We live in times of enormous changes, particularly related to climate change. It may already be too late to avert major environmental changes, but the common consensus amongst climate scientists is that in theory we still have time to avert dramatic changes of diluvial proportions. In theory, that is. As humans, we are aware of the challenges facing us, but we are not serious about addressing changing our behaviour and our energy consumption in a way that brings about a drastic reduction of CO2 emissions.
We are prepared to make some symbolic contributions, like reduce our meat consumption and call on the government to stimulate the use of electric vehicles. But we conveniently forget the fact that the rate by which people in developing countries are increasing their meat intake, is outpacing the amount by which we reduce our meat consumption by far and that the electricity required to power more electric vehicles, will come from power plants burning fossil fuels.
Basically, we are like frogs in a pan that is slowly being heated to boiling point – although the frogs can jump out, they remain lethargically in the pan and by the time they realize it’s getting too hot and want to get out, it’s too late. As far as our CO2 footprint goes, we want to save our cookies and eat them. We pin our hopes on a transition from fossil fuel burning to sustainable generation using emerging technologies as photo-voltaic and wind power generation – but the speed of this transition is far too slow.
Global demand for energy outpaces the capacity of sustainable energy generation by far and bottom line, the global amount of fossil fuel being burnt, and CO2 being emitted is only increasing year over year. So, let’s get real and stop burying our heads in the sand. As humans, we are not going to change our energy-guzzling behaviour. The rising CO2 emissions are showing that the goals of the Paris Agreement, for all its wonderful intents and purposes, are not going to be met. Just when it is becoming time to get serious, Pandora’s box starts to overflow with problems. But at the bottom of Pandora’s box is a glowing little stone: hope. And this hope is real – but it comes with strings attached. This brightly glowing ray of hope is of the radioactive kind. And many people don’t like it. It reminds us of Hiroshima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. And it is true that nuclear energy comes with the worry that many generations to come will need to deal with nuclear waste products to be aware and careful of. Nuclear fission can satisfy our energy hunger in a CO2 neutral fashion. It is the only way that we could wean off fossil fuel, buy us time to develop sustainable energy sources and allow a rapidly expanding world population’s growing need for energy to be satisfied without blowing CO2 into the atmosphere. But it would require us to act fast.
Because of all the precautions required to make nuclear reactors as safe as possible, it currently takes 25 years from the moment a nuclear plant is conceived to the moment it generates electricity. We don’t have that time. We need massive numbers of reactors to be churning out terawatts of electricity within 10 to 15 years to curb the emission of CO2.
So, we will have to take risks and accept that nuclear accidents will occur. Bad accidents, with long-lasting effects. But I would rather explain generations of humans to come, that we have created a future for them with worries and concerns, and radio-active no-go areas, then tell the next two generations that we have reached the end of the line because all we have been doing was polluting the world by flying in and out of bi-annual climate meetings striking theoretical CO2 reduction deals, pinning false hopes on the speed by which renewable can be scaled, while in reality churning out more CO2 into the atmosphere by burning every year ever-increasing amounts of fossil fuels.
Looking for a Churchill.
In his determination to fight fascism, Winston Churchill apparently said: “If Hitler invades hell, I will make a pact with the devil”. This bold stance paid off. Now, once again, humanity faces a diabolical dilemma to choose between two evils: no future with fossil fuel or a clouded future with nuclear energy.
We are accountable. Let’s be bold. Let’s act. Now.
Louis de Bruin
On personal title