Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Energy to Fight Injustice - James Hansen

Beijing’s impenetrable smog (Credit: © Xinhua / Alamy) Click to enlarge.
I have long been troubled by the injustice that climate changes we have brought about will be inherited by our children.  China’s air is another tragic consequence of our choices.

What makes me sick is that these tragedies were preventable.  Scientists informed political leaders decades ago that carbon-free energies must be phased in to replace fossil fuels.  However, we failed to communicate the implications.

Scientists should have made it clearer that there is a limited ‘carbon budget’ for the world – a limit on the amount of fossil fuels that can be burned without disastrous consequences.  We should have made it clear that removing carbon from our energy supplies – particularly for developing countries such as China and India – requires a suite of carbon-free technologies:  hydro, solar, wind and nuclear power.

This last is a key part of the solution, and one we unfortunately abandoned.  Years ago, the US, as the leader in nuclear R&D, had an opportunity to help find a carbon-free path for the world.  In 1976, nuclear scientists were ready to build a demonstration ‘fast’ nuclear power plant.  Today’s ‘slow’ reactors use less than 1% of the nuclear fuel.  A ‘fast’ reactor can utilize more than 99% of the nuclear fuel and can ‘burn’ nuclear waste, which will be needed in the future as easily available uranium is used up.

However, anti-nuclear forces in politics and ‘green’ organisations eliminated this opportunity – the project was stopped by President Jimmy Carter.  Research continued at a low level until 1993 when President Bill Clinton delivered the coup de grace, declaring ‘We are eliminating programs that are no longer needed, such as nuclear power research and development.’

The enormity of these anti-nuclear policy decisions is difficult to exaggerate.  Energy consumption is an inescapable requirement of development, and renewable energy sources alone cannot satisfy the energy demands of China and other developing nations. They now have no choice but to burn massive amounts of coal if they wish to raise their living standards.

The Energy to Fight Injustice - James Hansen

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