“In nuclear physics, double beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which two neutrons are simultaneously transformed into two protons, or vice versa, inside an atomic nucleus. As in single beta decay, this process allows the atom to move closer to the optimal ratio of protons and neutrons. As a result of this transformation, the nucleus emits two detectable beta particles, which are electrons or positrons.”

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I know it sounds assholish to say it, but writing books makes life thrilling. It makes me aware of the individuality of every passing moment of time, the progress of the universe toward some state of complexity and development which doesn’t exist yet but which is palpably coming.

private to the other dot-orc, I hope you’re well

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The National Trust – described by the BBC as “the biggest conservation charity in Europe” – has 4% of its £1bn stock market investment in fossil fuel corporations, but will now divest those holdings over 3-12 months.

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Natural gas is often held up as a solution to climate change, or at least a transition in the right direction, on the basis of producing less CO2 per unit of energy than oil or coal. Other factors are also relevant, however. Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4) which is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. If just a few percent of the methane extracted is leaking in the form of ‘fugitive emissions’ from production facilities and pipelines that alone can make it a worse energy source than coal. Methane also has a different atmospheric lifetime. It’s actually much much worse than CO2 in the short term, but unlike CO2 which largely endures for centuries methane breaks down comparatively quickly. This may be relevant to global temperature pathways as the frontloaded impact of methane may make the peak of warming worse and raise the risk of positive feedback effects where the warming we cause induces further greenhouse gas emissions and warming which we cannot control.

There are more complicated arguments about long-term infrastructure, with some arguing that gas is substituting for worse alternatives and others saying big new gas investments are locking in our fossil fuel dependence for decades to come. There’s also always the debate about any prospective energy source versus renewables, with some arguing that options like gas or nuclear are not needed because renewables are becoming cheap so quickly, and others arguing that energy sources like gas or nuclear complement renewables. With gas, the argument is that it’s a deployable energy source you can activate only when renewables don’t supply demand (many gas plants are peaker plants that only run at times of peak demand); with nuclear, people say it’s always-on baseload energy that would provide at least something during renewable dips.

All this is highly relevant because gas production is exploding, especially because of North America’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) boom. A new Global Energy Monitor report describes $1.3 trillion being invested in gas infrastructure around the world. In particular, massive investments are being made in liquified natural gas (LNG) infrastructure, since unlike gas in pipelines it can be exported by ship intercontinentally.

Canada is hosting a very disproportionate amount of this investment: 35% of the global total, despite our much smaller global population and domestic share of world greenhouse gas production.

Related:

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The CBC is reporting on polling results pertinent to this fall’s federal election: CBC News poll takes snapshot of Canadians ahead of fall election.

They say the cost of living was the top concern identified, followed by climate change. This suggests a familiar Canadian dynamic: being notionally concerned about climate change, but rejecting action on the necessary scale because of a perceived threat to short-term economic growth and personal financial well-being.

This integrated nicely with Andrew Scheer’s Conservative climate plan, which follows the traditional formula of expressing concern about climate change, proposing only speculative and painless long-term measures to deal with it while insisting that the fossil fuel industry can keep growing, and vaguely hoping that the rest of the world will solve the problem while Canada changes little and continues to actively make it worse.

There’s so much about this election that is depressing: how Trudeau and his government have done a poor job but remain the only non-abominable party with a chance of winning, how the discussion on the left will largely remain a squabble about blocking each other which the progressive parties cannot overcome, and ultimately Canada being carried forward by inertia and the defenders of the status quo into an unliveable and chaotic future.

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Over the years I have written a variety of academic papers on various aspects of nuclear weapons and nuclear power:

1) Written for an undergrad international relations course at UBC and subsequently published in a journal and given an award:

The Space Race as ‘Primitive’ Warfare.UBC Journal of International Affairs. 2005. p. 19-28.

2) Written during my M.Phil at Oxford:

Climate Change, Energy Security, and Nuclear Power.St. Antony’s International Review. Volume 4, Number 2, February 2009. p. 92-112.

3) Written as part of my PhD coursework at U of T:

Climate change and nuclear power in Ontario (self-published on Academia.edu)

Canada’s mixed nuclear policy experiences.

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