The environmental policy of Finnish ecomodernists, in brief

Ecomodernism is a new environmental movement. Many people have asked whether there is anything new to it, or whether it is, as one commenter put it, a slogan searching for a meaning. Fair enough: so far, we’ve been content with the Ecomodernist Manifesto and, here in Finland, with the Charter of the Ecomodernist Society of Finland. But to become something more than just a slogan, we need to begin to give more or less concrete policy proposals.

Therefore, we in the Ecomodernist Society of Finland have been preparing an initial draft of what we actually think about environmental policy. We hope to begin to illustrate what we hope to achieve, and how we are going to achieve that. To wit: the policy guidelines, in brief (!) and translated to English by yours truly. Feel free to use them in your own Ecomodernist or other endeavors!

Note that we strongly believe in living documents and in feedback. We readily accept that these are not perfect and could be improved greatly: therefore, any feedback is extremely valuable and will be taken seriously.

Note also that there is still a lot of work to be done in fleshing out many of these policy guidelines and translating them to actual policy proposals. Help and comments are greatly valued.

The original Finnish version can be found here. 

The environmental policy outline of the Ecomodernist Society of Finland

The Ecomodernist Society of Finland promotes farsighted and holistic environmental policy that avoids partial optimization. Our proposals are based on the best research available to us, and they are updated regularly as our knowledge improves. We absolutely refuse to bind ourselves in any proposal, solution or mode of thought to the extent that we cannot change our stance entirely should evidence so warrant. Changing our minds is, to us, a virtue: when the facts change, ecomodernists change their minds. (With hat tip to Keynesians.)

At this time, the most acute environmental problems are climate change and biodiversity loss through human action – and in the foreseeable future, increasingly through climate change. However, environmental problems are not limited to these two. In this brief summary, the challenges are divided to eight themes, namely

  1. Climate change and energy
  2. Biodiversity
  3. Fresh water and marine ecosystems
  4. Natural resources
  5. Community structure
  6. Air pollution
  7. Chemicals and harmful substances
  8. Green economy

In the following, the broad outlines of our policy proposals are sketched out for each of these themes.

