Last Sunday, members of the Finnish Ecomodernist Society participated in the worldwide Climate March in Helsinki. This was probably the first time ecomodernists took part in a demonstration, and as such, a historical moment.
The ecomodernist message is clear: we need all the options at our disposal to stave off the climate crisis. This means, among other things, support for all low-carbon forms of energy, including nuclear power. With the future of our one habitable planet at risk, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Even though renewable energy is showing great promise, it and energy efficiency alone may not be enough. At minimum, we need an insurance policy, a “plan B,” in case the great promises now made of renewables do not pan out.
After all, we’ve heard great promises before. In the 1950s discussions, nuclear energy was treated very much in the same way renewable energy is touted today. Unlimited nuclear energy was supposed to solve almost every world problem imaginable, from providing cheap power to desalinising seawater and making the deserts bloom (!). As late as in the 1970s, serious analysts suggested that by 2000, there would be little need for any other energy source than nuclear.
Then, reality intervened. Things rarely go as smoothly as the ardent promoters of new technologies hope for. Unexpected and ignored problems crop up. To the dismay of those who make their predictions by placing a ruler on the exponential phase of an S-curve, growth slows down and eventually stops. It is all but certain this will happen with renewables as well: the sixty four billion trillion dollar question is when this will happen.
Possibly it will happen only after the world economy has been decarbonised to the extent required. But possibly it will happen much earlier. The signs are ominous: new renewable energy installations are already slowing down in countries with the largest amount of wind and solar power already installed. This is bad news. For in these countries, “new” renewables account for no more than a fraction of total energy demand. Decarbonisation goals are still far away, and the required growth is slowing down, not accelerating.
In the Climate March, ecomodernists asked a question: For the love of our planet, what if the vocal proponents of 100% renewable energy are wrong? If they are wrong only in timing of renewable revolution, the results could still be very bad. If they are wrong in both timing and extent of the revolution, the outcome could well be catastrophic.
What if the IPCC median forecasts of world energy use and renewable potential are closer to the truth?
Plenty of good discussion followed afterwards, particularly on the Facebook page of the event. Even many who disagreed whether we need nuclear energy agreed that the climate problem is so vast we now need to work together and focus on what we have in common: the desire to retain a living, vibrant world for future generations human and nonhuman. It is easy to agree with the sentiment: after all, we’re not opposing any low-carbon energy form nor advocating against other climate change solutions.
Yet as expected, this question ruffled some feathers. Ecomodernists were challenged and one of our banners forced down; hence, it isn’t visible in the group photo. This was to be expected. But we cannot, we should not, and we will not be prevented from asking the question.
Far too much is at risk.