LETTER: What’s the alternative to wind energy?

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I am not convinced that wind turbines are the most effective renewable energy source. But, as a meteorologist since 1961 and a retired Chief Forecaster for Defence, I do know something about atmospheric processes. Man-made emissions of greenhouse gases must reduce rapidly to limit global warning, which would otherwise be catastrophic for mankind.

For the best part of a million years, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have varied between 180 and 280 parts per million (ppm). Since men started to burn coal on an industrial scale, around 1750, this has risen to around 400 ppm, and the rate of increase shows no sign of abating. Forget the natural emissions from animals; they are in equilibrium with the natural absorptions by plants and the oceans. Throw in other, more potent manmade greenhouse gases such as methane, nitrogen dioxide and low level ozone, and the effect is similar to double-glazing your greenhouse.

As with a greenhouse, short-wave rays from the sun freely penetrate the atmosphere. Because the earth is much cooler than the sun, its long-wave outward radiation cannot penetrate the atmospheric shield to escape into space.

As more energy is entering the planet than can leave it, commonsense tells us that the earth must become warmer. Long ago this was confirmed in laboratory experiments and quantified by scientists such as Fourier (1824), Pouillet (1838), Tyndall (1861), Arrhenius (1895), Planck, Wien, Stefan and Boltzman.

The UK and other nations are bound by treaties to hit targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and steeper reductions by 2050. These measures should limit the rise in temperature to 2 degrees C by the end of the century, but most of us will not be around to verify that! The world is not the property of the present generation, to plunder and pollute. It is a resource that we inherited, for us to nurture and bequeath to future generations.

Those who object to turbines should reflect on which renewable energy sources they would prefer. Energy-saving such as by insulation should be a priority. Power from wind, waves, tides, solar panels, heat pumps, biomass waste, hydro-, etc. all have their place. But large-scale exploitation of shale gas and oil is incompatible with emissions targets. In my humble opinion the only source that will generate enough energy is nuclear-based.

Modern nuclear power plants produce far less waste and are safer than early ones. Would the critics of wind turbines prefer a nuclear power station in their backyards? Or just in someone else’s backyard?

Peter J Taylor

Welton le Wold