A Great Course Failure

This is the second in a group of articles describing what’s being taught in colleges and universities about energy and energy issues.

In this instance, I purchased a course, the Science of Energy, published by the Great Courses.

I felt this might provide an insight into what’s being taught in our colleges and universities. And, after going through the 24 sessions, about 45 minutes per session, I believe it does, since the instructor is a professor from a Midwest university.

It’s my opinion that this course is pure propaganda, promoting the CO2 hypothesis of global warming and promoting renewables, specifically wind and solar.

I will try to support my opinion with facts drawn from the course material.

Infrastructure associated with fossil fuels
Infrastructure associated with fossil fuels

The bias of the instructor was confirmed when he said: “We know that renewables will be the dominant form of energy in the not-to-distant future.”

Reconfirmed, when he said: “Renewables are where we need to go.”

It’s also clear the instructor supports big government rather than market forces.
In his concluding lecture, he says:

“If the power companies don’t have the motivation to build [the smart grid], then the government should step in and make sure it happens.”

There are multiple instances throughout the course where these sentiments for government intervention and preference for wind and solar are repeated.

A major focus of the course is on promoting the threat of climate change from atmospheric CO2. In the session on coal, for example, he says “coal is the largest contributor to human induced climate change.” This establishes his belief that CO2 is the cause of global warming.

In fact, he devotes an entire session to human induced climate change, mentioning sea level rise and droughts, claiming that CO2 is the only way by which the Earth’s temperatures can be increased.

The instructor repeatedly refers to CO2 and climate change, so there is no question he is teaching students that CO2 emissions are a threat to mankind.

The instructor demonizes coal, and refers to it as “junk food, cheap, available and not good for you.”

He emphasizes that coal emits more CO2 than any other form of energy.

While the instructor’s demeanor and tone are consistently negative toward fossil fuels, these alone can’t be used in an article such as this.

Only facts are suitable.

There are many instances in which the instructor is actually misleading his students or is wrong, but only a few of these instances can be commented on here, to keep the article relatively short.

  • The instructor is wrong in his assertion that Combined Heat and Power (CHP) improves the efficiency of a power plant. This is an argument used by Greenpeace, and it is wrong.
    For example, using the hot water from an automobile’s cooling system to heat the car doses not improve the efficiency of the engine. See, CHP: Progress or Regression?
  • The instructor emphasized the use of water for cooling in power generation plants, especially in coal and nuclear power plants, without considering whether its use had any real impact on the environment or on the availability of water. He also made the very misleading statement that power generation is the largest user of water in the United States.

The fact is, approximately 90% of the cooling water is returned to the river, lake, etc., from where it was drawn. Agriculture is, in fact, the largest consumer of water in the United States.

Use of water for cooling has no effect on the availability of water east of the Mississippi, or in the Northwest, since, according to the USGS, less than 10% of rainfall in these areas is consumed by all users. The fact that multiple millions of gallons of water are lost to evaporation is meaningless in these parts of the country, and to deliberately accentuate water usage in this manner is misleading, at best.

  • The instructor claimed that Clean Air Act regulations were approved by Congress, when it was the EPA that established the regulations. Congress created the CAA, but doesn’t establish regulations.
  • With respect to nuclear power, the instructor referenced the China Syndrome without clarifying that it’s an impossible concept, and can’t happen. He went on to say that the Chernobyl disaster killed 4,000 people.

This number of Chernobyl deaths is wrong, as reported by UNSCEAR, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. For a clearer understanding see, Unreasonable Fear of Radiation and Nuclear Fallout.

  • The instructor made the claim that solar panels in most areas of the United States can recover their cost within 2 years. This is factually wrong, even if the 30% subsidy is included in the calculation.

The only state where it might be possible to recover the investment in two years is Hawaii. The appendix in Nothing to Fear itemizes the payback periods for every state, and, besides Hawaii, only California achieves a pay back of 8 years, and all the rest require 10 or more years to recover the investment without the 30% subsidy. Half the states require more than 15 years to recover the investment.

  • The instructor emphasized that fossil fuels will run out, so we should adopt renewables now. He specifically mentions biofuels, including algae. And he specifically mentions CO2 emissions from airplanes

He contradicts himself because he mentions there is insufficient land to produce corn for ethanol.

