Energy Abundance — a Cornerstone for Social Justice
By Mike Nuess
Use of nuclear and fossil fuels has become humanity’s folly. In contrast, renewables like solar, wind and water (mainly geothermal) are abundant, clean, safe, democratic and durable. We’ve been lied to by powerful interests whose servile economists play the deceitful game of keeping so-called externalities out of the equation, because otherwise we would swiftly, urgently and competently develop the engineeringly proven renewable energy infrastructure available to us today.
But nature doesn’t ignore what the economists externalize: the costs of energy scarcity (endless war), increased food and water scarcity from climate turbulence, disease escalation, large uninhabitable areas of irradiated earth, etc. are part of nature’s equation.
It is essential to have a sense of scale. An average person can physically produce in one working year about the same quantity of work that a gallon of gas produces to move a car down the road. If we think of one average human’s yearly toil as equivalent to one unit of energy service, then the average per capita delivery of inanimate energy services on behalf of human sustenance in the U.S. is roughly (given efficiency assumptions) 650 units. 200 years ago a great king needed 650 soldiers or slaves to utilize the horsepower available to today’s U.S. citizen. The average per capita service delivery in Afghanistan is about seventy times less, much like it was 10,000 years ago.
Nearly everything that frees us from undesirable physical toil, protects us from discomfort and disease, and enables us to communicate, travel and otherwise participate in the human community requires energy. Improvements in quality of life indicators like literacy, life expectancy, infant mortality and safe drinking water correlate with increases in electricity and stabilize once per capita electricity access grows to about 2000 kWh/y. (1) In 2006 Rwanda and Gaza had less than 25, over half the world’s countries had less than 2000, and the U.S. had about 12,000 kWh of per capita electricity per year. (2)
Today humanity endures war and suffering due to this energy scarcity though we have become capable of eliminating it—forever. But the scale of our primary fuel usage, carbon-based fossil fuels, is already too toxic for a safe human environment and must be drastically cut. And continued use of nuclear forces for either weaponry or energy is ludicrous in a biosphere whose exquisitely complex self-balancing is structured entirely by electronic bonds, which are torn asunder by ionizing radiation. A 1981 FEMA study found that simple standoff weapons fired from a van parked on Interstate 5 could rupture the San Onofre reactor core and render much of the Southwestern U.S. uninhabitable for centuries. (3) Spent fuel storage pools are similarly vulnerable. The Indian Point nuclear plant sits on a fault line right next to New York City, Diablo Canyon on a fault line near Los Angeles, Perry on one near Cleveland, etc. Accidents greater than Chernobyl and Fukushima will happen. Wastes cannot be safely stored anywhere on earth for the necessary hundreds of centuries.
Only renewable energy has the capacity to free us from energy scarcity while rapidly restoring the quality of environment we need. It is capable of delivering at least 600 carbon-free terawatts above and beyond humanity’s current use of 12.5. (4). Additionally, it is our least cost generation opportunity, the one most rapidly and reliably deployable, and it delivers the most jobs per unit of energy produced. (5) It is safe; diverse, scalable and dispersible; and supportive of open, tolerant and democratic forms of social organization. Duh!
Gandhi said, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” Energy scarcity is poverty. Given our know-how, a world of justice and peace can now be realized through a human commitment to achieve a successful transition to a safe, abundant, sustainable renewable energy infrastructure, inherently democratic and available to all, which in turn services sustainable agricultural, transportation and industrial process.
And it just may happen. The only remaining barrier is neither scientific nor economic but political. Though the political dinosaur still strong, taxpayer subsidies for nuclear power often exceed the value of the power delivered! (6), good science is eroding the self-serving propaganda of the fossil and nuclear industries. For example, a detailed plan by highly respected scientists for swiftly transitioning to a renewable energy infrastructure in just two decades hit the mainstream when it was published in Scientific American Magazine in 2009. (7) In 2007 the U.S. added more capacity in windpower than it had added in coal-fired capacity over the previous 5 years; and China, Spain, and the U.S. each added more windpower capacity than the world added nuclear capacity (8). Wind energy in the U.S. has grown at 35% per year for the last five years and delivered 35% of new U.S. power capacity in that period. (9) It’s coming. Let’s do what we can to help it along.
References available at http://www.teleologics.org/links/cornerstone.html