages the mine for Peabody Energy, tries hard to communicate its enormous scale.
In a typical day, Mr. Durgin tells me, 21 trains depart the mine, pulling 135 cars each. Each car bears 120 tons of coal. At this pace, he says, there is more than 20 years’ worth of coal ready to mine under my feet.
That puts an exclamation point on the Times’ report on the IPCC report, scheduled for release next month. The report, which is issued roughly at five-year intervals, raises from 90 to 95 percent the certainty that human activity is responsible for observed rises in world temperatures. Says the report:
“It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010. There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century.”
Politico, reporting on the leaked IPCC report—which was first reported by Reuters—notes the significance of the change in certainty:
An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report due out next month will say there’s at least a 95 percent chance that human activities (mostly burning fossil fuels) have been the main cause of global warming since the 1950s, according to a draft version of the report seen by Reuters. “That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame. That shifts the debate onto the extent of temperature rises and the likely impacts, from manageable to catastrophic. Governments have agreed to work out an international deal by the end of 2015 to rein in rising emissions.”
And the Times summarizes the range of outcomes like this, citing the IPCC draft report:
Regarding the likely rise in sea level over the coming century, the new report lays out several possibilities. In the most optimistic, the world’s governments would prove far more successful at getting emissions under control than they have been in the recent past, helping to limit the total warming.