The fact is, there is insufficient supply of any biologic energy source, such as trees, switchgrass, grease or corn, etc., to produce biofuels in sufficient quantities to replace fossil fuels. This is made clear by examples in Nothing to Fear, including the fact that it’s impossible to produce enough biofuels to replace jet fuel, which is only a minor source of CO2 emissions.

  • The instructor claims that the market has determined that the cost of wind and solar is worth the social costs.

This is a distorted reference to market forces, and is clearly false, because both wind and solar are uneconomic when compared with coal-fired and natural gas combined cycle power plants.

The government is making the decision, not the market, by imposing regulations, such as Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), and providing large subsidies to encourage their use.

A more egregious claim by the instructor was during his discussion of the hidden cost of gasoline, where he claimed the cost of US military forces defending oil supplies from the Mideast was a form of subsidy increasing the cost of gasoline. This also is a common refrain from radical environmentalists who overlook the cost of defending the United States from the Soviet Union, terrorists and other enemies of freedom.

There are many other claims by the instructor that should be commented on, but for which there is insufficient space.

Claims such as:

  • Gasoline taxes should be higher to reduce miles driven
  • There should be a carbon tax in the US
  • Switch to electric vehicles to stop funding wars
  • Place speed limits on cars, because higher speeds produce greater amounts of CO2

In summary, the course is teaching students:

  • That CO2 emissions are a threat to mankind
  • Wind and solar are “the way to go,” and that fossil fuels should be kept in the ground
  • Government should step in and make sure things happen

This is why I believe this Great Course is propaganda.

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Nothing to Fear, Chapter 15, An Alternative Hypothesis, describes why the sun is the far more likely cause of global warming.

Nothing to Fear is available from Amazon and some independent book sellers.

Link to Amazon: http://amzn.to/1miBhXy

Book Cover, Nothing to Fear
Book Cover, Nothing to Fear

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0 thoughts on “A Great Course Failure

  1. Thanks for confirming the suspicions that we all had of College courses regarding Progressive propaganda.
    Don’t know what the student audience for the specific course, but I have always said the engineering courses should emphasize fundamentals/basics which an Engineer can apply to any situation rather than courses which are too specific and lacking fundamentals or broad application.
    Learn the fundamentals and you can solve almost any problem. The specifics can be easily learned on the job or now on the internet.
    Especially good post exposing the failures of our colleges which charge $ 45 k per year to brain wash our youth

    • Thanks. I agree 100%. Learn the fundamentals and you have a ticket to any problem.
      It’s tragic our kids are paying outrageous amounts to take course that provide indoctrination, not education.

  2. Donn,

    I own a number of Great Courses. I watch the videos daily while I’m on the treadmill. About a year ago I was watching one whose title I have forgotten but I think it was Oceanography, Exploring Earth’s Final Wilderness. A lecturer in Antarctica accompanied by illustrative video explained how CO2 was causing the Earth to warm, the ice to melt, the little sea creatures to die, and the bigger sea creatures to follow. Barring a change in our behavior, sooner or later CO2 will claim us all. It was clear his science was settled. Mine wasn’t, but I continue to enjoy the Great Courses. I also continue to enjoy your columns.

    Neil

    • Thanks.
      I’m not critical of all their courses, as I have seen a few others that weren’t involved with science. But this one was really egregious.

  3. I can tell you first hand that what you outlined about this course is being taught, or will soon be taught, at all our colleges. It’s appears to be a “movement” and this type of material is being promoted for non-science, science, and engineering majors. I also took a number of so-called “Energy” courses online through Coursera from several US Universities and what you have described about the course you took was a common theme in all of them.
    Here is a one of the YouTube videos that we had to watch out of Penn State.

    There is no “critical thinking” being taught when it comes to climate change.

    • Thanks.
      You have provided another good example of the propaganda being used to promote climate change. Even the short video on the studies done by the air-force really doesn’t address the issue, but is merely used to promote a one sided view of climate change. No one I know of doesn’t agree that CO2 has some effect, as was noted by Arrhenius back in the late 1800s, but that effect is small compared to other possible explanations.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #230 | Watts Up With That?

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