Friends, so many of you have posted wonderful pictures of celebrations, escapes into beauty, and reflections on both the joys and the sorrows of the past, while projecting and wishing good things for our future.
In this moment of wishfulness and open introspection, I want to inject a somber note and personal challenge. We are entering the third decade of this 21st millennium with a raging catastrophic climate crisis — caused by emissions that are not stemmed at all by the sum of global efforts to date.
There have been many diverse efforts to address this problem involving many brilliant thinkers and activists. Al Gore, Bill McKibben, Michael Brune, James Hansen, Christiana Figueres, Steve Schneider, Naomi Klein, Marshall Sanders, Bob Inglis, Jay Faison, Katherine Hayhoe, President Obama, and more recently Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greta Thunberg come to mind. We are exhorted to act but we have found no workable solution to our essential challenge: meeting our enormous global energy needs “cleanly,” meaning without emitting CO2, methane or other heat-trapping gases. So we keep burning fossil fuels at increasing levels.
In the past 15 years of my deep dive into climate solutions, I have found many surprises involving both good and bad news. The good news: we actually can have a workable solution to this problem which could be achieved on a global scale and on time. The bad news: we are too polarized to accept the solution. What is it? Build clean energy grids using solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power—which are our best clean energy sources—and effect the right policies to encourage this solution to be used globally.
Ironically, environmentalists also attack nuclear. Originally, because inflamed fears of nuclear bombs and nuclear power helped them build the environmental movement in the first place. After 60 years of safe operating history, now they oppose nuclear for its “unsafe” waste, when that waste has been safely stored for 60 years. The solution to waste has always only been blocked by politics; and now, if things go right, old waste may have use as fuel for the next generation of nuclear plants, which are in development . . . !
If you haven’t guessed, the controversial part is using nuclear power, which today provides 55% of all of the U.S.’s clean energy. It is the only clean energy source that is not weather dependent and provides base load, reliable power enabling us to avoid further investment in natural gas or coal.
Expanding nuclear also affords us the luxury of having excess power for critical climate services like water desalination, carbon sequestration and hydrogen production. With low-cost hydrogen and CO2, we can cost-effectively produce synthetic fuels, that can be used by the installed base of combustion engines for “carbon-neutral” operation, until they can be replaced by electric versions, thereby eliminating the need to drill for petroleum.
Unsurprisingly, the fossil fuel industry has attacked nuclear since it emerged on the scene because it is the only technology that competes with coal, oil and gas on price and reliability. They have successfully branded nuclear as “dangerous” even though more people die every day from fossil fuels than have been killed by nuclear energy in its entire 60 history.