Busting Climate Change with Nuclear Energy One of the biggest threats to humanity’s existence is climate change. Climate change is essentially the slow warming of the earth’s climate that results in significant ecological changes that can be devastating. For instance, island nations in the Pacific Ocean are being threatened with total extinction due to submersion by rising water levels caused by warming of the glaciers at the pole arctic. Climate change has been happening for millions of years and in different directions.
Over the course of millions of years, it warms, and over the course of other years it cools. The earth has been on the warming phase for a while now but the rate at which the warming has been occurring over the last 100 or so years has abnormally high. So far, this high warming rate has been attributed to human activity especially since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The high rate of warming is not allowing for the slow adaption of flora and fauna on the earth to acclimatize to the new situation hence threatening them.
This human activity is largely in the form of emissions such as carbon and methane from various sectors of the economy.
Nearly every sector is culprit. There are many solutions that are being presented and even undertaken currently however, they have had varying but little effects on reducing emissions. The climate keeps warming. There is a dire need of a solution that would have massive follow through impacts into other sectors.
Figure 1: Industry emissions: As previously mentioned, climate change is an existential threat to humanity, animals and plant life. Climate change is a threat in innumerable ways. For instance, taking one aspect, the increased melting of glaciers at the poles, not only will islands be submerged, but coastal cities will be submerged too and also be susceptible to large waves and tsunamis. There will be an increase in natural disasters inland too such as increase in the occurrence of flash floods hurricanes, and tornadoes (Figure 2). Figure 2: Houston flooding: Climate change also causes the drying up of certain parts of the world such that previous activities such as farming become implausible. This means that these areas, especially if they are in poor areas that are dependent on farming, begin to have clashes and wars over the few water resources and pastures available.
Climate change will cause increased human animal conflicts as wild animals seek water and pasture. The below image summarizes the impact of climate change at various increases in temperature (Figure 3). Figure 3: Impact of climate change: There are possible solutions to fighting climate change. The following is a list of the major solutions either being proposed or already being undertaken: a. Passing regulatory limits on emissions by industries, transportation solutions e.g. vehicles, electrical energy production etc. b. Creating carbon trading markets that would reward emission reduction. c. Increasing forest cover to soak up more of the earth’s carbon dioxide. d. Subsidizing renewable energy production specifically solar and wind energy. e. Imposing a carbon tax to discourage unsustainable use of resources. f. Encourage the use of biofuels to reduce the use of petroleum products as fuel. g. Outright ban the use of certain emission producing fossil fuels such as coal. Since climate change has wide ranging impacts and similarly has wide ranging emissions causes, it goes without saying that the most effective solution would be one that can have huge cross sector impacts. To understand this better, consider the Pareto principle which roughly speaking insinuates that by applying 20 percent of effort, one can yield 80 percent of the results (Figure 4).
Hence the solution that can exert such results is the most desirable for reducing climate change. Figure 4: Pareto Principle The solutions listed above have certain repercussions that are highly undesirable. Regulatory limits on emissions and the imposition of carbon tax tend to dampen economic activity thus leading to underdevelopment and unemployment. Creating carbon emissions market while could work, has an enforcement and compliance problem especially in developing economies who prefer to put pollutions on the back seat as they race to reach developed economy status. The solution to increase forest cover is actually sensible but not easily scalable since finding additional large tracts of land would be very difficult and politically sensitive. Also it would not result in the reduction of emissions being produced. Subsidizing solar and wind energy production solutions would overall be insufficient since these two energy sources are highly unreliable and volatile hence cannot lead to the full removal of other sources as they will have to be kept around to ensure there is consistency (Figure 5). Figure 5: Solar and Wind energy: Encouraging the use of biofuels is not wise since it will lead to the competition for land need for farming and food production causing increases in food prices thus substituting fuel for hunger.
Finally, an outright ban on fossil fuels is foolish as the fuels most in use have multiple uses and bans will affect several crucial industries including energy production. Whole countries could experience blackout shutting down whole economies. The most promising solution to climate change is encouraging the use of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy has the capacity to cause positive multiplier effects to other sectors. Nuclear energy got a lot bad reputation as result of nuclear bombs and the Chernobyl disaster (Figure 6). There has also been concern about radioactive waste, but the world has more than 10,000 years to try and come up with solutions for it such as cheap ways of transporting the waste in space. Figure 6: Chernobyl disaster: However, it is the most clean and consistent energy available (Figure 7). Virtually all sectors of the economy are dependent on electricity and it will continue to be so as electric energy creates a platform for other technological add-ons such as computers and software. Nuclear energy is extremely cheap compared to other energy sources and can be scalable. This means that other sectors will be able to benefit from electric dependent innovations.
For instance, low cost electricity will encourage the transportation sector to rely more on say electric vehicles and electric trains thus reducing the sectors emissions. Cheap electricity will also encourage the adoption of electric powered factories in the manufacturing sector thus reducing the need for coal power. This is especially important in energy intensive sectors such as smelting industry. Commercial and residential estates will be able to reduce their emission with cheaper electricity as they can switch to more efficient heating rather than fossil fuels. Agriculture could also become more efficient and use less land which can be ceded back to forestry. Agriculture can benefit through the adoption of more efficient production methods such as greenhouse farming which is usually shunned since it is energy intensive. Figure 7: Nuclear Energy: Deregulating and encouraging investment in the nuclear sector will help bring more finance and talent to the sector which would foster better use of the energy and employ more efficient technology. For instance, there has been talk of developing nuclear fusion technology but it has been held back by lack of political will and uninformed opposition to it and yet it is safer, more efficient and has more applications than the current nuclear fission that cause the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.