1. Climate change and energy

  1. Mitigating and, if possible, preventing dangerous climate change is probably the most important single environmental problem today. If climate change proceeds according to current estimates, it endangers not only the lives and livelihoods of billions of people, but also the global biodiversity.
  2. There are no silver bullets against climate change. However, energy production plays a crucial role. Dangerous climate change is happening because of unabated burning of fossil fuels. By 2050, energy generation should essentially be free of carbon dioxide emissions. The scale of the challenge is apparent from the fact that even today, some 87 percent of world’s primary energy comes from fossil fuels. Therefore, climate success depends not only on strong support for renewable energy, but also on greatly enhanced energy efficiency. In addition, technologies for carbon capture and storage must be researched and developed, although their widespread adoption should be dependent on better understanding of long-term behavior of captured carbon dioxide.
  3. Even though the strong growth of renewable energy is encouraging, there are certain open questions about the extent to which they alone can truly substitute fossil fuels. Aside from these issues, the already short timeframe we have for implementing the most massive turnaround in the history of energy systems demands that responsible policy does not categorically rule out any potential alternative. For these reasons we join with the opinion of the IPCC and several expert organizations in acknowledging that nuclear power remains an important part of any realistic climate mitigation plan.
  4. In addition, stopping dangerous climate change requires that current deforestation trend is stopped and turned around towards reforestation. For this reason, we as a rule support efforts to increase forested area and the amount of carbon sequestered in vegetation. We acknowledge that active, judicious forestry management can increase the capacity of forests to sequester carbon dioxide. Furthermore, promoting the use of wood for buildings and other durables as a replacement for concrete and steel, for example, doubles the climate benefits.
  5. Behavioral changes, improvements in community structure, and more enlightened policies also have important roles to play in reducing energy demand and environmental degradation. We support and promote actions and policies that seek to, for example, promote circular and sharing economy, more restrained consumption and lifestyles, greener diets, increased awareness of environmental issues, and reduce energy and resource consumption. However, the success and long-term effects of these policies are not self-evident. For this reason, we demand environmental policies that produce results even if the majority does not change their behavior radically or require them to adopt wholesale “green” values.
  6. Climate change mitigation and other environmental policies must give the world’s poor an opportunity to considerably increase their standards of living. Proposals that ignore this requirement are not ethically or morally sound; furthermore, they will not be acceptable to the world’s poor and hence will not be adopted.
  7. In Finland, policies that seek the decarbonization of energy generation must be continued and accelerated. The assumptions of emission intensity of different energy sources must rely on science, not politics.
    1. Policy priority should be given, first, to substitution of fossil fuels (including peat); second, to limiting bioenergy use to sustainable levels; third, to mitigating other environmental damages.
    2. As a rule, new fossil fuel or peat fired power plants should not be allowed in Finland anymore. For plants that can also use renewable fuels (biogas, biomass, biochar), the use of these fuels must be a condition for a permission.
    3. Subsidies for renewable and/or low-carbon energy must be predictable and stable to promote investment. Overtly generous subsidies that are politically unsustainable should be avoided, as unstable investing environment causes long-term problems.
    4. The level of subsidies should nevertheless be high enough to promote strong growth of low-carbon energy generation.
    5. More subsidies should be directed towards research and development instead of feed-in tariffs and other production-based subsidies.
    6. The use of peat and coal for energy generation should be phased out as soon as possible. Peat use should be directed towards sources and applications where emissions and degradation of environment is minimized.
    7. The use of bioenergy needs to be limited to levels that independent research confirms as sustainable, and the use of waste streams from agriculture and forestry should be prioritized.
    8. To the extent that this is possible, biomass should be prioritized towards substituting fossil or fossil-intensive raw materials and feedstocks in bioeconomy and outside EU emissions trading, for example in chemistry, as transport fuels, and as building materials.
    9. As a rule, prime wood should not be directed to energy use.
    10. The capabilities and skills required for safe, reliable use of nuclear energy must be maintained and the building of new nuclear power must remain a possibility in the future.
    11. The usefulness and relevancy of current nuclear energy legislation and governmental support must be reviewed with an open mind. The possibilities to construct next generation nuclear power in Finland (i.e. fourth generation reactors) should be reviewed and promoted actively.
    12. The impact assessment for replacing or closing existing nuclear power plants and building new ones must be based on the best available research evidence.

2. Biodiversity

  1. Biodiversity loss is in some ways even more critical environmental problem than climate change. The greatest threat to biodiversity is the increasing appropriation of natural environment for unsustainable human needs. At the moment, only about a fifth of Earth’s surface remains free of human activity, and these few areas reside mostly in cold or dry areas of the planet. The mitigation of the effects of human activity is dependent primarily on increasing the efficiency of primary production of food, raw materials and energy. As a rule, the capability of already human-appropriated land to produce wellbeing needs to be increased. In many cases, this means intensification of production. To the extent of possible, however, alternatives where human and natural needs can be interleaved and production is compatible with sustaining and enhancing biodiversity should also be promoted. Such alternatives are possible in some forms of agriculture and energy production, for example. The development of new and improved methods should be able to use, without prejudice but with case-by-case assessment, any and all methods possible, including genetic technologies.
  2. Sustainable agriculture and forestry should be promoted. In Finland, new, large enough and interconnected natural reserves should be established. The proposals for forest and swampland protection should be executed in full, and “multi use areas” where industrial forestry is forbidden need to be established around the country. This is necessary to ensure the ecological connections of the species, and to ensure the genetic diversity. In addition, particularly vulnerable ecosystems such as fells and rapids must be protected.

3. Fresh water and marine ecosystems

  1. Even though the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide content threatens world’s oceans with acidification, at this moment pollution, trash, land-based nutrient overflows and overfishing are the greatest threats facing the world’s marine ecosystems. Particularly to maintain ocean environments, the nutrient overflows must be reduced, fishing quotas reduced, and too efficient methods of fishing must be disallowed. In vulnerable Arctic areas in particular, human activity should be reduced to absolute minimum. Plans for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic are in direct conflict with efforts to promote decarbonization and the sustainability of marine environment.
  2. In Finland, the Baltic Sea remains one of the most acute marine protection problems. Even though Finland cannot solve the problem on its own, it has to develop its practices so that nutrient overflows to the Baltic can be reduced to a minimum. The funds reserved for the purpose should be used efficiently, however, and using them to stop foreign emissions should remain a possibility if this provides better value for the money.

