For years I have felt indignant at the idea of governments foisting nuclear energy on us. Regarded France with pity at the mere thought of how that socialist dictator (my words) thrust nuclear energy upon those poor souls.
Thought how wise America was to pull back from the nuclear energy program.
And at the same time, I have felt the burden of powerlessness in the face of increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The sick realisation that the tipping point is being reached as we watch meltwater racing out of cracks in the arctic. The mute knowledge that every time the earth went over 350ppm carbon in precious millennia in the atmosphere, a switch occurred to destroy most species within what could often be a very short space of time.
I am not used to being negative. I am an opportunist. But watching all my friends, and myself, operate on a day to day level that would never, ever lead to big reductions in atmospheric carbon left me shamefaced. And the knowledge that I live in a pretty good world – and I would be naive and selfish to expect poorer people to demand any less than what I have – stays with me. We could only desire growth.
Lynas’ book The God Species has helped me understand that we may never be perfect, but we can do a lot better if we understand the new facts about planetary boundaries (and he outlines this really well), and, the big one for me, CO2 and nuclear energy. This book is compelling, logical and easy to understand.
The God Species has clearly helped me come to terms with next generation nuclear technology, and how it can utilise much more potential energy in uranium fission than old reactors, and even burn up depleted uranium. The book also brings into perspective, how toxic the waste emissions are from conventional power stations and oil based technologies, in addition to the CO2 that is released into the atmosphere. We seem to think nuclear is toxic, we forget about how long this CO2 is going to hang around for.
Maybe we are starting to see, with the advent of next generation nuclear power, and as a result of the tragedy of Chernobyl, a level of safety in power plants that helps the debate for nuclear move forward as pragmatic rather than idealistic.
Lynas outlines how a mix of renewables, including solar for sun drenched countries and wind for coastal, can be utilised, just like an intelligent investment fund. The argument for nuclear as green energy for electric cars makes utter sense, in comparison to the ridiculous land clearing and oil-spend that has gone on to justify biofuels.
And what makes this book so special is that we can all understand it. It’s not just for the scientific realm.
A brief net browse leaves me with some facts: The WHO in Fact Sheet No 266, states that Global Warming, by the year 2004 was contributing to over 140,000 deaths every year. Then we look at manufacture of carbon and oil based technologies. Nextbigfuture.com shows deaths per TWH by energy source. Fair enough – new way of looking at things. As the nuclear debate has largely centred around the tragedy of one nuclear accident, lets really look at the figures.
I think we need to change what we are actually scared of. Uranium ain’t the big boogieman anymore. A planet that is tragically compromised and unlivable, may well be.
You can tell Lynas loves his planet. And he has had a journey, from idealistic green to pragmatic greentech custodian. And he could never be where he is now without all those years on the environmental front line.
He bags Greenies a bit, but this is a headshift for this particular Green, and I think a good one.
Bring on the R&D for greentech I say. Even you, New Zealand.