Skip to main content

Go Nuclear and Go Now – The Inescapable Message of the IPCC

syrcover The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report on climate change is its fourth such  report this cycle. This report synthesizes the findings of the previous three working group reports. The result can be considered hair raising if this is the kind of thing that raises your hair (assuming you have any, of course.) Here’s the summary:

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. [italics theirs]

What drives much of the response to the IPCC’s work is not the science, which is way above the heads of most observers, but the IPCC’s descriptions of what climate change will mean for the world. This aspect of the work depends on a lot of grim unknowns – since most of it is in the future and a lot of it is dystopic. The group’s suggestions to mitigate or prevent various dire outcomes can seem equally dire – severely disruptive of industries in place since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Even then, the report says, a lot of it may not do much good.

Adaptation can reduce the risks of climate change impacts, but there are limits to its effectiveness, especially with greater magnitudes and rates of climate change. Taking a longer-term perspective, in the context of sustainable development, increases the likelihood that more immediate adaptation actions will also enhance future options and preparedness.

Which feels like whistling a merry tune into a yawning abyss. Those that have problems with the IPCC’s reports respond less to the science than to the Cassandra-like portents of doom – which can make even its most optimistic outlooks akin to the the fateful shadow across a fortune teller’s face. “Go now – and never come back!”

Despite all this, the IPCC is the climate change gold standard and offers fairly specific recommendations on how to lower greenhouse gas emissions by various industry sectors, arrayed around a series of scenarios. It’s not surprising that nuclear energy has a role here - and what a role!

In scenarios reaching 450 ppm CO2-eq concentrations by 2100, global CO2 emissions from the energy supply sector are projected to decline over the next decade and are characterized by reductions of 90% or more below 2010 levels between 2040 and 2070. In the majority of low‐concentration stabilization scenarios (about 450 to about 500 ppm CO2-eq, at least as likely as not to limit warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels), the share of low‐carbon electricity supply (comprising renewable energy (RE), nuclear and CCS, including BECCS) increases from the current share of approximately 30% to more than 80% by 2050, and fossil fuel power generation without CCS is phased out almost entirely by 2100.

Granted, I’m a partisan, but this is saying flatly that countries need to start putting up nuclear energy plants right now – and keep at it until the end of the century. Even if you put the prettiest bow around renewable energy and carbon capture, there really is no choice but to go nuclear and go now. If other technologies overcome their drawbacks (or make good on fusion-like promises about their own futures), great, but nuclear energy is able to mitigate climate change and keep society moving forward. And it can do all that now.

That’s a big recommendation. NEI has often promoted nuclear energy as the clean air energy – which is true – but the IPCC has given that phrase an almost existential quality.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?