4. Natural resources

  1. The increase in world population and their standards of living, combined with decreased availability of natural resources, is causing pressures to appropriate even larger areas for human use and to use even more destructive methods for extracting the resources. To slow down and to stop this trend, it is of utmost importance to improve material use efficiency, or the welfare produced per unit of material used. Circular economy i.e. the more careful use of waste streams should be promoted forcefully.
  2. Mining and other natural resource extraction will, however, be a part of society in the future. Extractive industries must be based on principles of sustainability and equity that account for the interests of local population, future generations, and the nature. Even though mining and other raw material extraction will probably never become truly “green” business, utmost efforts should be put towards reducing their environmental impacts. Environmental damage per unit of material produced should be an important yardstick for regulation.
  3. Whenever possible, extractive industries should be based in countries that can and will regulate and supervise them properly, and where the preconditions for minimally damaging extraction can be met. At the moment, Finland does not fulfil the regulatory criteria, but improvements to natural resource legislation and increasing the authority of environmental protection agencies could make Finland a forerunner in responsible mining and other extraction.

5. Community structure

  1. Dense habitation is one of the ways through which the largest possible part of the Earth can be left free of human daily influence. Therefore, we promote urbanization and policies that increase population density in cities and communities.
  2. The livability of cities should be promoted and increased even as they grow. Important means to that end include ensuring ease of movement, livability of the environment, and access to services.
  3. Improving the usability and reach of mass transport and bicycling (including the use of light electric vehicles) are essential features of sustainable urban development.
  4. Even though private car ownership in rural areas remains a necessity, urban areas should not, as a rule, be developed to require car ownership. The negative effects of widespread car use, such as roadspace needs and decrease in air quality, must be acknowledged. In the future, solutions such as electrification of transport and shared, self-driving cars can possibly reduce the negative effects of wheeled transport.

2. Air pollution

  1. Millions die every year and many others are sickened due to poor air quality. The problem is most acute in countries where modern energy access — for instance electricity — is not widespread, and e.g. biomass is burned locally.
  2. The use of coal or biomass in more centralized power plants causes harmful pollution as well, but with the exception of carbon dioxide, they are even now feasible to remove to a large extent at the plant. Therefore, although it should be avoided if better alternatives are available, even coal-based electricity can be an improvement in many developing countries.
  3. Coal remains a cheap method for electrification, but overall carbon dioxide emissions need to be lowered. Therefore, the remaining “emission budget” would be fair to allocate mostly for the use of developing countries. This means even more stringent efforts from developed countries to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
  4. The electrification of energy sector (transport included) should be increased, as it reduces the need for burning coal or biomass locally.
  5. At the same time, the share of biomass and coal burning in electricity and heat generation should be reduced whenever possible.

7. Chemicals and harmful substances

  1. Human activity spreads potentially harmful chemicals and other substances in the environment. The effects of these substances should be assessed based on the best available scientific evidence.
  2. To the extent possible, the spread of harmful substances in the environment and in the food chain should be reduced. However, it should be noted that the effects are generally dependent on exposure, and in many cases not using the substances also has its effects. As an example, the use of preservatives to avoid food spoilage is generally justified.

