James Lovelock, the Godfather of Global Warming, says we are doomed and the only recourse left is to retreat to climate-controlled cities. Others claim we can solve the problem if we just shut off all of the power plants. Others contend we simply need to stop building them.
First world academic arguments are fine for people who already have air conditioning. As has been argued in the past, we don't have a climate change problem or a water problem or a food problem, we only have an energy one. Clean energy - not the idealized and politically-motivated lobbyist-driven subsidies propping up wind and solar schemes - solves everything.
More than one billion people globally lack access to electricity, and billions more burn wood and dung for their basic energy needs. The massive expansion of energy systems, mainly carried out in the rapidly urbanizing global South, is the only robust, coherent, and ethical response to the global challenges we face, climate change among them. The time has come to embrace a high-energy planet, according to a new report by the Climate Pragmatism project called Our High Energy Planet.
"Climate change can't be solved on the backs of the world's poorest people," said Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of Arizona State University's Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (CSPO) and co-author of the report. "The key to solving for both climate and poverty is helping nations build innovative energy systems that can deliver cheap, clean, and reliable power."
That means not subsidizing solar panels, which haven't had a meaningful improvement in decades, or wind, which has never worked well enough to be worthwhile. Instead of propping up political darlings, let's recognize that innovation is the key to reducing emissions while expanding energy access.
And let's have an adult talk about nuclear power.
Power sectors are growing at breakneck speed in emerging nations, and their development creates tremendous opportunities for innovation. For instance, in order to reduce energy poverty within their borders, China and India are pioneering the use of advanced nuclear generation and carbon capture and storage (CCS). To continue and accelerate this progress, wealthy nations must support energy sector growth, and provide leadership in their own modernization efforts. America's longstanding commitment to innovation led to dramatic improvements natural gas, which knocked American emissions from energy back to early 1990s levels and emissions from coal back to 1980s levels. If we had harnessed that brain power for nuclear power instead of killing it during the Clinton years, imagine how much progress nuclear energy would have made.
The poverty, inequality, health problems, and environmental degradation that result from a reliance on traditional fuels can be alleviated most effectively through a commitment to truly equitable energy access. Such a commitment, the authors argue, "empowers growth and development using the broadest array of energy services, technologies, and policies that can meet the manifold needs of developing societies." This provides the foundation for the innovations that will transition the world toward a high-energy, low-carbon future.