Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reaction Time, by Ian Lowe

This Quarterly Essay is an argument against the use of nuclear power as an answer to our greenhouse gas emissions problem. Ian Lowe intelligently presents all the problems – both scientific and political – involved in the use of nuclear power.

Essentially, Lowe sees the use of nuclear power as a short term fix, a band-aid for a problem which is really going to require long term solutions. Our whole thinking with regards to economic benefits will have to change.

Coal and nuclear might be cheap and easier forms of energy, and from a purely financial point of view, it might make good economic sense to use these sources of energy. Yet coal and nuclear have hidden costs that will inevitably rear their head later on down the track.

Renewable energies may be more expensive and not show as quick a turn around for your buck as nuclear, but long term, they are far superior: zero waste.

Wouldn’t future generations prefer this than being left with tonnes of nuclear waste?

At the start of this book Lowe has a great example of how our lives have changed in the era of ‘cheap’ energy.

“The average use of energy in OECD countries varies from about 3 to 10 kilowatts for every person. One way of visualising this is to imagine that our average energy use in Australia is equivalent to about forty human slaves working for us in shifts, doing what slaves used to do: produce our food, carry us about, wash our clothes, entertain us, fan us when we are hot, provide hot water for washing and so on.”

See what luxury we wallow in. And this type of 40 slave per person lifestyle we think completely normal. Even people who excel at conserving energy are still employing these ‘energy’ slaves. Think how busy we would be if we didn’t have this cheap energy.

I’m all for conserving energy and fast-tracking as much renewable energy technology as possible. If Australians were given a choice between having toxic energy waste stored near by them or investing in crystal clear renewable energy at a higher price, I think we all know that people would rather pay more money to secure their health and well being.

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