8. Green economy

  1. Environmental protection should not be subordinated to economic benefits. The well-being of the natural environment should be a value in itself, and it shouldn’t be valued in financial terms. The danger of this economic approach to environmental protection is that irreplaceable natural values can be destroyed simply because we cannot properly measure their value, and/or because hidden assumptions result to some other activity being valued temporarily higher.
  2. However, we must acknowledge that true sustainability implies economic sustainability as well. Economic well-being makes it possible in the first place to leave resources unutilized. Therefore, we also have to be prepared to make choices regarding which natural values we want to prioritize.
  3. In emission reductions and sustainable development, regional and global policies and regulation are the key. Voluntary corporate social responsibility is not enough to ensure sustainable development.
  4. Taxation should emphasize taxing unwanted and harmful activities. In carbon taxation, the Fee-and-Dividend model proposed by James Hansen should be examined. In this model, fossil fuels are taxed when they first change owners or when they enter a trade area. Carbon leakage would be plugged with carbon tolls for products, whose “leakage” would otherwise seem likely. Paid carbon taxes would be returned in full and equally to all citizens.
  5. Since one all-embracing solution to environmental regulation is not likely to happen in the near future, a palette of policies must be used to promote more sustainable solutions, ease their political acceptability and to punish environmentally destructive alternatives. Political guidance should be predictable yet ambitious enough so that sudden changes in either direction become unnecessary.
Posted in Economy and the Environment | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why I am an Ecomodernist

“Ecomodernism is an environmental movement that seeks to defend and enhance the environment’s well-being while simultaneously increasing possibilities for human prosperity. For ecomodernists, both the vitality and diversity of natural world and the existence and progress of humanity are fundamental values.”

Thus begins the Charter of the Ecomodernist Society of Finland. I was one of its founding members and currently serve as its treasurer. In the few months since our inception in late June, our membership has increased slowly but surely, and our Facebook pages host lively discussion on environmental topics.

But why did we feel the need to found a new environmental movement? Why did we feel we couldn’t work within existing organizations and movements?

First of all, I must say that there are probably as many reasons as there are people identifying themselves as ecomodernists. At our first public workshop in Helsinki on 4th September 2015, the 18 participants represented almost the entire Finnish political spectrum from members of right-liberal Coalition Party to ardent left-wingers (which is closer to my personal political preference). Similarly, our backgrounds and opinions were highly varied, and several topics generated heated debate.

What was common to all, however, was a sense of urgency about the need for increased environmental protection and disappointment in the existing environmental movements. A fair few had been involved in various environmental organizations; many others (myself included) stated they had never joined any, because they couldn’t in good conscience toe the line prescribed by the majority in these movements. There were plenty of reasons, but it is fair to say that the two most important reasons were the existing environmentalist’s unflinching opposition to nuclear power and genetic engineering. In all of the discussions I’ve had about the subject so far, it’s apparent that many have been exhilarated to finally find an environmental movement they could agree with: as Esteban Rossi wrote in a thoughtful piece on the Ecomodernist website, ecomodernism could very well be environmentalism for everyone.

Most Finnish ecomodernists haven't been active in any environmental movement before. (Based on Facebook poll)

Most Finnish ecomodernists haven’t been active in any environmental movement before. (Based on Facebook poll)

From this it might be easy to conclude that ecomodernism, or at least its Finnish chapter, is simply an environmental movement that supports nuclear power and genetic engineering. This is a simplification: our Charter specifically states that we do not seek either to support or to oppose any potential solution (a somewhat problematic term I will return to later on) but to evaluate each on a case by case basis. Nevertheless, I would argue that there are deeper differences than just lists of “good” or “bad” solutions between ecomodernism — or how I understand ecomodernism — and traditional environmental movement.

Ecomodernism is “all of the above” approach to environmentalism

In particular, the Ecomodernist Manifesto has gathered considerable amount of criticism from established environmentalists. Much of the criticism seems to center on the assumption that ecomodernists believe that advanced technologies and market mechanisms will provide a “technofix” to society’s ills, environmental problems included. As a result, ecomodernists have been dubbed as techno-optimists, “cornucopians,” neoliberalists, and freemarketeers.

Some of this critique is well-founded. For example, the Manifesto is oddly one-sided in some parts (where is wind power, for example?), and it does seem to downplay the need for and potential of social changes in decreasing our environmental impact. Furthermore, some critics such as Chris Smaje have rightly pointed out that “modernization” is not without its drawbacks, that it too creates winners and losers, and can do so at an unprecedented speed and scale. Hence considerations of equality are of great importance. I also admit that many of those interested in ecomodernism, particularly those hailing from science and engineering backgrounds (probably a significant share of total), are prone to downplaying or even totally ignoring the social and inequality aspects of our environmental problems; this is a problem I hope to be able to ease in the future.

Who is techno-optimist, actually?

