Climate change is picking up speed and impact like an avalanche, wiping out one poor community after another. It’s ineluctable consequences can no longer be downplayed as something we can take in our stride, because we can’t. Or rather, rich nations still can, but by 2050, those of us who are still alive may wish we weren’t.
I would like to quote a definition of exponential in my Cambridge Learner’s dictionary:
…describes a rate of increase which becomes quicker and quicker as the thing that increases becomes larger
That’s climate change in a nutshell. It multiplies itself as it progresses. At this late stage – scientists have been warning about this for decades – the measures that could prevent further climate-induced exponential developments on every continent would be extremely painful. And as usual of course, the poor would suffer the most, something that would lead to social upheaval here, there and everywhere.
Yes, we can still deal with it, to some extent. But as the fertile farmlands of Morocco, Tunis and Algeria grow arid from drought, and the rising sea level submerges them, what country will be prepared to welcome the refugees? Even now, what country is prepared to welcome refugees from the Sahel?
Yet, what democratically elected government will commit hara-kiri by imposing the necessary measures on its voters? And as for the market, companies must ensure their owners and investors get a cut. The market will only turn around when there’s no longer much left to lose.
So I was wrong. Faced with a desperate situation, I fear we must rely on what once seemed the worst of all available energy sources. Yes, the production of atomic energy is very expensive, far more expensive than solar or eolic energy. That is nevertheless the least of our problems. Yes, in an atomic energy plant the consequences of a production flaw, human error, war or earthquakes can be cataclysmic. Yes, nothing, be it man-made or not, is fool-proof. No mountain, no bedrock, no tectonic plate, even, least of all man and/or woman is infallible.
Moreover, the inevitable radioactive waste generated by atomic energy production will be lethal to all living organisms for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years, and no safe permanent storage solution has been found.
But can disasters linked to atomic energy production begin to compare with the disaster of, for instance, the Syrian war? That war started with a three-year drought that drove hundreds of thousands of people from the countryside to the cities, triggered sharp food price hikes, and led to street protests and subsequent crackdowns, a process which spiralled into civil war. The climate-related aspect of the Syrian drama was something I understood many years ago, but most observers were only interested in its political and humanitarian sequels. For the record I am inserting a link to an old article in which the expression “climate change” is conspicuously absent: …lack of water… Syria.
Atomic energy production can satisfy even the greediest of energy demands, something that is not the case, yet, with safe sources of energy.
Yes, with atomic energy there will be more Chernobyls. Yes, people will die due to atomic energy accidents and radioactive waste leakage coupled with investor greed. But their deaths will be far fewer than the victims of a two-and-a-half-degree-increase of the planet’s temperature, which we are due to see in the course of our own lifetime.
“Climate change”. The expression sounds so innocuous. Those of us who are well-fed, well-read and well-travelled, i.e. middle-class people in the East and West – in short voters and consumers – have not yet felt the slash of a whip over our backs. Innumerable Africans, however, have had to abandon their homes on land rendered useless due to “climate change”. My own country’s proud brand-new Opera House will probably be inundated by 2030, but my compatriots – voters and consumers – like to “think positive”.
Yes, I was wrong, I repeat. As dangerous as atomic energy production is, it entails far fewer deaths than what we can expect in the not too distant future. We are heading straight into a very dramatic situation, but no government in Europe, least of all in my own country, is prepared to pay the political price of demanding that citizens atone for sins that they don’t feel they have committed.
So since we are so democratically determined to continue pursuing market liberalism, I fear we have no alternative but to embrace atomic energy as a source of energy, and to build nuclear power plants at a breathtaking speed.