Nevertheless, I can say with quite a bit of confidence that we are not techno-optimists. Not, at least, among environmentalists. Very strong belief (as far as I’m able to gauge these things) among Finnish ecomodernists is that our environmental problems are so pressing that we are likely to need and at least must give a fair shake for every option we can have. Contrast this with the traditional environmental movements, who have for years argued that climate change — quite possibly one of, if not the most dangerous and difficult environmental challenge ever faced by the human species — is not only possible but even easy and profitable to “solve” with nothing more than renewable energy and energy efficiency; that the only thing keeping us from solving the problem is lack of “political will” to do so.

I have argued for years that such optimism is most likely unfounded and have co-written a book about the subject. (If the following examples seem to center on nuclear energy, therein lies the reason: energy is the field I’m most familiar with.) In fact, it is precisely this selective techno-optimism of existing organizations that drove me to help found the Ecomodernist Society of Finland. And the Charter of our Society states in no uncertain terms:

“The solutions to the problems we now face may take many forms, from societal change and improved regulation to technological advances, and they need to be considered based on their merits and without prior prejudices.”

As Matthew Nisbet already pointed out in his response to one critique of ecomodernism,

“Who is more of a techno-optimist: Greens who argue that solar, wind, and efficiency are all the technologies we need to address the problem, or ecomodernists who argue that other energy sources are required as part of our arsenal?”

To reiterate: I do not believe ecomodernism can be fairly equated with techno-optimism or “cornucopianism,” although there are people who identify themselves as ecomodernists and hold views I, for example, would criticize as overtly optimistic. But on the whole, almost every ecomodernist I’ve talked with so far has believed that we need an “all of the above” approach to our environmental problems.

Messy problems are likely to require messy solutions

Equally important to me and several others, at least, is that the solutions be judged on a case by case basis rather than taking a firm stance for or against some or other potential solution: what is a good solution in some place and some time may not be good in another, and vice versa. Furthermore, while such notions have not yet been put to paper, in our internal discussions everyone present has strongly agreed that ecomodernists need to be able to reassess their positions periodically: one of the proposals is to mandate a regular review of proposed policies in light of new evidence. To us, changing one’s opinion based on factual arguments is not a sign or weakness; rather, it is a sign of an open mind.

It is this embracing of a variety of potential solutions with explicit attempts at overcoming deeply held prejudices and keeping an open mind that, in my mind, is one of the things that distinguishes ecomodernism from established environmentalism. And now we come to the part I promised: what do we mean by “solutions?”

(As an aside, one could argue that the talk about “problems” and “solutions” smacks of technocratic engineering mindset, and one would not be completely wrong. There is an apparent tendency to simplify what may be more realistically be called “predicaments” to simple “problems” with equally simple “solutions.” However, ecomodernists are far from the only ones doing so, as is apparent from just about any environmentalist discourse. That said, “problem” and “solution” are still useful and understandable terms, so those are what we shall use until something better comes along. Could “remedy” be such a term? But I digress.)

As our Charter spells out, the “solutions” we may support are not based on technology and market mechanisms alone. Far from it: we list societal change as the first example, regulation as second (there goes the claim we’re some sort of free market fundamentalists), and technological advances only last. When that specific section was debated, our founding members agreed unanimously with the wording; and it should be emphasized that the list was only intended to illustrate some examples.

We can therefore in good conscience answer to critiques put forward by George Monbiot and Chris Smaje: the two argue that the conception of “high intensity” agriculture the Ecomodernist Manifesto promotes is flawed, and that small-scale, labor-intensive agriculture may in fact enable more efficient land use. Fine: whenever this is indeed the case (and we should keep in mind that the planet is big, and it may not be the case everywhere), and other impacts being reasonably equal, then the Ecomodernist Society of Finland at least will support small-scale agriculture! Ditto for, say, degrowth: insofar as the popularity of degrowth movement helps us to reduce our environmental impacts (and I believe it and other “simplicity” movements do have an important role to play), it is worth supporting — another issue agreed on by our founding members and generally supported by Finnish ecomodernists.

In my opinion, a striking difference in discussions with ecomodernists, compared to discussions I’ve had over the years with members of traditional environmental movements, is the openness to the sheer variety of potential solutions. Most of the people describing themselves as “ecomodernists” have been very open to all sorts of potential solutions, whereas the traditional environmental movement has, in the past, even resorted to statistical fraud (documented, among other places, in our book) to avoid even discussing some of the options. Further difference lies in the trust placed in favored solutions: as a rule, ecomodernists tend to be in favor of “all of the above” strategies and acknowledge that it’s unlikely any single solution or approach will be enough. In contrast, it is easy to find examples of self-described environmentalists who argue that the “only way” to solve our environmental problems is by limiting consumption (perhaps by force if necessary), or through renewable energy, or via increasing the “wisdom” of people sufficiently.

Furthermore, it seems that to these people it is not always enough to see their own proposed solution to “win;” for many, success seems to require that other proposed alternatives lose. In less virulent but nevertheless troubling manner, similar dismissive thinking against any but the personally favored solution seems to infect the thoughts of even the most intelligent traditional environmentalists: I would be a rich man today had I received a ten-euro note every time a smart environmentalist argues against building any nuclear power (for example) on the grounds that it alone may not be able to save the environment.

Can traditional environmentalism change?

And this brings me to the another reason to be ecomodernist: the traditional environmental movement has failed, and we probably do not have time to wait for it to change. Despite years, nay, decades of otherwise commendable effort on their part, climate change is even larger problem, and there are few reasons to believe humankind will collectively enlighten enough to voluntarily adapt their lifestyle to the limits of our current techno-environmental-social system in time to prevent horrendous degradation of our natural environment. Despite all the pronouncements of the urgency of the climate problem, the traditional environmental movements have again joined forces to demand that nuclear power (again, an example with which I’m most familiar) must not be even considered even as one of the tools to use against climate change. Instead, to this and other environmental problems the prescription is just more of the same remedies these organizations have so far prescribed.

In this way lies madness — and not only that, but high probability of losing what we have termed “climate gamble.

It is conceivable that traditional environmental movements change and eventually come to accept that the solutions to messy problems are likely to be messy as well. But how long does that take? Those who have studied organization theory, for example, are aware of the concept of inertia: large, entrenched organizations are prone to being so entrenched in their ways that any change is difficult, if not impossible.

I would argue that this all too common tendency is exacerbated in environmental organizations, as they are perhaps the most ripe environments for groupthink that I can think of: people with differing opinions rarely even join these largely volunteer-based organizations, and advancement is most likely difficult unless one shares the “party line” to the letter. I have personally heard from more than one employee of Finnish environmental groups, for example, that they privately believe their organization’s energy policy stances are outdated; but they are afraid to voice their opinion as jobs in that line of work are not that easy to come by.

Of course, there is the danger that ecomodernism will stagnate to a state of dogmatism; but at least we’re aware of the danger. I hold no illusions that ecomodernism will solve all the world’s problems, not even the environmental ones. And I hold no ill will towards traditional environmental organizations: they have done sterling work in raising awareness about many environmental issues, and without their efforts we would definitely be in a worse jam than we are now. In fact, I have constantly argued for cooperation, not scorn: I hope that people having differing opinions would be able to ally at least for the duration against common enemies, so to speak. Nevertheless, every now and then it is time for something different, something new: and it is my hope that ecomodernism could be an invigorating and useful challenge to the status quo of environmental debate that’s frankly still largely dominated by thinking straight from the 1970s and 1980s.

Ecomodernism still has some rough edges and unanswered issues: I would hazard a guess that such has been the case with many now established and polished movements even years after their formation. And I’m sincerely grateful to all the thoughtful critics, those named here and others, who have pointed out problems and in some cases even suggested solutions. As for my part, I can promise that the day may come when the Ecomodernist Society of Finland refuses to reconsider its opinions based on sound scientific evidence and logic, but that day shall come to pass only over my dead body as long as I have anything to say about it.

Posted in Energy | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Launching our COP21 crowdfunding campaign

This is what we’ve been up to lately. Stay tuned for more content and information, and if you can, please help however you can!

Climate Gamble

NewcoveringogoWe are happy to announce our greatest endeavour ever!

We have been gathering steam, making new contacts, planning and preparing for months.

Now we are launching our most ambitious crowd-funding campaign ever. We aim to deliver thousands of our book to participants in the COP21 climate negotiations, held in Paris in December this year!

We know! It’s an AWESOME idea! :) See the campaign here!


From what we have learned, there are some big gaps in the knowledge of the negotiators on several issues regarding mitigating climate change. These include:

  • The science on the realities of the needed decarbonization efforts; several percent each year for decades to come in most western nations.
  • The consensus on the best, and the most likely, speed with which we could build renewable energy production and increase efficiency, and if this can be matched with the needed rate of decarbonization with any…

View original post 158 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

English version of Climate Gamble now out!

The expanded, enhanced and excellent English edition of our book, Climate Gamble, is now available from  In its 108 pages and plentiful illustrations, we explain why there is strong reason to believe that anti-nuclear activism is playing a huge gamble with the climate and therefore with the future of our common planet.

We show, for example, that even the most optimistic IPCC assessments of renewable energy potential fall short of the same authority’s estimates of future energy use; that climate mitigation scenarios that do not include nuclear energy necessitate energy generation build-up rates that have never been equalled with any combination of technologies; and that even today, the greatest achievements in decarbonization were achieved entirely by accident by countries that simply built new nuclear power for unrelated reasons.

We also show how many anti-nuclear arguments are based on ignoring the context and avoiding any serious comparisons to other alternatives – or, in some cases, on straight-out falsification of statistics. Nuclear energy can be dangerous if mishandled, but even at its worst it is far from the horror it is popularly imagined to be.

However, the book is by no means an uncritical apology to nuclear energy or a tirade against renewables. Both of the authors support strong renewable energy deployment – much stronger than what has been seen so far – and in fact we claim that renewables are going to be the key element in any credible decarbonization scenario. Our critique is aimed at the idea that we have the luxury of picking and choosing only the alternatives we like. At this point, we are most probably going to need all the options we have, and even then, climate mitigation is going to be a tough fight. If we leave out the most effective single low-carbon energy source at our disposal, it’s not going to be a fight but a reckless gamble: a gamble that bets the future of livable Earth on that everything goes as well or better as in the most optimistic forecasts, and that no unwelcome surprises of any sort crop up.

The Finnish edition of the book was published in March 2015 and garnered very positive reviews. Even members of the anti-nuclear Green party have stated that the book is a “must read” for anyone interested in energy and environmental issues.

Order yours here and see what I’ve been busy with the last months; the Kindle edition is out, and for those who prefer to store carbon in form of dead trees, a book-on-demand print edition will soon follow.

You probably should also follow the book’s web page, Climate Gamble, and its Twitter account, @Climate_Gamble. The web page will host, for example, the graphics used in the book; for example, see this post on the share of low-carbon energy since 1965. 

For review copy, contact me or send an e-mail to We’re more than happy to oblige for anyone blogging on energy or environmental issues, for example!

By the way, we’re planning a crowdfunding campaign to get a copy of the book to everyone attending the Paris climate negotiations this year. Stay tuned!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Finnish version of “Climate Gamble” now out!


A shortish treatise on climate change and nuclear power, Uhkapeli ilmastolla – vaarantaako ydinvoiman vastustus maailman tulevaisuuden? (Climate Gamble – is anti-nuclear movement endangering the world’s future?) is now in press and can be pre-ordered here. The book discusses the state of climate mitigation, what IPCC and other expert bodies are saying about it, and how the claims that nuclear power cannot help in this fight are wildly misleading. Besides yours truly, a PhD student and a long-time energy commentator, it’s authored by two-time non-fiction award nominee Rauli Partanen. Besides the nice cover image pictured here, it’s jam-packed with informative infographics to help anyone understand why we’re facing a climate crisis and why we need all the tools at our disposal – particularly that one tool which has a proven track record for killing fossil fuels!

While the book is now available only in Finnish (we have a parliamentary election coming up and wanted to prioritize), we are working on an English version as well. Follow this blog to stay informed; for news about the Finnish version, visit the book’s official page:

Posted in Economy and the Environment, My publications, Nuclear energy & weapons | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Graphic of the Week: Can nuclear plants load-follow?

German gas and nuclear ramp-up on solar record day 7.7.2013

This week the graph shows hour by hour fluctuation in German energy generation from two very different energy sources, nuclear and gas. It details the production (as a percentage of daily maximum) of these generators on 7th July 2013, a day that saw record solar production and hence a great need to throttle back existing generators to ensure grid stability. As you can see from the graph, nuclear plants in fact throttled back – and then up again – more than gas turbine plants. This is remarkable, because the conventional wisdom says that nuclear plants are completely inflexible, while “flexible” gas turbines are the necessary component of renewable energy system. At least in this case, the conventional wisdom was proved completely wrong. Although the above graph shows “relative” changes, nuclear power also provided far more actual throttling (in megawatt hours) than gas plants: 100% nuclear represents the generation of 8676 MWh, while 100% gas represents 842 MWh. Sadly, the data is no longer easily or freely available, but I can provide the spreadsheet if requested.

As the graph above shows, nuclear power can and does “load-follow” as the load in the power grid fluctuates. By doing so, it helps balance out large fluctuations in the production of variable renewables. So, far from being the obstacle to renewable deployment as often claimed, nuclear power seems to be a quite critical part of it.

The claims that nuclear cannot load follow and is incompatible with renewables are mostly fiction based on outdated regulations. In France, nuclear load following is daily routine; in Germany, it became legal in 2010. It is true that nuclear plants are not run in optimum manner if they are used to load follow; for several reasons, both technical and economic, stable generation should be the goal. But load following is definitely possible and may not even be that costly: even though France even shuts down some reactors entirely for the weekends, the French enjoy one of the lowest electricity rates in Europe. And, it needs to be reminded, some of the cleanest electricity anywhere.

More on the topic of nuclear load following here:

ANS Nuclear Cafe: Responding to System Demand II: Extreme Scenarios

Posted in Economy and the Environment, Infographics, Nuclear energy & weapons | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Graphic of the Week: How fast has low-carbon energy been built?

The graph shows how some countries have managed to add low-carbon electricity generation. The figures are based on the best 15-year effort between 1965 and 2013, and normalized for average population size.

The graph shows how some countries have managed to add low-carbon electricity generation. The figures are based on the best 15-year effort between 1965 and 2013, and normalized for average population size during that period.

The first of two books planned by Rauli Partanen and me is nearing completion. It will be a shortish treatise on things certain people aren’t very fond of telling about nuclear power, climate change, and the fight to save the environment. Due to time constraints – we wish to get it out before this spring’s parliamentary elections here in Finland – we have to self-publish it, sadly.

While the manuscript is in Finnish, we plan to translate it to English when time permits. Meanwhile, here’s one more graph of the day: how fast has low-carbon energy been built in the past, and in some near future plans?

What it shows is how fast different technologies have succeeded in adding low-carbon electricity to the grid. The results show the maximum added electricity production per (average) capita over a time period of 15 years. That is, I calculated the highest increase in said energy sources, nuclear or wind and solar, over any given 15 year period between 1965 and 2013. Then I divided that with the average population of said countries in the period mentioned. Energy data comes from BP Statistical Yearbook 2014 and population data is from Eurostat and others.

As you can see, the lauded harbingers of low-carbon future, i.e. solar and wind power, have so far been woefully slow compared to nuclear power. Even the infamous Olkiluoto 3 project in Finland, which is now nine years late and significantly over the budget, seems positively zippy in comparison to the best that renewables have achieved. (The figure for Olkiluoto actually refers to how much electricity is added during 13 years of now-planned construction; were I to normalize it for 15 years, it would be higher still.)

This data, and other evidence, make it puzzling how one of the most common refrains against using nuclear power to combat climate change is still that it is too slow. Surely, those people cannot be saying that renewables are by implication far too slow?

The correct interpretation, in my opinion, is of course that it’s better to build both nuclear and renewables. There certainly is enough fossil fuels to displace.

Posted in Economy and the Environment, Energy, Infographics, Nuclear energy & weapons, What they aren't telling you about nuclear power | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments